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Book-like Interactivity, December 10, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
Everything about the pre-game hit my brain pleasure centers and put me in this thing’s corner. Grown Up Detective Agency is just a fantastic title. Time jumps? Mystery solving? The phrase “follow the trail of a missing heterosexual”?? It’s like a marskman-level glee sniper.
The work itself did not disappoint. The 2-in-1 protagonist was incredibly well realized. Their dialogue crackled with wit and personality and was simultaneously, recognizably same and different. The time gap shenanigans were not overplayed, just tossed in like precise seasoning. (I laughed out loud at “why are people getting more deliveries?”) I simultaneously felt bad for Kid and understood Adult perfectly. There were a few times I chafed when remembering this world-weary gumshoe was all of 21, but the text was strong enough to get me past that.
Secondary characters didn’t fare as well, but with one exception it was actually fine. Most of the non-protagonist cast was pretty one-dimensional, but in an amusing and winning way. We don’t NEED them to be fully fleshed out, they just need to be fun in their respective roles and most of them very much are. The bros, the bartender, the club owner, the furry… unique and consistent and funny. Even the client filled her role, though I suspect if I’d had more exposure to the other games in the series she would be more fleshed out. We’ll get to the love interest in a minute.
The mystery itself was extremely clever, in the sense of everyone’s motivations making perfect, hilarious sense, however surprising their reveal is. But the mystery-solving gameplay? Less clever. It relies a bit too heavily on NPCs withholding information more for plot than character reasons. It also appeared that player choice in following clues and interrogation tacks ultimately didn’t make a difference. You were always going to be able to visit every clue site, and get relevant info regardless of dialogue choices. I don’t know this is true, I could just be an Ace Detective. Honestly though, it's definitely not that. Which led to a thought mid-game that popped in my head unbidden. “Would I be enjoying this pretty much exactly the same if it were traditional fiction? Yeah, I think I would.” As soon as that thought popped in, I realized I was not engaged because of the interactivity, it was the story and characters. My clicks were less about participating in progress and more like turning pages. Is this a problem? Maybe? Didn’t feel like it in the moment, I was still Engaged in the narrative and enjoying myself immensely.
Really the only narrative shakiness for me was the love interest sub-plot. Characters made admiring assertions about them that I didn’t see corroborated in the narration or the character’s own dialogue. If I can be forgiven the pronouns for a moment, my reaction was basically straight out of Arrested Development. “Her?” Maybe this was a ‘play the previous episodes’ thing too.
As I roll up the score, I am again confronted with the inadequacy of my judging criteria. I was Engaged, no doubt about it. But I feel like the interactivity of IF was inessential and irrelevant to the experience, and I think I want to count that as ‘notable technical intrusion.’
Playtime: 1hr, finished
Artistic/Technical rankings: Engaged/Notable
Would Play Again? Probably Not, but the rest of the series, likely
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless