Reviews by Andrew Schultz

IF Comp 2014

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Laterna Magica, by Jens Byriel

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A very playable last-place effort, January 9, 2015
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2014, IFComp 2014

Laterna Magica got dumped on pretty harshly in the IFComp, but it's by far the best last-place game I've seen since I've paid attention (2010.) I'd go so far as to call it the best bottom-three game I've seen. This seems like faint praise, but when I paged through the comp results, I was shocked to find it dead last.

Its last place finish is probably more a result of a stronger field than anything else. Though I can see why people may've disliked it--it's about a journey to ultimate enlightenment, but with loops. A lot of them. There's one choice buried in one loop that breaks another loop, and the text is deliberately obscure, perhaps too obscure. Your choices are questions with no right answers, and while this is part of the shtick, there are almost no ways to get any right answers or clues you are on the right path. It seems philosophically correct that we don't notice that we're getting smarter, but there's no sense of progress or hinting we're doing it wrong besides "oh, this again." I got a semi-messy map out of it, and I stumbled through, but ultimately I didn't feel enlightened.

And three months later, I can't remember what I did, and I'm a bit worried about going back to find out. So I can't say this is a favorite.

Still, the game has a coherent start, a good premise, and a way through that's logical once you see it. It doesn't soar, but it works. It may give unpleasant flashbacks to those books people flog on you at the airport as "gifts," with different spiels whether you're reading a book or not (but could you please give a donation?) & some of the text rattles on. And while I love some so-bad-it's-good, and I've even had fun poking through underimplemented games and reassembling them to find out what's going on, this game feels more like it had good intentions and clear focus on its own but it never translated to the enlightenment it tries to give the player.

I generally try not to rate games I competed against in IFComp, but I feel sad this game has a flat one star. Doing math on the previous ratings, it even needed a three-star rating to bump it up. I can't quite give that in good conscience, but two stars--definitely.

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