Who Shot Gum E. Bear?

by Damon L. Wakes


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Number of Reviews: 7
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Tall, dark, and delicious, January 7, 2023
by Jim Nelson (San Francisco)

Adapted from a review on intfiction.org

I’m a sucker for hard-boiled gumshoes…but when the detective’s shoes are literally made of bubblegum, you have my attention.

Who Shot Gum E. Bear? is a clever parser-based send-up of detective noir. It’s set in Sugar City, an ice-cream tub of vice and sin. You play private eye Bubble Gumshoe investigating the bittersweet murder of your client, the titular Gum E. Bear. You’re to gather evidence, interview suspects, and ACCUSE when you’ve got your marshmallow peeps in a row.

The author takes the central gag to its logical extremes. Gum E. Bear lies dead in a pool of his own liquid center, his bullet wound caramelizing and his face dusted with nose candy. TASTE and SMELL are an important part of your detecting arsenal in this game, which the author uses to great advantage. As the title suggests, this is a Who Shot Roger Rabbit? set in Candyland rather than Toontown.

There’s plenty of polish, such as the status line (normally a dry display of location and move count) being utilized as a kind of rotating banner of hints and atmosphere. (You're occasionally reminded: “It’s always nighttime in Sugar City.”) The colorful and tasty assortment of secondary characters provides a good deal of comic relief, and are adequately implemented for parser- (not menu-) based interviews. The characters always play to theme, such as the candy cigarette-smoking mob boss:

Tall, dark, and delicious.

The prose is sharp and well-crafted, and the story flows smoothly. Humor is always subjective; you’ll know in the first few turns if this game is for you. The fun-sized half-hour listed play time seems about right, which is good—I doubt the central joke could have been sustained for much longer.

The flaw, in my view, is the solution. An eagle-eyed player can legitimately tease out the killer from the ample details provided, as long as she fully enmeshes herself in the internal logic of the game world. My first play-through was in a group setting, and when we finally discovered whodunnit, it landed on us like the punchline of a shaggy dog story, with groans all around. (Depending on your sense of humor, that might not be a flaw.)

Still, it’s a fun ride, an inventive and original take on a form that’s seen more than its share of satires and spoofs.