A 30-something year old man continues down the trodden path of mediocrity and familiarity through the same alarm he’s used for years. He sits on his chair given to him by a friend that he hopes will break one of these days so he can get a new one but refuses to get rid of a gift. He finds a good Vaporwave track to listen to and begins to type words on a document on his computer. It’s for a game called Critters For Sale, and he feels highly positive on his 5 hours spent with it. This timeline is one he feels comfortable with.
Critters for Sale harkens back to the heyday of Choose Your Own Adventure books, instilling an electronic veil for the days of flipping through hundred page books to decide if your chosen fate was a good one. The man began by playing one of five short stories, each titled after a different Critter. Each story takes place in different places and eras, following different humans as they tackle mysterious avenues, such as winning money in a Casino during Earth’s final hours, or receiving a 3AM text from Michael Jackson.
The man got to meet various characters: martians with a taste for the spicy, travelers with a thirst for glory for them and the other voice in their head, experimental hip-hop groups based out of Sacramento, California. The man laughs at the pitch-perfect writing the oft-kilter characters would have given some are not of this planet, or of this timeline. The man feels enveloped by the twists and turns that border on the hysterically insane. He couldn’t think of a game in recent times that had him doubled over in laughter with a perfectly timed clown nose honk, but the next breath had him in a -275 degree Celsius elevator chamber with a pixelated nightmare coming through the small displaced screen to greet the man sitting in the chair he didn’t quite like. That timeline is one he was not comfortable with.
Each scenario utilizes point and click gameplay with a dash of puzzle solving and visual novels. Endings can be behind finding hidden keys, telling specific people the right (or wrong) information, or testing their merit with memory and reaction mini-games. Puzzles can be simple in nature, like a disturbing face being put back together via 8-puzzle, to head-scratchingly difficult with specific endings needed to be seen to reveal the puzzle’s answer. He was worried about the challenge, but enjoyed it very much.
But what the man loved the most is just how daringly weird yet cohesive Critters for Sale is. To balance the concept of multiple timelines weaving together is hard enough, but to make use of every second to pendulum swing emotions and create characters for whom every word envelopes their personality and makes them memorable is astounding. The Delivery Guy may only grace the screen for maybe 2 minutes, but the man will always remember him.
And it’s that structure and style that makes Critters for Sale so perfect. No time is wasted in delivering one of the weirdest plots of any game this year, yet the man couldn’t believe how well-made and tightly packed in these outlandish ideas were brought to fruition. It has the charm that only indie games can bring, and that if brought to a AAA studio would be told to do half a backflip. And to make a multi-timeline sci-fi comedy horror CYOA that doesn’t miss is something the man felt only Sonoshee could do.
The man stopped typing. He felt good with what he wrote and was ready to post it on his website Pixel Die, to be edited by his friend Demetri, and hoped everything looked fine. He contemplated what game he would play next. Maybe an action title? Or a horror experience? To the man, it didn’t really matter. Because he knew that it was going to be hard to play anything else this year that stamped such an unique experience into his brain like Critters for Sale did. All he could hope is that whatever was next was just as enjoyable. The man typed the game’s name next to a few others for Game of the Year consideration. This timeline is one he feels comfortable with.
…but maybe after he looks up some conspiracy theories about Michael Jackson. Just in case.
A Steam code was independently purchased for review.