Tabitha's Spring Thing 2024 Review Corner

Yay for another Spring Thing! I tested five of the games, which was a nice preview, and just finished playing the first new-to-me one—Rescue at Quickenheath by Mo Farr. I don’t have time to write my review tonight, but it’ll come tomorrow! The mini version is: this was a fun, light-hearted game that was a great start to my Spring Thing playing!

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Rescue at Quickenheath by Mo Farr

I picked this game to start with due to the premise and vibes, and it definitely delivered! I was drawn in right away by the lovely presentation, with a fun old-fashioned font for the title screen and pleasant spring-like colors. (The UI is well done throughout, with in-game documents set off with different fonts/colors.) The beginning clearly establishes the PC’s goal, and then it’s up to you to get to work accomplishing it!

This is a Twine game with a world model, so there are various locations you can visit and items you can try using in different situations. I enjoyed the puzzlely elements, which were simple enough that they didn’t slow down the story’s momentum. The game also balanced imbuing the choices with a sense of stakes (at one point I certainly thought I’d messed up and was in for a “game over”!) and leaving room for experimentation. The worldbuilding was fun (especially the details of the fae embassy), and the writing suits the PC in a way that often made me smile—e.g., “Your heart lifts at the sound, like a string of pearls from around a rich person’s neck.” It’s altogether a very polished work.

Critique

A personal quibble is the selectable gender (of both the PC and the LI). I’d assumed based on the characters’ names and the LGBT tag that they were both women, and “lady thieves” seemed like a very fun premise, a la Lady Thalia, so I was disappointed to find that their genders were blank slates. In cases like this, where gender is the only facet of the character the player gets to choose and where it has no effect on the game beyond what pronouns and labels get used in the text, I’d always prefer to have characters that the author wrote with pre-established genders (or lack thereof) in mind, because those characters tend to feel more real to me.

On to some more mechanical things, in the latter half of the game, once you’ve entered Fairy, there’s much less autonomy in where to go or what approach to take, so it felt much more on rails. I also found it odd that the game didn’t acknowledge some of the information the PC (Kit) finds—when you read Aubrey’s journal she all but says that she’s in love with Kit, but Kit doesn’t react or acknowledge that in any way. Same with the letter to Aubrey that starts “Dear Sister”—despite this clear indication, Kit doesn’t seem to know that the letter-writer is Aubrey’s sibling. Finally, I would have liked to learn more about Kit’s backstory and motivations, as they remained largely a mystery throughout, and as mentioned above I always love a richly detailed character!

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thank you for playing and for such a thoughtful and in-depth review! i really appreciate it :heart:

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The Case of the Solitary Resident by thesleuthacademy

Having enjoyed the author’s Last Vestiges in last year’s IF Comp, I was happy to see another mystery game from them! This one is done in Twine rather than Inform, which allowed for some nice features, like a “case file” page documenting the evidence you’ve collected and pop-up notifications letting you know when analysis results are ready. The latter was a nice way of making it feel like time was passing in the game world and of ensuring that not too much information was dispensed at once.

Some aspects of the UI didn’t work as well for me; once I had all the analysis results, that section of the case file became overwhelming, so I would have liked to see it divided up somehow (whether with subsections or perhaps a sub-page). I also didn’t feel that the stock images representing the different locations and actions added much, as they were too generic to provide meaningful flavor.

Writing-wise, the tone was a bit odd, with the PC making some unjustified assumptions early on (really, we never have any reason to suspect there was foul play), which didn’t fit with the otherwise realistic nature of the game. In contrast, the NPC dialogue was rather flat, and I wished there had been more depth to the interview segments (at least with the deceased’s son).

As far as gameplay, investigating the apartment felt somewhat lawnmower-y, and I would have liked if visited and unvisited links were distinguished with different colors. Seeking out evidence does get more complex later on, though, as new information opens new avenues of questioning and there are things you have to look up via keywords. The most fun part to me was once I had all the evidence and could start constructing a theory about what happened. Reviewing the various pieces of evidence and making connections between them made me feel like I really was solving a mystery. And when I saw how granular the game wanted me to be in describing my conclusions, I went over it all again before committing, because I was really invested in getting it right—and it was very satisfying when I did!

