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About the Story
The only thing Bell Park likes more than a mystery is solving it on her own. But when a time-traveling 12-year-old version of herself lands face-down on her rented co-working desk, she'll have no choice but to take the displaced kid detective along on her latest case.
FOLLOW THE TRAIL of a missing heterosexual on the strange streets of Toronto! Investigate a QUIRKY CAST of drag kings, chicken wing enthusiasts, and women in elaborate cat make-up! Thrill in the PERVASIVE ENNUI of your early twenties! Struggle to remember where your preteen self was at with the whole BEING GAY THING!
Will Adult Bell make peace with the figurative and literal ghosts of her past? Can Kid Bell navigate the uncanny world of the 2020s and find her way back home? How's the chicken in that creepy basement food court? These questions and more will be answered in THE GROWN-UP DETECTIVE AGENCY.
Winner (for Bell Park), Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Multimedia - 2022 XYZZY Awards
1st Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
Winner, Outstanding Twine Game of 2022 - Player’s Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
Rock Paper Shotgun
A private detective teams up with her 12-year-old self [...]
I like it a lot! It's funny, it's silly, it's very gay, and it's sweet. I grew to care about these two weirdos across my 40-minute playthrough.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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I'll start by discussing a comment I saw on a forum about Matthews and Linehan and how I don't want to be that sort of person. M&L were the folks who created Father Ted, a universal character we probably wouldn't like in person but who showed our faults so well and let us laugh at them. The commenter said "Well, M&L never got close to that afterwards." Someone pointed out that The IT Crowd was very, very, good indeed, and the commenter said "Well, fair enough, but it's still not quite Father Ted."
Whether or not FT is better than IT Crowd, or however BPH's (I hope that's not too familiar. I know I hate, for instance, being abbreviated to Schultz. But I find Hennessy as misspellable as most people find Schultz, as my brain WILL insert that third E) works stack up to M&L, I want to relate this story: Small Child in Woods felt dang-near perfect to me. It had universal appeal and weird humor and made many people laugh. Someone had to do it, and I'm glad they did it well. Cow Farming Activities on the Former West, the second part of You Will Select a Decision, was almost as good. And the rest of the author's stuff? Well, it doesn't hit the sweet spot of SCiW for me, and he shouldn't try to, and when I make time for his stuff, it's always worth it. But I wouldn't want him to deliberately try for another flashy thunderbolt like SCiW. He owes me nothing.
Also, I'm hacked off he didn't publish the "promised" sequel It Is Good To Be Skateboarding Champion of the World. I had an idea that was just a bit of verbal gymnastics to make the reader laugh, and it still does, but each work of his reminds me I would love to read that apocryphal book some day. Curse the author for following their own vision, said the guy who knows his own stuff is probably more niche-y!
All this was no excuse for whiffing on Birdland, Known Unknowns, and BOAT PROM. And GUDA is one of many IFComp entries already that make me say, hey, I need to check stuff from this author's past, too. It may be the only one with a link in the introduction giving a brief overview, which I appreciated. But it was also sort of shocking to think, wait, did he really write Bell Park: Youth Detective that long ago? Wow.
Yes, it was nine years ago, and Bell is nine years older. She's a private detective now. I didn't recognize Cassidy, who's come to Bell with a missing persons report. More specifically, her fiance has gone missing. Checking back at BPYD, she doesn't get a ton of billing there. Drifting away from best friends is like that, I suppose, and with GUDA, it's pretty inevitable they would've broken up, as they show themselves to be very different people. Eventually you grow, and you realize how you were sorted into social groups at 12 was just a good guess, or it was the least awful of the available options, and you get to see what (hopefully) works even better.
All this navel-gazing aside, what sticks out about the start is: there is banging from inside of a locker in Bell's office. Is it an animal? How does Cassidy pretend it's not there? Is Bell some sort of criminal? You make allowances for friends' eccentricities of course, especially if you spent time being weird or outcast together, but, um, well, if it gets too obvious...
