Mini-Review: Bad Milk

Dreamingmedia (developers).

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

The genre of "totally surreal, completely unexplained puzzle game" is common in text adventures, but not so common in the graphical world. I suppose if you're making a graphical game, it's a big enough production that you want to include backstory and character and the whole bit.

Bad Milk is not a big production. I believe it's a portfolio piece from a web design shop, and they went straight for the totally surreal and the completely unexplained. There is indeed a story -- you put some seriously bad milk in your coffee, collapse, and hallucinate puzzles. Or you could imagine that it's a Dantean vision-quest out of the underworld, confronted by challenges representing the world's sins. Or something. I don't think you'd get far with that interpretation.

In one sense, this is not exactly an adventure game. There is no consistent game world. There are consistent game elements, but they don't represent a physical reality. Several parts of the game present realistic areas -- albeit with very limited actions available -- but those areas are separate from each other, and no two of them work the same way. (Okay, two of them do. Let me get back to that.)

So, from that angle, I'm tempted to say this is not an adventure, but a "puzzle game", like The Fool's Errand. A collection of puzzles drawn together with a thread of story, but with no unified game world.

On the other hand, this is exactly an adventure game, because (1) every action you take is an exploration, and (2) every game response is unique. In the classical adventure game, your commands are mimetic actions undertaken by the protagonist; in Bad Milk, they're bare user-interface actions, mouse motions and mouse clicks. But in both cases, you try stuff to see how the world (or the "world") works. Bad Milk presents a "conventional" range of action (the mouse cursor) but then forces you to stretch it in all sorts of nonstandard directions. And every time you do, something new and interesting happens. This is just how adventures work.

(And, to be sure, The Fool's Errand had a vital trace of the same adventure-like exploration. I'm sure you remember the Three Ships.)

So that is my lecture on theory. Bad Milk is an adventure game without the mimesis. Lots of nice imagery, too.

As to whether it's a good game, well -- I liked it, but it's really tiny. Five clues to find and use. I finished the whole thing in 55 minutes. Half of that time was spent mapping two blind mazes, which were a cute idea, but not cute enough to spend half the game on. If they charged five bucks for Bad Milk, I would cheerfully recommend it for an hour's amusement. But they're charging $20 plus shipping, which is overpriced, unless you're really desperate for adventure-like amusement.

(And if you are, I can point you at any number of free Web adventures which are at least as large. "Crimson Room", "The Mystery of Time and Space", "Samorost", "D'ni Legacy". I'd say Bad Milk would be terrific as a free on-line amusement. Although it's too bulky for a download -- lots of video snips -- so maybe not.)

Oh, one other quirk: Bad Milk has no save feature. This actually isn't a big deal, because the only progress you make by solving puzzles is acquiring clues, and the game doesn't record that you've acquired them. You're supposed to write them down. So you can start the game, skip the intro, look at your page of written-down clues, and you're exactly where you left off, really.

So: Nice work, but either way too small or way too expensive.

Footnote for Mac users: This game does not run natively under OSX. It requires Classic mode, or booting into OS9 or earlier.

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