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

Kaboom by anonymous

TLDR: An poignant, slightly melancholy puzzler about a toy trying to save the life of its person.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Focuses on puzzles, I got the sense there was one “main” ending and then some “fail” endings but didn’t experiment exhaustively. (Note that sometimes interacting with things is under “examine ____” and sometimes it is in your inventory under front or back paws, e.g., “touch ____ with front paws.” Saving is also in your inventory and only available after a certain point in the game.)

[ + ]

  • a really creative and unique concept—you’re a toy using your limited powers (you can barely move small objects) to try to save your “mistress,” a little girl, after her home is struck by some kind of bomb

  • excellent combination of player character / plot and accompanying themes. The player character has no concept of war or bombs and understands very little except that the girl needs help; whereas the player will have a pretty good sense of what’s going on. That distance gives a lot of power to the message; you know, war is senseless and it looks particularly senseless from the perspective of a toy. (Think the choice to use Scout, who doesn’t understand racism, as the narrator in To Kill a Mockingbird).

  • this is a story about a toy but it’s pretty emotionally hard hitting. The bit at the end where I had to expose myself to fire, my greatest fear, to save the girl . . . oof, very effective

  • [about the main ending] I really enjoyed the ending. It’s bleak, but that felt appropriate to the subject matter.

[ Δ ]

  • I struggled with some of the puzzles. Fortunately the game includes a walkthrough so I didn’t get too frustrated. It also helps that there’s pretty limited areas / possible items. Two things that might help– when you enter an area you get a snippet of description but it’s not a full “look” and in particular, it doesn’t tell you what items are present there. This creates a surprising amount of friction for key items that you move around because if you forget exactly where you left them now you are going place to place “looking.” And for me, the idea of needing to look at / access the bottom of the cassette player could have been signalled more. I think I would have gotten there more easily if any of the text during the initial view or examination of the cassette player had hinted that there was something about the bottom that could / needed to be interacted with.

Thank you for taking the time to play and review Detective Osiris! I appreciate your feedback.

1 Like

My Brother; The Parasite by qrowscant

TLDR: Moody, horror-esque story about the player character exploring her complicated relationship with her brother.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. I only played once but it felt like there was just one main path.

[ + ]

  • This game really summoned a lot of complicated, unsettled feelings in me. It definitely was successfully in evoking an emotional reaction. I don’t know how to portray this in a review but it was a very engaging and, at times cathartic, experience.

  • Well written. The short, descriptive sentences are effective at making it feel immediate and compelling.

  • I enjoyed the art design and illustrations. The art, combined with the at times psychedelic backgrounds, rare timed text, and the need to click different places, all did make it feel more interactive for a game without very many paths.

[ Δ ]

  • I felt like I didn’t successfully deduce everything I was supposed to about the past between the player character and the brother.

  • I spent some of the game trying to figure out if putting the parasite in dead people is something that they do to everyone in this universe, or if the brother was special (they wanted to investigate cause of death? Involvement with military?). I think maybe the word “handler” in particular kept me thinking it was going to be plot-relevant.


One Does Not Simply Fry by Stewart C Baker and James Beamon

Note: I played the Avis Barb route. (I was unable to guess the LOTR character from the name, but it’s off-brand Eowyn.)

TLDR: A pitch-perfect and hilarious LOTR + GBBO pastiche. We’re going to Mordor, and the judges and audience are coming with us!

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Multiple endings. There’s a lot to experience no matter what choices you make.

[ + ]

  • Very funny. Loaded with jokes and references. You can argue about the existence of potatoes! A+ execution of the concept. I only played one route but I could definitely see myself going back to play the others to see the jokes and see how those characters solve problems.

  • Pleasantly light gameplay– winning the competition/frying the One Ring is fairly achievable if you focus on whatever your character’s stated strengths are, but even if you don’t succeed in those tasks, the game is still highly enjoyable because it’s more about the entertainment of seeing what happens. The game has been smartly designed to reduce friction. For example you can’t forget to buy an ingredient or be unable to get it because you lack money, the game walks you through the steps of making onion rings and asks you what approach you want to take to each step, etc.

