Well, right, I mean, I read the end, too. But it’s another joke, not really a deduction, and it doesn’t quite hold up under the rules of a different game that had a serious side to it. Namely, why do we think those are the only suspects? What was the killer’s motivation? Might the killer have been working for someone else? I’ll grant you it’s possible (though, I believe, unlikely) that someone could have noticed the clue on their own. But I do think that in order to do so, you had to be looking for another joke, and not a clue, per se.
This was not my game. I generally have a low tolerance for poetry, and this game is nothing but poetry, like, reams and reams of it. Its attempts to be metaphorical, for me, fall over the line to unintelligible, instead. As I played, I realized I was mostly just clicking the first un-visited link, and thought, “This is not a great design, because there’s no reason to pick one thing to click over another; any of them have a roughly equal chance of being just as interesting as anything else.” Then as I progressed, it became clear that the order of clicking the links actually matters, and you have to do some things before other things, and I thought “Geez, this is terrible; now I have to keep track of which nonsensical thing is behind which nonsensical link.” Then I realized the inherent contradiction in those two thoughts, and decided that my actual problem was simply that I Didn’t Like It, and no design was going to overcome that basic problem.
In the abstract, I can appreciate the design: it’s essentially the classic exploration->understanding->mastery chain, where first you bumble around finding out stuff, then gradually come to understand what’s going on, then apply that knowledge to Do A Thing. But not one single line that I read resonated with me in any way, shape, or form, so I actively resisted moving to the ‘understanding’ phase. In the end, I decided to save us both the trouble, and quit. I had managed to obtain two weapons, for some reason, if that’s any help for you in trying to figure out how far I had gotten.
Did the author have something to say? : Probably? Maybe it was some sort of cancer metaphor or something.
Did I have something to do? : Sort of, and I didn’t like it.
Zero Chance of Recovery
This was a cute tiny game that managed to frustrate me. The basic schtick is that it’s a chess puzzle, and by playing around a little, I discovered two different ways to draw. And then… well, OK, spoilers:
At this point, the game kept going and asked me to ‘be clever’ and I truly believed that this meant there was a way to actually win the game using only the rules of chess. But no, there’s a bit of framing story I had completely forgotten about (because it isn’t mentioned in the play loop, only at the Actual Beginning Of The Game), so if I caused a draw in a particular way, the framing story kicked in and I ‘won’ even though it was Yet Another Draw. I mean, I also found a way to Actually Win Due To A Bug (S, P, P), which I think should also count. But as it was, I used the walkthrough in the end, after looking up (and finding!) the puzzle on chess forums.
So, I dunno. It’s very competently implemented, the interstitial commentary was fun but not overwhelming, and the final twist, in retrospect, was cute. But I spent so long barking up the wrong tree that the final impression the game left on me was one of frustration.
Did the author have something to say? : Not particularly, but also didn’t claim anything and not follow through.
Did I have something to do? : I figured out one puzzle (or two, kind of) and the third just defeated me.
This was actually pretty funny. Thanks for giving it a go geez. If I had as little tolerance for the material as you did I’d never have got this far so fairplay to you. I honestly have no idea how you got to the cancer metaphor conclusion after struggling so hard to relate to the writing though.
Well, thanks for being a good sport in return. It definitely felt like while it didn’t work for me personally, there’d probably be others out there for whom it would. It’s pretty funny that I twigged to the cancer metaphor despite actively trying not to I think I probably saw the words ‘tumor’ and ‘growth’ somewhere suspicious.
Yeah your review does’nt seem mean or unfair at all- you said you dont like poetry. But you did get kind of hilariously far in it despite loathing the experience lol.
So! The comp is done, but I’m still enjoying playing the games, so I’m going to continue! I’ve been pretty good so far about not spoiling games before I play them, and at this point I’m going to allow myself to be somewhat spoiled, at least about General Perceived Quality, i.e. how the game placed overall. So that sort of information might start popping up in my reviews, and I might start reading other people’s reviews before writing mine if the situation warrants it: having a conversation about some games can potentially be more interesting that having Yet Another Fresh Perspective. So, we’ll see. And thanks to everyone who’s commented so far! It’s always great to get feedback.
