Reviews by Andrew Schultz
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The Deer Trail may not be perfect, but it certainly left a good impression on me despite some technical flaws. It starts out as a deer hunt but then turns into a lot more. This is both bad and good; the motivation for finding the next item struck me as because-it-is-there, the game was organized so as to reveal secrets in the form of letters, up until the conclusion. But despite my criticisms below, I was impressed overall. Sometimes knowing what pitfalls to expect can help a person enjoy a work's strong points. That is this review's goal, because I think The Deer Trail deserves it. I suspect my major concerns will be obsolete if the author creates a post-comp version.
It starts as you manage to shoot a huge deer with your bow and arrow to start, but it's only wounded. So it flees. Early on, The Deer Trail gives you instructions of what verbs to use to hunt and track the deer, and eventually you wind up by a house. Somehow, the deer made it in, despite a locked door. You will need to follow. There are places to the side of the deer's trail of blood that hold tools and such.
Once you're in the house, things get a bit surreal, which isn't necessarily bad, but fetching the items for later does feel a bit arbitrary. Through the house, there are three journals which give the deer's backstory. Along the way you find items you have to combine together, which makes sense once you figure what to do, but you do have to pay attention to the scenery. And perhaps one is a bit too heavy-handed, since it's called chemical compound A.
This dents the emotional impact of the story. As do the achievements, which seem like a good idea to nudge you to explore everything. Perhaps "discovery" would be better? This is sort of quibbling, but word choices do matter. And some achievements seem more like thanks for paying attention than tension building. But it could build to more, in a post-comp release--maybe at the end the author could cue you to what you missed. I also found some nuisance in having to "use stairs" instead of going up or explicitly look in a cabinet after opening it.
The Deer Trail feels like it really sprawls, and it could be cut down (the three letters you find could be, in particular--maybe break them into four or five? Though maybe the trivial fix of throwing in a few "press and key" commands would work. Also, it would be nice to be able to read them separately, once you have more than one.) But I was interested and captivated and have no concrete suggestions what to leave out. Speaking as a horror novice, it seemed to avoid cliches and (oops, cliche alert) cover a lot of bases. Enough to clearly overcome minor technical issues, for me.
A Ghost Story is a relatively simple eight-room game where you may have to cycle around everywhere a bit before you find what's going on. It's the sort of thing Speed-IF was meant for, and I think the author chose the material and scope well.
As in The Libonotus Cup, the interface and appearance are quite attractive. Here you have white text on a black background, and when you're clued to the exits, they're orange, so hooray for Halloween colors. The directions appear nonreciprocal at first, but (Spoiler - click to show)if you map things out, they form a sort of octagon which makes sense later. There's a white tower in the middle you can't get to or pull away from, as well as an Igor (that's deliberate,) a poultrygeist, a Sphinx and a locked gate. What to feed the poultrygeist was a neat lateral thinking puzzle.
I was stuck with what to do for a while, because I was trying to coast through, and I can't say I missed a puzzle per se, but I was glad to find the next items that led to me getting to the tower. (I don't think it's a spoiler to explain that, yes, you need to get there.) Each was a small fetch quest, and (Spoiler - click to show)each room has a purpose of sorts.
A Ghost Story isn't especially deep, and you've probably seen all the elements before, but it is well done. I quite enjoyed how it corrected some misspellings I made. For four hours' work, it's quite good.
It's good news when an EctoComp entry is replayable. It's also quite good when I have to replay it, and I know it'll be worth it. But for this game, I didn't want to replay it until I considered the possibilities. Perhaps I'm just the right audience for it.
But it's just a simple game of Battleship. A 3x1 ship on a 4x4 board. For you and death. All for the right to avoid damnation. I won my first time. Maybe I just want to keep my perfect record.
However, I'm currently entertaining the notion that the game doesn't pick things at random. That it only seems to. After all, it gives you four guesses to start, and there's no guarantee one of them hits. (In fact, there never is, with four guesses. You need five: C1, D2, A2, B3, C4, for instance.) And Death hit me the move after I hit him. Then, in a stroke of luck, I guessed wrong, but so did Death. This isn't totally improbable, but there's enough linked that the story could go like so:
Death taunts a mere mortal, asking them why they deserve to avoid eternal damnation. The mortal's actually been a pretty good person, but Death doesn't want to make it easy. Death mocks them: "don't ask wise questions about how I know what you're thinking and how you might cheat." But Death has already made up its mind, in the person's favor. It's just part of the ritual. (Note: you have opportunities to be a smartaleck. Maybe this fixes you for a bad end. That'd be cool.)
As someone who has spent far too much time poking at advanced battleship strategies, such as they are, I didn't expect an oversimplified game of battleship to be so thought-provoking, but I'm glad it was.