  • Let us pause to appreciate the cover art, featuring an onion ring as the ring around the Eye of Sauron.

  • In a fun contrast to most of the games, the closest thing to an element that required strategy was probably the resource-allocation minigame at the ingredient shop.

[ Δ ]

  • I wouldn’t have minded a bit more visibility into the other contestants. What’s up with the bread? What happens to the others in the various endings? (Also, I went in for a good bit of sabotage, as one does. But I was never quite sure who I should be sabotaging. Anyone know if the other competitors have a fixed threat-level / if there’s a way to predict who will do well in the contest?)

One Knight Stand by A. Hazard
Playtime: 1 hour, 10 minutes

TLDR: Urban fantasy in IF form. This quest to save the world alongside the reincarnated Arthurian Round Table includes PLENTY of character customization. Teaser for a longer game.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Player choices affect the development of the plot and endings.

[ + ]

  • There were MANY options for character customization, as others have noted. For example, after opting for a distinctive scar I was offered about 8 potential scar locations. (I took all 8 scars b/c that’s metal.). Unfortunately, without a complete game I’m not sure if I like that or not. On the one hand, if my character having a distinctive neck scar became plot relevant later, or unlocks a special puzzle solution, etc. I would honestly be impressed and feel like my time paid off. But if not, then I might rather have the time back that I spent doing character creation.

  • I will say, even in the sample chapters offered, there were some fun easter eggs based on player choices and customization. For example, one of your romantic options brings you your favorite drink (for me, rendered somewhat less dramatic by choosing “water”); I dressed my player character in a “bomber leather jacket” (the game’s terms), and later, after subsequent events totally destroy the player character’s outfit, you get the chance to change clothes. Familiarity-seeker that I am I was pleased to see I had the option to put on ANOTHER bomber leather jacket, and when I selected that the game said something like “fortunately you own a replica of your favorite bomber leather jacket.” So what I’m saying is, I hold out hope that my distinctive neck scar might in fact be plot-relevant later.

  • While perhaps not lighting my soul afire, the plot and writing were perfectly serviceable and I was engaged and wanted to find out what was happening (and which reincarned Camelot-adjacent person I am!).

  • Although I regretted being forced into joining the polo club (although based on other reviews I think maybe polo is the only one implemented?), polo club had some really very enjoyable specific details. I think the author has some horse-lore.

[ Δ ]

  • I think the fact that this is just the opening of a game was alluded to in the description, but I found it jarring when the game ended so abruptly.

  • The writing could be tightened up a bit. Everyone has their on preferred style but I found I was reading pretty quickly just for plot details on a lot of pages.

  • Potential-Love-Interest guy suffered from the common problem of his genre, being generic to try to appeal to everyone


Antony & Cleopatra: Case IV: The Murder of Marlon Brando by Travis Moy
[Note: My co-conspirator played the Cleopatra route and I played the Antony route, although we compared notes pretty thoroughly. Together we solved crime!]

Playtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

TLDR: Very much like solving a competent & tightly plotted boxed mystery with a friend. The mood of the game is more realistic and grounded than the description suggests. (After playing I was wracking my mind to try to remember the specific board game this reminded me of . . . and then I saw @DeusIrae mention in his review that it was a lot like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Which is also what I was trying to think of. So there’s two votes for the comparison, at least.)

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Minor resource-allocation tasks during the investigation, but otherwise many choices during the investigation. At the end the players must solve the mystery via quiz.

[ + ]

  • The mystery / investigation elements are well written and interesting. It definitely met my expectations of something at least as good as what I would expect in a typical mystery short story or novel. The friend and I both enjoyed engaging with the evidence and piecing together the solution, and had a lot of moments of joy as pieces came together.

  • I particularly enjoyed the realistic feeling of structuring an investigation around the initial leads, and then having some leads turn up new avenues, and other leads not pan out at all. It felt true to life and also made the world feel more expansive.

  • The UI is very good. I don’t even know enough to guess how hard programming it for two people was, but the shared calendar was handy and easy to use, the sidebar with links to the transcripts was very helpful and got frequent use, etc. etc.

