Once again, I venture forth to choose my own adventure with a new piece of interactive fiction from Tin Man Games who previously produced the Android version of the 1984 gamebook House of Hell, which reeked of outdated game design and unfair punishment at every turn. But, wait, there’s hope! Trial of the Clone was published only last year and it doesn’t take itself quite so seriously, amounting to a gameplay experience that is, well, still annoying. But better.
Clone is written by Zach Weiner (here, for some reason, calling himself Zach Weinersmith), known to a significant geek contingent for his webcomic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. To that contingent, he’s the funniest thing that’s happened to images and words put together since The Far Side. To me, he’s someone who makes comics I laugh at roughly once every thirty strips.
The sense of humor in Clone is up to the standards of Weiner(smith)’s comics. There are very few sentences that aren’t at least an attempt at comedy. The core thrust of nearly every bit of humor here is that you (it’s written in the second person) are awful in every way. Each page goes to great lengths to remind you of your stupidity, ugliness, and lack of charm. There’s too much of a reliance on poop jokes (your character regularly soils himself) and I think the casual handling of murder is supposed to be funny (you can kill a parent and child within your first several choices).
There are some genuinely funny and clever moments. Your character is constantly spouting awful puns, some of which I did enjoy, like when you kill two people in succession and your character quips,” I guess she had to die two,” then, realizing his joke doesn’t work verbally, explains, “T-W-O,” then adds, “WHATEVER.” Most of the other humor that works derives from the story’s playfulness with its own RPG elements. At the start you choose to be an engineer, medic, or fighter. At one point, you must prove your celibacy to a group of monks. If you’re an engineer, you’re allowed to skip the test.
Clone is like a loose RPG. You have health points and three stats—wits, fighting, and charisma—that you can check at any time by calling up your Adventure Sheet from the bottom of the screen. You’ll enter battles of all three kinds. You might end up in a physical fight with some knife-wielding monkeys or get offered some weed, resulting in a battle of wits with marijuana. Battles are decided by tapping a random number tumbler ranging from 0 to 3, whatever you land on adding onto your base stat to determine how much damage you do or, in wits and charisma battles, whether your number is greater than your opponent’s. Stats are often screwed around with by story events, like when a crowd hoists you up as a hero and you gain 3 charisma points, following which they realize you’ve soiled yourself, causing you to immediately lose those points.
I suspect Tin Man Games has a template they just alter for each release. But that’s okay because, for games this simple, the presentation is really high-end. There are only two music tracks, a main one and a battle one, but they fit the story, sounding suitably epic yet knowingly pompous. Visually, the display adjusts so you can read either horizontally or vertically and you can change the font size to your liking. Most impressive is that, if you’re connected to the internet, you can have the entire book narrated to you by Wil Wheaton. I personally don’t give two hoots about Wil Wheaton, but that the game functions as an audiobook is a nice bonus indeed.
Clone makes some efforts to be kind to the player. There’s a bookmark system with which you can mark a page and jump back to it anytime if you die or are unsatisfied with a choice you made. You can find med-kits to fully restore your health, you receive an item that lets you back up one page, and if you die without any bookmarks saved you’ll be dropped back at the beginning of the current act rather than the book’s start. Even so, I reached a point in the third act in which some combination of poor item management and unlucky stats made it so that I never had enough health to progress. I ultimately ended up starting the book over on cheater mode which allows you to jump back pages without bookmarks and heal yourself at any time. In other words, in judging Clone on its merits of being an actual game, it still doesn’t manage to avoid the pitfalls of interactive fiction. You’ll still reach many a frustrating and unfair end.
Trial of the Clone is not bad. With five acts, it’s quite lengthy and its presentation is impressive. Further, this genre lends itself well to a comically self-aware, if frivolous, narrative. But, in terms of gameplay, it’s still rife with unfair game overs and tedious retries. That said, this is the best Choose Your Own Adventure I’ve played on Android. It’s just that it costs $4 and there are games and books that cost less, are far more solid, and far less annoying.