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IFCOMP 2006 - Lawn of Love

Game #19: Lawn of Love (by Santoonie Corporation)
Played: November 8th (55 minutes)
Platform: TADS 2
Unofficial Score: 4+

     Game’s Blurb:
     Santoonie Corporation's first ever romantic adventure.

     XYZZY Response:
     Party Trick: Go into bathroom with a mirror. Close door, turn out all lights, let eyes get used to dark. Hold arm out and touch mirror, at the same time turning on the lights for 2 seconds. Turn off light, drop arm to your side, while continueing to stare at mirror without moving or blinking your eyes. Your arm will still be in the air! Freaky.

     Expirament with giving the finger or making funny faces.

     ~ A.P. Hill

     Santoonie games have a certain style: the font sizing, the use of color and inline graphics where you wouldn’t really expect a visual, three parts (preface, prologue, introduction) to begin each story, lengthy legal notes, unedited writing, and offbeat game responses that are probably a huge source of amusement to those involved in the development. None of this makes a Santoonie game a good game, but I find something compelling – maybe in a guilty pleasure sort of way – about each one.

     In my third experience with a Santoonie-made game, I’m also starting to see that it just can’t be reviewed in a traditional way. Some reviewers take hold of what they like, and they rate all games against that. For instance, if a reviewer really likes comedy and puzzles and expects that all games should be funny and puzzley, then great games may get low marks if they fail to impress on that level (even if the game was never intended to be puzzley or comedic). Other reviewers (and in my opinion, more fairly) try to evaluate whether or not each game succeeds at what it was trying to be. In the case of a game trying and succeeding at being bad, though, does it deserve high marks? How does it compare to bad games that weren’t trying to be bad, or games that succeed, but at being good?

     Santoonie games are great (and let’s not take that out of context) at appearing to be failed attempts to write good games. It’s bound to be confusing to first-time judges (see my reviews of Zero and Amissville 2), because Lawn of Love almost seems like a serious attempt. It doesn’t flaunt its shoddiness like PTGOOD. It doesn’t seem purposely infuriating like Sisyphus. And, unlike the typical Panks entry, it doesn’t merely rehash the same wacky elements found in the author’s prior games. Santoonie keeps the joke going by never admitting that it is a joke. By every appearance, Lawn of Love is a well-intentioned game that just happens to be really bad, and this is where they succeed.

     Granted, I don’t think it took any special effort to get there. It’s not so bad that it’s good. The poor quality is the legitimate result of a lack of effort. They just do it with a certain flair that makes it worthwhile to play, even if only in the context of the IFComp.

     I’ll mention the more interesting bugs a little later (especially the ones that make this classic Santoonie form), but I’ll skip most of the rest. It just seems pointless to list the multitude of little bugs and glitches and problems in the writing that have become trademark Santoonie anyway. The game can be won, and in under an hour.

     Actually, the game can be won in only a few seconds. The thing you must do at the very end (to complete the game) can be done on your very first turn. I tried. It works. Getting to the end the long way was a little tricky, because it requires going against the grain of almost every other work of IF that has ever let you stumble into an area where everything is dark. It tells you that you can’t see without your lighter, yet (a) the exit no longer works and (b) you can’t actually find the lighter. The trick is to ignore this, and stumble along in the darkness. This leads to the climactic encounter, which happens not on the “lawn of love”, but in a dark and abandoned building.

     Did I mention that Todd and his love interest are both fourteen?

     The bugs in Lawn of Love might as well be called “features”. Room exits are haphazardly listed, and going the wrong way (at least in HTML TADS) will give a blank description followed by a standard Windows “bong” sound. Throwing anything at the button assumes you mean to throw the spear. Undo at the very end allows you to keep racking up points, well over the maximum of 100 that the game claims. The description of the field (and maybe other locations) doesn’t change, even though the girl is gone. A hunger daemon assures that you’ll die (after a generous number of turns, at least) if you don’t eat something – luckily, food is easy to find near the beginning. Comma misuse and spelling errors are rampant. So is unimplemented scenery.

     As to the story, the “about” text puts it best: “Romance is not our style, we prefer to tackle girls, so we tried a genre outside our realm of comprehension.” It’s no surprise that Lawn of Love lacks romance entirely, going from “find the elusive beauty” to “wowza, I just scored” in a single turn. The ending is a bit of a twist, though. It even leaves room for interpretation.

     As Santoonie games go, it seems like a fine effort. The puzzles barely count (I guess this is more of a story-based game), it features proud Santoonie humor, and it’s short. I give it a “4” – and a “plus” for not making me mad.

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