Donna: AoB is a solid game with a relatively original premise. It has some odd features and is a bit rough around the edges, but this is not a game you’d recommend because “it’s good for a free indie”, it’s a good game.
The graphics are black and white, which was a bit off-putting at first, but it can be thought of as a matter of style and gotten used to fairly fast. I never had a problem recognizing what was in front of me or finding objects (despite the lack of hotspot highlighting), so they are definitely serviceable.
Sound in the game is sparse. There are a few recurring background tunes and some sound effects. There is no speech, which I don’t consider to be a problem.
The puzzles are mostly inventory, with some “figure out the combination” type thrown in and one “dialogue puzzle”. In addition to that, Donna has a set of vampiric abilities she can use, which can be thought of as extra inventory items.
The puzzles are very good. They are well integrated, some of them are quite clever, and the solutions are logical. This is not a game for elaborate item combinations - almost all items are used for their intended purposes, so the inventory puzzles mostly revolve around figuring out what you need and then getting it.
There are several timed sections and death is very possible, but the game allows undo so there is no need to worry about getting stuck or to save excessively. You never have to replay more than a few seconds even if you managed to get “too far” ahead.
The game introduces a mechanic where Donna has to manage her peace of mind and her “blood” level. Blood allows use of vampiric powers, and peace of mind is required to steel yourself before unpleasant sections. The problem with this is that to increase both, you just mechanically repeat a set of actions. Pretty quickly your nights start out by sending Donna to the bathroom, then to sit on the chair, then bathroom, then chair, until the meter fills up. It sounds like scumming but really, it’s what the game intends you to do - there are almost no “organic” ways to increase that bar.
Blood is even worse - you get it by prowling on humans in a designated screen. There is no challenge, you just go to the same spot, then bite, then repeat.
These meters are later used to bar you from using powers when it would be inconvenient plot-wise, but that’s not justification enough for making the player go through these motions every time.
Another problem is that inventory items, when picked up, are placed randomly in the inventory, and since there are many notes and notebooks in the game, it’s difficult to remember which is which - and you lose peace of mind by looking at some of them. This was never a problem, but it was a mild annoyance.
Back to the good, the story is convincing even if it’s difficult to identify with a vampire. The background characters are portrayed adequately, and the ultimate choices you make do carry some weight. In addition, the story is original, which is a rare quality these days, and it does a very good job explaining how Donna is sucked into the save-the-world role.
To offset that, the game is a bit unfair at times. At one point the game didn’t let me use a vampiric power in a situation, explaining why it wouldn’t work. Later, in an identical situation, that power does work - but obviously I hadn’t tried it until a very late stage.
Some puzzles don’t let you overlay the key when working on them. For instance, there is a play-the-piano puzzle which is properly clued even for people who know nothing about it, but the note sheet itself is in your inventory and you can’t access it while playing, so you have to memorize the notes before playing, an extra level of unnecessary difficulty beyond figuring out the notes themselves.
Finally, the game features gratuitous nudity. To be honest, it seems as though the game creator managed to convince the actresses to take their clothes off, and was a bit too happy about it. It’s not a huge issue, but it did mean I didn’t want to play it in public on my laptop.
To summarize: I would still say Donna is a good game even if I had to pay for it. It’s amazing how much content (~7 hours, no padding) is offered for free. If you can live with a black and white game with no speech that features gratuitous nudity, this is a definite recommendation.
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Time Played: 5-10 hours
Difficulty: Just Right