Wolfbiter reviews IFComp 2023 (latest: finished with reviews, wrap-up thoughts)

I recognise your issues with the conversations. I too was aiming for a meaningful dialogue, choosing topics that seemed right in the flow, avoiding topics I wasn’t sure I wanted to know about or the NPC wanted to discuss.
Of course I missed a bunch of achievements because of this. (I never got enough money to pay for water for the plant or a sandwich for the guard. Just the bit of change under the café table.). Which is fine. I also think (not sure) it locked me out of the special ending.

1 Like

Thanks so much for taking the time to play and review Beat Witch! I enjoyed reading about what worked and didn’t work for you.

  • Polly is actually not a teenager anymore, and maybe I should have been more clear on that point! The newscast she views in the breakroom mentions she’s been on the run for a few decades now, but that might have been easy to miss. In the bonus beat witch material in the help menu (not required reading), check out the date on the notice from the Department of Justice that names her. A little Easter egg on her age: if you try to take the iPhone when Dr. Steve is unconscious at the beginning or try to operate it when you have it in your possession later, Polly will balk at using it, as she’s had no experience with smartphones. She’s missed a lot of tech developments as a fugitive. To her, a Walkman is the pinnacle of technology.

  • On your violently ambivalent part: I’m not sure if you realized this, but it doesn’t matter what you try to type at that point (UNDO, RESTART, FRODO LIVES, O’DOYLE RULES, etc.). The point is to type something and not give up. :slight_smile: YMMV

  • Good observation with the earplugs/earmuffs! And why can’t a beat witch make herself permanently deaf? That will be explored in the next installment – not sure when that will be.

Thanks again for taking the time to fall off a building with me!

3 Likes

Thanks for letting me know! I think it could be a cool addition (I mean, obviously I think that, but). not at all to say I think ending with sex was bad but I think it could be even more meaningful if the player chooses it instead of another option

1 Like

Yeah, that was about how I felt. I feel a little bad because it’s complaining about being TOO engaged (“I enjoyed this part of the game so much that then I was upset when you wanted me to do something else”). I read some transcripts of the other ending so that scratched that itch.

1 Like

Oh, oops, I definitely misread the age point, thanks for the flag. Changed the reference in the review (although that’s also making me rethink the reunion with Benny at the end, I had thought it had not been that long . . .).

Yeah, I guessed that the violently ambivalent bit would work no matter what you type. I, at least, didn’t type anything because I was coming up empty just went into the walkthrough, so that’s how I got there . . .

Thanks for writing the game! I had fun with it.

1 Like

To Sea in a Sieve by J. J. Guest
Playtime: 35 minutes

[Note: I haven’t played the other game in this series.]

TLDR: It’s an escape room, except instead of a room it’s a jolly boat and instead of escaping you’re trying to ditch your pirate treasure so you don’t sink.

[ + ]

  • Many fun examples of plunder in the boat with you, this game is making the most out of the potential for colorful and interesting items.

  • The captain’s commentary on each item is very funny (particularly his lament as you get rid of each [to him] priceless treasure)

  • The unique mechanics of bailing / weighing are well implemented, I appreciated that the GUI had info about both.

[ Δ ]

  • This was a real case of “puzzles too hard-itis” for me. There’s an unfortunate feedback loop: if I get driven into the walkthrough too early in a game, and particularly if that first solution makes me groan and think “I would never have thought of that,” then the next time I start to feel stuck I’m now even more likely to go look at the walkthrough because I doubt that I will figure out what the author meant on my own . . . I was at the un-fun end of that process with this one and ended up feeling like I was just re-typing the instructions for the back half. A few places where I think more/different clueing could have helped me avoid frustration:given that I couldn’t get the bag from the captain, I was pretty surprised to learn from the walkthrough that I could search his pockets or cut the bag’s strap and then take it. Or, I think I got told "putting things on the barrel would avail me naught” when I tried to put the gunpowder or a fuse on it, which didn’t exactly help me figure out I was supposed to put the gunpowder and fuse into one specific part of the barrel.

  • Sometimes when I’m struggling with the puzzles I’ll still feel very engaged with a game based on the plot or characterization. Here, unfortunately, I also found the main objective just a bit un-fun. This is very much on me because we are absolutely cued about it from the first lines of the game, but I was still kind of hoping there would be a subversion, I would find an alternative, etc etc. I’m a pirate! The last thing I want to do is get rid of all of my loot! (and can’t I row us to another location while bailing every 20th turn or whatnot? And then at the end if you succeed you get cursed for your trouble.

4 Likes

The Little Match Girl 4 by Ryan Veeder
Playtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes (just under the wire!)

TLDR: The powerful protagonist zips across space and time to solve puzzles with her magic powers, and also a gun. (You know those memes like “[work of media] if [character] had a gun”? Well, she does.)

