Kastel's IFComp 2023 Reviews [All Reviews Done]

Citizen Makane by The Reverend

Citizen Makane may be the best deckbuilding adventure game based on The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane.


After an eerily familiar dream, you have awakened to a world where the male sex has been wiped out. Students, milkwomen, passersby – they’re all eager to find out how stiff Stiffy Makane really is. Even scientists are interested in your sexual prowess because it may provide insights into human evolution.

Just one small problem: you haven’t worked your genitalia in at least 267 years.


To get you back up to speed, the game gives you some simple adventure game objectives. You help (and bang) people: a librarian wants to expand her collection of taboo books; a priestess believes the chalice has been stolen by a beloved philanthropist; and the milkwomen want to extract your male milk and sell it on the market. These tasks may or may not be available depending on the day, but there are no deadlines in the game.


However, some missions are gated based on your sexual stamina level. If you try something intense from the start, you’ll only make a mess and embarrass yourself. You gotta start slow: wait for a woman to look at you as you travel between town, engage in a conversation, and bring out your deckbuilder. Much like real sex, the game involves collecting and using cards that are scattered around town and hidden in quests. You can wield three cards at a time during an encounter; each card can be submissive or dominant and there are ratings that indicate the amount of pleasure you versus what your partner get. The goal is to simultaneous orgasm (and maybe a little more!), but the beginning is an exercise on humility – you may have to ejaculate before your partner even feels anything. As long as you don’t make a mess of yourself, you’ll earn EXP. The more skilled you are at pleasuring each other, the more EXP – just like how I remember my RPGs.


The entire game had me laughing and enthralled from start to finish. I really enjoyed the witty writing: it never gets old because it keeps juggling different kinds of sex jokes and the comedic timing is varied enough. The prose is also clean and the plot always moves forward, especially if you know how to optimize the sex gains. Honestly, I can’t get enough of the raunchy and amusing writing.


But by the end of the game, I became somehow emotionally invested in this strange setting and the relationship between the two main characters. For a game that revels in bawdiness, I didn’t expect such tender and emotional writing. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense: this game has foreshadowed that it’ll be tackling uncomfortable misogyny present in the original Stiffy Makane and other adult games. No matter how many consenting women there are in this game, we cannot undo Makane’s shooting of Pamela. Not only do we see it in the introduction, but in certain sexual encounters, our player character tries to go on a date with one of his liaisons, only to be rebuffed because she’s only interested in his technology. He can only relate with a partner through sex and that’s why he’s so lonely. And the final action the player might be the best answer to his unquenchable longing because it respects him and the history of the Stiffy Makane games. Perhaps, the ribaldry makes the few nice scenes even sweeter. It adds emotional weight to the overall message about sex and turns the game into a fascinating character study of one of the best characters interactive fiction has to offer.

Citizen Makane is an incredible game that lives up to its name. I had so much fun that I wished the game was longer and more substantial, but I knew that brevity and polish made for the best stuff. Orson Welles would have been so honored to have such a wonderful game named after his mediocre movie.


(A few more spoilers please? :pray: Thanks!)

I ended up being unsure how to add spoilers for this review, so there you go lol.

EDIT: I’ve made plentiful use of the “more details” feature and spoilers to give readers more agency on what they choose to read. Hopefully, it’s much better.


Thanks for the review. Glad you enjoyed it!


It’s an unbelievable debut work. I had erroneously assumed a veteran had taken up a pseudonym and took the polished prose for granted. I’ve also just checked your Introducing Ourselves entry and I’m utterly flabbergasted how you subtly mentioned Citizen Makane there:

I’m excited to see what your next game will be!


Dr Ludwig and the Devil by SV Linwood

If someone asked me which parser games with puzzles would be good for beginners, I would wait until the clock struck midnight, laugh like a mad scientist on the Discord voice call, and point to this game.

Dr. Ludwig’s only goal was to create life, but his repeated failures had led him to seek help from the Devil. But as the Grand Grimoire warned, beware of the Devil’s contract and look for any loopholes! He’s not going to sell his soul right just when he’s on the verge of a new scientific discovery – that would suck.