  • The shared calendar was a fun mechanic and very smoothly implemented. The main choice that you have during the investigation phase is how to prioritize your resources–you have a limited number of slots for investigation (it’s not too harsh, I think we ended up skipping one person/location we didn’t have time to investigate, and there were definitely other options that we could have missed and still solved the mystery). I enjoyed the resource management / planning as an aspect of the game.

  • I enjoyed the writing for the NPCs. I respected the attitude brought to the table by Horace and Mr. Whisker in particular.

[ Δ ]

  • It seems like there’s some alpha left in the two-player concept. Playing with a friend definitely enriched my experience (spending time with friends is fun! We did better detecting!—we solved the mystery but I don’t know if I would have without a second brain / a reason to kick ideas around), but it enriched my experience in approximately the same way that calling up a friend to sit by me while I played any of the puzzle-based games in the competition would have enriched my experience. Given that the game is labelled for mandatory multiplayer, I would have liked to see even more done with it. For example, Antony and Cleopatra are at most lightly asymmetric, what if that asymmetry was leaned into more, so they had different resources, skills, or weaknesses as detectives? What if the two detectives at times split up, either to investigate separately or for some kind of climactic set-piece? What if the detectives had at times had conflicting motivations, e.g., solving the mystery versus saving my buddy; solving the mystery versus getting my buddy arrested, etc etc.

  • The game was played straighter than I expected from the description. I wouldn’t have minded leaning into the zaniness suggested by the concept. This is a world where Antony and Cleopatra are married with kids but Julius Caesar is still alive (and Antony’s boss)? Was that messy? What should we make of the fact that Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Audrey Hepburn are running Raytheon together?


Thanks for the write-up, and I’m glad you enjoyed the game! (And the cover. Lol)

These are great points, and yeah–the other contestants are pretty much non-entities, for the most part. (Sour Ron being the notable exception.) Something does happen to Marcher in one ending, but that’s it.

For “What’s up with the bread?” this game is a tie-in to an equally ridiculous, yet much, much longer and more plot-heavy game we wrote for Choice of Games, titled The Bread Must Rise. We tried to make this one playable without having to know that game exists–or know anything about it–but Tira Misu and the bread play major parts in the main game. I hoped it would be funny and weird enough just thrown in without explanation, since the game is plenty absurd already, but suspect it just felt like kind of a lead-in to a joke that was never explained.

We thought about randomizing it each time and adding in-game hints, but ran out of time. So instead it’s hard coded: Ron starts with 12 points, the friar with 11, the bread with 10, Argyle with 9, and Marcher with 8. You start with 9 points, and a successful sabotage is -5 points to that opponent. The walkthrough page talks about this a little, but I don’t think it goes into quite as much detail as this spoiler-laden post!


Thanks for writing the game, and for this reply! I didn’t feel like my questions detracted from my experience but I do love having more info . . . which I will definitely not use to go back and sabotage people more effectively . . .


Lake Starlight by SummersViaEarth

TLDR: YA fantasy with solarpunk elements: the player character builds connections with her friends and family at magic camp to help avert ecological collapse. This is a teaser for a longer game.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice-based. Mostly story focused with some player choices and customization. There are a few different endings depending on player choices. Keep an eye on the player profile page, which hints at what the game thinks you should do.

[ + ]

  • The plot and writing have a YA-vibe. What I found refreshing was that a lot of the standard tropes are jettisoned here and replaced with something a few steps to the left of what I expected, often from a sort of “divine feminine” direction. For example, the 3 character traits are balance, self-awareness, and power. The player character will meet a cast of fellow campers who are, YA-novel style, attractive and competent (and also some of them are initially at odds with the player-character) but here we’re getting character concepts like “my moms are a mermaid and a pirate” and “my family has been helping enslaved people escape for generations”. When the vibes in the cabin are off, the campers do some group meditation before proceeding. Everyone cares a lot about what moon (think astrology sign) you were born under. It was a nice change of pace from some of the standard “you’re sorted into houses” / “your parents are greek gods and that’s where your powers come from” / “my mentor is an old man” YA fantasy tropes. And I would have enjoyed if we had spent more time with some of the other camper characters.

