Fish & Dagger

by grave snail games

2021

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Hilarious, meta satire, April 20, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2021

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.