From the screenshots, FoK seemed like this was one of those RPGs you could just lawnmower through. Which was a change of pace. And indeed, lawnmowering through gets you to an ending quickly enough. You start as an egg, and you become more fully developed into a Kabu (nightmare creature,) you learn (or think you learn) about your world. But there isn't anything like stats or inventory or combat. You simply have a few screens--some with areas you can't get to right away--and NPCs to interact with. There's a mole, and there's a child killing ants, and there are even other Kabu, who don't seem to like you.
And with all this is a small story with several different possibilities. You can go full nightmare, where you wind up killing an entire city in a surprisingly quiet manner, or you can try to learn what is happening and why you are who you are. I wasn't able to get a happy ending, though I think there must be one. I also originally assumed you couldn't get to a small spring. So I had a story in my mind about how your life is really depressing and there is no way out, until I managed to make my way to the spring. Life still wasn't perfect for the poor Kabu.
And perhaps the game isn't. You interact with NPCs by running into them, and I killed a few without meaning to, before I'd officially turned bloodthirsty. So this left me confused. But it's hardly fatal, and I didn't mind translating the Spanish text that crept in the game either.
It's neat that something like this could exist. Even if I'm not 100% sure what to make of it, or if my ideas are even reasonable, it'll stay with me. It's all a bit vague, but it's supposed to be, being a fable and all. Small things like how you hatch or discovering your mother or the color change as the story progresses work for a memorable experience, and the one-bit graphics work well, too. I even enjoyed the trial and error to see what I could walk over, as it was mostly intuitive, and often when I couldn't run through something, I was able to figure what it was. I'd always had vague ideas of blending a top-down RPG-style game with text, and it's neat to see how doable it can be, and that it's done pretty well. And I hope it's done again.
If you are going to make a last-day entry, EctoComp is the competition to do things in, and Twine definitely helps. Healy is an EctoComp specialist who provided cheery scary stuff in 2014 and 2019 and this year's entry follows up on that.
The basic plot is that you quickly meet a witch in the woods and then maybe Dracula. It felt like the game would branch out a lot more than it actually did, because I made the "right" choice to move forward, so I had my pencil ready to map the branches out. But then later I enjoyed how it gave the option flipped back between 2 weaker options, one of which is lampshaded as "cry." I was also amused by "text a friend" because I'll never forget a tweet that said "Boy, a lot of horror movies pre-1995 could've been solved by having cell phones!" But you are still scared.
And the endings are appreciably silly. So I got a few laughs. But my fears it might overstay its welcome (the title lampshades it's a bit overdone) turned out to be 180-degrees wrong. I wanted a little more. I hope Healy uses all four hours next year. I appreciate having games like this to recover from the darker ones, whether they're in EctoComp or even IFComp.
Haunted Mustache Pizza Delivery is a heck of a title, that's for sure. It reminded me of an article I read long ago, about a college football head coaching change. There was a picture of a mustache in a bowl of oatmeal. It was hilarious (no, really) because the old head coach had a cool mustache. The defensive coordinator had a cool mustache. He was considered the frontrunner, but the new head coach wound up having a cool mustache, too.
HMPD doesn't quite reach these heights, but it gave me a laugh or two. You have to stay late for one more delivery, and the chef is gone. So it's up to you to make the pizza.
Your mustache twitches as you put certain ingredients on. And there are a lot. I naively decided to put them all on, and maybe I should've seen the ending coming, given the clues. I replayed several times, and I managed to get several different pictures of pizza, from "boring school cheese pizza" to "looks more like a detailed woodcarving" to "full on vegetable platter." So I think what you put on affects what sort of picture you get, and I was curious, but I don't know enough about food to find everything.
I didn't find a truly winning ending. Perhaps there is one combination that works. But I enjoyed it enough. Yes, the content-warning bits Weren't My Thing, but they weren't tasteless. So it seemed nicely executed. Though my technical side wonders if it might not be better in Twine.
I'd like to see a post-comp release that tracks or clues the endings. I have a feeling I missed something, and while I Got It overall, it feels like the author may've had more they wanted to pack in. But it more than does the job as a short EctoComp piece.
I always enjoy seeing more Adventuron games, because it's a good new system, and the Adventuron community is serious about producing creative games with neat graphics. The River of Blood is no exception. It's well-suited for a 4-hour competition and well planned out, well beyond being able to type "U" for upstream and "D" for downstream.
You are dead and traveling through the afterlife, or something close to it, in a river of blood you can't escape. Items float by. You can go downstream to pick them up. There's also a Grim Reaper who approaches periodically--mostly for dramatic effect. It sometimes randomly killed me, but I was able to undo it.
If you do things in time, you find who you are. But if not, you die for-real. The time limit seems fair. There's one neat clue that changes slowly as time goes by. The first time, I missed a clue I should have seen. And when I won a second time, I realized I hadn't seen everything. Examining objects can provide even more clues as to who you are--though some must be examined after doing things.
I really like the retro feel of this game--the low-res graphics are quite effective, and detailed pictures would feel like overkill--and the red/white/black motif feels quite nice and economical, too. The sound also feels comfortable and old-school. It's quickly replayable so you can see everything and made up of low-pressure Halloween thrills.
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