Reviews by Andrew Schultz

2021 Text Adventure Literacy Jam

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1-6 of 6

Reflections, by Tristin Grizel Dean

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Lots of light, little glare, April 28, 2021

The danger of relying on the old fairy tales is that you don't wind up saying or doing anything new, or you wind up getting too wild and rattling on. Reflections does neither. It gives you a cell phone to navigate certain puzzles, and it keeps familiar fantasy elements without cliche. All this makes it a good fit for the Text Adventure Literacy Jam as well as a good short game.

The goal is to find five different ways to see your reflection. And yes, the cell phone plays an integral part in a few of them. The best part is, you can't and don't have to call anyone, or find any numbers, or anything like that, though one common side-feature of cell phones is necessary to use and ewll-clued.

Positive interaction with animals is most important, and it's never twee. The puzzles and setting avoid the cliches of fantasy as well as gross anachronisms. They're also comfortable enough that you shouldn't struggle with the parser. And while Sentient Beings, the other game the author entered in this comp, is more ambitious and memorable, Reflections really takes the tutorial requirements for the jam and makes them come alive. So the author should be proud of writing either of these games, much less both.

This game also circumvents a potential pet peeve: you have some baking to do, which normally isnít my thing, because bigger games may get into details too quickly. Here, it doesnít feel forced on me. Iím the sort of person who is relieved when a recipe isnít very complex, so the gameís courtesy was appreciated her, and I think in general any game that takes on something you aren't usually interested in and keeps you interested has clearly done something right.

Because the final point of the game is for (Spoiler - click to show)looking through the mirror in your house after traveling to a cave, it has a there-and-back feel to it. And just knowing what the final point should be certainly left me feeling competent when I needed to think about a puzzle near the end. Overall the game does a lot and avoids overdoing anything or trying too hard to get me to like it, which is a very real risk when writing fantasy stuff, so I do recommend it.

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Dungeons of Antur, by Ricardo Oyon Rodriguez

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
DoA is definitely not DOA, April 28, 2021

It's been done before, combining an RPG with a text adventure, but Dungeons of Antur (DoA) wound up performing much better than other text adventure and RPG hybrids I've played. Adventuron is partly responsible for that, but the author definitely did a lot of things right. Once I got out of "it's been done before" mode I realized this is the sort of game I'd have really enjoyed when I was 12, with or without the tutorial. A tutorial which notified me that tab-completion would help me cycle through all valid verbs. Since the competition explicitly wanted tutorials, and I had trouble guessing one verb (the author has since fixed this,) I was quite pleased to be able to approach future Adventuron games knowing verb-guessing would be less critical.

DoA's not huge--it might be exhausting that way. It has alternate endings. It has a few puzzles. It has strategy. It's randomized each time through. It even has an interesting NPC at the end. And I can't say DoA has a huge, overarching story. It's well put together, though, and it doesn't make mistakes. It's supposed to be sort of a demo for Adventuron's tutorials and a sequel, and I think it fits well.

As for specifics without spoilers: the puzzles and atmosphere are more the focus here. There's a grate that shuts down as soon as you enter the room, something to fish out from a well, and another grate that doesn't seem to have any mechanism at all. Skeletons contain messages in their bony hands. There's a secret room you should be able to find if you pay attention to the tutorial and another that requires a bit more trickery. Some weapons work better against certain monsters. You have armor and a few healing devices.

The graphics above the text give you a good view of the room or the enemy, along with your current stats. While a status line could display all this information, it wouldn't look as nice, and it'd feel a bit intrusive, too. DoA wasn't the only Literacy Jam game that gave me the feeling that, hey, I could make something attractive with lots of user-friendly features in Adventuron, but it managed to be a legitimate RPG and convinced me I could maybe stretch Adventuron's bounds to do my own thing.

As mentioned above, I do wish there were more games like DoA when I was a kid. But instead I figured I'd better be happy with what I got: Infocom games that blocked me at the first tough puzzle, but then again, if I could finish them too early, I'd have nothing left to play.

I used to be quite impressed with adults being able to make games hard, but as I've grown older, I'm more impressed with programmers who pace their games well, and DoA is an example. I got stuck often enough to feel challenge, but it wasn't frustrating. The battles are also well-balanced. It's possible you'll get wiped out, but saving and restoring is part of the general RPG procedure. In fact, there's one battle near the end where you almost certainly will get wiped out if you don't have a good think.