The Princess of Vestria
In the same way that other games in this comp have started off at a disadvantage due to Not Really Being My Thing, and have to work to overcome that (which many of them have!), The Princess of Vestria is exactly the opposite: the very premise made me grin with delight.
And, happily, I felt it followed through and delivered on it’s promise! Our Hero this time is a plucky princess on a quest to save her brother from an Evil Curse. Along the way, you have many chances to do stuff that generally falls in one of three categories: Discover Backstory, Act In Genre-Appropriate Ways, and Do Something Clever. (These were not the actual stats that were revealed in the post-credits scene that the game tracked, mind you; they’re just generally how I felt about my options.)
The first (‘discover backstory’) is a time-honored IF staple, and the game handled it well. The backstory was interesting, I was involved in its revelation, and the pacing of the reveals was good. Some of the information was gated behind puzzles, particularly in the later parts of the game, so I was well motivated to solve the puzzle to figure out the information. (Also good: It was clear that ‘information’ was the reward for solving those particular puzzles.)
The third (‘do something cleverl’), was another time-honored IF staple: solving puzzles. Here again, the game was quite solid: the puzzles had interesting setups, interesting choices, and satisfying rewards. The only odd quirk of the system for me was the fact that you got ‘lives’ and ‘luck’, which would be spent by (presumably) failing to solve the puzzles. But the game also had a save/load system, so if you failed at something, you could just reload and try again. I used the save/load system several times over the course of the game, and of course, since this is a choice-based game and there’s only so many options you have to click, this meant that I solved all the puzzles. And this was the game’s one failure point, for me: for two big set piece puzzles (following the woman and dealing with the sheriff), there’s nothing in the game that hints (even in retrospect) that one approach will work and another will fail: all options seem at least somewhat plausible; the difference is only that one path leads to success and all the rest to failure. With the save/load system, this works out fine: it’s basically just a maze, and you try different directions until you find the exit. But the life/luck system tells the player that the author expects them to solve everything on their first attempt, and it’s dreadfully unfair to put maze-type choice puzzles where you can’t backtrack in a one-and-done scenario like that. It wasn’t even that the rewards made that much of a difference in the end, it’s that you’re punishing the player by holding back story, which makes them feel (correctly) like they’re missing out. Maybe some players are OK with this? But had the save/load system (or an equivalent like ‘undo’) not existed, I would have felt betrayed by puzzles like this in the game. But! Those puzzles were not super prevalent, and the save/load system did exist, so for me, everything was copacetic.
One note about the final puzzle: the game told me there were three ways to solve it, but I was only able to find two. Maybe the options for the third only appear when you don’t have the extra ‘stuff’ you need for the other two? It was weird. Also, the game lets you click on a ‘walkthrough’ button that in no way gives you an actual walkthrough. Similarly, the ‘walkthrough’ document you could download from the ifcomp website has a solution for a single puzzle in the game, and that’s it. Again, odd. Anyway.
This brings us to the second item on my list: ‘Act In Genre-Appropriate Ways’. This, for me, was by far the most delightful part of the whole game, and ultimately the reason why I loved it to bits. Just about every big scene felt like this to me: I’d see a familiar face at a tavern while in disguise, and think, “Oh! I bet it’ll turn out that…” and then I’d play through acting on that assumption and I was right every time! And every time I would cheer myself for being clever and the game for letting me be clever. And what’s more, all of the scenes, even though they were ‘predictable’ in the sense that I knew generally where they were going, still managed to run with the story in interesting ways or reveal bits of interesting setting details. (The revelation of why the guy wanted nuts was beautiful.) It was sort of like listening to a new song in a genre you love: the conventions of the genre are satisfied, but the particular song always brings its own spin to things.
Maybe I just really want to be a plucky princess when I grow up. There are worse fates.
Did the author have something to say? : I guess the author had a story to tell, in a genre I loved? I feel like the genre kind of constrains the sort of insight any author can bring to the table here (the overall message kind of has to be “go get 'im, girl!”), but the author did have something new to say about the character and motivations of the villain of the piece.
Did I have something to do? : You betcha; I got to be a plucky princess! Oh, and solve puzzles and discover a story; that was cool, too.
Thank you for the review! I think you have A and K switched, though.
Regarding post-apocalyptic stories, I have some of those same worries. I tried to avoid making this a pure black-and-white morality tale…
Using the save feature might be a way to see the different endings without going through the whole game every time.
