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Bad Sister Reviews
Author: another_wannabe, Graphics by Goblinboy
Date: 2013
Inform


Review Posted by  

Bad Sister by Another Wannabe (with graphics by GoblinBoy) was released a few days ago. Since the discussion on aifarchive has been well and truly derailed by a couple of trolls, I thought I might offer my opinions here. This isn't going to be a full-scale review, but it is going to cover the same subject areas as I usually do.

Plot

The set up for Bad Sister is extremely straightforward. The PC goes to his girlfriend's house for dinner and meets the sister she's been keeping very quiet about. Over the course of the evening he has the chance to unravel the dark secrets they're been hiding, or not.

The advantage of making the game CYOA is that such a format is very good for telling a story. The author can control the pacing, and ensure that on any playthrough the player has learned all the relevant information. The disadvantage is that it achieves all that by restricting what the player can do, so there's a risk that it might feel like the author has tied the PC to a chair so that he can shout the plot at him, as Graham Nelson so colourfully put it. Fortunately, Bad Sister is flexible enough to avoid that, thanks in part to the various traditional AIF interactions that are still available.


There are seven different endings that could be considered good. As you might imagine, there is a 'best' ending that allows the PC to end up with both sisters, as well as different ways for him to end up with either Annette or Taylor. Ending #6 (Taylor the Pornographer) was far and away my least favourite of the endings. Not only does it depend on the PC doing something that's not only unbelievably stupid but simply unbelievable (uploading photos when intending to delete them), but it also connects Bad Sister to the Meteor-verse. I don't know who decided that this 'homage' was a good idea, but in my opinion Bad Sister is good enough to stand on its own merits. It doesn't need to drag in another game to support it. It's distracting and it invites a comparison that's going to be unfavourable. More personally, I didn't particularly care for the depiction of Jenny (one of my favourite characters from Meteor) since it suggests that one particular ending is 'canon'.


Characters

The PC's aim in Bad Sister is essentially to discover why the two NPCs behave in the way they do. All of the conversation options, together with the handful of things the player can discover are directed towards fleshing out the backgrounds of Annette and Taylor, so it's unsurprising that they come across as believable and well-rounded characters.

Somewhat unfortunately, the better endings (where the PC learns the most about the NPCs) are achieved by means of an exposition dump. It would have been better if this information could have been conveyed in a more natural fashion, although that might not have been possible given the size of the game.


While I'm not opposed to the inclusion of 'darker' subject matter in AIF, I did rather feel as though Annette and Taylor's backgrounds (which include death, betrayal and sexual abuse among other things) could have been toned down a bit. As it is, they have so much baggage that it seems unbelievable that they could shed it so easily and in such a short amount of time. Of course, having Annette and Taylor spend months in therapy wouldn't have been a particularly exciting ending, so it's easy to see why the less believable option was chosen.


Writing

I'm even more ambivalent about the presence of pictures than I usually am. While graphics are nice, the risk is that Bad Sister will be remembered as 'that game GoblinBoy did the graphics for' rather than 'Another Wannabe's first game'.

The other problem is that the presence of graphics tends to distract from the writing. Without the graphics, Another Wannabe's writing is well suited to interactive fiction in that it's concise and easy to digest. I would have liked a little more detail in places, but not very much more. However, because of that brevity, in the sections where there are a lot of pictures the writing is a bit overwhelmed.


Gameplay

That fact that Bad Sister is a CYOA game limits the gameplay somewhat, since the player is seldom called on to exercise their brain very much and the endings can be discovered by simple trial and error. The player does have a few extra options they can use, but it's either obvious when they're supposed to be used or there's no drawback to trying them at every opportunity.

The sex scenes are for the most part fully interactive in traditional AIF fashion (although thankfully without any arousal mechanics). However, and this is purely subjective, I didn't find any of the scenes to be especially erotic due to the dark hints that are swirling around the NPCs. Before too long it becomes obvious that the PC is merely another pawn in their ongoing struggle. Therefore there's no eroticism to Taylor offering herself to the PC in the bathroom, because the player is aware of her ulterior motives.


Technical

Perhaps because of the choice to make it CYOA rather than interactive fiction, playing Bad Sister was a bug free experience for me. There is the odd spelling mistake, such as using "Nevermind" (which is an album by Nirvana) rather than "Never mind".

I would quibble slightly with the choice to use Inform though. Although Inform does the job, it doesn't feel ideal. The player will sometimes have to type 'look' in order to see what their options are, for example. Also, Inform does not seem to be especially good at displaying pictures inline with text, resulting in the player having to press a button to see the next page whenever a picture is displayed. There are a couple of authoring systems specifically for CYOA that might have been better choices.


Conclusion

Bad Sister is a fun little game and possesses a stronger story than most AIF. Although the use of CYOA limits the player's interactions I wouldn't be averse to seeing more of it in AIF since it obviously makes it a lot simpler for the author to tell the story that they want to tell.

As a first game, Bad Sister is particularly promising due to the quality of the writing and plotting. There were a few missteps in my opinion, but despite that when the game was over I was left wanting more, which is a good sign. Hopefully there will actually be more and Another Wannabe won't be another one-game author. No pressure.

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