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Suzy And A Bunch Of Minigames

Suzy And Freedom is a 2013 "Adventure" game (but not really) by calunio of Dungeoneer: Beautiful Escape fame, a game so cool it almost had the Ghostlight Logo on it, but alas it was not to be. I missed it back when it came out in 2013 because I wasn't 'round but now I'm swooping back to snatch it up. I'm attracted to the subject matter because young people swept up in the mad passion of love being driven to murder is a longstanding interest of mine. (Clarifier: those are links to Backstage and Backstage II. Individuals who played those games just a little or without a close eye to the finer points of the story may have missed how those themes are touched on there, and that's fine.)

As you probably know by now, this being far from the first review available, Suzy and Freedom is in the true crime genre, inspired by the 2002 killing of Manfred and Marisia von Richtofen (in a bizarre twist, allegedly Manfred Albert was descended from the Red Baron)by their daughter, her boyfriend, and his brother in Sao Paolo brazil. In the game you 'play' as nearly every person involved in this senseless and awful tragedy, Suzy, Suzy's boyfriend Dan, Dan's brother Chris, and even in one brief but memorable segment, Suzy's father. The game is made up mostly of cutscenes but five or so unrelated minigames are interspersed between the cutscenes. In this way, the game is structured with a great deal of precision.

The minigames themselves vary greatly in quality. RM2k3 is not an easy engine to use for this kind of thing and it takes a fair amount of technical skill to have accomplished all of these minigames in RM2k3 even if some are rather buggy, which contributes to the game's relatively high score.

The plane flying minigame was a neat but pointless "Watching The Credits" timekiller--the credits play over it, you see, which is very clever. The beat 'em up minigame infuriated me so much I nearly quit because the collision detection is a total fucking crapshoot probably because RM2k3 with its tile based movement is about as suited to making a 90s-era side scrolling beat 'em up as actual poop is to sculpting. Either way you wind up with shit on your hands and it's not going to hold up. It was a neat idea but very annoying to actually play. Additionally it created some serious ludonarrative dissonance in that essentially, we are meant to believe in what is otherwise a very grounded and realistic narrative, that Chris was able to successfully defeat nearly a hundred Sao Paolo gangbangers in hand to hand combat. If he was that much of a badass, how did the police arrest him at all?

The "Paper Writing" minigame was a pure exercise in boredom, but I completely understand the artistic purpose it served.

The platforming puzzle games were pretty good, even though again I could feel the rm2k3 engine chafing under this callous abuse of it. The second one was more challenging and I really enjoyed how it reinforced the game's themes. The manipulation minigame, which is a sort of dialogue based puzzle battle (a la, well, Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer) was pretty well written and implemented and played nicely with the game's themes. The same is true for the 'clean up the crime scene' minigame. I feel like all of the game could have had more playable content like those two minigames and it would have felt more like a holistic game and less like a collection of minigames.

One axe to grind I have is that Suzy And Freedom is not actually an adventure game because at virtually no point do you get to explore an environment interacting with objects and solving puzzles, the gameplay that defines an adventure game.

So, let's get the good stuff out of the way quickly. Suzy And Freedom is a smart game, it handles its subject matter in a fairly mature way, and it clearly has something to say. That said, its message is not really that groundbreaking, because it seems like it could be summed up with 'killing your parents is bad, and will ruin your life' which is something I think we all could probably have agreed upon before this game was released.

The audio design here is excellent, there is great use of both ambient and focal sound effects to establish scenes and later on to create tension and the music choices are appropriate to the mood.

The graphics are...interesting and are definitely, in how they interact with the gameplay, a source of tonal dissonance. The pixelated characters and the many bright and cartoonish minigames seem to clash just as much with the manipulated photo backgrounds as they do with the game's serious subject matter. This slightly 'off' feeling, this tonal dissonance, it certainly makes the game feel markedly 'indie' but I'm not sure how it aids the game's vested exploration of its subject matter. One touch I really loved that was all of the killers (and if I'm not mistaken ONLY the killers) were sprited literally 'red handed' from their very first appearance. Nice.

The writing in Suzy And Freedom is 'ok'. Generally speaking, it's serviceable. But I felt it neither truly captured the verisimilitude of how people speak (the words were slightly too formal and the sentences too complete, the colloquialisms felt stilted, most characters came off as overly earnest, and the content of the words was too textual as opposed to sub-textual) nor the mad poetry of young lovers driven to murder by their passion and their circumstances. I'm not going to lie: the latter is what I was looking for when I played this game in the first place.

The build up of Suzy and Dan's relationship prior to the "hey so would you mind killing my parents lol" moment felt a bit rushed but what REALLY bothered me though was the way that Suzy picked up the idiot ball and ran with it in the scene where they came home to find the detective who had set up a crime scene outside their home. Her reaction of asking him right then when she could sell the house was flabbergastingly unbelievably dumb. Maybe this was an attempt to be true to the source material, I don't know, but it still bothered me as all of the game prior to that had portrayed her as much smarter.

Generally speaking, I felt that Suzy And Freedom sort of lacked real insight into the whys of the killers' motivation. None of the appeals of Suzy to Dan nor of Dan to Chris given in the game seemed sufficient to convince them. Of course, one could even argue that that was the point; that some actions will never be comprehensible to ordinary people.

I will close on a positive note by saying that I really appreciated the thematic and emotional impact of the way the game's letterboxed borders gradually closed in on the characters towards the end, making the world smaller and smaller until well...the game's 'end state' which was really quite clever.

Posts

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Thanks for this review!

