“The Grown-Up Detective Agency” is a choice based game by Brendan Patrick Hennessy. The protagonist “Bell Park” appeared in one of Brendan’s earlier stories, where she was a twelve year-old youth detective. Now she has travelled nine years through time to team up with her grown-up self.
I am mostly unfamiliar with Hennessy’s earlier games. I haven’t played “Youth Detective”, and I scrolled through “Birdland” so quickly that I did not experience an appreciation for it which matched the respect it received from other quarters. But going in, I am also biased toward this newer Bell Park story in a couple of ways. I have a great affinity for the setting, Canada. I last visited Toronto in 2012, so I am familiar with the city known to the younger Bell. And I LOVE time-travel yarns. So let’s jump in.
The opening scene pulled me in. The graphic design is professional quality. The writing is crisp dialogue. Adult Bell is meeting a client. There are a series of loud “bangs” from adult Bell’s office locker, a sound which horrifies her client but which Bell pretends to ignore. The client is Cassidy, who was younger Bell’s “best friend”, but from whom adult Bell is now estranged. Cassidy’s fiancé has gone missing. Bell is asked to find him.
In scene two, there is an amusing exchange between adult Bell and her younger self (now released from the locker)` in which adult Bell must prove that she really is the same person as her younger self.
There is a lot to like about this detective mystery. It’s witty and has important things to say about the relationship between Bell’s past and future self. The frequent choice menus drive reader engagement and have meaningful impact on the immediate dialogue. There is also a Toronto map of plot important locations, which one might visit in any order. Yet over the longer course, there is fundamentally only one way this story can end.
A romantic side plot begins to open between Adult Bell and one of her female contemporaries. I was a little wary about the queer-themed romance, a trope which has become as much of a cliché for contemporary IF as dungeon crawls were twenty-five years ago. But this romance was written in a way that did not feel cliché, and served the narrative purpose of developing the story’s more important relationship between Bell Park and herself.
There were passages from this game that were either so funny, or so poignant, that I made note of them as I was reading through.
“KID BELL:Can we go to a frozen yogurt place while we’re in the Annex?
ADULT BELL:They’re all gone.
KID BELL:What, all of them?! There were like six around here!
ADULT BELL:I don’t know what to tell you. Trends come and go.
KID BELL:So what’s new trend?
ADULT BELL:Weed shops.
KID BELL:Can we–
There in one passage is the homage to urban Toronto, the poignant commentary on how quickly cities change, and the comedy of older Bell trying to protect her younger self from making bad choices. Hennessey and his team of illustrators and developers managed to provide this level of entertainment for nearly two hours of play, which should place this game easily in the top five of the competition.