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

Thanks! I’ve enjoyed a lot of your reviews too (you can probably tell when I finish games by when my frantic reading of other reviews starts . . .)


I think it’s a really interesting topic. I hadn’t thought about what you said about it being easier if the character has their own personality–makes sense–but also seems like then you also have to get the player to buy into that character concept, or else they’re going to fight that too . . . I wonder if that makes certain character types easier to write (if people love choosing witty one-liners, then it will make people go along with it more if the character you’re writing delivers a lot of witty one-liners).

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The Ship by Sotiris Niarchos

Playtime: 2 hours (ran out of time before reaching end, I think I was pretty near the end, though [in some navigational puzzles right after picking up the beacon])

TLDR: The stories of two captains—one in 1719 CE by our reckoning, and one in the distant future—seeking a mysterious destination intertwine with one another and a series of satisfying mechanical puzzles.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Primarily telling a story, with significant puzzle elements. I only played once and didn’t get to the ending, but if there are multiple endings it seems they only have a few branching points.

[ + ]

  • The old!1719 plotline has some relationship simulator elements, which is a fun structure I don’t see in a lot of IF. (Although, sadly, my initial hope that ruining your relationships would lead to a pirate mutiny did not seem to be in the cards. Isn’t that just a gangbusters concept for a game, though?).

  • in this highly nautical competition, finally a game that let me visit the FAWKsull! (if that makes no sense to you, I’m speaking aloud, for some reason we spell the word “forecastle”)

  • It was a fun idea to deliver the backstory through the in-game writings like the encyclopedia and the journal.

  • I was a big fan of the puzzle elements (minigames?). It’s worth noting that these aren’t classic IF puzzles that require a leap of insight from the player to understand the solution, theoretically followed by the player easily executing (in actuality, often followed by the player struggling with the parser, but I digress). Instead, these are more puzzles in the genre of sudoku or tetris where the satisfaction is in applying an algorithm. Anyone else who enjoyed the navigation one, may I recommend to you the board game Robot Rally, where you also get to write a program that often ends in disaster . . . In fact I like the puzzles so much that a lot of this game felt like playing a sort of soothing puzzle, perhaps minesweeper, with an interstitial light novel.

(OK, note about the dudo puzzle, I was somehow terrible at this one. In fact, I wondered for a while if it had been programmed to just make you lose–which would certainly be possible given that Billy always reveals last–but eventually was forced to conclude I’m just really bad at it.)

  • It was a cool moment when the switch perspective button showed up

[ Δ ]

  • This is one of the first games where I strove for 2 hours without making it to the ending. Obviously that’s not ideal from a player satisfaction perspective, especially since I wanted to find out how the plot threads would resolve.

  • The character work and plotting could be strengthened. As to the characters, for example, I had a hard time getting a read on the old-timey!captain despite spending a bunch of time with him / reading his journal, etc. His behavior seemed to oscillate between incompetent, more competent, strangely naive, angry, etc. in a way that didn’t make sense to me. Also I STILL don’t trust Ben. Something is up with that dude, whether or not the ending vindicates me! As to the plotting, for example, we’re presented with deciding whether to execute a guy who stole mabye $50-current value of stuff, and this is framed as a significant choice for the character. Which a bit threatens my suspension of disbelief—are there really people who would choose the death penalty there? But we live in a world where 15% of people played Mass Effect without recruiting Garrus so I guess anything is possible. I think a bit more focus on the characterization and plot would increase overall engagement.


I know @EJoyce and I would be very interested in that discussion as well!


How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title by John Ziegler
Playtime: 1 hour 50 minutes (stopped after getting a horse before getting horseshoes)

TLDR: Join a knight on a mission of mentorship in a rich, detailed pre-modern-history-inspired world.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. Moderate puzzling, strong story/plot elements (also a lot of text to read). Seems to be one main path to progress down.

[ + ]

  • excellent UI design, a lot of attention has been given to the details. There’s specific instructions, a verb list, the commands “locate [item you saw once but now forgot where]” and “travel to [place you’ve been to]” have been implemented. Really takes pains to provide a good player experience. (While there is an in-game map, I would recommend opening it separately because it doesn’t tell you where you are / is too complicated to remember much if you are switching back and forth.)

