The Alchemist - Older TImer
So here’s a question. Can you judge a ‘retro’ game with the same criteria you would judge a modern game? Should you? Is retro enough of its own thing that you are judging it against its adherence to its own retrocity (is there such a word? There is now.) I don’t know the answer to this of course. I judge a game entirely subjectively by how much I enjoyed playing it. I recently played a big old sprawling AAA release that cost me £50. Got bored in about 10 mins. Flowers of Mysteria - enthralled for hours. Go figure.
This is a windows executable apparently written in qBasic64. Cool. I downloaded it and everything on my computer was squawking that it probably was going to be a terrible idea to run it. I ignored all the warning messages and ran it anyway, and so far nothing has gone awry. I don’t mind being guinea pig.
There are really several things to assess a retro text adventure on, over and above the success of the game itself (the puzzles, plot, narrative, writing…etc…etc…) and that’s the ‘feel’ of the game - is this making me wriggle with nostalgia, and secondly the home-rolled parser mechanic itself - synonyms, abbreviations, long sentences understood….etc.
The other aspect is can a retro game feel retro, but not actually be too retro. Especially in the world of the text adventure. Can it keep the good bits, but not then fall into the trap of including all the bad stuff : mazes, insta-deaths, nonsensical puzzles, limited inventory, guess the verb.
Through these lenses, and, nicely mixing metaphors, a retro adventure game has a mountain to climb. In the main, the Alchemist manages the ascent. With the occasional problem.
The Alchemist, then. From the open, I want to love this game. The colours, the font, the style all smack me around the face with an 8-bitty nostalgia that is extremely pleasing. And, presentation wise, there’s more to this game. We get incidental graphics to help us solve puzzles, sound effects play in the background. It’s an impressive implementation. It breaks out of the retro box with some modern touches that add to the experience.
Our friend, the Alchemist, one Ezekiel Throgmeister - a strange sort of cove, has been called away, Through the course of a big, good-natured puzzlefest we need to gather the equipment for his experiment and complete his work. I’m only half way through now, but I suspect there’s more to this than meets the blinking eye!
I play for 2 hours. This is a big game. The structure, so far, is quite linear. I open a new area of the game, then have puzzles to solve. Then a new area becomes available. Ultimately, a game like this, an unabashed puzzle-fest, needs to be judged on the fairness and enjoyability of its puzzles. The puzzles seem fair.I am enjoying solving them.Our friend Ezekiel has created all sorts of unusual gadgets.
I got terribly stuck twice and had to go to the walkthrough. For the first, it turned out I hadn’t examined what I assumed to be a scenery item. This is, of course, why I’m bad at parser games as opposed to it being the game’s fault. More on the second, anon.
There are some issues here. Building a parser from scratch is hard. Player’s expectations are high - set by years and years of ongoing development of the big 3. And, to be honest, while there are some issues, this home-grown parser is not bad! All the things we’d expect from quite a mature parser are here - synonyms, the use of ‘it’ to refer to the last noun, multiple commands in a single sentence. In general, this parser didn’t frustrate me.
There are a few issues. The main issue seems to be the scope of objects. So, for example, if I have a key in a box, I cannot type ‘get key’ as the object isn’t in my absolute location. I need to type ‘get key from box’. I’m guessing this is embedded deep within the world model and isn’t an easy fix. This is where I got stuck the second time. This requirement is explained in the help text, which I didn’t read. (Hey, don’t judge me) - and I spent a long time trying to get a thing off a thing.
Other issues are smaller. When I open something, I have to look in it to see what it contains. Unlock isn’t implicit on opening something if I’m holding the right key. That sort of thing. They aren’t huge, but these are the comforts we’re used to after twenty years and it’s always a little jarring when they’re not there.
All this being said, this big, puzzly, enjoyable game held my interest completely for the 2 hours I’ve played it so far, and I do intend to finish it. For something home-grown it’s extremely well implemented. The puzzles are not ground-breaking, but they’re all thought through well and, as an example of a retro, old-school adventure game, this is very well done.