Text Adventure Literacy Jam reviews (2024) 4/10 (total vote tally 5/17: 18.)

I’ve enjoyed the last few years of TALJ. It feels low-pressure as a reviewer. You don’t have to find any deeper meaning. There always seem to be about 10, so it’s not too taxing to review.

That said I’m a bit bummed there are only 12 reviews out there with the comp relativel far in. I’d love to see a lot more–I know there are a lot of other comps, but I’d be interested in what non-parser-oriented people have to say about these games. After all, they’re intended to be inviting.

The theme appears to be fairy tales. I have to admit I didn’t look.

The two paragraphs above will be edited as more votes roll in and I get a better general idea of the comp. The list below will be edited as I write reviews. I hope to send them to IFDB.


The Wolf, by Leo Weinreb

Sometimes you just look for an author you’re pretty sure you’ll like, to make a good start. Leo Weinreb in this case was my choice. He wrote A Walk Around the Neighborhood, which had the really clever device of using your significant other as a hint device. This sort of thing would seem to mesh well with TALJ’s mission. And your friend Tonya helps you with the verbs you’ll need to complete the game, even with a tweak for if you toggle the tutorial after it’s over. It’s the sort of humor that jibes with me.

That said, The Wolf felt generic as a title. But I quickly saw what was going on. It spins together several fairy tales everyone knows and probably doesn’t want or need to hear again, at least as a stand-alone.

They work together well, and they’re encompassed in relatively few rooms. You’re a wolf, see, and you just aren’t the violent type. That said, you’re in the police station, undergoing questioning for several murders. If you-the-reader know your fairy tales, you can guess most of them.

But you’re not a murderer. So you say. You’re a building inspector (how freelance your role is, is not revealed,) and boy do you like to capitalize on any pretext whatsoever to go inspecting buildings. It’s not that easy, though. People don’t let you in.

It’s a slightly absurd assumption, but then, these are fairy tales, and it pulls them together well. There’s a shepherd boy who will call you out, a girl with a red hood, and three pigs. There’s a fisherman, too, and I confess I blanked on the reference. But it added nicely to the story.

I think the pigs puzzle was particularly clever and fun. The first house is easy to blow down, but the second needs a little work, and you need trickery to enter the third.

The Wolf does a great job of following the constraints of the comp and using them to sharpen its focus into something funny that doesn’t just try to bluff you with “Oh, I’m reimagining fairy tales.” The wolf is a delightfully shifty character, and I found myself wanting to believe it, partially because I played through as the wolf, who’s ostensibly made a lot of trouble. And I’ve been in my own situations where I felt weird explaining myself, and I was innocent, honest I was. The end result is an almost plausible story, one certainly more believable than the fairy tales that can feel run down.

So there’s that humor there but the reminder, too, that we do love to be suckered in by a good story. While some of the text described disturbing things, the humor meant that it wasn’t until I looked back on things that I thought of that angle, how we can believe people we dislike if they just have a good exciting story.


The theme was optional, but it appears to have provided inspiration for a few of the games. Two games were inspired by Greek mythology, one by Japanese mythology, one by Arthurian legends, one by fairy tales and one by nursery rhymes. A few of the games are very much like original fairy tales.


Thanks much, Garry! I should have read the competition front page more carefully, but I did want to get started.


The Basilisk and the Banana

Catchy title. Two words beginning with the same two letters, not obviously related, but you get to wonder how they might be. It also foreshadows that some of the puzzles will be surreal and silly, and they are, but doesn’t feel forced.

This is a father-and-son collaboration, which we’ve seen before, and I think that sort of cooperation works well for instructional games. The child doesn’t understand coding yet but has an idea of what they want to create, and the adult maybe understands coding but is frustrated they don’t have any cool ideas. So the adult in essence gives a tutorial to the child, and then they collaborate on what to give to the player. So there’s always a checkpoint of “why are you doing this” that can transmit to the reader. And these games are generally quite fun, as even if there is a hole in them, we think, well, I’d have been proud to write something almost this good when I was younger. Or have someone help me.

And it is a really good fit for the competition. You are Hermes, and your first task is to find two sandals that will help you fly around to deliver a letter to Zeus. Of course, it’s for him, so you’d better not read it.

