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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.
From the author of BIRDLAND, KNOWN UNKNOWNS, and BOAT PROM. Featuring art by Beck Kubrick.
1st Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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: 3
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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.
This game is the latest in a series that includes Bell Park: Youth Detective and Birdland. Birdland in particular is a special game to me - I played it at the recommendation of my first girlfriend, and it was my first real introduction to interactive fiction. (Well, not including Counterfeit Monkey, which I enjoyed but came away with the conclusion that I was too dumb for parser IF). Appropriately given the summary of The Grown-Up Detective Agency, when I played Birdland I was also experiencing the ennui of my early 20s and all that entailed, with new and exciting challenges like ďbeing out to my parentsĒ, ďI think my first real job sucks, actuallyĒ, and ďbabyís first medical crisisĒ. The latter of these consisted of a really nasty sinus infection, and Birdland was suggested as a way to keep myself busy and cheer me up while I was stuck at home and struggling to be functional. So Birdland is one of those games that I played at the exact right moment in my life for it to really, really stick with me.
As such, Iíve been very excited and very nervous to play The Grown-Up Detective Agency, out of the hope that itíll live up to my expectations and the fear that it wonít (possibly because things just hit different when youíre not taking enough antibiotics to kill a horse). But it turns out that I didnít need to worry, because this game has everything that made Birdland great and then some.
What I Liked
One of the things I enjoyed most about Birdland was how it seamlessly balanced the silly and irreverent A-plot (psychic bird men are invading the world via summer camp!) with a touching, nuanced, and deeply relatable B-plot (how do I deal with being gay at 14?). The Grown-Up Detective Agency pulls off the same trick flawlessly and is equal parts more ridiculous and just as grounded.
The A-plot has you looking for a womanís missing boyfriend, and is ripe with ridiculousness as you try to hunt down clues at a chicken wing joint, a cabaret club, and the worldís worst dive bar among other places. Many of these locations give you ample opportunity to hear about the ridiculous shenanigans that go on there, and I ran through every single one because hearing about the barís screaming contests is the kind of thing I find funny. (Yes, literal impromptu screaming contests over who can scream louder. Itís that kind of place.) Meanwhile, the B-plot has Bell attempting to solve why her 12-year-old self has suddenly time traveled into 2022 which turns into a subtle exploration of growing up, expectations vs reality, and the sinking feeling that maybe Kid You was more right about certain things than Adult You was. Itís very relatable to how I felt in my early 20s, and frankly still do to a lesser extent in my 30s. Bravo!
What I Didnít
The mystery in this story can be summed up as ďare the straights OK?Ē, which made for a lot of excellent humor throughout but didnít give a satisfying conclusion to the A-plot (Spoiler - click to show)(since in the end Mark G was just off being bafflingly heterosexual). I think that was intentional, since its purpose was mostly to contrast Adult Bellís boring detective work with Kid Bellís wide-eyed enthusiasm, and most real life mysteries arenít nicely wrapped up in a bow. Still, I donít think it quite worked for me, possibly because after a certain point the mystery gets tied up in a way that felt rushed.
Iím also in a field that Iíve been interested in since I was a kid (engineering), and squaring my dreams of killer robots with the reality of endless Excel documents and heated arguments about flatness requirements for a while went only slightly better than Kid Bellís journey did. Getting out of my awful first job helped though, and I think thereís a message here about keeping your youthful spark alive and not letting the reality of Adulthood (ô) grind down your enthusiasm too far.
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