No, it's just that Bell is hiding her nine-years-ago self in that locker and doesn't want to have to explain things. And she doesn't, immediately, but it's tough to cover things up forever, and this is one of the many humorous threads that recur throughout the story. There are some leads in finding Cassidy's fiance, and you follow them all across a neat map of Toronto. Below the map are names, and a red arrow appears where they are on the map. This apparently was a big hit for people with an attachment to Toronto, and while it stirred up no memories in me, it's really well done and gives me some idea of how big the city is, and I was able to compare it to, say, a similar map of Chicago. I also like how the current characters in the scene have head shots–Bell-21 and Bell-12 on the left, and the person or people they're talking to on the right. The transitions worked technically, and the pictures are well imagined and drawn.
The Bells go to various places, visiting and revisiting them, and they meet casts of weird characters, even Bridget, whom Bell has broken up with. As someone not acquainted with Birdland, I didn't know Bridget in any way, but I still found her effective as a character. It's pretty obvious something is up, and I enjoyed Bell-12's reactions to a grownup she knew (Cassidy) and one she didn't (Bridget). Naturally Bell-12 starts bugging Bell-21 as to why they broke up. Through this all I had an occasional worry: is the time paradox going to blow up in our faces and make this whole story unbelievable?
Well, I don't know if it's ever resolved fully satisfactorily, but up until then there's a lot of fun to keep things going. Bell-12 has a lot of questions, which Bell-21 avoids, until Bell-12 keeps on asking. You have some agency in how much you tell Bell-12. But this certainly brought back how I would discuss things with Andrew-12 or Andrew-22. There's a lot to unpack, and I forgot how much there is to unpack even in the last ten years! It can blur together a bit. Bell-12 is decidedly more caustic than Andrew-12, asking the sort of questions I wished I'd asked, and having a mentor in Bell-21 who gave more good-faith answers than many people older than me.
The interesting characters about Toronto didn't land so well. I'm the sort of person who's not particularly interested in interesting characters, or if I think they are getting too obtrusive, I'm inclined to think "Stop showing off, already!" I can only take so much per day. Nevertheless, there's some good stuff in there with Bell-21 and a woman dressed like a cat, who seems like a potential villain, and having to return to the place that serves wings (Bell-12 and Bell-21 both hate to be caught dead there, for different reasons) provides character development. Bell-12 bugging Bell-21 about why Bell-21 broke up with Bridget is well done, even if the "aha, you're remembering what you liked about them" angle seemed a bit forced. A lot of good jokes and observations come out of this, well beyond narrative threads funneled into "Look! Bell realised that adults are weird and insecure and annoying but they have a good reason to be and are worth putting up with, even the obnoxious ones! And, um, yeah, humor, too!"
So it's a good sign that what to me were the less interesting parts turned out to be worthwhile, and I think the author had a strong idea of pacing–there's a shaggy dog story here, but it doesn't get too shaggy, although the reason for the fiance's disappearance didn't resonate with me. You have to deal with people you don't like, and it's tricky to pay attention to them the right amount without being fully transactional, which Bell-12 doesn't understand. Then you have to be annoying sometimes to get what you want, too, and Bell-12 encourages that (with Bell-21 ceding a few points) without getting too in-your-face. There's a lot to work with, telling one's younger self everything's not black and white, but also hearing your younger self remind you that intuition matters--presumably, you have more data to check your intuition at 21 than 12. There's knowing we can veer from certain big questions as we get older because focusing on some side issues is very interesting indeed, and if we can't do everything, we don't have to. And there's also poking oneself to realize, yes, there are definite dark and light greys where it's best to put nuances aside temporarily so, ahem, You Will Select a Decision to push ahead expediently and meaningfully.
I can't say I've run into an Andrew-12, but I did finally join my high school's graduating class's Facebook group, and it was like I was speaking to my old self, with things I remembered and people I remembered and may or may not have wanted to deal with. It was awkward, but I settled some things. GUDA brought back that, and new ways to look at things, and people and ideas and fears I'd forgotten, and I'm glad I was at least somewhat prepared for that.
Perhaps I'll be more prepared to replay GUDA once I've read the BPH works I've missed, especially Birdland. But I definitely found Birdland et. al aren't critical to appreciating GUDA, though, and even if GUDA didn't hit all the notes for me, it feels like it should hit a lot of really good ones for others who may or may not be familiar with BPH's works.
It's hard to review this game objectively. I got into IF for parser games, and it wasn't until I tried You Are Standing at a Crossroads by Cat Manning that I realized I could like Twine games.
