Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge II

Gumpy Function has released another awesome Simpsons tribute and meta-game in his sequel to Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the original, it’s a fictional game, and parody of the golfing game genre (Lee himself a parody of other famous golfers to grace the covers of such games) that is featured in the Season 7 episode of the Simpsons, “Marge Be Not Proud.” The joke being that the game was an extremely boring and undesirable comparison to the “hot new game,” Bonestorm. Like other fictional games in the Simpsons universe, several implementations of Putting Challenge have been released over the years, as both a celebration and parody of gaming. Gumpy also released My Dinner with André in late 2022, which both paid tribute to the original parody game, and explored the very idea of game production within its themes.

In order to do this Spotlight justice, I have to spoil the game. So with this in mind, if you haven’t played the game yourself, I highly recommend experiencing it now so I don’t ruin the fun: https://gumpyfunction.itch.io/lee-carvallos-putting-challenge-2

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was shown Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge II. A direct sequel of sorts would have been yet another simple & intentionally boring experience that gives the player little in terms of options to succeed. Instead, the player is presented with a point-and-click adventure with what appears to be a pretty mundane task: get ready to golf in a tournament. I’m a huge fan of this genre of games, and I was completely absorbed in the opening section of the game: navigating and exploring Lee’s house to find all the items he needed to play the big game such as his club, shoes, and ball. The home and the solutions to the puzzles are really well executed in-jokes for Simpson fans as well; there are myriad nods to moments throughout the series that made me chuckle as I played.

A screenshot from Lee Carvallo's Putting challenge 2. A golfer is saying "Oh yeah! Off ya go, happy shootin!".
Amazing how the Simpsons art style can translate so well to the Game Boy

Playing the game, I didn’t think much of the scenario. I didn’t once contemplate why such items were placed in unexpected areas throughout the house. This is a point and click adventure game after all, searching in unusual places and finding key items are par for the course.

After successfully finding everything and winning the tournament (something that will happen despite your choices), the game then flipped everything on its head and shocked me with its true revelation.

A screenshot from Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge 2. A Golfer exclaims, "Well done, Lee! You did it!".
What I thought would be the end of the game…

Some time passes and Lee is struggling with his memory. He chalks it up to the typical experience with age, but something is amiss in the game. The once bright & cheery music is now slow & dissonant. Transitions between scenes are glitched out & wonky. And the house is a mess. It’s clear that Lee is suffering from dementia or another form of degenerative brain disease, and is unable to manage basic tasks.

A screenshot from Lee Carvallo's putting challenge 2. Two men are talking on the phone. The dialogue, "Hehe. Old Lee's not getting any younger, I suppose." is displayed.
If only it were that simple…

All of a sudden, the previous section of the game has a whole new meaning. Why would Lee put his golf club in the shower, or forget his shoes next to some decorative rocks? These opening moments were actually examining what the early onset of such experiences with brain health and memory loss actually looks like. I don’t think I’ve had such a moment of self-reflective discovery playing a game since Bioshock’s “Would you kindly?” The whole concept of the gaming genre and how we as players are compelled to complete tasks and not question why we do them was presented to me once again.

The game continues and what was once a somewhat dire situation resolves in a moment of grace. I reached out to Gumpy and discussed my feelings towards the experiences in the game, having gone through seeing a close family member deal with (and eventually pass away from) dementia. He explained that he also had a similar experience in his life, and that the game was, in part, a way to work through those emotions, both what it’s like to be the one dealing with a loved one who is both losing function and not aware of it, and also the fear of what could happen to oneself if they also deteriorated mentally.

A screenshot from Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge 2, showing the user interface in a scene.
The once clean kitchen is now littered with flies

It’s hard to put into words the emotions I went through playing this game. It’s a relatively short experience, but in that time frame I went from happy-go-lucky enjoyer of the genre, smiling at every Simpsons reference, to sullen & contemplative of my own experiences and feeling a bit gutted. It’s quite the shock that a game with a relatively simple interface and design could illicit such emotions.

Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge II is a technical and narrative marvel, and I encourage everyone to experience it and let the motions wash over you as you play.

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