Yippee for IFComp! I’m taking a semester off of school right now, so I have a bunch of free time this fall. Hopefully, that means I’ll be able to get through all of the games, which is fantastic since it looks like we have a pretty great lineup this year. I’m going randomly using the personal order assigned on the comp website. wooo let’s gooooooo yayyyyyy
Day one reviews! Might play another one or two later, but I’ve already spent the majority of my day playing through these three, so it’s time to get away from the computer for a bit.
Lake Starlight by SummersViaEarth (who I think is a new author? afaik they haven’t posted on here at all, at the very least)
TLDR: Polished, complete, with no (discovered) bugs and only a few comma mistakes, but I am very much not the target audience and as such didn’t enjoy playing it.
This game was fairly short (took me less than half the listed time to finish it, although I’m admittedly a pretty fast reader). You play as a teenage girl who finds out she has magic and is whisked away to magic summer camp. Plus, the world is dystopian eco-hell. My first playthrough took me 35 minutes, and then I spent another five or so exploring different endings.
Overall, the writing has a very consistent voice and style, and I didn’t encounter any bugs during my playthrough, so the polish is definitely there, technically speaking. I found the themes to be a bit too cluttered to really get much out of the game, though - the author incorporates so many different mystical ideas and cultures that the whole thing starts to feel overdone. Additionally, the use of slang was a bit outdated and awkward? It very much felt like someone was trying to write a teenager, or a story that appeals to teenagers, without actually interacting with teenagers on a regular basis.
This game wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t for me. I do think my 13-year-old sister would’ve liked it more than I did, but as a college student with the ability to read and think critically AND with a better grasp on the language teens use today, I found it difficult to get through. If not for the comp, I don’t think it’s a game I would’ve played through to the end.
How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title by John Ziegler
TLDR: Hot diggity fizz!! Play this. Right now.
I spent the morning reading through every summary of each game to get a feel for this year’s comp vibe and this one definitely grabbed my interest from the start. I’m honestly a bit disappointed it was second on my list to play because I like to save bigger parser games for the end.
And boy, is this game big. The first part/chapter/section of the game, intended to be assessed by the judges (estimated to take the allotted two hours) had me in an absolute chokehold. The world is so fun to explore, and the characters are all hilarious. The writing overall is probably my favorite part of the game, which is always a good omen in a long parser. The expressions used by characters, the names of locations and people, as well as the descriptions are all very consistently written, and written incredibly well. The narrative voice is hilarious, and I honestly laughed out loud at points in this game (the hamster dam, for example. love it.). Although it will take longer, I highly recommend reading the full text of the story when given the option, as it is just so much fun. I spent the entire time wondering whether or not fruitlet is a real word, laughing at PQ trying to whistle on that damn blade of grass, and searching for needles in haystacks and forks in the road.
In terms of gameplay, the puzzles were clever, and the use of Prince Quisborne as an assistant/squire/pet-adjacent companion is so fun. The flavor text describing his behavior gradually changes over time, reflecting his growth, which is just. So awesome. I only needed to use a hint once, and when I did, I realized I was struggling because I’d forgotten to examine something that was obviously important. Unnecessary items are automatically left behind (probably a good thing, as I probably would’ve raided a poor child’s treehouse if not for this feature).
Also, points for feelies! This game comes with a pdf map of the land you and PQ explore, and it’s gorgeously hand-drawn and easy to follow. You can also use the command MAP to pull it up in the interpreter, but I prefer keeping them both open on the same window for reference. Also, not a feelie, but the option to keep your inventory showing on the side of the window is super helpful. Oh, and the borders of the game are great, too! Not distracting, and very much add to the atmosphere.
This first, intended-to-be-judged, part of time game took me the better part of an hour, so I still had loads of time to spare to keep exploring and playing. And, as stated before, by me and others, it’s so, so massive. For context, the predicted two-hour-mark (one hour for me) ends with you at 15/300 points. An hour later than that, I was at 24/300 points.
I love this game so much already, and I’m not even 10% done, if the points system is to be believed. Also, I cannot believe this was written by a new author. Absolutely insane debut, Mr. Ziegler. My hats are off and my marbles are lost.
All Hands by Natasha Ramoutar
This was the shortest game I’ve played so far (an admittedly low bar considering that I’ve only played three, and one of those was definitely in the top three longest games in this whole comp), but what it lacks in length it makes up for in atmosphere. A spooky story about revenge (or lack thereof), and my first nautical story of the comp, with many more sure to follow.
