Ade's Review Thread

Having totally failed to complete my game in time for this year’s comp, I’m going to try and do some reviews. I’m not a particularly good reviewer, but am not going to let a little thing like that stop me.

Looking through the entries this year, there are several I really want to play, but am going to try and stick to my random shuffle order. I will almost certainly fail.

To repeat a thing I usually say, for parser games, my lenses are good writing, solid world building, strong implementation, and if puzzles there are, puzzles that don’t require me to read the author’s mind.

For choice games, all of the above apply of course, but also agency. In other words, do my choices make a difference to the narrative. Am I, as the player, involved in both affecting and creating this narrative. This is a big deal for me, personally. A linear narrative pushed along with minimal choice or agency might be beautifully written, but I’m playing these games as Interactive Fiction.

Right. Up first it’s Let Them Eat Cake.


Let Them Eat Cake - Alicia Morote

I need to gather ingredients and make a cake. Excellent. I like baking. Well, being entirely honest, I like eating baking. Particularly cake. It’s the Saving Day festival in Sangnoire - Benoit has tasked me with gathering all the ingredients and baking something nice. Given that I’m new in town, it’ll be a good way to meet people.

A note about the design. From first glances - there seem to be a lot of games this year using the standard Twine design - but this isn’t. It’s nicely styled with some lovely character artwork - the fonts and backgrounds and screen layout all work together to give a pleasing whole.

Unfortunately, the game is marred by some grammatical confusions and typo’s “Her wake was slow, but the following movements are quick…”, “squinting as peers through…” - I’m wondering whether English is the author’s first language. I suspect not - it’s unfortunate as some of the text is quite strong.

I wish it had had a final proofread.

It doesn’t take long before we realise that maybe the town of Sangnoire isn’t the healthiest place to be . There are secrets here and the Saving Day may not be the innocent festival you were led to believe.

The good news is that there is a considerable amount of agency here. There are multiple endings (and multiple ways to get yourself killed).

However, I would argue that the plot doesn’t hang together, really. We find a hand in a pig’s trough. The person to whom it once belonged has obviously been ‘et. However, the game doesn’t acknowledge it. We continue to gather ingredients. I mean, seriously? Occasionally there are issues with some inconsistent branching - an aspect of the game leads us to discovering the hand twice.

There are problems here. However, I think the author has the kernel of something really good - with more testing, a good proofreader - this could be a strong game. The mysteries surrounding this village are interesting. The ending is unexpected. Much is left unexplained.

I have played three times now and am sure there is more to see.


I wish you were dead - Sofia Abarca

So, Chris Huang, when he did the Breakfast reviews had this thing about timed text - he really doesn’t like it. Me? Well,. it’s never really bothered me. A bit of timed text can liven up a lump of exposition - reveal a startling fact after a dynamic beat - it can work. However, this game takes it to an extreme - long passages of text are revealed slowly one line at a time.

For me, this doesn’t work - however, I will say this is a subjective thing - for others it might. I find myself becoming impatient. There are what seem to be branches in this game - I can lie or tell the truth for example, but to be honest, the slow reveal of the text makes me not want to replay. I understand it, I think - the game is a conversation between a couple who are breaking up, and the timed reveals attempt to give a cadence to the dialogue - as if these two characters are speaking to one another - awkward silences and all.

Grammar-wise, I’ve not had a great start to the comp - like in the previous game I played, there are some grammatical problems here. “which fingerprints are tightly against the wood of the table”, “She makes her way back across from me at the table” - comma splices abound. Some of the text is awkward and clunky.

Ultimately, the success of the game rests on the emotional connection we have with the couple. Do we believe their breakup. Can we empathise with both of them. Does it make us feel? On the whole, yes. For me, if the text was stronger, it had had a good proofread, the timed element minimised or removed, we would have a solid and impactful story.

Toward the back end of the game there is a strong narrative shift - it takes me away from the protagonist and shifts my sympathies. This aspect is done well.