  • this game definitely has the feeling of entering into a work of similar scope to a novel. A lot of careful attention has been paid to worldbuilding, the setting feels fleshed out and grounded. We get detailed descriptions of the construction of buildings, how hayricks work, the lifecycle of fruiting trees, pre-modern construction tools, etc.

  • given that the focus in this game is really on the world and characters, rather than say, player choices or puzzles, it’s important that it work as a novel-esque piece of writing, and it generally does. Prince Quisborne (PQ) in particular is a really excellent character. He’s whimsical and charming, frequently interspersing his favorite facts about animals, etc., or composing limericks inspired by what you’re experiencing in the game. PQ has a really good character design that could definitely support a novel, etc. and it’s fun just to travel around with him hearing what he has to say. (OK, I didn’t save much of PQ’s dialogue, but “fizz-honking horse gizzards” is just the start). Do note that you pretty much just get drive-by dialogue from PQ that the game provides automatically–although some of it is pretty long and fleshed out–the player is never really in charge of conversation.

  • the puzzles in the prologue are well-designed so the player is near everything they need to succeed, but still gets to experience a few locations. Also, I got to pet a dog! OK so I died immediately after, but it was worth it.

[ Δ ]

  • I quite enjoyed the prologue, but found that feeling didn’t fully carry through to the parts after. For context, I spent about 50 minutes in the prologue and about an hour after:
how wolfbiter the judgmental passed her post-prologue hour (spoilers not marked further)
  1. Wander around looking at stuff, going to different locations arbitrarily, reading the entertaining descriptions. This is fun!

  2. Gradually realize that, although there’s a lot of locations to travel though, in most of them you don’t seem to be able to talk to anyone / interact with anything / talk to PQ about anything we see. Hmm.

  3. OK, if we’re not really supposed to be interacting with things at these locations, better head north for that quest item. Walk north as far as possible until encountering the icy river.

  4. Unable to traverse icy river. Naive idea: I should probably make snowshoes or crampons or something. But I don’t recall seeing any trees that seemed like they would let me interact with them. (Does the player character . . . not carry like a hunting knife?)

  5. Checks hints about how to traverse river. Hints say to get a horse. (me: a horse? That’s gonna solve the icy river issue? Are we thinking of the same finicky, anxious animal? I sure hope this river is frozen really solid etc etc)

  6. also me: Oh, this means I have to . . . search every location on the map until I find the one game-relevant horse, I guess.

  7. Eventually find horse. Seems like it needs to be lured with an apple or something. Not immediately recalling anything like that, and feeling less rapport with the game, consult hints again (side note, part of the puzzle here is that I guess the player is supposed to identify that these plants are carrots: “You’re no horticulturist, but amongst the weeds south of the byre, many seem darker green and more feathery than most of the wild grass. They’re thick, spreading over several dozen square yards, averaging in height about up to your knees.” It strikes me as a bit surprising that the player character, who was just teaching PQ how to forage for nuts and berries, can’t be a bit more helpful here if that’s going to be important, but I digress)

  8. Having obtained and ridden horse etc etc back to the icy river; game: actually the horse can’t handle the ice either. Me: THAT’S WHAT I SAID IN THE FIRST PLACE

[here ended the travels of sir wolfbiter]

  • One issue I had with the parts after the prologue is I wasn’t sure if the map really needed to be so big. Generally, in say, a video rpg, I expect that if I have to walk across / navigate a bunch of locations the purpose this will fill in the game is providing intermediate payoffs at various locations, like questgivers, resources, etc. Possibly this was a skill issue, but I didn’t really find much to interact with on the map while I was wondering around. For example, one entire town is described as: to you, it “plays little more than the role of a crossroads.” Hmm. OK, if there’s no one there to have a conversation with, or help, or bargain with, then maybe the player character doesn’t need to walk through this location multiple times on the way to plot-relevant places?

  • I think the other issue I had with the parts after the prologue is made it more obvious that the part of the story that I’m the most interested in is actually the “guiding / helping PQ and developing a relationship with him,” but that’s the part that the player has zero control over; the game handles it all. And occasionally it handles it in ways I found pretty jarring, e.g.:

[first the game has player character tell PQ to run laps, then] “You feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when the gangly youth spews his lunch all over the ground and crumples in a heap, refusing to budge. Once he resuscitates, normalcy resumes.”

Actually I don’t feel satisfaction! That’s just being an asshole, player character!

