"A Night at the Museum Forever" by Chris Angelini, Forth Place finisher in the TADS division of the 1995 ifcomp, is the stereotype of an early amateur IF work. The entire premise is an excuse for the central puzzle; we find out that you are a professional "troubleshooter" hired by a corporation to recover a diamond ring in an otherwise ransacked museum which apparently can travel through time. There is no attempt to make us care about or understand why the diamond ring is there or why it would be so valuable, all of which is pointless since the solution to the puzzle renders the goal nonsensical. The implementation is paper-thin and the few puzzles are immediately obvious.
The minimal narrative frame is only given lip-service, and in fact at one point the fourth-wall came crashing down in front of me as I tried to examine the time machine and was told that "Its [sic] far beyond your ability to comprehend. Of course, as is typical of these adventure games, that isn't going to stop you from using it, now is it?" The introduction has a list of mysteries that never get answered or mentioned again. Additionally, the entire game has an unmentioned time-limit framed as a hunger puzzle, to which there is no solution. Even though this game is short, I completed it in half an hour, I recommend that all but the most die-hard completionists skip this one.
"The One That Got Away" by Leon Lin, third place winner of the TADS division of the first annual IFcomp, is a quirky little game. What seems to start as an extremely naturalistic fishing simulator turns out to contain an exaggerated love story with a large number of unbelievable elements. The game never takes itself too seriously, but a lot of the humorous elements just seemed a little too gonzo for the relatively restrained tone of a fishing game (such as when I fished a VAX out of the lake). The few puzzles present seem mere tokens, as if they are just expected for the medium, and are so obvious they almost do not count. The game does keep a score, but makes no point of announcing acquired points as they are gained and the end just unceremoniously lists the points without giving rank to the accomplishment. I wonder if there just was not enough precedent in 1995 for a puzzleless, slice-of-life story game. It is worth noting that Andrew Plotkin’s “A Change in the Weather” was an entrant in the same year’s competition. The writing is mostly competent, with some mistakes, and some out-right confusing lines, such as:
The only sign of the hand of man [...]
The line starts like a race horse threatened with milk wagon.
This world-famous fishing hole is this state's best kept secret.
But I do not mean to imply that the game is bad. For a subject of which I have absolutely no interest, I found it charming, well-implemented, and an extremely short diversion (replaying with no extraneous moves, I completed the game in 24 turns). Modern players may find it a bit shallow and dated, but I found that “The One” was very playable for its age and recommend at least trying it if you are looking for a short diversion.
"Toonesia" by Jacob Weinstein is a parody of the old Warner Brothers cartoons. True to form it includes some of the settings that characterized Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, and Daffy Duck cartoons. It contains appearances from all of the above and a Tasmanian Devil, though all the characters are renamed. Notably, you play Elmer Fuld, captured by Bud Bunny.
This game had it's clever moments and successfully emulated the attitude of the source material and contains some pretty clever puzzles. Unfortunately this game also shows its age with very sparse implementation. I felt like the author passed up a lot of opportunity to write funny room descriptions in the style of Elmer Fudd, but alas, most of what happens in the text of the game is mere reference to the style of the cartoons it's based on.
The map alternates wildly between ecosystems (in one room you're in the forest, in the next, a desert mesa), but this could be accredited to cartoon logic. However most of the Warner Brothers cartoons I watched as a kid would feature one or two of our favorite characters and would keep a fairly consistent setting, maybe switching between the woods and interior of a house, at most. Most of the puzzles existed blatantly outside of the story, just as set pieces.
This game is based on a pretty neat premise with some potential for innovative work, overall though I would've hoped for more. I think most modern players would find it pretty underwhelming.