Zed reviews-a-thon

I’ll update this first post as a running table of contents.

Thanks to @sophia for the lovely banner!

Inaugural IF Review-a-thon post

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Andromeda Chained by @pieartsy

The myth of Andromeda has inspired many artists, owing to the enduring appeal of naked chicks in bondage. The backstory:

Andromeda, princess of Aethiopia, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia is minding her own business when Mom boasts that she’s more beautiful than the Nereids, Nereus’ sea nymph daughters. This doesn’t pose any credible threat to the Nereids’ brand, but the Nereids and Nereus are colleagues of Poseidon’s, so out of some sort of classically divine professional courtesy, he goes all wrathful on Aethiopia, flooding it or siccing the sea monster Cetus on it, or maybe both. The Oracle of Ammon (Egyptian god crossover event!) says the only thing to do to save the country is to sacrifice Andromeda to Cetus. So Cepheus shackles her naked to a rock to await her fate. (By no account did the Oracle specify the naked part, that was apparently just Cepheus’ own creative vision for what a sea monster would find tasty.)

Getting involved with the gods is sort of like global thermonuclear war, but worse: the only way to win is for your whole family not to play.

Anyway, the soundtrack starts playing Holding Out for a Hero and Perseus shows up.

Perseus had just offed Medusa, having been personally accoutred by the gods, so he’s got the sickest loadout in all of classical mythdom:

  • Hermes’ winged sandals
  • Hades’ helm of darkness (granting invisibility)
  • Athena’s harpe sword

And now he has all that and Medusa’s head in a bag! (Truly, we have no clue whether Perseus was really worth a damn as a hero. Iorgos the shepherd’s clumsy son could’ve kicked ass with that kit.)

Him being a Hero, and priorities being priorities, after slaying Medusa the very next thing he does with all this divine provenance is to fly all the way to northwest Africa to show Medusa’s head to a king who snubbed him once, turning him into the Atlas mountains. But if it weren’t for his Heroic pettiness (and wanting to stick to the coast 'cause he was a little nervous about getting completely lost flying across the Strait of Sicily) he might not have come across Andromeda in her time of need.

Andromeda Chained, the IF story, begins with Cepheus serving up his daughter on the rocks.

Subverting a patriarchal damsel in distress story isn’t hard. Centering her makes it inevitable. The hard part is still having something interesting to say beyond the obvious consequences of the recontextualization. Andromeda Chained is meant to be played several times, and it can be without it overstaying its welcome. It’s a choice game about not having agency, yet finds a way to play to the medium’s strengths. It’s well-written and judicious and deft in its brevity and the paths it offers and the slight variations they create, effectively dramatizing the leeway Andromeda does have: how much to resent all this.

The penultimate paragraph of the story always ends “the tale of Perseus wends on” in concession to it always being his tale. The real chains were never the ones on the rock.

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How Dare You? by @alyshkalia

How Dare You? has a cringeworthy premise: you show up at the home of our partner, Heron, who communicates very clearly that it’s over and you should leave. Yet…

…No, you can’t. You’ve got to convince em to change eir mind. You just have to show em how much ey means to you. How much you care.

You refuse to leave. The game requires you to try to win Heron over. It won’t let you leave prior to making some sufficiently dramatic gesture (and it’s a parser game, so you don’t know the options).

From the opening, we get strong hints that Heron had good reason to call it quits, and this is borne out by the options available to us, our internal dialogue about the situation, and Heron’s reactions.

If this were a romcom, you could probably turn things around: an egregious disregard for boundaries at the final act climax is always a winning move. But this was written for the Love/Violence Jam and the Anti-Romance Jam 2024.

The cringeyness of the premise and ugliness of the situation is redeemed in that it does end badly. The story doesn’t sugar-coat toxic behavior and pretend it’s sweet: it recognizes the toxicity, which is refreshing.

It’s an extremely quick bite-sized story and worth a few play-throughs.

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Not Just Once by @TaciturnFriend

Not Just Once is a well-written creepypasta choice game. There seem to be just two endings, so functionally there’s just one choice: play it safe, or keep playing it risky. Try it both ways.

There are some bugs. One time through, passages referred to past events that hadn’t happened; another time I was left stuck with no choices at all, thus no way forward. But because I was planning to review it, I played several times, and most play-throughs were fine so your odds are good.

Overall I enjoyed it and recommend giving it a try.