It’s not that easy, of course. A flash storm lands you on an island where you solve some puzzles that feel standard for text adventures. They’re mostly GIVE X TO Y type puzzles. There are hints, and you can CALL ZEUS if you get stuck. A minotaur blocks your way, and of course, you need to figure what to do with the basilisk. If you know your mythology, you’ll have a good idea, but I thought the fight was well-done as it used Adventuron’s graphic features effectively. It just felt like the sort of coding project that’s perfect for a kid but satisfying to solve at the end, especially in a comp where instadeaths should only happen if the player really, really tries.

The hand-drawn pictures are pleasant, too, and that’s always a nice feature of Adventuron. They’re whimsical without feeling lazy, and for me, seeing the room change when you take an item never gets old. Perhaps there’s a part of Young Andrew who’s still wowed at how Sierra did it and how it’s easy to do now. That part of me is also wowed that you can change the font from Sans Serif to an ancient Greek style with FONT. Yes, even though I’ve known about fonts for 25 years now. There’s still magic in there. Maybe it’s the Inform programmer in me, who is generally just happy to use bold and italics.

The silliness never really gets out of hand–part of that is due to the title. You know what you need to find, both the enemy and an item. But that also got me in a bit of a problem. The game encourages you to look everywhere, and I had a tough time at first finding the banana because bananas grow in tropical climates, and you find one in some snow. Perhaps I’m at fault for overthinking or not lawnmowering as diligently as I should.

Everything’s explained at the end. You wind up meeting a few more mythical beasts. Adults may guess the misdirection here. I’ve seen it in other games. But I think it worked very nicely.

BaB felt like a near perfect fit for the competition and one of the first I’d replay–there were some cases where I hit on solutions and got whisked to the next room before I poked at everything I wanted to, but TALP games should push you forward quickly.

Trivial bug note(s):

– an item’s description looks the same before and after you take the sword
–Zeus says you have everything you need when you’re looking for the banana


Who Kidnapped Mother Goose? by Garry Francis

While The Wolf concentrated on fairy tales with wolves, WKMG seemed to concentrate on, well, fairy tales with everything except wolves. I know we have a topic for IFComp games with similarities every year, but in a contest with a theme, “entries that jigsaw together” might work better. You have Little Jack Horner, Peter Pumpkin Eater, Willie Winkle, and a bunch of others out there, everyone needing something and willing to trade so you eventually get what you need to rescue Mother Goose.

And I have to say, I don’t like nursery rhymes that much. I never got them when I was young, and I’m not nostalgic for them now, and I tend to remember other things that really made me happy. But I really appreciate that they were hammered well into a cohesive story. Garry Francis has a relatively high floor to his short works, and if reductionists say "well, it’s a lot of USE A ON B,"well … given I’ve used that mechanic, I’m glad to justify it by saying, well, Garry writes text adventures, and this is a text adventure jam, and trying to be full-on fiction could get in the way of the player’s enjoyment. Besides, WKMG it does have a lot of user-friendliness that gives it character. The hints here are rhyming couplets, and while it’s nice to read variations on “nothing to do here,” the nicety here made me feel like I wasn’t just checking off what I did and where.

It’s not a huge game–it’s a north-south street with houses or businesses on each side, and some dwellings have a back room or backyard, so you don’t have to juggle a huge map. But it’s big enough, with enough characters, you do feel you’ve searched high and low by the time you find Mother Goose. (You’ll know where she is. You just can’t get there right away. It definitely gives you something to pull for.)

At the end there is one thing, though–you have to make sure the threat doesn’t return. You must perform an action which, if done wrong, kills your character. Having a testing mindset, I tried it. And I think Garry’s usual snark, which I appreciate, misfired–“you dimwit.” I may be too kum-ba-yah about all this, but it seemed like a perfect time to say, okay, if you like living on the edge, good for you! You might make a good tester. The community could use those. Maybe something about Zarfian cruelty or Graham Nelson’s Player’s Bill of Rights or “you asked for it. Text adventures used to be cruel in instadeaths. But now there are rules so we warn you. And I think I did here.”

Maybe I’m harping on a bit much. I probably focused on it since there wasn’t much to complain about it. But it struck me as a missed opportunity given the general intended tone of the comp. So it’s about the harshest thing I had to say, and I don’t believe it’s very harsh. WKMG will get a good score from me.


Thanks, much appreciated! I’ve tweaked the description at the location to try to make it more obvious that the snow needs attention! Will have a word with Zeus about bad advice, too, he’s not supposed to say that until you have the banana… Might write up how the collaboration worked at some point, too.