(I’ll put this at low-grade assholery because insofar as we can sense PQ’s attitude, he’s cheery enough and aspires to live up to whatever the player character wants [even deeper voice of overthinking: “but isn’t that how you would act if you were isolated from your normal support network and totally reliant on this one guy?”] anyhow PQ doesn’t seem like a particularly good actor)

Setting that aside, it just threw me because it wasn’t what I would have told the player character to do, but it’s sort of presented as a barely-worth-noting detail. (Also, does the player character also physically condition himself, or does he only tell PQ to do so?) And there was some dissonance to putting the game in charge of what strikes me as the most important element while I’m in charge of . . . navigation, which I’m really bad at, because I don’t know where anything plot-relevant is.

  • Finally, as hinted at by the above, after seeing in the description that we’re on a quest to improve the prince, I was really curious about what values the player character was going to seek to impart. Restraint? Displaying courage to the populace in the face of danger? The mental toughness to make difficult decisions and carry on when they turn out poorly? An understanding of how the economy / other polities / bureaucracy function? Self-confidence? There are a lot of directions this could go. The game’s main focus seems to be on physical toughening / asceticism. I’m not against physical toughening but it seems neither necessary nor sufficient to being a good ruler. (To be fair, at one point the player character also tells PQ “to be a king . . . is foremostly to be a servant,” although I would have liked it if that were followed up by the two of us serving some people, which could have allowed for some interesting side-quests. Also at one point PQ expresses the joy and meaning he’s found in being self-sufficient and working for things he wants, which was a nice moment.)

Re: PQ

Hi wolfbiter, thanks for spending some time with PQ and putting in the effort to share your thoughts!
I hope you won’t mind me responding to some of your comments as, well, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk about it to anybody :slight_smile:

Well, I guess I can’t help people interpreting the game this way, but it’s not the case. I made the game for puzzles, and the story cropped up around it. (Although, in the latter years of creation I came to enjoy adding to the story and the prince’s dialogue more than anything else.) That may explain why some of the puzzles seemed more frustrating than they might have, if one was expecting the puzzles to serve an absolutely consistent/realistic narrative. For instance, in the early stages of creating the game, I simply had the idea that I wanted to make a puzzle out of riding a horse. That’s it. An idea came about a long frozen lake that was unfeasible to traverse unless you blacksmithed some modified horseshoes for the horse. The PQ game world and storyline didn’t even exist as you know it! I was just looking for ways to fit my individual puzzles together.

Well, this is one place where the time limit really hurts the game, because most of those places have a puzzle in them, although they’re not all accessible immediately. As far as not seeing anyone to talk to, did you come across the three knights or the carpenter? There are many other characters yet to come! Also, the area you wandered in the post-prologue time limit is admittedly the “slowest” part of the game, as the activity picks up the more you get embroiled in the adventure.

Ah, believe me, I would have loved to present you a game with a fully conversant prince. The prince was never meant to provide anything more than storyline and atmosphere, and I debated being more explicit about this in the intro/about. The prince as you know him was basically created after all the working parts of the game world were in place, and to give him viable responses for over four thousand vocab objects, many of which would change depending on game state? Well, I’m afraid that confining the prince to atmosphere was the best I could do…

Again, the game was created for a player to have puzzles, not for narrative realism! How easy everything would be if the knight came fully equipped with everything you’re supposed to find or make on the adventure :slightly_smiling_face:

Well, I guess I don’t know at this point if you looked at the hints far enough to realize that the horse is no better off than the PC as is, but the horse has the option of having traction shoes made for it at the blacksmith’s, and the lake is many miles long, so that having a horse makes the journey feasible where attempting it on foot (with the prince) is not. Ah well, I guess we do what we can in adventure games to bend realism to conform to a partly fresh puzzle idea!
Re: the carrots, well, the player isn’t supposed to deduce that they’re carrots, just that they’re worth investigating, since this is an adventure game! And the PC may or may not already have this knowledge, but the PC is purposely kept rather vague to focus more on the actual player and the prince.

This was a little surprising, I’ll admit! Don’t most adventure games need a few crossroads? I chose to make Chelkwibble a curious place instead of just saying “this is a crossroads where you can go…”. I wanted the worldbuilding to be part of the experience rather than rigorous subservience to the puzzles so that you don’t, say, go straight from a barnyard to a quarry.

