Ice Level Reviews

I will be delivering sincere, thoughtful qualitative reviews of games and how they made me feel and how well they engaged with their core themes. I will then give each a quantitative, numerical review based exclusively on how fun their ice levels are.

Mother Tongue
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Big Trouble in Dino Park
You Will Thank Me as Fast as You Thank a Werewolf
Stone Aped Hypothesis
Sage Sanctum Scramble
You Couldn’t Have Done That
The Brutal Murder of Jenny Lee
What the Bus?
The Copyright of Silence
A Catalan Summer
Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos
Minor Arcana
Shadow Operative
Turbo Chesthair Massacre
Ghostfinder: Shift
Tavern Crawler



First game I’ve played so far that I felt clicked with me. Humorous setup: You’re a shapeshifter who chews people’s flesh to take on their form, and decides instead of enjoying the lackadaisical life of reverse world where the sun moves along the ground and rain falls into the sky, they want to enjoy the challenges of toughing it out as a small entrepreneur in the city of humans. Throughout this game, you’ll help a small number of clients by living out their less pleasurable moments for them while trying to off your debt.

At first I thought the game was going to be too long for its own premise, but the world is actually pretty weird. There’s sand-plumbers and stone-goat herders. The entire area is a desert formed by an geyser of sand that would bury the whole city if not for a network of industrial pipes. None of this is really central to the story, it’s not about any of that, but it adds a layer of intrigue that carried it through to the end. I love that none of it is ever overly explained. They’re just the facts of life, and after all, you have a young girl’s recital to botch to spare her the embarrassment.

The game is a choice game made in ink. Depending on your choices in each job, you absorb different traits from your target which stick with you. This appears to add and limit choices later in the game (at one point, despite my better judgement, I had no choice but to do something dumb because my character was just too damn curious). I wish it was a little more clear when this was happening. I only really recognized an effect once but that was probably just because it’s very subtle. That being said, for each job I felt like there were many ways to handle it and there was plenty of information or content I didn’t see because of my choices. Paranoia of getting caught pitted against curiosity to learn more about the world of humans made for some good tension in making decisions. The human world felt weird, making it easy to seat myself in the role of an outsider.

There were more than a few times I started to wonder if there really was a conspiracy and everyone knew I was a shapeshifter and was just testing me… especially the scene where a bureaucrat at city hall tells you singing is just part of the process of applying for a stone-herding license. I kinda wish that was actually the plot. I tended to play conservative to avoid getting caught, so I felt like I missed a lot of the intrigue around parts of the clients lives they were hiding from me. Maybe that’s just on me though.

Overall fun, interesting, and a great length!

Final Ice Level Score: 0/10. No ice levels. Game takes place in a desert.


Mother Tongue

My girlfriend and I had a good time playing this one in bed last night. It’s the perfect length for its premise and challenges you to learn a few basic words of Tagalog while exploring the inter-generational relationship between a mother and daughter.

I really liked how the game introduced you to the quirks of the language. Word order and spelling changes based on context that the mother can’t quite explain over text because it’s “very complicated.” I only speak English, but I can just imagine trying to justify even some of our simplest conjunction rules. That being said, this isn’t Duolingo. The challenges are short and solvable with what you’ve learned, and when you get it wrong it’s fun to see your mom encourage you and try to explain exactly why the right answer is right. It’s cute.

What I would love to have seen explored better was the tension between the two characters. In the game’s early choices, I tended to express interest in learning more about Tagalog and my cultural ancestry, but near the end the game railroaded me into blowing my mom off and explaining to her that learning a language will not make me Filipino; that I am already American and my mom can’t just suddenly fix that over text. I’m not an immigrant, and that’s probably true, but I didn’t feel as though I was playing a story about that until it was suddenly sprung on me. I thought this was about a moment of connection.

To be clear, I have objection to that theme at all. I think it’s very interesting. I just think it needed to be more consistent. I believe the choices we are offered as players tell us about the relationship and character. They should be limited based on what the author wants us to explore and learn. I just found it inconsistent. If this interactive tension existed throughout, it would really bring the game to the next level. I think the possibilities for this 15 minute game could be quite profound.

Great work! One of my favorites so far.

Numerical score based exclusively on the game’s ice levels: 3/10. Slippery relationship with mother reminiscent of navigating JRPG ice puzzle.


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

This is my first parser game of the contest. I do not really play parser games. I played a bunch of Hugo’s House of Horrors when I was a tiny little boy, but for 20 odd years: nothing, until this game.

