This is the one hundred fifty-first entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred fifty-first random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is barking excitedly at us from another room. It’s Pet The Pup At The Party, by Will Herring, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

you are at a house party. you do not know anybody. the clock is ticking… ca…

I guess the rest of that was lost in the din of the party. But do I hear a dog barking somewhere in this house?

In Pet The Pup At The Party, players take control of a socially anxious party guest who doesn’t know anyone at the party. But, they have heard rumors of a very good dog somewhere in the house. Their mission is clear: find the pup and pet it, before running out of small talk (er, before the timer runs out).

Controls are typical first-person fare, and as I’ve sadly come to expect, there’s no option to invert the y-axis of the mouse. Fortunately, the third-party tool I used for HATCH works fine for enabling inverted mouse controls here too. The game also launches windowed by default, but using the standard ALT+ENTER key combo switched it to fullscreen. That done, I was free to run about in this house party. Every room is full of a colorful and varied cast of party guests, who I could talk to by clicking on them. They would respond with a string of unintelligible symbols. But my character’s hand was always present in the bottom right corner of the screen, to ensure I never forgot my mission. I needed to get that hand to the cute puppy so I could pet it, and time is running out.

So I started running through different rooms, listening for the dog’s barks to guide my way. It’s a surprisingly labyrinthine house, and later I realized this is because it is procedurally generated from a set of pre-made rooms. The rooms are well furnished and tastefully decorated, and have little details I liked a lot, like an empty wine bottle lying on its side on a dining table, or an overturned chair. It’s all presented through simple flat-shaded objects in a deliberately low resolution that places big jagged edges on everything (possibly via a post-processing filter?). The partygoers are actually animated sprites, but they feature the same jagged edges as the 3D objects and therefore fit the scenes surprisingly well. It didn’t matter whether I blundered into a kitchen, bedroom or laundry room, there were always guests loitering around, happy to spout garbled conversation at me.

On my first attempt, I spent too much time talking to people and looking around the rooms. I expected a normal-sized house, not the chaotic string of rooms I actually found. As a result, I didn’t find the dog before the time ran out, but the ending screen told me I went home and looked at relatable content on the internet, so everything was fine. Starting again in a freshly-generated house, I focused on the dog barks and ignored most party guests, and did a lot better. Finding and petting the dog, it turns out, adds 30 seconds to the clock and then drops players in another new house, to seek yet another cute puppy. There are 52 named dogs to find in total, and they’re added to a “pup gallery” when found, viewable at any time from the main menu. This offers some incentive to play again after the timer finally runs down for good.

Even before I found my first puppy, however, I was already seeing repeat rooms and party guests, so I wasn’t tempted to play more. There’s just not that much to Pet The Pup At The Party. Dedicated dog lovers may want to find all the dogs, but others may only find a few minutes of entertainment here. Going in, I thought there might be more meaningful interactions with the party guests, like conversations affecting the timer, or some other simulation of the protagonist’s social anxiety. The fact that there isn’t might actually be a good thing, but it does mean the game boils down to running around trying to find dogs as quickly as possible.

That said, I did enjoy barging around these weird parties, and I love the art. It’s a very cute and pleasant game, and worth checking out for any dog fans out there. And don’t worry if you missed it in the bundle, because Pet The Pup At The Party is offered for free! Not even a pay-what-you-want situation, just completely free. Nice.

That’s 151 down, and only 1590 to go!