You wake up after 267 years trapped in The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane to find that you’re the last man alive on Earth. You’re asked to re-teach a cautious but curious town of women about sex—in the form of a collectible card game? It plays much better than it sounds.
Full spoilers (and NSFW content) below.
Review: Parody of universally-reviled art is a frought genre. Good parody (such as, say, Candide, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, or Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical) is transformative: it says something interesting and novel about the original work, its themes, or its context from a deep understanding of that work and why it was created. Good parody of terrible work is difficult because there isn’t a lot of raw material to work with. That doesn’t stop people from trying, usually to unfortunate results, with the following rough taxonomy:
- The Imitation: simply rehashing the style and flaws of bad art isn’t parody—it’s just bad art. The one-star page of IFDB is littered with Imitations of terrible interactive fiction that are barely discernible from the works they are trying to spoof.
- The Mockery: don’t get me wrong, I’m not above indulging in the schadenfreude of a well-written takedown of a creative trainwreck. But I find that the novelty of mockeries of terrible work like The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane wears thin quickly. Everybody already knows that the work is terrible and why—so what’s the point?
- The Sermon: take The Mockery, but suck out all possible comedic value and replace it with a diatribe “unpacking” all of the “highly problematic” elements of the original work. The Sermon fails for the same essential reason as The Mockery: everyone already knows the work is terrible, so it’s not slaying a sacred cow; it’s just beating a dead horse.
I say all this because as I clicked on Citizen Makane, I braced myself for a Sermon—and one that would drone on for “longer than two hours,” at that. The blatant misogyny of Stiffy Makane combined with the game blurb,
Maybe this is your purgatory. Maybe you deserve this.
certainly hints in that direction. The inclusion of an Official Playlist (a nice touch that hints at an above-average level of earnestness on the part of the author) encouraged me to take a second look and I’m glad that I did. I can’t say that this game completely succeeds in all that it is trying to do, but it is at times funny, at times poignant, always thoroughly charming, and well worth playing.
Mechanics: The marquee mechanic of Citizen Makane is the BDE card game, so let’s address that first. Both you and your partner have an orgasm level; you cannot see the numeric value of this variable but you’re given coarse feedback ranging from “relaxed” to “eager” to “about to come.” Each turn you can choose to play a card, which will increase both people’s orgasm level; you can also choose to “LET GO” (only if your orgasm level is at “about to come”) which ends the game. If you continue to play cards too long without “LETTING GO” you involuntarily ejaculate (it’s not entirely clear to me why this is different than ejaculating by “LETTING GO”, in extraludic terms) and lose the game. The goal of the game is to orgasm at the same time as your partner is “about to come.” If your partner orgasms before you do, their orgasm level resets to “relaxed” and you earn some bonus points: this reset, if poorly timed, will force you to “LET GO” before your partner is ready to orgasm again, so there is some risk-reward tension to attempting multiple orgasm.
Each card increases your and your partner’s orgasm levels by different amounts (“pleasure levels” which are listed on the card). You collect around a half-dozen cards throughout the game but can only equip and use three at any one time. At the start of the game your stamina is low and you reach orgasm quickly, so the optimal strategy is to play cards with the largest possible ratio of pleasure levels. Each sexual encounter gives you EXP and you eventually level up, which increases your stamina. Leveling up also allows you to upgrade a card, which improves its pleasure ratio. You can only upgrade each card once (and unfortunately I didn’t notice any indication in either the card’s item name or description of whether I’d already upgraded it or not).
One final wrinkle: each card is labeled as either “dominant” or “submissive.” Playing two of the same type consecutively puts you in a “trance” that increases your orgasm level more quickly. The optimal strategy is thus to alternate your “best” dominant and submissive cards (in the sense of pleasure rating ratio) to give your partner multiple orgasms. You want to end the game by coming together once you’re “about to come,” which you can fine-tune by playing your third, less-efficient card or exploiting the trance mechanic.
