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About the Story
You are a beachcomber living by the shore. Today, you wake to find an empty fish bowl in your home, and don't remember how it got there. You try to piece your memory back together, but soon learn what the old maps meant: Here there be monsters.
12th Place - 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2012)
Sparkly IF Reviews
This game hooked me right away. The description of the dead cat was disgusting, but in a good way. Throughout, there was always something a bit disturbing to wonder about.
-- Emily Short
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Number of Reviews: 5
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The game FISH BOWL is about a beach comber who awakes one day to find a peculiar fish bowl in his shack near the beach, unable to remember where it has come from and why it is there; this makes the fish bowl a central object and the player is likely to get the idea that there is something to be done about it.
The game is segmented into two parts, the first of which mainly deals with the fish bowl, the second concerning the search for the truth about the situation. Amnesia is a subject of the first part and resolved in the second, which justifies the use of this trope. The change between illusion and reality is nicely arranged and conveys a surreal feeling. The storyline is sinister and dismal; I felt absorbed into it.
It is a quite short game and positively worth playing; the necessary actions can easily be found and there are hints given. I am not good with puzzles, but found out what to do without resorting to a description of the solution. I may recommend this interactive fiction to people with the same preference; also to beginners who want to check out a tight sci-fi narration without running the risk of a headache.
(I originally published this review on 22 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 25th of 26 games I reviewed.)
Fish Bowl is a short and effective horror piece in which you play sozzled beachcomber Larry Wyndham, a man who wakes up in his shack one day to find that a dusty fishbowl has materialised atop his three-legged dresser. The game is atmospheric with the whiff of sea horrors and sticky dead things, and it's quite a good character piece as well, evoking your awareness of Larry's constant fatigue and salty decrepitude. There are some bugs and oversights about but none that really impeded my play.
Larry's opening narration suggests that he's a guy who stumbles around in something like a semipermanent hangover. When he can't remember the previous night or recognise the fishbowl, these are immediate motivations for the player to start investigating Larry's surroundings. Doing so induces weird intrusions of memory and flashes of conversational static, though I wasn't crazy about the presentation of the latter. On the topic of presentation, the games sports some indented paragraphs. They look quite nice and I'm surprised IF games/authors don't think about this style more often, but I suppose the tradition that it is more helpful to leave an entire blank line between different chunks of information is well established for good functional reasons.
I read other reviews of Fish Bowl which reported over-awareness of its linear nature, or of its mechanism of containing the player to the present location until they perform certain tasks. The game is basically linear and it does contain the player to make sure they get everything they need from each of its few locations, but I didn't perceive either of these qualities in a negative light. The more character-based and naturalistic a game becomes, the more I fear that it will let me do something stupid like walk right down the beach when all the important things I need to attend to are back at my shack. I think Larry is written clearly enough that his thoughts can direct player effort to where it needs to go, and that some of the blocking in general is pretty natural. For instance, Larry's mini-rant to himself which prevents him from leaving the area in front of the shack without (Spoiler - click to show)burying the dead cat. I also don't mind repeating entry of a command when it very clear that the same action is the one that needs to be performed again – for instance, typing GET BOTTLE, seeing the bottle float further out of reach in response, then entering GET BOTTLE again. I think Fish Bowl is consistently good with this kind of thing.
Thoughts on the finale: (Spoiler - click to show)After you trigger a weird and unpleasant series of memories and images, and try and fail to retrieve the bottle from the ocean, you end up back in your shack, ready to wake to a day which is much worse. The revelation about your situation, confirmed by your supernatural answering machine, arrives all at once, and contains some elements that you might have vaguely guessed at by now as well as unexpected background information about you actually being a spaceship pilot infected by some kind of sea monster. Your various memories now make sense and the props you have been dealing with for the past two days are revealed as masking hallucinations. It's a creepy outcome, a bit Ray Bradbury and a bit H.P. Lovecraft, especially the final image of Larry slithering back into the ocean. And I was able to reach it without too much trouble. Fish Bowl's story plays pretty well now, and could play even better if the text output was tidied up, the feedback messages were coralled so that they don't sometimes appear in the wrong order, and missing nouns were implemented.
While there are a few typos and unimplemented nouns, I absolutely love short, tightly-focused games, and this is an excellent example. Deceptively simple, it has a creeping sense of dread that grows as you progress, culminating in a reveal that both surprised me and felt completely fitting. Definitely recommend if it at all intrigues you.
CWs: (Spoiler - click to show)Dead animals (described in detail), dead body (briefly described), blood, body horror
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