Review: Birdland

(Emotionally engaging character-driven romance with a horror backdrop. I enjoyed this a lot, and I look forward to playing the entire Bell Park-series. Birdland - Details (

♫ Bird is the Word ♪

I never knew that when birds speak English, they sound like the lovechild of HAL and Spock!

Bridget’s counting the days until the end of summer camp. The people are okay, but phones are not allowed, the food sucks, and she’s never been one for all this physical nature activity sports stuff.

Also, she’s been having these really weird dreams lately…

On the other hand, that girl Bell Park seems nice. Maybe more than just nice…

Through the slow escalation of the tension in Bridget’s dreams, the horror of the bodysnatching bird-people infiltrates the reality of camp-life. The organic, off-hand incorporation of the magic realism drags the player along unnoticed, until it becomes clear that the “reality” of this teenage story has become quite unreal.

Birdland masterfully achieves a balancing act of realistic teen drama and creepy horror.

The core story is funny in its over-the-topness, while remaining easily recognisable. It acknowledges the importance and sincerity of the feelings and priorities of its teenage characters. Some of them are there to fill predictable roles, others have more depth, all of them get space and freedom to breathe, not squeezed into a mere caricature.

The horror slowly seeping in could have been a liability to the earnest depiction of the characters, threatening to disturb and overshadow the gentle and detailed approach to their relations in the story. It isn’t. Instead it presents a carefully crafted narrative opportunity: to fade out the NPCs into mindless birdslaves for the second half of the game so the budding relationship between Bell and Bridget can develop more freely. Once they are left alone, the mind-enslaving bird-people trying to take over the human race offer the necessary obstacles to overcome together, allowing the romance between them to grow.

Almost the entire story is in direct conversational (theatrical) writing, with the surroundings and immediate events described in “off-stage” cues between brackets. This means the diversity of the characters’ personalities is related to the player solely through “show, don’t tell”. The words and actions of the characters themselves bring them to life, not the author’s descriptions of them.

The player interacts with the story through clicking options. Some may have hidden consequences (I played through only once) or are there only for flavour. During the crucial dream-sequences however, the choices very clearly do matter, and feedback on the results is given immediately after. Increases or decreases in stats are explicitly, proudly displayed, and later in the game some options are labeled as available because of a stat being high enough, or greyed out for too-low stats.
Still a relative newbie to choice-games, I found this overt “gaminess” quite jarring in the otherwise emotionally/socially involved narrative, a true-to-life (except for the bodysnatching-bird bits) exploration of a developing teen romance. I quickly got used to it though, and it was a helpful realisation that my choice of path was completely up to me, that there were no right or wrong options. I learned to follow my personal preferences, not worry about closed-off options, and work with the choices I did have.

I am very impressed with how Birdland has an effectively scary and alienating horror subplot that serves as a means to put the romantic main story in the limelight.

Great story, endearing and life-like characters, warm and romantic bodysnatching horror.


It’s been a long time since I played this or the other Bell Park game but I think years later that she is probably the most famous character in IF. (H2G2 characters don’t count, obviously, since they’re not remembered as IF characters or originally IF characters).

It’s also impressive that Brendan Patrick Hennessy wrote her into two pretty different games, even if this one isn’t spoofing a YA genre as explicitly as the first, and made it work.

I just found out there’s a third game as well…not sure what that one’s like, or if she appears in other games.

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