  • Legit some of the in-game meditations were good.

  • I enjoyed that you could refuse the call if you wanted and the game would present you with a little description of the next several decades of your sad, unmagical life.

[ Δ ]

  • I didn’t realize this was just part of a game, so it was unpleasant to get to the end with none of the plot threads resolved.

  • The writing is a bit on-the-nose, especially as to the perils of mistreating the environment

  • I ran into one issue, which I also have sometimes with hopepunk / cozy literature (think Becky Chambers): when the narrative itself seems to take a moral stance / present certain characters as “oh, everything these characters do is the correct and unproblematic,” then if I disagree with something one of the paragon characters does, it really throws me out of the story. (In cases where the narrative doesn’t have a clear moral stance or takes a more “all of these characters are flawed in their own way” approach there’s more room to disagree with character choices without feeling like you’re fighting the author.) Example from the game: I was annoyed in the scene where Elder Q (and I was getting a pretty “they are wise and good” vibe from the Elders) lets her aggressive dogs scare and then run up to and touch the player-character without any pushback.


Assembly by Ben Kirwin
Me when I saw that there was a game themed around assembling IKEA furniture: “This is it! This is my moment! This is what it’s all been for!”

What I’m trying to say is, my deep affection for IKEA prevented me from approaching this concept objectively. (Obligatory internet disclaimer: my love for IKEA is completely sincere and un-ironic.)

TLDR: Get in losers, we’re going to IKEA. This game more than lives up to the Happiest Place on Earth™–our puzzle-based experience will be as satisfying as sinking into a Poӓng and as rewarding YET accessible as being an IKEA Family member.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. Focus on puzzle elements. Has undo, built-in hints, and a walkthrough. Seems to be one ending.

[ + ]

  • The overall arc of the game is great. If we’re doing IKEA, of course we must start in the entrance hall, proceed through the showroom, stop by the restaurant, visit the marketplace, take our cart to the self-serve area, and ultimately exit at the checkout. And I very much enjoyed the symmetry of opening and closing with the Dölmen.

  • The instructional booklets as a power-up mechanic are hilarious and create a nice power progression. The emotion I felt after finally opening the locked drawer and finding . . . the instruction booklet to an industrial shelving rack–transcendent. Indescribable.

  • I found the puzzles very smooth and well signposted. I only had to use the hints once, which kept it nicely immersive. And although my inner IKEA fangirl wanted more easter eggs (Where’s the “as-is” section? The paper rulers? The $1 cone of soft-serve ice cream?), I think the choice to focus the game on a few objects / places really helped it feel streamlined and avoid frustration.

  • Amazingly, I never had an implementation problem, despite the presence of many screws and wingnuts etc etc. And the way the game would read you instructions one line at a time, forward and backward as appropriate, was exactly what I wanted.

  • Let us pause to appreciate the cover art, with its Escher-ian depiction of IKEA instructions

[ Δ ]

Loved it, but did have a few quibbles:

  • It would have been great if the “exits” feature was implemented, or if the exits were more clearly described. There was a few points where that led to friction for me. (I wonder if they weren’t implemented to protect the very funny bit in the showroom [the joke centers on the fact that the showroom extends infinitely in all directions], but it seems like there could be some workaround for that section.)
  • The ending could have been described a bit more–I actually consulted the walkthrough to make sure I hadn’t somehow done a mediocre job with the cultists and gotten a mediocre ending.

Tricks of light in the forest by Pseudavid

TLDR: A peaceful, atmospheric puzzler in which we explore an unusual forest and get a glimpse into a fascinating alternate world.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. No undo. Includes both puzzle and story elements. Seems to be one main path with puzzles to solve on the way but I didn’t replay.

[ + ]

  • Excellent use of environmental storytelling. While the game skips any infodumping and drops us straight in, we end up learning throughout the game that we’re somewhere in a post-climate-crisis future, plastic is now rare, etc etc.