Perfectly valid… if there was a way to zero in on that aspect it would make for a great game in itself. I’m afraid this one’s meant to just be a classic puzzle adventure, though, hopefully with some interesting stage setting! PQ’s atmosphere and cutscenes were just plugged in, more or less…
As for the running/puking, I’m sorry that came across to you the way it did! From my high school days, puking was a not-uncommon phenomenon with soccer players or track runners. It’s not supposed to be the PC reveling in PQ’s misery from a bullyish perspective… just gratified that the indulged boy is putting forth the effort necessary to reach physical exhaustion. Sorry that landed sour for you! (Yes, we safely presume Valkyrian keeps himself in good shape too.)

Also sorry that this came across unbalanced in the window of time you had. Physical qualities are not by any means the game’s focus! It turns out they were a very easy thing to add to the prince’s fiddle list, though, to help create an impression of training apart from the adventures themselves. There’s a lot of game you haven’t seen and many other facets are explored! Service to others is definitely played out. But also, Valkyrian’s original straightforward regimen gets sidelined at the beginning of the game as the effort to satisfy Zendarc’s demands becomes the main goal. So practical things like diplomacy and statesmanship aren’t really things the game is trying to focus in on.

Well… like I said, there’s quite a lot of game you didn’t see! :slightly_smiling_face:

(I wasn’t sure what you meant about dissonance and navigation… was that in reference to how the characters are prompted towards the north at first? That’s the only instance like that; trying to help the player keep sight of their first goal…)

Glad you like the UI, the descriptions, and the prologue. Thanks again for playing!


Thank you for writing the game, I had fun with it!

And I always appreciate hearing from authors about their thinking. I mean, with any media I think the audience often gets something different out of it than the creator intended, but especially with IF where the player is encouraged to put a bit of themself in, I think it’s really fascinating how I can have an entire, rich experience and it may only line up with what the author expected in a few places. So thanks for sharing! And of course I’m well aware I didn’t get to see everything in the game in the time I had.

Wow, I was surprised to hear you view the game as primarily about the puzzles! When I played it I was really struck by the quality of the dialogue for PQ and the writing. Whether or not that’s a focus for you I think you have a real talent for it. (This is not at all meant as a slam on the puzzles.)

re: the horse puzzle

I realized I maybe wasn’t clear—I could handle the concept of the puzzle not meeting my physical intuitions as I understood it from the description, a lot of puzzles don’t meet my physical intuitions. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

What made it a frustration point for me was the mild snark in the in-game message after I brought the horse back. (I didn’t save it, but I recall it as something like “how silly you were to think a horse would fare any better.”) It felt a bit unfair for the game to criticize me for what was, in my mind, me indulging the game’s idea in the first place!


Have Orb, Will Travel by Older Timer
Playtime: 1 hour (did not finish)

TLDR: A custom environment has been laboriously crafted for you to test your mettle on a series of puzzles.

Gamemechanical notes: Shipped as a separate executable file. Easy to run after downloading. A few notes—definitely start by reading the in-game “help” file, which includes instructions you will likely want like (1) how to turn off mandatory fullscreen and (2) how to take items (yes, really). You can save, no undo. I’m torn about how useful saving would be–I don’t think it’s possible stick yourself in a no-win situation, and generally when I realized a mistake it was more like "oh, I realized a mistake 25 turns ago . . .

[ + ]

  • This game is lush with UI details. Fecund with them! We have sound design (and I really found the sound effects increased immersion, and at times provided useful information about the location). The game client comes with hotkeys for commonly typed commands, OR you can define your own! (Again, consult “help”)
  • The first time I read the book, I enjoyed the tactile experience of turning pages one at a time, accompanied by the sound effect
  • In another nice touch, all of the game’s description briefly becomes timed text (but not too much so) when you use the ring of slow-down-time
  • In general it’s pretty hard to lose the game outright, for example, if you get lost in the forest there’s a kind of funny interlude where the command line disappears and the game walks you back to where you started

[ Δ ]

  • As I mentioned above, there was a lot of thought deployed in this game. The whole custom system was well design and deployed and I appreciate the craft and effort. Ultimately I think the puzzles it was deployed in service of were not for me. As others have mentioned, the puzzles require a lot of “noticing that something you did changed something unexpected in a different location,” and other things that I would describe as finicky. And a lot of them hinge on manipulating a magical artifacts or highly abstract objects (like colored push-buttons), so you are operating without any physical intuitions to help you. This all contributed to a feeling that what was happening was a bit arbitrary, and I was just sort of being buffeted around by it. (And several of the puzzles, like the combination-lock dial, do ask you to guess randomly.) It’s interesting because I definitely don’t think the intent was to torment the player, in fact we get a map of the maze and a clue for the combination lock puzzle that takes it from 1000 options to 64, but I wouldn’t say it felt player-friendly either.

