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

Paintball Wizard by Doug Egan
Playtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes

TLDR: Heartfelt game about building emotional intimacy within a fraternity. Partially via puzzles. (Also, they’re all wizards, Harry.)

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. No undo. You can save, and it autosaves frequently. (It’s pretty kind though, saving not super necessary.) I would recommend playing the tutorial, the interface is unique.

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  • Slightly contrary to my expectations, this is lovely story about TRUST and EMOTIONAL VULNERABILITY among friends. Which I am very much here for. I was worried it was going to be stereotypically fratty given the premise but actually it’s not that vibe at all. The main plot arc is the player character, Romeo, building connections with his fraternity brothers, learning more about their pasts, and becoming more willing to open up to them in turn. This stuff is like catnip for me!

  • I had a lot of fun with the spellcasting mechanic and just casting spells at everything to learn what they do. Definitely captured one of the best aspects of “wizard school”-adjacent concepts.

  • Loved the structure with a different minigame for each fraternity brother where you explore their backstory. Also the minigames themselves were a lot of fun.

  • The writing was consistently funny:

“SPLACKing myself would be dangerous. What if I traveled back in time and learned something about myself that I didn’t already know? A person could go insane that way.”

" I’ve no reason to open the tape deck unless I wanted to change the eight track casette, but the chapter only owns one casette. "

[ Δ ]

  • I appreciate @kastel and @joshgrams flagging the consent issue in their reviews. It didn’t jump out at me after my playthrough (I think because the response from the other characters is SO chill that I was sort of mentally retconning “well what if the fraternity talked about this spell earlier or something”). But after thinking about it, I think it would be better if the characters talked about it on-screen before the spell was used. And I think that would work fine, maybe even better, with the themes in the game–the fraternity brothers could offer using the spell as a way of helping Romeo with his spellcasting,which would fit with them being very supportive and trusting of him

  • Despite the fact that I was really into it, I almost ditched this game at about the 80% mark. I got stuck at the necromancy puzzle, banged my head for a while, thought “OK, let’s just open the walkthrough”–but unfortunately, the walkthrough is formatted as hints, not the actual commands you have to give, and I STILL couldn’t finish the puzzle. At that point I was pretty frustrated. Reader, in several nearby universes I bailed. But, in this universe, I took a break, decided to try it once more, and did manage to finish it. Additional hints below in case anyone else has the same problem. (Credit where credit is due, I thought the solution to the time travel puzzle was really well clued through progressive in-text hints if you messed it up.)

spoilery hints for that one puzzle

Fair warning—I may actually be wrong that this is necessary and I may have been doing something ELSE wrong the first few times I tried it, but, to my best guess:

As stated in the walkthrough, you need to make a “bridge” for each element in the cazuela. What I think my problem was–you must use the “clear items out of the center” button in between items! As in: CLEAR CENTER, move tetrahedron (b/c metal) to center, close lid, press FER (b/c metal), open lid, CLEAR CENTER, then move the next object to the center. If you do it right for all 5 polyhedra, then clear the center, then put the brain in the center, when you next close the lid it will take you to a different screen with the option to put the face on top of the cazuela.

  • OK, I also had a few ruminations about the overall plot arc that got a bit out of hand
discussion of the overall plot, including spoilers through the end

So, during most of the game we learn that wizards are an oppressed minority group, and we get glimpses of some of the other fraternity brothers’ lives, including some v. sad wizard-oppression-related backstories.

We also see that Romeo is reticent about his past and reluctant to confide in his brothers. Towards the end of the game, they’ve grown closer, and Romeo reveals that he was “faking” being a wizard. (i.e., he learned stage magic and used mirrors, etc.). Romeo feels ashamed to admit this to the rest of the fraternity. (Although the fraternity was explicitly stated to be open to both wizard and non-wizard members.)

So, on the one hand, this made me think, hmm, ok, we’re going to explore a sort of trans allegory (coming out, feeling like you don’t belong in a group that other people view you as part of, fearing others will criticize you for “taking on their identity for clout” etc etc.). On the other hand, I’m just very confused because on the in-game level we see Romeo do magic. In fact we just spent 90 minutes doing magic via Romeo, which sure seems like it would constitute being a wizard? But maybe I’m missing something in the worldbuilding around wizard-hood. (And, if the events of the game were a huge breakthrough for Romeo in which he finally achieves a cherished dream of doing magic for real I would also have expected to see that land emotionally in the moment, instead of sort of being mentioned by him in conversation much later?) And anyhow, other than this one conversation nothing is done with that revelation.

