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About the Story
Alone in the cold wilderness, you hunt and forage to make a stew for a friend's return.
7th place - ParserComp 2021
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
The central business of this evocative Adventuron game is cooking, and appropriately enough, on starting up you’re given a choice of seasonings: the story can be served up pleasant, “emotive” (said emotion being melancholy), or sinister. Of course, sometimes chefs who vary a dish too many different ways find their reach exceeds their grasp, and Snowhaven unfortunately runs into same coding issues that add a sour note to proceedings. But like the old family recipe the protagonist cooks for their visiting sibling – a hearty mushroom stew – its warm, earthy flavor overcomes such minor mistakes.
I haven’t played many Adventuron games, but almost uniformly, I find they set a very strong mood – and that’s the case here, too. The austere, near-ascii graphics are certainly a draw, but the prose isn’t far behind: it’s typically unobtrusive, but every once in while I’d come across a line like the one describing freshly-dug parsnips as “white and wrinkly as a witch’s finger” and smile. The two variations I played – pleasant and emotive – share the same map, plot, and most of their puzzles, as well as a similar wintry, lonely vibe. But they each put their own spin on things through a few well-recast details. Praying at the grave of your grandfather in the pleasant version leads to a wistful reflection on how one generation cares for the next before passing on, for example, whereas in the emotive one the grave is your wife’s, and prayer leads to a moment of sadness and regret.
There’s not so much a plot here as a situation: we’re in a primeval, near-abstract wilderness – a person, their dog, a stream, some books – with Snowhaven suggesting a few reasons why they might be out there and how they might feel about it. Then the business is all about gathering some ingredients so you can welcome a long-unseen relative with a gift of food. The puzzles are similarly low-key, as most of them just involve finding bulbs of garlic or hardy herbs in the places you’d expect them, then chopping and throwing them in the pot.
There are a couple harder puzzles that skew more traditional – guessing a locker code from careful examination of the protagonist’s home, building a snare to catch rabbits. And contrarily, there are also a few places where the game requires the player to be assumptive about what they want to do in a way that doesn’t comport with text-adventure conventions (I’m thinking of the puzzles where you need to find the lost soap, or get bait for the fishing rod – the solutions are completely logical, even obvious once you know the trick (Spoiler - click to show)(FIND SOAP and DIG WORM) but they’re nonetheless tricky since you need to interact with objects that aren’t “really” there). Both these approaches mix things up, but I still preferred the more quotidian tasks that make up the bulk of the game, as they better fit the gentle, lonely mood that’s the major strength.
I have a second expectation I bring to an Adventuron game, which is that I’ll struggle with the parser – I understand action construction isn’t as robust as in TADS or Inform, and it has some distinctive foibles, like the way it sometimes bluffs you about the existence of objects that aren’t actually there. Snowhaven suffers from these issues, but unfortunately adds some significant bugs on top. Some of these are just silly, like being told I couldn’t leave the cabin without the soap in the same response that then told me I’d successfully left the cabin without the soap. But my first emotive playthrough dead-ended when TIE ROPE led to an attempt to tie it to itself, and then the thing simply vanished. And I didn’t win my second time either, since I couldn’t get carrots out of the storage locker – TAKE CARROTS led to “You take a few carrots out of your store of frozen vegetables”, which seemed promising, but after a line break I saw “You can’t do that,” and in fact no carrots were ever taken.
There’s definitely been some care taken with the implementation – there’s a lot of scenery, I only found one typo (“No sooner than you sitting down to rest”), there’s an achievement list, and unnecessary actions like the aforementioned PRAY are rewarded (speaking of rewards, there’s also a potentially-remunerative easter egg that I felt clever for finding). But the coding of the actual game logic doesn’t have the same attention to detail, which is an awful shame. A similar misstep is the requirement of pinging the author to get a password to access the third, “sinister” take on the story – I’m already fairly sure I’d get less enjoyment from a less-gentle version, and it’s probably not wise to add an additional barrier to entry when there are 17 other Comp games waiting to be played.
But in the end I didn’t find these drawbacks all that meaningful. Snowhaven isn’t a game you play to be a completionist, or for bragging rights for working out all the puzzles – it succeeds at creating a place and a mood, with everything you do in that place rather incidental. I’ll look forward to an update or smoother post-Comp release, and maybe one day check out the version where I can be eaten by a bear, but I don’t need anything more from Snowhaven beyond what I’ve already gotten.
