There is a Yiddish word, ‘narishkeit,’ that translates roughly into ‘foolishness,’ or ‘kids’ stuff.’ Though it sounds like a harsh word at first blush, context can soften it. It’s generally accepted that ‘everyone has their own narishkeit,’ for instance– seemingly empty, childish purists that are actually of value because they make us happy. Tender Loving Care is a good example of narishkeit. It’s dated, it’s a bit silly, but if you crave old-fashioned adventure games, it’ll make you grin.
Tender Loving Care was initially released for the PC in 1998, and it wears its age as well as a Chihuahua wears neon-laced LA Gears. As you comb through the game’s scenery, you’ll spy huge monitors with bulbous screens, bulky tape-based voice recorders, loud keyboards, and 486 laptops heavy enough to kill a man with. It’s obviously not the game’s fault that it’s a victim of its own age, but it becomes that much harder to sit through the dead-serious story with a straight face.
Who likes naked shadow puppets?
And having originally come from a time when video games were desperately trying to grab an adult audience, Tender Loving Care is very serious about its story. The game, which is presented almost entirely through full-motion video scenes, follows the trials of Michael and Allison Overton, a young married couple that has been thrown into turmoil by an accident that killed their young daughter. Allison is particularly distraught, and she loses the ability to function as an adult. A live-in nurse named Kathryn comes to live with the couple, and her seductive body language quickly unravels that sex-starved Michael. Chaos and shenanigans ensue.
There are several endings to pursue, and the entire shebang is narrated by John Hurt. Hurt interacts with you as a therapist, and asks you several multiple-choice questions after each gameplay chapter concludes. Your answers supposedly drive the game’s story, but more intriguingly, they’re used to assemble a personal psychological profile at the end of the game. It’s all bunk, obviously, but it’s still fun to imagine yourself spilling your troubles to John Hurt while lying with your head in his lap.
In between chapters you’re also invited to scour the Overtons’ house and rummage through their personal belongings to get a sense of what they’re like. Not surprisingly, most of their scribblings and recordings are of the melodramatic, conflicted variety. There is a lack of subtitles, which is problematic in a game with so much voice acting.
Diagnosis: Old TV.
Tender Loving Care is best appreciated as a relic of the past. It’s a product of its genre and its era, and that’s not a bad thing if that’s what you want. It’s definitely one of the better adventure games that were born of the late ‘˜90s, though you shouldn’t expect a stellar experience. If you grab Tender Loving Care, it’s because you are wholly in the mood for a game with a two-star plot (that’s still kind of compelling, if predictable) and acting that’s a touch below professional (with the obvious exception of John Hurt).
In other words, if you’re an FMV fan and your 3D0 was snatched up at a garage sale, or if you can’t be bothered to dig through your stack of Windows 98 CDs, treat yourself to some TLC.