Whoops! No transcript, so I couldn’t check Will fix!
My constant tunnel vision apparently caused me to not notice the side bars with the save/reload bits. The only issue there is that you have to actually remember to hit ‘save’ at some point. And I think the rest of the game seemed ‘safe’ in that I was generally following a path, and it didn’t seem like there was much danger of where I wanted to go being cut off suddenly. And that actually continued through the endgame; it just turned out that my path could have also encompassed some other options, and it would have been nice to see those, too. But by the time I knew that, I was watching the credits.
A really short game that managed nonetheless to have bugs? The only ‘endings’ I got were ‘you fail’ and ‘I need useable code to be right of =.’ There was also a link that didn’t work near the end, that I’m guessing was supposed to lead to a better ending? Maybe?
The story was all over the place, but there was an undercurrent of amazing imagination at work. If you pick a few opportune choices at the beginning, you can discover that possessing magic in this world is viewed as a ‘Curse’, visited on you because of your sins. And the only way to pay for your sins is to use your Curse in service of the Empire. This is ridiculously evil and amazing.
Did the author have something to say? : The author had more Ideas than Twine Prowess, and the game suffered for the latter, but retained some spark from the former.
Did I have something to do? : Not particularly, other than to wander through the Choice Maze and try to avoid the bugs.
Hm. I had the whole lot of equipment and found all three. a)Distracting Ginella with the bee inside her magic shield and b)stalling until the monkey comes to your rescue were the most obvious to me. I assume you found these. The third requires navigating the conversation options (highlighted in green). It’s one of those tricky choose-the-right-choice puzzles you write about. (It also ends in a bit of an anticlimax).
Ha! I loved this too.
This game is more impressive than it is pointless, but it’s still kind of pointless. It’s impressive that it exists at all (written in some Python script, distributed as a compiled git repository), and the old-school ASCII art is amusingly retro. But there are a million other text adventure writing tools out there that would all serve this game better than the system it uses. No synonyms exist for anything, not even age-old synonyms like ‘x’ for ‘look’. There’s stuff you can examine (whoops, look at) in rooms that only are displayed in the ASCII art (i.e. there’s a picture of a table, and you can ‘look table’, but no room description that ever says ‘table’ in it). Verbs work in one room that don’t work in another. You’re carrying something, and ‘inventory’ doesn’t work; you have to ‘look pocket’. The in-game hints vary wildly between obscure and explicit. The ‘walkthough’ is not, in any sense, a walkthrough. I mean, come on.
Did the author have something to say? : “It is more fun to write my own thing than use an established system.” You go, Jungle author.
Did I have something to do? : Mostly ‘get frustrated’.
The Hidden King’s Tomb
This is a tiny underimplemented game, but it’s solid! For a game that placed 60th, I was a bit trepidatious about the whole thing, and the opening rooms didn’t have a lot of descriptions, which made me worry more. But! It turned out that everything important to what the author wanted to do was implemented, and if many descriptions were missing, they were made up for by solid descriptions that were there. Even a description with foreshadowing!
There was basically one multi-part puzzle, which I never needed hints for, and felt clever having accomplished, so I’m calling this a win. A typical parser game would have many puzzles like this instead of just the one, but it’s a snack-sized game; it does what it needs to and bids you adieu. Good job, game!
In the end, I think I’d classify this game with ‘Glimmer’ in terms of how much effort I would guess went into the game, combined with how much game I got out of it, plus the quality of the overall product. Even though they were very very different games from each other! And they placed not super distant from each other, so hey.
This comp was particularly good in that even the lower-placed games seem to have obvious love put into them, which was easy to appreciate.
Did the author have something to say? : “Here is a puzzle with a cute theme”
Did I have something to do? : Solve the puzzle and grin at the theme.
Hey, it’s an idle game! I’ve always been a fan of them, with my favorite probably still being ‘A Dark Room’. This one isn’t as cool as that one, but it’s fine. I feel like the most fun parts of idle games are the sudden shifts in what you know or what you can do, and this didn’t really have either, sadly. You had a few goals, clearly defined from the very beginning of the game, and then you played the game to get to those goals. None of the little notices did much, and the one foreshadowed thing that I hoped would do something cool was a bust in the end… until I replayed it, tried a different method for surviving, and the foreshadowed thing turned out to be useful after all!