So, overall, this works at about the same kind level that say, witches/wizards in Harry Potter or mutants in the X-Men movies are working as an allegory but I didn’t feel like it was adding that much to the work. And I would have loved to see it more explored!

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

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Thank you for playing, and for your thoughtful review.

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Thanks for writing the game! It was a great time!

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All Hands by Natasha Ramotaur

TLDR: Atmospheric, evocative story about an uncanny encounter on the high seas.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based (texture). Multiple endings based on player choices. No save or undo.

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  • I liked the environmental storytelling aspect, for example, we learn from the player character’s reminisces about how the sea is a malevolent magical force

  • I also enjoyed the focus on music as a game element, particularly how you can “take” music and later have it in your inventory

  • It was fun to creep around the ship, investigate, and collect clues

[ Δ ]

  • the Texture interface sometimes led to some odd pairings, like I think once I had to “reflect” on a doll to examine it but I had to “take” to read a diary. But it’s easy enough to work out in context

  • I’m not a big fan of games where there is exactly one impactful choice in the game, and it’s on the last screen, and if you want to see the other endings you have to replay the entire game again.

5 Likes

One King to Loot them All by Onno Brouwer
Playtime: 1 hour

TLDR: Embrace your inner barbarian in this campy, hyper-masculine power fantasy.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. There are puzzles but really this game is not about them, this game is an ADVENTURE STORY. Uses custom verbs, I recommend pasting the list somewhere for reference (although you could also just x things and take things?). Undo and save are implemented.

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  • Reader, I had a blast. There are SWORDS and there is SORCERY. Creatures will be SMITED (smitten?), enemies DEFEATED. Actually, could have used a smidge more LOOTING, upon reflection

  • The custom verbs set the tone well, and I enjoy the “when all you have is a hammer” aspect of gameplay.

  • [about the big twist] OK, I loved the “undo” plotline, particularly that you go back and save Lydia. If we’re gonna power fantasy, let’s REALLY power fantasy! We are erasing the central tragedy of our character concept! Tragic backstories are for inferior, weak heroes!

  • A lot of the plot very cleverly herds you along to teach you what to do. For example, we see how the altar works with the goat so we are unafraid to put Lydia there later.

[ Δ ]

  • When this game was working it was really cooking. Unfortunately there were a few spots where implementation issues threw me out of it. For example the whole goat and ring jam . . . on the first go-round I spent a LONG time trying to give the ring or goat to somebody and getting weird errors before I realized I was just supposed to get on the boat, later, when I was there again with Lydia I forgot Alcaz had said the boat only fit one person and had no idea why the hints kept telling me to seize something (also, I mean this game is not about thinking, but if it’s a weight issue carrying her is not gonna help). And the worst thing is it’s very clear that this isn’t supposed to be hard so you’re also just thinking “god why can’t I do this.”

  • Oh, also, where’s my option to SEIZE Alcaz at the river? My masculinity can handle it.

  • OK, I am willing to accept quite a bit re: the player character’s character concept. But I do draw the line somewhere. Like, why are peeps referring to me as a paragon of justice? I have no qualms about forcibly looting back my payment to the ferryman even though he completed his side of the bargain. Or, when the [semi-temporarily-evil!]sorcerer is mad because the player character taxed the populace–(ok, that did remind me of George R.R. Martin famously asking what Aragorn’s tax policy was, which, fun reference if that was intentional)–but I’ve met the player character, and I refuse to believe that he has a tax policy.

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Hi wolfbiter,

Thank you for playing and reviewing my game!

The handling of the river sequence was less than ideal in the initial version. I should have handled the ferryman in a proper manner (technically speaking he is standing in his boat, so all the player can do is regard him), but the error messages related to the interaction were confusing. In my latest version I now tell the player to march south (when at the north bank) when trying anything but looking at him, I hope it helps to smoothen out gameplay.

