“Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!”

JayIsGames recently noted (alongside the existence of IFComp) that the Independent Games Festival entries had been listed. When I went to have a quick look at the entrant list, I noticed a new entry by Mousechief Games, whose “interactive fiction” The Witch’s Yarn I reviewed a while back for IF Review. (The scare quotes are there because, while Mousechief calls the game interactive fiction, it isn’t IF in the sense that this site usually uses — there’s no text parser.)

I thought Witch’s Yarn wasn’t especially challenging as a game and was disappointed in some aspects of it, but I did like the attractive, cartoonish graphics, the jazzy score, and the idea of its story-centric casual game style; so I was pretty curious to see what they’d done with their latest, “Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!”. It does not look as though there’s a full version of the game available for sale, but there are demos for both Windows and Mac.

[Edited to add: this review is of the early demo, which is significantly changed. Please see my later comments.]

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble
demonstrates more stylish graphics — this time of 20s-era girls in flapperesque costumes, which I happen to find appealing. There’s somewhat less sophisticated musical score than I remember from Witch’s Yarn (though maybe I misremember, or maybe the score here is still under development) but it’s pleasant in a mild way. The premise sounds good, too: you assemble a gang of girls with assorted RPG-esque talents to wander around town discovering secrets, flirting with boys, and wreaking havoc.

The thing is, though, that the demo is first disorienting and then disappointing. The explanations of the mechanics were initially confusing, perhaps because they are trying to explain a tangled, several-stage metaphor (you’re playing a computer game that emulates a board game that represents social interactions, only there are also elements of card games thrown into the mix).

Then when the game itself begins, characters speak in such stylized, arch ways that it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on. Eventually this disorientation wears off and it becomes clear what we’re supposed to do: move around the giant board representing the school; confront characters; and get them to do what we want by engaging them in little mini-game contests. More or less regardless of what is going on in the story or what the reason behind the confrontation might be, the solution is always to challenge the other person to a mini-game.

In the portion of the demo I saw, there’s a taunting mini-game (in which you pick the correct retorts to insults), flirtation mini-game (in which you try to guess the right responses to another character), an exposure mini-game (a word puzzle in which you try to guess what someone’s secret is), and a fib mini-game (in which you play a sort of shell-game to hide the truth from your opponent). I suppose this is no more unreasonable than Puzzle Pirates using a falling block game to represent swashbuckling duels; the important distinction is that in Puzzle Pirates the mini-games are fun. In DHSGiT, there’s a little bit of entertainment to the exposure word puzzle, though I didn’t find it nearly as satisfying as a good cryptogram; the flirtation mini-game mostly struck me as arbitrary, unless there was some kind of clue I wasn’t picking up on; and the fib game was downright tedious, since it involved repeatedly swapping objects back and forth and hoping that this would cause the opponent to lose track of where the “truth” was concealed. As for the taunting game, it’s a recycled idea, the particular taunts chosen aren’t that rollickingly hilarious, and the success of a given playthrough usually mostly depends on whether you’ve been fortunate enough to hear the right comebacks for the taunts your opponent throws at you.

All in all, I confess I’m disappointed, because I was hoping for something with more story, and game-play that was both more compelling and more closely tied to the fictional content.

On the other hand, the characters do look fantastic.

5 thoughts on ““Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!””

  1. Phew, I’m glad to find someone else who found this disappointing! All I’ve seen on the web are people copy/pasting the official description of the game, gushing over it and that’s it…
    While the premise had me quite excited, the execution was sorely disappointing. 4 mini-games, totally linear dialogues (even though you get to “choose” who talks next) and a totally linear story too except for a very few variations such as “got boyfriend A instead of B”. Getting secrets only helps you understand the story a bit more but seems not to change a single thing in how you progress through the game.
    Given the number of possible protagonists and the fact you could build your team, I expected some replay value… but replaying breaks the illusion as I said above : it’s all the same.

  2. Given the number of possible protagonists and the fact you could build your team, I expected some replay value… but replaying breaks the illusion as I said above : it’s all the same.

    Yeah, I can imagine that. I was expecting to use different members of my team more, but — because the leader joins the team first and she quickly gains points through performing the initial challenges — by the time there were other team members, her stats were superior in just about all categories, so there was no reason not to let her do most of the minigames.

  3. I forgot about that one point too. I actually forced myself to use other members, just because it made sense… but the game certainly didn’t reward me for it since it was difficult and just meant the leader would be less efficient when I’d actually need it.
    I wish someone would go from the premise and redo everything as it should have been…

    From your Witch’s Yarn review :
    “the fact that the game does not let the player make many meaningful and intentional choices is its greatest weakness as a piece of interactive narrative.”
    “The Witch’s Yarn uses a system of considerable potential, but it doesn’t explore nearly all that that system could do.”

    I only played the demo of that one, too, but I had the same feelings… and DHSGIT seems to follow the exact same path. They have good themes, but they stop developing them just before it gets fun.
    Maybe we are both expecting too much from these games?

  4. Well, to be fair, I think Witch’s Yarn does a better job: in that case I enjoyed myself enough to play the full version, and there was a cohesive story, just not one presented in what I thought was the best possible way.

    I may, of course, be expecting — or at least *wanting* — something from these games that the designers aren’t interested in providing. That’s fine if so, and I wish them luck in finding their target audience. But I don’t think that an interesting interactive story is an inherently unreasonable thing to be asking for.

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