As is tradition, I’m letting the randomizer choose the order for me.
The first one the randomizer gave me is actually one I tested: a short (5-minute) parser game about dealing with the eponymous Zombie Eye in a dimly-lit London Underground station. The pixel-art graphics are very fitting, and I’m not sure if this is the default look for Adventuron games or a stylistic choice by the author, but the bright colors and monospace font give it a retro look that I really liked. I was told during testing that the game restarting every time it ends is a standard part of Adventuron too, but this game made it part of the story, and I always love it when games make use of features of the medium like that.
Without spoiling anything, I liked the plot, and liked how it tied in to the puzzles. This is a very short game, but in that space it tells the story it wants to tell, and the implementation is solid. I did run into a few guess-the-verb difficulties, but the author provided a verb list and a walkthrough for exactly that purpose.
I do have two main criticisms. First is that it’s a bit too short; I would have liked a bit more puzzling before the final reveal, but I’m also not sure how I would have worked that into the story. Second, given how few puzzles there are, a more detailed implementation of those puzzles would have been nice, with more responses to incorrect approaches. But all in all this is just what I’m looking for in a Petite Mort game: short, sweet, and spooky.
A choice-based piece, written in Ink, based around a conversation between a psychologist and a patient (set in I think the USSR?). I say “piece” instead of “game” because the focus was very much on the story and the writing rather than the playing. There are choices to make, but with the feeling of not very much choice to them—both because you’re constrained by your role, and because your patient often doesn’t really care what you have to say.
That writing, then, is excellent. The patient’s descriptions got a visceral reaction in some places and the twist at the end was very effective—if there were indications of it earlier, I certainly didn’t notice them. It read like a very solid short story, interactive or not. The first time through I thought my choices didn’t really matter and any other sequence of choices would have led to the same ending; then I went through again and it finished differently. (Now if only I could choose not to bring up Oksana…)
My biggest issue with it is typographical. It’s a weird thing to criticize in a Petite Mort game, but the whole story is told through this conversation, and I was sometimes confused about who was talking and what was dialogue versus action. Quotation marks were sometimes there and sometimes not: “let the silence sit” was (as far as I can tell) an action for my character to take, and please, carry on was a line for my character to say. Some sort of indication of who each line belonged to would help.
Overall, though, the writing is very solid, way more so than I expected in a four-hour game. Whatever the typography may be, I’d have to recommend it on that point alone. And even if this brand of psychological horror isn’t my usual jam, the way I reacted to the writing shows that it’s succeeding at what it’s trying to do. Very well done.
And now for the absolute polar opposite, thematically:
A much more lighthearted choice-based game, longer than Zombie Eye and shorter than Cell 174. You’re Lyra, you’re hosting a high school party, an Entity is going to attack in two hours, and if you want to stand a chance against it you need allies. Already I’m delighted by the premise. (To probably no-one’s surprise, this is one of my favorite genres of Halloween spooky.)
The plot is relatively straightforward. Talk to your friends at the party. Convince as many of them as possible to help you. Then fight the entity when it shows up. The first part is a mix of classic choice-based dialogue (choose what you say) and “world-establishing choices”; I’m sure there’s a better word for this, but the choices that define facts about the world rather than your character’s actions, like collaborative worldbuilding in a tabletop game (or the first chapter of a Choice of Games work). You talk to your brother, and the first choice is how positive or negative your relationship currently is—and while having it be negative is probably a bad tactical decision, it seemed like the more interesting story, so I had to take that one. In other words, the start was exciting enough that I was more interested in adding drama to the story than winning the fight, which is a commendation.
Then you fight the entity in a little turn-based system. You can tell your allies to attack or defend in various ways as you try to hurt the entity and it tries to hurt you. This was the weakest part of the game, and I couldn’t really tell what was working and what wasn’t—defensive actions got no response at all, while the aggressive ones mostly seemed to all do the same thing, so I just rotated through me and my allies attacking and stopped worrying about our own health.
While the combat itself was a bit of a letdown (and, to be fair, implementing an engaging tactical combat system in a Petite Mort game is an enormous task), I had a lot of fun trying to figure out the details of this world and my character’s past, driving the dialogue in directions that would lead to flashback scenes. Reminisce with my (ex?) boyfriend and the flashback to our first date establishes that nobody in this world has ever seen the stars; let my friend talk about the book series she’s obsessed with and she mentions in passing that writings from the old world were preserved through DNA storage. A Petite Mort game is really the perfect medium for hinting at a world without explaining any of it, and I’m now replaying to see how many other tidbits I can uncover.
This is my favorite one so far, and I’m very curious if the author intends to write (or has written?) anything else in this setting, or wants to leave it a mystery for the ages.
The opening sequence conveys two crucial things. One, this looks like an Inform game (Parchment’s classic font and color scheme). And two, the horror is going to hit close to home. “You just let year after year pass…” is one of my greatest fears. So we’re off to a great start.
The game is short and sweet. You’re in the bathroom preparing for your first job interview in decades, reflecting on your life, and trying to cover up this huge zit before you go out in public. Your main options are calling the various contacts in your cell phone and trying to cover it up with the materials at hand. The game ends when you finally feel ready to face the world.
There are two different endings (that I found), and the implementation is quite solid for a Petite Mort game. More importantly, though, this game does a great job of using the illusion of interactivity to emphasize the exact opposite. A parser game offers you the opportunity to do anything in the world and that just shows how few options you really have. The cell phone that connects you to the rest of the world actually underscores your isolation from it. It’s a great way to avoid the combinatorial explosion of a vast, fully-implemented world (bathrooms being infamously difficult to implement in parser games) and also to use the fundamental nature of the medium to emphasize the story being told. And then in the end, you do, in fact, still have the power to determine the ending. The overall effect is quite nice.