Note: Little Girl in Monsterland is supposed to be a 15-hour game. This review is based on approximately 2 hours of play, perhaps a little more, and just looking at the map it is obvious that I haven’t seen most of the piece yet, though I solved a fair number of puzzles (by myself or using hints) and suspect I have a reasonably good idea of what the game as a whole is like.
With its use of graphics and an interface with persistent buttons, Little Girl in Monsterland sits somewhere between a choice-based interactive fiction and a point-and-click adventure. It tells the tale of a little girl, Olivia, who teams up with princess Camilla in order to have adventures. Possibly there is a greater point to the whole narrative, but this has not been revealed yet. Mostly, you’re just goofing around, trying to help people with little quests, and doing things that sound fun, such as meeting a famous knight, seeing a mermaid and winning a horse race. The entire thing is very good-natured, rather silly, sometimes a bit puerile, over-the-top in its parody, and overall just fun in an inoffensive way. To be honest, I rather liked playing a small girl who gets into all the weirdest situations and tries things that most adventure protagonist wouldn’t even contemplate. The atmosphere is definitely strengthened by high quality graphics; and judging from some screenshots in the forum, a future version of the game will have much better graphics yet.
In the puzzle department, Little Girl in Monsterland is trying to solve a problem that people have been thinking about for a long time: how to test player comprehension. Sure, the player used object A on object B… but did they anticipate what that combination would do? The way that Mike Stallone attempts to solve this is by explicitly asking the player for a rationale. If you try to use the paint on the statue, the game asks you to choose what you then expect to happen from a small list of options – and Olivia will only proceed with the action if you make the right choice. This is a nice idea. When it worked well, it was pretty satisfying; and it certainly discourages trying to brute force your way through the world.
That said, it didn’t always work well for me. [Just to be entirely clear, major puzzle spoiler will follow.] For instance, at one point you have to find a necklace in high grass. So I decided to use Camilla’s horse to eat the grass so I could more easily find the necklace. You choose to use the horse; then you state that you want to use it to cut the grass; and then you have to state “what will happen next”… but finding the necklace wasn’t there! This totally stumped me, and only use of the hints made it clear to me that I should have chosen the “someone will eat something” option. But that doesn’t happen next (it just is the cutting), and it wasn’t the reason for taking the horse to the grass.
Overall, I found the puzzles somewhat hit and miss. Some were quite logical and satisfying, such as finding the mermaid, entering the castle, and winning the horse race. Other seemed to be unsolvable without hints, such as the bizarre things you have to do in order to (unsuccessfully) cut the wood: somehow, a news item about a wooden house struck by lightning must give you the idea that you can cut wood by standing on top of it with a parasol. This is the kind of puzzle that makes no sense even when you have heard the solution. Another example: in order to get little girl’s tears, you must somehow come up with the idea that you will cry if you have a bellyache, and then seek out some nasty berries and eat them. I mean, I could hurt myself in a million ways in real life (and frankly there seem many more reliable ways of making myself cry then eating something bad); thinking of this specific course of action seems to be a study in reading the author’s mind.
And here it is unfortunate that the hint system is unhelpful to the point of being hostile and dismissive. First, it is slow, requiring you to open it up anew and wait a few seconds every time you want to show an additional hint. And then most of the hints aren’t really hints at all. Sometimes they’re even messages that say something along the lines of: “You don’t need a hint for this, you can just solve it.” For instance, when you try to find an out-of-circulation coin, the first four hints don’t tell you anything at all! (To be exact, the fourth hint is: “What place have you seen that could contain old coins?” If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking for a hint, would I?) I found the combination of slow, dismissive hints that then reveal a totally obscure puzzle solution sometimes rather disheartening.
As it is, Little Girl in Monsterland is promising and I did enjoy checking it out; but I also found it somewhat frustrating. A more helpful hint system would go a long way in addressing this. And possibly also some code optimisation to speed up the interface? I at least experience notable lag after most button presses, and this really slowed down the play experience.