More IF Comp discussion to follow.
Slap That Fish is a game by Peter Nepstad, he of Illuminated Lantern, 1893, and the Commonplace Book Project. I try not to let my knowledge of the authorship influence me unduly when I start up a new competition game, but it’s hard not to feel a kind of relief settling into a piece that I know will be, at the very least, competently assembled and polished to a point where it’s not painful to play.
I was right about that, but otherwise, I would not have predicted Slap That Fish given Nepstad’s previous oeuvre, given to historicals and games based on classic fantasy and horror. The Nepstad I’ve played before has generally been serious, even ponderous, and occasionally lyrical.
Slap That Fish is an absurdist comedy about battling fish in a back alley.
It’s not a deep game, but it can be kind of cathartic.
The opening of this game is probably its weakest point: there’s not much information to ground the absurd set-up, and it’s also possible at first not to realize that you can do anything but PUNCH, SLAP, KICK, and BACKHAND the various fish. I went through a few rounds of that and found myself wondering whether there was more to the game than randomized combat. (It’s not really randomized, either, but I didn’t recognize that at the very outset.) So I came close to quitting, before I realized that there were both puzzles and a (small) story in there; I just hadn’t really gotten to them yet.
Things pick up in the midgame, as new props become available to fight with, we learn a little more about the premise, and the fish start to fight back. By the end, I was enjoying myself a good bit, and the final fight ends with a fanfare and flourish that make the earlier fights seem more significant.
It’s still not what you would call a great game — more of a B-side, I think, from this author — but it has a certain quirky charm.
I did run into one odd bug, trying to MEDITATE before the proper stage in the game; it gave me one of those classic TADS programming errors. Otherwise, this was entirely clean and well-engineered.