Encorm's En-corner - Review-A-Thon Edition

I’m writing reviews! For a good cause! In fact, two good causes - increasing the number of reviews in the world and also raising money for Pinkunz’s GoFundMe (see @alyshkalia’s main review-a-thon post for more details.)

I’m doing this while also writing an IFComp game (or trying to) and juggling some big real-life events, so I’m definitely not going to get to everything! The reviews may also be on the shorter side, but for now I’m taking a “quantity over quality” approach. I’ll also be putting these on IFDB… eventually?

I’m going to be picking games somewhat at random, with a bias towards things with fewer reviews. First up is A Mouse Speaks to Death, by solipsistgames.

12 Likes

A Mouse Speaks to Death by @Hituro

What is this?
In A Mouse Speaks to Death, you’re a mouse at the end of your life. Death has come for you, but before you go he asks you to reminisce about the life you led. From there you go through several rounds of choosing a memory to experience (from a group of three available, all randomly selected from a bigger pool) and then playing through it. Each memory is a self-contained storylet with branching choices, so you if the cards are in your favor you can play through any given one multiple times to “remember” it differently.

The overall result is a slice-of-life (or to be more accurate, several small slices of life) of what it’s like to be a mouse in the author’s rodent world. The mice farm, hunt, live, love, gather, experiment, and die all under the feet of the mysterious Eaters (i.e., us) and the player can focus on what interests them the most.

What did I like?

This work is part of a greater universe that the author has written and that I’m not familiar with. I’m always nervous when approaching games like this because making them independently accessible to a newbie is a real challenge – trust me, I would know! So I’m happy to report that AMST pulls this off flawlessly. The world of the mice is a fascinating echo of ours high above, but just different enough to feel new and exciting. The vignettes frequently focus on something new and exciting to our mouse, thus giving them a perfect excuse to explain them to our player. Sometimes these things are basic parts of mousedom that they encounter for the first time growing up, and sometimes they’re more unusual experiences like finding human artefacts, but no two are alike and there’s always joy in seeing something new. I didn’t find myself repeating storylets because I was much more curious about both this world and about the life of our hero.

Also, I couldn’t bring myself to click on any of the obviously signposted negative outcomes for our player mouse, so clearly 1) I was engaged from the word go and 2) I am a huge weenie.

What could use improvement?

There’s no counter telling you how many stories you get to go through, and by about 2/3 through I started to both get confused (should I be doing something to advance besides looking at storylets?) and also they started to wear out their welcome. A visible turn counter, an option to end your reminiscence early, or just a lower turn limit would have been a great help here. The storylet variety also wasn’t great enough to support the number of turns you get unless you’re interested in replaying them, which (as above) I wasn’t. There was also an issue where you could get duplicates of the same storylet in the same turn, thus cutting down your available options

Other thoughts

I see you, fellow Terry Pratchett fan! I love the Death of Rats so this was a real treat.

Conclusion

This was a real treat, and a great game to start off the Review-a-thon. I hope this is a good indicator of what’s to come!

8 Likes

Thank you so much for the review, I am tickled pink :smiley:

A quick response about the timer. Death’s comments change over the game to indicate the approaching ending of your memories, but I’m guessing that’s really far too subtle to actually register. An explicit turn timer would definitely be a sensible addition. There are actually as many turns as your age, one memory for each year (unless you choose one of the rare insta-death choices that end the game earlier).

Also, there are no repeats in one run, but I can see why you would think so! I made the mistake of giving some of the memories the same name, but different content. That was the ones where you stay in the nest. They each have a different story in them, but they look like repeats on the cards, very much my bad!

I wonder what you thought about the collectable items that appear in the background, and the words you accumulate to describe your life, as well as the meta-story about Te-Ana-Gori which you can only explore fully in replays?