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Thanks for the kind review! I also enjoyed your cavalier retelling of the Andromeda myth :joy:

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I played the online version of Museum Heist by @Denk though it recommends playing it with an Adrift client.

Just like it says on the tin, you’re robbing a museum. The police will arrive in ten minutes and you’re trying to steal as much as you can carry. What story there is is a veneer to present an inventory management puzzle game. You need to play multiple times to learn the constraints.

I gave up when I realized that the backpack seemed to be implemented as a stack and I’d have to figure out how to optimize the order in which I put things in it. But this game is the sort of thing you’ll enjoy if you enjoy that sort of thing.

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The cover image for Quest for the Serpent’s Eye says it’s from TextComm Games for the Xyzzy II Home Computer System. The description is:

Do you long for the days of sensational descriptions, ridiculously inconsistent monochrome artwork, and the mind-numbing frustration of seemingly impossible puzzles? If so, this might be the game for you! […]

Inspired by some of my favourite titles of the Apple II era, this game is designed to be nothing more than a nostalgic bit of fun for the young and young at heart.

True to form, I was stuck within minutes and resorted to the Serpent’s Eye walkthrough.

I had an Apple IIe back in the day. But I soon realized I was either insufficiently sentimental or insufficiently young at heart for this game. If you have a surfeit of nostalgia or cardioneoteny, though, consider giving it a try.

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@EJoyce and @Encorm 's How to Make Eggplant Lasagna (with cats) is about trying to cook while your two cats are being pests. It’s a brief farce, but with significant variation if you play again with different choices. Once, I even successfully ended up with a meal!

For cat people, for whom it’ll be a familiar slice of life, I give it two thumbless paws up. Non-cat-people would probably just be confused and wondering if they should stage interventions for their friends with cats.

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The webpage for Kiss of Beth by @OverThinking tells us:

[…] you have a conversation and then make a choice. […]
“Kiss of Beth” has two endings.

A man arrives at your house to take your housemate Beth on a date. For reasons that aren’t clear to the player, the player character seems to be vetting him.

To say any more would constitute a spoiler. It’s very quick, and I enjoyed it. So go find out what happens for yourself. Then go back and get the other ending. (Unless an Indie Horror Jam entry containing “adult language, descriptions of violence, and brief references to addiction” specifically sounds off-putting to you…)

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My Girl by @sophia is “a linear, gothic work of interactive fiction made for the Bluebeard Jam, 2024”. Superficially, it’s a fairly faithful telling of the Bluebeard story. But in Perrault’s version the horror begins with the reveal of the corpses in the basement. In My Girl, the horror is there from the very start.

His favourite endearment to employ is ‘my girl.’ Santiago smells of the sea, navy blue overcoat sun-faded from hard wear. The golden buttons are polished clean, visible signs of mending meandering over the breast pocket: small flowers sprouting from the wool. He wears the old, tatty thing, when he’s in a particularly good mood.

“My girl,” he says, reaching out to take hold of your hand, clasped lightly between both of his. He pets you like a small animal, a cosseted cat. His flesh is cold, as frigid as the arctic seas he made his fortune upon. In the trade of silks, rum, and golden fripperies: the very same with which he adorns the house he’s kept you in.

She’s implicitly denied personhood, she’s an accessory, a possession. His girl.

The writing is good: it has a distinct narrative voice that does a good job of maintaining the story’s tone even when nothing overtly horrible is going on at the moment. (There were a couple of transitions I found to be abrupt, but that’s a small matter.)

I recommend it.

(In ways this echoes Andromeda Chained, above but with a grimmer tone.)

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Thanks for the review! You are certainly right, that the backpack (a big corner of the gameplay), is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. I actually had that as a big concern but it turned out, that several people liked the game anyway.
But certainly a valid point.

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Somebody Else’s Story by @EJoyce is a twine game in the Goncharov milieu. It’s a brief vignette, taking only a few minutes to play. At first, it seemed so slight that I wondered if I needed to be much better versed in Goncharov lore to get something from it, but after exploring its choices through a few replays, I did get it (and probably should have been tipped off from the title).

It also echoes a theme of Andromeda Chained, above: Katya knows that she and Sofia are endangered just by their proximity to the people in their lives, but further seems to have a metafictional awareness that she and Sofia are bit players in this drama, that the plot counts them as expendable.

If you’re looking for a lunch break game, have something additional queued up for afterward: this probably would work best as an aperitif.

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