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Narcolepsy

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Adam Cadre

GAME DEVELOPER:Freeware

GAME PUBLISHER:Freeware

Copyright 2003, Adam Cadre

Yet another superb IF from Adam Cadre, Narcolepsy is a fun and funny game that pokes fun at American pop culture. The game is most similar to Adam’s earlier game Interstate Zero in its setup: you essentially wander around your town, talking to various colorful denizens while trying to figure out just what is going on and what the heck you are supposed to do. Emily Short sums up the pros and cons very well in her review for IF-Review:

“Like Adam’s other works, Narcolepsy features entertaining prose and a wry take on modern culture. It has multiple plot paths, branches, and endings. It has a large collection of inserted dream sequences written by other IF authors, and many of them are creepy, funny, or visionary in their own right. On the other hand, pacing problems detract somewhat from its impact, and the stories it told had less substance than I might have liked.

The main mode of interaction in this IF story is that you wander around and around your town, reading wacky and often funny descriptions of the people and places, exchanging witty repartee with the other characters, and trying to figure out what the heck is going on. What is actually going on depends on which of three possible directions you take at the very beginning, so it’s really as though there are three stories here which happen to have the same protagonist and some of the same elements, but the background explanation changes radically between the three. There’s no element of conscious choice here, since the player has no reason to think (at the time) that he’s doing something important.

There’s not a lot of conscious choice for the character in most of the later stages of the game, either. I rarely felt “stuck” in the sense of having an action that I wanted to take or a goal I wanted to achieve, and being unable to achieve it. Very often, however, I did feel aimless. There are times when it’s not at all clear what you’re supposed to do next. For long stretches, I did nothing but travel to different locations over and over again, hoping to trigger some sort of event this time around. There wasn’t even much for me to play with in those locations. Narcolepsy has extremely spare room descriptions (no more than a listing of items after the initial viewing) and few props. I did blink a few times when items mentioned in the primary room description were unimplemented — I think that’s a mistake, even for a work like this — but in general, I see the purpose of the spare description. It keeps the player from expecting puzzles and puzzle solutions where none exist. It sends the clear message that fiddling with objects is not the point of the game. It gets the player out of the house. But I did feel a little foolish when a lot of my interaction consisted of typing “GO TO CITY HALL. GO TO LIBRARY. GO TO DOWNTOWN.” over and over even though there was absolutely nothing for me to do at any of these locations until I happened to hit on the one place currently occupied by an interesting NPC…. In short, although it would be a bit of a misnomer to call such a widely branching work linear, Narcolepsy shared some of the frustrating features I associate with very linear games: relatively few interesting possibilities are available at one time, and a lot of time is spent on hunt-the-trigger to get the next piece of the story to unfold.

The good bits, when they occur, are fairly entertaining. The writing of the scenes is amusing. Non-default responses are often quite funny. The characters are typically Cadre-esque, a collection of the very stupid, the very naive, and the gratuitously evil. Quite a few provide amusing inversions of stereotype — goons who turn out to be unexpectedly intellectual, for instance. I particularly liked the main character’s sister. She was annoying, but I nonetheless felt a certain affection for her eventually, and this is not an easy line to tread.

The dream sequences, some contributed by other authors and some written by Adam, are also quite neat. These sequences are of various lengths, styles, and directions; some are creepy, some funny, some attractive, some intentionally a little irritating; several play like miniature twilight-zone episodes, tiny vignettes that couldn’t possibly be stretched to a full-length game but function just fine all on their own. I was impressed by how well some of them reflected the central themes of the game, considering that (unless Adam gave more information to other authors than he did to me) none of us had much idea what the overall project was going to look like. Though these are a digression from the main plot(s) of Narcolepsy, I found them a highlight of the game.

Fans of Adam’s writing will no doubt try Narcolepsy, and they’ll probably enjoy it. Despite the complaints just enumerated, I laughed quite a few times and had a better time with it, overall, than with all but a handful of other games released this year. I don’t think it represents the best of his work, though. There’s promise in the idea of a story that unfolds more or less without puzzles, but as a player I still want to have some sense of choice and control; I can’t appreciate how many branches and variations there are unless I understand what actions trigger those variations.”



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