‘Trapped in the Closet’ takes a dark turn.
Developer: C.I.N.I.C Games
Publisher: Adventure Productions
Released: February 16, 2017
I’m really not sure what I was expecting to get with The Wardrobe. Based on the game’s steam page, its trailer and screenshots make it incredibly difficult to tell if the developers at C.I.N.I.C games were aiming to make a black comedy adventure game, or a point-and-click that relied on random and obscure pop-culture references for its comedy. But even now, after playing it all the way to the end, I’m still not quite sure what kind of adventure game it was. In all honesty, the best way that I can sum up The Wardrobe for the purposes of this introduction is by calling it “an adventure in fucking around”.
The Wardrobe follows the story of Skinny, a young man who, after dying from anaphylactic shock due to his unknown fatal allergy to plums five years ago, has been living as a skeleton in the closet belonging to his best friend, Ronald. Being the sole witness of Skinny’s sudden death, Ronald has become mute, blaming himself for the accident and never speaking of it to anyone. After watching over Ronald for the past five years, Skinny decides to finally reveal himself to Ronald and get him to admit his “crime” in order to save Ronald’s soul from eternal damnation. A simple plan in theory, but quickly made more complicated when Skinny’s finds himself and his wardrobe stuck in a dump on the other side of town. With only three days left to get Ronald to confess, Skinny needs to find a way to get himself, along with the wardrobe he’s been eternally bound to, back to Ronald before his time runs out.
I definitely love the concept of the story, especially the idea of playing as someone’s literal skeleton in their closet. But unfortunately, after the story sets up Skinny’s goal and the time limit he has to complete it, it never feels like the plot makes any sort of development. Skinny encounters obstacles on his quest to reunite with Ronald, but they’re honestly nothing more than inconveniences that are easily overcome. The story has no climax, no ramping up of tension. Between the introduction and ending, the only thing that happens in between is “stuff”.
Thankfully, even if there isn’t much of a story to keep you engaged, The Wardrobe does at least deserve some praise for its writing and presentation. While I think only half of its jokes actually made me let out a chuckle, I can’t deny that the game is at least pretty funny. I’d probably say that most of the best jokes are made by Skinny mocking the player for making him interact with an object in nonsensical ways, such as trying to make him talk to a cement mixer. It’s clear from the dialogue between characters that The Wardrobe wasn’t lazily written, offering up unique and at the very least, entertaining conversations with pretty decent voice acting behind them.
Probably the greatest strength of The Wardrobe is its detailed visuals. Every location and character has been wonderfully hand-illustrated, ensuring that you spend at least five minutes looking for every visual gag in the background. The developers have clearly poured their appreciation for current and classic pop-culture into this game, packing the art full of visual refences to anime, video games, and movies, among other things. Contrary to my original impressions, The Wardrobe very rarely relies on these references for the sake of getting a faint chuckle from the audience. Instead, they serve to be more like a “spot the reference” metagame of sorts. One that can elicit an odd sense of satisfaction when you recognise the more obscure references like the little shoe from Who Framed Roger Rabbit sitting atop a barrel of toxic waste.
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes incredibly difficult to enjoy that aspect of the game when the general gameplay is so distractingly infuriating. While the game does include the incredibly helpful user-friendly design choice to dedicate a button to pointing out what environmental objects you can interact with, the overall gameplay is easily let down by its awful puzzle design. As stated on the game’s Steam page, C.I.N.I.C games wanted The Wardrobe to emulate classic 90s point and click adventure games like Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island, which usually required the player to use out-of-the-box logic in order to solve their puzzles. While The Wardrobe definitely understands the idea that these games didn’t blatantly spell out what the player needed to do next, it doesn’t quite seem to grasp the concept that these older games still gave just enough information to let the player figure things out on their own.
The game is incredibly stubborn in this aspect, offering so little information that there’s rarely a sense of direction in terms of what needs to be done. Because of this, you have basically no idea what puzzles need to be solved first in order to solve the next one. This can get even more difficult to figure out during the times when the game forgets to distinguish which intractable objects are there for the purposes of solving a puzzle and which ones are simply there for a gag.
For example, one puzzle involved me needing to give a Moai head statue some bubblegum in order to momentarily distract a character. However, I had no idea I could even do this because (a) I didn’t even know the statue was alive, or (b) that it could even chew bubblegum in the first place, let alone that it even liked to chew bubblegum.
Because of this lack of information, nearly every puzzle solution feels incredibly unintuitive. Since there’s so little information to work with, my usual strategy to solving the game’s puzzles was essentially just to keep rubbing every item against something until I got a result. There was never any satisfying “aha!” moments that these kinds of games essentially rely on to keep players invested.
With no idea of what to do or how to do it, all I could do from the start of the game was fuck around with everything in sight until something happened, only to then fuck around with more things in order to get something else to happen, and so on.
By the time I was done with The Wardrobe, I just felt drained. While the story started off with an interesting premise, it never actually does anything with it. There’s no sense of urgency or any real obstacle to overcome besides the one set up at the start of the game. Combine that with its incredibly unsatisfying gameplay and it eventually becomes apparent that The Wardrobe has the same sense of plot development and overall enjoyment as ticking off boxes on a to-do list. A really nice looking and well presented to-do list, but a to-do list nonetheless.
A funny and beautiful looking game let down by unsatisfying gameplay and a pointless plot.