Zozzled, by Steph Cherrywell

A fun, brash game set in the Prohibition era. I’ve posted a review of it on my blog.

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I played this today. It’s solid, as you’d expect from a Steph Cherrywell game, but something about it felt off to me. Like it had the potential to do more with the material. I think I wanted it to be more boozy. Make it feel like you’re really drowning in alcohol by the end. Now that I type that, I realize there was LITERALLY that potential, since it’s set in a water-themed hotel, and all the booze in the hotel has turned to water. So what could happen when it turns back? All the water could also turn into booze! Maybe this is an alternate ending and/or puzzle that I didn’t uncover. Even if it is, though, it could’ve been a centerpiece!

But yeah, I wanted the alcohol to be more emphasized. Ditto the ghosts. Really join those concepts and bring out all the shenanigans that could ensue. Instead, the puzzles and plot beats were pretty detached from the core concept. Helping an artist paint a picture. Diffusing a bomb. Breaking into a vault. What do all these things have to do with spirits/spirits? I mean, yeah, each puzzle is technically “haunted,” and you get to drink spirits after solving them, but the supernatural-alcoholic side could’ve been mined a lot more. Each ghost should’ve felt exciting to encounter, but I ended up just gulping 'em down and moving on.

The story also feels very detached from the gameplay. You get two really huge text dumps at the beginning and end, but otherwise don’t interact with the main characters in the mystery. The puzzles don’t advance your understanding of the mystery either. Mr Cantaloupe’s gimmick of being “the guard who always tells a lie” was another example of untapped potential. I expected this to figure into a puzzle somewhere, but it never did (that I found). So instead it feels like a joke that’s a little lost. What do truthful/fibbing guards have to do with booze or ghosts or 1920s gangsters? It’s broad enough material that it could’ve gone into any comedy adventure game, which gets back to how this story could lean more into its own unique qualities.

The one thing I did really enjoy was the encounter with the ghost in the elevator, where you have a menu with all these standard parser commands, which you can try and fail to execute, until DRINK pops up as the right verb. That felt pretty slick.

I feel like I’ve been pretty negative here, but this wasn’t a bad game. It’s fun. It’s polished. People will enjoy it, and it’ll probably place well in the competition. I’d even say it’s a contender for first! It hits all those IFComp sweet spots in terms of length/difficulty/accessibility/mechanics/tone. I just wish it had pushed the envelope further.

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