Mike Russo's Spring Thing 2024 Reviews

Do Good Deeds…, by Sissy

Lately I’ve been thinking about my approach to a reviewing for an article I’m working on for The Rosebush, and in particular my hesitation about reviewing games submitted to the increasing number of excitingly-themed jams. These are often shorter games by newer authors, and I think are frequently trying to do things other than just competently execute standard IF tropes, all of which should be up my alley (for evidence see my just-written review of Dragon of Steelthorne, where I spend 1,200 words moping about an entirely competent bit of IF!) But I know that jam games are also typically written in a short period of a time, might be pretty narrowly focused, and are sometimes more about communicating one key idea or trying to provoke one specific response rather than building out robust implementation. Which is all fine, but really at odds with my reviewing style, which tends towards the overly-detailed, the nitpicky, and (above all else) the verbose – it seems unfair and unedifying to subject that kind of scrutiny at games that are not really asking, or designed, for it.

All of which is to say that I’m going to try hard here to play against type and write a short review that doesn’t excessively harp on my complaints. So: Do Good Deeds… is a relatively compact Twine game that tells a sweet, fable-like story of an unlovely elf who makes friends with a bunch of animals who are initially wary of him. He helps a hare escape a hunter’s snare, comforts a rat who’s afraid of his own shadow, rescues a drowning porcupine, and more, all illustrated with appealing cartoon-style pictures. There are some light puzzles, like picking the right object to use to resolve these various situations, but there are no penalties for guessing wrong, and all the choices reduce to either being helpful or ignoring the animals’ distress, so the overall vibe here is very gentle.
It’s the kind of game that might be good to introduce a younger kid to IF, in other words – for them, the moralistic, didactic streak might even be a strength? – and even though that’s obviously not me, that’s still something I can appreciate. But there are two disastrous issues. First, the prose is riddled with typos, infelicities, and confusing verbiage; per the last paragraph, I’m not going to pick on any specific examples, but trust me that every single passage led to me furrowing my brow at the language at least once. I’m not sure whether the author’s primarily language is something other than English, which might explain some of these issues – and I recognize that’s a hard problem – but there are also a bunch that a basic spell and grammar check would have caught, which would have drastically improved the game’s readability.

Second, Do Good Deeds… uses more timed text than any game I can think of off the top of my head. Again, it’s in just about every single passage, and it is very slow, with no facility for altering the speed. The game also has a small readable window, with no visible scroll bars, all of which combined to make progressing through the game frequently tortuous, as I clicked on links, waited for the timed text, realized it had moved past the window, tried to drag-scroll down the page and overshoot, then tap the arrow key to try to scroll back, only to see that the timed text was still crawling snail-like to the end… it’s excruciating, and as a result it probably took me an hour to play this 15-ish minute game, since I ultimately starting alt-tabbing away to kill time doing other things in between every click.

As with Octopus’s Garden, I can’t help but feel that having just one or two testers would have made a world of difference here; their feedback could have hopefully helped the author recognize where some changes were needed, which would have made for a far better game. So I’ll close this uncharacteristically-terse review with three uncharacteristically-terse pieces of advice for what seems to be a new author who shows some promise: 1) always get testers (this forum is great for that!); 2) always spell-check; 3) never used time text without a really good reason, and recognize that “it’ll make the player slow down and really concentrate on the writing!” is not a good reason because you’ll actually achieve the opposite.