Fran Bow

I think I purchased Fran Bow during a Halloween sale.  It got lost in my vast backlog of adventure games until I was finally in the mood for a point and click story experience.  I spent the next few hours sending messages to my friend which all said something along the lines of “Wow, this game.”  “WTF.”  “This is like the most fucked up game I’ve played in awhile…”  It actually reminded me a bit of Year Walk, although not nearly as ambiguous and without the same level of puzzle solving.  Both games come from Sweden, so perhaps that’s less of a coincidence than I first thought.

Fran Bow is a ten year old girl who survives a terrible family tragedy, and is then placed in a mental asylum.  The game takes place in 1944, so this is an old-school asylum environment with all of its various mental illness stigmas.  Fran was separated from her beloved cat, Mr Midnight, and she embarks on a mission to escape the asylum and find him.  The game has some mental illness themes that I found intriguing, and unraveling what’s going on is an engaging journey.

The game has quite a few mixed reviews on Steam, and I think that’s because there’s a huge tonal shift in the third chapter.  The opening chapters are fucked up.  There is a lot of really disturbing imagery and suggestions of some really dark content, which is probably what a lot of people dove into the game expecting after looking at the synopsis (and possibly got even more than they bargained for).  The third chapter, though, loses a lot of that imagery and becomes a fairly generic point and click story.  It doesn’t really return to its disturbing roots until closer to the end, and even then it doesn’t seem to reach the same heights.  I can easily see how someone who was engaged by the opening chapters would lose a lot of momentum in chapter three and not really manage to stick it out.  And the ending was… strange.  Many reviews point it out for being too abrupt, but I felt it had enough closure to seal off the story.  I wouldn’t say it was disappointing, but it might have been a little more effective if they had been more concrete rather than leaving some of the lines to interpretation.

If you can handle the disturbing underlying suggestions of the game, it’s probably worth the 4-6 hours that it will take to see Fran through her story.

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Cruddy

CruddyCruddy by Lynda Barry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is disgusting, disturbing, and fucked up… and I loved every minute of it. I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked it up. I read Lynda Barry’s illustrated syllabus and really liked it, so when I saw Cruddy I thought “Oh hey she writes books too?” Turns out she doesn’t write many books but what a book she wrote.

You often find a lot of authors are masters of one thing and then everything else is sort of propped up on that thing. Since she’s primarily a cartoonist, I thought maybe these books would be an experimental foray into something different, maybe a little threadbare or grasping. The imagery is incredible, and you might think “well yeah but she’s used to portraying things in a visual medium” but it wasn’t just that. I enjoyed every facet of her writing. Some of the word choices are things I would never think to make, but they were so effective. I was continually impressed by how vivid everything was. Vividly disturbing, with a whole extra layer of fucked up on top. It was really something to experience.

But it’s also bleak. Even though it has its share of black comedy, this is probably not a book to read if you’re feeling down. It’s a snapshot of a miserable world full of miserable people who are fucked up because of the shit they’ve gone through and they’re getting by as best they can because there’s really nothing more they can do—this is it. Addiction, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse… everything is laid out bare and unflinching in Cruddy, and the vivid descriptions bring it home in full colour.

I can’t give this book enough stars. It needs to be experienced.