In this game you play as Issac Newton, contemplating how he will revolutionize physics until he gets a strange letter informing him of a intellectual puzzle befitting his burgeoning genius. You travel down a linear path to a cottage and meet an old woman who remarks about how easy it was to lure you down here and then refuses to speak to you. I tried to talk to her, ask her about any of the key words she said, ask her about anything in her house, myself, herself, or what was going on. Nothing. Giving up, I went outside, fainted from dehydration, learned that I was in 2020 and science was in trouble, then visited the library.

The game is pretty simple. I had to use the walkthrough once to solve the puzzle in the library, but otherwise had no trouble. I think there was a cool idea here, the potential for perhaps some commentary on science and history, but I felt it was under-explored. I would have rather the game delved deeper into that than have a puzzle about sneaking books out of a library. Maybe part of the reason is that I am a firm opponent of the idea that single individuals shape history so profoundly, especially when it comes to the development of ideas. So perhaps my objections are more ideological than anything. I think it would have been neat and Newton came to the future to find history had easily continued on without him. Or perhaps if the game drew more from Newton’s biography rather than the idea of Newton. Didn’t he think a lot of what he was doing was alchemy? And I think a primary objection to his explanations was that positing invisible forces was basically saying magic existed (I’m drawing from my memory of Structure of Scientific Revolutions here).

Anyway, I’d love to see the idea of science and history explored more. Interested to see what the author does next. Mechanically, I also think there needs to be more responsiveness to questions and verbs. If an old woman tells me I’ve been subjected to a “phenomenon” I should at the very least be able to ask about “phenomenon”. Took me a while to realize the game just wanted me to leave and go outside.

Thanks for posting!

Review of Ice Levels: 7/10. Falling unconscious reminded me of falling many times to my death in Overcooked’s perilous ice levels!

Some quick ones:

Congee: Lovely little Twine game. This honestly feels like what all the tiny, evocative Twine games aspire to be and it does it so well. For such a small game, it has a lot of visuals but they are so effectively woven into the passages, it isn’t distracting it all. The first screen after the title will show you exactly what I mean. Great atmosphere, so much care taken with each passage, and really cute and heartwarming ending. Never had Congee, but now I want to try it! Please play!

Ice Level Score: -9954546/10. Ending too heartwarming. No ice level left.

Big Trouble in Dino Park: A game for anyone who loves Dinosaurs and Jurassic Park. It has fun with the tropes and lets you relive a variety of dino outbreaks (is it a spoiler to say the dinosaurs get out? I don’t think so). Not my cup of tea personally, as someone who could barely pronounce half the dino names. This is the kind of game where there’s ten ways to die in each scene and I’m not sure there was a clairvoyant way to really know which action was going to succeed and which was going to fail. To be fair, as those kind of games aren’t for me, it’s possible I just wasn’t invested enough to look for the clues. I think this will really appeal though if you have a favorite dinosaur, as the game lets you choose in which part of the park you’d like to be employed.

Ice Level Score: 6/10. Leaping along boats on the island coast would be an ice level if the game took place in winter.

You Will Thank Me as Fast as You Thank a Werewolf: Poems? With choices maybe? Reading this is like reading Trout Fishing in America. The words are fun to read and sentences taste good in your mouth but the through-line was too loose and I only made it 20% through. I think the author said it was about a relationship?

Ice Level Score: 9/10. As far as I know, the entire story takes place in a moment frozen in time

Stone Aped Hypothesis: Playing Mancala was fun. I don’t think I would use this game in my history lessons though.

Ice Level Score: 0/10. Man learns fire. Fire is not ice!!!

Sage Sanctum Scramble: This is not a game you will have to wonder whether or not you will like. I don’t mean everyone will like it, I mean either you love word puzzles or you hate this game. I liked word puzzles enough for the first 10 challenges of this game. In those challenges I experienced great variety and a simple interface with well paced clues you don’t even have to ask for.

I do not like word puzzles that much though.

Ice Level Score: -10/10. Up front, game tells you all answers are between 4 and 7 letters. Therefore, it is impossible for any answer to be “ice”.


You Couldn’t Have Done That

Disclaimer: I play-tested this game.

As I told the author during my playtest, I thought this game was really effective. There are no autistic people in my life, so all my knowledge about autism is filtered through bad cultural preconceptions course-corrected crudely by The Discourse delivered via tweets or screenshots of tweets. This game gave me some insight into via a rather traumatic, unfortunately slice of life.