This one was predicted an at hour to play, but it only took me about 20 minutes to get through the whole thing, and then play again to explore some alternate possibilities. The writing is gorgeous and haunting, and I like that the three interaction options stay consistent throughout the game. Overall, I really enjoyed playing it. You’ve got a spooky ship to explore, spooky songs to listen to, and a spooky story to discover. It’s a great little reflective and atmospheric piece, and while I don’t think it really gets points for ambition or scale, it’s worth a playthrough.
Next few games. I didn’t think I’d be playing any more today, but my afternoon was kind of shitty so I decided to play instead of practicing piano, which I’m definitely going to regret. Anyway.
Last Valentine’s Day by Daniel Gao
Honestly, I don’t have that much to say about this one. I liked the gradually changing time loop, and it had some thoughtful commentary on love and relationships. This one definitely had something to say, and I think it did it well. It’s very short, and the second time I played it through, I didn’t find anything very different, so I don’t think it’s really worth replaying. Bug-free as far as I could tell, and well-written, so no complaints there. I enjoyed it, but might dock a point for the replayability factor, which I think is important to have in choice-based games. Please correct me if I’m wrong here, I did only play through twice.
One King to Loot Them All by Onno Brouwer
My favorite part about this game was actually the custom commands. They added an extra element to the tone of the game without being so outlandish as to confuse the player into checking the command list every other turn. The writing was very consistent with no obvious mistakes (the combat scenes were especially engaging and fun to read), and I encountered no bugs while playing. The game is very linear, with no red herrings; don’t go into this game expecting a puzzle adventure, because that’s really not what the focus is.
The one thing which was unexpected and moderately confusing (moreso to a seasoned player than a new one, which is interesting) was [SPOILERS] the use of the UNDO command in the game. I struggled with figuring out how far back I had to go with it until it became obvious. This was mostly confusing because it’s a new use of a mechanic which is typically unused or relatively ignored within games, so seeing something different done with it was jarring. However, once you get used to it, it’s actually really cool. Make sure you read the descriptions as you’re going.
To players used to twisty, puzzle-y parsers, this game might feel a little too linear. That was certainly how I felt, but I don’t think it makes it a bad game: just one that I didn’t feel as engaged in as some other parsers I’ve played. I do think it would be a great game for a beginning IF player or a player looking for some more slashing and hacking than they might normally find in a parser game. The helpful hints and storymode contribute to that rec for beginners as well. It’s clever, funny, and a strong debut work which I had fun playing, so. There you go.
DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS by Hubert Janus
Okay, I’ll be honest: this game wasn’t next in my randomly assigned list. But after reading through the confusion regarding the two versions of this game floating around, I just had to play it. I managed to access both versions of the game. When I chose the “Play Online” version, I was given the crazy one, with flashing colors and words and general confusion. I do think this version is elevated by the fact that there’s an actual game to be played elsewhere, or else it would definitely be a very confusing entry (as we’ve seen already). To be so honest, as someone who’s never used twine, I actually thought the flashing colors and weird changing perspective of the page was kind of impressive, but maybe that’s actually easy to do. I wouldn’t know.
The longer and visually calmer version of the game was fun, though. This one I got by downloading the game file, by the way. I did suffer through a few iterations before realizing that the undo button was not there for decoration and I could just go back if I made a choice I didn’t like. That said, I saw quite a few of the endings, and I’m pretty sure I made it to the fullest ending, which was definitely worth the wait. While it took me a minute to get into the story, once it’s really going and you’re exploring the different options, it’s actually a pretty funny experience.
And as a checkmark, all the writing, grammar, coding, etc. was perfect. Points for polish.
Chloe, thank you for your lavish words of praise. Your enthusiasm made me extremely happy to know how PQ has brightened someone’s life. I hope you can find time later to carry on the adventure… it only gets more adventurous! I don’t know if any amount of negative reviews can take away the relieved and triumphant feeling I’ve gotten from reading a review like yours first!
The Sculptor by Yakoub Mousli
An old man at the end of an empty life and a failed career has one more chance to create a masterpiece. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him as he works, and I think the game serves as a bit of a warning about the risks of passion. In pursuing his career as a sculpture, our MC completely neglected all aspects of his personal life. Miserable and desperate are two words I find apt to describe him. His angst is compelling, and I appreciated the artistry of some of the writing - appropriately dramatic, if a little vague or overreaching at times.
In the end your two options are to destroy what you’ve created in order to preserve your integrity, or let your work be subject to the whims of the Corporation. What a commentary. Other reviews have mentioned this, but the options leading to each ending were unclear, and I had no idea what each one would lead to, making the sculpture destruction a bit of a surprise. It saddens me that this sculptor felt there was no alternative; did he really have no third option that would keep both his honor and sculpture intact? Then again, such an option would be counterintuitive to his rather defeatist nature.
