IF Comp 2017: Goodbye Cruel Squirrel

squerlGoodbye Cruel Squirrel (Extra Mayonnaise) is an Inform game in which you’re a grey squirrel.

The gag here is that you’re on a kind of Redwall / Animals of Farthing Wood quest to save your people from starvation, but being a squirrel you are in fact a total asshole and operate more in a Happy Tree Friends kind of idiom, leaving mayhem and destruction in your wake. The way you save your people is to fuck up the neighbouring red squirrels and take their stuff. There is a bowling ball in the game, and it’s decorated like a testicle; this pretty much sums up the game’s mode of humour.

It’s autumn, but a grotesque autumn, with lots of emphasis on how all the plants are blackened and rotting. If you don’t volunteer to save your tribe, a more eager, more stupid squirrel volunteers, dies horribly, and then you get voluntold. Everybody in the story is an asshole or a fool. In theory you’ve got a higher purpose – save your own people – but there’s not a whole lot of affection for them in evidence. The story is a pretty straightforward quest narrative – you aim to do the thing, and then you do it, and at the end of things you earn leadership of your people, although this feels a little out of place, an afterthought.

As a game, it’s fine. It’s not doing anything unusual or novel – this could have been made any time in the last twenty years, really – but it’s aiming to be relatively straightforward to play, and quite a bit of the time it succeeds. Its puzzles aren’t always predictable, though – I spent a lot of time doing a thing because it seemed to be a thing to do, only finding out the reason later – but there’s work done on signalling plausible actions. Mechanically it’s a lot less punishing than the world it depicts. I had one or two little moments of nasty satisfaction in trying to do a horrible thing and the game accepting it – the first moment is when you shove the mouse out of the bird-feeder. But more often it was a matter of finding the one horrible thing that the plot requires; it’s a pretty linear plot, and it’s difficult to make gleeful mayhem work in that mode.

More to the point, those moments of nasty little satisfaction add up: the principal motivating mood of the game is being vindictive. People are stupid or venal, and then you fuck them up for it. This is an itch that games aim to scratch quite a lot – to show people as contemptible, furnish you with opportunities to kill or humiliate them, and then justify it with a fig-leaf of comedy or Need for Survival. Cruel Squirrel isn’t remotely near the worst I’ve seen in this vein, but there’s definitely enough to make the whole thing kind of uncomfortable.

Score: 3-4.

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