This is Backlog Roulette, a series in which I randomly pick an unplayed game from my backlog and play it. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I’m still making up the rules for Backlog Roulette. When I started it, I wrote about my terrifying spreadsheet containing all the games I own. Except, it doesn’t actually contain all the games I own, because I also bought some gigantic bundles from I’m covering the massive Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality in my Scratching That Itch series, but there are others too. The Queer Games Bundle 2021 isn’t too daunting, with a mere 236 things in it, but the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid has 1272 things in it, making it almost as huge as the Racial Justice bundle. Add in 998 more things from the Bundle for Ukraine, and these bundles are bigger than my whole spreadsheet, even without counting the Racial Justice bundle. Given that the Scratching That Itch series could easily take the rest of my life to complete, I worried that I’d never even look at the games in these other bundles.

So, this time I decided to add them in to my spreadsheet games when picking something random for Backlog Roulette. The danger of this approach, of course, is that it might make Backlog Roulette feel too much like Scratching That Itch, what with all the games showing up. So I’m not sure if I’ll keep doing this. Or maybe I’ll adjust the weighting of the bundles so my “regular” backlog has a higher chance of showing up. Those are all questions for the next entry, however. For now, the digital dice have selected Tomato Clinic, by npckc, from the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid. It’s a short visual novel about visiting a clinic to learn about vampires and their culture, and maybe donate some blood. In other words, a very Scratching That Itch kind of game.

Tomato Clinic opens with some thoughtful accessibility options, which can add text descriptions of the visual art and/or text versions of a few interactive sequences that require selecting images. There are even more options available from the title screen, adjusting the text scrolling speed, auto-advance settings, and more, which I appreciated. I like getting my text boxes all at once, without text scrolling in over time, so I turned the speed all the way up, but kept manual clicking to advance to the next text box. Others may prefer a slower pace, or one that auto-advances so they don’t have to keep clicking. It’s all up to the player.

Upon starting the game, I was able to create a character portrait, picking from a few hairstyles and skin tones, and choosing a name and preferred pronouns. Then my new avatar arrived for the tour of the clinic, feeling a little nervous. There are two hosts, the excited and talkative Marie, and the less enthusiastic Gakuto, but it turns out they’re both a bit nervous too, because they’ve only just opened the clinic. In fact, my character is the first human to ever take their tour. The slight awkwardness of all three characters is endearing rather than uncomfortable, and everyone is genuinely trying to be open and learn from each other along the way, which I appreciated. The tour covers truths and myths about vampires, in the hopes that humans might be better informed. It’s a fairly transparent metaphor for learning about marginalized groups in order to dispel stereotypes, but it’s handled well, and I liked the pleasant take on vampires here compared to the more grim depictions in most other media.

My favorite part of Tomato Clinic was the section in which my character was invited to learn about and participate in a blood tasting (don’t worry, they’re using tomato juice instead of blood, since they know humans don’t drink blood). This turned out to be kind of like a tea ceremony for vampires, and it was a cool glimpse into a different culture. After the explanation, I had to choose the correct sequence of steps from a visual menu, which was cool. There are a few little puzzle-esque bits like this that break the standard visual novel mold.

The blood itself, in case you were worried, is all from willing donors. In fact, the game is very careful about consent, letting players skip any part they might find uncomfortable. In the end, I had my character decide to donate blood, even though I’d determined they were a little squeamish about it. The vampire host carefully explained the process and gave my character a button to push that would stop the procedure at any time, for any reason. All very considerate.

Tomato Clinic is a quick play, easily completed in about 20-30 minutes, but there are a few choices along the way that can lead to multiple endings. I didn’t play through again to find these because I liked the ending I got, but if I’d wanted to, the generous options would let me easily skip to decision points to minimize repetition. If a short visit with some friendly vampires to learn about their lives sound good to you, Tomato Clinic is available for free, although you can name your own price if you want to support npckc.

Now, I have to decide how to handle the selection of the next game for Backlog Roulette…