While I don’t anticipate playing it again, I have been thinking about this one after the fact. As I said before, I think it makes a good cautionary tale: don’t throw away your life in pursuit of a single moment. I’m not sure I’m the target audience for the message. After all, I’d much rather have a wife and kids than a failed career as an artist, no matter how passionate I was about my art. Perhaps our sculptor is stronger than I could ever be.
Technically speaking: I found a couple typos within the game: The option to “sand still” rather than “stand still,” the word “sculptor” used instead of “sculpture,” and “clinging” misspelled as “clingning.” While minor, I do think that spelling mistakes can immediately take a player out of the game, and in a piece as… emotional? reflective?.. as this one, I found them all a bit jarring. Regardless of that, everything worked as it should from what I could tell.
I was out of town for a bit, but I’ve returned! Here’s a couple short reviews from some games I played about a week ago.
Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates
This one was really interesting; the philosophical discussions were definitely thought-provoking, and overall it was really well-written. The script worked great, and I didn’t encounter any typos or bugs at all. I do think it’s a good game, and I’m not surprised it’s been getting so many positive reviews.
That said, I actually didn’t love it? Some of the pet names and more sexual lines and moments didn’t really land for me. I think that’s more by virtue of me not enjoying NSFW content in general, though. So, not really much to say. Great game, not for me, which is a trend I’ve been noticing in a many of the choice games I’ve been playing.
Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
I loved the premise for this game! Mechanically, it worked really well. This is the kind of choice game I prefer to play in the comp; while most choice-based games have been more like interactive storytelling, where there’s really not that much you have control over, this game actually plays like a game. I’m a big fan.
It’s very Night at the Museum meets FNAF, and I thought it worked quite well. The first time I played, I definitely underestimated the stakes and lost a fair number of puppets before I gave up and ended the game at 3. My second playthrough went better (I think I had 10?), and I was able to get a better grasp of the mechanics. Hands down, my favorite part of the game was the dialogue with the puppets. Giving them life when you wear them was very clever, and their function as tools went a long way toward keeping the game interesting.
Sadly, I was not able to find all the puppets before my two hours ran out. I also started to run into a bug which didn’t make the game impossible to play, but definitely shouldn’t have been happening: When I was in the studio, the exit messages would just disappear if they had text about hearing footsteps. Like, instead of “You hear footsteps to the west,” and not being able to go that way, there would just be a blank space where text should’ve been. Additionally, when I got captured and evicted, none of the text would appear, and the link to continue would be gone as well. I found that undo-ing the move and then just not making the choice I’d made before made it possible for me to keep going, but without the undo option, I would’ve been stuck with no way to go to the next page. This didn’t happen immediately when I first unlocked the studio, and it actually eventually stopped, but it was really weird. Not sure what was going on with that.
Also, in the studio, the “wait until it’s gone” (possibly not quite the right text, I’m just using my notes) option didn’t seem to work? The creature would always be there no matter how many times you used the wait option. If it’s just that the creature won’t leave unless you go somewhere else first, then I feel like being given the option to wait is misleading; I’d have preferred text that said something like “You see shadows moving behind the door. Best go somewhere else and try again later.” Alternatively, it was a bug.
That’s a lot of text about two effectively minor issues. They really didn’t affect the gameplay that much, but for the sake of the author, I figured I’d document. Fun game, I might go back and try to play through it again later and see if I can’t get all the possible puppets. Story was lovely, and the atmosphere of the game was fantastic. Definitely worth the time I spent playing.
Eat the Eldritch
TLDR: This one was also quite fun! I think it took me about an hour and a half, though I’m including mapping in that time as well. I spent way too much time on mapping the game - for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, I’d recommend just making a note of which rooms are on which level of the ship. Writing was great, and I didn’t encounter any bugs. Good entry, and I always appreciate it when parser games can actually be completed in under two hours.
My notes on this one are pretty sparse, so most of this is going to be done from memory. Overall, I thought this was a great game. Bonus points for feelies, as always - the “readme” pdf you get when you download (aptly titled “eatme” instead, which I loved) was very helpful. I enjoyed that the directions were changed to be boat directions (starboard, etc.), and I was able to adapt to it pretty quickly. The doc has those explained, so if you do get confused, you can reference it or just change the game to cardinal directions. I definitely prefer the seafaring lingo, as it helps with the aesthetic/atmosphere of the game, which I’m all about. The hints on the document were pretty well thought-out. I don’t think I came across any issues where I wished I’d had a question and there wasn’t an answer there. I do prefer hints that start off vague and get more and more obvious as opposed to just the full answer to a question you might have - I tend to find that if I’m stuck, just getting pointed in the right direction goes a long way.
