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.