Finally, the writer deserves credit for doing a great job maintaining the game. They've made several bug fixes, small and large. And while anyone who writes a game in something other than their first language deserves approval for their courage, the author was quick to fix the sort of grammar nuisances that even native English speakers mess up. That bodes well for the potential sequel mentioned at the game's end.

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Sandcastle Master, by Chris Hay (a.k.a. Eldritch Renaissance Cake)

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Kid stuff, but not just for its own sake, April 27, 2021

With games featuring youth I'm always a bit worried that there will be nostalgia-pandering, but this game left my worries baseless. It doesn't try to be too cute, it deals with limits seamlessly, and it uses Adventuron's features quite well.

You're a kid who needs to decorate a sandcastle you helped your father build. Which doesn't sound too hard, and it isn't. Your father gives you a map of the beach to start, and you canít go too far away from your parents. That helps keep the game small, so you donít have to go wandering off anywhere. Which makes sense. Your parents wouldn't like that. Also, nicely, two of the map squares are inaccessible: some water is reserved for fishing, some for boats. This certainly brought back memories of places I couldn't go on the beach and made them a bit more fun.

The treasures arenít terribly tricky to find, or valuable, but you would find them at the beach, and you would enjoy them as a kid, an the rainbow text sort of reenforces that--as an adult, I wondered if it was really necessary. It wasn't, but it made the game that much more enjoyable. But the game's not just simply about fun at the beach.

It also touches on things a kid doesn't know and won't realize until later. It winks at the older player. Not too sly for its own good, but a bit of thought fills in some things I might not have recognized when younger.

Once the father built the sandcastle, the kid may not realize parents need and want time to themselves. But there might not always be friends to hang with. So after helping his kid build a sandcastle, the father sends them out on a small fetching expedition to keep him entertained. There's another kid to sort of make friends with and a few older people to help along the way. Which keeps a day out fun for the kid.

Well, for the kid AND for me. And probably you, too. And you don't even have to pack up the car or suffer through traffic to enjoy it.

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Sentient Beings, by Tristin Grizel Dean

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Plot: Bot, Spot a Lot, April 25, 2021

Day and night are often just slipped into a game to provide realism, or give the player unofficial barriers that don't feel like puzzles. But in Sentient Beings, they offer up variety and puzzles that aren't out of place in a tutorial-style game.

And it's so well-executed that even when I saw what was going on and worried it didn't work, I wound up getting through without worrying about many of the technical aspects. I'm not the sort of person who'd generally gravitate to this game, but I liked it, and I hope that's not just a backhanded compliment.

You're this cute little robot who needs to pick up 24 specimens and bring them back to your rocket ship. Twelve are nocturnal, and twelve are diurnal. You need to do some preparations, such as measuring the temperature and light and air composition, before you can store anything in your rocket ship. While this may feel pedantic, it fits in well with the theme of the jam, which is to teach people about text adventures. And the science-y bits also provide for ways to explain verbs to you so you won't be guessing.

If I could change one thing, I might allow the player to return in their rocket ship after getting 22 or 23 of the samples, with a slightly less happy ending. If a casual player has, say, a 96% chance (this number was pulled out of nowhere) of finding any one specimen, thereís an 70% chance theyíll miss one (1-.96^24), so that could be frustrating for someone who doesnít take disciplined notes right away. (Or maybe the game just put me in enough of a scientific mood to be OK with writing something like this.) However, even there, the game has a lovely walkthrough and you can guess which specimen you may've missed because (Spoiler - click to show)area 1's specimens go to the top left, area 6 to the bottom right, and so forth.

Lawnmowering through is a strategy that should work, though--there aren't TOO many things to observe, push, or search under, either at night or day--and the stuff that needs manipulation is pretty obvious. Plus, it's actually pretty scientific to go through room-by-room, in keeping with the whole science theme and taking careful notes and such.

But the game does a lot to make sure you don't miss details. Itís wonderful to be able to shut the robot off until the next day/night. So it makes the push-pull between wanting to explore more and wanting to nail down getting all the specimens in one area a little more interesting. My experience was worry the game might be a bit big, and once when I discovered its boundaries and found everything, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more. I enjoyed the variety of terrains, and the different graphics in the day/night switches helped that.

