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

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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Citizen Makane – some comments

Everything below should be considered a spoiler, though I won’t be giving away the end sequence.

  • So, I take it that the mayor is presenting some kind of official ideology, which has nothing to do with the facts on the ground. At one point in the game you’re supposed to give sex ed to a class full of students – naive students whom you should not corrupt, it is stressed to you – and of course it turns out that all of them already know everything. So you don’t have to suspend disbelief. Disbelieving the mayor is exactly right!
  • I believe that the people you meet are interested in testing out your tool. By which I mean the BDE machine. As the story progresses, you’ll find out that this society is definitely already into having sex, including wild all-female orgies.
  • I agree that Shamhat is underused in most of the game. However, the fact that she’s vacuuming was pretty hilarious to me. She has been programmed based on information from the past, and it just makes perfect sense that based on bad porno this is exactly what this society believes women are supposed to do when they’re not having sex. As Shamhat upgrades, she’ll start engaging in other behaviours, and at a certain point… well, things change. By the end of the game, she’s definitely not vacuuming.
  • Tongue Tornado is a bit confusing, that’s right, but the clue is in whether a card is ‘submissive’ or ‘dominant’. These names are also confusing! I think when describing sex acts, getting a blowjob is not usually classified as submission. What the game means with these terms is this: ‘dominant’ is something you do, ‘submissive’ is something your partner does. Now the paradox is that you are always the one playing the cards, even when the card describes what your partner is doing. I think it helps to think of Citizen Makane as a game that is structured around the twisted logic of porn (without itself being porn). This is one example. If you are a man who watches/reads/plays porn about submissive men, or if you are a woman who watches/reads/plays porn about submissive women, it’s you who makes the decision to engage with that material. You’re always in charge, even when the fantasy is that you’re not. There’s no agency on the other side. It’s purely narcissistic. And the BDE sex mini game in Citizen Makane is created with that absolutely 100% in mind.
  • Because this is what the game is about; the narcissism of porn, and of a certain image of sexuality that pervades, well, perhaps not our culture in general, but certainly a lot of the overtly sexual material that’s being produced.
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. . . fascinating, thanks for taking the time to share.

I had seen some general reviews by people who made it further, but nothing that detailed on the specific issues that were troubling me. I am glad to hear that there were “twists” coming later in the game!

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Thank you for the review!

I don’t want to say too much during the comp, but I very much enjoy the discussions and different takes.

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Thanks for writing!

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Beat Witch by Robert Patten

TLDR: Take on the role of a loner with magic powers, seeking redemption in a world that hates and fears you, in this cinematic joyride.

Gamemechanical notes: OK technically it’s a parser but. It doesn’t really feel like a parser. You can undo.

[ + ]

  • This has a very cinematic feel and it worked best once I relaxed and stopped trying to do things. Mild spoiler: really, let it happen! This game is a series of fairly long, cool cutscenes with brief interludes in between where you will be called upon to do anything.

  • I enjoyed the concept and the overall plot. Give me a player character with magic powers that have alienated her from society / given her some tragic backstory / put her on a quest to atone any day! I was definitely engaged.

  • I enjoyed the atmospheric settings in the abandoned city, the creepy office building, etc.

  • Some moments of genuine power–the visceralness of the flesh bridge scene, or the moment the villain!witch makes Ted eat the earplugs

[ + / Δ ]

  • OK I have BROKEN the SELF-IMPOSED constraints of my review FORMAT to say this, but I am VIOLENTLY AMBIVALENT about the part where the player character apparently dies on impact. On the one hand, I can see the expected resolution being transcendent if it works as intended. On the other hand, though, I was just never going to type undo there without the walkthrough (since I had nothing else in mind to try) and every time I’m driven to the walkthrough it hurts my experience with the game. But I can absolutely see what was intended there . . .

[ Δ ]

  • a lot of the plot doesn’t really bear too much contemplation. (Why would the player character go inside the first responder base at the beginning, rather than running off, by draining them if necessary? Why do all beat witches not just permanently wear earplugs + noise-reducing earmuffs?

  • the treatment of the villain!witch was a bit Disney movie. By which I mean this dilemma is teed up about whether the player character is going to try to kill her, we engage with it a bit, and then in the climactic scene she–without any real intention by the player character—conveniently falls off a building and dies, thus avoiding us ever needing to engage with that dilemma again

  • It’s tough that the funnest way to experience the game required fighting my existing genre instincts. I suspect I’m not alone in being trained by parsers to feel bad if I can’t find something plot-relevant to do with my “turn,” and to feel especially bad if the game is telling me events are progressing while I’m flailing. So until I caught on, the game felt like failing to do things while low-grade frustrated.

