The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:
You’d be bitter if you were annexed by Russia too. I still feel pretty salty myself about Putin seizing my right toe in a daring nighttime raid last year. Fuckin’ Putin. He doesn’t even really need it because it’s way too big for his childlike body.
The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:
I enjoyed the nontraditional romance, the diversity, and the inclusion, but I’m worried about the armadillos and the over-caffeinated pup. Won’t someone please think of the armadillos?
It captures the seedy atmosphere of a truck stop perfectly and has great characters, but the game design and the parser need a little work to say the least.
Game Type: Inform (Glulx)
Author Info: Bitter Karella is a text adventure writer and artist who frequently enters games into the Interactive Fiction Competition, Spring Thing, and Ectocomp and has multiple IF Comp top ten finishes under his belt. He describes herself on Twitter as a genderfluid transvestite goblin himbo who uses both masculine and feminine pronouns. Millennials, amirite? If you guessed this means I’ll be using both sets of pronouns to refer to our intrepid author in an extremely confusing manner throughout this review, you are correct, sir! You can check out Bitter Karella’s games and art over at her itch.io.
Other Games By This Author: Poppet, The Curious Incident at Blackrock Township, Santa Carcossa Nights, and many more.
In Mean Mother Trucker, you play a mean mother trucker named Ester who is preparing to navigate her big rig down the treacherous Devil’s Taint, a particularly hazardous mountain road. You’ve arrived in the small town of Desecration, a one horse, zero armadillo, one diner, one gas station, and one convenience store town. Desecration has everything a trucker needs to get back on the road, but it’s also home to someone who’s very special to you: Flo, a waitress at the local diner. You might be a tough, three hundred pound trucker, but underneath the fat and muscle lies a sensitive heart that still yearns for love despite three failed marriages. Are you a bad enough dudette to finally win Flo’s heart and convince her to run away with you?
MMT does a bunch of things very well. It does a fantastic job of capturing the seedy but not entirely unfriendly atmosphere of a truck stop — Desecration is technically a tiny town, but it feels more like an oversized truck stop. The characters are memorable and lots of fun to interact with. Helpfully, they tend to be gossipy so you can pretty much ask any character about any other character among other topics and get useful information. An interesting cross section of people inhabit Desecration, including a prostitute with a sweet tooth, a lean hitchhiker who hates the local police, and a religious but extremely horny biker gang. The love story is light and charming, and Bitter Karella is an entertaining writer with an excellent sense of humor.
Ester herself is an interesting protagonist and the reason the game got the Best LGBT Characters ribbon in Spring Thing 2021. That may not be as prestigious as it sounds because Spring Thing gives out a lot of ribbons each year, including Best Lil Fluffy Wuffy Dog in 2021, but I thought Bitter Karella took an interesting approach to developing his main character. We find out Ester is transgender only in passing — you’ll see a reference to her dead name in the truck paperwork if you happen to examine it (it’s not needed to solve any puzzle) and a reference to hormone therapy if you try to enter a men’s restroom. It’s not made a big deal of in any way. The game’s not about transitioning or discrimination. There’s no angst to be found here, and the author isn’t heavy-handed or preachy at any point. Ester just is who she is…and fundamentally, she’s just a person. You don’t need to be an activist or an ally to enjoy the game or the character. You don’t even need to know the lingo — I personally didn’t even realize I could accurately be called “cishet” until I visited Bitter Karella’s Twitter feed. I think that’s pronounced “cis…het” rather than shishet seashells by the seashore, but I’m not completely sure. Hey, I’m still learning here. One thing that is for sure, I’m never going to start writing slash fan fiction based on a text adventure character before I’ve actually finished the game and learned all the details of a character’s backstory again. Something always seems to go wrong whenever I try. You see, I was going to include a story about Ester in my upcoming anthology entitled “Large, Leather, Cis Lesbian Goddesses of Phobos”, but now she doesn’t fit the theme and people hate it when the theme is not fitted properly. Luckily, I’ve still got one story about Rosie O’Donnell and five stories about Ruby Rose that begin with her consuming millions of bags of Doritos in a relatively short time frame to fall back on.