Much of the comedy plays with the popular imagination of the mad scientist and the 1931 Frankenstein movie. For instance, the Torch and Pitchfork Society tried to make Dr. Ludwig sign a reasonable charter to be a less annoying and more cordial neighbor. But Dr. Ludwig refused, preferring to get excited about picking up shovels (“The shovel was mine! All mine!”). The problems the characters face are also very similar to our own: queer love, lack of free time, and the question of unionization for better working conditions. These playful gestures aren’t profound or anything, but they’re certainly very funny.

Not only is the humor quite enjoyable, but it also alleviates the usual frustration that comes with parser titles. It follows the wisdom of other beginner-friendly games like Lost Pig: instead of punishing you with error messages, it rewards you with some musings of Ludwig. The overall map is also quite small and the hint system is convenient and easy to use.

What makes the game stand out is how the game juggles conversational mechanics with puzzles. Most of the puzzles are classic object-hunting puzzles, but they’re gated behind conversation topics. The game is thus able to carefully drip the most relevant information to the player at appropriate moments. I find this approach refreshing since most new players feel overwhelmed by the many moving parts of parser games. Though it sacrifices mechanical depth, later puzzles build on earlier ones and this helps keep the story moving forward.

It’s impressive that Dr. Ludwig and the Devil has somehow managed to appeal to both the sensibilities of new and experienced players. Everyone will probably enjoy it because the puzzles, implementation, and writing are consistently high quality. It captures what makes puzzle parser games so much fun in a matter of an hour and a bit more.

I hope this isn’t the end of Dr. Ludwig. He’s such a compelling character that I would love to see him take on more genre movie cliches. As the youngsters would say, let him cook.


Assembly by Ben Kirwin

This game is a box of good ideas.

All of the puzzles revolve around following IKEA instruction manuals in interesting ways. They don’t test your general puzzle-solving skills but rather how well you understand the logic of the world. If you’re able to internalize it, solving the puzzles feels effortless.

Every eureka moment I had deepened my appreciation of this game. It understood and exploited the greatest strength of text-only games: the ability to conjure up truly strange images. The fact it was all my doing made it better. And I also thought the gimmick didn’t wear out its welcome either; it was explored just enough to feel satisfying and to keep the narrative moving forward.

While the game was never going to focus on the story, the writing and the action were quite engaging. I was curious about the world and the tantalizing little details we got seem to evoke a larger cosmology.

Assembly is a humble work of genius. For such a simple conceit, the game unfolds in so many surprising ways and I can’t stress enough how clever the game is. It’s a clean and refined game that’s easy to get into unlike the furniture it’s inspired by.


Good review, I had very similar thoughts!


I didn’t pick up on this! Glad I read your review.

Edit: Looking back, I’m not sure…it sounds a little to me like he’s on a phone call with the other person not visible, or something. Like a voice chat. I wonder if it’s ambiguous? She says:

What has gotten into you? Person on the other end, whoever you are, is my dad being like super-weird right now?

BTW I read your review several times because it helped me process my thoughts. Very well-written!

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Hmm, you might be right. I’m going to update this review because that’s an interpretation of mine and I want to make that clear. But I do wonder who we are. Assuming we are indeed on a call, are we just a close friend of Ed? Someone who shares the same hobbies of interactive fiction but much older than the protagonists of And Then You Went into a House? What is Ed trying to convey to us then by making us relive his trauma? I guess if we are actually real, it adds to the feeling that he made us undergo something that’s just unnecessary.

Anyway, I’m glad to hear that my review help you process your thoughts. I know the game did something to me and I had to write it in order to understand what I was feeling!


Thank you for your thoughtful review. I’m touched by how impactful the exhibits seem to be for you. I also didn’t consciously realize that I put my pronouns more on my notebooks/folders as things went along, but it makes a lot of sense!
I’m sorry to hear you also have post-Covid symptoms. But I’m glad my thoughts on recovery resonate with you.


I’m nearing the end of the IFComp 2023 games, and I thought I should write some batches of short reviews (more like impressions) of the games I didn’t write about in the thread. They’ll all be short because I basically had little to say about them – this is not to say that these games are bad or not worth playing. Some of the games I neglected to write about are titles I liked. I just don’t see how a full-length review would add much when I can summarize my thoughts in a few lines.

So, without further ado:

Fix Your Mother’s Printer: While the mother character has personality, I don’t really find the connection between the player character and her engaging. Most of the topics brought up feel like exposition, and the sarcastic responses offered by the PC don’t really resonate with me. This might be a me problem. I come from an East Asian family, and family dynamics here are different, I guess. I also think the dialog is too meandering for my taste.

The Ship: This game is ambitious, but I’m not sure it can carry its own weight. It starts with fetch quests that suddenly reward you with achievements left and right. Once you get to the twist, the game doesn’t open up so much as it gets bogged down with new types of puzzles. There’s too many of them; you don’t even get breathing space. And the writing isn’t polished either: there’s dangling modifiers, the dialog feels too one-note especially in script form, and the descriptions don’t really add much to the setting. I wasn’t sure what to make of the ending either, though I never got all the achievements to see the epilogue.

The Paper Magician: The story is okay for what it is. The map is the most interesting feature of the game because navigating it is counterintuitive for parser players. It’s cute and interesting enough to give it a go.

The Long Kill: I have a hard time reading long passages of violence like this. After reading reviews by other people, I could try it again. But the hard-boiled writing doesn’t really gel with me.

Trail Stash: It’s an offbeat game that has some interesting puzzles and exploration. It didn’t leave an impression on me, but I had some fun with it.

Lake Starlight: The game seems to be a YA work on Indigenous ideas and I honestly would’ve liked to see this pan out because it’s doing something interesting. I hope the writer continues writing and refine their ideas.

To Sea in a Sieve: I really enjoyed this one-room puzzle game. The premise is very novel and the solutions are clever. I found it personally satisfying to kick that damn plant into the sea. One bug: my brain farted and I tried to > bail when my bucket was full of gold. The gold disappeared and I thought I was progressing until I realized I just softlocked myself. I definitely want to play the next game in the series after IFComp.

There’s more to come, but I have other things to do – like play the rest of IFComp.


Hi Kastel, thanks for reviewing my game! I’m sorry you encountered a bug — this has now been fixed — but I’m glad you enjoyed the game overall!


Hi there @Kastel, as the author of The Long Kill I’d say not to feel too pressed to give it another go.

The comp has a really nice celebratory feel all round and I’d hate to think I was bringing the mood down for you!

You having given it a go is plenty for me, please do spend the time finding games that bring you some joy!


Another batch of reviews coming up:

Dysfluent: This game simulates the life of a person who stutters. While I was initially put off by the heavy use of timed text, the novelty of the color-coded choices made the scenarios very interesting; I had to strategize and balance the protagonist’s anxiety with the message I was trying to convey. Although the game is “unfun”, I ended up reflecting on the game and found it to be a really educational experience that helped me understand the strategies people will use. It also taught me a thing or two about “covert stuttering”. There are a few parts that strike me as corny – the game asks for my favorite food/movie and Twine text shaking just bothers me more than anything – but it’s definitely a game I ended up liking.

20 Exchange Place: The writing is too uneven for me to get into the action. Random words like “Interrupt” and “Robbers” are capitalized for no good reason. Cursing is also censored (h***) in a way that makes the hardboiled atmosphere look silly.

Beat Witch: I couldn’t tell what was going on because any attempts at worldbuilding or exposition flew past me so quickly. It’s an interesting parser game at least.

Meritocracy: For a game exploring philosophy, this doesn’t go beyond high school debate club territories. The protagonist is also too “perfect” in uninteresting ways.

The Sculptor: An alright game that toys with the morality and economical value of art but doesn’t go beyond black-and-white thinking.