Since my original playtest, the author has added some coloured backgrounds which change based on the level of tension and fear in the scene. I like the idea, and I’ve seen in other reviews people really liking it, but I found the particular colours chosen made it a bit harder to read the text. Personally I preferred it with the white background but maybe it’s just a matter of chosing the right colours? The idea is cool.

Ice Level Score: 7/10. Much like an ice level, once you are moving, there is no way to stop.

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The Brutal Murder of Jenny Lee

Another one of the only parser game’s I’ve now played in my life, BMoJL is a short murder mystery where you play as an AI detective guided by a mysterious, omnipresent narrator to solve the case.

I really enjoyed the narrator’s interjections that arise as you’re investigating the rooms. It gives the game a sense of time and investment. Jenny Lee is nothing to me after all, but there’s someone accompanying me who cares (for reasons yet unknown). It made things feel more weighty, like the objects I am handling are not merely clues, but important objects in a now deceased girl’s life.

The game begins with a date puzzle which kind of interested me. I hoped that future rooms and acts would involve more detecting, but unfortunately it’s predominately “look at X” for each object in the room and when you see Important Object Y you’re wisked off to the next location.

The solution, too, is just a matter of looking at the key object that contains the solution.. It’s a real shame too because I actually figured out that the saxaphone with the missing keys were smuggled treasures and was waiting for the opportunity to use that knowledge to prove to the game I had solved something, but no such opportunity arrived.

I’m not well versed in Chinese history, but the Cultural Revolution plays a key role in this game which I thought was interesting. I wish this was developed more deeply because it was the part of the game I grabbed onto the most. There’s also a few other interesting things going on with the narrator and the real killer I won’t get into due to spoilers, but I also wished there was a bit more exploration of them. I also didn’t really understand how an AI detective running on a… game console? could discover new physical evidence in a simulation world….

Honestly the twist around who you doesn’t add much to the story. I think it kind of takes away from it? You have a motivation to escape the digital prison but the story is supposed to be about Jenny Lee and her relationship to Henry and her Dad.

Overall I liked a lot of the forces at play in this story I just felt it was underdeveloped. Game could have been longer and more in-depth and I would still be playing it!

Ice Level Score: 6/10. Feels like I’m skating through the resonant spaces of a woman’s life.


What the Bus?

A silly game about trying to get to work. I don’t have too much to say about this one. The imagery and absurdity are fun and absurd, but after an ending or two I didn’t feel that motivated to go on. I think this world would be fun in a larger game but I don’t think it is, in and of itself, enough to carry it this micro-story for me. I was kinda hoping there’d be something more when I finally unlocked all the endings but alas, no. The humor is very reminiscent of something like Fallen London, which I enjoy (at least, I enjoyed Sunless Sea) but it’s missing the meat for me.

But I guess that’s another way of me saying I want more? I did see some other reviewers get a lot of out of it though, so this game is clearly doing it for some people, which is cool.

Actually, now that I’m reflecting on it, I think what I would have really liked is one single, more fleshed out tale of a trip on this network. The 10 tiny stories is what didn’t do it for me.

Ice Level Rating: For all its crazy locales and weather, a scene with your train attempting to steer on ice was conspicuous in its absence.


The Copyright of Silence

The interface for this game is really cool. Not sure if other authors have already experimented with this kind of setup before, but I’ve never seen anything like it–never even thought of anything like it. The main display is a map of a house with four rooms with prose/dialogue appearing inside the rooms themselves. Easiest way to understand what that looks like is to boot up the game and take a look. You’ll understand what’s going on immediately. Very clear. Probably a huge pain to have setup in Twine.

The main objective of the game, as revealed after your first failure, is to create a silence of at least 7-something minutes. I played a couple times and did not manage it. Puzzle games of this nature that require repeated attempts are not really my jam, but the writing was and choices were really funny and the interface was super neat. I’d love to see more people try making games like this (without just stealing this game, obviously).

The only thing that bugged me about this game was that the scene refreshes every time you click a link. Part of this is probably because of how it was made in Twine: each passage having the same house image and they’re just transitioning between in each other. Not sure what you could do to improve that… There’s probably a way to add some CSS to disable the opacity transition between passages. I mention this only because it made it a bit of a pain to try it over and over again and click through content really quickly.

Anyway, if you’re into the “constrained space, many actions, only one clever route leads to victory” kind of IFs, this one should be in your shortlist!

Ice Level Rating: Fail to impress John Cage, and you’ll be on thin ice!