  • I found the spell conceit criminally underused. Let me relish being a wizard! Go mad with power, as it were! We do get to learn spells, but the physical environment when you first learn them doesn’t seem to have a single valid target for any of them, so we don’t get that spark-of-joy moment of seeing the effect. Also, after using the spells you have to relearn them from the book again, which is a deterrent to playing around with them.

  • This game obviously made the choice to be extremely puzzle-focused, and far be it from me to cast aspersions upon the hoary tradition of puzzlers, but I do think a bit more plot hooks or character work or SOMETHING would have given me more of a reason to persevere with the puzzles

A little more PQ

It certainly is a focus, at least now! But when I conceived and designed the game (in '19), my mind was only puzzle-focused then. Once I got started enjoying writing, it was kind of too late, at that point, to reconfigure the game to serve the writing directly. The game world was built to make a given puzzle chain work, and I made up a story to fit around and into it.

I certainly did not intend any snark to the player on attempting to use the horse on the ice! I’m sorry about that! In fact, I must have gotten so used to Quisborne’s voice, that I didn’t even imagine the player feeling slighted when he says “I guess it was dense of us to suppose the horse’s hoofs would do better on the ice than our feet.”! It’s certainly not dense to try… in an adventure game, it would be expected! And it’s a natural step in the progression of thinking, “Okay, so what are all those extra blacksmith tools for, anyway?” I’m really bummed that that made you feel slammed as a player :confused:


Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head by The Hungry Reader
Playtime: 1 hour 36 minutes (to rescue/steal all 14 puppets)

TLDR: You have one night to come to terms with your puppeteer-mentor’s death and rescue as many puppets as you can from your old workplace in this emotionally hard-hitting puzzler.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Puzzle focused, gameplay resembles the classic “stealth mission.” There’s one main path you can proceed down, different endings depending on how many puppets you get. You can save and undo.

Me, upon realizing we have to collect puppets while dodging patrolling NPCs: so, we save scumming?
Imaginary-second-me: * grave nod * We save scumming.

This kind of made a mockery of the game’s “there’s nothing to do but regroup at the van” failure message, but I heartily endorse it as a strategy. (A few hints at the bottom of the review.) ETA: It’s certainly an effective strategy! If you dare spoilers, though, see the next few posts in this thread.

[ + ]

  • I love the title. It’s absurd. It’s imperative. It’s somehow very specific to the game, while also telling you nothing except vibes and that puppets are involved. It’s from a They Might Be Giants song, which I diligently listened to for this review, disliked, and honestly could not tell you if I’d heard before.

  • Very smart structure. The overall heist concept provides drama and stakes. But ALSO, we are learning more about the player character and getting backstory at the same time, because as we find the puppets, each puppet inspires specific flashbacks and and reflections (well, either the puppets or the player character reflects, it’s a bit unclear) on the settings we’re moving through.

  • I approve the decision to go with a choice-based system so the player is never getting hung up on what actions are available in a location. There’s plenty for the player to do with figuring out the movement patterns and which puppet to bring.

  • Really well written. The puppets each have a unique voice, the backstory and descriptions we get are poignant and nuanced. Full of fun details about puppetry (like the cleaning and drying of the hands between puppets) that connect to the gameplay (for example, how many hands you have free of puppets controls what actions you have available). Some of my favorite moments from the writing were Blintz recalling how she and Mal were both (inaccurately) stereotyped as being zany drug users, and:

“If somebody else performs me, then I’m going to change, aren’t I.” Balzac pulls further and further into his shell as he starts to worry. “I don’t know if the new puppeteer will understand me, the way Mal understood me. Maybe they won’t understand how I’m not a coward, but I’m not toxic masculinity personified either… would I even say something like this if I was still on his arm? I don’t know! And… and now I’ll never know.”

