Happily Never After
Once upon a time, fairy tales made sense. You had your fair maiden and your prince charming, a dragon gets killed, a witch is forced into retirement, everyone eats the candy house, the end. But look at Happily Never After: the heroine isn't even wearing a dress, and she climbs trees and gets herself dirty and she's not even in love with a prince. It's nothing like the good old times, I tells ya...
Happily Never After is an interactive fiction game, where the "fiction" part is provided by a honey-voiced narrator, whose self-professed job is to guide the plot and provide a moral. The protagonist of the tale is an unnamed young girl with a wonderful fashion sense who sets about finding some adventure in a vast and unexplored forest. She moves with the left and right [arrow] keys, jumps with the [spacebar], and pulls herself up with the [up] arrow when she's hanging off an edge. On her journey, she encounters useful items (which she picks up by walking over them), but her inventory can only hold one at a time, and they are used automatically when the girl is at the right place.
The straightforward gameplay leaves a lot of room to the story and the overall atmosphere. The graphics are gorgeous, and provide a terrific background for the plot; what with the glimmering mushroom caps and majestic trees, the game looks like a storybook. Which is all the more ironic when the idyllic fairy tale world starts crumbling down, because somewhere along the way, the young heroine apparently gets tired of the goody-two-shoes rules of conventional storytelling. She takes matters into her own hands, from dealing with magical creatures to antagonising the narrator who's bent on delivering his version. Some hilarity ensues and the whole thing ultimately veers into delightful absurdity.
It's great fun to see a traditional tale get deconstructed and then put together again in a very eccentric way; the only flaw is that the game is probably too short to bear the extent of its ambition. It feels rushed in places and, though it drives its point home quite clearly, it would have been much more complete with a few more levels. As it is, it's still an interesting experiment in nonconformity and worthy of your time.