All of this sounds rather complicated, but you master the game quickly once you’ve played a few rounds. Unfortunately that means the game becomes a bit tedious after the novelty wears off; you do get better stamina and new cards as the game progresses, but these don’t fundamentally change the nature of the BDE game or its strategy. I do wish there had been some elaboration of the BDE mechanics to keep its strategy interesting throughout the game, for example:
- unlocking more card slots at certain levels or milestones throughout the game;
- a more robust set of card combo bonuses;
- a kink system where some cards are more effective against some partners?
But I don’t want to be too harsh here: the BDE game as-implemented is already quite interesting and a refreshing departure from typical parser-puzzle-solving.
On that topic, the game does have a few standard puzzles, though they are straightforward and don’t obstruct the narrative flow: they mostly amount to showing up at a certain place with a certain item at a certain time. (One exception is the wine spiking puzzle at the masked soirée: I kept trying to take Mirabeau’s glass or bring wine to Mirabeau, and had to look at the walkthrough for the right solution, since I didn’t notice Mirabeau walking into the kitchen to refill her glass herself.) The time of day mechanic is in a perfect spot where it adds flavor to your interactions with the town without adding too much friction to the gameplay (the game does not have a time limit, fortunately!). It’s easy enough to pass time by resting at home or on benches to skip to the time of day you need, and it seems you can also just pull all-nighters without any negative repercussions. It did feel weird to go to sleep in my bed and wake up in the middle of the night, rather than in the early morning, though.
Finally I should discuss the endgame. From the walkthrough it seems like the game has implemented multiple endings, though the player is given such a heavy-handed shove towards the best ending (both at the very beginning of the game, and in the leaflet in the endgame mailbox) that I’d be shocked if almost everyone didn’t stumble onto the best ending as a matter of course. I can understand the chain of reasoning that led to the decision to clue the winning move so thoroughly:
- The fact that you can drop you penis from your inventory onto the floor is the most notorious and well-known implementation bug in The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane, and also fits the needs of the endgame narrative perfectly.
- But you can’t rely on players having knowledge of this bug upon starting Citizen Makane. Even if the opening scene faithful reproduced the penis-dropping bug, the average player is unlikely to try dropping their penis unprompted.
- Hence the status quo, where Pamela demands the player drop their penis and strongly foreshadows this move as important in the endgame.
But even though I understand the logic, I don’t think the current ending is nearly as effective as it could be. The player will drop their penis not because they’re tired of the game’s meaninglessly mechanical sex, or have deduced anything else about the game’s themes, but simply because Pamela emphatically ordered them to do so. There is hence little narrative or emotional weight to that decision. Instead I would have had the narrator point out to the player the penis-dropping bug during the intro scenes (in a more oblique way than Pamela currently does, perhaps as part of their exasperation over being forced to play the same buggy game over and over again?) and then trust the player to make the right intuitive leap at the end.
Writing: Serviceable. It’s clear that the author invested a lot of writing time and attention in the sex acts, and indeed they’re as unabashedly bawdy and over the top as you would expect from a Stiffy Makane game. It’s impossible not to crack a smile at the cartoonish surrealism of it all, and the game fully commits to the sex-as-card-game bit with card names like the “Highspeed Hammertime” and “Upwards Piledriver” that elevate the absurdity to 11. I confess though that around half-way through the game I stopped paying attention to the sex act descriptions entirely. The seams became too visible; the Markov chain deciding precisely what my “throbbing hot dog” would do next to her “dripping pearly gates” too obvious. It’s clear that the player’s growing ennui with BDE-sex is an intended part of the Citizen Makane experience; but I think I would have enjoyed the game more if it hadn’t come prematurely.
Outside of the sex, the game’s writing is utilitarian and spare. The prose isn’t a highlight of Citizen Makane but doesn’t distract either, for the most part, so I won’t dwell on it; a few suggestions for how the game’s writing could have been more engaging:
Dialogue dumps: The pacing of the exposition is excellent when it’s being provided as background chatter (such as the TV in your penthouse and the conversations in Emily’s Bakery & Cafe). However the conversations with the game’s main NPCs are not paced as well; the player often receives an entire page (or more, so that you have to scroll up!) of conversation after a single command. Slowing down the rhythm of conversation (for instance, by splitting up longer blocks of back-and-forth dialogue using the menu-based system that’s already implemented in the game) would make the NPC interactions feel more natural.
