The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:
I can relate to spending Christmas morning searching the trash, but I personally do it for those last few delectable drops of whiskey rather than the orphans.
The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and this is a great Christmas game. I just wish I could play with my fairy buddies or mine with a dwarf in this one just like Winter Wonderland. Honestly, I’d be a pretty lonely dude without fantasy creature interactions in my IF.
This game captures the true spirit of Christmas: ceaseless, selfless laboring on behalf of the less fortunate. I mean you are also trying to bang a chick, but the level of self-sacrifice exhibited here is truly astounding.
Game Type: Alan
Author Info: OldGrover is one of those guys who briefly danced into our lives for a time, stole our hearts, and then vanished. The Christmas Party seems to be his only text adventure. He had a website called Is Random Random which mainly talked about an RPG project he was working on called Deal With the Devil, but it only exists on the Internet Archive now. I couldn’t find anything else about him so I’m thinking he made his deal with the devil and it didn’t go well. I’m sure we’ve all considered trading in our soul to level up our Blender skills and gain the other abilities needed to create the best damn 2D tile-based sci-fi RPG in history, but the lesson of OldGrover is that it just isn’t worth it. Never forget OldGrover, kids. Then again, maybe Grover just got a C&D letter from Sesame Street and decided to delete everything as a cautionary measure. It takes a brave man indeed to stand up to Big Muppet.
Other Games By This Author: None known
Christmas can be a lot of work. My parents weren’t the types to don Santa suits, go ho-ho-ho, and drink themselves silly. Sure, the holidays were about presents, family togetherness, and kindness, but in my household they were also about SUFFERING. Lots and lots of uncomfortably sober suffering. For my mom, Christmas meant hours upon hours of cooking and soothing irate relatives eternally on the warpath. My dad seemed to grow progressively more resigned as December proceeded until he gained the strength for a sudden flurry of intensely focused holiday activity. Acquire the tree, trim the tree, affix the tree to the stand, test the lights, replace the bulbs, place the lights. Then he could relax and pretend like none of the festivities around him were actually happening. Christmas Dad was a bit like a Predator with a saw and electrical outlet for attachments in place of the speargun and disc. He would emerge once more briefly to leave the denuded Christmas tree out for junk pickup. Then he’d go, “What…the…hell…are…YOU? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” and throw me on the pile as well. I always felt like this was a rather upsetting way to end the holiday season, but I still use the decompaction and landfill swimming skills I picked up back then today. I guess it was a tough love kind of thing. There was always a hot meal waiting for me when I got back home several days later so I can’t complain too much. Anyway, the point of the story is I don’t do a whole lot for Christmas any more. It can be quite a bit of work after all.
What I like best about The Christmas Party is the distinctly unsentimental approach it takes to the holidays. Bear in mind this is a game that was entered into a holiday-themed minicomp (Text the Halls, 2007). Not going the sentimental route in this context carries a certain amount of risk. You can’t accuse OldGrover of taking the easy way out here. While the game does place you in the role of a man who is tasked with setting up a Christmas party for local orphans, I’m pretty sure the working title for this game prior to the official release was Fuck the Orphans. OldGrover had to change the name when he sensed it was attracting the wrong sort of audience. Suffice it to say that you won’t be mentoring any troubled youths in this adventure. Your concerns are distinctly more practical and mundane than that. The Christmas tree isn’t going to put up itself, after all, and this dump needs a good cleaning too. There even might be some DIY repair work to do and future fire hazards to create. You could argue that while your character is not directly spreading holiday cheer as a conscripted handyman he is still doing all this work for the orphans. He has to care on some level, right? The problem with that take is that the game tells you exactly why your character is laboring tirelessly in obscurity: you’re hoping to score a date with your friend Melody who is actually the one who wants to feed the orphans. Your character really doesn’t seem to care much about the orphans or Christmas…all he actually wants to do is bang his friend. So while the game certainly gets points for relatability and realism I have a feeling no one was terribly surprised when this didn’t end up winning Text the Halls. Did I mention yet that the protagonist’s description is, “There is nothing special about the hero” and that he doesn’t have a name? He’s not the Christmas hero we need or want, but he is the one we deserve and there’s a good chance that Melody won’t just be sucking down eggnog this magical Christmas night.
