Review: Recluse

(Underrated. As in a) not enough ratings, and b) not nearly enough praise and acknowledgement. A great classic parser puzzler. Recluse - Details (

Grashoppers, robins and squirrels, oh my!

While flying through the air, your nose already preparing to courteously greet the gravel waiting to catch it, you ponder the manners of the butler who just threw you off the porch. Surely he overreacted just a tad…

Since a simple knock results in a rather unpleasant scraping of your face on a less than welcoming road of little rocks, and from the looks of that butler (and the fact he effortlessly hurled you several meters far), you decide that sneakiness and subterfuge might be a better tactic for delivering this package.

Instead of a Dungeon Crawl (although we are briefly entertained in one of those later in the game…), Recluse is an Estate Romp. Its basic structure remains the same though: a big ol’ puzzlefest. In the best tradition of the genre, there isn’t really a plot or story to speak of. Instead, the author finds other ways to engage the player.

—A good introduction goes a long way. It sets the mood and puts a question, a magnetic objective if you will, in the player’s head. Even if the game itself doesn’t tell much of a story, the intro resonates throughout the playthrough and pulls the player along. In Recluse, the adressee of the package you must deliver is a once-famous homo universalis.

“J. Daggett Winton, archeologist, explorer, inventor, mathematician, philosopher. Director, Winton Antiquities Research Foundation. Chairman of the Board, Winton International. Holder of thirty-seven patents in fields as diverse as Genetics and Game Theory. Rumored to have the largest privately-held collection of historical artifacts in the world.”

Since the untimely death of his wife however, he has locked himself away and became the titular “Recluse”.

This character made me think of Howard Hughes, and especially of Leonardo Dicaprio’s over-the-top portrayal of him in The Aviator. The prospect of meeting such a character at the end of my travails worked as precisely such a narrative magnet as I have described.

—The game brilliantly exploits the major strength of parser IF: leading the player on a tour of exploration and discovery. Recluse boasts an immensely gratifying map. The biggest part of the game-world is a grand manorly estate, with lots of varied environments. Its central fountain and gravel paths give way to wilder and more unkempt stretches of brush and rough clifftops. There are carefully locked off areas, some of which come as a surprise when finally unlocked, others enticingly visible from a high vantage point without obvious means to get to them…

—Modern IF heavily emphasizes the integration of puzzles into the story. This isn’t quite possible for a puzzlefest that sports, at most, the flimsiest of framing stories. In Recluse, the puzzles are integrated with the surroundings. They flow organically from the environment. All the puzzle elements and the obstacles are naturally present in, even expected on a lordly manor estate. The one puzzle that could be viewed as overly convoluted is justified by the personality of the owner of the estate, J. Dagget Winton the recluse… Interestingly, this most complicated of puzzles yields an anticlimactically mundane reward. This sort of thing happens regularly in this game. See directly below…

—The writing joyfully (perhaps even childishly) plays with lots of IF tropes, twisting them upside down and (sometimes) setting them back right side up for an extra twist.

The narrative voice in Recluse is the most powerful immersive element in the game in my experience. Not a true character in itself, it does act as a mediator between the player and the game. First and foremost, it does its job admirably: It clearly describes the locations, the protagonist’s actions within them and the consequences of those actions. On top of that, it paints an elaborate and detailed picture of the surroundings and it evokes a sense of space by recounting the travels of the protagonist.

“You soon realize you’re in for a bit of a hike. The path passes to the east of a large greenhouse, then bends northeast toward the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The ground turns rocky and starts sloping downward. Before long you’re winding down stairs cut into the face of the cliff.”

I love this. It opens up the map and lets me walk alongside the protagonist with the wind in my hair. The view from the cliffs, once you get there, broadens your sense of wide-open space even more.

But these things are not so special… Other games have them too…

What made the narrative voice stand out most were the many asides, serious and playful alike. Like a storyteller around the campfire stepping outside of the story and adressing the audience, pointing out a funny detail or drawing the attention to an important feature. Most of the time this happens in a gentle, almost confidential tone. The one time it nears the border with intrusiveness, it does so to great comedic effect.

—When the outdoors adventuring options on the estate grounds are at long last exhausted, the player enters a high stakes endgame. The reward for getting through is a delightfully lengthy epilogue which finally explains the backstory of J. Dagget Winton. It also provides an obvious opening for a sequel.

Alas! Recluse was written 14 years ago, which makes the chances of ever joining our protagonist on a next adventure seem slim. Perhaps, if it is not too forward, I could urge the author, Stephen Gorrell, to follow the example of Michael J. Coyne, who wrote Illuminizmo Iniziato 15 years after its predecessor Risorgimento Represso.

→ A wonderful parser puzzler. Beautiful game-world, trustworthy coding and implementation, and a friendly, welcoming narrator. Strongly recommended.


Just stayed up far too late playing this. The package had me literally laughing out loud. Thank you for the recommendation. Hope he sees your review and decides to release a sequel.

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Yeah, I had a hearty guffaw too. I did feel it was a bit of a missed chance in the epilogue that Dagget didn’t read Harry Potter to his hybernating wife. (Or did I miss something?)

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That would have been a nice touch. I was a bit thrown that I kept the key card. I was expecting that I would be asked for that after returning the notebook.

As a side note, this sent me down another rabbit hole. I started searching IFDB for games with zero reviews (2584 games in total with zero reviews if anyone is curious), sorted for the most amount of ratings.

And I ran directly into Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country by Adam Thornton (with an impressive 18 ratings and zero user reviews), which then sent me down the whole history of Mr. Makane from his debut in 1997 to his most recent adventures in Rape, Pillage, Makane! by Chandler Groover in 2015.

Not where I expected to end my night, so I wanted you to know that your post directly led me to wonder why there’s been an 8 year hiatus for Stiffy, and whether there’s room for another installment of Stiffy in today’s world.

ETA: Anyway, going to bed. Well after 3am here.


The only Stiffy game I have on my playlist is Apocolocyntosis.
I hear it’s actually a good game.

Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis - Details (



Don’t dream about Makane!