Ratings and Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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Text Adventure Collector, by Rex Mundane

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not the first Scott Adams tribute, but a good one, June 6, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Text Adventure Collector (TAC) is about, well, collecting old text adventures. It's written in the Scott Adams style, replete with short sentences in the room descriptions and action response. And while I suppose Jason and the Argonauts is the gold standard for this kind of thing, there's always room for a new angle. Perhaps there's a ceiling to this-all, because the self-referential humor and winking nostalgia at the good old days, where the author acknowledges the bad bits, only goes so far. But that ceiling is well above my-lousy-apartment games if the author is capable. And Rex Mundane is.

All you have to do is find ten text adventures (they appear in your inventory in helpful rainbow font! I love that Adventuron has this as a feature) and put them back in your bookshelf. They're all parodies of ones known and loved by the author, and though I drew a blank on a few, I noticed Garry Francis drew a blank on a few others and said so in the game's Itch.io thread. The author provided what translated to what. Zurk is one of the more obvious ones, and The Galactic Stowaway's Manual ... well, think about it a bit, and you'll get it.

And my favorite joke -- as part of a puzzle, you have to pry an iron key away from a magnetic scroll. There's more than enough subversion in the game to keep the puzzles fresh. They're pretty crazy but nothing mind reading, though you have to do a good bit of exploring to see how anything fits together. You'll be stuck with a colorless orb, but a wizard wants a dark orb, and so you have to find what item goes with it. The Wompus (no, not the Wumpus!) is described in another room, and so you learn how to defeat it. And there's a teleport spell to learn, which is not XYZZY, but there's some funny meta-humor about people not wanting you to use it. The clipped prose works well, too, with the toner being laconically described as "Overpriced." So while the game clocks in at 26 rooms, which is a bit contrary to the minimalist spirit of the competition, the prose makes up for it. I think one problem with retro/meta-humor games is that they get too involved in a joke, and maybe the contest's general guidelines helped the author keep the game text tidy, so the jokes flowed.

As for the games you find -- well, it's possible you may guess a few of them with what you need. The big problem may be it's frustrating to have to do and search for a lot before getting that first item. A screwdriver ... well, you probably know what that refers to. But you don't need any knowledge.

The author shows a lot of talent in TAC, and it's a fun time. But it's a bit limited by what's already there. And this is a tricky one--between TAC and the author's other game, there's a lot of fun meta-humor. And it isn't just about retro games and a love for them, which the author clearly shares, but it reminded me of After-Words from IFComp 2021. (Okay, this game was published in 2020. But, not being aware of Adventuron's existence until May 2021, I played After-Words first.)

I could read this sort of thing for a while, and if the author has more such ideas, they should take them. Because while this hits the mark for those of us who grew up with text adventures, those younger among us may only look at the jokes and suspect they seem pretty good. They are. And I think my relative lack of "oh that joke/trope again" reactions speaks to that the author didn't just try to check all the boxes with TAC.

Insomnia: Twenty-Six Adventures After Dark, by Leon Lin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Funny and technically/narratively worthy, May 15, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2023

As a fellow Spring Thing 2023 author, I was amused to note a similarity between Insomnia and Write or Reflect–well, WoR in helpful mode, anyway! Both have a possibility of going to endings you’ve seen before. (Insomnia has a bit more writing as a payoff, and said writing is better organized through some pretty diverse adventures!)

But they have different mechanisms for helping you to find all the different endings, so to speak.

Also, I’d like to thank the author for an early encouraging note to me about WoR. I hope this is good payback. So any suggestions here are “It’d be neat to do this too!”

WoR’s helpful mode lets you know if you’re about to walk into a node where all endings are covered. So you will get there, and rather quickly, by trial and error. It forces you to find the right path, which may ruin the fun of exploration.

But Insomnia leaves a bit of a puzzle. It’s quite up-front about things and I think even the endings seem to be organized so that, say, ending #1 is “first choice all the way through” and #26 is “last choice all the way through.” So you have a neat idea of what you can target and when and how. There’s some neat intuition here that I like, because while I enjoy branching Twine games, I sort of cringe at having to look at the source to knock off that last ending or two. Whether or not the endings diverge as much as Insomnia!

