A modern throwback for Choose Your Own Adventure fans, Critters for Sale succeeds with weird but not much more.
Release date: 3 June, 2021
Critters for Sale first came to my attention when I saw it mentioned in a point-and-click group as an upcoming game in the genre. After playing it, however, the gameplay is more reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks for kids from the ‘80s and ‘90s. This isn’t to say that the content is family-friendly, as Critters for Sale definitely is not meant for children. Unfortunately, the game’s Steam store description, “Experience death from the comfort of your seat.” makes the game sound more exciting than it really is.
Critters for Sale consists of 5 episodes, each named after a different critter: Snake, Goat, Monkey, Spider, Dragon. Some of the episodes have multiple possible endings that can be unlocked, and the number of endings that have been unlocked for each episode is tracked on the loading screen. The episodes span from the distant past to the future and realms without time, as well as spanning locations across the globe and without space. All of the episodes are connected as part of a larger narrative.
The game dabbles with classic science fiction and fantasy themes but skirts engaging with the concepts on a deeper level. I personally found myself frequently bored. Although sometimes psychedelic (like watching an acid trip) and violent, the text-based structure and black-and-white color palette make the experience seem less intense than it may have otherwise.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The user interface is usually arranged with character information (e.g., name, age, location, temperature) to the left, the episode critter’s kanji to the right, an upper central area that has the visual space the player will interact with, and expositional and choice text below. The majority of the episodes consist of making text-based choices (e.g., take the key or not) with very minimal puzzles and mini-games. Although supposedly the episodes can be played in any order, there are a couple puzzles that require information from episodes other than the one the player is currently in, and unfortunately when the player is in the middle of an episode, there doesn’t seem to be a way to save or exit to the loading screen. There is a fast forward button that can be used to speed up repeat playthroughs for the endings, but I wish that there was an outright skip option.
Art Style and Graphics
The game has a black and white color palette and a pixel style of art that evokes static on a screen. Of note is that the art is dynamic, which means screenshots don’t do the visuals justice. It opens with an epilepsy warning for good reason, although this art style does seem to make the violence and gore feel sanitized.
Sound and Music
Critters for Sale has no voice acting, which isn’t surprising in such a heavily text-based game. The game frequently makes use of minimalistic but situationally appropriate sound effects (e.g., wind in a desert, typing sound while text appearing on screen), but when it does bring in music, it spans the spectrum in variety from metal to jazz to organ.
There are 18 possible achievements, all connected to unlocking each of the different endings: 6 for Snake, 4 for Goat, 1 for Monkey, 6 for Spider, and 1 for Dragon.
At $9.99 at the time of review and 18 possible endings/achievements, there is certainly enough content for the price as long as the player is aware Critters for Sale stays on the superficial level with its exploration of the weird. If you liked Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid and want to recreate that experience with modern technology rather than page flipping, this game may hit the spot for you. However, if you’re looking for a more engaging or intellectually stimulating gameplay experience, the game is probably best purchased at a discount.