A few years ago, I fell in love with the new wave of absurdist visual novels and playful experimental indies that threw you into a mineshaft of underground internet culture, littered with call-backs to unfamiliar cinema, and obscure jokes sourced from message boards or video services outside of the west like NicoNico.
Remix culture titles introduced their audience to a new cultural pantheon gilded with drama that often managed to pull at your heartstrings and immersing you in a narrative deeper than the comedic tone. Sonoshee’s (@sonoshit) Critters For Sale left me reflecting on the framework established by earlier visual novels Dog Of Dracula and its sequel that heavily leveraged the same style of satirical commentary.
Critters For Sale evokes this feeling without relying too heavily on reference to external internet culture, instead achieving this more through how it leans into the stylistic absurdism established by its adventurous forebears in the medium which it makes its home. Despite sharing the genre, it owes very little, if anything, to these early attempts in breaking new satirical ground.
Critters For Sale starts with a cold open, sucking you in immediately with a self-aware protagonist falling down the strange rabbit hole he finds his evening careening into.
Every small detail, visual motif and element of the UI feels intentional in Critters for Sale leaving nothing wasted when it comes to screen space. Each gap is strategically placed to frame the full motion video as a stage for the theatrical play to unfold, with a conversational format evoking dialogue cards from the silent film era.
The fluid animation of its visual sequences draws the eye in and captures the flow of a riveting noir film crossed with subtle allusions to German Expressionism. It’s a stylistic pushing of boundaries I haven’t seen in many titles outside of Grasshopper Manufacture’s The Silver Case.
Silky smooth animation aside, there’s other clever techniques at play here like machine learning processed image-blending for an extra layer of dreamlike quality when characters change expressions, ambiguous portraits giving way to very detailed and evocative close ups. The author’s carefully curated musical selection plays a crucial role alongside these techniques in building the game’s mystique and atmosphere.
This is easily one of the best, most memorable experimental visual novels I have ever played, and it’s just getting started with many more chapters planned to come. I highly recommend trying it for yourself.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice