Jim Nelson's Spring Thing 2023 emporium

My first stop with Spring Thing 2023 is to boldly beam bare-bottomed behind beastly bouquets of botanicals:

Beat Me Up Scotty by Jkj Yuio

A lighthearted word-oriented game where you, a captain of a starship and dressed in “wussy yellow,” find yourself in vaguely uncomfortable situations you must extricate yourself from by uttering an iconic sci-fi TV catchphrase.

Although it presents itself like a parser game, this effort really doesn’t have much in the way of parser mechanics. The solution for each situation is merely to type in the iconic catchphrase but replacing its first word with another that starts with the letter ‘B’.

Although I’m a diehard fan of the TV franchise the game’s opening claims it has no connection to, Beat Me Up Scotty isn’t my cup of raktajino. The humor is light; the pace is brisk; the sound effects are used sparingly, mostly as correct/wrong buzzers, much like a game show. Those elements keep it amusing, but it’s pretty lightweight otherwise. The solutions range from fairly obvious to at least one word I never heard of before (I only found it by checking a thesaurus). That’s a plus, I suppose.

In fact, the best hint I can offer anyone who plays this (and is more or less suggested by the in-game HINT command) is to have a thesaurus handy.


That’s actually BeaT me up, Scotty


Nice review, thanks Jim. Yes, it’s meant to be quite silly and run a bit like a quiz show. Using the parser works, but won’t get you anywhere in the game :slight_smile:


Just to add, i think the idea of “catchphrase” game is new. A lot of people are confused until they “get it”. The intro tries to explain what you have to do as clear as i could make it.


My bad. I corrected the review.

I will say, the intro gave me a clear idea of what to do. I had no problem with that. Finding the right B-words was the challenge.


The Kuolema by Ben Jackson

The calling card of The Kuolema is how it’s authored in Google Forms, which is nutty and impressive in its own right. However, it’s no novelty act—this is a high-quality effort that doesn’t let up until the very last page (er, form). The Kuolema hearkens back to the great graphic adventures of the 1990s, but without changing CD-ROMs between acts. I needed two sittings to play through to the end, and found myself looking forward to getting back to the game in-between the sessions. It grabbed me.

You take the role of an agent dropped by helicopter onto the bridge of a science research ship in the stormy South China seas. The Kuolema, owned by a European corporation, is no longer answering radio hails and drifting into Chinese waters. You soon discover the ship is all-but-abandoned, and you’re locked out of the navigational controls.

It’s a tried-and-true setup: A lone adventurer in a compact map exploring their surroundings and piecing together the backstory via notes, memoranda, diaries, and so forth. The game offers a combination of solid, if workmanlike, prose, complemented by high-quality still graphics depicting rooms, found items, and other details. Together they create an atmosphere that is creepy and claustrophobic. Suspense drips out gradually, a steady accretion of developments that suggest all is not as it seems on this research ship.

Although the setup is a bit stock—echoes of Babel, or The Stanley Project, or numerous other adventures set in creepy abandoned laboratories, space stations, and so on—the pace of the game, the quality of the writing and stills, and the mild difficulty of the puzzles stoked my interest. There were a couple of unexpected plot twists along the way, which kept me on my toes. While the bulk of the game is exploration and solving puzzles, the endgame is more character-based, and asks the player to consider what they’ve seen and read since the beginning.

Google Forms is not an ideal authoring tool, but the author proves how much mileage can be had from it. That said, there’s a good deal of information that’s best tracked manually. You’ll want to have a notepad or a separate window open to keep notes. Fortunately, mapping is not an issue, as the game provides superbly-rendered maps to ease navigation.

I managed to set my progress back—twice—by pressing the browser “Back” button rather than use the back button provided within the forms. It wasn’t catastrophic, just slightly annoying (and required me to curb some browser muscle-memory while playing). Maintaining a full game state in Forms must have been crazy-hard to design, but it’s not perfect, and so some descriptions do not change to reflect changes to the game world. (Still, the fact that the game is thorough enough to maintain as much state as it does shows the amount of work the author put into it.)