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. This is a puzzler where you explore areas, discovery new power-ups, and then can return to previously explored areas to solve them.

[ + ]

  • I knew I was gonna have some catching up to do, as deduced from (a) the fact that this game is called “Little Match Girl 4” and (b) the fact that I am regrettably ignorant of Little Match Girls 1, 2, or 3. I like the approach the game took of pretty much dropping you right in—I learned short order that (probably over-marking spoilers since I have no idea if any of these are news to returning players): (1) my name is Ebenezabeth (2) I travel through time and space whenever I look at a flame (3) all of the vampires in the world that I haven’t killed hate me (honestly, I can understand that) (4) Poseidon is a huge fan of mine (5) I apparently remain on good terms with the guy who named me Ebenezabeth? (6) there’s a sentient species called Reptids that are masters of genetic engineering and shared the earth with dinosaurs around the end of the cretaceous, and also they know who I am. But after a few minutes to assimilate all of that into my worldview I was good to go. And in all seriousness none of that interfered with me playing the game.

  • the cretaceous setting was very cool, I loved wandering around looking at rivers of lava consuming grasses etc etc EXCEPT----dinosaur companion for Ebenezabeth coming twenty-twenty-when?

  • It took me a moment to understand what was going on, but once I grokked the overall structure—explore a few places, find a power-up, go back and solve problems you couldn’t before in previously-visited locations—I had a very good time. AND from reading everyone else’s reviews I learned that we fine internet denizens call this type of game a “metroidvania.”

  • The NPC dialogue is a delight. There were a few scenes particularly where they just kept going and going beyond my expectations.

  • the puzzle in the pirate storage room was hilarious! And I enjoyed the general attitude Ruth was giving me. I don’t know what Ebezabeth is on about re: Ruth (when she ponders her later)–Ruth is definitely prime marrying material in my book

  • fun easter eggs. I won a dinosaur plushie in a shooting minigame that is . . . a typing speed test?

  • The location-specific in-game hints gave me just the nudges I needed a few times. Also, if you sit and rest the game will play you some gentle music and also an inner monologue to hint to you what you should be focusing on.

[ Δ ]

  • This game was a huge outlier in terms of how long I spent with absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be accomplishing. I enjoyed the game just fine regardless because of the expansive feeling and ability to wander around and try things out, and I don’t think the game was meant to feel particularly objective-focused, but I was struck by how long I spent totally clueless. Looking at the other reviews, I think I went the other direction at the beginning, but I did not make it into the land of Faerie until about 1 hour, 20 minutes into my playthrough (at which I’d already found at least one pearl). I distinctly recall the moment I learned the what the stakes of the game were, 1 hour and 56 minutes into my playthrough, when Queen Titania, having just accepted my gift, says “OK, Faerie will not go to war with the human realm.” OK then! Glad to hear it! And all of that did make the sequence where the player character finds a captured alternate timeline version of herself feel like a red herring—I encountered that scene first so I was all set on trying to rescue myself, but that plot is Sir Not Appearing in This Game

  • I wouldn’t have minded if the very last segment was a bit longer! I’m a huge fan of returning to the sites of our past trauma, etc etc., but the Copenhagen interlude went very fast and didn’t require much of me

  • navigating the map became a bit tedious by the end. I realize that we’re meant to be enjoying / admiring the flame-teleportation, but also . . . there’s a voice whispering in the darkness . . . it’s saying “go to [lighthouse]” . . .

7 Likes

Thank you for taking the time to play my game and write a review!

1 Like

Thanks for writing the game, I had fun with it!

1 Like

Lol, I’m cheating a little. My review is written but not posted, but I couldn’t resist. Any similarities to my experience are purely coincidental is a thing I feel compelled to say.

I had to laugh at yr photo finish. My timer expired as I was reading the epilogue!

3 Likes

Haha! With the games I think might be long I’ve been trying to be really diligent about running a timer and thus I have Precise Numbers available. There was a part at like 90 minutes in where I thought there’s no way I’m going to finish under time, but the back half actually went pretty fast I thought. Or I had just finally learned what to do. :wink:

So I felt lucky but also wondered: “who is this Ryan Veeder and is he a game-length-judging wizard” Hearing that you ended up there too makes me suspicious . . .

3 Likes

Ryan, swear to us you will only use your powers for good. SWEAR TO US!!

[is comforting to hear I am not the only one super-meticulous about the judging window]

3 Likes

Magor Investigates . . . by Larry Horsfield
Playtime: 31 minutes

TLDR: The king has called upon the player-character-slash-court-advisor-slash-distiller’s knowledge in this short, light puzzler. Now if you could just find your spectacles . . .