So I’m not aware of anything else that handles the endings as Insomnia does. But I’d be interested to see others, because I think it’s a great idea well-executed that helps it go beyond "yet another zany Twine game with clever fun writing." Especially since Insomnia doesn't try to slide on its zaniness alone. There's a funny ethical dilemma (well, not really) and I was amused to find the main villain was someone named Richards. With apologies to people whose last name is Richards, I laughed, remembering a line from a story I never wrote in college: "Geez, you have Richards this year for English? What an asshole!" Richards is, indeed, worse than that. I thank Insomnia for dredging up my irrational subconscious hate of people surnamed Richards. Especially if they have mustaches and wear corduroy blazers with elbow patches. (That's part of my never-published story.)

Insomnia's structure and bumpers open up possibilities for creating Twine-ish paths elsewhere, maybe even allowing the player a difficulty knob of how much they want to spoil.

For instance, you could have a counter saying, once you’ve hit all the endings in the (Spoiler - click to show)UFO branch (there are four) two times, that one is blocked off somehow or the node is bumped back! It seems like this would be tricky to do in Twine, but it would allow for a VERY branching game with even more than 26 endings so that the player’s energy would focus less on staying patient and juggling endings and more on the writing.

(Another neat idea, especially if the game had meta components, would be to allow the player maybe 2-3 glimpses at a branching ending map. Or maybe even label the endings 11111, etc., based on which choice gets you somewhere in the minimum tries.)

Insomnia is definitely a fun light-hearted read but it brings up some (to me) engaging, serious issues of how to keep the player’s attention and the niceties we should add to help them along and feel the optimal amount of stuck so we had a neat challenge, without giving up!

All these considerations, though, are nothing to lose sleep over. Ha ha ha.

Talk to him about love, by Auraes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
I'm a bit baffled, but I can't hate it, January 31, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2019 CaveJam

TTHAL has a noble, unusual goal for a Cave Jam setting: awaken a stone troll and bring him back to life! This is where the "love" comes in. There's not a lot of talking, though. However, there is lots of fourth-wall humor, including a memo that keeps flying away when you examine it. Finding it several times helps you progress through the story. There's also a key you have to lose and find again, as well as baby birds you have to kill, but not really.

It's all a bit of a trip to me. The main thing to remember going through the game is that if something disappears, it's probably in a location where nothing has happened yet. Bonus points are dispensed oddly, for finding walls that aren't described and some guess-the-verb that makes moderate sense in retrospect, once you realize what the author was going for.

Still, this game broke me pretty quickly. I had trouble following the story, simple though it was, and there seemed to be a moral message (you become king of the ravens for a bit but worry you are evil). And i learned to expect that even taking an item in front of you is fraught with silly risks. Indeed, just being able to take something and have it, or me, stay as-is was a great surprise.

Later versions seem to have curbed some excesses, such as the deep mine that used to be 1000 levels (you jumped from 20 to 30, then 100 to 200, but still, it's nice they cut it down). This one needs a walkthrough to appreciate the jolly graphics. It seems very good-hearted. But some of the jumps are a bridge too far for me without more in-depth explanation.

Snowhaven, by Tristin Grizel Dean

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Making a meal of reflection, in a good way, January 31, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2021

Snowhaven takes place in, well, winter. The object is to make a stew for your brother, who is dropping by. It has three modes, and the third is mature and thus password-protected. I played through Pleasant and Emotive, which have the same map but also have slightly different puzzles and scenery. Both were effective and a bit unnerving, and the accomplishments list at the end of the game suggested Sinister mode was very sinister indeed. I think it's what scared me off playing back in ParserComp. I'm sad I missed it now, though, and I'd like to try it some time, though.

The graphics are very attractive, black-and-white ASCII-ish stuff with some animation indicating winds and, thus, extra wind chill. They help give starkness without anything being too imposing. And, indeed, your small home and the forest surrounding it are pretty bleak. Trees and such and even a river are dark.

The one difference between Pleasant and Emotive that I won't spoil is that you need a different meat for the stew. Finding and preparing said meat is trickier and, frankly, more bloody. Again referring to Sinister mode, I'm left a bit fearful of what happens there. So the password may've been effective in unexpected ways by leaving certain bits hidden.