From a story perspective, while there were some nice twists and turns, I found the ending to be telegraphed. There’s a side plot about evil corporations against a backdrop of world superpowers vying for technical superiority—it adds a little depth, sure, but unfortunately it’s all been done before. The ramifications of the research ship’s science is more novel, though, and reminded me of Ice-Nine from Cat’s Cradle.

What can I say? I was enthralled. The Kuolema offers a ripping story about the best laid plans of men, and even ends with a blockbuster conclusion. It also asks for you to make a couple of thoughtful decisions along the way, which is refreshing too.


Hi Jim, great review, thanks so much for playing it all the way through, and writing your thoughts so eloquently!


Marie Waits by Dee Cooke

I have a pet theory that Americans who call themselves Anglophiles are kind of like people who say they love movies: We all love movies in some way. The question is the kind of movie that draws you in. Likewise, I think all Americans are Anglophiles in some capacity, it just depends on what element of British culture you’re attracted to. For some, it’s British popular music. For others, it’s the glamour and gossip of the royal family.

It’s the English village crime/mystery story which fascinates me. At one point or another, every British sleuth, from Sherlock Holmes to Poirot to Inspector Morse, finds themself facing an English village shopkeeper, or snooping through an English manor’s overgrown garden, or at the village pub buying a pint for the local wag. The folksy and cheery charms of the village mystery is uniquely English, even if the subject matter is morbid.

That’s why I looked forward to Dee Cooke’s latest. Previously I was wowwed by Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge for all those Anglophilic reasons described above: A decaying family home, a cast of local busybodies, and the submerged secrets stirred to the surface by a plucky young protagonist. The mystery had a lot of character and a lot of personal moments mixed in with the usual adventure game fare of snooping around and collecting details. There’s good reasons Houghtonbridge took third place in last year’s ParserComp and claimed a clutch of prizes in the recent IFDB Awards.

Marie Waits offers similar fare: You are Marie, a young woman from the (fictional?) town of Crossley, England. You’ve been captured by a group known as Farr North after your investigation draws a little too close to them and their operations. The game opens with you tied up at the bottom of a pit “in a small hut in the middle of Nowhere, Essex.” Your captors vow to return in two hours and thirty minutes to finish you off. Your goal is fairly obvious: Get the hell out of there.

According to Cooke’s notes, this game is part of a currently incomplete series that starts with 2020’s Pre-Marie. As such, the story line feels ragged when played standalone. It’s apparent there’s a lot of backstory here, but even upon completion of the game, I didn’t feel I truly understood the import of all that transpired. It pretty much is an escape game with a turn limit, which blunted the emotional impact of the final winning moment.

Alas, the English village charms I looked forward to didn’t materialize. The game is heavily restricted to escaping from said hut and reaching civilization by way of a dark forest. You bump into dead bodies along the way, but their relationship to Marie and her plight were less-characterized than one would hope. (One unlucky soul was apparently a rando in the wrong place at the wrong time.). The room descriptions are perfunctory and sparse, and the puzzles are solved in serial fashion. The most human moments come from a series of notes you find along the way.

The first play-through, I ran out of time. I believe most moves count as a minute, meaning I chewed up a lot of free time with my nervous tic of typing >X to look around when I’m fishing for ideas. My second attempt, I managed to finish with time to spare, although I was basically speed-running through the first two-thirds of the game. The timer obviously imparts a sense of urgency to the situation, but it wound up feeling forced. The use of time was much better managed in Houghtonbridge, where its passing was used for appointments with characters and events transpiring elsewhere in town.

I found myself playing guess-the-verb on a few occasions. Reliance on default messages and the like gives the game an unfinished feel, such as how the usable items in this location are described twice:

You are in a small, high-walled yard. To the north is one side of the standalone hut that comprises the wooden room, including its door. To the west is a rickety-looking shed, also with a door, painted green. The other two sides of the yard are blocked by high stone walls, with a high, solid gate in the southwest corner between the wall and the shed.