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can save and undo (but are not particularly likely to want to). I had to download “ADRIFT Runner” to play the game file, but once I did that it was easy. Also I learned from reading the other reviews that there is a task list available. Which I totally missed.

[ + ]

  • This game occupies the space between cozy and fantasy. Puzzles include: making tea! and watering your plant! I was charmed by this glimpse at the life of a guy who seems to have good friends in the castle, an herb garden, a flourishing whiskey distillery, and not too many sources of stress. He knows how to cast fireball and mostly uses it for seeing in the dark!

  • This game endeared itself to me with the idiosyncratic touches of a labor of love (ok, big surprise at the IF competition), like text in cyan, magenta, and yellow; a reminder that appeared every turn for a while to use “lumino” if it’s too dark to see, and the option to prompt the game for lore from the other games (that you don’t need for this game).

  • The puzzles were a bit easy, but I probably prefer that to too hard. It’s pleasant to be given a series of accomplishable tasks and accomplish them.

[ Δ ]

  • It’s a slight game, the length estimate probably needs to be adjusted downward.

  • This game is overly restrictive in stopping you from doing stuff. I can mostly understand fencing the player out of hallways they won’t need (although why are so many of these mentioned then?), but the game won’t even let me gather extra herbs from the garden? I’m a parser player! Those are my emotional support herbs!

also one implementaiton issue with that

When I went to add the peppermint leaves to the mug, the game would not recognize “peppermint” or “leaves” although I eventually got it to take “mint.”

  • One thing that might amp up the player engagement level is zhushing up the dialogue to be more individual for each character and convey personality. A lot of it currently is a fairly workmanlike relating of plot. E.g., “Yes, indeed.” Kelson says. “That means that Alaric must have Haldane blood in him and we must be related in some way.”
6 Likes

The Vambrace of Destiny by Arthur DiBianca
Playtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

TLDR: Dungeon crawl? In this extremely cleanly implemented game we ZIP through the dungeon while solving puzzles and recovering fantastical loot.

Gamemechanical notes: A “limited parser” puzzler where pretty much all navigation and gameplay is handled by pressing a single key on the keyboard.

[ + ]

  • This definitely feels like the apotheosis of its genre (not that I wouldn’t love seeing sixty thousand more!). With the tyranny of the return key overthrown, it’s amazing how fast you can blitz across the (actually pretty huge) map and solve puzzles.

  • The whole UI is really optimized to provide a fluid and seamless experience. We get a map (that displays the current location!), we get the option to call up lists of relevant commands / items. I’m such a fan, such joy, such vim.

  • investigrab, my beloved <3 (I just also appreciate this nod to, yeah, it’s that kind of a game, if there’s an item in a room, you’re gonna want to either investigate or take it, let’s cut to the chase)

  • The final boss fight was really cleverly designed. Makes the player learn a bit, but then rewards them with the feeling of acing a final exam

[ Δ ]

  • OK, yes, I am a little bit that person making puppy-dog eyes in the drivethru at Wendy’s like “please can I have a taco supreme” BUT—what if: we had a smidge of character work on top of our delicious puzzle salad? Just the tiniest shaving? What if I could tip my Krotonian pal one of the treasures I found? (My dude earned it for sure.) What if I could have a conversation with the rogue librarian—negotiate a bit? Take their side? Would love anything in this direction.
8 Likes

Thanks for taking the time to play my game and for the great review! I’m very glad you enjoyed it.

And also thanks for describing the weaknesses so well. For the post-comp update, I’m going to revisit those points and ensure that I do better!

1 Like

Thanks for writing the game! I had a lot of fun with it.

1 Like

Barcarolle in Yellow by Victor Ojuel
Playtime: 1 hour

TLDR: Perhaps you’re an actor being stalked across Venice in this moody thriller, or perhaps something else is going on . . .

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can save and undo. I played once and think (?) there are multiple endings.

[ + ]

  • I loved the title and cover art. They really set the mood and built anticipation. Very Silence of the Lambs-poster vibes

  • has a promising setting and concept. We’re in an interesting time period! We’ve visiting colorful film sets full of unusual people! We’re going to Venice! Cutthroat film sets! Murderous stalkers! There’s a lot to work with here

  • I was very engaged the whole time. Getting murdered was effective at building tension, and I was getting some of the intended feelings of paranoia, fear, etc.

[ Δ ]

  • I finished the game (ending C) and although an explanation was presented, I still could not explain to you what was going on. [spoilers about the ending] I was undercover? Did I have some kind of backup? If so, where were they when I was getting strangled and pushed off a bridge? Why does the game open with me talking to the police?

  • When I saw in the description that we were tackling pulpy ‘70s exploitation films, one of my immediate questions was “so, how are we handling the misogyny?” On that note, there were a couple of pieces of narration that notably sexualized the player character in what I read as a “sexy victim” way:

Trembling, you peel off your soaked dress. If this was a scene, the camera would be sliding down as you do, catching the goosebumps in your soft skin to emphasize your vulnerability, and ending with the wet heap on the floor. But it’s not a scene.