Crash - Phil Riley

I didn’t mention in my preamble - I’ll be playing each game for two hours, then writing my review and scoring. If I’m engaged, I will return, but rules are rules!

Anyway, point being, I’ve just played Crash for two hours and now I’m stopping. On the comp page, it says (optimistically) that this is a two hour game. Well, that’s on me, then ‘cos I’ think I’ve barely even started. So. Many. Puzzles! This is not a bad thing! However, if anyone manages to complete this within the 2 hour limit, then I would be surprised.

I am a member of the repair corps of Space Station Omicron-5 alone aboard the space ship USS Usagi, when all hell breaks loose. The space station blows up and the ship careens off into space. Only I can fix the ship and save the day.

What follows is a compact puzzle-box that is mostly extremely good fun, but has some issues with under-implementation. When I said ‘so many puzzles’ at the start of this review, I wasn’t joking. I’ve solved a few, got a few points, but I’m still only half way through I think. There are doors unopened, boxes still locked, things left unfixed. My to do list is still long, and it seems to be getting longer.

It (so far) is mostly a mechanical manipulation suite of puzzles - find a key, find a code, find the right bit to fix a thing. Happily though, there are many puzzles to solve - the game is not overly linear. I mentioned the list - this is useful. It gives direction and a set of tasks for the player to know where to focus. Without it, the large inventory and large number of things to fiddle with would become difficult to manage.

The game begins to get more narratively interesting once the player has overcome the first batch of puzzles in the starting area. We get another two characters to interact with and let’s just say we’re not entirely clear who to trust. The game, at this point, has two directions of travel. I can do thing a or thing b. I chose thing a. I am invested. I want to see what happens.

There is some bad news. To be honest, the game, at points, suffers a little from under-implementation. Typing a code still gives the default response, alternative puzzle solutions not implemented. Synonmys not implemented. Objects in descriptions not recognised. Awkward guess the command moments. This isn’t something I want to bang on about in these reviews, but it does need mentioning as, at times, I am getting a little frustrated.

Having said that there are some nice touches too: a good help system, hints given inline in the text, the aforementioned to do list - aspects of the game go out of their way to help the player. The text is nicely and lightly written.

This is a good adventure game. I think people who like this sort of thing (like me) will enjoy it very much. It does need tightening up around the implementation, but overall I am enjoying playing it. One more round of Beta testing would have done wonders.


Chase the Sun - Frankie Kavakich

I blow hot and cold about texture. On the one hand, I’m sure there’s something you could do with its main mechanic - dragging a word onto another word - that gives meaning to the action. On the other, I can’t think what. There are 6 texture games in this year’s comp and I’m hoping that one of them gives me an ah-ha moment where I suddenly get the reason for using it as opposed to text links.

That was just an aside. It would be unfair of me to judge a game based on the author’s choice of platform. Or would it? The mechanic of interaction is a fundamental part of engaging with a text. I’m tying myself in knots.

Chase the Sun is a nice piece of writing. It’s a widely branching narrative about the protagonist running from the end of the world. They wear a wedding dress. The text branches. We can choose whether to pay attention to the fuel gauge. We can choose when to stop running. We can choose to face the end of the world while maintaining a human connection or to face it alone. There are many endings.

If we do choose to maintain some connection, we can explore the protagonist’s backstory - why we are wearing the wedding dress. Why we are running. And it’s nicely done - the writing is tight and clean, the dialogue, in particular, believable.

In the end, the story seems to be a meditation on the choices we make - we choose whether to run from something, or to accept it and face the future. Face it head on… More importantly, face it together with another. Why was I living if not to make that choice? asks one character.

And, finally. Does the choice of interaction mechanism the author made work for this story? Yes. The act of deliberately dragging the text adds weight to the choice we make. I am won over.


A Walk Around the Neighbourhood - Leo Weinreb

This is a bit more spoilery than most. I don’t think it gives much away, but I’ve hidden it.


