(A game far more recent than my usual pickings (I tend to be overly focused on games from '95-'05), this game came to my attention in, of all places, a Wodehouse Poll I made on IFDB. I was intrigued. The Eleusinian Miseries - Details (ifdb.org) )
A Russovian Triumph
Uncle Alcy has invited you along for an initiation to some religious mystery stuff. There’s supposed to be free food and drink at the party after, so why not?
The longer I was playing Eleusinian Miseries , the more I got the impression that a theatrical comedic play was unfolding before me, where I got to guide the unwitting protagonist through the unexpected ordeals and shenanigans of the story. Each act has its own storylet-arc, with its own obstacles and tasks for our hero. Once these are completed, the story is moved to a new stage with new scenery for the continuation. The geography of the game fits this interpretation nicely: each act plays in a very limited number of locations (where there is lots and lots to see and do).
Right from the get-go, the game hits the tickle note. Not laughing outright, I felt that readiness to laugh in my cheek muscles, an amused and expectant smile under the surface.
The room descriptions are delightfully elaborate and detailed. Their poshly cultured and high-brow tone is finely offset by the player character’s self-admitted ignorance and casual disinterest.
The tickle note, once strung, reverberates throughout. The mood of giddy curiosity is sustained by the author’s obvious joy (and sweat and tears, I presume…) in spit-and-polishing the details of the game. Practically all default responses have been customized to fit with the overall tone and the specifics of the game-state. Depending on the situation the protagonist is in at the time, the same command may have different responses, , regardless of the actual importance of the command.
The room descriptions remain funny in a restrained, understated way, delighting the player with a glimmering detail here or a surprising turn of phrase there.
The frequent intermezzoes turn it up a notch or two. In between the acts, when all present objectives have been met, the results of the hero’s actions are shown in topsy turvy action-comedy scenes, not infrequently involving a mob of toga-clad ancient greeks toppling over and under each other or the accidental or voluntary dismembering of holy statues.
Finally, there are the instances where author and player work together to deliver the joke. Because of the involvement of the player, these are the funniest and most satisfying moments of the game. The author sets the stage and makes sure all the props are in their rightful place. The player goes about the preparation of the audience (herself) by exploring the setting and gathering the necessary resources, all the while increasing the tension. Then, at last, comes the release, where through careful experimentation and restoring or through a sudden flash of insight, the player puts it all together and delivers the punch line… to herself.
Many puzzles in Eleusinian Miseries are quite straightforward adventure-fare. Good, engaging, sometimes surprising. And some are of the variety described above. Very, very satisfying.
To cap it off, the finale is a hilarious (and impossibly hard) optimization game. (Be sure to SAVE the moment you arrive in the Bedroom). I spent about thirty restores and I still couldn’t get rid of that one last thingy! Fortunately there’s a very good gradual hint-system included. (And then I palmed my forehead…)
Wodehouse in Ancient Greece. Lovingly crafted, great atmosphere, immensely funny.