Very spooky! Babyface, a short and creepy Twine game, is a linear horror short story that uses sound and photos sparingly but to great effect to let you relive one of the author’s nightmares. Creepy throughout, lots of suspense, and good writing that is succinct but effective. Honestly, I thought the fly on my screen was real for a moment. Well done!. It also does some really cool effects with text animation. It ranks high for me on level of polish and presentation alone.

The story itself is great for a story of this length. It only really lost me at the end. I didn’t quite understand what was going on in the protagonists head. It’s possible I misunderstood the situation or missed a key implication. The protag finally confronts Babyface in him home. What was once frightening is revealed to be a sad, suffering, pathetic thing. The protagonist fights it, unprovoked, to take away the mask guarding its face. We’re told that “Looking at a thing uses it up” and that the protagonist is going to stare at it for as long as it takes… presumably to destroy it?

This lost me because
A) Seemed really weird that the protagonist was brave enough to do all this without a second thought. Yes they drift, almost as if summoned, up to the front door of the home but they seem completely in control once inside.

B) I kinda feel bad for Babyface? Why are we killing it? What did it do? Our father thinks it stole our Mother but… there’s really no sign of this. Just seems like a sad creature who is frightened of being seen because perhaps it literally destroys him to be witnessed. Protag feels evil here.

Anyway, maybe I missed something. Still really great though.

Ice Level Score: 10/10. Protagonist drifting toward the front door feels very ice level!


A Catalan Summer

tl;dr Joey’s review is basically everything I feel about this game but articulated far better than I likely will (Joey's IFComp 2020 reviews)

I’m very sad there was not more of this. This game has all the makings of a great piece of IF but there just isn’t quite… enough of it. You’ve got the politics of interwar Spain. You’ve got anarchists. You’ve got hidden tryst and family schisms. And all this is seen through the various perspectives of an old family that may need to change to survive. I found all this really engrossing, and I felt the perspective characters chosen were a great fit for the narrative. Unfortunately, I felt like the game didn’t sit long enough with any of these themes or characters to really do any of them justice.

This is not a review where I feel like the author lacked nuance or understanding or capacity to tackle any of these components. The talent and insight is there, there just wasn’t enough.

I basically agree entirely with Joey’s review here (Joey's IFComp 2020 reviews) though I think they articulate it far better (as seems to be their talent). So I’ll focus a bit more on somethings I found interesting that aren’t mentioned there.

I loved the way choices were framed in this game. It’s hard to be thrust into a game where you alternate between four characters who have very different relationships, goals and attitudes to and in the world. What got me right away was the way each choice was framed with a question.

How do you respond to that smashing entrance?
How do you respond to this impertinence?

With a question like that, I know exactly how my character feels about the other people in their life and the choice becomes “how would they deal with that.” From those questions, I got immediately that I’m unimpressed by my son and concerned about my daughter. As the perspective changes from one family member to the next, I was able to roleplay as each really easily and found the choices presented fun and engrossing.

There were a few times I felt I had not been given quite enough to care, though. For example, the father going to “The House” or the wife’s infatuation with the gardener’s son. I would have preferred to have seen more the tension in the marriage more before getting those choices because as it was I felt little reason to say yes to any of them. They needed some build up to feel important. This comes back to the game’s slimness I was mentioning above.

I would play the hell out of an expanded version of this.

Ice Level Ranking: This gag about ice level rankings has run its course. I am out of ideas. This was a good game.


Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos

Just going to hide this whole thing so I don't have to put it all in spoilers

I liked the animal thing. I liked having two animals following me around that I could talk to and could use to solve problems. I liked that I could just send my parrot after the fleeing evil dude and have him nab the keys out of his hand. I liked that the dog could lead me around to clues. I thought this was really cool.

What I didn’t like so much was that this wasn’t the whole game.

The mechanic is introduced in the back third of the game and in a confusing way (I mean, I guess suddenly being able to talk to animals is confusing). It was also so wacky and strange that it felt like it came out of nowhere. Maybe I misread the tone of this game’s intro wrong but it felt like a relatively serious detective drama with mildly irreverent protagonist. So when I got ambushed by snakes or threw a TV down a staircase to solve a puzzle, it didn’t really feel like a “fun romp” to me. I was scratching my head to figure out why my protagonist was smashing up a house he was ostensibly there to surveil. Then at the end I was dating a lady who I basically never talked to at all and knew nothing about?

I read other reviews of people liking this game, so I’m curious if maybe there’s conventions and expectations around the parser genre I’m not aware of. If maybe silly puzzles are to be expected and I just read the tone of the whole thing wrong. I went in thinking it was going to go deep on characters but instead it was more of a comedy adventure.

