IF Comp 2016: Mirror and Queen (Chandler Groover)

Mirror and Queen is a puzzleless reflection, made in Inform 7. Spoilers past the cover image.

Cover art for Mirror and Queen

First Impressions: The combination of the mirror image, the name, and the Disney-style gothic font put my expectations firmly in fairytale land. A disturbing spin on the Snow White fairytale is quickly established with the first paragraph luxuriating in animal sacrifice and hints of a sinister summoning.

The interface is pretty, with the mirror providing a visual and narrative framing for the text. It pulls the reader into the Queen’s situation right away, fixated on the overflowing words and the constricted space in which they appear.

Getting Stuck In: Asking the mirror about concepts or objects brings more and more information, each paragraph ending with an eager entreaty to ask more. There’s nothing else to be done here, which gives a claustrophobic, addictive feel to the whole thing. The writing is self-assured and beautiful, words tumbling out seemingly without limit and following the Queen’s meandering, destructive thoughts.

I found myself following threads, sometimes in response to the mirror’s words and sometimes sparking from my own ideas. One thread that turned out to be about infertility was particularly powerful. The mirror responds even to words that weren’t in the game’s library, commenting about the Queen’s preoccupations in a poetic way: it helps maintain the illusion that the mirror can see everything with no limits, a similar technique to last year’s Laid Off From the Synaesthesia Factory by Katherine Morayati. The only limit to the mirror’s eloquence that I found is that it chides you for being repetitive if you ask it about the same thing several times in row.

Shortly before it finished, I started to wonder  whether there was a direction the game was headed: demons were increasingly mentioned, as well as the courtiers’ murderous tendencies, and I tried to steer the questions in certain directions, unsure where I wanted to go with it and when it would finish. Still, the game is short enough that it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Pros: Gorgeous writing, excellent use of limited parser to give an illusion of infinite choice, an extremely strong voice and a protagonist who is both monstrous and sympathetic.

Cons: As a player you don’t have any direction, which could be frustrating, and the ending feels a little abrupt as there isn’t much sense of pace.

Overall: I really enjoyed this. Between the lush writing and unflinching look into the Queen’s psychological state, not to mention the court wheeler-dealing and ruthless aristocracy, it was just my cup of tea. Fairytales can be a hard sell, but this really suited me. I almost want something more from the world and characters, to be able to escape the game’s boundaries… but, after all, we know how this story ends.

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