by Katherine Farmar


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An abstract fable, April 20, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2021

Iíve noted in several of my other reviews that I prefer games that get specific, providing details to ground their narratives in a particular context and add texture to the emotions and themes of their stories. Baggage takes the opposite approach: itís a parser-based game that presents an allegorical vignette about the difficulty of moving on when youíre feeling weighed down by, well, see title. Itís all plausible enough, but because of the gameís commitment to an abstract presentation, I didnít find it as resonant as it maybe deserves.

To give a little more detail on the setup, youíre a nameless, faceless, genderless protagonist on a road to nowhere, hemmed in by high hedges and toting a satchel freighted with half a dozen abstract concepts. Some of these are coded positive Ė thereís hope, and a good memory Ė and some negative Ė youíre also toting some fear and resentment. You can examine them, but you donít get much to grab on to if you do. Hereís regret:

"Blank years and empty months and wasted weeks and dull days. You could have done so much more."

So yes, checks out, thatís regret, but itís not a description with much emotional weight.

After Iíd finished the game and was looking through the hints and help text, I found that thereís a nonstandard THINK ABOUT command implemented. This is only mentioned if you tell the HELP command that youíre new to interactive fiction, though, which I think is a misstep: if your game has a bespoke command thatís not specifically cued by the game, it should really be mentioned in the top-level ABOUT or HELP text if you want a player to find it. Anyway, it didnít change things that much Ė hereís THINK ABOUT REGRET:

"Ugh. The embarrassment. The shame! Itís a hot cramp in your stomach, a shiver creeping up your spine, a sharp taste in your mouth."

Thatís more specific but doesnít actually seem much like regret to me?

Thereís more to do in Baggage than just contemplate your baggage, though. You eventually come across a fellow traveler (confusingly referred to throughout as a ďtravellerĒ Ė the prose is otherwise clean and free of typos, modulo the occasional linebreak error, so I wasnít sure if this was an intentional misspelling) who serves as a cautionary example of letting your obsessions rule you, and while you can give in to despair if you let the time limit expire, there are also a few positive endings possible.

Reaching these requires solving a small puzzle to reframe your baggage in new, potentially-transformative ways. I actually liked the writing of these bits Ė the text finally starts giving details, with the main characterís regret revealed as being about not seizing a chance to get out of a dead-end job by trying for a (perhaps intimidating) training program. And the message here seems right Ė you canít get rid of your regret, but you can change it from a backward-looking fetter into a goad not to let opportunity pass you by the next time.

Do enough of this, and the protagonist can eventually escape their stasis, and even maybe help the other traveler. The puzzles behind this werenít my favorite, since theyíre not too far off from guess-the-verb challenges (the latter in particular requires the player to use a command form that I think is a bit obscure for a modern Inform game: (Spoiler - click to show)CHARACTER, DO SOMETHING) and seem a little facile (spoiler for the former set of puzzles: (Spoiler - click to show)you just type CHANGE REGRET) though I suppose thatís fair enough since weíre in the realm of allegory.

I noticed a few niggles in the implementation Ė besides the aforementioned line break issues, some synonyms werenít implemented, most notably when upon being told that I thought there was something strange about the shadows around the roots of one of the hedges, I found that neither X SHADOWS or X ROOTS was recognized. Overall though itís solid, especially for a first game, and while I didnít personally find the prose compelling, I think it hits the mood itís trying for. If youíre in the market for an interactive riff on the Pilgrimís Progress, Baggage has you covered Ė I just prefer my fables with a bit more flesh and blood.