There is a good deal of verb-munging to make the soup (finding several items needs a small leap of logic, but one that makes sense once you figure it,) and I also had some trouble making a snare in the second part, but I think this is part of the slice-of-life experience the author intended. Nevertheless between that and the text pauses, things felt like a bit of a chore. I knew what I needed to do, and perhaps Adventuron's focus on two-word commands may've inhibited the author helping the player as much as they'd have liked. Sometimes this is very on-point--for instance, the game taps you not to leave a food locker open with wild animals around. But other times, the repetition is slightly tiresome, e.g. chopping up the vegetables and placing them in the pot yet again. There is also a bit of odd forcing causality beyond just the game nudging you to avoid a certain area for now, or to go back and dump what you have in the soup--the reason for "Emotive" requires you to do something that fits in the story, but it shouldn't logically help you find the meat you need for your stew.

So there's some mimesis-breaking and a good chunk of repetition of similar actions between the two settings, but these criticisms seem less important than noting the author has managed to create two similar, parallel stories that are effective in different ways. (Probably three. I hope to verify this one day.) So it's a very impressive work, and certainly, once it's on the back burner, it's easier to remember the inventive bits than the parser-wrangling that, at least in part, gave a proper "it's tough in winter" feel. I think people may find Snowhaven tough to get into because it's not as directly cheery as the author's other games, and a few jumps you have to make early on may seem tricky, but that shouldn't stop people from enjoying it.

Hallowe'en: Night of the Misty Manor, by Dee Cooke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Overwhelming, but funny, game about Halloween curses and camaraderie, January 31, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2019 Halloween Jam

HNMM starts out as a fetch quest but soon swerves into greater scary-farce. You visit an old folks' home and, finally, the misty manor in the title. Along the way there's a branch based on which mask you choose.

It's good fun if you know what to do, but I can't escape mentioning its biggest weakness, so you're prepared if you've enjoyed the author's other works (as I have) and want to see all of HNMM. This all spilled over, but I hope it's more to provide a buffer than to read a loud laundry list the author, who's a veteran at writing games by now but maybe wasn't then, probably knows and sees.

You can get stuck in several unwinnable states, and there is some arbitrary stuff you need early on. That's a problem of zany games in general that try to provide a lot of replay value. For instance, there's a sugar packet necessary for one of the five branches, but if you make it through another, there's no clue which branch you need the packet in. There was enough of this that I needed a couple more sessions to work through each alternate path (there are five total, including a no-mask option,) and I did use a walkthrough.

Once you get to a place, you may say "Oh! I wish I had (X) now!") but because the game map is broken into a few distinct parts, you won't be able to go back. So it's tough to see ahead. And it's also tough to figure when you're at or near the final puzzle, and it's easy to worry you may be shut out from a win in other ways. Given that HNMM keeps throwing zany situations at you, it seems like there can always be several more, and the game's score is tracked internally.

So--yes, just save before you choose a mask, and save before you enter the mansion. You'll be able to enjoy HNMM best that way. And there is a lot to enjoy despite the technical unfriendliness of being locked out near the final puzzle.

You are Eilidh, charged with supervising four kids younger than you as you go to an old folks' home to entertain them, but first, you have to find a gift. Nearly everyone at the party refers you to the next person, who says "oh, wait, no, the gift is over THERE instead." Which certainly gives you the feeling of "oh, man, i sort of don't want to deal with these kids." But I didn't want to actually throw anything. The scenes where you'd probably get exasperated in real life are funny in writing, though there is one guess-the-verb situation that's so on the nose I didn't consider it ((Spoiler - click to show)you're told you need to distract someone, and the verb is DISTRACT X</spoiler).) The scene at the old folks' home is sort of sad, and the kids' performances are objectively terrible in a funny way. Then you're given a spooky green rock as a gift.

This is where the manor comes into play. I figured a way in, but it was a one-way affair. Puzzles included sneaking up the stairs silently and giving a creepy girl a gift. There are neat touches such as having to peel an apple and the peel turning into a random letter, which is the first letter of your husband's name. Then there is the random bit based on what mask you wear. It's rather funny if you don't wear one, period.

The author had a lot of wacky humor to dump in, and it didn't all hit for me, but the aggregate on the whole was successful. While you do have to retrace a lot of steps even with strategic restore, HNMM hits all the undead ghoulies and tropes it's always fun to tweak for a laugh. By the first end I had some fear of "oh no am I trapped this time" but they had some really clever ways to let you retreat back to your car, or at least near it, as you explored more weird and spooky places. And so I felt like I could feel may way through well enough with the final mask--though I did have to make sure I had the special item(s) I needed!