As for looting the ferryman, the “king of thieves” looting from the “thief of souls”… Maybe adding more backstory might help here. I do agree that our king does not really need a tax policy (he might as well just go out and loot abandoned cities and the like), but according to the original lore, he definitely was a better king than his predecessor. :smiley:

And of course thank you for all the points mentioned. They will help me to further improve my game. Hmm seizing Alcaz… I smell a joke incoming. Definitely something to add for the post comp release :smiley:

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Thanks for writing the game! Yeah, I am unfamiliar with the source material so my impression of the characters comes only from what we see in-game.

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If you’re on the lookout for it (I was), there are a couple of moments in the game where the protagonist shows off his ability to have quite intelligent conversations. :grinning:

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Haha. Agreed that the player character is pretty smart! (iirc he learns to read runes in like five minutes and is also familiar with the ring/goat thing). I did read him as more focused on the present than long-term issues. My comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek, and probably also a bit influenced by my preference for characters who are good at some things and bad at others things.

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Bali B&B by Felicity_Banks

TLDR: Cozy, slice-of-life B&B simulator set in Bali. (This game might win the contest for “title of game best summarizes gameplay.)

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Small/moderate amount of character customization, I think a few endings based on player choices (?) but I only played once.

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  • I very much enjoyed the simulator elements. Deciding how to deal with a health inspector, deciding how to approach guests’ problems, etc etc. It’s fun to have agency and choose solutions to a problem! This definitely had a cozy feel–you’re never scared that your character will be in serious peril or that you will destroy the business. I feel like there’s a whole digression lurking here about the perils of capitalism and what it says about society that it’s a common fantasy to (for fun!) imagine having a job where you had autonomy and the resources to complete your work . . . but anyhow. Yes, it feels good to fix the B&B guests’ problems!

  • I don’t know much about Bali, so I can’t speak to accuracy, but there were fun specific details about customer service and Bali that made the game feel grounded.

[ Δ ]

  • I had a pretty strong initial resistance to the premise and it took me a while to reconnect emotionally with the story. Just like, my grandparents, who I only see once a year, invite me to visit and then want to leave the country instead while I manage their B&B? Hard no.

  • It was unclear to me how much effect my choices were having later in the game. I had the sense that something was being done with my choices (i.e., if you remodel the garden or not) but I couldn’t tell what specific things it was changing later, and it would have been fun to see that highlighted.

  • Potential-Love-Interest guy was, alas, pretty generic (although he had some very cute dialogue!). I’m curious for more here! What are his quirks/flaws? What’s stopped us from getting together previously? etc.

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Ribald Bat Lady Plunder Quest by Joey Acrimonious
Playtime: 1 hour 45 minutes

Like the game, this post contains adult content.

Meta note: the name of the game really sounds like it was designed to anagram, right? I kept half-waiting for a plot-relevant anagram of the title to appear (where’s my TALL BALD QUARTER-PENIS BUDDY?), but if that happened I must have missed it.

TLDR: From old-timey dialogue to completely over the top purple prose, this puzzler is 100% committed to its “fantasy/comedy with succubus-adjacent protagonist”- bit.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can save and undo. Seems to be one ending you can get by successfully completing the puzzles. Be aware—I was initially really frustrated because exits weren’t mentioned in the text, but they are actually listed in the header of the UI.

[ + ]

  • I very much enjoyed my time with the player character. She’s very distinct and her dedication to an absurd task is pretty funny. There’s an in-game journal item that will help nudge you towards your objective, and that also was a fun view into the character.

  • The writing was particularly good at creating a sense that the story was happening in a larger world with its own issues (for example, the player character arrives in town to blackmail the mayor only to learn that the mayor is being executed for, you know, crimes, as part of someone else’s plot)

  • Though billed as erotica, the sexual content didn’t strike me as particularly appealing to a prurient interest. I read it more as part of a maximalist / “no taboo respected” approach to humor. But ymmv. For example, two bits I enjoyed:

“I care not what thou art, Zorklang, but I warn thee: finger me not, else I shall scream real loud.” – “Professor,” she quietly hissed, “'tis a popular misconception that bat-folk possess inherent finger-magic. I trained many moons to wield it. Even so, I take thy point, for I loathe when people scream real loud.”

““Thy touch is an healing balm upon the travails of this world, Dribbles. Pray fuck the everloving shit out of me.””