There’s a type of puzzly IF that is about obsessive exploration of space and things. Fiddling with the soft furnishings until we uncover whatever the author wants us to uncover. We can examine things, search them, push, pull or move them. Look behind them or under them. In a large map where there’s lots of stuff, this can sometimes become exhausting for the player. We have to go through each of these seven foundation actions with every scenery item we encounter. And…player beware! You’re totally stuck ‘cos you didn’t look behind the toilet 18 rooms ago.

Most IF puzzle games have at least a little of this sort of thing in them. A thing is hidden. It must be found. It has slipped down the back of the sofa. Fair enough. Modern IF tends towards the simpler. Examine and look under - the other actions become synonyms. A bugbear of mine has always been an author differentiating between the examine and search actions.

So, for a large game, this type of obsessive hiding things in other things can become wearying. But what about a one-room game?

And this is the core of A Walk around the Neighbourhood - we awake a little the worse for wear and our partner advises us to go for a short walk. Good idea - but the things we need - clothes, keys, wallet and what not, are not immediately obviously placed to hand.

We search the soft furnishings. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The space is constrained. Everything we need to search is there. The items we find become plentiful and there is lots to do with them.

The most enjoyable thing about AWTTN is its surprising open-ness. The main ‘plot’ is to find our stuff so we can go for a walk, but there are plenty of other things to do in this small space as well - leading to multiple endings. Some of which made me chuckle.

There are some rough edges - a couple of bugs, a few ‘It is fixed in place’‘ moments. However, nothing that really took me out of the game and all little things that I’m sure will be cleaned up and polished away by the end of the comp.

The connection the protagonist makes with their partner is a nice touch. It was an unexpected and sweet moment in the game. The puzzles were fair. I got stuck a few times, but that was because I wasn’t paying attention - no fault of the game.


Am I My Brother’s Keeper - Nadine Rodriguez

This is more or less a short story. For page after page, it has a link to drag that takes me to the next page/reveals a bit of text. There are some points of agency, one towards the start, one towards the end. But the majority of the tale is told rather than played.

I mentioned my main ‘thing’ about choice based interactive fiction is that I need, as a player, some form of agency that’s more than just turning the page. And whether I’m tapping a link or dragging a link, it’s still just turning a page.

The frustrating part is - this is quite good - it’s quite a nicely written short story. It could have made an excellent choice game - multiple pathways through the plot - and this is hinted at in the small amount of agency we have, but fails to materialise through the majority of the narrative.

The protagonist’s sister Sofia is in trouble, she has disappeared. Then I get a phone call. What follows is a well written, albeit brief, horror story. It really needs room to breathe though. It feels rushed. Things happen. I have no agency over them.

I am also massively confused about the title. I know, I know. Cain and Abel and all that. But I don’t see the relevance.


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.


Good review, and thanks for putting Flowers of Mysteria on my radar!l

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Glimmer - Katie Benson

Glimmer is a very short twine mood piece. Several brief paragraphs are presented in an almost completely linear fashion. We are depressed and gradually stop doing things until we are holed up at home in a mire of our own depression - then whatever we click, we reach a somewhat positive resolution.

There’s not much to this. I want to be positive, so I will say that, despite its brevity, the text given is quite nicely written and to the point. But in the lens of this competition, as presented - a short, out of the box twine UI with zero agency, this will struggle.

I think the author feels strongly about this, and is maybe telling the story from personal experience, and I’m sure most readers can relate to greater or lesser extents. But the history of using a choice based narrative to enable the reader to experience a strong negative emotional, mental or psychological state of mind is rich and varied - many interactive texts have attempted this to various degrees of success, whether it be through a parable, a surrealistic narrative or a more literal approach. When this works, it’s at least in part, because we do have some agency - not only are we experiencing the protagonist’s struggles, we are trying to shape that struggle and in the process becoming educated how difficult that struggle can be for the individual.