The point of the game was more than "killing is wrong", but I guess it didn't quite deliver for you, since it was supposed to portray killer's motivations.

Regarding the dumbness of Suzy's conversation with the detective... yep, that's exactly what happened. If he came out as smart before, it's just because she thought she was. But she wasn't at any point.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10827
I think the reason why Suzy's motivations were really fickle was because the game is trying to portray her as a sociopath. She feels nothing except the want to satisfy her own needs. Thus she kills her parents because she's a narcissist. So I felt like the message was less "killing your parents is wrong" and more "what is in the mind of the people that do these things".

The review was really well written, though. I especially like how you understood how crap 2k3 is at making mini games because you have experience with it. I also like how you said how the fighting game broke the tone of the game because I didn't realize it but I felt that too.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
You know I wrote this review in a hurry and I actually forgot to include one of the biggest (potential) gripes I had with this game.

Is "spice" explicitly supposed to be marijuana or something? Because in the real world "spice" is the street name for specifically synthetic marijuana. Here's the thing...if "spice" is meant to be any kind of cannabis, then this game portrays it in a way that is factually inaccurate. Marijuana, synthetic or otherwise, is completely non-addictive and no one has ever been (or been called) a marijuana "junkie" in the history of ever. Likewise, marijuana cannot make you hallucinate and it certainly has never contributed to anyone's decision to murder their family. So the inclusion of marijuana in this context just comes off as a really hamfisted and ignorant anti-drug message which I don't THINK is what was intended, because that would make it impossible to take the game seriously.

If "spice" is supposed to be some other real world drug, or is meant to be a fictitious drug (which would be an odd stylistic choice) let me know, but the name and visual portrayal of how it is used resemble weed.

Upon doing some research, it seems that the adverse effect profile of spice i.e. synthetic cannabis IS much more serious (and much less well known) than regular cannabis so that is interesting, I did not know that until I researched it now.
I wanted a generic name for a drug. I don't quite remember why I ended up with "spice". But it's not supposed to look like it has any important effect on the characters' behavior.

I've heard this complaint before, but I don't think anything in the game explicitly says anyone did anything because they were under the effect of drugs.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
No, definitely not, but the drug does feel like a factor certainly in Suzy and Dan rapidly falling for each other (leading into the first platforming minigame which I took as a drug fueled hallucination) if nothing else.
Welp... the fact that things in the game seem rushed is because... it's a game. I think filling the game with tons of extra dialogs or extra development minigames wouldn't have been a good idea. The Love Climb minigame was supposed to portray the development of their relationship, even though it doesn't make much chronological sense (it's just one afternoon at her door). The puzzle could be interpreted as hallucination, but also as fantasizing, or just symbolism.
While I've only played the prologue and a little of the second stage (as in, I gave up in the gang fight sequence), I'm guessing the juxtaposition of the dark subject matter and the bright visuals was a deliberate one, I think the tonal dissonance you described is the intended effect. I could be wrong - definitely this is just my interpretation of the game's presentation and themes.

Anyway, this was an interesting read. (And it has reminded me that I need to revisit this game!)
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
I don't question that it was intended. And while it certainly seems "indie boutique" aesthetically (by which I mean it feels quirky, off-beat, a bit low budget and a bit bespoke) I just wasn't sure what it added to the narrative. To be clear, I didn't take points off for it either.
Fair enough.

I'm a little perturbed by the "indie" title though as I feel that it has become a misnomer, or at least somehow synonymous with pretention, or something, like "arthouse" and "hipster". What little of this game I played (and what I've seen/read about it subsequently) didn't really feel like how I think of contemporary "indie" stuff, though I think I can see what you mean (you seem to have a different definition of indie anyway).

One thing I thought of before was that perhaps the bright atmosphere serves to underscore that these people do something extraordinarily wicked in an otherwise ordinary setting? So it affects the narrative in that their lives are similar to anyone else's in this sort of setting but internally they are far darker? Maybe it is to lull the player into a sense of familiarity so that the murders, and the intention/motives or lack thereof are more shocking and thought-provoking. I don't know, haha.

I will say that this game has been influence on my own stuff ever since I first read about it, so these are the things I've interpreted from it that I would think to put in my own game).

Again, take my words with a grain of salt, I've played only a bit of this so don't have a reliable perspective at all.
I just want to point out that, while many reviews of most of my games try to see "meaning" behind the 16-bitish-style-like-art behind the graphics, a great deal of my graphic choices are made purely out of inability to do anything else. If I could do awesome custom art or 3D realistic graphics, I would (maybe). I'm not a pixel artist, I suck at drawing, so making games with custom aesthetics out of my own work is an incredibly tricky thing to do. I might not succeed every time.

But the brighter tones of the game, especially in the beginning, were indeed deliberate. So was the music choices, and the cheerfulness of the first minigames. If you play the game not really knowing what it's about, you will not have the slightest cue it's a game about murder until Suzy says "We kill my parents", and that was intentional. Everything changes after that line.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
So was the music choices, and the cheerfulness of the first minigames. If you play the game not really knowing what it's about, you will not have the slightest cue it's a game about murder until Suzy says "We kill my parents", and that was intentional. Everything changes after that line.


Man, I would have LOVED to see this bait and switch taken way further.

@Suzy:

I'm not a huge fan of labels in general, but I'd definitely have to say that calunio's most recent games have been arthaus. That's a GOOD thing in my book!
Oh, I know they fit in that category, but I too have problem with labels because they seem to either be misinterpreted or carry some kind of stigma that may not accurately describe the content. Anyway, I feel that we agree, so I'll leave it at that :P
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