Here is my list of favorite/top-tier games in the TALP jam. I hope to write up the others soon enough, and if I forgot to, I hope that isn’t seen as a slight. There may be minor spoilers as I discuss what I like about the games, because part of that is tied to the conclusion or puzzle design or other things.
As I said above, I was able to get through every game with little trouble, and I was glad I did.
Games are listed in alphabetical order.
Barry Basic and the Quick Escape
This is a neat production where you must control three teens. One, Barry Basic, has snuck into a control room where he shouldn’t be, and he managed to get locked in. His friends need to help him out. You need to change points of view several times. Games like this where you change perspective usually frustrated me, but this one helped me along really well and still left me the freedom to feel like I was solving stuff.
This game had several neat parts: seeing how and why Gill liking English was relevant, having Barry’s more athletic friend Tony need to help him several different ways, and the accomplishments at the end that encourage you to try everything. Each friend-pair also has an interaction that moves the plot forward, and the game never forces pedantry on you. By this, I mean when you’re finally leaving for home, you don’t have to switch between Barry and Gill and Tony.
And I think that’s the sign of a good game. It wants your time, and it requires the effort of seeing how three friends interact, and it lets you do so, but it doesn’t bog you down to stay. It also has a good economy of items–there are enough for good puzzles, but not too many.
Also, the game features a rotary phone. Rotary phones are good for a cheap laugh, but in this case, they’re part of an early plot point. So this is retro/nostalgia done right.
I played this game early on, and it certainly left me optimistic that the others would work well.
The Blue Lettuce
The Blue Lettuce is a game about a groundhog who is looking forward to eating some magical blue lettuce.
I know Caleb Wilson has written some strong efforts before, and I wasn’t disappointed here. The puzzles aren’t tough, and the prose is good. The way through is pretty clearly lit for those who just want to win, but I wasn’t surprised there was more.
I figured how to eat a couple of the vegetables the first time through, and while the puzzles are simple, there’s good variety in them. I also like the responses to eating stuff you don’t like, which rounds things out nicely. There’s nothing crazy, but it all makes sense. Like I wouldn’t expect the groundhog to enjoy grass, and they didn’t.
The crane across the pond is also a neat NPC.
Even though this game seems relatively simple, it had a few in-plain-sight points I didn’t see when I just plowed through the first time, and I don’t mind. I think someone who sits down and diligently tries to enjoy the game should find everything and have fun in the process. It’s also neat that you can get the lettuce and not eat it right away to try everything, and the blue lettuce itself is a neat goal: obviously magical, but not too silly. It reminded me how I liked blue raspberry gelatin or blue ice cream or weird blue candy or bubble gum a lot as a kid, maybe because it was a slightly unnatural color, and I convinced myself it tasted exotic even if it didn’t really.
This game also leverages something simple from Inform that I really like to see: instead of the standard “You can’t go that way” for un-goable directions, a list of which ways you can go. I think implementing this helps me as a developer, and it also provides a fallback for the player in case they don’t read the room description right, or if it is missing something.
I imagine this isn’t part of the general Adventuron common knowledge yet, and I expect any of the authors reading this review may say, hey, I can do that, too, and they can add in a small low-risk but relatively high-yield patch. It’s not a deal breaker if it’s gone, so don’t worry about that. But it’s a surprisingly (for me) fun way to check your work without being pedantic, and if you send a tester a beta build and forget to label an exit, they have another chance to find it.
Thiswas a pleasant surprise for me, in how well it was done. You’re a kid who needs to decorate a sandcastle you helped your father build. With games like this I’m always a bit worried that there will be nostalgia-pandering, but I think this game did so much right.
I’m always impressed when a game deals with limits seamlessly. In this case, you have a map of the beach to start, but you can’t go too far away from your parents. So that helps keep the game small, so you don’t have to go wandering off anywhere. Also, two squares on the map are inaccessible: they are in the water, where the boats go. This certainly brought back memories of the beach. And the treasures aren’t terribly tricky to find, or valuable, but you would find them at the beach, and you would enjoy them as a kid.
But I think it also deals with a kid’s limited knowledge seamlessly. The kid is happy to be at the beach. The kid doesn’t realize parents need and want time to themselves. But he may not have friends of his own to hang with. So the father sends him out on a small fetching expedition to keep him entertained.
Well, I believe it worked for the kid AND for me.
This is the one I have the most to say about. It game grew on me and also touched off some interesting questions. I’m worried a lot of what I say could be construed as a backhanded compliment, but … I hope it comes across as genuine, in that it’s the sort of game that is usually not my thing, but it won me over. It has everything in place for the player to enjoy it. So I’ll try to give my impressions of how it won me over.
Taking measurements does feel pedantic, and there may be a bit too much lab-prep to get started–but that’s what’s necessary for a scientific expedition, and making actual puzzles is tough. You have to do so more than once, but on the other hand, it makes sense that you need to.
And then once I saw there were 24 specimens to collect. I was worried, oh no, do I have to get them all? And if I had one suggestion for a tweak, it would be to allow the robot to leave with 22 out of 24 specimens or such. The reason is arithmetic: if a casual player has a 96% chance (this number was pulled out of nowhere) of finding any one specimen, there’s an 80% chance they’ll miss one (1-.96^40), so that could be frustrating for someone who doesn’t take disciplined notes right away. And while most specimens are well clued, and you find what to do, well, it’s easy to miss one.
But then things really do start to fit in fast. There’s a certain formula for what you need to do: examine the habitats fully at night, then do the same during the day. And yes, it’s wonderful to be able to shut the robot off until the next day/night! There’s a constant push-pull between wanting to explore more and wanting to nail down getting all the specimens in one area, so you don’t miss anything later, so you get to the end of the game. One guide for whether or not I like a game is if I worry it might be getting too big (all those specimens,) and then, when I discover its boundaries, I’m suddenly upset there wasn’t more of it. That happened here. And there’s enough variety in the terrains you need to explore.
One more downer which I suspect the game writer is good enough to rectify: I recommend either 1) using the save slots or 2) not going back to the supplies room, because in the supplies room, I got a bug where you couldn’t close or open the drawer, but you couldn’t exit either, because the game thought the drawer was open. However, the writer has already fixed a few small bugs, which (on top of being able to make something like this) is a great sign they’ll get it fixed.
Also, when I had to restart because I forgot to save, I knew what I was doing, and I was able to bulldoze each room to find those last couple specimens I was missing, and it didn’t feel like brute force. Perhaps having that blank sheet of paper to check off “ok, room 1, I got everything at night. Ok, I got everything for daytime.” might’ve been quicker than running around and wondering what I missed. So that’s a sign of a well-constructed game: even in the case of an unforeseen bug, I as a player was able to get back up to speed quickly, and I did so without having to refer to a walkthrough. I had a -method-. And this probably was the most complex game technically of all the entries, so a bug such as I found is more than forgivable (especially since I’ve let bugs like this slip through, myself,) with everything else that went right.
This game also deserves serious credit for using custom verbs the best of any of the entrants. There’s a hook which can HOOK stuff and a glob you can GLOB places. MEASURE also requires an unusual guess-the-noun puzzle, which I can assure you is much more pleasant than guess-the-verb. Well thought out!