“Sons of the Cherry” by Alex Livingston
A multiple-choice game.
Instead of using a z-code interpreter, this game runs in the browser and is more of a choose-your-own-adventure experience. I’m usually less impressed by these efforts; let’s see how this one holds up. If you would like spoilers, click below. If not, navigate away from this page.
First of all, I have to offer kudos for a unique subject and setting. This is a game about conspiracy and witchcraft in colonial America. It seems the American legend where George Washington asserts “I cannot tell a lie; twas I cut down the cherry tree” is a metaphor for Washington striking down a conspiracy called “Sons of the Cherry” who plant sacred trees and use occult powers to manipulate the populace. You, the protagonist are manipulated into joining this conspiracy and are involved in an attempt on Washington’s life.
At least, that’s how it played out for me. Being CYOA, I imagine it could go a number of different directions, and it’s a testament to the quality of the work that mine seemed like the right one. This is the best CYOA I’ve seen in the comp; the writing is good, and it tells and intriguing story. But the sense of agency is much lighter than I’d like it to be, and I’m having a hard time saying whether this is the work or the format. The game reveals what’s going on gradually. I didn’t realize I was in colonial America until the second or third scene. In the sequence where I find a woman in a print shop, I wasn’t sure what my objective was. So even though I probably had more control over the plot than I would in an average work of IF, I didn’t feel like I could make an informed decision. I suppose that not knowing the consequence of your choice in advance is both the biggest strength and the biggest weakness in CYOA, but the weakness comes through strongest on the first go, and thus I suppose investing additional time in replaying would only improve my opinion of the game.
Maybe I’m missing the point. There’s a real beauty to the idea that the story would work out to something satisfying no matter what the player did, but at the same time I felt kind of useless while playing. This is more story than game, light on the interactive and heavy on the fiction. It was good, but I personally enjoy something with puzzles.