October 5, 2023
LUAL Games KIG
Inspired by games like The Beginner’s Guide and Stories Untold, [I] Doesn’t Exist is an unconventional narrative game, whose title is derived from the message a player might get from a parser adventure game when they have referenced an in-game object that the game doesn’t recognise. Though despite containing some attractive pixel work, [I] Doesn’t Exist is too small in scope to deliver what it promises. On the most recent update post on the game’s Steam page, it states that you’ll be facing “not only the threats that lurk in the unknown, but the very essence of your own existence,” but after multiple playthroughs, I don’t know that I’ve faced either.
[I] Doesn’t Exist is the debut game from studio LUAL Games, which is based in Switzerland. The game was written and programmed by just two people, who first created the project as part of their bachelor. I went into this game with that in mind, and you should too; the game is short and small in scope. That in itself need not be a criticism, but not enough has been done to transform the game from a tech demo designed to demonstrate the developer’s abilities into a full-fledged game.
[I] Doesn’t Exist is a short adventure inspired by the parser adventure games of old, like Kings Quest. The game can be completed in under two hours, and about half of it is classic adventure game fair. The pixel artwork is easy on the eyes and is nicely reminiscent of retro games, but still has all the conveniences of a modern one. Even the main menu emulates the DOS software of old, which is a really nice touch. The software is even smart enough to work through spelling errors, so you avoid the frustration of having to re-type commands.
You start off in a charming forest area and set about solving some classic adventure puzzles, but before long the game takes a meta twist that has you directly talking to the character you were once controlling.
Instead of giving it orders, you can now ask it questions about itself and the world it lives in. So far, so intriguing, but the game seems unwilling to actually reveal any answers.
Over multiple playthroughs, I tried every question I could think of to get either of the two unnamed main characters to tell me anything useful about themselves, the setting, or what my actual objective was supposed to be. The answers I got were disorganised, purposely vague, and often rambling. They clearly have some kind of relationship with each other, but I simply could not extract anything specific about what it was. I certainly didn’t feel like I was “facing the essence of my own existence,” I felt more like I had walked in on two strangers having an argument, with both of them insisting that I take their side while giving me no context on why I should.
Along with the conversation between the two characters, there are also some short sections of first-person gameplay featuring a maze and some brief puzzles. Here again, most of the talent is shown in the art style.
The inspiration from other games becomes pretty obvious, but [I] Doesn’t Exist doesn’t do anything to stand out from its inspirations beyond its use of parser text gameplay. In particular, I am reminded of Pony Island, a 2016 game by Daniel Mullins (developer of Inscryption). Among its similarities are a retro gaming aesthetic, an unconventional story with a meta twist, swift shifts in gameplay mechanics, and fourth wall breaks. Merely being inspired by such games is not a bad thing, but without more time to flesh out its unique tale, [I] Doesn’t Exist cannot help but come off as derivative.
- Pixel artwork is very nice
- Bite-size and easy to complete
- Narrative is vague and hard to follow
- Feels derivative of other games with similar themes
- Too small in scope to accomplish what it sets out to do
As a bachelor project, [I] Doesn’t Exist certainly demonstrates the technical competency of its developers, but as a game in its own right, it doesn’t particularly offer anything unique or worthwhile. Using parser controls to tell an unconventional narrative is an interesting concept, but the actual conversations to be had are vague, unhelpful, and don’t tell a decipherable narrative. Check it out if you’re jonesing for a hit of retro parser gameplay, but there’s otherwise not much here that makes it stand out.