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About the Story
You are a secret agent. It’s the end of the world. You are cursed. You came here to rescue your partner, but the mission has taken a turn for the weird. Parody spy thriller. Best played on a computer or tablet
Best in Show; Audience Choice--Best Humor, Most Innovative, Best Multimedia, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2021
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This was the last game I played in this year’s main festival, and oh what a treat when things end with a bang, not a whimper. Fish and Dagger is a stylish Metal Gear parody with sharp jokes and all of the production values, taking a silly premise and running with it about as far as it’s possible to run. Even as someone who’s only glancingly familiar with the specific works that are being taken to the woodshed, the game had me giggling throughout, and the fleet pacing, clever gameplay, and truly gorgeous visuals elevate the package further.
It’s tempting to just lead off with a recitation of my favorite jokes, but since the humor is well-integrated into the story of Fish and Dagger, I’ll endeavor to do the same in my review. Things start out with a character creation sequence that skewers tropes with gleeful savagery – you select options by clicking on changeable blue text, for example allowing Agent Red, the protagonist, to specify which part of the postapocalyptic milieu they call home by choosing from “a safe pocket town,” “the center of the bloodbath,” “a top-secret military base,” or “Ohio” (I went for the final, most-chilling option). You can also select your spy’s cardinal virtues or special skills: I went with an agent who’s “a walking hair-toss” and “cold” (given that the mission is to infiltrate Shadow Iceland, I figured I’d do some roleplaying).
The tale that unfolds starts out simple – you’re a spy for a secret pan-governmental agency, inserted into an enemy base to rescue a captured double-agent with critical information – facing easy but creative challenges, like using an animated flashlight-cursor to find the text on a darkened page. Things quickly ramp up, though: the plot starts twisting and twisting more, the humor does the same, and there’s a set-piece puzzle that involved using my smartphone to access a subsite and get a code to feed back into the main game, in a satisfyingly meta bit of design (per the help text, there’s a way to short-circuit this puzzle if you lack the technology to do so).
It goes well over the top, in other words, and does so with real panache. Parody is easy to overdo, and Fish and Dagger is completely unrestrained – there’s a gag where the text describing a storm at sea is funny because it escalates to the point where you intuit it should stop, but then it escalates again, and then it escalates again. Somehow though it doesn’t topple over, knowing how to leave a joke at exactly the moment it reaches peak funniness, while keeping the betrayals and reveals coming quick enough that you never have time to get bored.
It also helps that the parody gets sharper as it goes. While Fish and Dagger starts out as a relatively straightforward riff on techno-thriller video-games, its true conceit is even funnier once revealed. You’d better believe I’m putting spoiler tags on this one: (Spoiler - click to show)so the major twist is that the real baddie here isn’t the scientist who rules this island installation – it’s you, or more specifically, it’s the narrative voice that’s attached to you and keeps throwing nonsensical plot twists and action-movie tropes into the story. Your informant friend and the scientist are staging an intervention to try to decouple this parasitic, destructive force from you, leading to the best jokes of the game as you attempt to weaken it by denying it the things it loves. When you recall your struggling days as a night-shift worker in a bleak, dead-end town (details customizable, of course), it pleads for mercy : “WHAT?! IS THIS. OH GOD— IS THIS DOMESTIC REALISM?! NO. PLEASE. I’M SORRY. YOU WIN.” And then, the unkindest cut of all: after the narrative voice’s “thirst for any kind of dramatic tension was destroyed… with no other options—it fled Red and returned to reinfect its original host with its tropy convoluted bullshit: JJ Abrams. Nobody noticed.” Ouch.
Fish and Dagger is a real gem, checking all the boxes with style and being just a bit funnier, a bit cleverer, and a lot more gorgeous than it needs to be (there are animated backgrounds of waves crashing in the dark, and retro-cool character portraits, that left me drooling). It's not faultless -- there are some typos, and some of the story-advancing links are an off-white that's near-impossible to distinguish from the regular text. But if you can get through it without grinning, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.
This game has truly great multimedia. I had some troubles with it (mentioned later), but I've never seen a Twine game at this level when it comes to video usage.
This spy game has constantly changing background animations that preserve a high degree of readability. There's a great score, and the videos/animations are just so crisp and readable.
The puzzles are honestly very clever, but again a technical mishap got me.
These were the things that I had trouble with:
-When I first opened the game, I had no sound.
-Then I restarted again, and the audio worked, but then....
-The AR thing seems to require a very specific set of technology that I could only solve with weird finagling. I had to (description of partial solution of this puzzle) (Spoiler - click to show)scan a QR code, so, since I was playing on the computer, I used my phone. But that took me to a twine game with a constantly moving link to click. That just straight-up doesn't work in Twine on mobile safari. So I copied the url into my email and sent it to my computer. Once you solve that Twine, you get sent to an AR. But the AR requires motion tracking, so I again had to email the url to myself so my phone could do the AR. This could all be solved by removing the text movement portion of the twine minigame you get sent to when you scan the QR code and replacing it with a different cool thing.
The storyline broke the 4th wall a lot but was honestly genuinely funny. There are some great lines here, and the audiovisuals and writing put together are very impressive. The tech troubles I had are the only thing keeping me from 5 stars.
Features strong profanity, some gruesome violence.
Damn! Your old partner got themself in a pickle again. Of course you'll go and save them from the "Big Bad Plotting Schemer and the Henchmen". (Hey, is there a band name in there?..)
The further you get into the convoluted and twisting storyline though, the more obvious it becomes that something is off here...
As a secret spy in an arctic base surrounded by enemies, how else could this end but badly?
Fish & Dagger has a very high production-value. The stark black-and-white cover art, the cinematic backgrounds, the chilling soundtrack and the sound effects, everything works together to suck you into this dark spy story.
Or is it a spoof?
Or something else entirely, something that engages the reader in ways no other spy story has before?
Aye, there's the rub. Fish & Dagger tries to be all of the above.
When taken on their own, these narrative angles work. They work quite well actually. It's just that the framework is too small, too short to accomodate them all next to each other. If the story were longer and the shift more gradual, if each angle had the space to develop on its own pace, I think this could be a great narrative experience.
As it is now, it feels more like a proof-of-concept game, and a hurried one at that.
Still, a remarkable experience. Well worth playing.
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