Review – Goodbye Cruel Squirrel

I am curious to hear the story behind this game. In the banner information, it is copyrighted 2004 and the serial numbers agree. Further, it appears to be written in Inform 6 and the story file is in z5 format. Did the author find an old 1.44M floppy behind a couch?

This is a story about squirrels, and I am sad to say that squirrel stories are not yet recognized as a sub-genre of interactive fiction, but perhaps one day they will be. I have been sitting on an idea for a squirrel story for a number of years, and perhaps this will finally give me to the motivation to code it.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

As with many games in this soon-to-be sub-genre, the chief motivation is food; specifically, acorns. I hate to even whisper the word “monomyth” (damn, another quarter in the swear jar), but our furry protagonist does try to keep his head down at first and must be pressured into setting out on his transformative quest. He overcomes adversaries, enters the cave (a garage in this case), and eventually emerges as the next avatar of the Great Gray. Perhaps one day theses will be written about his journey.

The game harkens back to an earlier era of parser games, where it was more acceptable to employ the occasional odd verb, go light on implementation of locations, and expect the player to take the time to figure out unclued mazes. I’m not sure how all of that will play out today.

I don’t think a lot of players will make it through the bushes without some help from the walkthrough. True, the cat gave a good clue, but even though I had the right idea, after weaving back and forth a few times through the bushes with no indication that I was getting anywhere, I gave up. Some incremental feedback would be helpful, as would some sort of context-sensitive hinting or some means of maintaining orientation towards the exit.

Similarly, crossing the street was more difficult than it had to be. It isn’t really clear how the player is supposed to approach this, and there’s already precedent for the attempt being fatal. In examining everything at the edge of the road several times in a row, the player receives non-informative descriptions of cars in each lane. How is a player to know that if they keep on doing this action they will eventually receive a different response? From the player’s perspective, it looks like a canned response on par with other lightly implemented game features.

To complicate the road crossing issue, I wasn’t sure where we were. On one hand, the location was given as mid-West and gray is spelled with an “a”, so I assumed the US. On the other hand, the parser was set to UK dialect and in one spot, I came across the world “amongst”. Normally, this would be a minor point, but since I knew that I was walking south towards the road, it mattered, since in the US I would first encounter the westbound lane, but in the UK, I would step off the curb into the eastbound lane. Squirrels probably are not aware of this, though, so I suppose the author can be forgiven.

All things told, I enjoyed this short game, and think there is a place for games that are written with lighter implementation as long as they provide some sort of safety net responses along the lines of “you either don’t see that, or it’s not important in this game.”

Evaluation

Story: 6

Voice: 6

Play: 7

Polish: 6

Technical: 6

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 6.2

Transcript: squirrelScript

One thought on “Review – Goodbye Cruel Squirrel”

  1. If it is in the UK, then the PC is really the villain of the story. Gray squirrels are horribly invasive in the UK and outcompeting the native red squirrels, leading to a decline in the red squirrel population. So winning the game is adding insult to environmental injury…

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