Into the Sun - Dark Star

I feel like this game has set me a personal challenge. One hour it says on the blurb. Hah! We’ll see about that. I can get stuck on the simplest of puzzles. Some people breeze through puzzly games. Not me, though. I’ve challenged myself to complete this in under 2 hours.

Given there isn’t a walkthrough, this is unlikely.

Oh! This is cool. I’m a space scavenger and after some lean times have been fortunate enough to come across a big old derelict spaceship. But the first thing I find is a dead body. So it’s not going to be a risk-free salvage operation. Oh, and the ships are spiralling into the sun. That’s not good. You only have a limited amount of time.

It’s probably best not to think about the plot premises too deeply. Why is the ship still on fire and filled with smoke after so long being in space? How come there’s still air? How, after all these centuries did you manage to come across the ship at the exact moment it had about 30 mins before it got sucked into the sun. Hush! Don’t think about it. Just enjoy the game.

And there is a lot to enjoy.

The gameplay reminds me very much of Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder or Sugarlawn. It’s a limited time optimization puzzle. On board this derelict spaceship there are many items we can scavenge but our time to do so is limited. We need to find as many as we can - preferably the more valuable items, then leave the ship and sell them. So far, I have failed to gather enough items. I can repair my ship but not refuel her.

But my two hours are not yet up.

A couple of cool innovations. Gravity increases over time and this is your timer - but also does affect gameplay in an interesting way. Also, the game is setup somewhat randomly, with an alien monster occasionally popping up throughout your time - this means that optimisation is tougher as no single play through is quite the same. There are ways of defeating it, though, but they’re limited.

There is a story here - revealed through the flashcards you find throughout your scavenge - however it is somewhat bare bones and limited - almost an afterthought. There’s probably more that could be done with this - uncovering more about the crew and their history. That being said - I don’t think I’ve seen everything yet - maybe there is. The text itself is a little sparse - it would have been nice to have a slightly richer environment to explore.

This is the second game I’ve played in this comp that has ship-based directions like fore and aft and whatnot. Is this a trend? I’m only a few games in. The map is also much larger than you think it is. The implementation is strong.

Now my two hours is up. I’ve got enough money to refuel my ship. Just about. And yet, there’s something about this game that makes me want to have one more play through. I’m sure I could find more.


Thanks for playing my game. I know it can be discouraging for players to die during a session, so this one is a bit of a risk. Knowing if people will get this game or give up trying is difficult. So I’m happy to see you pushed through.

As for this being the second game using nautical directions? I think that’s just a coincidence. For me, it was something a tester said that I should lock in.


I didn’t find this at all! As long as the deaths are an integral part of the experience, well signposted and with ways to resolve them, it makes sense as part of the game mechanic.


Tower of Plargh - caranmegil

This feels like someone’s first game. It’s a minimally implemented suite of puzzles set in the eponymous tower. We are given no backstory, nor any rationale for our puzzle solving. Games like this can work if, through the puzzle solving, it gradually reveals a narrative through our interaction with the game.

First impression: it is desperately in need of beta testing. Many typos. No credits. X me results in default response. I can’t examine things mentioned in the room description. The set of room descriptions have obviously been cut and paste - unfortunately there’s a typo - so there’s a typo in all of them. A thing veil is on every wall.

x veil
You can’t see any such thing.

I want to give it a fair crack of the whip though. So I wander around for a while. I am in a bunch of rooms called things like pled room or flod room. I can’t think of anything to do. I type help. There is none. I look for a walkthrough. There isn’t one. I look at other reviews for clues. There aren’t any.

Am assuming the answer is something to do with the room names and the position of f and p rooms but I can’t work out what it is. I play around for a while then suddenly solve the puzzle - there may have been a logic behind it, but I’m not sure what it is.

I solve a couple more puzzles, then give in. If this was a learning inform exercise, then fair enough, but I’m afraid that’s it’s just not a good game.