  • There’s also a very funny recurring joke where NPCs tell Zorklang their backstories and she (metaphorically) mashes the “skip cutscene” button

  • You can acquire a fierce predator (it’s a cat)! (I have been diligently attempting to take every potential pet I encounter during the comp but this may be the first time I was permitted to add one to my inventory!)

  • the Act III pep-talk is sincerely moving. A definite high point.

[ Δ ]

  • Some of the puzzles were underclued, which was compounded because the game doesn’t ship with a full walkthrough, only a list of hints. Look, I love puzzle games but that love will curdle if I end up perma-stuck and can’t finish the game. And I think it’s actually quite hard to predict which specific things will trip people up—I didn’t need help at most of the points mentioned in the hints, but I had could-have-been insoluble problems at several other points . . . Adding some hints to the bottom of this post, based on places that I got stuck and had to look at @lpsmith ‘s transcript to get unstuck. (Thanks Lucian!) I’m just providing them here in a slightly more accessible form.

  • I get that the premise is “hey the player character is selfish and kinda evil by societal standards,” and generally was able to enjoy it, but the one incident of mind-controlling-people-into-sex did strike an unfun note with me

  • At times I was really questioning my sanity because in the game’s geography, “east” is not the inverse of “west,” nor “north” of “south.” So, if you are at the Docks and you go west to Market Street, my strong prior expectation is that going east would return you to the Docks. But that’s not always the case in this game! The locations all do connect both ways but, in this example, you might have to go “south” from Market Street to return to the Docks! This made it much harder for me to navigate.

  • I think others have mentioned some under-implemented aspects. There were just some loose threads that made the game feel like it could have been more tightly constructed. The protagonist has wings and lives in a fantasy world, I thought we might FLY at some key moment but that never happens. And we can’t leave home unless we equip ourselves, including with our blade yet I never found an opportunity to attack anyone with the blade—the one time I wanted to solve a problem with violence I had to go find a different weapon.

hints

→ It seems like there’s something else I have to do after drinking blood but I can’t figure out what it is.

“masturbate”

→ I can’t figure out how to get an item to give the professor.

He wants an item that is an anagram.

You can find one via the academy dorm.

To be able to enter any room in the dorm area, you need to “listen” in the hallway.

The item they want is in the desk near the entrance to the academy.

→ I can’t figure out what to do after I wrap up at the temple (near the end of the game).

Go back down into the tunnel, go north, go up (to appear at mayor’s palace).

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Thanks for playing, for the review, and for your thoughtful critiques!

You’re in good company. It seems like the way I set this up turned out to be unintuitive to a whole lot of players. Lesson learned.

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And thank you for writing the game! I enjoyed it.

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Oh, I hadn’t actually considered that providing my transcript might itself be a hint for people. Glad it worked!

I also liked the bits you quoted, and almost quoted them myself–I didn’t, because I felt if I started quoting my favorite bits, I would never stop :wink:

FWIW, the bit where you mind-control-people-into-sex seemed to me to be instead a sort of giving them permission to do what they actually wanted to do themselves. That’s certainly how I read the third person’s reaction to it all.

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Haha, yeah, if I get totally stuck in a game, and there’s no walkthrough, then I go looking to see if anyone posted a transcript. If they finished the game it’s a free walkthrough!

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Thank you so much for spending time and effort reviewing my game. I am choosing not to make any specific comments about reviews until after the comp, but I assure you that I am grateful for any and all comments, which are so useful in improving my game and future games.

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The Paper Magician by Soojung Choi

TLDR: A short, sweet fable about a child encountering magic and escaping from a secret lab.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Not very many choices. Seems to be just one ending after a puzzle.

[ + ]

I think the underlying concept of this game (player is dropped into an interesting but highly unusual situation, explores their environment, solves one puzzle, escapes) is smart. It’s getting a lot across in an economical way. I could really see it working as, say, the introductory level to a game along the same lines. We learn the name of the character and the magical companion, we learn how they got them, we learn the character’s powers, we learn the backstory on the lab through environmental storytelling in the rooms we explore, the puzzle is there to increase engagement.

