Brief ruminations: Enchanter. Slouching Towards Bedlam. Varicella. Suveh Nux. Wizard Sniffer. Illuminismo Iniziato. Lesson of the Tortoise

IFComp '23 taught me that I have no admiration for my own analysis or reviewing skills, but in spite of that, I still feel prompted to do a little sharing or feedback after having completed some games.

In the not-too-distant past I started a thread asking for candidates for a big, without-hints puzzler challenge. After gathering all of the suggestions and sifting the options there, I decided to start with Mulldoon Legacy. However, that (and several other titles in line after it) is the kind of IF I go to with my game face, ready to struggle with and conquer regardless of the time frame.

On the other hand, there are other titles – perhaps shorter, lighter, or significant for some reason other than puzzle challenge – that I want to experience and be conversant with as well, without being too worried about whether I access some hints to keep things moving.

So, this is a little snapshot of my occasional dabblings with “other” titles before I’ve really confronted the next big puzzler in earnest.

Enchanter
I believe this is the first Infocom game I’ve played through. I started Planetfall early in the development process of Prince Quisborne, but soon found it too hard to find time for both gamemaking and playing, and I’ve never been back to it yet.
Enchanter had some facets that took getting used to for me, since I was introduced to IF through some more robustly-implemented TADS games of the 90s. Nonetheless I found it a pretty fun excursion; spellcasting as the primary puzzle-solving mechanic is another thing that was pretty new for me, although I’d gotten introduced to it through Thaumistry and beta-testing @mathbrush 's Never Gives Up Her Dead. I tried to do it without hints, but I wasn’t really committed to it, and got a nudge from the board here at least twice. There were some fun puzzle twists and Aha! moments, but a few instances also leaving me feeling a bit shortchanged.

Slouching Towards Bedlam
This was a well-made game that had some intriguing content, but in the end I never fell into harmony with it. Somewhere about 2/3 through I mainly just walked to the end with help. The ultimate twist at the end of the game left me wrinkling my brow a little bit.

Varicella
I’ll have to admit, I’d heard rumors of this being the “super dark/disturbing” game, and I just had to see what it was about. Another very well-crafted game, with lots of parser response that I appreciate. Granted, the premise isn’t your typical save-the-[entity] affair: your goal is to connive your way to killing a half dozen rivals so you can be regent for the child king. Also depiction of a priest trying to sexually force himself on a boy, and descriptions of sexual/domestic abuse previously endured by the princesses.
Again, I tried solving the game at first, but grew more disconnected after awhile, and when I started looking up an answer here and there I felt like the expectation on the player wasn’t something that would have been readily deducible through cleverness, and may have involved some tedium or luck. Can’t be entirely sure since I didn’t commit to solving, but that was the feeling I had once I knew the answers.

Suveh Nux
Props to this game for the fun of figuring out the magical language. In the end, I can’t get as effusive about a game that takes place in one room and centers primarily on one mechanic as something more elaborate, but I enjoyed unraveling the trick.

The Lesson of the Tortoise
I’m not sure when or how I even came across this game, but there it was in my unplayed games folder, probably because it was TADS. It’s a short game with a traditional Chinese setting; not a great deal to report on, but it included one pretty imaginative and fun puzzle.

The Wizard Sniffer
I started off quite bemused by Ser Leonhart’s and Tuck’s buffoonery, but after getting further into the game got somewhat less than enchanted. It’s a cute idea to have a pig for a PC (acting as leader for a knight and his squire, no less), but I don’t get a great deal of gameplay satisfaction from games that have such a limited parser. I didn’t need any hints to finish this one, so I never even saw the famous truth/falsehood fleas.

Illuminismo Iniziato
This was my favorite of the lot, by a pretty fair margin. As one who just recently finished authoring a very prominent sidekick NPC, I appreciated the commentary and implementation of Crystal, your little girl-trapped-in-a-snow-globe companion. Most of the humor fell well for me, I got chuckles out of the ever-updating Tattler newspaper and Ninario’s denials, Yeckal had some good lines, etc. It’s been awhile since I finished this one, but I believe I wrestled through without getting any hints. My biggest breakthrough triumph was figuring out the connection between the lead lump and the springy tree. All in all quite charming and enjoyable, technical polish, etc., I suspect most anyone would enjoy it, unless light tone is specifically a strike against for you. I’ve never (yet) consciously made my own top-ten list but this one’s definitely in it. I’ve yet to play the first game, Risorgimento Ripresso, but I definitely intend to after finishing this one.

Thanks for hearing my blabber! Feel free to chime in with rebuttals or confirmations!

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When I saw you say at the top that you were introduced via polished 90s TADS games, I wasn’t surprised at all when you said Illuminismo Iniziato was your favorite. It really does a great job of recreating that type of game, very verbose and filled with puzzles and life, and with a dry sense of humor. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, this was fun to read!

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