Doodle Date, a game that has been out on Steam for a week, and can be bought for the low, low price of $US1.99 ($3), is not at all what I expected. I expected a dating sim with more player input than usual. What I got was a surreal journey of attempted murder, identity crisis and divorce.
The game is described by its developer, Nicholas Lives, as a dating sim where you can "romance, seduce, and even marry your own drawings" - the ultimate in customisable dates, surely?
Looking at the Steam Community section, I saw what people's creativity had spawned, and even though it was pretty much entirely dominated by anime tiddy, I could see that my only boundaries were my own imagination and drawing skills.
Well, and the fact that I use a trackpad instead of a mouse.
Undeterred by my rather… amorphous date, I journeyed onward with Doodle Date. My date had a wide range of emotions, supplied by me, ranging from angry, to flirty, to sultry.
I was excited by the prospect of playing a dating game that allowed for such a range of creative expression, and then slightly dismayed by the fact that it assumed I was a man and my drawn date was a woman. Surely in a game about your imagination, there's no point in limiting gender?
Aside from that, perhaps one of the first red flags letting me know that this game was not the dating game I expected was the speed with which everything happened - for all of 10 seconds I was a human, then suddenly I was living in a notebook, and introduced to a strange woman-drawing named Claire who proclaimed that she had missed me.
She told me the rules of the game - draw something and it comes to life - and asked me to demonstrate my drawing my favourite fruit.
I drew an eggplant, because of course I did, and hoped it wouldn't come back to haunt me later. It was only then that I designed and met Sketchy, my hand-drawn "doodle date", and therefore implicitly my own personal spankbank fantasy. That was just the first minute or two of gameplay.
I went on a date with Sketchy, and things were going well - except for the fact that the waiter, whom I also drew, thought I was mega sexy, which made Sketchy incredibly angry - and so I sauntered home, satisfied with a good date well done.
And then Claire was in my bedroom. And then Claire was telling me she loved me. And then I guess I was telling Claire I loved her, too. Even though I had drawn Sketchy myself, I just couldn't see myself loving a blob, and Claire at least had hands.
Usually, dating sims have a slow-burn approach to romance. Not Doodle Date. In Doodle Date, I knocked Claire up within about two minutes of becoming a couple. She got angry at me because she didn't like the baby I drew, and tried to kill me.
The game asked me to draw a weapon to protect myself from her, which she stole and stabbed me with, even though it was a gun. Then our child turned up on the doorstep and killed me for real.
Understandably, I thought this might have been the "bad ending".
I played through again, this time choosing Sketchy over Claire - but somehow that ended in divorce. Then, someone turned up at the door. It was my favourite fruit. It asked to marry me.
I do not understand this game.
I was expecting, I don't know, the kind of dating sim where you go through the motions: Meet a few people, choose one, try to impress them, have sex at the end, everyone goes home happy. Even a little bit of jealousy-driven attempted homicide, sure, why not. Life's just a telenovela with less Spanish.
But the sheer unpredictability of this game took me completely by surprise, not least because I've only played it for 30 minutes and somehow all of the above happened.
There's also a pretty heavy and uncomfortable level of a sort of "bitches be crazy!" attitude in Doodle Date, what with Claire trying to murder me, and Sketchy flying off the handle about a waiter flirting with me on a first date.
I just can't quite imagine what led the developer, Nicholas Lives, to create a game that promises your own special hand-drawn date, which then dives head-first into an incredibly intense narrative that doesn't quite suit the breakneck speed at which it is told.
However, it is a wildly funny game, even if it's largely because it's like being on a surreal rollercoaster. It also made some of the most hilarious out-of-context screenshots I've taken for Kotaku so far. Honestly? Not bad for a half-hour of hearty, if confused, laughter.