“The Warbler’s Nest” by Jason McIntosh
Surely the reed bank counts as a wild place. While it gives you so much, you’ve never tended it, not really, not like you do with your garden. It’s something like the forest, then, but much safer to search without attracting attention. So here you are.
Going on the title alone I’m going to bet that this game earns at least an eight-average, since it doesn’t appear to be set in the author’s apartment, a generic dungeon, or a spaceship/station. Let’s talk spoilers!
Upon launching the game I see that they byline is a dark fairy tale. Big points with me already.
I was so thoroughly engrossed in this game that I took almost no notes while playing, except to copy down what the “wise” tailor told me to do. The story is simple enough, but the backwards way in which it is told captured my attention and didn’t let go. I spent the first part of my first play-through wondering what had been stolen from me, and what I was supposed to capture inside my house. The foreshadowing is fantastic, leading up to the final scene and the revelation: I am a mother and my child has been stolen and replaced by an impostor. Even better, I didn’t know what to do when it came to that final decision. Although the game had not demonstrated anything supernatural, I was so caught up in the mother’s superstition that I suspected the good ending involved unmasking the changeling.
I should admit that I didn’t even realize that the protagonist was female until the final scene. I should have picked up on that from the one prior clue:
> x me
So many years on, and still just as God made you, underneath your simple homespun shift.
…but as it was, this extra revelation just strengthened the impact for me.
Are there any negative aspects to this game? There’s not a huge amount of direction, but it’s a small enough game-space that the player is expected to turn every stone, so to speak. There’s a slight red herring in the cracked eggshell; I restarted the game and wasted a little time trying to find a way to keep it intact. It also wasn’t immediately clear that I had to perform an action twice to get an ending, but I figured it out after a few turns of frustration with the baby – probably the intended effect. The game is very short. I played it through in its entirety twice in less than an hour, and with an undo I got the third ending as well. I suppose I was left wanting for a little more back-story. What do I think is in the woods? What’s with the stones in my backyard? But these are nonessential.
I’m not giving it an A+ only because it wasn’t as much fun as another entry. But I might rethink that. This is a gem of compact IF storytelling.
The online afterword is just icing on the delicious cake. (Hooray for seeing an author’s thoughts!) I loved it and would recommend it to anybody.