(Upon learning at the end that I’d only found 14 out of 16 available clues, I also had the urge to go back and hunt down the last two… I will find you, James Cody!!)

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Thank you for the thorough review and glad to see that you enjoyed playing the game! Hope you managed to find the last two clues! :wink:

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Thanks, but I don’t remember asking by Mea Murukutla

I found this game disorienting at first, to the point that I almost stopped playing. I was confused about both the situation and the location (and still am about the latter to some degree, even after re-reading—I’m not sure where the chapel, school, and volleyball courts all are in relation to each other… or why there’s a stage outside?). So initially I was more frustrated than intrigued—but when I read on I discovered that there’s a good reason for the disorientation, and suddenly it became quite compelling.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t live up to its promise for me; I never got enough of a sense of the wider world to understand the stakes for the NPCs, and they weren’t developed enough for me to be invested in their fates. I didn’t understand why they became fixated on the PC after discovering the journals; there was an escalation there that I couldn’t see a reason for. I also never felt much for/about the PC. Her circumstances reminded me of the film Memento, but what makes that movie so good IMO is that the protagonist has a goal that he’s deeply passionate about. Here, the PC has no goal beyond maintaining her status quo—and she is able to achieve that very easily.

I also had some quibbles about the writing; the dialogue was stilted at times, and the tense randomly switched between past and present. Finally, it would be nice if there was a “restart” button at the end; as-is, in order to replay you have to close and re-open the game.

I do feel like there’s something interesting to be said about gender in the game—the PC is a woman, as was her former lover, and the sole female NPC in the story has a different fate than the two male ones. Unfortunately, I’m too tired right now to articulate anything intelligent on that front. :sweat_smile:

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Nonverbal Communication by Allyson Gray

This was another game that had me quite confused at first—I couldn’t for the life of me understand what I was supposed to be doing if I couldn’t use verbs! After some flailing I turned to the in-game hints, which fortunately clearly explained what was going on. From that point on it became a fun and unique little exercise. It’s got an unusual parser game mechanic, and I’m impressed by the coding it must have taken to make it all work. The story was cute too; I liked the reveal and that there were multiple possible endings (I got the third one; haven’t replayed to find the others yet, but I plan to!).

A downside is that it was very short—by the time I felt like I’d gotten the hang of the mechanic and was gearing up to do more complex things with it, the game was over! So it felt a bit more like a proof of concept than a full game, but if the author ever did make a longer game with this conceit, I would be first in line to play.

(The transcript command was disabled along with the verbs, but I copy/pasted!)

Nonverbal_TO script.txt (50.7 KB)

EDIT: Just played some more to find the other endings. I enjoy that getting the different endings requires solving the puzzles in different ways! I also discovered there are more ending variations than I’d assumed! I did encounter one small error, which I noted in my second transcript (marked with **).

Nonverbal_TO script2.txt (56.6 KB)

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Thank you so much for giving Nonverbal Communication a try, and I’m super happy to hear that you enjoyed it!! Your kind words and feedback really made my day. :blush:

The coding was definitely demanding, and unfortunately I ran out of time to implement everything I had planned… but I do want to enable more commands and I’m currently working on polishing up the next version of the game. I hadn’t thought about the TRANSCRIPT command yet though, that’s a very useful note!

Thanks for sharing your playthrough, it’s fascinating to look at (and sorry about the hassle of missing commands)! I’m impressed that you got that ending on your first try.

You’re also totally right that this was meant as a proof of concept – I don’t think I could have handled anything beyond this scale for now, haha. But I’d love to revisit these mechanics again later, especially now that I’ve learned how to make it work! I had at least a few more puzzle ideas that didn’t make it in.


I just saw your edit, thanks again!! You’ve given me a lot of motivation to improve the game and I’m grateful for the issues you flagged :triangular_flag_on_post:

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Interrupting these irregularly scheduled reviews to bring you this adorable art by @Ally! Puck gets a ride on the Ambler Automaton!

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Octopus’s Garden by Michael D. Hilborn

This is a cute game! I’ve never played a game with an octopus PC before, and my favorite aspect was the descriptions, which paint such delightful pictures as an octopus snuggled up in a drawer full of sweaters and an octopus sitting on a window ledge high above the city. “You’re splayed out on the hardwood floor” is just perfect too. I also thought the plot was well done; your goal is to get your owner to move back out of her boyfriend’s apartment, and I wondered how I might possibly accomplish that until it became clear that her boyfriend is cheating on her, and thus my goal was to expose him.

