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What's past is prologue , November 5, 2022
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.