I played on ‘easy’, in which it’s pretty easy to win by a variety of measures even if it takes the first bit of the game to figure out what’s going on. Then I played on ‘hard’ and just died (couldn’t get my people higher than 20). Then I really concentrated, played on ‘normal’, and tried to get to the ‘cure’ ending and ended up believing that it is literally impossible. I got it on ‘easy’ just fine, but even if when I speed run people and then research (while still feeding your denizens) I was never even particularly close. I’m not sure if I’m wrong and there is actually a way, or if I’m right, and you can only get the ‘cure’ ending on ‘easy’, which would be disappointing.
The framing story was ridiculous, but enh.
Did the author have something to say? : “Be rude to your spouse and you can save the world”
Did I have something to do? : Yup! Idle Game shenanigans.
I did win it via the cure route on normal - I had maybe a minute or two left, so it was pretty tight. I always assigned enough farmers to keep my food steady, then did like an 80/20 split of the rest between looking for new survivors and researching better farm efficiency so I could pull more folks off agriculture. After about ten minutes of that I’d maxed out my economy so I switched over to 80% cure research / 20% capturing zombies, and that worked ok. I might have had like one guy on patrol since I think that gives morale bonuses to everything else, but otherwise I completely ignored construction and defense and all that, with no downsides.
Oh, hmm, maybe being hungry makes you less efficient? I had put everyone on scavenging for more people at first. Glad to know it’s possible!
This felt like a classic, solid puzzle game. Everything was well-clued, the reality of the world was established and not broken, and items were re-used to good effect. The fact that the parser was custom written in QBasic was astonishing, given how well it worked; the only issue I had was what seemed like a design decision: the scope of ‘things inside other things’ could only be accessed by referring to the containing thing: if you opened a box and saw a rock, and typed ‘get rock’ it would feign ignorance; you had to ‘get rock from box’ instead. If it was indeed a design decision, it’s a decision I disagree with, and would encourage the author to choose a different design If it was a technical issue, then OK; the F1 quick-key ‘get all from it’ is a reasonable compromise. (The idea of quick-keys is kind of nice, all told, but F1 was the only one I used.) I guess my other issue was that the colors seemed kind of garish, though I got used to them. And the game placed in the top 20, so go The Alchemist!
So the game was nice and all, it just seemed a little… pointless? Like, it was puzzles for the sake of puzzles, but the framing story just lacked something, for me. There wasn’t much ambiance; the relationship between Our Hero and the Alchemist was dry. I guess there wasn’t much sense of wonder in the story, for me? Once the rules of the universe were established, nothing new ever happened to expand that, and everything seemed, paradoxically, run-of-the-mill.
Back in the day, Graham Nelson described IF as ‘a puzzle at war with a narrative’ and to a certain extent, I feel like that war was lost by both sides: the puzzle people retreated to Puzzlandia, and the narrative people retreated to Narravista, and now you get one or the other but rarely both. You end up with interesting stories you just click links in, or actual puzzles with minimal or half-hearted stories tacked on. I mean, we had those back in the 90’s as well, but the divide seems wider now? At least, it’s feeling wider to me tonight.
And none of this is to rag on The Alchemist in particular, here: again, the puzzles are very well done, and I enjoyed my time with the game. It knows what it’s about, and Does That.
Did the author have something to say? : Not particularly! This is the main thing I missed from the game.
Did I have something to do? : Yup! Solve reasonable puzzles!
The Grown-Up Detective Agency
I was super excited to play this game: it won the comp! Woo!
And the story was great! The characters were well-defined, the central conceit was interesting, the pacing was good. The final conclusion was charming, and seemed to me to be the only possible conclusion of the story.
…and the author apparently agreed with me, because there’s no way to change the ending, at least so far as I found. Even on my first playthrough, I got the sense that none of my choices were doing anything, and playing a second time, intent on trying to make bad decisions, I just got the exact same story as before. I didn’t even unlock different scenes, or particularly different dialogue. So, I enjoyed the piece, but I didn’t feel like I was given anything to do in particular. And the fact that I felt this way the first time through meant that there wasn’t even a very good illusion of choice, which can sometimes work in a pinch.