A beautiful audio-visual experience, with a haunting piano tune accompanying fantastic monochrome woodcut-style illustrations (some even animated). I played the "emotional" story (there are three to choose from), in which you cook a recipe in anticipation of your sibling's visit to your log cabin, dealing with the loss of a loved one in fragments through the process. Snowhaven builds a superb wilderness atmosphere while providing a thoughtful study of the player-character. It's let down by at least one bug that blocks progress: it's impossible to get the carrots from the storage locker, and typing HELP tells you that you can use the HINT command, but doing so gives you "This game doesn't use 'hints'". Presumably there is a way to catch the meat for the stew but I couldn't find any bait, or any clues about how to acquire the bait? I look forward to returning to this after the promised "major updates".
A commonality between the successes of Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Minecraft is that many of us, scattered across continents in thronging cities with a throbbing consciousness bleeding anxieties and responsibilities, desperately long for that quiet industriousness of the countryside, its serene solitude, that silent immersion in nature where simply being seems enough, where all our emotions and thoughts meld into a landscape teeming with its own self sufficient rhythms and vibrancies.
Snowhaven’s stripped down monochrome aesthetic produces this precise feeling, offering us several emotions that we can blend into a connection with the earth: joy, sadness, and terror. As the protagonist goes about harvesting ingredients for a stew, he reminisces about his past, his expected guest, and this tiny patch of earth where his memories reside in rivers, in trees, in boats, in graves. This isn’t just a jaunt through the woods to gather some berries, but a tour through your world, its happiness, its heartbreak. Pixelated scenes guide us through our journey as we constantly travel between seven locations, so that by the end even the player starts to recognize each little nook, what’s hidden in it, and what has happened here. Thus, the multiple playthroughs offered by Snowhaven really accentuates its charm, as we get to work on a new recipe much as the protagonist might, whirling through the seven screens about which we know every little thing, pausing only for a memory.
Unfortunately, only the first two playthroughs are available. The third playthrough, the Sinister version, is, rather evocatively, hidden behind a password, as if there is some terrible secret locked deep in the heart of the game. The game suggests that you can email the author for the code, but I don’t know, something about “email me to get into the secret Sinister part of the game” feels a bit intimidating.
This password protection for the third playthrough adds to Snowhaven’s sense of wobbliness. There’s some clunkiness when it comes to preparing ingredients; the list of commands suggests a HINT command, but it produces the result “This game doesn’t use hint.”; the help menu doesn’t list basically any of the necessary verbs besides the very basics, which seemed like the purpose of the menu; occasionally the game would double back on itself strangely, such as “You take a few carrots out of your store of frozen vegetables. You can’t do that.”, or telling me that “You can’t leave the cabin without soap” while moving me out of my cabin; and, speaking of soap, you’re given a brief quest to find some, so I went searching through the map to figure out where I could acquire soap, like maybe I can use the pine wood producing a good smell or get some mint maybe or even get some animal fat or whatever, only to realize I’m supposed to just type “find soap” in the cabin, which seems a bit like typing “solve puzzle.”
Despite these issues, the game has a charm that delicately threads the needle between its muted aesthetic and its emotive core. The writing helps with this, as each memory seems gently remembered, we get a soft black and white photo feeling of these experiences, and yet, just as the game threatens to be a little blurry and saccharine, it goes for the throat:
“You wish you had buried your wife in perfect condition, so you could imagine her eternally resting as the beautiful woman she was. But it took you days to find her body on the river bank. You have so many questions about those days that can never be answered. You can only hope she is resting peacefully.”
Snowhaven thus tries to capture the ambiguity of nature: we get nature as peaceful and beautiful, wandering through the forest with our dog to harvest some mint, but we also get nature as brutal and survivalistic, with you having to distract a bear so that you can hunt some rabbits, decapitate them, skin them, gut them, and cut them up. Likewise, the characters, without ever needing to speak, are filled with stories that seem to overtake them at every turn. The result of this Janusian uncertainty is that Snowhaven alternates between light and shadow like lying beneath a maple tree as the late autumn light dapples through the leaves.
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