Cannelé & Nomnom - Defective Agency – Younès R. & Yazaleea
So I mentioned at the top of the thread that I have a one year old son. He is an amazing, lovable little guy, but he is also precocious as all get-out, meaning that he’s realized that since he’s (mostly) figured out how to walk, he might as well get started on other life skills such as climbing out of his play-pen, eating anything that looks like it’s been on the floor for a long time, and face-planting into the edges of his toys. He’s a one-baby force of anarchy, and my wife and I trade off trailing after him, trying to preserve him from gross bodily injury and restore some semblance of order in his wake.
Speaking of gross, an hour ago as of this writing he pooped in his bathtub. You know what’s not especially pleasant to clean up? Poop. From a bathtub.
I share this not to give Henry something unique to tell his therapist when, later in life, he’s asked why he’s a pathologically private person – that’s a happy side-effect – but to say that a) I know whereof I speak when I say trying to keep the eponymous detectives in Cannelé & Nomnom on track feels like bottling chaos, and b) given that’s what I already spend the majority of my non-work hours doing, I’m maybe not the ideal audience for the game. Combine that with running into some bugs that, from looking at other reviews, don’t seem to strike universally, and I unfortunately didn’t wind up liking this big, funny, creative game as much as I think it deserves.
This is another high-production-value Twine game, with attractive character art, well-chosen colors, and a bunch of different sub-interfaces and minigames that bring its mechanics to life. The story is just as vibrant, taking a hoary old protagonist-with-amnesia premise and giving it an extra jolt by having you turn to the aforementioned duo, who bicker like a long-married couple and whose approaches to crime-solving turn on blagging your way into places you don’t belong with no goal or aim in mind, and trying to cadge free food wherever it can be found, respectively. The world isn’t our own, either – while the overall vibe struck me as early 20th-Century French, everyone’s got some kind of magical gift (so far as I could tell these tend to be fairly low-key – less slinging fireballs, more having a really sensitive nose), and it’s populated by characters who are less colorful than the title pair, but only just, from a hobo with a magic coin to a delightfully-married couple of cheesemonging lesbians.
Does this sound overstuffed? It feels overstuffed. Getting from point A to point B typically involves detours through C, D, X, H, back to A, choice of L or R, and then a jaunt to the conspiracy-board minigame where you match clue post-its to the mysteries they solve to finally unlock the road to B. There are further diversions, like having the option to defer to one detective or the other in their attempts to crack the case of your identity, which sometimes adds to their respective scores, which are tracked and always visible in the game’s sidebar; I also played a Texas-Hold-em-meets-Scrabble minigame, to no clear purpose, and had fun though I suspect the game cheats to get to the narratively correct result. Plus getting anywhere always involves a lot of banter between the core trio, which is advanced single line by single line (thankfully, you can bang the space bar instead of wearing out your finger clicking).
All this is to say that after an hour and a half of play, I’d only just managed to make it to the first significant location of the investigation and gotten the clues to solve the first non-tutorial mystery; I’m a fan of shaggy dog stories, but the game felt especially shaggy to me. Partially this is because I wound up finding Cannelé and Nomnom a little annoying. They’re each funny, and are able to create distinct scenarios of comedic mayhem – I don’t mean to be a killjoy, there is some good stuff here, with the quip that the cat who’d run off with my wallet had committed a “heinous feline-y” eliciting a half-laugh, half-groan – but they’re very one-note characters, at least in the time I spent with them. More, they’re continually at each others’ throats, forcing the player to mediate, keep them focused, and/or take sides between them; again, it’s like the most exhausting parts of parenting, with siblings who never let up the bickering to play nicely together or give a compliment if one has a good idea. This is a dynamic that can work in adventure games, I think – it’s not miles off Sam and Max, for example – but I think there’s a difference between games where you play one of the chaotic duo, and this one where you play their babysitter.
The game’s also shaggy because it has some polish and stability issues to iron out. I think the authors’ first language is French, as there are some passages that seem oddly or incompletely translated – “we have many interrogations”, one character says upon opening up an interview – plus there’s a cool rotating-text effect that leads to spaces getting erased, as well as the generally-flabby pacing mentioned above that would probably be tightened in an editing pass.
The bigger issue were the host of bugs I ran into, though. The conspiracy board is the game’s primary mechanic, but from the tutorial, it was throwing off errors. I seemed to be able to ignore a popup saying there was a bad evaluation error, but when I tried to link any clue to certain mysteries, I got another popup complaining about not being able to read the properties of an undefined ‘note_id’. At first this only afflicted an optional mystery, but eventually it spread to a mystery I needed to solve to move the story forward, bringing my progress to a halt. Attempts to shake off the bug by restarting and reloading, or trying a different browser (I was using Chrome, truly the most normcore of browsers) failed to fix the issue.
Despite the complaints I’ve leveled, I was disappointed when that happened; there’s much more good here than bad, and if I’d had the chance I would have followed Cannelé and Nomnom to the end. So I hope there’ll be a post-Comp release that makes it once again playable for me, and maybe smooths out the rough edges to boot. I’ll of necessity be keeping my toddler-wrangling skills sharp in the meantime, so should be ready to go whenever it surfaces!