Rabbit's Spring Thing 2021 reviews

Hello all. I was going to skip reviewing Spring Thing games this year because I’m more employed than I was last year, but after looking through these entries, ooh, I just can’t help myself.

I’ve randomised the list of entries for fairness, but I reserve the right to skip ahead to entries I’m excited for if I deserve a treat. I’ve mixed Back Garden entries into my list as well.

I don’t score games in my competition reviews, but I’ll suggest ribbon nominations for games as I play them. My only rule here is that they must be earnest nominations – nothing negative or snarky. I found this to be a nice way of staying positive when I tried it for Spring Thing 2020.

I’ll write the date I played each game on and whether I played in browser or downloaded it, so that you know what version I’ve played (since mid-comp and post-comp updates might fix things I complain about). I used to list how long it took me to play each game, but I’ll skip that this year, since it was never an accurate reflection of how long the game actually takes to play. (I leave my timer running while I write notes for reviews, so my recorded playtime is often double a normal playtime.)



The Secret of Nara (Ralfe Rich)
Played 8th April (in browser)

(Spoiler warning: I talk about endings in vague ways in this review. If that might bother you, you should just play the game first, since it’s pretty short!)

Here’s a pleasant, short Twine game about a deer coming down from a life of solitude on a mountaintop. I found five ending, and none of them take longer than 5 minutes to read through. The whole game takes about 20 minutes tops.

In most playthroughs, the player character explores the world beyond the mountaintop and meets other deer. Your choices are usually between approaching or keeping your distance. As you might expect from a game about resisting solitude, approaching is a good tactic which opens up a world of new friendships and experiences for your character.

But what surprised me was that keeping your distance is also a worthwhile choice. This approach leads you to endings where the player character leads a more introverted lifestyle, and these endings are treated as just as valid as the others. A less vague ending spoiler: The only “bad” ending is staying on the mountaintop and resigning yourself to loneliness. The Secret of Nara is not suggesting a dichotomy between extroversion and total solitude; rather, it argues that the most important choice is the decision to come down from the mountain, and it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it.

As someone with a social anxiety disorder who’s been working very hard on talking to other people more, The Secret of Nara resonated with me. In the bad ending, I recognised the way the player character convinces themselves that they’ve made the right choice despite the loneliness. And I appreciated the recognition that total extroversion is not the only valid way to reach out to others.

I have a couple of gripes. I think the writing could be improved. It’s a little too wordy, and it seems to stumble over itself in some places. Maybe some editing for conciseness would have strengthened the writing. On the other hand, it’s also lush and pretty when it works well. (And I’ve been accused of being too wordy in my own work, so what do I know.)

I would also have liked more styling on the Twine pages. Vivid colours are described throughout the story, yet the game is white text on a black background. I think there’s a missed opportunity here for making the game look beautiful. (Though I like the shade of orange used for the links.)

Not a bad start at all to my Spring Thing!

Ribbons: The Secret of Nara is sweeping the board so far, since this is my first Spring Thing review. Looking at the 2020 ribbons for inspiration, I think it’s a contender for Most Heartwarming. Maybe Best Player Character too? I didn’t get around to mentioning it, but I like how things get a little abstracted through the perspective of a deer.


Ned Nelson Really Needs a Job (Eric Crepeau)
Played 13th / 18th April (in browser)

(I played Part 1 of 3 on the 13th and decided to take a short break which lasted five days. Sorry.)

You are Ned Nelson, and you Really Need a Job. In this 30 minute Twine gauntlet, you need to survive a job interview for an application you’ve completely forgotten, and figure out in the process what the job actually is.

The blurb suggests that this is going to be a Death Off the Cuff-style bluffing comedy, but it’s not that. You learn what the job is fairly quickly, and then you have a different set of problems. Ned Nelson Really Needs a Job is more a character study of Cosmo Jett, Ned’s interviewer and the worst person in the world. He’s an exaggeration of the Silicon Valley bro; he’s Elon Musk with even less of a filter. Crepeau’s dialogue does a good job of making Jett one of the most unlikeable characters in interactive fiction.

The game tempts you throughout with the “Punch Jett directly in the face” option. As you learn more about the situation and Ned’s morality gets tested, that option looks better and better. And what a punch it is – maybe one of the best in videogames. The description is a little grisly for my tastes, but the writing lingers on the moment before your fist connects, and it’s so very cathartic.

In general, the writing is very good here. The jokes come thick and fast and they mostly land, and the dialogue really goes whole hog on characterisation. The writing is also secretly very good at setting the mood. The reveal of what’s going on is cartoonishly evil, but the game becomes a lot more tense as it commits to the bit and gradually nudges Ned towards complicity.

As you may have guessed, this is not a subtle game. It’s not a game which is trying to change your worldview. It subscribes to the “punch Nazis” school of political praxis. (I don’t think you’re actually told that Jett is a fascist, but we’re in the same ballpark here.) I appreciate this a lot, honestly. So much in the real world is defined by compromise – “there is no ethical consumption under late capitalism” and all that. In real life, you have to buy from, work with, and work for companies with blood on their hands, because it’s that or starve. Here, you can punch Jett directly in the face. What a release.

A couple of complaints: I would have liked some CSS styling to make the game look nice. (I complained about this with The Secret of Nara, so it’s only fair I complain about it with Ned Nelson.) And although the puzzling is mild and the solutions are fair enough (and the one centrepiece puzzle is clever and narratively satisfying), I found it a little annoying to have to play a chunk of the game again whenever I failed. Checkpoints at the beginning of every part are appreciated, but an undo button would have been better, and it would be nice for players who are hunting down all the alternative endings as they’re encouraged to do in the True Ending.

Ribbons: Funniest Game so far. And, of course, Best Punch.


Congratulations on your employment, and hope you enjoy the other games you play through!