Limerick Quest, by Pace Smith
Like everyone who played last year’s Limerick Heist, when I saw there was a sequel in this year’s Comp I was straining at the bit to play it – and therefore wasn’t best pleased when the randomizer decided to save it for sixth-to-last out of 104. I wound up getting to it on Halloween, which is perhaps fitting, because in addition to the predictable linguistic legerdemain and some surprisingly robust puzzling, Limerick Quest also offered me an object lesson in being careful what I wished for, albeit a much more cheerful one than the seasonally-appropriate monkey’s-paw type approach.
To my mind the thing that was brilliant about Limerick Heist wasn’t so much the concept – although it was amazing – but rather the execution. When I read the blurb, I thought to myself “this sounds super fun, but stretched out to game length inevitably like 30% of the limericks are going to suck.” But then, miraculously, they didn’t, with not a single dud in the bunch! I don’t mean to damn with faint praise in the slightest; a prudent person contemplating the challenges of writing narrative with a demanding rhyme and meter scheme would give up before they got out of the starting gate because of the inevitable clash between fitting the framework and allowing the reader to understand what’s happening.
Limerick Quest, though, does this one or two better, both by keeping the quality of the limericks absurdly high, but also by frankly just showing off. Not only are the accessibility options limericks – and inevitably, good ones – so is the complex, dynamically-updated inventory! Unlike the more traditional choice-based approach of Heist, here you can navigate around a map, with the movement options predictably also limericked, and again, not just with a single rote one listing north south east etc. but with a unique one in each area listing available and unavailable exits and what you can expect in each direction. Possibly best of all, there was one early limerick that I thought was a bid fudged (it rhymes “door” with “square”) except then I dusted off that one semester of Russian I took in college and realized it works perfectly if you can read Cyrillic characters.
I don’t to risk this review devolving into just a list of all the ones I thought were great – and it’s not just gags, I thought the relationship and banter between the two adventurers was also really well-depicted – but I can’t go without citing two, just to show how the author uses different approaches to the limericks to keep things fresh. Here’s an example of using baroque vocabulary to make the limerick work and the joke land:
You insert the egg in its station.
The clockwork maintains its rotation
as part of the Earth,
for what it is worth,
in orbital circumgyration.
But sometimes, all you really need is to rhyme “it” with “it” three times and it’s just as effective:
Sacrifice. Aztecs were known for it.
This altar was carefully honed for it.
By what weird criteria
is this near Siberia?
You don’t know - just don’t end up prone for it.
As that first excerpt suggests, to go with the free navigation, this time there are also inventory puzzles – I realize I haven’t mentioned the setup, which is that following on from Heist, the Faberge egg you stole leads two of the crew on an adventure to a hidden temple in search of treasure. Some of these are traditional red-key-goes-in-red-door type inventory puzzles, but very quickly, they invite the player to participate in the fun of making a limerick, as you’ll need to do things like choose an option that fits the rhyme scheme or meter of the limerick representing the outcome you’re trying to achieve. I don’t want to give these away, since they’re really decidedly clever, but I will include my favorite in a spoiler block: the mine cart puzzle, with the words you need to rhyme slowly fading in, was a blast, though I did have the accessibility option that means you can’t lose turned on.
Here’s where the monkey’s-paw bit comes in, though: I think there were one or two gentle puzzles like this in Limerick Heist, and I remember wanting more and thinking there was a lot more fun to be had exploring variations on this kind of challenge. The author has more than delivered on the brief, but now that I’ve got what I wanted I think I was wrong? The puzzles are all nicely constructed – they build on each other so you’re always doing something new, there are neither too many or too few so the pacing is good, with the hardest, fiddliest one coming right before an easier lightning round and then you win, and there’s an easily-accessible, well-integrated hint system to keep you moving.
But for all that, I found several of them quite hard, and while the game is generous in not letting you die, there are some puzzles you only get one try for (there’s no save game option) and wasn’t sure why I failed until I replayed and accessed the hints. Eventually it all makes sense, but the later puzzles do require you to spent a lot of time assessing rhymes and counting syllables and word length, which I think felt a bit too much like constructing a limerick and not enough like reading one – it was harder to appreciate the end result when I’d spent so much time at the brick-and-mortar level, and I often found myself clicking from room to room and grabbing different objects to try as I worked to get myself unstuck, without paying much attention to the delightful writing, which felt like a real shame.
Again, I’m not sure any of the puzzles are too hard or inadequately clued or anything. And there’s an amazing number of options and hidden depth on offer here (there’s a whole achievement system you can use to help find some fun unexpected interactions and easter eggs, though I didn’t get very far with it). It’s just that Limerick Quest made me realize that maybe what I actually want out of this franchise is a worry-free romp rather than than well-designed adventuring. With the ending teasing a possible third, pirate-themed outing, though, I’m definitely on board for any voyages to come!