Clutter VI: Leigh’s Story

I don’t remember where I saw this recommended, but I do remember that it was recommended for its story. It’s the first game in its series to employ a writer who isn’t also the designer and programmer — this is a small indie effort, and that’s part of its charm. And it knows it.

The story element isn’t closely connected to the gameplay, which consists of sundry variations on matching pairs of photographed objects in a randomly jumbled heap: hats, gemstones, sliced oranges, motorcycles, clown dolls, some things I couldn’t even identify, none of them to scale with each other. There are other minigames sprinkled throughout the story, such as unscrambling pictures, but the clutter sequences are where your attention is most of the time. It’s a cousin of the hidden object game, but less amenable to fiction. Indeed, in the story, the clutter part is still a game — one that the protagonist plays and writes a sequel to, that sequel being the game you’re playing.

That protagonist is Leigh Poncelette, a teenage girl from a cursed family — I get the impression that the Poncelette family curse is the basis of the plot of previous games in the series. The details of the curse aren’t elaborated on here; the important part is Leigh’s attempts to escape its effects via radical self-invention — going by a new name, changing her hair and her wardrobe, presenting herself as someone cool and confident — on the theory that the curse won’t be able to find her if she’s someone else. In the process, she winds up finding popularity, for the first time in her life, as a game streamer — playing Clutter, natch. There’s a bit of authorial wish-fulfillment there: this is a game that has literally no community activity recorded on Steam, but in its own fictional world, it has an active and substantial fanbase and well-attended competitive tournaments.

For the most part, this story is delivered a sentence or two at a time after you finish each level, by Leigh, as to a diary: confessing her worries and apprehensions about what she’s attempting, and her fear that people will find out who she really is. But there’s another part that I felt was fairly clever: in addition, each level contains a phrase, which you reveal bit by bit, by finding and clicking on letters mixed in with the clutter. As noted, Leigh is a worrier, and these hidden phrases give you glimpses of what’s lurking in her mind even when your/her attention is on the game.

Beyond that, the main thing that impresses me about this game is how amiable it is. It isn’t just the story elements. Sometimes the between-levels text isn’t part of the story at all, but messages from the developer, thanking you for playing, gushing about the people who worked on the game with him, and, most particularly, talking about design decisions and the theories behind them. When this first happened, I assumed it was just going to be a one-off thing, but no, he keeps on popping up, commenting on the game as it’s going on, like Bennett Foddy. It gives the whole thing an unmistakably personal feel, and makes me realize: This game, and the five games that preceded it, are the work of a man who has found his mission in the world. I wish him well.