Very Vile Fairy File by Billy Boling
Hooo-lee wow! I love this game. I love that the gameplay centres on wordplay, I love the writing, I love how well-implemented it is. This game, I love. It is utterly delightful, and I would be shocked if it doesn’t do well in this year’s comp.
I should point up right at the start that I’ve not yet finished the game. I rated it and am now writing this review at the two-hour mark. But, boy, am I ever going to go back and finish it.
This game takes a very simple concept (Make puns!) that is very hard to implement, and puts it right at the centre of its gameplay. Essentially the way it works is, if there’s a DOG in your way, you type FOG and the troublesome beast evaporates and you can continue along your merry way.
It’s very reminiscent of the machine that lops the last letter off of a word, so that putting a rabbit into it gets you a rabbi out the other end (I can’t remember if that’s a game or Discworld, but it’s brilliant).
This is not an easy thing to do or to build a game around. At first, I thought that the structure was going to be “You enter a room. You solve the pun. You go to another room” with no ability to walk around the map. That was a bit disappointing, but understandable; it’s hard to do this, and doing it in an open world is harder. I had already fallen in love by that point anyway.
Then the map opened up.
What I thought was the game was a tutorial to teach me how to solve the puzzles, before getting to the meat of the game. Needless to say, that the author did the hard thing was deeply appreciated, and resulted in the game I was wishing for.
This is especially difficult to pull off since the author seems to speak a different dialect of English from me, where pronunciations are not the same (for example, in my Canadian English dialect, “meet mourner” does not rhyme with “leet learner” - it ryhmes with “meet morn-er”)… but the game still works.
The implementation is also butter smooth. The automated hint system is not intrusive and is actively helpful, even when not seeking hints; it drops useful and welcome information organically as you play. The descriptions in the game - even descriptions of failed guesses, which I think is especially smart - point you toward the correct solutions so that you’re not just guessing random words.
The THINK command is also quite welcome (Remembering correct answers that I can’t use yet, but will later? Very friendly, thank you) as is the game prompting me when a remembered song would be useful.
There’s also a level of polish here that I appreciate. There are so many responses to incorrect rhymes included that it never feels like I’m just trying to guess the right answer. All of those rhymes are valid, if incorrect, and a lot of them point to the right solution. More than that, though, some of these “incorrect” responses will earn the player optional bonus points, which I think is a nice way to encourage the player to explore language and the gamespace.
Honestly, this game is just good. It had me laugh out loud at puns a few times, and I appreciate that the author is clearly a deep nerd (Filking? Yes, please. An answer literally being “GET GOOD”? You’re talking my language), and that, plus the wordplay, brought Spider Robinson to mind, which is never a bad thing.
Now, a few possible bugs for the author to look at:
- I believe one entry in the notes is backwards. “GET GOOD to WET WOOD” should be reversed to “WET WOOD to GET GOOD”
- Listening to the music in the Mystery Mall returns “and that’s not all bad, because what replaced it is even worse.” I think it wants to be “and that’s not all bad, because what it replaced is even worse.”
- At LAKE LAP, “x snake” results in “The HA HALF button lights up on your Leet Learner.” “LL snake” and simply “snake” do as well. I suspect that’s not intended, but I see why it’s like that.
- I “Make Map” at Lake Lap, but there is no map anywhere. Again, that might not be unintended - not finished the game yet.
- After figuring out the YORE YONDER puzzle in the History Hall, it tells me I can go IN. But I cannot; I can go OUT. The description is incorrect.
- When guessing rhymes, HOLD HARD returns “You already have that.” I have the hard hat. This makes sense but is confusing.
- “WORK WELL” always prompts the “putting the gel in the tube” response. I don’t know if this is intended after the puzzle is solved.
- “WHOA WHAPPIN” and “WOAH WHAPPIN” should return the same thing, but do not. At least in my opinion. I’ve seen woah/whoa spelled both ways.
Another thing that is definitely a bug:
After getting the Here Hip Queer Quip, I am listed as having the backed binder in my inventory. I did not yet have it. I can still obtain it from the Paper Pile later, but the inventory description is incorrect.
When I use the Leet Learner on the Gear Gull, I am told there’s no such object there.
The text for Loft Land reads “You can go all four directions here, and west is the Gear Gull, who could help with your gold guard.”
The gull is actually to the EAST not the WEST.