Review: Still Joking

9 May 2024

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love games that make me think. Especially when it pertains to things I normally wouldn’t even consider. For example, does the reflection of me in the mirror have a life outside of being my reflection? Is there a whole other world I don’t know about? Could she be her own person? Does she have hopes, dreams, a corgi of her own? Because this sort of thinking can sometimes seem mundane, I love it when I’m allowed to indulge in it in an interactive way. 

Still Joking is one of those ways. This game, developed and published by Purple Brick Games, brilliantly mixes the elements of visual novels, interactive fiction, and adventure to facilitate exploration into an intriguing what-if.

Through the Looking Glass

When I first read Still Joking’s premise, I was beyond intrigued. After all, you get to play as Iris, the reflection of a famous actress that was killed by a bearded man while sitting in front of a mirror. I couldn’t help but wonder what such a story would entail, and of course, how was Purple Brick Games going to go about telling it. I am happy to report that the answers to my questions were “a lot” and “masterfully”.

Still Joking is a murder mystery at its core, although it’s different in that we already know the who, what we want to figure out is the why. In order to do that, we guide Iris (as well as her subconsciousness) on a journey of self-discovery. As a main character, Iris is witty, sharp, and determined. Unlike some of the people who slowly start to surround her, she has a close link with her “prototype” (the word for humans on the other side of the mirror) and really wants to find out why she was killed. This leads Iris to question and interact with a slew of characters on her way to find answers.

To complicate things, Iris is suddenly saddled with the choice of what she will be doing for the rest of her life. After all, her human is dead, so she is now free from the duties of being a reflection. The mirror world’s government, “The Community,” specializes in helping people like her jumpstart their new lives. They quickly provide her with a Curator to help her adjust emotionally and put her on a team that goes on expeditions where she can learn and decide whether she wants to be a practitioner (essentially a doer), a scientist (more of a thinker), or no one at all. Her adjustment to these new scenarios and subsequent events form the building blocks for Still Joking’s narrative backdrop.

I have to say that the development and overall charismatic nature of Iris’ character is one of the game’s main selling points. There were so many times where she came off as genuinely funny and said things I don’t usually see from main characters that I was actually impressed. 

The fact that she had full-blown conversations with her subconsciousness, which the game dubbed Iris 2, was also great as it gave us more of a glimpse into her inner mind without any facade. My only gripe here is that sometimes the very traits that made Iris a good main character also pushed her into childish territory. Mainly when it came to serious situations. She just couldn’t stop joking. I think this may have been an oversight on Purple Brick Games part as they were probably trying to make her character overly quippy, but it just fell flat in the face of some of the things going on on screen. 

The rest of the characters made an equally good impression on me for the most part. I liked almost everyone and was heavily invested in figuring out their backstories. The good news is the game gives you plenty of opportunities to interact and get to know them.

My two favorites were probably Johnny (mainly cause he was a cutie), the leader of the practitioners and subsequent fuckboy of the series, and Dora, Iris’ Curator. Johnny had great dialogue with Iris so I just enjoyed it whenever he was on screen. Their interactions were horny and their banter was witty. Dora on the other hand was labeled mom by Iris and, frankly, I lived for her exasperated and dramatic call-outs. She could be a little overbearing but it came from a good place and her interactions with the entire crew were just heartwarming.

The rest of the people in Iris’ camp were Tony, a boy whom Iris called the Chosen One because of his innate availabilities, Third, a man who loves tea and whose name explanation is pending my next playthrough, and Maximillian. Whatever you do, don’t call him Max. 

They are all archetypes of characters you’d usually find in narrative-style games, but they have a great range of emotional displays throughout the story. The moment you get a hint of what could possibly be driving them, you get hooked on figuring out who they truly are. 

At a glance, the cast for this game is actually rather large but not everyone plays a big role and your exposure can be limited depending on which camp you choose to spend time with. 

Overall, Still Joking’s story has a lot of layers and most of them succeed at creating a pull that draws you in and keeps your attention in a satisfying way. That isn’t to say there weren’t some downsides to it though. It can definitely drag on at times. Particularly with its exchanges between characters, or even Iris with her subconsciousness. Sometimes conversations just go on too long and get daunting to read through, particularly the technical ones. I loved learning about the world and specific concepts, but for another reason I will state below, this was also tedious, especially when the explainer went on and on. Sometimes even the witty banter got stale, particularly when a joke needed *every* character to chime in.