You can also see a green door, a wooden door and a gate here.

There’s a surprising number of keys, doors, and locks considering how small this game is. It left an aftertaste of adventure games from my youth, where blue keys opened blue doors, and so on.

I’m truly torn; this is a title I definitely wanted to like. I still think it could have been more than the sum of its parts if the emphases had been different. But the reliance on old-school puzzle mechanics, a constrained vision of story scope, and a lack of polish left me flat. Marie Waits feels rushed, much like the protagonist is in her escape, which is too bad.


Thanks for your review Jim. You bring up a number of fair points about dissonance - I was trying to create a classic-style puzzler while also trying to write part of a story (where only I know the whole story) in a way that would make sense to players - and maybe it was trying to be too many things at once. (I think you might enjoy the eventual ‘main’ game more - I really need to get that one finished!).


Reaching back to the Kuolema review:

Glad to hear it was not fatal. This fear was lurking behind every move of the mouse during my play.


I’m sure I will, Dee. Looking forward to it!

Although Google Forms seems stateless, that’s not entirely correct: The system remembers your last choice if you visited the form previously. That made replaying sections of the game much quicker, since all I had to do was keep clicking Ok to get back to where I left off.


Red Door Yellow Door by Charm Cochran

Looking over my review of the last Charm Cochran game I played, You May Not Escape!, I now think I may have lowballed it: While I maintain that the maze navigation was a bit of a slog, as the months have passed I’ve found myself thinking back on the striking imagery found in the labyrinth. There’s the patronizing LED signs, for example, and the grim gravesite markers, not to mention the “off” dialogue between the player and the maze-keeper at the start.

So, I’m not surprised to have experienced a similar set of odd resonances and striking imagery in Red Door Yellow Door.

The game launches into the thick of things. You are teenager Emily, older sister to Claire, and joined on the living room floor with friends Jen and Tiffany. The sleepover centers on a game, something like Ouija but more invasive. After you’ve explained the “rules” to Claire, you rub her temples and send her into a lucid dream state. From there, the game places you in a liminal space between the reality of the suburban living room and the netherworld Claire explores at your behest.

From a narratological perspective, RDYD operates much like the superb Closure. In that game, the command parser acts as text messages between you and your friend. In RDYD, you are feeding instructions to sister Claire, who reports her dreamworld to you while bored Jen and Tiff look on and check their phones.

RDYD operates on a more symbolic and psychological level, though, approaching something like a David Lynch film in its most unsettling moments. Much like science fiction’s acts of defamiliarization, Lynch’s horrors often work by his characters mildly accepting something utterly unsettling to the viewer—or, his characters being devastated by an image otherwise plain and unremarkable to us.

RDYD has a number of these moments, including a character speaking in voices, moments of calm suddenly turning to terror, and—weirdest of all—activating a device in the dream world causing one of the real-world teenage onlookers to speak gibberish. The rules offered at the start are equally strange and Lynchian (“Avoid any room with clocks, because they can trap you”). And, of course, there’s the power dynamics of an older sister guiding her younger sibling down this rabbit hole. (There are moments when the other girls urge you to end the session. It was unsettling as I talked them out of it so I could keep playing.)

Part of me wishes the dreamworld was described in a voice more unique to Claire, but I admit, the matter-of-fact tone IF is so famous for (“A sturdy door is to the north, while the kitchen is to the east”) plays well against the heightened sense of terror that pops up at you. The hoary problem of dark rooms requiring a light source is here, but unlike Zork et al., bringing a light into those spaces is used to devastating effect.

I had to stick with this one; there were long stretches of exploration where I felt untethered from any sense of forward motion or purpose. I played through to two endings, one horrible (and a little sudden—I’m still unsure what happened), one mundane and happy, if unsatisfying. I’m certain there’s at least one more ending, but I ran out of time and need to move back to the Spring Thing list. Perhaps I’ll get back to finding that third path.