Let's Have Us A Shindig
Positivity in the video games space has been in short supply, recently. Online discourse about the games I love always seems to devolve into a “the thing you like is worse than the thing I like” debate. Most of the games that I play and enjoy tend to be steeped in some sort of conflict. Take over this outpost. Kill this target. Capture the objective. Get more kills than the other guy, etc. As someone who tries to stay positive, it is amazing how few of the games I play are purely positive experiences. So, if I come across something that is baked in pure positivity, I feel compelled to spread the word about it. So, dear reader, that is what brings us to Shindig.
Shindig was a game that I knew nothing about until I saw friend Conor O’Donovan post about it on Twitter. Conor shared a post from a great account called Non-Violent Game of the Day. The post was simple, describing a hand drawn point and click adventure game in which you help quirky animals set up a party. I am a huge fan of point and click adventure games so it wasn’t much of a stretch to get me interested. I have fond memories of spending afternoons with my brother glued to the family PC trying to solve puzzles in Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle so I’m always game for a point and click. I downloaded Shindig and set aside an evening to enjoy it.
At its core, Shindig is exactly as advertised. A hand drawn point and click adventure game where you are helping cutesy animals set up a party on an island. You need to help your boar friend Baxter procure decorations, music, refreshments, and a cake for a party. That’s it. Simple as simple can be. Once I started playing it, I realized that Shinding is much, much more than just its description. Shindig accomplished something that no other game has in recent memory. It made me feel good. That warm fuzzy feeling I get when I hug my kids or visit with my parents. Shindig is comprised of that feeling, its building blocks made of joy, its subatomic particles pure soul.
All of the characters, except for your own player character, are cute animals that work in human roles. There is a crocodile librarian, an otter apothecary, an octopus postman, etc. The residents of the island all have their role and you help them solve their little problems by helping them out in classic point and click adventure style. The crocodile librarian has a pet rock that thirsts for adventure. The otter apothecary lost one of her juggling rocks and is looking for a replacement with personality. Get rock from librarian, give to otter, mission complete, onto the next one. The game mechanics are not revolutionary and are not that challenging. They are not the reason you play the game. Shindig shines in its writing and in its characters.
The crocodile I mentioned before could have just been left as it was, a cute crocodile that runs the library, but the characters in Shindig do not rest on their cuteness. They are some of the most well written and well realized characters I have seen in a long time. After I did several tasks around the island and interacted with this crocodile multiple times, I had absorbed so much about their personality. This crocodile was socially anxious and didn’t really like parties. Normally when there are parties, they bring their book so they can sit off to the side and be by themselves while still feeling socially active. You see, they are hoping that this party is different because, like all creatures, they yearn for social interaction and acceptance but struggle with interacting with others. They think, with your help, maybe this party will allow them to feel more comfortable. Maybe they won’t bring a book. Maybe they will dance a bit?
This amount of depth exists within literally every character in this game and the same amount of care and thought is given to the character interactions. All of this attention to detail led me to become emotionally attached to each character. I became invested in the pair of podcasting cats and their relationship. I became giddy at the pigs who ran a used car dealership on an island where nobody drives, and how one would be willing to do anything to make the other happy. I became silly excited to see Steve try on his hats. You see, Steve and a few other island residents have a D&D group that they run regularly. Baxter wore this wizard’s hat in the campaign and, you see, what happened was….
These types of stories, with complex layers and subtle interactions, don’t come across very often in games. This is even more impressive considering that this game was essentially made by two people. Fay and Martyn Maillardet, the team that makes up Imaginary Friends Games, did all of the writing, scripting, and voice acting in this game. The voice acting in this game is superb, chock full of sincere performances that make for believable characters. I have played AAA games recently that haven’t come close to the quality of the voice acting in this game. It is a remarkable achievement and they should be very proud of the work that has been done.
The third, and possibly most interesting part, is that the above is all wrapped around the core objective, bringing joy to those around you. Yes, the actual objective is to throw a shindig, but you realize rather soon that this is just the vehicle for happiness. Every objective in this game is dedicated to putting a smile on a character’s face, and that is so rare in games today. I could feel the warmth radiating through my body as I helped an oversized and photorealistic cat get over its frustrations. I laughed as I helped a scientist and their computer clean their workstation. I came to tears as a made a character sing simply by giving them a hug, the simplest yet most intimate of gestures. This game is serotonin, a reese’s peanut butter cup, and hot chocolate gift wrapped and given to you by a walking, talking teddy bear. And it manages to do it all without being too saccharine, never comes across as cheesy or forced. Every emotional beat is earned and valued in this game, the emotion of joy treated with the care and love it deserves.
All of these ingredients bake a very nice cake. “We bakey cakey,” as a certain chef would say. This cake, filled with heartwarming characters, impressive voice acting, and attention to detail, is pure joy. This game is my ‘ratio’ game this year, as I have spent at least 5 times the amount of time thinking about this game than I did actually playing it. It occupies the pleasure center of my brain. I had a permanent smile on my face playing it. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me realize that I was ok not feeling ok all of the time. And, in 2021, what more could you ask for out of a game?
Please buy Shindig. If you can’t afford it, let me know. We will work something out. It’s an important game.