The Witch’s Yarn
Release Date: 04/03/2014
The Witch’s Yarn is a game about a witch opening up a yarn shop, which makes the name both appropriate and a cute little pun. It’s also a game that breaks the mold in several interesting ways, but not necessarily in a good way. Finally, though it was released on Steam in April, it was originally released nearly ten years ago. This basically gives us a second chance to look at something we may have missed.
Wednesday is a middle aged witch who just wants to run a yarn shop like the mortals do. This causes backlash with her family in a number of ways. Her daughters think she’s just trying to make a statement, her mother thinks she’s abandoning her family legacy, etc. The only one on her side is a rather talkative mushroom. It’s her familiar in case you were curious. On top of that, she’s got rowdy neighbors, people offering “protection”, and the fact that there just isn’t much of a market for yarn these days. Your goal is basically to guide Wednesday through her first day of business, keep the shop open, and help her make her first dollar.
The overall tale is kind of bland and kind of falls into a “failed sitcom” role. The characters are generally underdeveloped to the point where they each have about one personality trait. There’s a history there that would offer a bit more depth, but the characters go out of their way to avoid the past as much as possible. There’s also an uneven pace to the game, such that characters are forgotten for large stretches of the game, and/or dropped before the closing moments. Wednesday’s family issues are the heart of the game, but they don’t show up at all for the final two chapters.
How the story is told is perhaps a bit more interesting. The whole thing is kind of a choose your own adventure style. The characters on screen will talk for a bit, and the it’s up to you to “cue” the next scene. You’ll often have several different options to choose from, and the story can change a bit depending on what you pick. For example, if you cue the wrong thing during a visit to another shop, the landlady will come and close the place down. If you don’t like the consequences of your actions, you can always rewind an action and try again. This allows for the main story to at times to feel like a puzzle in and of itself. On top of that, you don’t always need to see everything in order to progress the story. The second chapter involves running around town to get tips on how to make the yarn shop a success. After you get three tips, the story moves on. In that time, there may have been stores you didn’t visit and characters you didn’t meet. This also allows for some slight replay value to those who want to see everything.
When it comes to mechanics, the game is extremely light. The act of cuing a person or thing is pretty much it. The game does manage to transform this into a puzzle mechanic here and there though. For example, one puzzle has you adding and subtracting flavors of ice cream in order to create a specific flavor. Another puzzle involves figuring out which item to show an arguing duo in order to get them to calm down. It’s simple, but it works well enough.
Visually, the game reminds of those old sticker stories that were popular back in the day. There would be a single backdrop, and you could place and remove stickers in order to tell a story. However, the stickers weren’t always in proportion to things on the background, and it would lead to something like a character standing on a building or something silly like that. A Witch’s Yarn is just like that. Apart from one chapter, the entire game is told on one screen. Characters that are cued just pop up in one of a few different locations, even if it means they’re stuck to the side of a wall. The character models don’t animate, bur rather switch between a few different poses throughout the game. It’s very low budget. That would be OK though, if not for the fact that lack of a scenery changes means you’re staring at roughly the same screen for the entire game. It just gets old.
Aurally, the music fits with the setting. The game takes place in the eighties or nineties, and has a jazzy soundtrack that you’d find with just about every family sitcom from those days. There aren’t too many tunes, but they’re enjoyable enough to listen to when they pop. It’s certainly better than the stark silence that accompanies most of the game. The speech is done entirely through text, and there are but a few sound effects when they’re needed. But at least the jazz is nice.
The game is quite short. Even if you get stuck and have to rewind a lot, it won’t take you more than a couple of hours to go through it all. Like I said before, there’s some incentive to go back and check out every story element, but chances are you won’t care enough about the story to do that. Honestly, the game is worth one look, but not worth revisiting. There is a system by which you can place bookmarks at various points in the game, which will allow you to go back to a specific spot rather than having to replay the game as a hole. I mean, so at least there’s something there if you do want to keep going.
In my opinion, the game has some interesting ideas. An adventure game where the story unfolds as you cue up various possibilities has a ton of potential. However, the story is pretty bland. To an adventure game, an uninteresting story is a death knell. I would like to see where this concept can go if it had more interesting yarn to weave.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Witch’s Yarn is an adventure game that strives for simplicity. To that end, the payer has very few mechanics to work with and need only concern themselves with progression. However, a lackluster cast of characters combined with dated visuals makes it hard to really get into the things. The concept has merit, and could create an interesting game environment. That said, this game as value as a curiosity. It’s worth checking out because there’s not much out there like it. Just don’t raise your expectations on this one.