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By Alex Camelio
Played On: October 27th (2 hours 0 minutes)
Platform: Macromedia Flash 5 (Windows Executable)
Merk’s Score: 6+
Available for both PC and Mac.
The lovelorn yet mischievous college kid in me (although nearly fifteen years removed) really wants to like the premise behind Jealousy Duel X, in which the main character intends to humble his ex-girlfriend by collecting more phone numbers in one night than she has collected since their break-up. Some very... err... implausible situations arise for him as a result. His quest is an exaggerated and often hard-to-crack series of encounters with a variety of women, culminating in -- if all goes well -- another phone number.
The game is written in Flash, and might be web page embeddable. It has that web game feel to it, anyway. I like that it resizes perfectly to fit whatever window size I want (I believe Flash handles this inherently), without requiring a web connection or browser window.
Even though the presentation is pretty smooth and it’s a well-constructed game in general, I still have reservations. I’m not too bothered that it lacks text input, going for more of a CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) style of clickable option buttons. My biggest frustration was that it has no “save” and no “undo” ability. If you make a mistake -- even a single accidental misstep after an hour of play -- your only choice is to give up or start over. “Undo” could probably have been programmed into it, although it’s possible “save” could only have existed in memory (I don’t know Flash’s file writing limitations, if any). Even those abilities would have made the game more playable and more solvable than it is now.
In some ways, the puzzles are simple. You simply make choices from those listed, and sometimes use inventory items. In other ways, they’re maddeningly difficult. Often, only some of the choices are “right,” while the others only serve to close off paths necessary for success in obtaining the current (or even some other) girl’s number. It’s usually forgiving, with the ability to pick different options after messing up the first time -- but not always. It’s also not always clear that something you’ve done has closed off something vital to later success.
I didn’t realize at first that I could even use items in inventory (aside from the cell phone), but this plays an important role in several situations. Since it’s not always clear what the protagonist must do to finagle a phone number from the various vixens, it involves a lot of trial-and-error (which is hard to justify when mistakes mean starting over or being blocked from solving the puzzle entirely). Some things that feel like mistakes really aren’t, and vice-versa. It’s not that it requires reading the author’s mind, or that it’s poorly clued everywhere. It just feels like a good deal of luck and experimentation are necessary. That doesn’t mesh well with a game that doesn’t let you “save” or “undo.”
The right answers aren’t always the intuitive ones (if they were, it might lack challenge altogether). What this means, though, in a game with no “save” and no “undo” is that when you start over, it’s easy to make the same mistakes all over again, and forget exactly what correct courses of action you took last time before messing up. This makes losing a non-trivial thing, yet you can lose in unexpected ways after investing time in getting things just right. For instance, in one of my attempted play-throughs I was invited to the park apparently in response to an online personal ad. I went, and was comically murdered. This lost a good deal of progress for me, and required a re-start. It seems that the invitation only comes later in the game, so if it were to appear again, I probably wouldn’t go at all (in any attempt to make further progress there), for fear of once again losing all the progress I had made to that point.
It’s like that in several spots (including the mine and the mugger). Even when I didn’t lose, I often found myself at a severe disadvantage (for instance, penniless and with only a single health point). To solve the game entirely unassisted (especially for all twelve phone numbers -- apparently a minimal winning ending is available with at least nine), I think extensive note-taking is required. This is the antithesis of a “casual” web game, though, which is what Jealousy Duel X appears to be on the surface.
I didn’t solve it unassisted. Thankfully, the author made available a walkthrough (or rather, tips on various segments of the game) shortly before it came up on my random list. I solved it with eleven of the twelve numbers making heavy use of it, although I could not get the bar Blonde’s number due to status deficiencies (only one hit point, and no money). I think I could have sold a couple of unnecessary numbers gained along the way to the telemarketer (he appeared at a new area later in the game), but I somehow got rid of him. At the time, I was afraid that the $50 offer would take away all my phone numbers -- including the important ones. I don’t know for sure, though, since once I got rid of him, I could never figure out how to get him back.
Graphics are one of the game’s best aspects. They’re well done, and they fit the game perfectly. This is the biggest reason why I’ve ranked Jealousy Duel X as I have, and not a couple of points lower. They’re a lot like the illustrations in classic-era graphic adventures, capturing the expressions of the various characters. The main character is never shown (unless in the photograph I never found), so it’s not quite the same feel as, for instance, Leisure Suit Larry, where the protagonist can develop his own personality without it being attributed directly to the player.
The story, as I mentioned to start, is full of improbabilities -- and comic stereotypes. A pregnant woman (who doesn’t look very pregnant) is giving birth in the same room where you’re taken (to be bandaged) at the local hospital. A breastfeeding mommy will dump her brute of a husband at the local coffee shop if you make a stand. The “ex” is insensitive and shallow. The bartender and the local hooker are equally insightful. Annoy the pimp, and he’ll flip you the bird. Some of it merits a smile or a chuckle, although some just feels forced or perhaps funny to the college kid that isn’t me anymore. I admit, though, when the study group girl with curlers in her hair and what looks like Barney Rubble stubble on her face is described as having “a Donkey Kong smile,” I did laugh just a little.
This is another game that’s difficult to recommend to fans of traditional interactive fiction. Moreover, it’s difficult to recommend to CYOA fans (where you could at least “go back” to a different page) or web game fans (where games are more casual and can be replayed fairly easily). It’s the only game I’ve stopped playing at two hours this year -- and not because it was so short that I saw everything or so broken that I couldn’t. Really, I just lost interest in starting all the way over from the beginning (even with the walkthrough to point me in the right direction), knowing that one little mistake could leave me unable to get the twelve-number win once more.
I have scored it a “6” (which is “average”) on my voting scale. The author has, at least, justified the custom engine with a slick point-and-click interface and some nice visuals. That’s worth an added “plus,” although it also factors into the vote. If the same game had been written without graphics but with the same limited interaction, it would easily have scored a couple points lower.