HNMM is ambitious, but isn't as focused as the author's latest efforts, and it makes a few unfair demands on the player. However, it was neat to see Eilidh and Deirdre from its sequel Day of the Sleigh again. It felt like the sort of odds-and-ends game we all have in us, and whenever we get it out, we will, and it's more than worth doing. While parts definitely feel a bit arbitrary, it is a good dose of humor that all Halloween jams can use to offset the more serious entries.

Seeker of Magic, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A solid, no-frills, linear magic treasure cave jaunt, January 29, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

It's weird, stumbling on Adventuron late and still having a backlog of stuff I really want to see. I've seen writers' more mature works first, with the earlier ones coming later. All sorts of factors, then, blunt ambition. The new authoring system is tricky to learn, there aren't resources, parts of the syntax may not be ironed out, and maybe there aren't as many great shortcuts or examples yet. People just want to get a nice game out there. And in the case of SoM, Garry Francis did. And went on to even nicer.

Overall I think the only possible point against SoM is that it is relatively unambitious, as a cave exploration game. As a thief armed only with a knife, you get by a gross troll (a highlight of the graphics, both when it is in your way or defeated for good,) make fire, solve a riddle, and pick off a slightly unexpected treasure. Hence the twenty points in the game, with only four actions. The map is linear. You get in and out. There's a quite sensible inventory-capacity (well, sort of) puzzle.

It's all over a bit too soon. I wondered if I'd really earned the treasure I found, but maybe part of this was due to the nature of the treasure and my enjoying the ride.

The Witch's Apprentice, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Peak Adventuron, January 29, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2019 Halloween Jam

I played Santa's Trainee Elf recently before playing WA, so my cynical first reaction was "Wait! Garry's already done this before, but for a different holiday." But of course WA was released in 2019, STE in 2020. And, well, it's a very good thing they're similar. Both have neat graphics and are really sensible and entertaining fetch quests that fit the season. If you forced me to decide, I'd say STE is a bit richer and handles the whole "find stuff to make something special for kids" a bit better. But I liked them both a lot.

In WA, you are an apprentice who must find eight ingredients for the witch, for a potion to keep kids safe this Halloween. Some require more creativity than others. One even requires you to remove a cat's bell collar so they can (Spoiler - click to show)catch a rat. It's well-timed and paced, too, with the run-up to entering the Witch's mansion being just a bit spooky. There's no response when you knock, and the author deserves full credit for the joke/minor puzzle therein.

The mansion has a lot of off-limit areas that help it feel big without the game being overwhelming, and pretty much every sort of spooky location is covered. It's a three-story affair with a backyard, too. The ingredients aren't anything too novel. They don't need to be, though I laughed at needing rotten fruit. But there are amusing explanations for alternate names for mustard seed and buttercups. WA has a lot of small subversions of general witch tropes, and I particularly enjoyed poking at the scenery you couldn't use yet, or didn't know how to, as if to reinforce that you're an apprentice without belaboring the point.

WA just feels like the sort of game Adventuron was made for. You couldn't quite write it in Inform, and the parser bits feel like they'd lose something in Twine. I enjoy Garry's Inform games, but his writing seems to have a bit more character in Adventuron. There seems to be some nice synergy with the graphics.

Which leaves just one question. When's that Adventuron Valentine's Day jam coming? I'd love to see a trilogy from the author, if they had the inspiration.

(edited 1/29/23 5 PM, originally posted 1/28/23 5 PM)

The Cave of Hoarding, by Dee Cooke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The reverse of a treasure hunt, January 29, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

It's always amusing what authors can come up with when given a theme for a jam. I mean, some of us (like me) will probably play it safe and not take any big risks or even try to shoehorn their own specific knowledge into their effort. But others are better at saying, okay, how can we subvert this meaningfully, in ways the next entrant probably won't, either?

This is what happens in CoH. You'd think, with a title like that, it'd be a romp through a cave with a lot of treasure. But really it's about hiding treasure for later, as in, finding a place it can sit so people won't see it and eventually forget it's missing.

