By Philip Orona
Seeing how we are now all shut-ins on an imposed quarantine, social distancing is being harped on more than dead cartoon character floating up to heaven. So in the vein of keeping to ourselves in these troubling times, I took a gander at Hungry Tea Party. It’s a relatively new game released on Steam in February. It’s free to play and a small download of 186mb so there is a low barrier to entry. So thank you to the chaps at game developer NUMBER7 for giving us something to kill time with.
From the intro animation, to the game setting , it will all feel quite familiar if you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. Hungry Tea party is what you get if you took a bunch of acid, binge watched all of Tim Burton’s films, and fell asleep on the couch with a half eaten slice of pizza topped with sausage and psychedelic mushrooms. The game greets you with very phonographic ye-old timey music. It’s very reminiscent of the game Cuphead. You, the player, are invited to a tea party and sure what could go wrong with that? The tea party is very Alice in Wonderland-ish as there is a deathly Coroline goth skeleton doll looking Alice, a Steampunk clothed Mad Hatter and a Raggedy Anne zipper necked March Hare. The idea here is to have a successful tea party and not be killed. There are heart meters placed just above each character. Clicking just about anywhere on the screen will prompt you with a dialog selection from each character and you are to respond in kind. Usually your choices are for them as a person, an object near them (such as tea or cake) or question mark. Respond in a way a character doesn’t like and they will lose a heart. Lose all the hearts of a character and you die. Although, I found that if I responded positively I also died.
For a game that touts 4 different endings, there is only 1 scenario for possible escape. I would have liked the option to have stalled long enough for some gothed up interpretation of the Queen of Hearts to intervene on the party and arrest us all for an unsanctioned social gathering. This game could benefit from giving the player a little more control of the narrative as no matter where you click you will be dealing with the same questions from the same character in the same order. In that style the game becomes memorization, then trial and error. To ease things for the player, there are no timers for your selections and you can save and load at any time.
The art is quite good and the sound design for the setting is spot on. The soundtrack gives you that audible scratchiness of a slightly warped record playing at your local 1930’s speakeasy as you try to drown out the sorrow of the great depression at the bottom of a glass of brandy. For a free game that was recently released you can’t complain too much other than the odd bug that I hope will be fixed in the near future. For example, if you go into the config menu and you will find that you cannot exit it, much like the tea party itself. The only escape is to close the game. There is also a gallery that gives you game art from the characters as well as some personality traits that can be used as context clues to map out a path to possible survival. Each character bio is unlocked as you uncover their “ending”.
After spending about a little over an hour with the game I finally survived the experience. Hungry Tea Party is certainly a unique puzzle time waster. Despite its limited setting and game play interaction, I was entertained for the 20 to 30 odd minutes the developer pegged for the game’s length. In that regard, the mission accomplished. Returning to the social distancing mentioned previously, odds are you are more likely to be killed by this social gathering than any kind of disease.