The Cauldron Kids: The Summoning of Mr. Vermicelli
The minigame collection equivalent of an animation short
I've always had a soft spot for small stories about children things. Not stories made for children, or those stories where the little girl has to save the whole universe and do all the adult things being only 8 years old. I'm talking about those intimate and sincere anecdotes about kids doing kids' things, like playing make believe, or discovering the world. They always make my heart happy and remind me how beautiful and interesting everything can be, specially if you are learning things at the first time.
I'm also always loved shorts in general, in movies and, specially, in games. Not every story needs hours or days to have an impact in me, and sometimes is even better to be small and direct to the point. The Cauldron Kids: The Summoning of Mr. Vermicelli, the debut game of Pet Golem Games, is both of those things: a short story about kids having fun when their mom is out... but their mom is a witch, and their concept of fun is casting a spell to give life to their favorite plushie.
I can't really talk a lot about the story of this game because any spoiler would really hurt a experience that is already short, but I can talk how much personality every character has here, already in the first lines of dialogue. The two protagonists, Cassie and Layla, can be only 6 years old, but they have so different ways to look into the world that seeing how each one reacts to the events is fun by itself. Mr. Vermicelli is also a cute plushie, and that's everything I'll talk about it.
Even in a 2-hour playtime, there's a lot of events happening at every moment, going to places that I wasn't expecting. However, the plot is fairly linear: cool to see and experience once, but there's no much room to replay it, even if the game's achievements asks you to play again with a different sister to get some of the badges. Like an animation short, it wants to tell a tiny story, and it does this really well.
The game isn't just a visual novel though. The Cauldron Kids intercalates those narrative pills with some simple but funny minigames. They are not that impressive, but they are well made and easy to control. There's a lot of variety in them too: you have racing moments that asks you to beat your own high score, a maze-like section with a little bit of exploration, and even some rhythm mechanics sprinkled through a chapter. They are far from being hard, so it's more like an interactive book that you are the one that makes the story goes forward.
I need to also point out the huge amount of accessibility toggles to a fairly small game made by a small team. You can rebind keys or deactivate some visual artifacts that can be uncomfortable, for example. You can also make the already easy minigames even easier, a probably good idea to allow small kids to experience the story without getting too frustrated. It only shows that putting accessibility first isn't just a question of money or resources, but first a matter of principles and priority.
Short, cute, silly, sincere: I have so much adjectives to define The Cauldron Kids: The Summoning of Mr. Vermicelli. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but Pet Golem Games were really happy in their decisions and created a little story about kids and magic that warmed my heart. If you are also looking for something radically different than your typical AAA game... well, Mom's only get home at night, and whoever gets the hat is the leader! Now it's time to start our master plan...