As has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.
I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with a couple of years ago: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. In 2008 that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale, and it made my reviewing process a happier one in 2009, so I’m sticking with it. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.
Next up: Sons of the Cherry
Sons of the Cherry is a ChoiceScript game. In theory, I guess, this might fall into my no-listed-testers, don’t-play rule. But I’m not sure where to look for tester credits in a CYOA work like this, and in any case it can use players, given that it was omitted from the initial comp line-up.
Well, so I thought, anyway. CYOA tends to be short to play through, but I didn’t even get as far as completing this one. Implementation isn’t really an issue, but writing is, and in this case my objections were:
— setting. I know when this is supposed to be taking place, but the actions and events don’t feel appropriate to that time, some of them belonging to an earlier period and some seeming as though they could be happening now.
— prose style. I’m not sure whether this would have stood out as strongly in a parser-based IF work, but with nothing else to focus on, I focused on that, and wasn’t thrilled by it. There were typos, there were odd stylistic choices, there were dialect fluctuations (and without the silliness that excused the dialect fluctuations in a certain other comp game I gave a good score).
— narrative direction. Events in the story didn’t seem to follow from each other plausibly; instead it felt as though the author kept changing his mind about where he was going, but not redrafting the earlier portions.
— reactive protagonist. The protagonist spends a lot of time having stuff happen to him, and very little having a goal of his own. This is not always fatal — many a good protagonist has been bullied by circumstance. But the lack of goals or purposes for the protagonist made it much harder to view him as a character or sympathize with him.
— lack of effective agency because there isn’t enough information on many of the choices. Though I’m allowed to make lots of choices for my character during the first part of the story, there’s so little information about the larger context of those choices that I have no idea what they mean. This is a tricky thing about CYOA. Both conventional IF and CYOA need to allow a steady flow of player input. In IF, there’s lots of environmental exploring or (say) conversation the player can do while getting up to speed on what’s happening in the story. In CYOA, you’re more likely to be doing important stuff right out of the gate. This puts more of a burden on the author to sketch what is going on really quickly, or else to hint at the implication of the choices right there in the question. So “Run” vs “Stay here” is a less informative choice than “Run. They outnumber you.” vs “Stay here and face them. You may not survive, but at least you won’t die a coward.”
“Sons of the Cherry” sometimes does well with that, but sometimes not — and because of the narrative direction and setting issues, I often felt like I was strapped into the driver’s seat of a bus with a broken steering wheel. I could turn the thing, but that didn’t mean I could control where we were going.