Major kudos to the ability to go back to the fever dream area in case you accidentally got out of it before doing what needs to be done in there. I will say that I’m not entirely sure I would’ve figured out how to get back if I hadn’t looked at the hints, but fortunately I got out after completing that section, so it wouldn’t have been an issue.
I had some problems with trying to figure out the right verb to use, especially towards the end. There were instances where I wanted to try something, but it didn’t seem to work, so I moved on, and then later found out I had used the wrong word or missed a step in between, which was a bit frustrating. I definitely found myself using the hints a lot more at the end.
Overall, I liked the game. It was the perfect length for the comp, and the concept was interesting. Love a Lovecraftian game. I don’t think it did anything particularly new or groundbreaking, but it’s a solid entry, and I had fun playing it.
We All Fall Together
We’re well into the games that I took no notes on. Still, I replayed this quickly as a refresher, so here goes. TLDR: A decent start, but I really don’t think it’s polished enough to be in the comp.
I wasn’t really blown away by this one? I can tell that the author had something they wanted to say, and I do think the message sort of came through? Sometimes you need to let go and accept the unknown rather than trying to fight what you can’t stop. I find that true enough.
My first draft of this review turned into a rant about texture, so I’m benching that for a separate topic, perhaps. My problems with texture aside, there were some inconsistencies in this game that bothered me a bit. For context, when you drag a word to one of the options, you get a small preview of text that reads as the full choice you’re about to make. This can be edited, so in this game, we sometimes get “Let Go” + “panicking” = “Let it out”. By default, however, the two fragments are just written one right after the other, which can lead to awkward formatting. While we do have areas (such as the previous example) that have been edited, there are quite a few that haven’t been. “Let Go” plus “my diving buddy” simply reads “Let Go my diving buddy”. It’s a small thing, but it really takes away from the polish of the game and makes it seem like it was rushed.
There were a lot of grammar errors, and in general, I thought the writing was sort of juvenile? I’m not sure how else to phrase that, but it was lacking in depth or any distinctive style. It read like something I might’ve written when I was taking a creative writing class in middle school? That sounds harsh, but it’s just really lacking in polish, which takes away from the rest of the experience.
It’s not a bad start to a game, but I think it needs a lot more work before it becomes something that I’d recommend to someone. The concept and ideas are there, but I don’t think this one was comp-ready.
The IFComp website just isn’t giving me a break with the texture games, huh? TLDR: Uses texture as well as it can, writing is polished, but the story lacks depth.
Jokes aside, this game was a lot more polished in terms of texture implementation. “move” plus “boxes” becomes “stay and sort through living room boxes,” and I didn’t encounter any tags that hadn’t been edited. I do think that the game assumes a little bit too much of what the player behavior would be; when given the option to read different messages on yo, we can skip to the last one rather than seeing all the ones that come before. This allows you to skip a lot of the story, which lessens the impact of the game.
For a game exploring grief, I do think it falls a little bit flat. The reader/player is left to assume the majority of what happened between the MC and their sister, which in turn makes the items you find not feel quite as emotionally impactful. I would’ve liked to see more of the backstory explored, or gotten a little bit closer to the grief of the main character. It’s not a game that I’m going to be thinking about, and while it wouldn’t occur to me to recommend this game to someone, I wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid it, either.
I just played this one last night, and I blame the fact that I was multitasking for my lack of notes. I did love the circus setting; it’s something we really don’t see a lot, but it truly has so much potential for IF, so I had a lot of fun with this one. It probably took me the whole two hours, but, as I mentioned, I was multitasking, so I think if I’d been putting my full attention into the game, I could’ve shaved somewhere between 30 min to an hour off of that.
TLDR: I enjoyed playing it, and there were a lot of really good parts. Mostly I just feel like it could have done more, although I understand with the time limit in mind, that can be hard.
In general, it’s a little bit sparse. Most rooms have an item that you need to grab and not much else, which is fair enough for a parser game trying to fit the time limit. However, The dialogue was really fun, and I thought that the characters brought a lot of life into the game. The puzzles are clever, and definitely play to the circus theme, which I was amused by. The ability to try acts multiple times in order to figure out how to solve them was handy, and I thought it worked really well.