Unfortunately, Mean Mother Trucker doesn’t have a very flexible parser and it has some game design quirks that are likely to annoy you despite the game’s charm. Part of the problem is that Bitter Karella seems to have deliberately sought to implement a very limited set of verbs. There were situations in the game where I wanted to use verbs like buy and pour but couldn’t because the author wanted me to use the verb put in those situations: put money in machine, put water on ground, etc. It’s good to allow for those inputs since some users will try them, but I strongly prefer a parser that lets me be more precise and conversational. What’s next…a game with no eat command, but you can “put cheese in mouth” or “put teeth in cheese”? I’m already fearful that IF is going to be secretly taken over by AI as is, but if our human authors are going to start sounding like AIs of their own volition we really have no chance at all to resist the machines. It could be the game was rushed because there is a noticeable lack of synonyms throughout the game. You get a cup of coffee at one point, but you can’t refer to it as a cup. Your quarter can’t be referred to as a coin. These aren’t huge issues, but in practice they force you to repeat commands and add friction to the playing experience. What’s even worse is that sometimes commands seem like they’re giving you reasonable responses when they aren’t so you won’t realize what you really need to do is word the command differently. For instance, there’s something you have to shove in the game. If you push the object instead of shoving it, the game tells you, “Nothing obvious happens” and, indeed, nothing obvious does happen. To be fair, the description of the object mentions shoving it rather than pushing it so there’s a hint on what to do, but it’s still bad game design. When it comes to the item you have to buy without using the command buy, you might see a couple of confusing messages. If you do try to buy it, you’re told, “Nothing is on sale.” As if we’re supposed to wait until Black Friday or something to make the purchase. If you try to just get the item (thief!!), you’re told, “You can’t carry that” which is a terrible error message for this situation. It might make the player think the item can’t be picked up or that he or she is already carrying too many items. Sadly, this game won’t win any awards for playability any time soon.
The puzzles tend to be more fanciful and whimsical than strictly logical in keeping with the light theme. Sometimes the game has to guide you through the final and often least sensible step which isn’t ideal, but it helps a game which already has a lot of friction go a little smoother. My least favorite puzzle is decidedly the one in which you must first find a tool to pick up another item which you can’t get with just your bare hands. I can’t tell you how many ways I tried to pick up that thing with the tool until I finally decided to just try to pick it up directly again. And, sure enough, if you have the tool in your inventory you can indeed just get the item. It’s terrible game design again because the solution makes it seem like you’re not using the tool which isn’t even mentioned.
So Mean Mother Trucker certainly does have its flaws and can’t be called a great game in its present form. It will probably irritate you on your first playthrough, but once you know what you need to do it’s much easier to appreciate all the things it does do well. When you’re busy parser wrassling, you don’t always see the quality dialogue or take in the atmosphere. Having played the game twice now, I can say with confidence that Bitter Karella is in the perfect position to easily improve her games. If he were just to take the testing up a notch, that alone would probably have solved most of the issues I had with this game. I think that’s a better place to be in than, say, the position Matt Barringer found himself in shortly after the release of Detective. Matt needed to find a way to make literally everything about his game better whereas Karella just needs to do some damn testing.
My final thought might be disturbing for some viewers, but it’s been bothering me for a while. I’ve played just two Bitter Karella games: this one and Poppet. The two games don’t have a lot in common except they both feature a dead animal you suddenly find just lying in a room. Seriously, what the fuck is up with that? They’re not animals you know or anything, but it’s still upsetting and Mean Mother Trucker isn’t even supposed to be horror. I’m guessing you don’t want to look inside the chest freezer Bitter Karella has in his basement under any circumstances.
Simple Rating: 6/10
Complicated Rating: 25/50
Puzzle Quality: 5/10
Parser Responsiveness: 3/10