Retelling classic fairytales is often enjoyable for wide audiences as so many of us grow up with the original stories and therefore it’s inevitably easier to relate and have a core understanding right from the first page. With Cinders for the Nintendo Switch, we take on a variation of the classic Cinderella story, exploring more empowered women than the classic tale originally offered. Be aware that this isn’t so much a game as it is a visual novel. As such, it won’t appeal to everyone, but there’s a niche audience for everything!
Cinders as a game is an interactive novel with many branching paths and endings to its more aged-up retelling of the classic Cinderella fairytale. Here you’ll play the role of Cinders, a mirrored Cinderella, with her two not-ugly, but beautiful step sisters Gloria and Sophia living under the same roof with mother Carmosa. While the game follows similarities of the classic story, you’ll quickly learn that Cinders diverges into a more in-depth viewpoint from each of the women, and unveils the struggles, freedoms and rivalries that each woman faces given their circumstances. While Cinders is your playable character in the game, each of the three other women’s lives equally unfold for you as the story moves along.
The primary focus of this refreshed story is not one of helpless maidens, but a more feminist emphasized approach that empowers Cinders to truly make her own future and understand that her life is more controllable than the classic tale ever let on. Cinders will often be confronted with her step sisters’ own environmental characteristics, such as Gloria’s desire to do everything she can to be just like the stern, controlling mother Carmosa in hopes of winning her mother’s affection. Sophia on the other hand comes off heavily repressed and tends to lash out for attention. Cinders finds ways to associate herself with her sisters, even when they both are trying to stab her in the back any chance they can get, because as the story goes, she’s the stepdaughter that no one really wanted all that much.
Cinders evolves in front of your eyes via the decisions you make. Early on you’ll find yourself with opportunities to take strong risks in the name of love, or to confront your sisters head on versus passively as they would expect of her. The game offers a plethora of decisional points, and many of them I found were more challenging to select than I would have expected. You’re often faced with dialog choices that both seem right, but are easy to foretell consequences from. Just as in the real world, many choices have lasting consequences too, and the game offers several endings based on the story you tell.
Cinders’ story certainly isn’t your happy-go-lucky rated G fairytale either. While it touts itself as a mature retelling, I found it settled into a solid teen reading-level book with some sexually suggestive themes, but no strong language or vivid violence to be experienced. The story is very well written, albeit a bit dry for my own tastes in books, and the entirety of the text is scripted as dialog. In most scenarios this works well, however as this exclusive writing style, the characters often end up talking to themselves for long stints, which on a personal level I found awkward, and would have happily welcomed a change in perspective here and there.
Complementing the well-crafted storyline in Cinders is beautifully illustrated 2D art that’s a pleasure to look at. Characters have a highly stylized storybook look and reminded me of the art style seen in the Fable games. While not a large number of environments are present in the game, they are nonetheless meticulously painted with exquisite details often seen in point-and-click adventure games. Subtle animations both within the scene and the UI help bring the screen to life and set it further apart from just your average interactive book.
Mechanically the game does a splendid job at making a choose-your-own adventure style book function smoothly for players with some welcomed features that enhance replayability. If you happen to skip past a dialog accidentally there is the capability to rewind back until your last decisional point. Furthermore, as there are quite a few endings and many choices along the way, when you go to replay the game you’ll have the option to skip ahead in scenes you already remember. These features make replaying the game a bit more manageable given that the storyline is far from short. You can also incrementally save as you wish, should you want to play out multiple paths at once too.
The Nintendo Switch is a reasonably good platform for the interactive novel genre. Cinders allows for both Touch and Controller methods, which I certainly appreciated. The game is definitely enjoyable in handheld mode to kick back and read with just as you would with any other e-book. If you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic fairytale focused on the strong independent female characters of the story, Cinders is worth your time.
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Cinders is an interactive novel that retells the classic Cinderella story from a more mature perspective of each of the four women involved. Seemingly countless decisions, a variety of endings and a well-written story make up a solid foundation. Couple that with beautifully made 2D art scenes and well-planned mechanics in the game and Cinders comes out as strong game in this genre.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.