Balderstone #2 introduces a fresh batch of terrifying tales:
- Look after your grand-child as an elderly invalid. Weird and nonsensical, with little interactivity but a lot of strangeness.
- Examine a monster in forensic detail. Simple and amusing.
- Live the spaghetti-western lifestyle: deserts, horses, guns and a love triangle (think Claudia Cardinale as Jill Mcbain). Exudes Mexican flavour. Like oregano and cumin.
- Survive an incident in a space laboratory. The regulation "meaty" chapter (each game seems to have one). The way this introduces who you are, where you are, and what you're doing with no infodumps at all is really neatly done. Has some tricky puzzles for the first time in this series (it will become more of a feature in later games). Managed to get stuck here for the first (and only) time too, unfortunately. Had to consult the "ClubFloyd transcript" to proceed.
Also includes some entertaining hidden content: try using the (Spoiler - click to show)safeword, or (Spoiler - click to show)quitting and restarting. If you enjoyed the first Balderstone, this is more of the same quality writing and expert pacing. But it's definitely the next game in the series where things really start to fly, as Veeder gets more ambitious with bigger and more complex scenarios, while also varying the storytelling voice more between the fictional authors.
Where it all began for the now-venerable series of Tales from the Crypt-esque anthology-horror games. Four spooky micro-IF stories are told by horror authors gathered at the titular castle. A tale of ghostly revenge, a surreal dive into psychosis (and blood), an abandoned hospital explore-em-up, and a trolling exercise (unless I missed something?). Much shorter and less thoroughly implemented than later episodes, but Veeder's comic turn-of-phrase and subversive wit shines through as usual. There's some hilarious mockery of self-indulgent literary "post mortems" in the framing device. In particular, the send-up of the heavy-handed metaphors of the abandoned hospital story, by it's own author, is expertly handled.
The fourth in the Castle Balderstone horror anthology series is the first to mix Twine (for the framing story) with Inform 7 (for the stories being told). You can choose which order to play the stories, and the game even auto-saves! This time round, stories are being told in different rooms around the castle, so the Twine sections provide some back-story and characterisation via conversations with your host as you travel between them. The castle map serves as the main menu, from where you can select your chosen story.
- Explore a shipwreck with basic Metroidvania-style gameplay, revisiting previous areas with new-found abilities. Well-judged difficulty, lots of surprises.
- Be a space bounty-hunter, tracking down your target over multiple worlds. Really stylish, really atmospheric, really cool.
- Imagine if those pastoral/rural life sims (like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley etc) were actually folk-horror? Plays almost like a turn-based business-sim (and keeps a score, if you want to replay).
- Look for your missing boss in a lake town. The highlight, a "HUUUUGE" game, that has got everything: a big map, lots of fun characters, a complex (and really thoroughly implemented) magic system, lots of puzzles (some with multiple solutions?). This one alone could probably win the XYZZY Best Game of the Year Award by itself.
And that's still not all! There's more, as Veeder begins playing with the medium (both mediums?) with one further spooky story to wrap things up. Must-play stuff from top to bottom. A sensational effort.
I've somehow missed the previous two instalments of Castle Balderstone, but on the evidence of Several Other Tales, I need to fix that omission immediately. A comic horror anthology in the classic Tales From The Crypt style, it's presented as four spooky short stories from different authors, within the framing device of a late-night meeting of horror authors. It's all Ryan Veeder, but the four stories really do feel like they come from different authors, not just literarily but in the way they play too.
The first is a ridiculous improvised romp with laughs aplenty that would feel at home on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" or on stage at The Comedy Store. The second seems like a parody of the 2008 horror IF Afflicted, with it's hygiene inspector sent to a scary commercial premises. The third, written by a class of schoolkids as a project, is absolutely pitch-perfect, capturing that childrens-storytelling tone with panache. The fourth is a substantial, meaty monster-hunting adventure with many puzzles and a neat combat mechanic that feels suitably climactic.