The Spiral Scouts Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and Mac
Developer/Publisher: The Cantaloupe Kids
The Spiral Scouts is a puzzle-driven adventure game centered around a young girl by the name of Ramae who emerges from a nebulous void one day and adopts the duty of a Spiral Scout. A sort of transdimensional aid that is tasked by the forces that maintain the multiverse to travel across the realms of life, death, and chaos in order to recover the fallen deities and restore the broken flow of the sacred sauce that governs this loosely defined multiverse. In order to do so, she must locate people in need and help them out of their predicaments in order to receive badges that, almost arbitrarily, represent the sources of power in this world. Thus setting her off on a nonlinear journey filled with eccentric characters, perilous puzzles, and more potty mouth malarky than anybody would reasonably expect from a game as adorable looking as this.
Yes, despite its supposed cuteness, The Spiral Scouts is a game filled with phalices, fecum, flatulence, recreational narcotic use by minors, questionable content, and oodles of nasty no-no words. None of which should be surprising considering that this game was written and co-developed by the lead developer of HuniePop and HunieCam Studios, Ryan Koons. A move that almost instantly garnered my attention seeing as how HuniePop’s dialog was positively drenched in personality, and the idea of him working on a more narrative driven game was quite exciting. However, what he came up with was rather… hard to pinpoint for various reasons.
Koons very clearly took a more comedic stance with this game’s script, which makes reviewing it a bit tricky, as everybody’s sense of humor is uniquely personalized and whether or not something is funny will always be a subject for debate. Yes, there are schools of thought and mentalities, but those just more ways to inform one’s opinions. Generally speaking, I like to think that I am pretty easy to appease with comedy, with my humor sensibilities being only slightly more sophisticated than those of a 12-year-old boy, barring certain subjects that really are not discussed in the confines of this game. However, even against those standards, I found the humor delivered by The Spiral Scouts to be binarily mixed. About half of the time the script cutely or cleverly incorporates crude and crass elements into cheery world, creating an obvious undercurrent that remains an undercurrent. While the other half of the time the script is brimming with all of the wordplay and ingenuity of a mid-ots Angry Video Game Nerd imitator. Which is a roundabout way of saying someone who thinks swear words are inherently funny when… they aren’t.
Swearing is an instrumental tool that can aid in making something funny, and I certainly am in no place to badmouth curse words, but when it is expected, overdone, or generally used in a context where it comes across as unnecessary, lacking the impact that these words ought to possess, the humorous effect is diminished and that’s pretty much what happens here. The cussing doesn’t really add anything to the experience that is not better achieved through kiddy swears that maintain a veniere of innocence and behaviors that clearly go against what one would ordinarily expect from a game with such a cutesy aesthetic.
I think my favorite example of this, and an example of the game at its best in general, is one of the quests in the Chaos world, where Remae wanders into the innocuous Pimp Slap Inn and meets a slime girl by the name of Jellie, who has been “pounded” by customers cramming into her establishment, and is dire need of a back massager. Thus sending Remae on a quest throughout a multi-room establishment where the player must complete a spot the difference game to appease two pig people made of weiner meat, known as boners, and then go through two rounds of a pattern-based math puzzle that reminded me of something from standardized tests in elementary school.
Afterwards, the player is awarded with a censored 10 foot tall dildo, just standing plainly in a room with zero fanfare. Upon seeing this, Remae stuffs in the same place she stuffs everything else, and delivers to Jellie, who immediately begins using her tool to her advantage as the screen goes black, a series of squeaking noises play, and then things climax with the sound of a whoopie cushion. Things then fade back in, revealing a hotel lobby coated in multicolored slime, and a broken Remae who tacitly accepts her badge and moves on. There is no explicit reference to anything sexual, dirty, or generally icky, and if the player was an innocent child they may not understand that they just helped a goopy pervert ejaculate all over the lobby. Which, along with the absurdity of the premise, makes the situation funny. Well, except for the part where mayor Weinerboner pops in, curses, uses Christ’s name in vain because that makes sense in this fantastical world without any stated religion, and then leaves. It is an excerpt that adds nothing and accomplishes nothing more than acknowledging that ‘golly gee willikers my homies, ain’t dis shizzle bonked up sumthin’ fierce?’
Actually, now that I’ve written that all out, I think I figured out why I find the swearing in this game to feel so detrimental. It uses swearing as a punchline, as a crutch, as an indication that, ha ha, this is supposed to be funny, now please recognize it as so. As if the silly schoolyard tier wordplay won’t hammer the humorous intentions home. It’s all so unfortunate because I know that Koons is a better writer than this, and there are plenty of instances throughout this game that could have been made far more effective if it maintained its family friendly shroud and this coy little game of transparent deception. Instead, it routinely rips through this facade and shouting obscenities with such regularity that is becomes trite, predictable, and generally unamusing. Admittedly, that is only about half the time, with the other half of the dialog being precisely what I want, antics with overt adult themes that avoid adult language and put up a light illusion of being child-appropriate.