The game is robust enough that I was able to work around a (now fixed) bug. I felt more focused the second time through, and I had a better plan, because the game allowed it. It's probably the most complex game of all the entries in terms of features as well, with an option to set robot humor and so forth.

This game also deserves serious credit for using custom verbs the best of any of the entrants. They're relatively intuitive, using some nouns that doubles was verb. MEASURE also requires an guess-the-noun puzzle, which I can assure you is a pleasant variation on the usual guess-the-verb. Given that tutorials were a focus of this comp, the author integrated the new verbs in very well, but only after you learned the standard ones.

Sentient Beings made me think without telling me it wanted me to think, which is always appreciated. I didn't realize it was well done until I looked back and thought about it.

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The Blue Lettuce, by Caleb Wilson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
8 vegetables, but more pleasant than V-8, April 21, 2021

The Blue Lettuce was the only Inform game in the Text Adventure Literacy Jam, but it doesn't feel out of place, and its quality reflects the jam's general quality. It's a game about a groundhog who is looking forward to eating some magical blue lettuce. The puzzles are sensible, mainly about jumping around, and the prose is good. The way through is pretty clearly lit for those who just want to win, but I wasn't surprised there was more.

You'll probably miss a vegetable or two the first time through. The trickiest one for me to find on replay was (Spoiler - click to show)one that can actually vanish before you eat it. The puzzles are simple, in keeping with the jam's aims, and there's good variety in them. You'll never have to do anything radical.

I also like the responses to eating stuff you don't like, which rounds things out nicely. There's nothing crazy, but it all makes sense. Like I wouldn't expect the groundhog to enjoy grass, and they didn't. Between that and helpfully nudging you when you type in a wrong direction, It certainly goes along with the tutorial spirit of the competition. There's a crane as an NPC and a constant reference to the wizard who tends this area of odd vegetables, and that's nice to have, without forcing you into any tangled mythologies or complicated relationships.

Even though this game seems relatively simple, it had a few in-plain-sight points I didnít see when I just plowed through the first time, because I wanted to get through all the comp games. I didn't mind missing things, and I enjoyed coming back later. Someone who sits down and diligently tries to enjoy the game should find everything and have fun in the process. Itís also neat that you can get the lettuce and not eat it right away to try everything, and the blue lettuce itself is a neat goal: obviously magical, but not too silly. It reminded me how I liked blue raspberry gelatin or blue ice cream or weird blue candy or bubble gum a lot as a kid, maybe because it was a slightly unnatural color, and I convinced myself it tasted exotic even if it didnít really.

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Barry Basic and the Quick Escape, by Dee Cooke

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Basically Barry Enjoyable, April 21, 2021

This is a neat production where you must control three teens. One, Barry Basic, has snuck into an old-fashioned computer control room where he shouldnít be, and he managed to get locked in. His friends need to help him out. You need to change points of view several times. Games like this where you change perspective usually frustrated me, but this one helped me along really well and still left me the freedom to feel like I was solving stuff.

This game had several neat parts: seeing how and why Gill liking English was relevant, having Barryís more athletic friend Tony need to help him several different ways, and the accomplishments at the end that encourage you to try everything. Each friend-pair also has an interaction that moves the plot forward, and the game never forces pedantry on you. By this, I mean things like when youíre finally leaving for home, you donít have to switch between Barry and Gill and Tony and have them all leave. They all do together, as friends should.

And I think thatís the sign of a good game. Once it asks for your time and makes you figure how the three different friends should interact, it doesnít bog you down to stay or trip you up in unnecessary detail. It also has a good economy of itemsĖthere are enough for good puzzles, but not too many. All items have a purpose, even those with easter-egg deaths the game notes once you've won. After all, Barry isn't really supposed to be in the control room, and this drives the point home without being preachy.

Also, the game features a rotary phone. Rotary phones are good for a cheap laugh, but in this case, theyíre part of an early plot point. So this is retro/nostalgia done right. The control room also has these details as well.

Playing this game reminded me I never got to do enough (relatively harmless) sneaking around with friends. We weren't athletic enough. So I missed out, but this game helps me enjoy how it would've been, without the fear of things going on my permanent record or whatever.

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