Once I got started into Twine games, the funniest games I found were by Brendan Hennessy. I was very excited when, in my first IFComp, he entered a game, Birdland, which is the most-rated game on IFDB since 2013 and the most-rated Twine game ever. I thought it was brilliant and have shared it with many students since. The couple of mini-sequels that came out since then were enjoyable.
So when I think of 'what should a good twine game be like', or, I guess, 'what do I like in a Twine game?', it's basically 'whatever Astrid Dalmady or Brendan Hennessy write'. Which is why this isn't an objective review.
Anyway, as for the game itself, you plays as Bell Park, one of the longest-recurring characters in his games. While in past games you were a teenager full of promise, you are now an adult with history. Unfortunately for you, your younger, 12-year old self has travelled to your present and wants to know all that history.
Meanwhile, the two of you team up to find the fiance of your old crush Cassidy. In the meantime, you encounter a wide cast of characters and use a nifty map screen to choose how to navigate around town.
This game is different from Birdland. Birdland had a very consistent day/night mechanic over a week, making it clear how the game was progressing and allowing for a sense of excitement and overall motion. While the mechanics in this game are also interesting, it lacks that overall drive. Instead, though, it has a lot of real poignancy and emotional depth. How would your teenage self view you now, with all of your hopes and dreams having been tested by time? (or, if you are a teen, what's your older self going to be like?) It's a mechanic seen before in other stories, but I like all those stories (thinking of 13 Going on 30 here). It is a less substantial story physically, but has more to say, I think.
The game has excellent artwork (I went through a phase where I wanted to copy Hennessy's design for my Twine works but it was too hard and didn't really go anywhere, but I ended up commissioning art more often and he does that so maybe it did go somewhere?). The backgrounds and fonts and colors are easily readable and unobtrusive.
This game does a lot good that is unnoticeable because it's just not doing what bad games do. It gives you a sense of agency without pushing but also lets you feel like you didn't miss out on branches you didn't click on.
To me the highlight is the humor, subtly leading your expectations and then defying them. I enjoyed (minor spoilers (Spoiler - click to show)the part with with the two crowns, as well as the taurine chewing gum, just the fact that it exists). The many bizarre worldwide events over the last decade made for a lot of potential jokes at the time traveller's expense, but were selected with good sense and care (could have made a lot of darker jokes, which I'm glad didn't happen).
I really like this game, glad it was made.
This choice-based, multimedia game puts you in the role of 21-year-old Bell Park, a former child-then-teen detective in the Encyclopedia Brown/Veronica Mars mold, now a fully licensed Private Investigator. Already jaded by life despite having achieved her dream job, Bell must confront her past in more ways than one, and in a much more literal sense than most of us ever have. At the same time that her first love and former best friend comes back to ask for her help, her 12-year-old self inexplicably travels through time and lands on her desk. Can she find her friend's missing boyfriend and figure out what to do about her past (and present) self in the process?
This was a very fun story with a cast of colorful characters. The writing is excellent and the dialogue is very snappy. I laughed more than once and was smiling most of the time I was playing. The interface is great, with some artwork to represent the characters appearing on the sides of the dialogue heavy scenes, which read like a screenplay. I felt like the graphical part of the interface was perfect, only adding to the experience, never distracting, and was used very cleverly in one scene in particular.
I will say that the case of the missing boyfriend was a bit disappointing in its resolution, but I was far more interested in what was going on in parallel with that mystery anyway. The banter with adult and kid Bell was witty, they way they worked together and played off each other was endearing, the way they worked through the tough moments was heart warming, and their resolution was everything I hoped for.
I did notice that when we first encounter one of the boys, that he is referred to as "Bald Guy", but his artwork shows a man with hair. A minor nit to pick and quickly forgotten. Also, I think I would have liked to have the dialogue of the Bells subtly color-coded to indicate which one was talking. Something as simple as black and dark grey would have probably been sufficient. Their dialogue was so quick-witted that I didn't want to look at the tags to see who was speaking sometimes, rather I wanted to stay in the flow of the repartee and occasionally that cost me and I lost track of who was talking. I think making Kid Bell's dialogue just slightly different would have helped me stay in the flow.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the game and now I want to go play the earlier games with these characters that I've missed. I came very close to giving this one four stars, only the disappointing end to the main case held me back.
Outstanding Humor Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best humor game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible games...
Outstanding Twine Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Twine game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB members...
Outstanding Humor Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best humor game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB members...