Death on the Stormrider: This parser game is doing something interesting because it feels like what if you took Deadline’s wandering NPCs and put them into an actual puzzle. It’s very satisfying when you figure out which role a character has. However, I found navigating the game a chore because of the map layout. Even with the map at hand, I still felt like I was bumping into walls left and right. You’ll definitely catch me play the post-IFComp version afterwards.

Artful Deceit: A merciful (Zarfian) Commodore 64 homage to detective games like Deadline, it stays in its lane and doesn’t attempt to do anything new. I respect it for that.

In retrospect, I should have published these batches between my longer-form reviews. I’ll do it in future review threads.


Thanks a lot for your thoughts on Dysfluent!
You definitely captured what I was aiming for with the game’s theme and mechanics, and it makes me really happy to hear that it’s having the intended effect (though there’s certainly room for improvement!)


Paintball Wizard: I found the UI difficult to use and I was stuck early on until I realized I had to enter the minds of people and roleplay their traumatic backstories in order to get new spells. That part was honestly and disturbing to me since you never got their consent – they seem way too chill after the fact. The frat setting is also … just weird to me.

For Eternity, Again and Again: I don’t have much to say because there isn’t much to work off from.

Last Valentine’s Day: While the game has some stilted writing, the loop story makes the message really stand out for me. It’s a novel way to tell a story about moving on after a breakup. The Orpheus myth is also a clever addition since it adds a few layers to the story but not much more.

Help! I Can’t Find My Glasses!: Since the game will be expanded in the future, all I can say is the title made me think it’s an investigation game. It was strange to see the mystery solved so quickly.

Lonehouse: The prose is rough, but I think it captures grief well. Personally, I think the detached perspective works for me because people can articulate their thoughts in softer ways. I do think the game should’ve gone harder in its specificity: the items could stand a bit more scrutiny in particular.

The Engima of Solaris: Nothing noteworthy except it’s a hastily written prologue to a story I don’t care for (despite being into pulp SF) and most people in the reviews keep spelling it as enigma.

Have Orb, Will Travel: It’s taking cues from the Enchanter trilogy, which I like. But the custom parser is quite fiddly (one has to type > get key from table, not get key), the lack of formatting in room descriptions makes it quite easy to miss exits, the puzzles feel underclued, and the prose is convoluted. However, it’s a nice homage to the Infocom games and people who have fond memories of them should check this out a bit.


Last Vestiges: The adventure game logic of turning on a lamp to reveal a nonogram that will help unlock the phone screen doesn’t sit well with me, especially since it’s meant to be a medical education game. It’s also weird that the player character (some outsider detective) would solve this crime and not someone doing autopsies or toxicology. I guess I have a hard time suspending my disbelief with this one.

The Whale’s Keeper: I have difficulty following the story in a chat client format. The sanity stuff also irks me.

Into the Lion’s Mouth: I’m confused by the game’s usage of facts, meta-commentary, and a YouTube video where 5 year old Chinese girl hypnotizes 5 kinds of animals in reality show. I don’t know what is exactly relevant.

Please Sign Here: The game might be trying its hands at something big as other reviews suggest, but it fumbles at many critical moments. The prose doesn’t help, though I like the art a fair bit.

GameCeption: While it doesn’t go beyond its battle royale inspirations, I found the game to be quite fun and engaging. The game knows when to be interactive. The execution is so good that I didn’t care how predictable the plot and ending will be. It’s just good fun.

Bright Brave Knight Knave: As someone who’s terrible at rhyming and made extensive use of the walkthrough, I enjoyed this game because it embraces its identity and just has fun with the premise. The rhyming puzzles are enjoyably silly and I found the homage to a writer who isn’t with us anymore touching. It’s a game brimming with the personality and the imagination of the author, so it feels as intimate as a memoir. I’ve always appreciated games like this because it’s like the designer is opening up to us and asking us to share their sense of humor. I will always gladly accept any invitation to laugh alongside the game.

