“The Maître D’” Review
This game peered at me with its eyes keen and its mouth as tight – lipped as a Québecois veteran talking about Pierre Trudeau. I looked at it with its goofy name, not – quite – sprites art style, and character designs as what you would expect from a game made in 2016 — a year we don’t talk about, and for good reason. I saw it from the first day I ever went on Itch, and many times afterwards, and yet always passed it up out of spite.
“I hate these quirky games”, I’d think, and thought it in the same tier as masterful works of comedy such as Hot Date, a game where you talk to a pug and exchange Hilarious™ dialogue about angst and emotions and… snore… Oh sorry, the summer heat’s getting to me. But after seeing the game’s description of “A lotion based seating simulator”, I was about ready to take a dirt nap on the game’s behalf.
After seeing my downloads folder and Ye Olde Linux Games Section, I had found it as barren as the amount of good games I’ve reviewed on this website. So I relented and clicked on the thumbnail, expecting a Hilarious™ description featuring developer credits like “@big_moist: ~whatever~”. What did I find in its stead? The SeaDads, makers of Karate Basketball! That was probably the only game I have ever underrated on this site, being engaging, intuitive, pitch – perfect fun with announcer commentary that actually was funny. If SeaDads clowned on the entire site with that gem, I should have paid more attention to the work they made. And indeed, The Maître D’ is another good game, even if most of its credit comes from applying the “Î” circumflex correctly.
Hon hon hon hon
You play as the world’s stretchiest waiter, able to contort his body into many different shapes, resembling what you might call a worm or a snake. Along the way you have to pick up diners and show them to their seats by virtue of wiggling around a bunch and not falling into spikes. I’m going to have to pause for a moment, Maître D’. Spikes? Are you serious? I get that they’re a lingua franca universally understood by gamers to be a bad thing, but they’re so dated and overused at this point where you can’t even include them in video game – games without seeming as quaint and antiquated as the Atari 2600. Even making fun of them is as old hat as the phrase “old hat”. Spikes in games, like the Barrels and Crates of Olde, communicate universal ideas, but chief among them is this: the designers didn’t have any better ideas.
As the levels progress, and there are many of them, there starts to be a progression to each level, as denoted by lotion which makes one skin nice and stretchy. Of course there’s an obvious joke about it working on the waiter’s clothes, but I’m concerned about how his body can contort when only his bare face is visible. Did he take off his suit and dump the bottle when the game wasn’t looking? Is the waiter physically made of lotion and uses it to sustain his identity as an alien being, à la Octodad? The lore runs deep in this game…
The lotion is what I like to call “æsthetic sugar”, where it’s a gameplay element that fits the world of the game in a creative way, rather than being an arbitrary powerup like a glowing orb or a big gem or what have you. Most games do this, such as saying the 500 plot coupons are actually Jiggies, Pagies, Bananas, Gems, Stars, Crates, Remote Controls, or whatever. When it applies to things like swapping out names, TV Tropes says to “Call a Hit Point a ‘Smeerp’”. The difference between the lotion and most of these other ideas is that, though they make sense to some degree, they’re hardly engaging prospects. Spyro collects gems because dragons are greedy little buggers, and Mario collects stars because… okay, maybe they don’t make sense. The lotion works, though, because the idea of a Frenchman being able to stretch at rediculous length, but only if his skin is properly lubricated, is a silly cultural comment that manages to please without being obtrusive or “lol random”. It‘s that type of subtle, gameplay – as – comedy bit which show that SeaDads have at least some idea of what they’re doing in this wild, wacky medium, and it really brings credit to their name.
Noh noh noh noh
Right, gameplay, as we are gamers, bro. It’s good. Barring some frustrations with the waiter not sticking his head into a hole because you have to be on an exact square, or else the game might have freaked out with block – clipping and so simply bans your head from doing that. Wiggling around and figuring out the difference between retracting your head and retracting your legs takes a good deal of effort, though at some point during the game you just get it, and you’re wiggling around effortlessly as you run amock through this puzzle – platformer. Well, you would, if the “retract feet” button was automatic and didn’t require smashing Q and E a bunch of times to go fast. Busywork, busywork, why must you be busy, work?
