Twine games today are texting to impress. As a free tool for aspiring game developers and seasoned professionals, the platform gives anybody the ability to create an interactive work and share it with others. Anyone can download the program for free, watch a tutorial or two, and put their skills to work immediately. Consequently, the Twine game pool is deep, and it showcases a lot of different creative voices. Not all of these games are good, but many—including the top Twine games described below—are surprisingly compelling and worthwhile.
Twine games need strong writing and a solid concept to work, and not everybody excels at these things on their first try. It's easy to fall into the trappings of a conventional choose-your-own adventure story, but some of the most popular Twine games heighten this format with unique perspectives and interesting communication techniques. Twine games are still a niche market, but they have the potential to expand the appeal of games to a much wider audience.
Queers in Love at the End of the World Maximizes Minimalism
Take Anna Anthropy's Queers in Love at the End of the World. It's a straightforward choose-your-own adventure story that stars the player and the one they love at the end of the world. A timer ticks down the seconds on the left side of the screen. Will you kiss her? Take her hand? Tell her what you're thinking? Or just hold her? Whatever choice you make, you'll be led down a different path with more text to read, but the seconds keep ticking down. When the timer hits zero, the game ends. It's simple. It's not particularly subtle. But you can't help wondering what the rest of the text said, or what would have happened if you'd made a different choice. You can replay it and choose another path, skip the text you've already read, and finish before the timer stops...but it still stops, and everything is still wiped away in the end.
Many games employ timed missions, but saving the galaxy, defusing the bomb, or finishing the race feel a lot different than spending the last ten seconds of your fictional life with the person you love. There's a lot going on in this ten-second game, and that's the real power of Twine. Rather than relying on graphics and voice acting and any number of other things, Queers in Love at the End of the World uses nothing but text, choices, and a timer to get its point across.
The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo Ruins Your Childhood
Michael Lutz's The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo takes an entirely different approach. Rather than relying on short time-frames and minimalism, The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo uses illustration, music, classic video game sounds, and fourth-wall-breaking glitches to ground the player in the game's reality. Familiarity with Creepypastas like Pokémon Black, BEN Drowned, or other popular video game hoaxes adds an extra dimension of horror to the game, but anybody who has dealt with a compulsive liar will understand what's at work in this game.
The more you play, the more you unlock, and the more you unlock, the more the horror grows. Getting all six endings is just one part of the experience. There's more to gain from playing through again and finding the holes, or filling in the missing pieces with information you've learned as you've progressed. Though this Twine game features original artwork and music, it still boils down to the simple mechanics of text and links. What's most fascinating about The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo is how effectively the online Twine format suits the story. This is a game that would never work in AAA format, because the fear comes from glitches and the unknown.
With Those We Love Alive Leaves a Lasting Mark
Both Queers In Love at the End of the World and The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo have relatively straightforward plots. Not so with Porpentine's With Those We Love Alive. Explaining what's happening in this game is a nearly impossible task—it's set in an alien world where the player is the servant/employee/handmaiden to a terrifying Empress. It's never really clear what's going on and, because it's a fairly long game, it's easy to lose track of what you've done, where you've been, and even who your character is.
A lot of time passes with no significant changes, but that's an interesting mechanic all its own. The monotony echoes the tone of the game until things take a significant turn somewhere in the middle. As if the story itself wasn't estranging enough, With Those We Love Alive introduces a completely unique idea where the player is instructed to write a sigil of their own creation on their arm. Many games leave a lasting impact, but rarely does a game cement this impact as a physical detail. It might seem gimmicky to some, but having a game leave the screen and manifest as a mark on your body is a bold and interesting choice. There's nothing else like With Those We Love Alive out there, and Twine is the perfect vehicle for delivering its incomparable experience.
Five More Twine Games Worth Checking Out
Cat Petting Simulator: Exactly what it says on the tin.
Depression Quest: A controversial but interesting look at what it's like to suffer from mental illness.
CRY$TAL WARRIOR KE$HA: Play as space princess Ke$ha and defeat the evildoers with glitter and crystals.
Daymare #1: "Ritual": Explores the personal nature of rituals and magic.
The Domovoi: The art of storytelling explored through Slavic mythology.
Twine games aren’t for everybody. Some say they're not really games, they're just interactive fiction. Some people think they're vehicles for pushing an agenda, and others just find them plain boring. Regardless, Twine games are getting a lot of attention for maximizing the potential of such a simplistic medium, and reminding us how full of possibilities the video game industry still is.