  • The writing is also funny!

[after searching one location] You find undeniable evidence that the game designer is running out of time and phoning it in. Not what you’re looking for, but you suspected it.

  • The story elements and puzzle elements were both working really well for me. For the record, this can be read multiple ways, but I was reading this as 80% we’re counseling ourself / the player character, as a professional puppeteer, uses wearing different puppets as a unique way of processing their emotions and getting in touch with different faces of their personality. There is definitely a more supernatural read available given that the monsters seem to be animate puppets.

  • Oh yeah, and after all of that, it was pretty cathartic to wear the Ork and make the NPCs flee in terror

[ Δ ]

It was harder to think of negatives, but I persevered:

  • OK, one choice did strike me as bizarre and inexplicable. I cannot think of any justification for capitalizing “the” in the title.

  • I don’t know how this could be avoided because the dialogue / reminisces from the different puppets were so seamlessly integrated, but I was sad to miss out on seeing the COMPREHENSIVE digressions of the puppet cast. I mean, not sad enough to visit every location with every puppet, I guess, but sad! (And it goes deeper than just visiting every room, at one point I wore Koy and Blintz at the same time so they would talk, in case it was necessary for the recording, which it was not, and they in fact had a whole Koy & Blintz specific little dialogue in the van. Given the logistical issues it was a smart decision to put the most essential puppet-reminisces at the mural (since every puppet will go by it).

  • the in-the-moment story was working really well for me (of stealing the puppets). On the broader themes, I wanted . . . more somehow? I’m not sure exactly what I wanted so this may not be very helpful, but the player character’s relationships with the rest of the puppet crew and Malcolm’s death both felt underexplored. In the final scene in the museum at the end, for example, we get to meet several other cast members etc. who were mentioned in reminisces, and several of them comment that the player character did what they could not by going on the rescue mission. But this is the first we’ve heard that maybe the player character felt conflicted (or maybe they didn’t?), it would have been interesting to have more about that. Or on the reveal about Mal’s death, would it have changed much in the game if instead we say, found evidence that Mal’s estranged child killed him for the inheritance? or would that have equally filled the “dramatic last minute revelation” role? It seems like it should change something.

There’s no traditional walkthrough (although there is a “cheat mode” I didn’t try), so here’s a few hints to address pain points I saw mentioned in other reviews. And the van driver will give you hints if you talk to her.

hints (spoilers progressively marked within)

A very general hint: personally I think it’s more helpful to SAVE (after getting each puppet back to the van) and RELOAD than to use “undo,” because the NPCs are all on patrol routes. So if you get caught by an NPC and undo, you are at most 1 room away from getting caught again, which isn’t much margin for doing anything useful. Instead, when you get caught, I would just re-load your save and do the run again, adding a 3-4 turn “wait” in the first room (or an even longer wait, or changing your direction of travel, etc.) with the idea to be get the NPC on a different part of its patrol route than it was on during the unsuccessful attempt.

A more specific hint, if you are having trouble entering the 4th location (the fabrication or R&D lab): even once you get the card to open the door, it’s dark at first. If you take Blintz with you into the dark she will use her tech skills to pretty much walk you through where to go and how to fix the circuit breaker. This is clued in the game b/c Blintz is the only puppet you can be wearing while opening the door. Also I wore Blintz a lot because j’adore. Immediately after that, Blintz can also fix the service elevator inside the R&D building.

The puppet powers as I recall them:

  • Ernest – gives decent general advice

  • Sherri Cola – makes you better at using the keyring, also can tell you which key goes to which lock

  • Balzac – supposedly good at hiding although I only managed to get him to do it once? And that wasn’t very useful since the only option after hiding was to come out and there was no other way to advance time . . . so . . . you must come out the very next turn . . . Also for the record I was scared that using him to find a hiding place was going to be required by the plot but it is not.

  • Blintz – you can still open two handed doors if you are wearing her (b/c of her antlers, ostensibly), she’s good with tech

  • Moist – he said he was good at telling time, which I guess might be useful for charting the NPCs’ paths, but I didn’t try it

  • the Ork – if you wear him the NPCs will not attack you. They are scared of him! Definitely worth trying since the flavor text is pretty funny.

