4 Edith + 2 Niki, by fishandbeer
I sometimes worry that I give short games short shrift – I mean I guess in a way that would be appropriate, as often there’s just less to say about a game that says less and in the attention-economy it’s easy to equate length with value. But still, there’s a lot to admire in a game that knows how long it should be, knows that the 90-second punk-rock version of a song is often strictly better than the 12-minute prog-rock version. In last year’s Comp, I adored some shorter games, like Funicular Simulator 2021, Closure, and My Gender is a Fish (I only just now realized that sometime in the last year my memory had invisibly renamed this game to I am a Fish, which of course would be the title of the inevitable genderqueer Faulkner mashup) – they didn’t need to maunder on endlessly to make an impression.
Sometimes, though, short games are too short to adequately develop their ideas, and sadly, such is the case with 4 Edith + 2 Niki. Per the blurb, this is a dating sim, implemented in basic-Twine style, though it takes a couple minutes to reveal itself as such. You start outside a shanty, given a choice of whether to enter or stay outside. If you choose the latter, you’re treated to a series of increasingly random vignettes, before being railroaded into going outside. Here’s the last, so you get a flavor:
You decide to stay longer. A horrible young man appears and names him a coffee-mouthed boy. Marvel starts entertaining with stories, especially the X-Men, Iron Man, and Dr. Strange sequels. After a while, though, it’s just Enter…
Once inside, it turns out the shanty is a spacious office, with six different sub-locations to explore; two have people named Niki inside them, and four have people named Edit (not Edith), each with a different number to distinguish them. The various Edits will ask you on dates or mention an event they’re going to, and after visiting all the rooms you decide which of the four to pursue, at which point the game ends with a different, but identically-cynical, ending involving you getting coupled-up with that iteration of Edit. Like, here’s the one where you go get Slovak food with Edit 1 (I’m like a quarter Slovak, and since that’s an especially random ethnicity even by the low-stakes standards of Eastern Europe you’d better believe I picked that first when I saw it was an option):
You decide to go to the Museum Village, where you will meet Edit 1. At first you fuck like rabbits, but less and less often, and you can listen to his head-voiced laughter at his shitty jokes. Plus, by the end, you’re completely silly.
Lest you think this is an outlier, punishing those who foolishly think Slovak food sounds like a good time – lots of love to my grandmother, but so far as I could tell from her cooking, flour dumplings, sausages, and doughy pastries were the highlights of the cuisine – here’s the one where you go to a concert:
You went to the Anne and the Barbies concert and then you became a couple. Over the years, you realize that she’s a little hysterical, but which woman isn’t. That’s all there is to it.
Maybe that’s a pun, you know like hysterical → hystera → uterus? This is awfully abbreviated to try to draw conclusions from, though, and indeed, that’s how I feel about the game as a whole. Is this meant as a satire of dating sims, making fun of the idea that you make a few low-context choices and you wind up mated for life? Is it trying to say something about the banality of identity in modern society by having all the romantic options have the same name? Is the juxtaposition of dateable Edits and standoffish Nikis (one’s implied to be an ex) getting at the sometimes-arbitrary way people present themselves or don’t present themselves as potential partners? Is the fact that the only option you have is which of these people to date, with remaining self-assuredly single not even a fail state or but-thou-must false choice like the one in the opening, trying to critique the normativity of coupledom, a la Lanthimos’s The Lobster?
I dunno, man, nor do I know what that any of that has to do with Iron Man or TARDIS-like shanties that contain office buildings. It just feels like stuff, and while individual vignettes have some disorienting zip, there’s just not enough here – not enough characters or plot or engagement – for them to cohere into anything with impact.