Such is your task from one Mr. Lo Kingdom. You and your not-really-friend Msndy (you're more like a chauffeur) need to find a way to hide things. Mandy's a bit absent-minded and can even get killed, which detracts from your point total even though Lo Kingdom mentions she was a liability if you fail to protect her. She manages to kind of mess things up along the way.

There aren't very many puzzles here. It's pretty obvious who is guarding the item you need and what you need to do with them. So burying the treasure is not too bad. It's turning things back to as they were beforehand that's the tricky bit. This is nowhere near as complicated and intriguing as Sub Rosa, but it's still a bit of fun. There's even a bit where Lo Kingdom gives you money for something special you have, because he's "persuasive" like that, but it's something you wanted to keep. This costs one point at the end. The points aren't displayed in-game, and given the author's later works, I like that she made the switch from points to achievements.

CoH does feel a bit less substantial than the author's later efforts, and I don't think this is general "oh people always get better" revisionism. For instance, Day of the Sleigh may have fewer rooms, but it feels like there's more to do, and the jokes are more focused, and the alternate paths and odd achievements feel more logical. Nevertheless I was glad to see there was a game of Dee Cooke's I'd overlooked, and I enjoyed working through the branches. Maybe it's a bit on the silly side, but given that the game's general intent is to do things backwards, it should have leeway for that.

Century, by Zuuri

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Avoid the bugs, and it's a quick affair. Neat graphics., January 29, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2019 CaveJam

So, okay, I went to Garry Francis's walkthrough up at CASA/Solutionarchive.com pretty quickly for this one. Which is sad. The graphics are cheery and colorful. But it hits the "you have amnesia and are not sure what you're doing" a bit too heavily--and unintentionally, in the case of some verb-guessing.

Being stuck in the cave isn't so bad. This part is decently well-contained, though why and how the combination to a safe is scattered in parts about the area is a mystery. The puzzles are sensible. You find a key in the safe. You get out and climb a tree and even hunt for food! (This part is random and frustrating and chases people off. The next puzzles seem like arbitrary guesswork, unless i am missing something.)

You then find some treasure, except ... except ...

Well, the ending had me shaking my head a bit, too. I felt heckled. Not that that's a bad thing, and not that it was particularly abusive, but the shift from "what's going on here, anyway?" felt as helter-skelter as the game itself.

Given the chaos that transpired even with a walkthrough, I recommend you have one close by if you take the plunge with this game. There's a certain eagerness to it, to give you some standard adventure-game locations with weird twists, along with some puzzles that should feel good to solve. But they bounce from perhaps too obvious to "whoah, that was weird" too quickly.

However, if you're one of those people who can get into playing every game in a comp once you start, take solace in this game having enough heart that any frustration endured because of these puzzles is not lasting. That's how Adventuron rolls.

A Mission in Time, by Soso

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Explore forest, avoid beast, find relics, January 29, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2019 CaveJam

"Astronauturon" feels like the sort of word a native thinker couldn't figure out, or that we might dismiss as too odd. But it works, a portmanteau of astronaut and Adventuron, presumably. It's far less plain than "A Mission in Time." Though the execution itself isn't especially snazzy, for better or worse: you're in a dark forest with a lot of rooms, but it's not really overwhelming. You're an astronaut coming back down to Earth, which humanity fled when it was irratiated, but after a hundred years, it's relatively safe again.

Well, except for that bear chasing you around the map. I didn't get caught by it, but some red text indicated it was nearby, as I took photos of artifacts with my camera. Then I went back to the ship and uploaded them, which presented the main game puzzle: there's a time capsule hidden outside the initial rooms you can view, and since your inventory capacity is two (three, if you drop the camera,) and there are six items on the photograph which you now recognize, you need to decide what is most practical.

This part is not very taxing, but recovering the time capsule is effective, and of course, when you win, you see what's in it. The ending is a bit cute, maybe too cute for the general mood, but it wrapped things up nicely.

Astronauturon is not a crushing experience, nor an unfriendly one, and the mapping goes quickly. But it feels like there could've been more puzzles with the items you find in the house, and the camera mechanic could have been used more. I feel like I may have missed something during my quick playthrough. I quickly went from being worried the map would be too tangled to wishing there was a bit more to do. But it works, and the black and white graphics are a neat touch that help emphasize the red text without overdoing it.

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