4 Likes
  1. I…didn’t notice these? Oops!
  2. I thought the word cloud at the end was pretty neat, although most of my words overlapped so I couldn’t really read them until they dropped. I think spreading them out more (and perhaps allowing the user to click to skip the animation of them dropping) would have helped since it took a very long time to get through all of them. (My fault for living a full and exciting life, I guess :laughing:)
  3. I didn’t replay at all so I didn’t catch any of that! Since I’m going for quantity of reviews right now any game with replay value is going to suffer a bit, but this has piqued my curiosity. Between that and my failure to notice item 1 I’ll definitely have come back to this again.
4 Likes

Codex Crusade, by leechykeen

What is this?

Codex Crusade is a surreal Twine romp taking place at the University of Turin, Georgia (not the other one). Due to shenanigans involving the other Turin your library has recently come into possession of a large number of rare books, and of course not everyone’s happy about it. You, the librarian’s assistant intern, have been tasked to descend into the depths of the university and retrieve this tome – what could go wrong?

Codex Crusade is set up much like a traditional parser game; you can explore spaces (although without the usual cardinal directions), add items to your inventory, and use said items to solve puzzles. The whole thing is dressed up with comic academic theming, which I found entertaining despite the fact that I can tell a lot of it is going over my head. (If you have a background in philosophy or medieval studies I suspect this game is hysterical.)

Unfortunately, I ran into a showstopping bug fairly early on. I have the wrong item in my inventory for a puzzle and I can’t seem to get rid of it, but the game won’t let me pick up the right item until the Doritos are gone. I’ll come back to this later, maybe – per Mathbrush’s review it looks like it’s possible to finish the game, so if I get that puzzle right on the first try I should be able to advance. But for now I’m going to put it down and move on. But even with this bug it’s a fun and witty game, and proof that the comic-puzzler-parser model does not in fact have to be a parser game.

3 Likes

Collision by @manonamora

What is this?

Collision is a game written for the Neo-Twiny Jam, with the attendant restriction of using 500 words or less. The conceit is that you wake up in an unfamiliar space, in a perilous situation, and the player must figure out what’s going on and then try to save our protagonist the crash test dummy from their inevitable fate. (Based on other reviews I figured this out more quickly than average, possibly due to my teenaged obsession with Mythbusters.)

What I Liked

The word limit is used to great effect here – all descriptions are given in two-word pairs, which contributes to an overall surreal feeling and heightens the protagonist’s lack of control. You have many actions available to you to try and get out of your predicament, most of which give you more information about your environment, but as far as I can tell every run will end in failure with the protagonist doomed (because they are a crash test dummy and can’t move). There may be a solution to the puzzle that I couldn’t find, but even without that I think this works well as a work of existential horror. It’s very atmospheric, and makes the absolute most of its word count.

What could use improvement?

If I had to make a suggestion, I’d add a toggle or slider for the timed text. It’s effective on the first few plays but after that it gets in the way of exploring all the options.

3 Likes

A Collegial Conversation, by @alyshkalia

A Collegial Conversation is a game written for SeedComp 2024. The author is using the “1 link = 1 viewpoint” seed, which is exactly what’s written on the tin. You are given a selection of characters and their partners all involved in a spat at a workplace social event, and instead of choosing how the conversation flows you jump from POV to POV as it plays out along a pre-determined path. It’s a well-written and well-styled game, with a different gorgeous color palette for each POV character.

A Collegial Conversation is trying something very ambitious here in a relatively small space. This means in short succession we’re introduced to the setting (a party for government officials in Zelio, which is presumably a secondary world of the author’s creation), four characters, and the complicated history between them. Despite the helpful dramatis personae (linked on every page) I still found myself constantly lost in the shifting POVs. It also doesn’t help that characters are referred to by solely their first or last name depending on the POV, which makes in-character sense but doubles the number of names to keep track of. I had a much better time after reaching the end once I unlocked the ability to follow any given character through the full conversation. Overall I think this is executed as well as is possible given the inherent chaos of the seed, but a less involved setting may have been a better fit. Of note, I know the author has written other works in this setting so it may be easier to follow ACC if you play some of them first.

Also, a nitpick - the game doesn’t default to fullscreen and when smushed into the smaller box this text formatting will get wonky in some passages (in particular, Seira’s at the end). I believe there’s a setting on Itch somewhere to force it to display in fullscreen which should fix this.

3 Likes