Continuing with GIZORAMA’s coverage of the games nominated as finalists for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the 2014 Independent Games Festival that started with Jazzpunk, today we are taking a look a game that is quite possibly the best representation of the independent nature of indie games in that prestigious list: Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once The Fat Lady Sings!”
Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once The Fat Lady Sings!” is a difficult game to categorize. Is it an adventure game? A detective story? A musical? Yes, it’s all of these things, but trying understand what Dominique Pamplemousse truly is by making assumptions based on these simplistic descriptors is doing the game, and the game’s creator, a disservice. After completing the game, players will have solved an enjoyably quirky mystery that makes statements on a number of social issues in a subtle and unobtrusive way.
The plot of Dominique Pamplemousse consists of fairly standard detective fare. A young private detective, the eponymous Dominique Pamplemousse, is hired by a rich music producer to find a missing pop star. Dominique must interview various people, search for clues, and follow the leads to discover the fate of the missing singer. The detective elements of the game are very straightforward and easy to follow. There are a few twists in the story to keep things interesting, but there is very little chance of the player getting lost in the narrative or getting stuck without knowing what to do next. The game is not meant to tax your brain though, it’s meant to entertain which it most certainly does.
Though the mystery may be shallow, the story is far from uninteresting. The plot is driven by a unique cast of characters that each have their own motivations and defy expectation in one way or another. Blurring the lines that define stereotypes is one of the underlying themes of the game and is best exemplified by the title character.
Dominique is a detective and identifies as such. The people that Dominique interacts with almost invariably get tripped up on the fact that Dominique happens to be gender ambiguous. This is a stumbling block for nearly every character encountered, but Dominique takes no offense when called “he”, “she”, or even when directly asked to claim a gender. Dominique doesn’t see why gender is important and gracefully sidesteps the issue in order to continue with the task at hand. The best part of how Dominique Pamplemousse handles the social issues that it brings up is that they are not the focal point of the game.
Gender identity, economic inequality, familial expectations – All of these issues are touched upon during the course of Dominique’s investigation. They may help to explain the motivations of certain actions taken by the characters, but they never make themselves the subject of the story. In this way they add an extra layer to the overall depth of the story in a refreshingly subtle way. Dominique Pamplemousse does not preach for tolerance or acceptance, it simply incorporates real life topics into the lives of the characters. It does not claim to have any answers for the wealth gap or anything else. The overall message, if one was even intended, seems to be this: It’s not about how much money we have, how we were born, or how others view us that’s important, it’s what we do and how we view ourselves that really matter.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see that judging the game by its outward appearance alone does not give you the full picture. The characters are all roughly crafted clay figures that look cartoonishly human with their giant eyes and gaping mouths. The sets are equally as rough and look like they were constructed by hand from mostly clay, paper, cloth, and cardboard. The sets are all represented as static images and the characters move around them in a jerky fashion with very little in the way of animation. This may sound like a bad thing but in actuality it adds the charm of the overall experience. As an independent game it feels very personal, like the creator put a lot of themselves into the story, and the handmade nature of the design serves to strengthen this feeling.
Adding to the tone of the game are the visual and audio choices made and the contrast between them. Dominique Pamplemousse is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio and is completely in black and white. Since it is first and foremost a detective story, the choice of black and white gives the game a film noir inspired aesthetic and the aspect ratio gives it an old school feel. One would be hard-pressed to draw comparisons between the endearing Dominique and the hard-boiled detectives of the film noir genre, but they are definitely an inspiration for the title character.
The audio, on the other hand, is most certainly not inspired by those dark tales of crime and punishment. There is a constant soundtrack accompanying Dominique in every part of the investigation. It changes depending on the person or area on screen at any given time and actually plays a central role in the enjoyment of the game. Why? Because as Dominique interrogates each person, most of the information important to the investigation will be sung rather than spoken. This musical element starts right at the very beginning of the game as Dominique laments the fact that rent is due and continues to the final scene where Dominique confronts the person behind the plot. This may seem nonsensical, and it kind of is, but it’s a joy to experience and will have most players smiling as they encounter each new conversation.
While the story, themes, and tone of the game are all excellent, the weakest part of Dominique Pamplemousse for some gamers may be the actual gameplay. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just very simplistic. Dominique Pamplemousse is a point-and-click adventure game centered around investigation, but there is very little in the way of puzzles or thought provoking challenge. The majority of the gameplay is centered around talking to people. Upon clicking on each character, the player will be presented with a list of topics to choose from. Clicking on a topic will prompt Dominique to ask the character about that subject which will either provide new information or a dead end. As new information is uncovered it will be added to the list and the player may pursue a new line of questioning. As a topic is exhausted it will be greyed out in the list indicating that the player will get no new responses from that subject. It’s very basic stuff and as long as the player asks everyone about every topic then they will have no problem progressing in the game.
Occasionally the player will have to solve a few puzzles, but like the ongoing investigation, they are simple and lack any sort of challenge. If the player does happen to get stuck, there is a folder icon at the bottom of the screen that serves as Dominique’s inventory, notebook, and hint guide. It’s kind of a catch-all that the player can go into to review information and examine any encountered objects. It it used in a similar manner as the conversation topic list. If the player clicks on an item in the folder Dominique will comment on it and will usually provide a fairly obvious hint of where to go or what to do next. Some players may see this as helping to make the game too easy, but the simple nature of the game helps move it along and keep the pace up without getting bogged down in unnecessarily difficult situations. The enjoyment of the game comes from the story and presentation, not the challenge.
Since the focus of the game is on the characters and the plot, one might expect the ending of the game to be especially satisfying. While far from a letdown, the endings themselves may leave some payers wanting more. There are two endings that the player may encounter based off of a decision made at the very end of the game. This decision is the only one of its kind and is the only time that the player’s action affects the very linear storyline. Thankfully, the game automatically saves at the final decision point, so after completing the game the first time the player doesn’t have to replay everything in order to view the other ending. Even so, the two endings are very similar and might leave gamers wondering what they really accomplished during the course of their roughly two hour escapade. This actually falls in line with the game’s theme of not providing answers to difficult questions though. Life doesn’t always turn out like you want it to and rarely does it wrap things up in a completely satisfactory way. Life just keeps on going and while hope is important, you’re not going to change the world with any single decision so you might as well enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Dominique Pamplemousse is definitely an enjoyable ride. The quirky nature of the game is no doubt a by-product of the fact that every second of play time is infused with the personality of its creator. Dominique Pamplemousse is the work of one person: Deirdra Kiai. Deirdra alone did everything to put the game together including writing the script, sculpting the characters, constructing the sets, writing the music, and voicing all of the characters. Dominique Pamplemousse truly is a perfect example of the independent spirit of indie gaming.[review]