Long titles always give me pause. Will they indicate a long, sprawling game? Or will the game have a tight focus, as sort of a reversal joke, so tight you think they overdid it with the super long title? In the case of Midnight (spelling the acronym would take more keystrokes,) thankfully, there's little to worry about. It's short and tidy and subverts the "pointless task in lousy weird job" genre without overusing the zany or "lousy jobs are lousy" angles. It's well-organized. I replayed it quickly after ParserComp, and though there's only one tricky puzzle, I still fluffed it at first and then felt happy once it was fixed.
You start out with an undemanding task left by your mysterious manager: find three boxes and bring them to the loading dock to the north. The first requires little more than exploration. The second requires fiddling with locks on an elevator. Some may find this tiresome, but it made me recall bad experiences with a frieght elevators and padlocks (not together, thankfully) which the passage of time had healed. The constraints are tongue-in-cheek, as you can't leave the basement if you are even carrying a mere task list. While it's busy work and meant to be, I enjoyed seeing something different than the Towers of Hanoi and the 3-, 4- and 5-liter jugs, and it underscored how badly managed your rental shop was.
Things get interesting after you place the second box on the loading dock. The weather changes. The place shakes enough that you can carry not just a task list into the basement but everything in the game that's not nailed down! This was an exhilarating moment of freedom. Not only that, but a previously-locked door is now open! This was a relief, considering all the futzing with keys and padlocks I'd done earlier.
On your way to finding the third box, you have visions. They contribute to why your place of employment is weird, and you have something to set right. It's not very hard, but it's satisfying, and it ended too soon, with the promise of a sequel I will be glad to enjoy.
Midnight certainly is economical in design if not in its title. And its brevity and oddness make its wit stay. And if the sequel takes a while, I will have stuff to tide me over. I hadn't realized this was the author's third work.
Gent Stickman stood out immediately for me, not just for its title, but for its stick-figure drawings. My relationship with drawing is a thorny one. I'd like to be more realistic, but I do enjoy the humor a well-done stick-figure drawing can do. It just has to be thoughtful, and yet, stick figures can help take an edge off serious subjects so you can cope with them. This is the case with Gent Stickman, a small game with relatively few rooms and a simple parser. All the responses are in graphics, including the error messages, which is nice because sometimes the default messages are annoying even when they don't try to be.
This is a successful design choice as I see it. If I'm correct, The author's first language is not English, and the game does have a universal feel. I wasn't surprised to see they'd won the Spanish version of EctoComp, based on this effort. They could certainly write in English. I mean, GS is definitely one of the most fun and creative titles I've seen in my gaming exploits. So they could definitely hammer something respectable out in English. But what they did was slick. They know what they're doing, and they never need to drill it in your head how clever they are. There are hints and death scenes, and the hints are particularly nice because, well, you still have a bit to figure from some of them--but nothing unfair!
And they do form a nice story of where you've been and where you're going. I've certainly had instances where I saw one hint too many and felt like I was just taking transcription, and that didn't happen here. The graphics cut through the "push X for next hint" instructions, only revealing one additional hint per room per hint request. This left GS feeling quite welcoming. They also pushed back on one of my pet-peeve straw-men in web-based games: timed text. After a certain amount of that, I always picture someone pausing pompously for dramatic effect, but here it's like a small funny YouTube clip you could watch several times.
As for the story? Well, you, Gent Stickman, are--well, the guy people see on a bathroom sign. Your beloved is your female counterpart. She has been kidnapped and locked up in a high castle guided by a pit. There aren't many rooms, and the game establishes early that compass directions are Not a Thing. One error graphic shows an X'd out compass with left and right replacing it. The main verb to figure is -- well, you have to guess it, but it's not a blind guess, and (Spoiler - click to show)this game gets away with it where others wouldn't.
And solving the puzzles gives some nice cut scenes that remind me of the sort of flip-books I used to make in second grade, though this is clearly more clever than that. It left me wondering why someone didn't think of this-all before, and I hope to see more of it. Jumping over the pit has a lot more drama than "PUSH SPACE TO CONTINUE." There's doubt if you'll make it over. And yes, there are a few surprise instadeaths that make you want to restart, but once you know what to do, it doesn't take too long to get back. They're all worth seeing.
GS has some interesting innovations in streamlining the player experience, which makes for a lot of fun that's over a bit too soon. I'm certainly glad to see it's marked as one of a series. It's one of those games you can just enjoy, and on reflection, you realize the author did a bit more than throw out silly yet satisfying jokes. While obviously "ha ha ha this game is meant to be a simple satire/joke" can be overdone, it definitely isn't here, and I really enjoy these quick booster games that remind you you don't need anything super complex to have reasonably clever fun.
Uncle Mortimer's Secret intimidated me, but at the same time, I wanted to play it. Details leak out from a game's reviews even if nobody means to spoil anything. And that worked both to draw me in and push me away. It was obviously a big game with a custom (and old-school) parser, replete with scoring, but it was also well-organized, by someone who knew what they were doing. It probably got fewer ParserComp votes than average because of the custom parser. It's got its oddness, but that's not a cover for the author's laziness or inability to put a story together. It feels more focused and assured than Somewhere, Somewhen, which the author submitted to the previous ParserComp, which had That Something. UMS had a lot more, maybe because the author didn't need to focus as much energy on the parser itself. It was the first ParserComp game I came back to post-judging, and I was surprised how quickly I did so. I'm grateful to the people who pushed others to play this game, and I hope I can do for so beyond ParserComp.
Your eccentric uncle Mortimer has disappeared and left you a letter. He's gotten involved in magic and alchemy, and he's probably been captured by someone quite evil. To rescue him, you need to visit several important time periods and events, and you may not have to do much, but when you do, you'll gain the trust of historical figures Mortimer meant and get the next piece of the puzzle. You travel through time by twiddling four numbers on a bracelet while in Mortimer's machine, and for me, it was nice to be able to get something right before doing what I had to.
I did so in all cases except the (Spoiler - click to show)Whitechapel murders in 1888, I was clueless as I never connected them to Jack the Ripper. This isn't all bad; for me, it was nice to know a lot without knowing everything, and also there was enough of a new spin on (Spoiler - click to show)Kennedy's assassination in 1963. I think with this sort of buffet-line approach to important historical events there's always going to be something you wished to see more or less of, and nobody's pleased perfectly, so your tastes may differ from mine, but overall it should work out right. For me the funniest puzzle was finding (Spoiler - click to show)Sir Francis Drake's bowling ball in 1588.
Eventually you do find Uncle Mortimer with a weird tesseract puzzle. The journey is worth it to me, though you will have to dedicate a lot of time. But it's the sort of game you can blow by with a walkthrough, if you have to, and you will get a lot out of it, and maybe in a few weeks you'll find yourself coming back to it, too, to see how much you remember. I found, briefly poking around, I enjoyed both what I remembered and what I forgot.
A few things still slow it up a bit, though. I'd still like to see a more understanding parser--the disambiguation isn't great, and there are some abbreviations, but maybe I'm spoiled with Inform. I'm pretty confident that the author will tweak what they want and need, though, given how they've honed a lot from the promise shown in Somwhere, Somewhen.