Incidentally, I’m not totally down with the whole banging your friends thing so let me preach and ramble for a bit. I was browsing /r/TwoXChromosomes recently and I kept coming across these stories of women with male friends who suddenly decided to make passes at them despite sometimes years of prior platonic friendship. These women felt shocked, upset, and betrayed, and I understood why. We distinguish friends with benefits from other types of friends because the benefits of regular friendship tend to involve things like having someone who’ll help you move, someone who’ll bail your drunk ass out of jail, and someone who’ll talk to you at 2 AM when that’s what you need rather than ass access. I do see it as a violation of friendship to suddenly make a move on someone who has given no indication that they think of you as anything but a friend. But I can understand things from the other side too. Sometimes you aren’t initially that drawn to someone, but then you get to know them better and find yourself deeply attracted. It can take time to fall in love, after all, and we’ve all heard romantic stories of slow burn romances that emerged out of lengthy friendships. In that situation, do you always stifle your feelings for the sake of the friendship? For me, it would depend on what kind of signals I was getting from the other person (bearing in mind that signals can easily be misinterpreted), but I like to think I’d still tend to default on the side of friends staying friends. We talk about people being just friends or hoping for more than friendship as if friendship was inherently lacking in comparison to romantic love, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes friends are the only ones that are there for you while lovers abandon and betray you. There are also plenty of people who’d make great friends but not good partners or fellow Bang Bus passengers. I personally wouldn’t trade a good friend for a mere uncertain chance at romance and/or sex that could also happen to make my friend feel shitty and post on Reddit about what a creepy asshole I am. Plus, if you start leveling up self-control you can eventually start having attractive married friends and perhaps even be allowed to be in the same room as your stepsisters again. Baby steps to glory!
Obviously, The Christmas Party guy feels differently about the situation than I do. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt because maybe Melody did give out signals that she was interested. We definitely don’t know the whole story here. Maybe he’s right to do all this work to win a date with his dream girl. Maybe she’ll even be flattered. Maybe she’s actually already interested herself and just wanted to see if she could score some free work out of the deal before the situation got too steamy. In my mind’s eye, though, I’m seeing an aftermath where Melody is posting on Reddit about how she thought her “friend” really cared about the orphans and her but really just wanted to guilt her into having sex with him. I’m envisioning a world where Christmas will never quite be the same again and the orphans will likely be going hungry from here on out all because some dude wanted to get laid without using Tinder like a normal person would.
Now that we’ve gotten the complicated sexual politics of this game out of the way, it’s time to focus on the all-important core mechanics. I’d sum up the general situation as “puzzles gooood, parser baaaaaaaaaaaaaad.” I like how in the beginning you don’t exactly know what you need to do. Melody wants the joint spruced up and looking Christmasy, but the player has to figure out just how to handle that task. You have to use your prior knowledge of Christmas customs and what orphans crave to put together this party. The puzzles you come across tend to require interesting DIY improvisations of the kind you might have tried in your own home when you didn’t have access to proper parts or tools (i.e. every single fucking time you ever repaired something). I’m pretty sure you violate multiple fire and public safety codes as you hack your way through your mission, but at least the orphans are going to be well-fed before they start roasting on an open fire. I’m generally not that good at repairing things, but after setting up this virtual Christmas party I think I’m now ready to start handling all my own electrical and decorating work from here on out. I also have discovered a new environmentally friendly way to make popcorn thanks to my man Grover.
The parser definitely makes the game much less playable than it could be. The whole trio of parser horror is here: lazy oversights, missing descriptions, and unreasonable pickiness. Coming up with the right verb is generally the hardest aspect to solving the puzzles, and this isn’t the type of game that exactly encourages judicious use of synonyms. I can accept that from time to time I’ll have to call a cord a plug in a text adventure even though the description called it a cord, but I actually had to use the verb “unball” to win the freaking game for the first time which goes well beyond the limits of basic human decency. That’s the kind of verb I’d prefer not to use for any reason whatsoever if I had my druthers. To be fair, I found out “unfold” is accepted as well on another playthrough, but I still got the distinct impression that OldGrover wanted only eunuchs to be able to solve his game. I had to beat it partly just to spite the guy and for the sake of ball pride.
I suppose a Christmas game that is fundamentally about home improvement and trying to bang your friend is probably never going to win anything, but I think The Christmas Party would be recommendable if only the parser was more responsive. The game subverts our expectations for Christmas games in an interesting way, and it actually manages to vividly capture a seldom seen slice of the holidays by focusing on one of their least heartwarming aspects: the labor. Like my parents, there’s always someone working really hard behind the scenes to make any holiday party or family gathering more or less successful. A lot of sweat goes into every cup of Christmas cheer. As 2021 fades into 2022, I want to wish everyone a happy new year and remind each and every one of you to drive safe and bang your friends responsibly if at all!
Simple Rating: 5/10
Puzzle Quality: 7/10
Parser Responsiveness: 2/10