  • Smart combination of the player character/plot and the mechanics of playing the game. The player character is young, naive, curious, and collecting materials for school so their behavior feels like a natural fit with the IF player urge to go everywhere, examine everything, and pick up everything that it is physically possible to pick up.

  • This is a fun game to just soak in the atmosphere, which varies between sun-dappled and warm and slightly mysterious and misty. There’s also a cute map that appears periodically.

[ Δ ]

  • I mostly got through the puzzles pretty well but there were a few weird friction points. For example, I tried to pick up the trash the first time I saw it just to be tidy but I think the responses were assuming I would do that to try to get the mirror, so I ended up pretty confused about where the mirror was when I wanted it later. [spoiler]
  • I wasn’t totally safisfied by the ending. I chose to go home the first time it was offered, but then the description text suggests the player feels they’re still missing something. I was curious if that lack would be answered if I kept walking, but not curious enough to replay the entire game.

Honk! by Alex Harby
Playtime: 1 hour, 15 minutes

TLDR: Time to pull on your clown shoes; the show must go on in the big top and only one person can save the day . . . the hero we need and deserve, Lola the circus clown!

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can undo. There are hints and a walkthrough.

[ +]

  • Playing as Lola is just a delight. Everything you would want to explore in the circus is implemented. Yes you can drive your clown car to the various locations. Yes you can pie anyone in the face. Based on the “inventory” text you appear to be constantly juggling everything you are carrying. When the “Monster Manor” ride is mentioned, yes, you can go on the ride!

  • There is something deeply satisfying about the structure for this game. The player character has to fix 3 different problems for 3 different friends. Sounds simple! No one is ever really in peril, yet I was extremely motivated to support my friends, and moved by their trust in my ability to help them.

  • The NPCs are very funny and well-written (particularly the completely tactless goose-trainer).

  • The performance mechanic worked very smoothly. The goose puzzle was an absolute banger.

[ Δ ]

  • I did get stuck on a few of the puzzles, although there is a walkthrough so it wasn’t too frustrating. Mostly it was stuff that was close, although I am not sure, for example, that the basket balloon is intuitively the only way you could lift a rabbit up . . .

  • About the ending: I loved everything up until the ending, and I thought the ending was solid but somehow not as engaging. Could there have been more interaction with the rest of the circus cast, maybe? Not sure I totally got what the MP was supposed to represent, and I didn’t really feel much tension about whether the audience would support the circus (they are people who are AT the circus, and also I just helped them see 3 amazing performances!).

One potential bug

I talked to Lola (myself) and it started a debugging conversation.


Thanks very much for your kind review of Honk! Kicking myself about that bug, not sure why that never occurred to me to test in two years of development. Time to work on that bugfix release I keep putting off.


LUNIUM by Ben Jackson

TLDR: Visually rich and detailed implementation of an escape room with a detecting sub-plot.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Puzzle focused. Has robust in-game hints.

[ + ]

  • the art was SO DETAILED (which also made it effective for the puzzles)

  • Really impressive job re-creating the escape room experience in IF format. I would not have guessed that you could convey some of these experiences, like the feeling of seamlessly looking back at the painting to find the signature, looking at the pile of photos that have fallen to the floor and being able to make deductions from the way the pile is arranged and where specific photos and labels have fallen, in virtual format.

  • The built-in hints were well implemented. The best part was that it would first tell you if you had the requisite information to solve the puzzle you were looking at or not. Several times this was enough to let me solve it myself (or go focus my efforts somewhere else). Great idea.

  • [about the ending] Yes, as the ultimate answer became clear it was fun to see the many, many clues threaded throughout the game.

[ Δ ]

  • Like most escape room concepts, you can’t really think too hard about why some of the puzzles would exist. Yes, there is an in-game explanation, but also . . . what? OK, deeper spoiler: Like, if plan A was the sedative, then why make the puzzles? And it seemed like memory loss was an unexpected side effect, but without that, the puzzles would be completely pointless . . .

  • [about the ending]I wouldn’t have minded a bit more deducting. I solved the mystery mostly by process of elimination,because we hadn’t learned enough about any of my suspects for it to be them.