You run a hot bath, waiting until it’s half full to slide in, with a sensual moan of pleasure. Again, if this was a scene, the camera would catch you from behind, lingering on your nakedness as you raise one leg, then the other, and ease into the steaming water.

These bits both seemed gratuitous to me–the player character is alone and she presumably doesn’t find changing clothes to be notably erotic. All that said, I appreciate that the game includes a female protagonist—I really enjoy seeing female characters in fiction and I hope I don’t discouraging anyone from writing them.

  • As others mentioned, the gameplay suffered from implementation issues, and I had a lot of the same problems. I think the thriller concept is good and the elements chosen to carry it out could be very engaging, but that fast-paced concept is really hurt by unfriendly / buggy implementation that kills the momentum. If I’m fighting with the game about how to grab a bridge or turn on a projector, it throws me out of that high-immersion state.
6 Likes

The Witch by Charles Moore
Playtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes (did not finish)

TLDR: You begin the game. You don’t know it yet, but you’re in a map with 49* locations. “help” you type. “There’s no help for you,” the game replies.
(*actually more than 49, that’s just how many I had seen when I stopped)

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can save and undo and you will need both. If you type “score” the game will score you, but more importantly, it will tell you if it’s still possible to win. Score frequently, score often, friends.

[ + ]

  • I came in with some moderate meta-game knowledge and with it, I had a good time! Sometimes one just wants to explore an area, make a map, collect all collectible items, and see what puzzles one can solve with them. It probably took 1 hour, 20 minutes of casually tooling around before I finished my naive ideas for what to do with each item and started to feel stuck. If you, like me, find that kind of exploration satisfying for your hunter-gatherer brain, you will probably also like it.

  • I did the chairlift puzzle and the mine puzzle on my own and they were both fun!

  • Riding the chairlift was also pretty fun. wheeeeeeee

  • I liked how under-implemented it was. I’m here to solve puzzles and chew bubble gum, and I’m fresh out of bubble gum. So yeah, thank you for respecting my time. Me: “get gems” Game:“They’re just for decoration.” Whabam.

[ Δ ]

  • I mentioned I came in with some meta-knowledge. Although I’ve generally been avoiding reviews until I’m done with my playthrough of a game, I had picked up that (1) it’s possible to make the game unwinnable without noticing and (2) “score” will tell you if you can still win. These two facts are pretty important and should be stated up front! My experience would have been very different if I’d invested a few hours before realizing how to use “score.” Barely a hint for those who haven’t played: There are some environmental deaths, but not really any total jump-scare type deaths. The ways you can make the game unwinnable are not that subtle, it’s mostly by destroying / misusing / wasting plot-relevant items. So if you did something that consumed an item, that would be a good time to check if the game is still winnable. And I think there’s also a 600 turn time limit, per @mathbrush, although I didn’t make it that far in any of my discrete attempts.

  • Some of the puzzles were underclued / a bit unfair. Specifically, (yes, this list is based in RATIONAL OBJECTIVE criteria and not just whatever I couldn’t figure out, why do you ask?) there should be some indication to give the teddy bear to the Widow, the beaver should be more prominent (well, also should exist, see below), the command “climb up” should work at the tree instead of just “up,” you shouldn’t have to climb into the peach tree to see that it has a peach. Oh, related to that, does anyone know if is there a topographical explanation for the tree-climbing puzzle? When I saw the walkthrough for that part I was like, hmm, if it’s doing more than button mashing I don’t get it, so I went to the tree and mashed up and down and successfully got through it that way, but I saw people referring to that as a “maze,” which makes me think there is some internally-consistent way of conceiving of its shape. Although the 2D maze is breaking my brain a bit?

  • Really my biggest issue is that once I’d exhausted free explore time and wanted the walkthrough, I found I couldn’t finish the game because the beaver didn’t seem to exist anywhere. This is probably a bug, although honestly it also feels sort of deserved in my unworthy heart because I [spoiler for a different game] killed that beaver in To Sea in a Sieve. I applaud that there was a walkthrough, but it is also important that it be possible to finish the game ¯_(ツ)_/¯

7 Likes

Yup. I think you can find it as a map somewhere. Go up a certain amount to get to one checkpoint, then down to get to the next, etc.

1 Like

Hmm, see I guess this is what I mean by it breaks my brain. I assume “up” goes up some fixed number of units, and “down” goes down the same number. So if I’m at 20 ft on the tree, then I go “up” I’ll be at 30 ft. If I then go back “down,” now I’m exactly where I started at 20 ft so I haven’t changed anything . . .

1 Like