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Eat the Eldritch by Olaf Nowacki
Playtime: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Meta note: wow, this was the point in the competition where I realized I had finally internalized port and starboard . . . thanks everyone, I guess? (let’s take a trip to the FAWKsull, I’m ready!)

TLDR: Humorous, zippy puzzler about an unperturbable captain suffering from a distinct lack of fish and an extremely shady ship’s cook.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can undo. Even better, dying respawns you to a place before you died.

[ + ]

  • I am a simple woman and I enjoy being awarded achievements

  • I enjoyed the writing, which I found even more impressive when I learned it was translated from German. (“dividing the world into orange surfaces and meaningful shadows,” that’s a nice phrase)

  • I got a big kick out of seeing the player character’s (specific and well-described) personality interact with plot events. Dude is SO OBLIVIOUS. Dude has all of the facts he needs to conclude that his cook is a cthulu cultist and instead he’s over here being like “I respect his unique cultural practices” and “I hope his fishstick-like fingers don’t fall off in the pan while he is cooking.”

  • The fish processing plant was a nice chekhov’s gun. Once we see it we know SOMETHING is gonna get made into fish sticks and hoo boy does it.

  • Hallelujah, my king, someone has implemented “go to [location]” <3 <3 <3 Why shouldn’t I travel near-instantaneously from the kitchen to the bridge? after all, why shouldn’t I (bilbo voice)

  • I admire that this game knows how much scope it should have and just stops there. There’s plenty there! It was satisfying! It was just the right length!

[ Δ ]

  • I died a lot trying to get the package of food out of the freezer. Does it spawn procedurally? It seems like sometimes it was appearing on the turn immediately before I died, giving me no chance to make my escape?

  • There is a hints page of sorts, but it’s not a full walkthrough, which became annoying on the several occasions where I knew exactly what I wanted to do but was playing “guess the verb/noun.” (Spoiler: here’s the command I was stuck on, which you will need to escape the freezer: “pull rope.”) Also opening the safe . . . that puzzle was unreasonably difficult :confused:

  • So, either there wasn’t a reveal moment where we learn that the player character had no higher ambitions than to make fishsticks out of cthulu, or if there was, I missed it. To be clear, I think that’s a totally fair objective for the player character to have, and very funny, but I wish the game had provided a space to enjoy that revelation. As it was, I destroyed the tentacle mostly as a matter of self-defense, thinking I would need to fix the ship/flee afterward so I was just puzzled when the player character was ready to call it a day.

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Gestures Towards Divinity by Charm Cochran
Playtime: 35 minutes

TLDR: The player character is in a museum focusing on the works of Francis Bacon. In lieu of viewing the works of Francis Bacon, you can have some thought-provoking conversations with, on the grounded side, the other occupants of the museum or, on the surreal side, the subjects of the paintings.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. One “ending” but a significant piece of content requires taking specific actions to access. I don’t know that you would need to save or undo.

[ + ]

  • It’s a gutsy and bold premise. The player character is a blank slate and there are no visible plot hooks at the beginning, although later achievements are introduced, so the game is doing without many of the traditional tools to drive player engagement–if the player bounces off, they bounce off.

  • Beautiful prose, the dialogue especially really lands (which is good, since the game is mostly dialogue). Ex:

“If I had to imagine, I guess love would be making your decisions thinking of someone else. Sometimes dealing with using the wrong shampoo and cigarettes and cologne. Bad smells and dirty clothes. Putting up with someone even when they’re being an absolute shit. Putting up with things you never thought you would. Doing things you never thought you would. And not getting nearly enough back in return but… doing it anyway. If I had to imagine.”

  • The game made me curious to learn more about Francis Bacon, his life, and work. Some wikipedia articles were read. (Re: the game description . . . I think the intent is to center George Dyer and the work instead of the artist, but, the game’s not NOT about Francis Bacon, ya know?)

  • It definitely stuck in my mind for a few days and spurred thought, so mission accomplished on that front

[ Δ ]

  • I’m not a huge fan of the way that the “main path” of the game / way to access all of the content requires exhausting everyone’s dialogue trees (which I learned from the walkthrough). There are some things in the conversation trees that I do not want to say. For example, I have no desire to tell the earlier George Dyer–who is at least coping, and who described the setting of the painting he is in as a safe place where he felt OK to be vulnerable (unclothed)–that he committed suicide in 1971 and that I talked to a version of his consciousness that seems to be trapped in that moment forever. Or, in a smaller register, I got the sense from the barista’s responses that she just wants to do her job and not be bothered and I don’t particularly want to use my customer-power to make her indulge me in conversation.

