Little Misfortune

Year: 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Adventure
Review Date: 9/16/20
Rating: ***

"Meet Misfortune. She's a wonderful child from a not so wonderful family."

Misfortune Ramirez Hernandez is a precocious 8-year old girl with an unhappy home life. Her father is an abusive drug addict and her mother is an alcoholic who turns tricks on the side. Her name, Misfortune, alludes to her mother being forced into marriage because abortion is illegal. Pretty sad and heavy stuff. The game opens with Misfortune in her bedroom playing with dolls, when the narrator calmly announces that she's going to die today. Much to the narrator's surprise, Misfortune breaks the Fourth Wall by saying she can hear him, and deduces that he's just a voice in her head. Mr. Voice then invites Misfortune to play a game where the prize is eternal happiness, and the adventure takes her through the woods and into town. It doesn't take long to realize that Mr. Voice isn't the benevolent companion that he claims to be, and that he intends to manipulate and harm the innocent young girl. The other recurring presence is Benjamin the Fox, who doesn't appear to be dangerous, but his motives are unclear and Mr. Voice doesn't like him at all. While Misfortune's fate is clear, the ambiguous ending is unsatisfying and leaves too many loose ends and unanswered questions.

The game's strongest aspects are its delightfully colorful and whimsical art direction, and the endearing performance of the protagonist. Misfortune speaks with a curious-sounding Spanish accent, which is utterly charming. You'll be saying "creepy", "fancy", and "yikes forever" long after you've finished the game. She's a kind, caring, and courteous girl with a vivid imagination, a playful demeanor, and a sweet laugh, but she also occasionally breaks into moments of profanity. The writing is very good for the most part, although it's tonally inconsistent and thematically all across the board. Heavy topics like death, murder, suicide, abduction, abandonment, drug abuse, domestic violence, and sexual predation are interwoven with poop, vomit, and fart jokes, which makes an unsettling combination. Most of the dialog between Misfortune and Mr. Voice revolves around her sad and dysfunctional family life, which is the meat of the story and has a very distinct autobiographical smell to it. This is even more apparent given that the game takes place in 1993, which was when the writer/director/artist was the same age as the protagonist. There's only one point where the narrative goes completely off the rails and delivers a completely random and unsolicited social commentary about menstruation. I literally had to drop the controller at that point and stare dumbfounded at the screen thinking "What the fuck was that all about?" There are also some truly inspired laugh-out-loud moments, like when an exasperated Charon decides to drown himself because of Misfortune's incessant chatting. The humor definitely leans toward the dark side of the spectrum, and the underlying tone is always sinister. Misfortune may shrug off her seedy surroundings with naïve cheerfulness, but the viewer is all too aware of how dangerous they are.

The gameplay is about as simple as you can get. Misfortune can walk left and right, and she can interact with certain objects that progress the plot. There are also a handful of mini-games like "Whack-a-mole," a dance rhythm game, and a target shooting game. You are told up front that all of your choices have consequences, but only a few of them have any real impact. Most of them just affect what Misfortune talks about. As her namesake implies, Misfortune has terrible luck, and in most cases the most conscientious or morally correct choice results in the worst outcome. It's a short game that can be completed in about three hours, and it's worth playing through at least twice to see the various outcomes of your decisions. For instance, do you sneak through a hamster gangster hideout, or make your way through the hamster strip club instead? Both paths are worth taking. It's certainly not a game for everyone, and I hesitate to even call it a game. It's more like a slice of interactive adult-oriented dark fantasy that touches on some prickly topics regarding psychological childhood trauma. It's a journey worth taking if you have an open mind and like to lift up rocks to see what awful things are squirming underneath.