Killmonday Games‘ adventure game Little Misfortune brings the weird, tragic and humorous to the Halloween gaming week.
Little Misfortune (PC)
(Sweden 2019, developer/publisher: Killmonday Games, platform: PC)
8-year-old Misfortune Ramirez Hernandez is given the opportunity by Mr. Voice, a voice in her head, to play his game and find the prize of Eternal Happiness for her mother.
A story unlike any other
While the game takes place in the same universe as Fran Bow, one doesn’t need to have any prior knowledge, as it’s a stand-alone story with different characters. Its fairy-tale like plot which also features a fox the protagonist strangely falls in love which is mysterious, dark, and scary at times, but it’s also full of weird and funny as well as sad and happy moments, making it difficult to categorize.
A heroine unlike any other
Again focusing on a child’s perspective, Misfortune isn’t the easiest to like at times, as her repetitions of expressions like “I’m a little lady, you know!” or “Fancy!” become rather annoying, especially since they’re often used out of context. However, her strange behavior is constantly made fun of, e.g. with the narrator commenting that her swearing isn’t appropriate or with one character, the ferryman of the dead, jumping off his own boat because he can’t stand her incessant questioning.
Funny things happening that aren’t always to laugh about
The game has a very weird sense of humor, so anyone offended by the protagonist suddenly breaking wind or vomiting, a cow defecating on its peers or a bird with a middle finger as feathers will have a hard time enjoying it. It’s certainly not what one would expect from a children’s story, but this is probably the main point: showing how an innocent girl experiences the ugly things in life without going crazy and instead taking them as normality.
Creepy and touching
Despite all the weird things going on, the game still deals with some mature themes in a unique way, e.g. people buying and wearing happy masks to hide their sad feelings. Some parts are much more explicit, e.g. with the protagonist talking about her mother’s and father’s marital problems culminating in violence, alcoholism and drugs. It’s the child’s naivity that is probably the most disturbing part, but it somehow makes sense to see Misfortune trying to cope with hard life situations.
Sometimes it’s not quite clear if the game wants to entertain or frighten its audience, as some scenes, like a hamster club where alcohol and drugs prevail, are surreal and funny, while others, especially towards the end, are pretty creepy and veer more towards the horror genre. Suffice it to say that there are quite a few jumpscares with people suddenly appearing or disappearing.
Trust no one, not even the narrator
The most interesting part of the storytelling is how unreliable the narrator is and how he plays with both Misfortune and the audience. For example, he asks the player not to tell Misfortune about her possible future death. So it’s as much a game that tells a story as one that makes its audience think about how much of it is real, which of the characters can be trusted, and if one can really change things or if a character can rebel against the narrator.
It’s also about the player’s moral decisions, as the narrator asks Misfortune some rather personal questions which don’t have any effect on how the story turns out, but which obviously build her character according to the player’s replies. Often expectations are turned upside down, e.g. with the narrator asking Misfortune if she has already heard a question which has not even been uttered before and isn’t repeated again.
More story and less game
Gameplay-wise one shouldn’t expect a true adventure game experience like Fran Bow, as one usually moves from one screen to the next without solving any real puzzles. There are some exceptions, e.g. looking for a computer password or finding the grave of an animal by reading the epitaphs. But in the latter case, it doesn’t really matter if one digs up the wrong grave, because one eventually finds the correct one, anyway.
In addition to the strict linearity, one only picks up a few objects, but doesn’t combine them. At some point it becomes clear that the game clearly makes fun of the adventure genre itself, e.g. with the narrator throwing objects in front of Misfortune that are only useful for the current moment. Being a very linear experience, one can easily miss some objects that can be picked up, especially if one uses the running option, but one never falls into the trap of a dead end.
Different choices to make
The game is rather short with a playtime of around 3 hours, but it invites players to replay it to make different decisions. For example, one finds a dog tied to a tree and one can play with him or let him free. The first decision gets him killed by a tree branch, the second one makes him accompany the little girl and later dig up a treasure chest on the beach which has a fortune or dog cookie inside. One then can then give the latter to the canine or keep the former for oneself. Feeding him results in the dog being picked off by crows that let him fall down and die, while keeping the cookie makes the birds carry Misfortune away who obviously doesn’t die.
None of these decisions is the right one (as the narrator says: “There is no right or wrong, only consequences”), but it’s simply fun to see how each scene turns out, especially with Misfortune given the choice to kick her captor into its non-existent genitals in-flight. It also teaches the player that no matter what he or she does, the outcome of the dog dying remains the same. Despite all the decision-making, the story itself doesn’t change and if one wants to see the happy ending, one simply has to do good deeds. This can also be achieved by filling the heroine’s heart with happiness by throwing glitter on objects, people, or bad memories to instantly give them a happy make-over.
Mini games and QTEs with an easy way out
The inclusion of mini-games or QTEs shouldn’t prevent classic adventure game fans from enjoying the title, as these segments aren’t difficult to beat. One could even say that they’re rather superfluous. For example, one only has to win one whack-a-mole game at a fair in order to receive a coin to pay the ferryman of the dead, with the others simply being used to win prizes that either unlock a future alternative scene or an achievement.
It’s not even essential to play these parts to progress. For example, there’s a short and very easy stealth scene which can simply be skipped by being caught the first time, with the only punishment being a missed achievement. Participating in a rhythm action dance battle with a hamster and failing it doesn’t matter, either, except for another achievement one doesn’t receive. The dance battle can also be missed if one hasn’t taken a stone from Misfortune’s room right at the beginning, again highlighting the fact that some choices aren’t always obvious at first and not that important, anyway.
Even the much feared QTEs don’t work as in other games, so being forced to push a button for a very long time to make Misfortune get up after she has fallen down or freeing her foot from a branch isn’t time-crucial. Failing and retries aren’t possible, making this another rather unnecessary gameplay element.
The game isn’t without its technical problems. For example, using an XBox controller doesn’t work, so one has to use the keyboard controls, while closing the game often results in a system error. What is much more annoying is a bug that makes it impossible to read all the pages in a document which provides information that helps to better understand the background story of one character and even the story itself.
A children’s book look
The game features a lovely hand-drawn style that perfectly fits a children’s book, so it’s not surprising to find some crude drawings in Misfortune’s diary, but also some lovely backgrounds that could be right out of a picture book. However, despite the cute look, the overall creepy atmosphere and some disturbing imagery make it far less suitable for a younger audience to play.
Some weird and joyful sounds
The music is wonderful to listen to, creating just the right mood of fairy-tale like mystery and creepy horror, but also some catchy rock and even dance parts for the more light-hearted moments. The voice acting is very good, although the heroine’s accent and high-pitched voice can be rather irritating and needs some getting used to.
An interactive storybook for a selected few
Little Misfortune is a very short game and certainly not for everyone because of its strange sense of humor. It offers a memorably weird, often funny, but also sad and emotional story that touches on some real-life problems cloaked in a dark fairy-tale setting, while also playing with meta-fictional storytelling as well as adventure game conventions.
Those expecting something like Fran Bow will be disappointed, as the gameplay is less focused on puzzle solving and more about following a story and making decisions along the way as well as unlocking as many achievements as possible. While choices don’t have an impact on the overall plot or character development, just replaying the game and trying out different things to see what happens is often rewarding enough.