Parody is a wonderful thing, if done correctly. The warping of expectations and general fun of turning subjects on their head is a joyous thing to me, as I’m sure it is to many others. With recent opportunities for games to present more radical ideas, titles such as The Spiral Scouts, with writing that subverts its colorful and innocent appearance, become all the more prevalent. It helps when one of the developers is familiar with mature territory.
The moment I saw a trailer for The Spiral Scouts, I knew I had to at least try it out. It didn’t seem to be a grandiose adventure with heartfelt monologues and a variety of gameplay mechanics, but the strength of its ultra-crass writing combined with its distinguishable color palate gave me confidence that this was no child’s play. The question then becomes: Is the game’s writing its only recommendable factor? Or is there more to its straightforward quest to upend the image of scout-styled badge collecting.
The Spiral Scouts is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
A bold move on the part of the writers is the intention of making the story seem as though it’s being made up as it goes along. Most often, games try not to make it seem so, though here it almost adds to the charm of its atmosphere. A wonderful thing about parodies is that it laxes the expectations of viewers to take much of what’s occurring seriously, therefore the more basic writing techniques can be written off as intentional. It also makes nuanced textual winks all the more clever.
Remae, or as she’s called before being named by her scoutmaster, ???, is randomly teleported to a plain of existence where she’s tasked with solving a puzzle that will send her into joining the ranks of the Spiral Scouts. She has no idea why she was chosen, why she exists, or why any of it even matters, but she goes along with it for the fun of it. What else is a kid to do? Once firmly entrenched in the grasp of the Scout society, she’s tasked with collecting badges from different realms of reality so that the purveyors of chaos, order, life, and death can reawaken and bring the world into harmony. Seems really overcomplicated for a game where one plays as a little girl going around collecting badges, but that’s the beauty of satire.
I offered the question before about whether the writing for The Spiral Scouts was the driving factor behind the game and whether it would be its only claim to fame. For what it’s worth, the writing is quite witty in its abjection. Though to be frank, I didn’t think it would be quite as dark as it ended up being. Poking fun at alcoholism, furries, NEETs, deadbeat dads, nice guys, infertile mothers, erectile dysfunction, and satanists are only a part of what a player can expect when playing through this wacky lack-of-family adventure. Those fond of dark humor will get the most guffaws out of the script, though there are times when the wit on its own is able to get some chuckles out of me.
Though it’s by no means a constant-hit machine. There was one finish to an objective that made me incredulous with how it turned out, but otherwise the script only got a few giggles out of me. There are times when I think the developers became complacent with letting the absurdity of a situation take the reigns, which is most notable in the chaos realm. To elaborate, the chaos realm’s main export is drugs, so some of its denizens, particularly its mayor, are giant junkies—drugs are their main joke. It extends to major parts of its world, as well. It gets to be a little much. Still, overall, I quite liked the writing style and wouldn’t have changed it much had I worked on it myself. The game’s greatest charm really is in its writing.
To (finally) answer the question posed twice above, no. The Spiral Scouts isn’t just its writing. The other aspect it really has going for it is in its puzzles. Every objective required to obtain those sweet, sweet badges have some sort of puzzle attached to them. The difficulty involved in solving these puzzles may depend on the person, but they’re decently challenging in their own right. Certainly not Deadfall Tropics tough. I, for one, managed to solve every puzzle without the help of the internet or Steam message boards… except one. Let’s just say when it comes to vaults, I’m more likely to sit and stare at it for two hours (not kidding), helplessly putting keys in random places hoping to pass it by chance. My pride doesn’t like asking for help, but the game broke me for one puzzle, and for that I can commend the developers for humbling me further.
Figuring out the puzzles takes a lot of common sense, but may also require some mathematical know-how and creativity. A lot of trial and error is needed to really get a feel for how these puzzles want the player to proceed, which is a sign of a great puzzlemaker. The hints provided don’t lead to simply one conclusion (normally); one can look at it and interpret it in different ways, and if one way doesn’t work, they can try another perspective. It also helps if people are familiar with symbols and associations, though those aren’t quite as prevalent.
In regards to the variety of puzzles, there’s always going to be something a little different. Some process the same way on the map, but in one’s mind, they have to think a little outside the box. Most of the puzzles are enjoyably stimulating, though some suffer from the lag of getting them positioned just right in order to enact its passing (such as the gears in the old man’s attic). There’s even a puzzle in the death realm that requires little thinking at all, just memorization. That one took a little longer than I’d like it to be.
When puzzles aren’t the forefront of the game’s challenges, there’s really not much else going on in The Spiral Scouts. One can run around and talk to people, collect items, and occasionally dig for secrets. It’s almost like Animal Crossing in a way; players run around and press a button to trigger something. That’s it for complexity of controls. One can also access their inventory and give items to certain NPCs to further objectives, but it’s very situational. It makes for a very lacking potential in replayability, as the game is also pretty linear. One plays through this adventure, solves all the puzzles, and maybe becomes charmed enough by the dialogue to play it again even when they know all the answers to the puzzles (assuming they don’t forget). Pretty straightforward and clean-cut.
Graphics & Audio
Say what you will about the design of the characters, one thing that cannot be denied is that they’re perfectly suited for a parody of the sugary-sweet girl scout adventure. Worlds are vivid and lively, characters are all very easily distinguishable from one another and come in a large variety of shapes (especially) and sizes, and the puzzles are never too cryptic in their appearance. I never thought to myself while playing that it was the game’s fault that I couldn’t figure out a puzzle, only my own. Everything is perfectly presented in just the right amount of ambiguity to be both a challenge and fair. Personally, I adore the style of this game, though more for an appreciation of humor and all-out absurdity than “artistic objectivity” and what-not. I love that the chaos realm is so strange compared to the other areas, with denizens that consistently match that absurdity (though personally, I would’ve found it fun if nothing was consistent). I love that Remae warps into pure-white abysmal plains and thinks nothing of it, and neither does any other character. Really adds to the charm of its parody.
My only complaint with the sound department is that the day and night themes for the first (or “life”) realm and the chaos realm sound a little too similar, to the point where I almost thought they were the same without checking. Again, it would’ve been a really neat touch if the chaos realm just had strange orchestrations and non-rhythmic patterns that didn’t even sound like music, just noise. As an overall, I thought the sound quality for the game was fairly good, though nothing I would consider downloading to listen to on my own time. It matches the tone of the game very well and isn’t enough to want me to mute the game when I’m stuck on a certain puzzle for two hours. One nitpick I can note is that the day theme for the chaos realm or general theme for the death realm (can’t remember which) will end and start back up abruptly, which was a little distracting.