Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter (call for reviews)

Now that Secret Letter is free, I feel no shame in asking people to play the game and write a review. As much support as some of the crappiest games ever written get, a once commercial game by long-standing IF contributors deserves better treatment. If you can take the time to play all 200+ of the various competition games in the last six years, you can play Secret Letter.

Add it to your play list. Eviscerate it if you must. But play it and review it.


textfyre.itch.io/jack-toresal-an … ret-letter

David Cornelson

Will do!

EDIT: Just wanted to make sure, but AFAIK there’s no way to transfer Silverlight isolated storage files from one computer to another. In other words, if I start playing JTatSL on a computer, I can’t switch to another one when I’m using the deluxe (Silverlight enabled) edition. Correct? It’s not a big deal; the interface is beautiful enough to be worth it, just wanted to see if you knew a way.

Seconding David. This game was criminally under-discussed when it came out; a luminary like Michael Gentry deserves better. Give it a try!

So I just finished Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter, and:

It’s actually pretty good. You should go play it.

The best short description I can come up with is: “The Anchorhead guy writes Pytho’s Mask as a classic boy-adventure novel.” It’s not perfect, but it’s a rolicking good yarn and a lot of fun. I imagine it placing second or third in the Comp. If it had been better-known when it was released, it could have gotten a nod for Best Story or Best Individual PC come XYZZY season.

(Don’t expect strong puzzles, though. It’s unashamedly an easy, linear story game.)

Full commentary to follow.


Whatever else you might say, this story is fun.

It’s like a rolicking boy-adventure novel, with elements of romance and character drama. Running along rooftops! Exploring secret passages with your crush! Going to a ball! All told with the breathless uncertainty of a plucky but out-of-their-depth orphan, who doesn’t quite know if they will make that jump… The twists are all pretty obvious, but really, what did you want to happen? This is how stories like this are supposed to go. It’s a pulpy children’s adventure story, and it sticks to the mold.

Some themes are surprisingly mature for a work aimed at children: infidelity, murder, and so forth. The player is also expected to engage in rampant theft, the repercussions of which are glossed over. It’s an odd choice, but an interesting one: you can’t win by being a Good Honest Hardworking Fictional Orphan.

But, fair warning: the ending is frustrating. Jack Toresal was intended to be the first in a series, so it intentionally ends on a cliffhanger. In some ways, though, the irritation of the ending is a testament to the strength of the game: I really wanted to dive back into the world of Miradania, but I couldn’t. Now that Jack Toresal is free, though, this might be a prime candidate for the sort of fanfic-franchising Marco Innocenti did with the Andromeda series. Write me more Jack Toresal, and I will play it.

Writing and Setting

Gentry is a talented writer, and it shows. His knack for mood and slow revelation, made famous by Anchorhead, is evident here.

NPCs are strongly characterized, but their quirks sometimes feel overdone to the point of caricature. The arms dealer is sullen and shifty; the butcher gesticulates enthusiastically with his cleaver. As a genre convention, this isn’t necessarily a problem, but after Bobby winks and grins for the nineteenth time it can become a little tiring. More depth emerges as the game proceeds, however.

Environments and objects are heavily condensed, to the point where an entire mansion might consist of five or six rooms and a few objects. Actions are also condensed - to take a bath, you needn’t fiddle with taps; just type TAKE A BATH, and the entire event happens at once. This has pros and cons. It’s much easier to implement and debug, and can allow for more artistic focus, but loses a sense of depth and free exploration.

On the flip side, Jack Toresal illustrates that immersion doesn’t necessarily require detailed simulation. An single artful room description can make a location feel more colorful and crowded than a flock of fully-implemented NPCs.


On a scale of “unusable” to “bulletproof,” Jack Toresal is “Ikea.” It’s well-designed and holds together well enough for everyday purposes, but it’s uninspired and sometimes wobbles a bit.

Right off the bat, I encountered a guess-the-verb problem. “Climb the boxes” doesn’t work, but “up” does. A bad first impression, but for the most part, problems like this are rare. Gentry puts a lot of thought into making things easy for the player: if you enter a room by going SE, for example, you can usually exit by going W or N as well as back NW. Fairly complicated commands work seamlessly.

There is some unimplemented scenery, mostly things mentioned in passing (e.g. “covered by a sheet”). However, players learn quickly that scenery is rarely important, so this does not break mimesis as much as it might.

More beta testing on first-time IF players would have been helpful; for example, there were a few times where you’d have no idea what to do unless you Examined the right thing. An experienced IF player would never have a problem with this, but a newbie might, particularly since the rest of the game sends the signal that Examining is rarely necessary. There were also a number of times where I knew what do to, but it took a lot of fiddling to figure out how to do it, which is not an ideal experience.


Jack Toresal is a criminally overlooked game. It’s the last release from an acclaimed IF luminary before he disappeared from the scene, and a major studio release in an era when major studio releases were thought to be extinct. But more importantly, it’s fun - not perfect, but fun. Now that it’s free, it’s definitely worth a play.

Can you add this review to IFDB?

He did, simultaneous with this post, it seems.