Characterization: Only a few of the NPCs (such as Shamhat, Doctor Yoshida, and the mayor) felt to me like distinct characters with their own voice. The others (including of course all of the women wandering the streets, but also the named characters involved in the “main quest”) bleed together in terms of personality and diction.
Fleshing out the world: Urville contains precisely the locations, items, and characters needed to complete all of the game’s puzzles, and little else. On the one hand I appreciated the lack of bloat and the ease with which the player can navigate around town; but on the other the game world would have felt a bit more vibrant with a richer backdrop.
Oh: and the “genetic bottleneck” thing doesn’t really make sense. The Y chromosome is the runt of the litter and if scientists found some way to fertilize one egg with genetic material from another after all men on Earth disappeared, not much of value would be lost, genetic-diversity-wise. It’s the tiniest of nitpicks but it grated.
The Official Soundtrack is only 38 minutes long. I’ve run out of music so I’ll have to choose some of my own.
She looks like the real thing She tastes like the real thing My fake plastic love
I started this game fearing The Sermon, and Citizen Makane sidesteps that pitfall completely, and yet: at some point while mechanically giving Public Pussy Pamela (under whatever pseudonym the RNG chose for that particular encounter) her 503th Primal Pounding to grind EXP for level 6, I could swear I heard her whisper to me, “you got what you asked for. Right? Don’t deny it, you loaded up this clearly-marked Stiffy Makane game? Isn’t this what you want?”
The game opens up with an escape from an endless loop of The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane, but as you play the evidence accumulates pointing to what’s really going on:
- the game refuses to acknowledge the PC and Stiffy Makane as distinct characters, despite the PC’s repeated efforts. Similarly the game refuses to let the PC be suave or insightful in his dialogue options;
- the BDE card game is played with an NPC but is essentially solitaire. You hold all the cards and make all the moves;
- the game’s portrayal of sex, while a few notches more mature than that in Incredible Erotic Adventures, remains simplistic and cold, what with the total lack of foreplay or aftercare and obsession with mutual orgasm as the only metric of success;
- you can try to convince the students that sex is about trust. They don’t understand you, and moreover your lesson is harshly panned by both Shamhat and the Dean;
- in a particularly touching scene, you try to ask one of the wandering women on a date after your sexual encounter. She politely but firmly turns you down: she, like the game as a whole, is totally uninterested in sex as anything but a strictly mechanical exercise.
Yes, you’re still in The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane. Sure, that game’s gotten 267 years worth of improvements and polish, but it’s still the same experience written for the same kind of person for the same reason: a power fantasy for a Stiffy obsessed with sex for its own sake, divorced from emotional connection or meaning.
The whole experience is extremely effective—it’s telling that the most emotionally resonant moment in the game is near the end, when then the player finally—finally!—has a chance to kiss one of the NPCs platonically on the cheek.
In the good ending, you drop your dick and ask Shamhat on a real date. The ending is written to imply a happy outcome, but I’m not so sure. The PC may have forged some form of emotional connection with Shamhat, but it’s yet more fake, narcissitic love: her entire self is gleaned from your thoughts and memories. But I guess the PC and his future aren’t what’s important here. Come to think of it, I was puzzled at first why the game chose to name the AI Shamhat. She, the ruby-lipped priestess of Ishtar, spends most of the game learning about sex from the PC, rather than the other way around. Perhaps, by punctuating the game’s themes in the good ending, she is dragging Stiffy Makane (or Mark Ryan? Or the player?) out of the wilderness of their parents’ basement and into civilization.
- I gave two books back to the librarian. Are there more to find, and is there some payoff for doing so?
- Can you get into the crypt? What’s in there?
Verdict: Citizen Makane exceeded my expectations; its “performance was above-average.” It is far more charming, smart, and even poignant than it first appears or than one expects from the Stiffy Makane pedigree. With sharper writing, crisper dialogue, and a slightly more mechanically-rich BDE card game, it might have been transcendent; as-is its technical craft falls short of its ambitions but it’s nevertheless a great parody and decent game.
After all, I spent a Friday evening alone engrossed in a pornographic text adventure game. On those terms Citizen Makane was wildly successful. Or a total failure, I suppose!