The Little Mermaid:
a modern retelling
Feeling a little unsure, at a loss for words, or just outright shy? That's how one anonymous office worker feels as he watches the new hire Julie pass by his desk each day. But will he ever gather the courage to voice his feelings? Look to the title of this modestly designed interactive narrative for your hint.
Playing The Little Mermaid: A Modern Retelling involves moving your character around the screen, clicking on options such as "read email" or "talk to Ed" where they pop up. Much of the action is in the dialogue, so be sure to not skip any of it. Click on the bottom corners to enter the next scene or start the next act, when it's possible, although there is little direction for how or when to do these things. If you get stuck at the edge, it means you can't go that way—just go the other way instead. Acts begin and end unceremoniously while the "restart" button tempts you to retry, to double-check that nothing was missed, and may cause more questions about possibilities that don't seem to exist (for example, there appears to be only one ending). Because it's not especially clear on where to go or what is the right response, you tend to roam about without much sense of purpose. Maybe that mirrors what it feels like to be secretly in love?
Despite its lack of clarity in directions, The Little Mermaid: A Modern Retelling feels very well put together, especially considering it was created in only 58 hours for TOJam 2012. The title soundtrack by Kevin MacLeod is very pleasant; meanwhile, the office chatter and street noises add to the ambiance but also grate on the nerves ("music off" mutes all). The artwork of John Bilokrely, Derian McCrea and Ming Iu—who also did the coding and design—is minimalistic yet aptly conveys the expressions and emotions of each character. It's remarkable how much is communicated by the turn of a head or the slump of a shoulder. The artisan effect of the graphics and game mechanics also fits with the thematic elements. If you're familiar with the original story by Hans Christian Andersen, it's easy to see the parallels between it and this game—mainly the protagonist's unwillingness or inability to speak up for himself. On the other hand, there is a note of satire, perhaps unintentional, in the ending homily that is either irksome or humorous or merely disappointing.
The Little Mermaid: A Modern Retelling will strike a chord with anyone who's experienced the frustrations of shyness, especially in our modern socially-networked culture. Whatever your social aptitudes, though, you'll find a poignant and thoughtful experience within these rough edges—Hans Christian Anderson had a few of those, too.