I am feeling a bit overwhelmed in reviewing of late. Partly by other stuff in real life. Partly by the sheer number of games, and the difficulty of reviewing them all. Partly (and in some ways I daresay this is unfair) by the fact that of those I have played – and this really is just scratching the surface – I have been sometimes rather disappointed. I’ve decided this year that I am going to make no pretence at reviewing comprehensively. So I’m going to focus on short comments on games I enjoyed, thought well done, or otherwise think noteworthy. As a general note: I will spoiler-tag anything that I think especially spoilery, but I don’t promise to give absolutely nothing away, and those who prefer to play “cold” should take care accordingly.
Blood Island Billy Krolick, ChoiceScript
A clever and self-aware mashup of genres, playing games with tropes of dating sims, reality TV, classic horror. Nicely lucid writing, well paced, responsive. Easy to like. Plenty of (at least apparent) choice, and a story that keeps on moving with, I suspect, more sense of agency than one actually has, but that’s fine in the service of a well-judged narrative. I occasionally hit a moment where I felt I was being pushed towards lawn-mowering choices, and the ChoiceScript style of sometimes presenting an overwhelming (appearance) of almost overwhelming, but not clearly significant, choices occasionally annoyed for a moment. But not often. I had fun, and found myself thinking “this is a good way of spending an hour or so” rather than “this is pretty good for a Comp game”, which is important. Very much recommended. It’s not a game trying to say anything earth-shattering, but it’s smart, and self-aware.
Particular note. I’ve played a fair number of games in this Comp which were not merely “not very good or interesting” (we expect that) or “not very well crafted” (ditto), but just marred by downright errors, bugs, spelling mistakes, bad grammar and so on. This was beautifully polished.
Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s Geoffrey Golden, Ink
I found this a worthwhile 15-20 minute play, and there’s more going on that you might think at first. Notionally, you are a psychic salesperson trying to persuade people to drink some particularly nasty beer. Really, it’s an opportunity to explore and gently shape a narrative, work out what’s going on, and use that knowledge to guide the story in particular directions. In other words, classic IF.
The presentation is, frankly, dull – a choice of two dreary themes with so-so typography and no art or other goodies. But the writing is crisp, the proofreading excellent, and under the hood it is doing more (narratively and mechanically) than at first appears: there is more content, and you have more ability to shape events and your perception of them than you might at first think. It’s pleasantly subtle: designed for replay, and repaying it. I liked the way that as you played and replayed you found that you acquired goals which were different from the one initially presented–that you could choose to play “with” or “against” that premise.
Under the hood this is written in Inkle’s Ink. And I think it shows. Ink is particularly good at enabling quite sophisticated tricks with state, and I suspect that quite a bit is being done with that here.
Obviously this is not trying to be more than a snack. It’s not ambitious. But if it doesn’t promise a lot, it does at least deliver, or even over-deliver, on its promises, in a well-crafted way.