The Shopkeeper: A Buck Short of a Complete Game

The Shopkeeper is described as a point-and-click narrative game set in a space between the Twilight Zone, classic LucasArts adventures, and Antiques Roadshow. In reality, it is none of those. It is a an extremely short and disjointed narrative experience that comes in a very pretty package but contains no substance. Might as well throw Groundhog Day in there too, in things it is supposed to be like. Except it isĀ like Groundhog Day, because you have to play it over and over again. It is, however, nothing like the things it references.

The gist of the game is that you play a shopkeeper and then a man who has to appease his mother-in-law in order to get her money for one of his business ventures. She hates him of course.

The game looks great but falls short because there is nothing there. In the shop, you can click on items and hear the shopkeeper tell a little story about each one of them and each item’s story blurb is more interesting than the story vaguely present in this game. We aren’t given any direction, or set up, and if it wasn’t for the short description on the Steam store page, I would have had no idea what I was supposed to do.

The narrative delivery is interesting and has room for a lot of potential, however there is no connection between the items you choose and how the story unfolds (save for two of them). In fact, I ended up beating the game just by clicking randomly, while trying to figure out the relationship between the dialogue in the second part of the game and the item I picked in the first part.

This kind of narrative delivery reminds me of Aisle, a piece of interactive fiction where you have only one action. Depending on what you do with that action decides how the rest of the story unfolds. It is well written and typing actions in the parser to discover what you can do to advance the story is part of the fun. Compare it to The Shopkeeper, where the items have no effect on the narrative at all.

The two items you need to interact with can also be found in the mother-in-law’s office. This raises some questions about the narrative.

Are the two businessmen the same person? They do look the same…

Which comes first, the meeting in the office or the shopkeeper? You play as the shopkeeper first so it makes sense that this scene happens before the scene in the office. Yet, when examining the items in the office, the descriptions all say that they seem to originate from some old lover.

Why does he want to give his mother-in-law a present to appease her and get her to give him money if she already has the present in the office? Maybe the designer put the items in the office as the one and only clue to the one and only puzzle in the game.

And when you beat the game, you are presented with a scene of the shopkeeper going to his bedroom above the store in which he works. I had no idea why this was significant or what I was supposed to gain from this, since most of his dialogue is about the objects in his store. You do have the opportunity to talk to the florist next door, who will give some story about the shopkeeper. I don’t mind tricky narratives or stories you have to work for, but I felt this game did not give me enough to go on, or even care.

On the whole, it feels unfinished. (Or maybe I wasn’t engaged enough to piece together the story.) All the elements are there, except the story part. And that’s pretty bad for a narrative game. The worst part about this game is that it has so much potential, and it just never really went anywhere.

For a similar idea executed very well, play Aisle online. It only takes a few minutes to appreciate, so you really have no excuse!

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