Magical Makeover is a fairy-tale game in which you, an ordinary-looking person, are preparing for a ball for the incredibly wealthy and/or exquisitely beautiful, so you must use the help of a magic mirror and an assortment of enchanted cosmetics to get ready. Your choices about cosmetic enhancement affect what happens next. As a result, you wind up on one of seven paths, which are themselves linear with no crossovers.
In this opening section where you’re choosing how to remake your look, there’s nothing you can choose that will throw the story off the rails: you’re tweaking various variables for later, in ways that aren’t quite predictable, but the narration has customized descriptions for any combination of products you might attempt. It’s only afterwards that you find out what it’s all done, when it’s too late to make a difference.
This is a rather unusual structure for CYOA. There’s no room for cumulative stakes-building, no way to change course once you’ve decided what you’re doing about your skin this evening; by branching widely but unpredictably at the very beginning, it maximizes the amount of work the author has to do writing the different branches while minimizing the player’s sense of agency at any point.
And yet despite the fact that it violates almost every generalization I could make about sensible CYOA structure, I really enjoyed this game.
It’s light and goofy, but the opening is an effective satire on cosmetic marketing; and as someone who feels incompetent with makeup yet socially required to wear it sometimes, I’m very very familiar with the sensation of staring at a bunch of little bottles and wondering if I’m about to make a terrible mistake with them. (Let’s not even talk about what it feels like to get your eyebrows threaded.) Not quite knowing what I was doing with the various cakes and creams felt extremely true to life. Admittedly to the best of my knowledge LUSH does not sell a cosmetic product made of compressed magical butterflies, but sometimes some of the options seem not that different.
Meanwhile, the stories of what happens after you’ve chosen your cosmetics are charmingly written and fun. And in contrast with a pure Time Cave, Magical Makeover doesn’t have these initial choices throw you into completely unrelated realities. There are several characters — your best friend Millicent, the flower fairy you keep captive in a bottle, the sorceress whose ball you’re hoping to attend, and a certain eager, impressionable cassowary — who recur in multiple storylines, and several events in individual stories that gain extra resonance if you’ve also seen other paths. Once I got used to the lack of late-game interactivity and just sat back to enjoy the stories, I had a good time with these. Several of the twists and implied forms of magic are quite inventive:
So if you’re in the mood for a little interactive reading that does feature some witches and other supernatural creatures, but isn’t particularly grim or horrific at all, this is recommended.