Oh yes, it is a puzzle – platformer, though only a little bit of both and overall is not particularly challenging in either department. The main gimmick is a good one, and the levels are intuitive enough to avoid the labyrinthine level design which causes me to run away faster than the words “first – person survival sandbox”, though one never gets the feeling the mechanics are building up to anything spectacular or world – changing in the world of gaming. Indeed, it was a very creative thing the developers did, and was implemented as technically well as one can possibly expect. Though the game stands on the strength of its one wiggly mechanic, and it’s not a particularly revolutionary one.
This game would be an extraordinary one to speedrun, as the steps one must take to finish it are complicated and not meant for mere mortals. The levels are non – linear and have simplistic goals, and it’s possible to find a lot of different solutions to each level. You can travel very fast through virtue of the magic expanding lotion – beast, though that’s intentional compared to the exploit which lets one travel upwards arbitrarily. I have to say it is a very well – designed game in that respect, even if it’s in a genre that isn’t engaging to me. It would be very nice to see a TAS of this game, but it’s proprietary software, so I’ll go fuck myself.
In the same way a critic is entitled to their opinion of a bad game by saying “well, at least I liked it”, so too can one look down on a game that they didn’t like by saying “fans of the genre will enjoy it”. I think both opinions are poppycock; in the first place, one’s enjoyment of a game should come from well – defined and smartly – presented reasons that explain why they enjoyed it, personal attachment not mattering one bit. In the second place, it’s the job of the game to make a product that will be enjoyed by anybody who plays it; nobody knows that they’re a “fan” of a genre until they’ve played enough good games in that genre. If a game really is good, it shouldn’t matter what genre it’s in, from puzzle to RPG to environmental sim to roguelike. I’m not a fan of any of these genres, and yet I’ve played great games from each, regardless of them being that genre.
It’s true that each genre attracts different type of people, from grandmothers to otaku, and that each demographic has their own biases that dictate what mechanics a game will include, what tone to present it in, and even what art style to create if they’re one of those creatively dead mobile game types. But what doesn’t change is the objective quality of what makes each game great, I.E. the comparison of each game to artistic dogma built over the few decades that games as a whole has existed, and even against the centuries that each individual element of a game (graphics, music, and so on) developed to the point where it may now exist in this digital product. RPG fans may enjoy long – winded cutscenes where nothing of substance is said and the plot never advances, but they’re still in the wrong for enjoying an inferior product that violates the basic rules of writing.
“Objective quality” does exist, you see, for one look at the Discredited Tropes page shows a list of ideas that would requires a very skilled writer to salvage them, and otherwise are seen in works where, simply, nobody cared. There is an objective quality in works “were nobudy run an spehl cheque” and are so considered awful. Most bugs are considered objectively bad (Shellshock, anybody?), unless they are brilliant enough to become features due to Chaos being a kind mistress. Even in works that are technically competent, works that fail to show a basic understanding of conflict, plot, or any sort of content (such as my last review’s victim) are cast away by the audience and replaced by better products… ignoring Valve and Blizzard games that are specifically designed to addict you, an objective measure of quality will be how many hours you play the game, and how many days in a row you play it for. As my great mentor often said, “if you can’t even make an effort to dress yourself properly and look nice during the day, nobody is going to take you seriously. The little things matter”.
So what does that leave “The Maître D’”? Although it has a great design and implements that idea about as well as it could possibly be implemented, I didn’t find it engaging enough to want to keep playing after it was over. It’s objectively a good game, and even has some charm that never feels overwrought, but I just didn’t like it as much as I could have. You see, a critic is entitled to his biases, as the audience is a biased beast and is reading the critic because they agree with their opinions. My bias against this game is it being a slow – paced little thing with no challenge or momentum beyond what is presented to us. But if you’re entirely unlike me, you might want to give it a try.