Hand Me Down by Brett Witty
I will admit I’m an absolute sucker for games loaded with personal meaning. The parser section was a little unpolished at times, with the wording being a bit finicky, but it’s well worth the playthrough. Choices felt very deliberate. I actually loved the observatory puzzle (and yes I did have the letter grid and key, just like the finale mentioned) I just couldn’t figure out how to turn the different parts of the receiver panel for the longest time.
The game just made me feel absolutely clever. I didn’t have that much time today so I didn’t get to find everything, but I did find two shareables, two invites, and a costume.
What initially drew me to this game was that it was part TADS parser and part twine game. I think it’s a beautiful usage of both mediums, with the parser living up to its role as a robust, fun, puzzle-laden adventure, while the Twine sections really allow the characters of this game to shine. The in-universe fiction of this being a game made by a dad for his daughter shines through the construction of the game itself, and the writing. It never felt like that was a sidebar to the parser sections, it always stood out as the heart and driving core of the game. It never wanders too far or loses itself in the mechanics of the game, with notes and letters scattered throughout the game explicitly, and the dad’s character shining through in the construction of the parser section itself. Hand Me Down felt like a love letter of a game to Ruby, and that made it easy to love for me, stepping into her shoes and playing through a game entirely dedicated to her.
Besides the small, but not game-breaking, bugs, the only qualm I have about the game’s story is, after spending an hour or two playing the game, I’m a little disappointed the option to have Ruby tell her dad she loved it is marked as a white lie. I wanted her to love it like I had loved it, but I suppose that’s just grappling with the characters of this story. And if any part of it came from the author’s humility, I would encourage them to let me and Ruby both state our love for this game and mean it.
I will say, on a technical level, I don’t fully understand what goes into the making of a parser game, but there needs to be a better way of organizing the what feels like a dozen notes you can pick up along the course of the game. It also seems to struggle a bit with distinguishing between their names, which didn’t make it easy, but it all worked out with a little bit of patience. The puzzles are cool and well thought out, and it never felt like it was impossible to solve or it required knowledge that wasn’t set up in the game itself. The fiction of the in-world game also buys it some leniency: it was very easy for me to imagine that any bugs were diegetic, so to speak, as a hobbyist game and passion project made my Ruby’s father and partner for her.
Overall, it was a lovely and compelling game, with every bit of the parser section oozing with love and care for Ruby and her family. It felt like I was being invited to peek into a family’s dynamic, while at once being entirely at home in it, and stepping into Ruby’s shoes in this whimsical puzzle created for her. (And yes, I absolutely did choose the princess costume as my favorite, tantrum tiara and all.) It changed my understanding of Ruby’s relationship with her father, as I hope it did for her.