Thanks for doing these reviews and thanks for the review of my humble little game. I’m not quite sure if it was a positive review or a negative review, but I did pick up on the “you dimwit” thing. Did I say that? Surely not. When I checked the code, sure enough, I did. What was I thinking? This game was written in only three weeks based on a framework that I had written some years ago, so some things were rushed. I now recall that the dimwit thing was placeholder text that I intended to change and it must have slipped through the cracks. It is now gone for when I do a post-comp release, which I certainly will if anyone finds any issues.


While I take a break from playing new stuff …

Please do! It doesn’t have to be profound.

I’ve done this with games that took much longer than 3 weeks to write.

It’s one of those games that takes on something that could potentially make me groan, but it didn’t. I recognize it won’t be one of my favorite all time, but then I get into it and realize I enjoyed it.

Maybe my focus on the text you’ve now removed was a bit too focused. I was, after all, poking the bear by doing so. It was something I figured you implemented, and I was curious what would happen.

And between playing and writing, my mind drifted to how it would be interesting to maybe have a TALP entry that went into theory next year, without going too far into the weeds. I thought Cobwebbed Dragon’s worked well for the basic mechanics and maybe provided a template for other things.

The Interactive Adventurer’s Tutorial Adventure

But what about what is fair and what isn’t fair? What is and isn’t fun? What’s been done to death and what hasn’t? How can we offer this to the player without boring them?


5 posts were merged into an existing topic: Philosophy and goals of Text Adventure Literacy Jam

Day Out, by Zeno Pillan

I sometimes wondered as a kid if my life would be radically different if I, say, chose one flavor of ice cream over another one day.

Well, that sort of happens here.

You are driving to work, and you stop at a gas station to refuel. You have a choice of four snacks to buy. Each one opens a different mini-story, and each mini-story gives you part of a message you need to decipher. I managed to figure it out after just two (ice cream and Pringle’s.) I don’t know if it’s the author’s intent, but it’s a neat idea. And the snack images are neat low-res things that give me nostalgia for Apple and TRS-80, in a good way.

There are some puzzles, too, mostly of the logic type. There’s “three people, one may be lying” and numerical patterns and so forth. I got talking animals in a forest and then an elevator where the desired floor was the answer to a puzzle. I missed on the animals in the forest several times, but it was forgiving and looped back until I examined stuff and figured things out.

This means Day Out isn’t big on story, but technically, it works. However, it seems as though it would work a lot better in twine, and the author may have confused “tutorial for others” with “tutorial for myself.” The verbs are sensible but they are force-fed to you.

This is probably because English isn’t the author’s first language. (Unless there are 2 people named Zeno Pillan.) Their artistic side is rather interesting, at least on Instagram, and I think they should be pleased with this first effort. The interlinking stories and secret messages are creative, if a bit random. But perhaps this would have been better done in Twine. For instance, with the elevator buttons, PUSH RED/GREEN/BLUE could just have three buttons. So it doesn’t really play to the strengths of the parser, especially when I typed BLUE. Thankfully the HINT command bailed me out. So the author made serious effort to make things robust.

There was enough of that that the “I couldn’t write something in another language” caveats aren’t just fluff. There are spelling and grammar errors, but it’s not the sort a native speaker would make, and when you see those it’s easy/easier to be forgiving. I was definitely left thinking, okay, this person did what they could, and with more time to proofread and translate, this gets ironed out, no problem. I mean, you get a password just before the puzzles start, which is thoughtful of the author, and the passwords are rather amusing on their own. The author has a legit sense of humor.

Though between checking off to say, yes, this is what the author meant, and fighting the parser a bit to get to the “good” ending, I was glad to cut things short initially. Guessing the “real” path through is hinted at several times in the story and leads you to a fun small sub-game of its own, which has maybe been done before, but it’s satisfying.

It was more than enough to leave me interested in eating the other two snacks well before judging ends. So yeah, I think I’ll poke through them before deciding on a final score, not because I expect it to change, but I want to see what the author thought up.

It does feel like puzzles with story slapped on a bit (I’ve definitely been in that boat, too, as a writer,) but I did like the blocky way-retro graphics, and I don’t think that sort of aesthetic appeal happens by accident. But the game also has limitations, because the parser inhibits the experience instead of adding to it. However, if it weren’t written in Adventuron, we might not have the cool graphics Adventuron seems to inspire.


10 posts were split to a new topic: Philosophy and goals of Text Adventure Literacy Jam