[ Δ ]

  • OK, in service of a candid review I am ADMITTING PUBLICLY that I consulted the walkthrough for this game of one puzzle. I don’t think the puzzle is supposed to be hard, either. If you haven’t yet fallen into the crevasse that claimed me, consider this lesser hint: your answers are CASE SENSITIVE. I think the one easy fix of coding the doors to accept more synonyms would have made the game play a lot better. For example, instead of accepting only precisely:“Subject 0013,” that door could have accepted "subject 13,” “subject 0013,” “Subject 13,” “13,” “thirteen,” etc etc.. Because the puzzle was pretty much the only moment of player engagement in the game, getting frustrated there had an outsized negative effect on my enjoyment.
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Citizen Makane by The Reverend

Like the game, this post contains adult content.
ETA: I didn’t finish the game and this post is based on the parts that I played. Where I provide spoilers, they are only for the parts I saw–if you are reading the spoilers without having played the game, you may also want to consider seeking out spoilers for the full game, of which there are some further down in the thread.

TLDR: You’re the only man on earth, (Ur-th?), and, I take it, the possessor of the only penis. You’d be amazed how many problems you are about to solve with that penis!

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can save and undo. I didn’t reach any ending.

[ + ]

  • I enjoyed the polish and implementation in the game. You can listen to the TV, and it will play some plot-relevant programming!
  • There’s a cute town, and you’re soon presented with a variety of folksy problems that the residents would like you to solve. I enjoyed that the time of day makes a difference (some people / quests are only available at certain time). For a while I was gauging based off of the “it was dark” in the description, but don’t be me–there is actually a clock in the corner of the UI.
  • The concept of making sex into a CCG is pretty funny, and the card names are suitably colorful.

[ Δ ]

While this game had many really interesting and promising elements, unfortunately, there were some elements that threw me so much that I never fully got into it and ended up bailing. General apology to the author for bringing my negativity to what I’m pretty sure was meant to be a joyful game about the power of human connection (based on other reviews?).

gripes about worldbuilding: (spoilers not further marked)
  • I found it hard to suspend my disbelief when the mayor told the player character that their society doesn’t have sex or sexuality. Per a lot of history, human sexuality is actually pretty hard to stamp out and making a single-sex space definitely wouldn’t be enough. This is not the future our lesbian-separatist foremothers fought for!
  • (And it’s not just one dialogue line, also all of the people who meet the player character do indeed seem to react as though they were lacking access to sex or sexuality without him!)
gripes about Shamhat: (spoilers not further marked)
  • OK I was pretty excited about this character based on the name. But then . . . all she wants to do is mind-meld with me? with me? Bro, I know literally nothing. Please find someone more competent and interesting to add to the hive mind. In the Epic of Gilgamesh I’m pretty sure the sex-priestess character is the one doing a lot of the teaching, so I was sad to miss out on that dynamic.

  • My back-up hope was that Shamhat might, say, use our mental connection to provide snarky commentary as I stumble around, but she doesn’t seem to do that, either. When I tried to talk to her she would just repeat the objectives from the doctor. What she seems to want to do is stay in our shared apartment and every time I look she’s VACUUMING MY FLOOR?! (not sure what was intended but I just got an overwhelming “trad wife” image from that last bit)

gripes about the BDE game: (spoilers not further marked)
  • There’s a card called “TONGUE TORNADO” yet, somehow, when I, the player character, play the card, it does not result in me using my tongue on anyone? Instead it makes my sex partner use her tongue on me?

  • You can “lose” at the minigame by ejaculating too soon (i.e., while your partner wants to continue with sex). Sheds a silent tear for all the beauty the world has lost (oral sex and also fingering, apparently).

  • I tried the minigame a few times and kept getting told I was doing so bad I was getting zero xp. So I checked the walkthrough for tips: apparently to get xp you are supposed to play the “come” card, which makes the player character come. If you wait too long to play it, the game will alert you to your error, and give you a fail message . . . where you “fail” because the player character came too soon. I’m still puzzled why one of those is better.

I am very much aware, particularly after reading reviews of others who had a different experience, that I am Missing Something. I heard the whooshing sound going over my head while I played! Based on the intro (where you are “trapped” in a repetitive game where you are compelled to repeatedly have un-fun sex) I was curious to see where the game was going, and it’s too bad it never connected for me.

Overall I was mostly reminded of the internet line that, when unsuccessful, satire can easily be mistaken for what it’s trying to criticize. Which I think may have happened to me here!

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This would be incredibly frustrating to me as a player, too (I don’t plan to play this one). Thanks for your review!

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