All that being said, I think the protagonist works, and as mentioned, the animal thing really works. I just didn’t really feel like I got to know anyone else. 9/10ths through you have a “now it’s personal” moment when the antagonist leaves your name written in blood on a bathroom mirror but at that point in the game you’ve
A) Never met him
B) I’m not even sure you’ve gotten his name yet
and C) You have no personal investment in the case. It’s just something a guy hired you to do one eve, followed by a day of light burglary. It’s not even clear what the stakes are. Is this guy going to take over the city? Or does he just like talking to animals.

Anyway, this is officially my 3rd parser game. In terms of that element, it does pretty good. I usually knew what to type and could have the game respond to my actions.

Except the bolts. I tried every combination of “unbolt”, “unwind”, “take off”, “remove” before I realized it was just “take bolts” and I didn’t even have to mention the wrench.



Thanks for taking the time to play and share your thoughts on our entry. Really appreciate the feedback!

– Mike


Really glad to hear that you like the interface! I haven’t seen any other authors experimenting with this kind of map setup, but who knows - maybe it’s common? There are so many gaming scenes and niches nowadays, that it is impossible to keep abreast of them all. My original idea was to set the game in a train with three cars, drawn side-view instead of overhead, and have the player solving puzzle while avoiding the conductor and other passengers.

The lagginess of the refreshing sure bugs me too. It was much quicker (though all the header passages I use do add some lag) when I just used css boxes for rooms, doors and furniture, but as soon as I added an image it all slowed down.

I recently tried (thanks to your suggestion!) to disable the opacity transition, but it didn’t seem to make any difference, I’m afraid. I have some other ideas, but I’m not sure I will be able to fix it. I love Twine but I don’t think I’m masochistic enough to use it if I’ll ever do a similar game…

Oh, and by the way :slight_smile: The silence you should aim for is less than 7 minutes.

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That’s so cool. Despite some of its flaws, I really liked The Last Express game. Trains are fun (though I understand there’s already one very popular train game in this contest that I have yet to play).

Haha yeah, I can only imagine what that Twine file looks like… Great work though. As I said, if I was more into that genre of puzzle game, it would be a real stand out pick for me.

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Minor Arcana

This was cool! A short Twine game about being a Tarot deck drifting through many hands and ages. It’s written kind of like a dream, with plenty of little choices about what sort of deck you are, aesthetically and thematically. I suspect many of these tiny choices do not adjust the story much, but they do a great job of investing you in your deck. I do not think I would have cared about my deck’s fate as much without the game calling attention to these little details. I felt sad about my fate. It’s interesting that, for an object whose power is the clairvoyance into other people’s fate, you have so little control of your own. You’re always at the mercy of your wielder, and your encounters with those who seek your vision are brief but evocative. I found myself wondering what became of them. I hope the radical’s death mattered for something..

Anyway, as I said, the game is short. I do not think it would work if it was very much longer, at least not without other changes. The writing style keeps you at a distance from the story, giving it the dreamlike style I mentioned above. You never feel “in the moment” but that works for this, because the story of your deck is so long. I mention all this, about how the game wouldn’t work if it was longer, simply because I think there’s a really cool idea here of being a tarot deck. In fact, in some ways this game feels like the prologue to such a game. It works on its own, for sure, but I can also see it as a sort of character creator/backstory generator. Idk. The author did a great job!


Oh, weird coincidence – I just finished playing this and posting my review, and while I think I maybe enjoyed it a little less than you did, I had the same impulse to view it as a sort of character-creation tool, and thought those choices on aesthetics and theme that you mention were really compelling!

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Yeah I just read yours. I think we pretty much agree on everything except how we felt about it all. I definitely think the game would be way better if there was more to it: more draws per customer, more variation and incorporation of your choices. I think I felt content at the end though. That being said, the game I had played just before was a long parser game that was not really doing it for me, so maybe I was just more relieved to hit something shorter.

I think the reason why I feel like I wouldn’t want it to be longer is because it’s mostly written in summary form. If the author wants to make this a longer story, they’d need to switch writing styles.

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Good points! Funnily enough I’d just had a series of other short, choice-based works right before playing MA, so probably that’s part of why I wanted something a bit meatier (this is among the reasons why I think the occasional proposals to segment the Comp along a parser/choice axis are a bad idea). And I see what you mean about writing style, and I think it wouldn’t necessarily need to be much longer – it’s more reactivity to the (excellent) opening choices that would have really bumped this one up for me.

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Thanks for playing Minor Arcana, and I’m glad that you enjoyed it!

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