In spite of this, I found myself enjoying the story that The Spiral Scouts had to tell, or to give a more accurate compliment, I found its cast of characters to be a charming assortment of personalities that came in all shapes and sizes, hold their own quirks and storylines, and while most certainly tropey, were certainly an entertaining bunch of weirdos to encounter and do quests for. I was genuinely excited to see what each new character had to offer, and broadly speaking, I like just about every one of them, with the one exception being the Lunar Owl. A dirtbag who laughs at children for believing in lies told to them by adults, which is just mean and not funny in the slightest, and mocks a character for their hyper specific niche furry fetish. Which would be understandable, if this game wasn’t developed by a self proclaimed degenerate responsible for developing a game where fetishes are a mechanic.
Okay, okay, let’s just disregard the story with its number of comedic highs and nifty quest concepts and focus on what is arguably the meat of the game, the puzzles. Much like comedy, the graphic adventure game school of puzzle design is a bit tricky to review, as everybody’s problem solving skills differ, and what is obvious for one person might be profoundly difficult for another. Personally I found the majority of the puzzles on display here to strike something of an elusive balance between comprehensible enough that I rarely got stuck on a single puzzle, and being complicated enough that they feel rewarding to solve, while relying on the core tenants of common sense, filling in the blanks between information sources, and a bit of applied mathematical knowhow. With a pen, paper, and three afternoons to kill, I had a genuinely enjoyable time scribbling notes, picking up on clues and hints, and making the logical leaps the game asks the player to embark on, even if I had to leave the puzzle, do something else in the realm, and then return with a fresh perspective.
Though there are three puzzles that did give me some trouble, and led me to consult a walkthrough so I could figure out what the hell I was supposed to do. The first two were instances where the game recycled concepts from earlier levels and I made the incorrect assumption that if triangles and rotating objects meant something in one puzzle, then they should mean something similar in another. Which really is unsurprising considering how procedural I tend to be with… just about every facet of my life, really.
The third puzzle I struggled with was the last puzzle in the game, which does away with the closed environment approach seen throughout the rest of the game, where most puzzles are kept in a contained area and it is easy to infer what the player is meant to interact with. But then after getting all 8 badges in every world, the player is rewarded with a quest where the rules, goals, and general objectives are very loosely defined, puzzles must be revisited, and the challenge of the game increases by such an order of magnitude that I felt no reservations about cheesing my way through it. Yet after fairly solving the final challenge in the questline, I was met with a revelation the game has been subtly build to… and the answer delivered almost killed whatever enthusiasm I had for this game.
As for the general non-puzzle gameplay, it mostly consists of walking around, talking to people, interacting with things, and exploring small contained worlds, but I couldn’t help but take note of three minor quality of life improvements that could have been implemented. Such as being able to bring up a specific note with a single button, rather than needing to dig through Ramae’s inventory every time the player wants to reference something, which they assuredly will do frequently unless they transcribe every little detail. Mapping the shovel, the only equippable item in the entire game, to one of the unused shoulder buttons. Or being able to grab onto moveable blocks and move them in all four cardinal directions, instead of two at a time.
Moving over to the presentation, The Spiral Scouts boasts a distinctive art style that goes to give this game a more personal bent to it, and helps it stand out amongst other cutesy affairs. It’s expressive, bubbly, has a wide range of appealing character designs, and is generally incredibly pleasant to look at from its nature-y environments to the adorable little chibi sprites afforded for every character. All of this combined with the pop-up storybook framework result in a game that I cannot help but adore from a visual perspective, and I’m naturally quite interested in seeing what the lead artist, Mario Velardita does with his next project. Yet while I have nothing but good things to say about the art itself, the title is unfortunately capped at an internal resolution of 900p, which will likely limit the longevity of the game going forward, and is more than a bit surprising given how this game did come out in 2018, a time when developers have begun creating 4K art assets for 2D games.
So the puzzles are good, the characters are good, the visuals are most certainly good, but the dialog and overall writing are about as mixed as one could manage, and lead to a resounding clunker of a true ending that had me rushing to uninstall the game. I want to say that I like and recommend this title, but while there is an undeniable amount of quality within The Spiral Scouts, its shortcomings truly do bum me out, and leave me wishing for something a bit more. While it’s highs are certainly nothing to snuff at, the proximity, distribution, and emphasis of some of its lower points damper the experience in my book, and result in my final thoughts on this game being one big resounding meh.