Unsurprisingly, I made a classic Chloe mistake and fully forgot to enter a room that I knew existed, which led to a bit of hint scrambling towards the end as I struggled to figure out what in the world I’d missed (Spoiler: I’d forgotten to check the MC’s caravan, fully missing the pies AND balloons that are Quite Important.) I don’t think I would’ve needed so many hints if not for that moment of silliness on my part. It does mean that I can speak to the quality of the hints, though! Amusingly enough, they’re the exact opposite of the Eat the Eldritch hints - if anything, there’s too many tiny hints. Because they’re sorted by character, there’s about 20-25 hints for one question, which felt kind of excessive to me? Having to press H twenty times in order to get to the part I’m actually struggling with was sort of annoying. Not enough to lose any points, but I do think the hints could use a tiny bit of reorganizing.
This one is another good entry! I think it’s a cute game, and it’s definitely a game I’d love to see expanded post-comp. The circus environment could use a bit more flavor text or descriptions (although what’s already there definitely goes a long way), and the ease with which you gain all the tools you need makes it easy to speed through the game and not really pay attention to the setting. Circuses are so fun, and I’d love to see even more out of this game than there already is.
A side note, but absolute shout out to the lesbian rep. I love it when IF games are queer - most of the time there’s just not a lot of interaction with people in general in these games, so when we get to go a full step further into queer rep, it’s always a good time.
That’s a lot!! Wow!!! Wasn’t absolutely blown away by this selection, but there’s definitely a lot in here that was fun to play with.
Interlude: Non-reviews!(?) Just really quick, I’d like to make a note of games I’ve started but don’t currently intend on finishing to the point where I feel like I could rank them in the comp. There’s only two so far, so this will be quick.
I feel kind of bad that I’m benching this one for now. It’s definitely got some things going for it, and I’m very pro-historical fiction and Egyptian mythology. Honestly, I was playing this one on my phone, and the app refreshed and I lost all my progress. I started again and tried to speed through what I’d already done, but eventually I moved on and when I came back to it, my progress had restarted again. Lesson learned. Will use my laptop next time. Going through the game and completing it just feels like a lot of work right now, especially because I still have a lot of other games to go through. I was enjoying it, though! As someone with a passing knowledge of Egyption mythology (read: I was an avid Rick Riordan fan in middle school), I have a feeling I know where it’s going, which adds on to my reluctance to finish it now that I’ve started it (twice). It’s cute, and it has some funny moments, and IIRC there weren’t any notable grammar/spelling errors. Definitely comp-worthy, but I won’t be ranking it unless I go back and finish it.
Milliways: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
I went into this one knowing it was a sequel to Hitchhiker’s Guide, so I was prepared for cruelty. I died a couple of times in the first 50 or so moves, and figured it was fine, that’s what UNDO is for. Restarting was fine as well. It’s a comp game, and I was willing to spend the two hours figuring out what I could. However, I pretty quickly realized that you need to have played Hitchhiker’s Guide in order to understand what’s going on or how to use certain objects in Milliways. Maybe reading the book would serve as a substitute to that, but in my case, I’ve done neither of those things. I started HG a few years ago and never ended up finishing it, but I thought Milliways would be fine as a standalone. Turns out… it’s not. So, I really can’t go any farther in the game unless I go and play HG first. Maybe after the comp, or after I’m done with the rest of the comp games, I will do that, but for now it’s just not worth it. Won’t be ranking this one for now, but we’ll see if I can get to it later.
Thanks very much for your kind review of Honk, Chloe! Definitely making notes for a post-comp release!
Thanks for your thoughts about Detective Osiris. And I’m sorry you’ve had issues with lost progress! If you think there’s a bug there, I’d happily accept further info so I can try to track it down, but it is basically Ink’s default save system, not something bespoke that I programmed for this, so I’m not sure if I’d actually be able to fix it
If you are inclined to go back to it at some point, I’d love to hear more of your views. I relish feedback from people who already know the Osiris myth! But there’s lots of good stuff in the comp, so I also understand if you need to move on, and I appreciate the time you’ve spent playing and writing up either way.
I don’t think it was a bug - just that I fully closed the app in between plays hopefully I’ll have time to go back to it!
Thanks for the first review (I guess?) I seem to be getting that from everyone! Probably because all my testers were people who have played HHGG. There are hints and a walkthrough if you want, however: but thanks anyway!
Ah, I see. Although… If you use the save option, I would expect you to be able to close in between plays… But it doesn’t eg autosave, you’d have to click it when you get to a stopping point?
At any rate, if you do get chance, I’d recommend playing on a larger device, mostly so you can see the artwork that accompanies the characters.
Thanks a lot for your kind review. I’m glad that you liked it!
Thanks also for the good advice about the hints.