LUNIUM: I found the UI cumbersome to type in the key engravings in order to use a specific key. The candle burning out is a minor annoyance too. But I’m also pretty biased against the entire escape-the-room genre as a whole because it’s all about figuring obscure object puzzles out, which I’ll never be a fan of. That said, I found the hint system really good here: it tells you if you have enough items to solve a puzzle and doesn’t increment your hint counter if you check that part at least. I think most adventure games will benefit having an opt-in system like this. As for the mystery, I suppose I read too many mysteries to not be surprised by the culprit. I think the motivation is novel, but it raises the questions like how did the puzzles go back to where they after the culprit forgets and why not just destroy the keys entirely? This feels like a convoluted way to keep yourself locked in, plus it allows the player character to go after someone in the suspect list. It’s an alright game, but there are parts that bother me enough that I can’t enjoy it.


I mentioned in my review that the ending justifies (or attempts to) the incongruities of the escape-game genre: keys and lists lying around when the one who imprisoned the player in the first place could have just tossed those in the nearest sewer.
I felt that the ending (the final choice) made it at least plausible that man and beast were close to equally powerful in the protagonist’s mind, so he kept a backdoor open (subconsciously keeping keys and clues nearby?) to go back on his decision, as man, of locking away the beast.


In the Details: While it has a promising premise, the game peters out as soon as the writing got interesting. I hope the writer revisits the game to flesh out their ideas.

My Brother; The Parasite: This game is about hatred and the disgust of said hatred. It explores the contradictions of sibling affection, especially in the face of a history of abuse and neglect. It’s a powerful work using body horror to make a point. I do wish the game was easier to read (small fonts, low contrast links, relatively long loading times for assets to pop in, flashing images).

We All Fall Together: The details are too generic, so the ending didn’t work with me.

The Vambrace of Destiny: A fun and beefy puzzle crawler that has some clever optional puzzles. My only issue is that one gem – the one that pulls tapped items from other locations – added too much overwhelming complexity for a game that embraces simplicity.

The Witch: This “old-school” game was too difficult for me, so I ended up reading the transcript, which also served as the walkthrough. The writing is clean, but I get the feeling it’s too under-clued to make any progress. At the same time, it also captures the vibes of pre-Infocom games. I think people who enjoyed early adventure games like ADVENT and Scott Adams’s games might be interested in this one.

Who Iced Mayor McFreeze?: I found the lack of paragraph breaks difficult to read in an otherwise okay puzzle game. The puzzles also don’t feel like they’re exploiting the uniqueness of the setting (I believe this is part of a series?). Great title, though.

A Thing of Wretchedness: As someone who enjoys horror not for the scary bits but for the suspense of turning everyday activities into something uncanny and unnerving, I found this game riveting at first. The central conflict of the game is great: what should the player character do with this Thing that keeps crawling around the house? The game calls itself a “sandbox” game because there are several endings revolving around this dilemma. The Thing acts like a feral pet and will attack furniture and other objects if they’re in the mood or if you have somehow aggravated them. It’s a really interesting take on the anxieties of a pet owner or animal handler trying to put down an animal they care for. Unfortunately, I found parts of the game frustrating towards the end of my session and the plot feels underbaked. To get the third ending, the Thing has to destroy the cupboard for the key to the workshop and that requires a lot of luck. You can whistle and poison the Thing all you want, but they might not “behave” the way you want them to. They might just go after something else entirely. The game can also end if too many turns have passed, so you have to optimize the behavior of the Thing as much as possible. I find this pretty annoying and the Thing loses its luster because I can’t see it as a dynamic NPC but as a mechanic to be manipulated. Once you’re able to enter the workshop, you get a mysterious item that might make more sense if you played the other game in this setting. But I felt that not only did it not add much context to the game, but it also gave away the identity of the thing. I sometimes think about how stories – especially genre works – could have the most intriguing setup that captures my imagination but end up being less interesting than what I had in mind. I’d rather be left pondering what the game means than have an answer that suggests there’s only one correct interpretation.