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About the Story
Miranda finds herself drawn back to her grandmother’s old home for a family reunion, where fleeting dreams she can neither quite remember nor forget whisper of childhood misdeeds and the dark magics they can beget
Audience Choice--Best Aunt, Back Garden - Spring Thing 2021
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Number of Reviews: 2
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Another incomplete Back Garden offering, Cycles has be interested to see what comes next but doesn’t offer much more than a teaser. From the blurb, it sounds like the plan encompasses a lot of interactivity and shifting social dynamics, which given the setting – a big family reunion colliding with some kind of mysterious secret – seems promising indeed. But what’s on offer here is just about 3,000 words of setup, with few choices and few cards tipped.
The prose is the main attraction here. The author writes in a light literary-fiction voice, featuring lots of metaphors, a focus on the interiority of the main character, and a skillful interweaving of present action with backstory. The writing could definitely use another editing pass as it’s occasionally over-wordy and clumsy, but it’s definitely a highlight, since this is a style I’m not used to seeing in IF. Here’s an early paragraph I liked (though again, it’d be stronger with like 20% fewer words):
"'You mean Tom?' asked Miranda. She realized she hadn’t really thought of her cousin since Gammy’s passing. Without even meaning to, teenage Miranda had made a protracted spring cleaning of her youthful fancies and pastimes, brushing them all to the back of her mind like whispy dust bunnies to make room for what she’d thought would be the much more serious preoccupations of her adult self. The “adult self” that followed seemed, embarassingly in retrospect, as likely to devote the new space to ripped jeans as to Sylvia Plath’s poetry."
Miranda’s the viewpoint character, and she’s engagingly drawn. You can play her as slightly more excited or slightly more standoffish at the prospect of one again meeting long-unseen family members, but regardless she comes off as a happy-go-lucky sort navigating a mild quarter-life crisis.
The excerpt concludes almost immediately after the reunion starts, with a few family members briefly sketched in a couple of short scenes; it seems unfair to ding them as coming off flat given how little space any of them get, and they’re clearly meant to develop as time goes by. This release wraps up with a cliffhanger portending a potential shift of tone and genre (Miranda and Tom go walking in the woods and meet someone with whom they appear to have a history; (Spoiler - click to show)he seems like one of the fair folk doing an evil Tom Bombadil impression?)).
All things being equal I probably would have preferred to see the story stay in Anne-Patchett-style light domestic drama mode, just because that’s so underutilized in IF, but I can’t deny that this does build interest for what comes next. But again, while what’s here is good, it’s very slight – here’s hoping there’ll be more to come.
The Back Garden of Spring Thing this year strongly resembles Introcomp. Many of these games are just excerpts or intros into longer games.
Sam Kabo Ashwell has done a lot of introcomp reviews in the past, and one thing he mentions a lot (though I can't find a direct link) is how intros are most interesting when they depict what the main gameplay will be like. In my experience, too, it's good to have the first chapter of your game set the expectation for what the main game will be like.
In this game, though, I get the impression that the rest of the game will be nothing like the intro at all, neither in setting, nor tone, nor mechanics. So it's very hard to get an idea if the finished game will be enjoyable or not.
As for the game itself, you play as a woman invited to a family reunion with people she hasn't seen in 12 years (as well as others she has, like her father). The game lets you choose what kind of attitude to have towards your family as the main interaction. Then there is a twist.
The overall writing was descriptive and had a distinct voice. I often felt like my choices didn't make too much of a difference or allow me to characterize myself consistently, and I would have liked that.