(The 1996 IFComp winner by Angela M. Horns, an author I had never heard about. A cool caving adventure: The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet - Details (ifdb.org) )
Cave crawling Ambassador
After three weeks as a guest of the Northland Empire, you’ve had it with these carefully guided official visits and tours designed to show you absolutely nothing of what is really going on in the land. Fortunately, due to a small mishap during an elephant tour, which you had nothing to do with of course, you get an opportunity to search around your lodgings and sniff out the secrets they do not want you to know.
And soon you find the entrance to a cave…
The Meteor, The Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet sets itself firmly in Zorkian territory. It’s a classic and very well done cave-crawl with some explicit references to the caves of Zork.
As soon as you enter the cave halls, you are welcomed by an overwhelming view. Truly one of the most surprising cave-descriptions I have read so far. From here, you explore a small but exquisitely crafted map. There are many differences in level, and you have to be very resourceful to get up or down from one to the other. I prefer this over a 100-room NESW sprawler any day.
The puzzles are clever without being too hard.
A few depend on unusual object-manipulation, many need you to learn a simple magic system with spells that just happen to be tailor-made for the problems you encounter.
I had the strong impression that the author did have a particular order of traversal in mind. If you should skip one of the early locations, choosing to explore deeper first, the puzzles become a lot harder to understand.
The intro and the first part of the midgame are very relaxed, getting the player to trust the game that they can explore and experiment at their leisure. And then Zarfian cruelty strikes. I won’t elaborate, but just watch you inventory, okay?
There’s a nice shift in pace in the endgame, where you need to make your escape by making a mental click to know how to behave under the new circumstances.
A cool game that leans on the cave-crawling tropes and uses them in fun and surprising ways.