So what that leaves is some very basic role-playing—the fact that the story is about a ‘you’ does make the story feel at least marginally different than had it been first or third person. And here, it did a reasonable job! I did feel, at least a bit, like it would be like to be the protagonist. I felt the joy of doing what I always wanted to mixed with the sadness of it not being all that I hoped it would be. I felt the guilt of my younger self meeting me, and failing to live up to their/my expectations. I felt the sorrow of having made bad decisions for bad reasons, and the hope that came when I finally decided to turn that around.
My only other complaint about the game is that fairly often, there would be (say) five parallel options, I’d click on the first three, and suddenly be whisked off to the next scene without being able to see what the last two were. (This was always completely random; there was zero indication which option was scene-advancing and which were color.) This wasn’t a huge deal, but it did make me a little sad every time I was denied content. Sniff.
Did the author have something to say? : Yes, a lot. And they had very specific insights into very specific situations that were nonetheless relatable, so that was another big plus.
Did I have something to do? : No! And it would have been nice to have a conversation with the author about the topics that were introduced, instead of just having a lecture about them. It was a very nice lecture, but this medium is ideally suited for conversations, and that didn’t happen.
One Final Pitbull Song (at the End of the World)
And we move from one winner to the next! Although this was the winner of the Golden Banana of Discord, and scored 54th overall, so you know, I was ready for something odd.
And holy primordial cats, this game is BONKERS. Even if you find something you love in it, it will almost certainly put it next to something you hate. It’s gross. It’s morbid. It’s wildly imaginative in places and aggressively banal in others. It has song lyrics (of course). It has questionable relationships. It has adorable relationships (kind of). It posits a landscape of social mores where literally everyone is deeply aware of and hyper-sensitive to trans issues, and deeply casual about murder. Blood and guts and vomit are liberally bestowed everywhere with gleeful abandon. There’s screaming. There’s intrusive thoughts. There’s about three different types of fourth-wall breaking, including one bit where in the middle of a scene, Our Hero is suddenly called the author’s name instead of her own, and then we get an aside along the lines of, “Oh, I guess this is just about me now.”
There’s three paths through this mess of viscera and anxieties, and your choices that lead you down those paths have absolutely nothing at all to do with the resulting stories. It’s sort of like one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books, where if you go in the front door there’s a nice old lady with a terrible secret, and if you go in the back door there’s a horde of feral kids, and the two stories have nothing at all to do with each other, nor with your choice (‘front door’ or ‘back door’). You make a choice, which means that the universe you live in is now different and has always been different. I’ve been out of the IF scene for a bit, but this is an approach to the genre that I literally hadn’t seen since the 80’s, in those books. It’s… well, it’s a choice. You end up with a flat story with zero interactivity, and a randomly-shuffled three arc story.
I happened to get story 2, then 3, then 1 on my own playthrough, and somewhat weirdly, only story 1 really had Our Hero go through a character arc of sorts. It was odd for me to see that happen, as I had just watched her basically flail meaninglessly at stuff for two stories, and now (in the story I was told was the first one) she was actually getting her act together out of the blue. Maybe if I had encountered them 1, 2, 3, it would have seemed like Our Hero went through 2 and 3 having gained the abilities she learned in 1? I dunno.
It didn’t take that much time with the story to realize that for all that it did attempt to entertain (sort of), its larger role in the universe was to act as therapy. Messy, messy, therapy. But therapy nonetheless. And huge props to the author for this, because you don’t need therapy like this unless you have Seen Things, and I feel like a more typical reaction would be to collapse under the sheer weight of it all, but instead here she is churning out this ridiculous, bonkers, golden-banana-of-discord-winning ART. It is not about or in response to problems I have. It is not about or in response to the problems of my people. The central relationship between Our Hero and her significant other just baffled me throughout. It was very hard for me to Get It. But despite this gulf between us, I still felt something. Somewhere beneath the vomiting and the bleeding, it felt capital-R-Real, even if also felt capital-Pretty-Messed-Up. Turning that kind of pain into art is amazing. Keep winning those bananas, Paige.
Did the author have something to say? : Oh, yeah. And also had a lot to deal with.
Did I have something to do? : Nope! I was just along for the (very messy) ride.