Reviews by J. J. Guest

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View this member's reviews by tag: Ectocomp 2014 IF Comp 2018 Spring Thing 2022
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Custard & Mustard's Big Adventure, by Christopher Merriner

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Off the Leash, April 27, 2022
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

This is one of the best Adventuron games I've played, from the author of last year's The Faeries of Haelstowne, which I also enjoyed. The first thing that struck me was the writing, which has the charming, well-mannered humour of British children's classics such as the Paddington Bear and Professor Branestawm books. It feels like it belongs to an earlier, simpler era, without the snark and endless pop culture references that characterise a lot of modern comedy. I'm not sure if the game was written with children in mind, but it's one I wouldn't hesitate to play with my young nephews, and I'm sure they'd enjoy it. That said, I don't think they'd solve it alone.

The game has a large map, and the central conceit is that you're playing two characters you can switch between. The two dogs have slightly different abilities and some tasks can only be completed by both dogs acting together. I was reminded a little of the old ZX Spectrum arcade adventure Head Over Heels. The pair get themselves into lots of amusing situations, but much of the comedy comes from the dog's-eye view of humans going about their daily lives. It is wry and very well-observed.

There are a lot of puzzles, some of which are very clever, such as (Spoiler - click to show)untangling Custard from the lamp post. Others are rather less than intuitive, and I often found myself turning to the excellent hint system. It's not always obvious what you're supposed to be doing, and I sometimes had to use the hints to give me a push in the right direction. Often the thing I was supposed to be doing was something I'd never have thought of, since it had no obvious connection to the main objective. In more than one way, the game reminded me of Untitled Goose Game, which has a checklist of things the goose (or geese) can try, and I came to rely on the hint system in much the same way, using it to steer me through the game. I don't think I'd have solved it otherwise. Once I'd accepted the necessity of using the hints, it didn't spoil my enjoyment a bit.

Implementation is very smooth and I encountered very few problems with my playthrough. It felt as though the author had provided plenty of synonyms and that the game had been thoroughly beta-tested. The Adventuron style of clearing the screen every time you move to a new room was a bit of a nuisance, because I couldn't scroll back and refer to past events, but it never became a major issue. If I had one, minor gripe with the game as a whole, it would be that (Spoiler - click to show)the river is too wide, crossing it became a bit tedious especially since I had to make several trips.

Despite these criticisms, Custard & Mustard's Big Adventure is beautifully written, very funny and a lot of fun to play. The highest compliment I can pay this game is that I didn't want to stop playing. I kept coming back to it even when I had much more urgent things to do. Highly recommended.


Good Grub!, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Q: What do you call a blood-sucking, barbecued insect? A: A Mesquite-o., April 27, 2022
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

This is a short lecture on the merits of eating insects, written as if delivered by an annoyingly self-righteous person who has cornered you in the kitchen at a party. Good choices are rewarded with success, bad choices with sarcasm and snark. Nevertheless it does deliver some genuine laughs along with its environmental messages, and is wise enough not to outstay its welcome. Eat bugs, everyone! They're good for you and good for the planet.


Filthy Aunt Mildred, by Guđni Líndal Benediktsson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Twisted History, April 26, 2022
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

When I read the title of this game I assumed that the word "filthy" was meant in the sense of "sexually offensive". Surely everyone has an elderly relative who delights in making lewd jokes in polite company! But this isn't the case at all, the titular aunt is filthy in the sense of unwashed, as are most of her strange family. This is a somewhat rambling and digressive work that reminded me a little of the early Steve Aylett novel, Bigot Hall. It's written in an autobiographical style peppered with excerpts from newspaper articles, screenplays and letters, and tells the tale of the Bladesmiths, a monied English family living in a large country house. The Bladesmiths are a horrible lot, feared by their neighbours and not averse to murdering each other if it would be to their advantage. There's not much in the way of interactivity, but the surreal humour of the piece kept me clicking through. The authenticity of the English setting is undermined here and there by Americanisms, but they're things you probably wouldn't notice unless you happened to be British. Overall I enjoyed my delve into the strange world of the Bladesmiths, and I look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next.


The Magpie Takes the Train, by Mathbrush

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Prize of a Game!, December 14, 2020
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

The Magpie Takes the Train was written for me, as my chosen prize for winning IFComp 2018, and what a prize it turned out to be! I definitely made the right choice. It is a sequel to my competition game, Alias 'The Magpie', and stars the same player-character, the sauve, irreverent and somewhat audacious gentleman thief Sir Rodney Playfair, otherwise known as the 'Magpie'.

This delightful almost-one-room game centres around a second heist for the eponymous jewel thief. This time he's after the Gavinchian Rose, a valuable ruby brooch. Rushworth captures the Magpie to a tee. The dialogue is wittily hilarious, the puzzles are clever, logical and well clued, and the characters are as disreputable a bunch of blisters as you could care to meet. There's the haughty and overbearing Cornelia Hogg, her talkative parrot Horus, her waspish personal attendant Beatrice Foxtrot, and the Marquis, who, well, to say any more would be to give the game away, so to speak! Much fun is to be had from interacting with the characters whilst adopting various guises.

The game's features include an innovative, inventory-based conversation system and a bunch of amusing Easter eggs. There's a tonne of fun to be had from trying silly things and you can even try your hand at mixing drinks - with somewhat questionable results!

The Magpie Takes the Train is everything I could have hoped for in an authorised sequel. It's a lovely tribute to Alias 'The Magpie', a smashing game in its own right and a wonderful bit of fun!


