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Let me tell you, the protagonist just keeps getting better, January 1, 2023
I've been looking forward to playing this one. It was announced to be released on the 31st if I recall. There is something fun about waiting for a game that is set to be released on a specific date so you can count the days until you can play it. In a way this game is an excellent "present" for the holidays (sorry if that sounds sappy), but guess what? The game’s intro takes place during the New Year, so I think that comparison is justified.
The first in the series was simply The Little Match Girl (unless the full title really is “The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen” as is the case on the game’s listing). You do not need to play the first game to appreciate The Little Match Girl 2: Annus Evertens, but I recommend it. Essentially, a young girl is ordered by her father to sell matches on a cold day. After no success, the girl decides to use a match to warm her fingers. Upon seeing the flame, she is suddenly transported to another world.
The Little Match Girl 2 follows a similar fashion where flames act as a portal to other places and eras in history. The only difference is that our Match Girl is no longer trying to sell matches on a rainy day. As explained at the start of the game, she was adopted by a well-off philanthropist named Ebenezer Scrooge. She even has her own name now: Ebenezabeth Scrooge. Her purpose? A time-traveling assassin who provides services to clients looking to eliminate heartless individuals.
A young-girl-turned-assassin? I know that sounds gruesome, but not quite. I mean, the clients making the request are a group of sparrows. The game begins in London, 1846. We are in the Scrooge household- a simple but cozy apartment. It is Ebenezabeth’s birthday (or a celebration of when she was adopted), but she has received a sudden request for her services. On the roof are some sparrows who need to assassinate “a disgusting old man.”
The senior sparrow gave this upstart a reproving peck. "Don't be crass. 'Take care of' is how we put it. A certain someone, as I was saying. An old man—Older even than I!"
The player is transported throughout different times and places in history. Past, future, ones that fall out of any familiar timeline. It brings an exciting feeling that you never know where you will be sent next. Here, gameplay is organized into “chapters” that feature a setting. The goal for each is to find or obtain a flame that takes you to a new place. Often this is done indirectly. Rather than explicitly searching a space and its contents for a flame source, it will come to you as an unexpected result of a task or through creative solutions that feel reasonably clued.
My favorite puzzle was correlating the (Spoiler - click to show) cyberskull’s sparking mannerisms with the fossil fuel sludge to create a flame. It was well-hinted and the cyberskull was helpful in filling the gameplay with idle but relevant dialog about the player’s surroundings. A tour guide, really.
Thoughts on structure
The first game followed a “fetch quest” format of obtaining treasured objects for NPCs to advance the game which involved returning to the same locations. The Little Match Girl 2 departs from that model by confining tasks to a single location before traveling to the next area, which adds variety to the overall series. I do miss being able to revisit places, but then again, the worlds in this game are not quite as desirable (inside a (Spoiler - click to show) monster’s stomach, for instance) to return to. So, it works out in the end.
I do think the game loses steam a bit later with the (Spoiler - click to show) moon and (Spoiler - click to show) office locations. I loved finding myself smack in the middle of (Spoiler - click to show) Apollo 12. Interacting with Pete Conrad and Alan Bean (not to be confused with Alan Shepard) in their lunar rover was humorous although it lacked the depth showcased in the previous sections. The final solution with the sun, though, was clever.
The office is a high-quality and creative escape-the-room game with some of the best puzzles* in the entire game. However, it drifts from the story’s initial ambience. Throughout The Little Match Girl 2, Ebenezabeth’s core character is seeped into the gameplay. Here, you feel like you could be playing as a generic protagonist. This section is also considerably longer and more difficult, almost like a standalone game which may burn out players (fortunately, there is a generous hint system). *I was especially impressed with the painting/clock puzzle.
The Little Match Girl 2 is a sampler of topics. You know games that have a strong ambience that compel you to skulk around IFDB in hopes of finding another game that conjures up the same feeling and flavor of gameplay experience? I've experienced this with Greek mythology, certain murder mysteries, dystopian science fiction, romance that was actually not that bad, underdog protagonists who feel that thrill of glory after winning a competition against ruthless NPCs. Obviously, this game does not contain all of that, but I was surprised at how often it conjured up familiar memories about getting into a certain theme or historical setting.
The game carefully navigates gnarlier themes without sacrificing a sense of light-hearted whimsical enthusiasm as this girl takes on challenges across space and time. Given the bountiful content experienced in this game, you can almost forget about your overarching goal of assassinating this horrible man. After all, you have been lugging this (Spoiler - click to show) revolver around for the entire game.
We have minimal details besides his appearance, but once we find him, we start to see the goal’s (Spoiler - click to show) connection with the cover art. There is probably extra symbolism that I am overlooking (yes, I know what a stork means), and I also don’t to spoil everything. Just know, the sparrows are right about this guy. Sure, there are some mildly explicit parts, but even they are exquisite. The ending was lovely.
Ebenezabeth Scrooge is a cool protagonist, and I don't just mean her name: On the verge of freezing to death, the little girl manifested an ability to travel through time and space whenever she looked at fire.
It is quite a change from her previous self, but the change is believable. You can see an evolution. She may no longer be selling matches, but a common thread of traveling through a mere flame remains. And now her work is more meaningful. It’s one thing to see a character transform throughout the span of a single game, but seeing it occur through multiple games is its own experience. How old is she, anyway?
I was also pleased to see that the (Spoiler - click to show) cat made it into the second game.
The Little Match Girl 2 does not shy away from using some fun visual effects which is always nice to see in parser games. Each section has its own screen colour, ranging from tomato red to pale blue, that emphasizes a change in setting as the player is shuttled to the next scene. The game also uses different fonts, notably in the (Spoiler - click to show) journal from the Terrible Dogfish section.
Dear Diary. Some of these crew guys brought up the idea of resorting to cannibalism really fast.
The diary has a dramatic, sprawling cursive handwriting font.
Dear Diary. Luckily nobody had to eat each other.
The journal author’s frilly handwriting and insistence of “Dear Diary” in the darkest of times was humorous. And on that note, the writing in this game is excellent.
I only wish there was a way of scrolling to the top of the screen- I can’t find the scroll bar- because large sections of text sometimes get cut off when they appear all at once. I end up having to zoom out to read it all before zooming back in. Maybe that’s just me.
The Little Match Girl 2 is strong addition to the Match Girl series. It’s fun with a meaningful story and diverse puzzles. You may enjoy some “chapters” more than others, but they are all worth your time. Ebenezabeth Scrooge never fails to be an interesting character. If you like this game, consider playing the first one as well.