Probably some of my reaction comes from the way it was presented–by the time I checked the walkthrough I had already completed the parts of the conversation I wanted to have, so it felt like a bit of a rug pull to realize that instead of simulating conversation by choosing what to say or not say, I was just supposed to have been re-typing all of the topics from the topics list.

  • The power of this game is, a lot like visiting a museum, etc., that it provokes thought and raises questions it doesn’t answer. That was definitely working at some level for me. Still, I personally would have found it a more meaningful experience if the game had provided a bit more on some of the questions. Q: Is the player character dead? A: I guess? given the robe, lack of inventory, and the bright light at the ending. But the barista and guard seem pretty grounded and non-allegorical. Q: What should we make of the fact that the player character is visiting the Francis Bacon afterlife instead of, say, the Vija Celmins one? A: No idea, maybe it’s arbitrary. I considered that maybe the player character was someone particularly connected to Francis Bacon, but that seems pretty underdeveloped if so. Q: Why doesn’t the player get to see the actual art? A: Maybe there is no question here–maybe it was a logistical issue or a preference issue–but I was definitely wondering about this from the beginning, given that the art exists and most people will probably want ot see it. Is there some particular gloss of the narrator’s that we’re supposed to accept? (I wondered for a while if we were going to encounter fictionalized paintings, but that didn’t seem to be the case.)
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LAKE Adventure by B.J. Best
Playtime: 43 minutes

TLDR: Framed as a game written by a teen Eddie Hughes in 1993 and revisited by him decades later, this game delivers a mix of nostalgia and sharp emotional hits.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. You can save but not undo but are not that likely to need either.

[ + ]

  • The actual parser game was fun and retro. I enjoyed the faux-versimilitude details of “written by an unserious teenager”: the room named “more hallway,” the hidden spaces found by defying the listed exits. The puzzles were pleasing and I never felt too stuck. It was also very kindly scaffolded with game elements (and the interjections from adult!Eddie) providing a lot of hints.

  • I enjoyed a lot of the polish—if you turn on the TV it gives you a mild hint and also calls you a “vidiot”. The cat leaves after 1 pet, probably saving me from spending like 20 minutes petting the cat.

  • Barely under / at times over the layer of the parser game, this is really about a major loss for teen!Eddie, and how adult!Eddie feels to return to it. I think the game’s indirect depiction of loss and how people cope with trauma was really good. We never see or are told it directly, but we can deduce how much Eddie was affected by the way he distances himself from his past / projects it on others. For example, at first the player is told that Erica is the sister of Eddie’s friend, later we learn she is actually Eddie’s sister. It later turns out that Eddie is also imagining having a lake house and boat, in “real life” those were the friend’s. Some of these things are so painful that Eddie has to add some distance before he can approach thinking about them.

  • The additional layer where adult!Eddie is guiding you and revisiting the game really worked for me. His interjections complicate (in a good way!) what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward game. Definitely captures that sort of, gutpunchy feeling when you’re in the house where your parents lived, and you open a box, and it’s stuff from your childhood, and suddenly you’re vividly recalling some embarassing thing you did / rejection you experienced / etc etc.

[ Δ ]

  • As an implementation quibble, I lost track of the gas can at one point and I think it had sunk into the water? But when I came back with the raft it then immediately appeared in the raft?

  • I think @jjmcc mentioned this, but I also failed to read my score before the timed text vanished at the end!

  • The game leaves a lot of interpretation up to the player, so there’s room for people to have filled it in in a lot of different ways. I wouldn’t have minded if the game shaded in a bit more at the end how adult!Eddie is feeling/reacting. My personal inclination is to imagine something relatively optimistic–he’s older now and he has a broader pool of life experiences! when he was writing the game the best resolution he could think of to the bullies was to kill them, but now perhaps he’s seen that sometimes they change. in the past he wondered if he wanted to destroy some of his memories because they were too painful to carry, but perhaps now he’s found that strength / is glad he carried the so long. perhaps he’s going to head upstairs and later, over dinner, say to Erica, “hey, did I ever tell you about the time your aunt and I . . .” But that’s very much me filling it in for myself based on my priors. The choices to leave the ending unresolved-feeling (having the interaction with Erica be fairly mixed in tone and rushed, and leaving it a bit ambiguous if the person “playing” the game who Eddie was talking to is real / how close of a friend they are) seem intentional, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more indication from the author of where we left Eddie.

5 Likes

Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates

I thought about this, realised it was a really good idea, and added the option to just cuddle rather than have sex in the new version of the game that I just released. :slight_smile: (Apart from fixing a few typos, this is actually the only change in that new version.)

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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]” . . .

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

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

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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!

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