Return of the Diamond, by R. McGregor

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Basic Text Adventure, in BASIC, August 1, 2020
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

I first encountered Return of the Diamond in a book called "Games and other programs for the Acorn Electron", published by Penguin Books.

The game is very simple, with just nine locations. It does, however, contain all the basics of a simple parser game. There is a light source puzzle, basic combat and an inventory limit. It can be quite frustrating to play, and despite its size, it took me two or three tries to beat it.

Return of the Diamond is significant for me as it was the first example I found of how a text adventure could be coded. It became the basis of all the games I would write in BBC Basic, and in time I learned to expand the two-word parser into four, and make many other improvements. I would find better examples in time, mostly in the pages of Electron User magazine, but this was the game that got me into programming and writing IF.


The Dragon Diamond, by Kenneth Pedersen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Short, Traditional Adventure With Clever Puzzles, June 30, 2020
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

The Dragon Diamond is the first of a trilogy of games, and thus far the only one to have been ported to Inform. The story and setting are not the most original, but it's enjoyable enough for all that. The game's best feature are its puzzles, which are quite clever. Some items have several different uses, and many of the puzzles have multiple solutions. I did have guess-the-verb type problems with some of the puzzles, however, and though the author has rated The Dragon Diamond as "Merciful" on the Zarfian forgiveness scale, I also found at least one way to get the game into an unwinnable state. These quibbles aside, I would still recommend The Dragon Diamond as a good game for a beginner, as it is quite short and includes a hint system.


fin de sickleburg, by Caleb Wilson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Bite-Sized Gothic Horror, June 21, 2020
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

Fin de Sickleburg is very short one-room game by Caleb Wilson, author of Lime Ergot. It's so short, in fact, that to say anything about the subject matter would be to give too much away. This one has multiple endings and a limited verb set, which means that you have to get quite creative with the way you use the commands to find all three endings. The writing is well-crafted, creepy and atmospheric, and very fitting for the Gothic horror genre. Each of the three endings reveals a little more about the player character and the game world, so it's well worth making the effort to find them all. It took me less than ten minutes. Good fun if you're a fan of Gothic horror and have a few minutes to spare.


Ghost King, by Jason Compton

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Something Not So Rotten, June 20, 2020
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

A game designed to answer the question, what might have resulted had Scott Adams decided to release a series of games based on Shakespeare's plays. Ghost King is written in the same programming language, and within the same tight memory constraints as the original Adventure International titles. The author has tried very hard to capture the essence of those early text adventures, right down to the terse messages, odd use of capitalisation and occasional typo. In this he succeeds magnificently, and at times you could really believe you're playing a game made in 1980. It also succeeds in translating the main story beats of Hamlet into a series of object-based puzzles, retaining some of Shakespeare's best lines, and including a "find the *treasures*" side-quest into the bargain.

If I were to assign an Adventure International difficulty level to this game, I'd have to make it "advanced". You do need to be reasonably familiar with the play to get very far with it, and some of the puzzles are less intuitive than those in the early Scott Adams Adventures. I was a beta tester, but I was unable to solve it without hints from the author, whereas I've solved most of Adams's "moderate" games without hints. Ghost King does a great job of juggling the complex subject matter with the antiquated authoring system and quirky style of an Adams game, but loses something of the latter in translation. If anything, the author could have been a little more irreverent with his source material, thrown in the odd anachronism, perhaps, or a little more low-brow humour. (There is one particular word-play puzzle, though, that made me laugh out loud!)

Overall, this is an excellent pastiche, right down to the cover art, and highly recommended to fans of the Scott Adams Adventures. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it well.


For Rent: Haunted House, by Gavin Inglis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Unreal Estate, September 14, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

I was recommended this game, and it is one of the most enjoyable Choice Of games I've played. Unlike with many Choice Of games, you are not required to spend time at the beginning customizing you character, which can sometimes feel a bit arbitrary and uninvolving to me. Instead the game launches straight into the story, casting you as a harassed estate agent working for a small company in Edinburgh. You're charged with renting out a house with a mysterious history, and your whole livelihood depends upon making a success of it. The NPCs are both interesting and believable, and the choices you make have a real influence on the course of the story. There is enough branching to give the game plenty of replay value, which is one of the key things I look for in a choice-based story. It is also very funny. Of the Choice Of Games that I've played so far, this is my favourite, and I'll definitely be trying other games by this author.


The Fifth Continent, by Daniel Gunnell

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Walk Through K, July 20, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)

This is a curious little game set on the Kent coast. It doesn't have any puzzles as such, and I completed it in just 42 moves. It was the setting that captured my interest, as I have been meaning to explore that part of the English coastline for a while. It was quite enjoyable to just wander around and look at the scenery, and there really isn't a lot else to do. Because it's rare to find games set in the real world, I decided to mirror my progress on Google Streetview at the same time. Through doing this I realised that some of the moves you make in the game take you several miles in the real-life geography, but this isn't really apparent from the writing. The writing otherwise does a decent job of describing a place which is obviously very familiar to the author, and there are dashes of humour. The Fifth Continent could have done with an experienced beta tester, though. There are a fair few typos, including "pidgeon" for pigeon, (though it's just possible the author intended to use an archaic spelling) and dozens of unimplemented scenery objects. It feels like an early effort, and I can't really give this game more than two stars, but I did spend an enjoyable few minutes exploring Romney Marsh and I look forward to future games by this author.

Edit: the spelling and grammatical errors have been cleared up since this review was written.



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