Another ick of note was the random racial slur dropped on you mid-game. Personally, I don’t think it was needed and I found it kind of ironic to even introduce the concept of racism in a mirror world, but there it was. Hard pass from me.

I did enjoy the sex montages though. Some were very steamy. 10/10

Still Joking’s gameplay is pretty straightforward (it’s a question/answer-based setup although sometimes you simply just click stuff) but it does a great job of elevating the usual choice-based system by weaving in approach options for what you want to say/ask. This forces you to think more seriously about your choices as the gimmick is that the better you perform in your conversations with the cast, the more information you will get out of them, which is really the only way to uncover the game’s main mystery of why Iris’ human was killed.

There are also some puzzles/minigames you can play that involve some thinking and mostly pointing and clicking, but they are mainly prominent in your interactions with the scientists/practitioners camp. Doing well in these tasks affects Iris’ standing with whichever group she’s helping and can even contribute to the sort of person she ends up becoming.

Another gameplay mechanic worth mentioning is time management. Still Joking doesn’t give Iris unlimited time to do *everything* she wants to, so it’s important to choose wisely what you’re going to have her do so that you can maximize her effectiveness as much as possible. There are some other useful in-game things like Iris’ journal that keeps track of your relationships and achievements as well as documents her journey, but that’s pretty standard for most visual novels.

The last thing I’ll mention is that this game has a ton of ways you can branch out your story. Purple Brick Games boasts in their description of it that it has over 1,000 choices. This not only gives Still Joking replayability value, but the fact that you can choose different approaches each time promises that no two exchanges have to be the same. This is a huge positive for a narrative game as it can keep it from feeling like you’re reading the same thing over and over again as you go for multiple endings.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Still Joking can be a stunning game to look at. The art is colorful and the characters are beautiful, but it does have its moments where the cutscenes/character sprites feel choppy. It’s really unfortunate because the scenes that are done well are done extremely well, but this also holds true for when they’re faulty as it’s equally noticeable. I won’t count this as an actual ding towards the game though because the visual hiccups weren’t that big of a deal breaker for me, but seeing what the team was capable of, I just wish more effort had been expanded to polish up the finished product a bit more.

The audio/music on the other hand was a different story. This game has no voice acting so nothing to report there, but it also lacked a lot of…actual audio. I’m not sure if that was intentional and meant to contribute to the unsettling backdrop since Iris and her companions were in a mirror world exploring a place called the “void,” but somehow I doubt that’s the explanation since even in scenes where they were in actual cities/differing locations there still weren’t really many soundtracks to mention. Full music scores were actually very few and far between.

The rare times they were used though, I liked what I heard. Particularly during the dramatic scenes and some of Iris’ flashbacks. Although, even this had its downsides as there were times when the music would just randomly start playing and I was left expecting something to happen but nothing actually did. Overall, I feel like Still Joking’s audio situation was all over the place and it lost me along the way. To end this on a positive note, a lot of the recorded sounds like doors opening or closing, objects shattering, etc were pretty smooth.

Now, I have to touch on what actually brought this game down for me the most and it’s such a pet peeve when I have to point it out in games that are supposed to be narrative at their core. If your game’s entire premise is that it’s going to tell a story, particularly if it’s text-heavy and boasts 400,000 words…then please make sure it’s not riddled to the brim with spelling errors.

I’m not just talking about a missing period here and there. It was incessant. I got so annoyed literally reading through this game because the grammatical and spelling errors were so rampant that it made conversations sometimes not make sense. I got a headache trying to go back and re-read things again sometimes more than twice. This should not be a thing. You’re a game about words. Please make sure those words are conveyed properly. Sometimes quality over quantity is truly the way. 

My Reflection

Still Joking has quite a few positives but I would say it also has equally as many negatives. The story is unique, rich, and quite enticing. It has fun, loveable characters, a very witty MC, and a world worth immersing yourself in. The gameplay is uncomplicated and straightforward but it does force you to think and can be pretty fun to play around with. On the other hand, the visuals are choppy, the audio non-existent, and it’s riddled with spelling errors.

Still, I am very glad I got to play it. My journey with it isn’t done either. I plan to sink a few more hours into it to explore the other paths Iris’ story can take. However, I have to be honest and say that if any of the three negatives I mentioned above are deal breakers, this title isn’t for you. They are unfortunately too prominent to be ignored so you won’t be able to simply look past it.

Overall, I do look forward to seeing what else Purple Brick Games will pull out of their hat as it’s clear they have a knack for making unique titles.

Still Joking is slated for release on May 16th, 2024 for PC and Steam.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Purple Brick Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.