I did have some struggles, mostly notably with the faucets as Mike already pointed out in his review. I also thought opening the window latch with the plunger was a bit far-fetched; I don’t think that would actually work IRL, and from the setup described I would have thought my arms would be able to reach it without issue. (Also, minor quibble, but octopus’ limbs are actually arms, not tentacles!) It also got a bit old having to return to my tank every so often—I liked the realism of this, but I wish the game would’ve had me automatically drop everything I was carrying when I tried to get in, so that I wouldn’t have had to type “enter tank. drop all. enter tank.”

I had a little trouble with the endgame, too. Partly because I had completely failed to examine myself in detail, so I missed that I could squirt ink until I turned to the hints for help with the clothesline—that one’s definitely on me. But I also had to use the tip from Mike’s review for getting the winning ending; having to close the bottom drawer seemed pretty unintuitive, and I wasn’t sure why it mattered that I was out of my tank at that point—I would have thought the presence of a stranger’s underwear would take precedence. So overall I found it an enjoyable little game, just with a few hiccups along the way.

Transcript: octopus-garden_toscript.txt (114.6 KB)

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To Beseech Old Sins by Nic June

I was drawn into this one by the stylish UI and the character-focused setup, immediately interested in our three MCs’ circumstances and their relationship. Their teasing, comfortable dynamic was fun to read about, especially with the sense that these were some precious, stolen moments in an otherwise strictly regimented life. However, as Wolfbiter’s review also noted, this introduction to these characters’ lives doesn’t match with what actually plays out in the story. It thus felt like it was setting up something that quickly got thrown out the window—especially when the cozy domestic moment we start out witnessing becomes an urgent mission.

As other reviews have mentioned, I think the confusion definitely comes in part from this being the third in a series. Not having played the preceding games, I couldn’t follow what was going on with the mission, completely lacking a frame of reference for. This ended up creating a major feeling of disconnect between me and the characters, so different from the beginning, when I thought I understood what they might be thinking and feeling.

Finally, as JJ McC’s review discussed, most of the game’s passages contain two types of links—ones that lead to brief asides, from which you return to the passage you came from, and ones that advance to the next main-text passage. However, both types of links are colored and styled exactly the same, and the game has no “back” button, meaning that if you inadvertently miss an aside, there’s no way to rewind and see it. While I was able to crack the code as to which type of link is which—single-word links are asides, multi-word links advance—signaling the difference in a more obvious way would be super helpful.

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Luna Gardens by Bruhstin

Evocative setting, compelling premise (protagonist learning some unsettling family secrets…). Interested in playing the full version. I floundered a lot with the mechanics, though…

Critique (spoilers)

I didn’t realize going in that I was looking for a single correct thing I could divine; I thought I was going to be able to combine different sets of three symbols for multiple divination results. Because of this, I tried… a LOT of combinations, and when none of them worked, I wasn’t sure if they were just wrong or if I wasn’t inputting the command correctly. When it finally clicked that this was a puzzle with a single solution, the thing I thought was the answer still didn’t work—which was when I realized I had indeed been typing the command the wrong way. (For anyone else who may be struggling with it and happens to read this: you have to input “divine” by itself first, then the sentence.)

It would be really nice if there was a command that listed your discovered symbols and their meanings; it got annoying having to scroll back through the text to find them. I also didn’t understand how the “forecast” hint system worked for most of the game (it wasn’t intuitive to me at all that it was describing the necessary symbols that I’d found), and I encountered multiple unimplemented nouns. I like the idea of the game, but it could use some more polish and testing to make for a smooth player experience.

Luna Gardens - SpringThing Demo_toscript.txt (29.1 KB)

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Thank you for the kind review, Tabitha! I’m glad you were able to enjoy the demo despite the clunkiness of the divination mechanics :sweat_smile: And since you’re interested in the full version, you might be happy to know that I’m switching to Gruescript so players won’t have to give the system exact strings of text.

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Oh that’s great, Gruescript definitely sounds like a good fit!

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