Unicornelia, by The Sad Rainbows, is not so much a game as an experience. From the moment you see the setup you know you’re in for something unique; it’s played from inside a small tent decorated to look like a unicorn’s body, and controlled with a horn that you wear on your forehead and use to press buttons. You make decisions to try to balance Unicornelia’s social obligations, her relationships, her job (sparkle statistician extraordinare!), and self care, helping her to live the best life she can.
You do this by responding to text prompts that show up on the screen. Each is color coded by the aspect of Unicornelia’s life that it affects, and you can choose to do the task by poking the matching button with your horn. These tasks range from asking out cute boy unicorns, to calling your parents, to getting to bed on time. However, you won’t be able to keep up with all of them, so you have to make choices quickly and choose what tasks to prioritize. If you wait too long to do something - and it doesn’t take long at all - you could miss your chance.
It's an experience from PlayNYC that was unlike anything else I've ever tried.
Not all of the tasks are good, though!
Aside from the… unique… setup, Unicornelia is unusual in that there is no way to win or lose. Sure, you get a nice bar graph at the end showing how well you did in each of the four categories, but there’s no baseline for a “good” score. It’s a lot like life, really. You try (and fail) to keep up with everything, make the best decisions that you can in the moment and, as the game’s own tagline puts it, let the sparkles fall where they may.
Purpose, Not Profit
Courtney, one of Unicornelia’s developers, told me that the game grew from her struggle with depression. Rather than wallow in it, she channeled her feelings into this sparkly, silly, yet meaningful experience. In talking with Courtney, I noted that Unicornelia’s setup made it nearly impossible to sell commercially. She agreed, and told me that had never been the goal. It was a labor of love, not profit.
It was surprising to hear, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Aside from the custom rig (it could be adapted to an Xbox or PS4 controller easily enough), it’s just not a game that’s meant to be played over and over again. A playthrough only lasts a couple of minutes, and replaying the same, limited scenario would quickly get repetitive and boring.
Like I said at the start, Unicornelia is not a game so much as it is an experience. The impact doesn’t come from getting a high score or defeating a final boss. You’re meant to go through it once, then take time to think about what you just experienced and the results you got.
Personally, I finished strong in the work and romance categories, but let my friends and family track slide. What does that say about me? Do I like what that says about me? Am I taking a short game about a depressed unicorn too seriously? Probably, but I can’t deny that it’s accurate.
If you ever find yourself at a convention where The Sad Rainbows are showing off their game, you owe it to yourself to give it a try, if only to see what happens. It only takes a few minutes to play, and you just might learn something about yourself.
To learn more about Unicornelia and The Sad Rainbows, or to see if they’re coming to a convention near you, check out their website.