I don’t recall or didn’t figure out any others, @deusirae mentioned one of the puppets has a puppet-finding power but I guess I never used that.


It’s been a minute, but I think that was Princess Koy? It was definitely one of the last ones I came across. But as I mentioned in my review, it seemed like the power unfortunately didn’t 100% work as it should have.

1 Like

Thanks so much for such an extensive and appreciative review!

This may not be a wise thing to bring up, but I’m starting to worry that a lot of people may be missing an entire game mechanic because they had the same thought as you here:

For those of you who have already played: how many of you have seen the Game Over screen? It’s the screen with the only illustration in the whole game!

Further spoilers:

How many of you have figured out that the Morphemes (security monsters) can in fact be destroyed, or at least rendered harmless? If you haven’t, try allowing one of monsters to capture Ernest, then go back to see the monster again, but this time with Dull Thud on your hand!


Ooooh. Yeah, as you surmised, I never saw the Game Over screen, nor did I ever combat the NPCs. Although I may have to go check if there’s illustrations at stake.

That’s a real design dilemma! Taking out save and undo would make the game quite a bit crueler, but while they are in there, I bet a lot of people are gonna nope out immediately after getting the “[puppet] is gone” message . . .


I have not.

Didn’t figure this part out either, and I don’t think I even came across Dull Thud – guess that was on the one puppet I missed!

I am not that good at IF, film at 11 :slight_smile:


Yeah, I also didn’t see either of those things. That sounds pretty cool!


I can confirm that I, too, never saw a ‘Game Over’ screen. I am 100% sure that I also never saw that game mechanic, nor did I imagine that one might exist.


I must have played my cards too close to my chest! And here I was wondering why I wasn’t seeing fan art of all the puppets’ rampaging monster forms…

All I can say is, it’s pretty awesome that so many people have given the game such glowing reviews without even discovering the part I was sweating the most over! Makes me feel like Toby Fox when he made the Earthbound Halloween Hack— which has the alternate title “Press the B Button, Stupid!” because a major feature of the game is very easily overlooked.


I have not, and don’t you dare ANY OF YOU drop those spoiler screens! I am getting back to this as soon as I finish running the table!


Nope, didn’t see any illustration like that. (this seems a pretty universal response :slight_smile: )


Whew! That’s all the reviews I expect to have this comp. This was how I dipped my toe into the forum and I really appreciate what an insightful, pleasant place this is to spend time!

Thank you to all the folks writing reviews—After finishing a game and jotting down my initial notes, I really looked forward to the moment I could head over to the forum and finally learn what everyone else thought. Mmm, getting to read such good analysis, it’s catnip for me. (And it’s absolutely fascinating how often elements that I loved left other people unmoved and vice versa. Life is a rich tapestry, etc etc.)

Many, many thanks to all of the authors who shared their games! (Despite risking reading my reviews and yelling internally “this feedback totally misses the point of the game I was trying to make, I shall ignore it!!,” [which, valid and actually a very important response to be able to have].)

This crop of games really shone with creativity—they all had something to interest me and engage me, and I can only imagine the persistence that went into writing them. And some of them were just mindbendingly puzzle-y, immersive, and emotionally moving.

If you ever saw me say something negative about a game—don’t worry, I speak for a highly peculiar constituency of one. And anyway, the absolute best art requires taking chances and trying ambitious things. That’s also gonna turn some people off. (Whereas a lot of mediocre art comes from filing the sharp edges off of a project.) So to those of you who turned me off this year–I salute you.

–bon courage and thanks for all the fish–

my IFComp 2023 by the numbers, questionably contains spoilers
  • ~36,000 words of reviews written
  • 10 murders solved (well, in 10 games, some games involved multiple murders [actually I considered counting individual murders but was stymied because some of the games didn’t specify how multiple of a homicide we were investigating]), including a few murders that turned out to be committed by me . . . concerning
  • 5 games with a museum/gallery as a major setting (and honorable mention to the not-quite-over-my-threshold-for-this The Ship, where you can print a piece of art for your cabin, and The Sculptor, where you have your own studio)
  • 2 times I went to IMMENSE PAINS to attend a party, but never actually got to enjoy the party :confused:
  • 2 games with a pre-holocene setting
  • 2 plot-relevant beavers
  • “we call them land-boats”: 2 games where I drove a car (yes the clown car counts!)