App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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There's always a trade-off when you expand the possibilities in a game. The most obvious of these is a compromise of vision. Even if the nature of choice is your stated goal, it's incredibly difficult to make your branching paths satisfy in equal measure or entice players to replay your game to see alternate possibilities. This is the core issue of Night in the Unpleasant House, a text-based choose-your-own-adventure game with a strange and fascinating world that I enjoyed making my way through right up until I reached an end point.
In Night in the Unpleasant House, you play as a man on a mission. Years ago, your father became convinced that something suspicious was happening in local government, specifically concerning the mayor. He was certain that he could find answers at a mysterious property owned by the elected official, and on the night he decided to investigate, he never returned.
Now you are trying to pick up where he left off, starting with locating this strange house. This kicks off an eventful night full of mystery, puzzles, and surreal episodes that slowly reveal the fate of your father and the true nature of the mayor over the course of your exploration of this strange, unpleasant house.
Being a text adventure, your journey unfolds over paragraphs of text, with some light audio stingers, visual effects, and illustrated backgrounds to reinforce and heighten the action being described. The storytelling in Night in the Unpleasant House isn't entirely linear, though. Most of the game takes place within the house, and you have quite a bit of freedom to move between locations, gather items, and solve puzzles in any way that you like.
To keep things from feeling too aimless, the game does initially restrict some rooms and sections of the house, but it does so while providing clever narrative justifications. Obviously, something is not right with this house and the mayor, and part of what makes Night in the Unpleasant House compelling is reading about the very mysterious and creepy ways they operate. These restrictions, among other things, provide more of that flavor while also giving some structure to the game and logic to the narrative.
Depending on the way you move about the house and the decisions you make along your adventure, you can come across 13 different endings in Night in the Unpleasant House. In my time with the game I found two, and both felt like punishments for my decision-making. Despite the fact that I've seen what is likely the vast majority of what the game has to offer, I reached conclusions that are quick to zip up the narrative and provide precious little insight into what is really going on. My only recourse after reaching these points was to replay the entire thing and try to choose differently, which--understandably--I didn't want to do after two failed attempts.
What makes this particularly frustrating is that--for one ending in particular--I felt like I wasn't given enough information in the text to know the kind of decision I was making. In hindsight, it's easy to read the text and know what it was trying to say, but it's also painfully clear what information it was leaving out, and it doesn't seem intentional. Or, if it was intentional, it is a cruel trick to spring on someone really deep into a game that you have to replay nearly in its entirety to get back up to.
The bottom line
Maybe the experience of playing Night in the Unpleasant House is meant to be as harsh as its name suggests. On top of playing as a character trapped in an unsettling, alien space, maybe the game lulls you into this sense of comfort and remove from these happenings, only to gut-check you when you least expect it by design. If this is the case, Night in the Unpleasant House does its job well. Despite enjoying quite a bit of the game, I felt a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration in the endings I reached. Maybe you'll get a better ending than I did, but maybe you won't. That's the double-edged sword that Night in the Unpleasant House hangs its hat on, and unsurprisingly the end result is an experience that feels both impressively ambitious and frustrating.