Hand Me Down by Brett Witty

TLDR: A delectable three-game sandwich, with a dreamlike, elaborate Alice in Wonderland-inspired parser-based puzzler as the meat held securely between a Twine intro and Twine conclusion, which frame the puzzler as a gift from father to daughter.

Gamemechanical notes: The parser game has built-in hints and undo implemented, and seems to have one main ending reachable by solving the puzzles. My single play didn’t give me a good sense of whether there are other branches to the Twine game or not, actually. There’s also a walkthrough for the whole game.

[ + ]

  • The use of the Twine intro and conclusion games was effective in giving me another layer of emotional connection to the parser game. You spend the most time in the parser game, which is full of fun puzzles, but it adds an extra relish to have that additional overlay of knowing that, in-game, the parser was painstakingly coded by the player character’s father in a misguided (my opinion) attempt to connect with his daughter

  • The puzzles in the parser were quite good and fun. The setting, an expansive house and grounds, is also a rich, detailed environment with a lot of objects in every space to examine, and playing feels more like a leisurely exploration than a rush to get to a particular result. Barely a spoiler: a lot of the puzzles have multiple solutions, so you can choose your level of difficulty based on how much of a completionist you want to be. (Smash cut to me wearing a monster mask, a tiara, a captain’s hat, a pair of khakis, a sea jacket, a tutu, and carrying a magnifying glass.)

  • The snail scene was very funny!

  • I really enjoyed the little notes you find around that break the wall of the parser game and refer to people/places that we know from the Twine segments. It was a fun way to get more info.

[ Δ ]

  • This is minor but there are MANY writings in this game and every time I wanted to look at one I had to disambiguate like “do you mean the orange printed note, the weathered vellum note, the scratchy napkin note . . .” There must be a better way

  • I realize it may not be technologically feasible, but yes, it would have been cool if the concluding game had known how my parser game went.

  • OK given the realistic feeling of the Twine segments I did not expect to SOLVE the player character’s relationship issues. After all, we are rarely able to solve our relationships in real life. But I would have liked the ability to engage with them a bit more significantly, in different ways, given the amount of gametime we’re spending focused on them. Which is not to say “let’s observe these relationships” is not a valid artistic approach, I just don’t prefer it. For example, there were a lot of topics that I wanted to get at with the dad that I didn’t find in-game. Does he recognize at all that he retreats into game worlds as a way of avoiding connection with others? Or does he acknowledge at all that when he prioritizes programming the game over spending time with his daughter on her terms, it’s not an act of generosity to her? And what about the player character’s boyfriend? I would normally expect he would be giving emotional support to the player character, if anyone, but he’s very focused on the dad, how does the player character feel about that?.


Thanks so much for the in-depth review. In a way you got the canonical costume :grinning:

I had prototyped the sections connecting, but there were significant technical and usability issues that I couldn’t resolve to my satisfaction. Maybe a task for Post-Comp.

Thanks for your insights and all the reviews you have given to the Comp.


I picked the “keep walking” option, but I still got the same message about something being missing. I might replay to see if I can figure out what it is!


Oh interesting . . . thanks for letting me know that “keep walking” is the same . . .

I would be curious to hear if you find something else!


Thanks for the review! Really glad you enjoyed the escape room aspect and the art! It was definitely my intention to bring some of that ‘physicality’ to the online experience.

I think it’s always tricky making a puzzle focussed escape room type game that also makes complete sense when you really analyse it. But in my mind at least: this is essentially a battle of wills between yourself and your ‘other’ side - ie. the rational vs. irrational (ie. the code to the notebook) - he knows, in his other state he is all rage, but without logical thought. Even with temporary memory loss, the rational side will figure out how to escape. The irrational side will be locked in until they can puzzle it out - at which point they’ll be safe again. There’s also an implication that this isn’t the first time this has happened and the haphazard locks and puzzles are his evolving attempt to keep his other self under control. It’s a bit like Bruce Banner vs the Hulk ;).


Thanks for the writing the game! I enjoyed it. And thanks for the extra lore!