Reviews by Emily Short

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itch, by Liz England

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Very short squick-horror, June 18, 2015

itch is a Twiny Jam entry, which means that it had a very tight content and word limit. Accordingly, it's pretty short, and within that short space, it does a lot of its storytelling through images rather than through text.

It's also probably the most compact demonstration I've yet seen of the principle that interactive horror works best when the player is deliberately walking into danger. In this case, we are pretty sure that scratching is a bad idea, and yet the temptation to do so is so strong -- tied with curiosity about what's going to happen -- that we're drawn into it anyway.

Without that component, itch would be much less interesting, though the final reveal is the kind of scary-gross-funny thing that could easily turn up in an urban legend. It made me go "ugh" in the moment and then left me with several fridge horror moments afterward. (Spoiler - click to show)If there's an eyeball in my body that I wasn't aware of, can I see out of it? If I can't, WHO OR WHAT CAN??

It's always hard to assign a rating to ultra-short and in some respects unambitious games that nonetheless do exactly what they're trying to accomplish, and I wavered between 3 and 4 stars before settling on 4.

That Sinister Self, by Astrid Dalmady

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Sinister reflections, June 10, 2015

That Sinister Self is a short horror Twine that dramatizes the ways our own minds and self-critical impulses can turn against us. It focuses particularly on the kinds of body-shaming thoughts and social concerns that are common among high school girls, but it's presenting a kind of distorted thinking that can affect other groups too.

It does this with a neat trick of typography: the main text appears right-side up, but underneath is a reflection layer, upside down mirror text that sometimes reads differently, indicating the alternative perspectives of the second, mirror self. As time passes, the mirror text differs more often, more aggressively, demonstrating the warping of the inner monologue. The mirror text makes fun of the protagonist, emphasizes her flaws, rejoices in her mistakes and embarrassments. There's no way to interact with this text, to erase or refute it; we can only take actions in the real world and hope for the best.

There are several endings; I reached only one ((Spoiler - click to show)The Contagion Ending), but it felt sufficiently fitting that I didn't really want to try for others, so left it there.

Speaking purely personally (and this is why I haven't assigned a rating), the emotional impact wasn't as powerful for me as that of some other pieces that delve into inner monologue. (Cis Gaze comes to mind here.) I think this was because the protagonist didn't seem to me quite as uniquely imagined and individual, but more like a representation of a general type of problem, and those usually don't work quite as well for me.

Your mileage may vary, however -- and there was plenty of formally interesting content to make this well worth playing.

The Ambassador's Daughter, by Stormchild

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Slightly rough around the edges but not without charm, May 17, 2015

This is a vignette-sized piece about trying to get the attention of someone who interests you, at a diplomatic ball, through a short series of light puzzles.

I initially struggled a little bit with what I was supposed to be doing and had to glance at the source -- the main interaction mode could be better hinted in-game -- but once I'd worked that out, I was able to get through without further spoilers. The main things to bear in mind are that you should TALK TO and LISTEN TO other people: this will give you hints about what they're likely to want, and allow you to make some progress in the story. Also, one critical action is coded in terms of the general task you're trying to accomplish, rather than the components of that task. (Spoiler - click to show)If you find yourself struggling with the tea leaves and cauldron of water, don't bother -- just MAKE TEA.

I also did run into a few typos and mis-punctuations.

That said, there's actually a little more world-building than one might expect from so brief a piece, and I found myself smiling several times at character behavior and descriptions. Also, because all of the puzzles involve doing things that will provoke a reaction from other characters, they gave me a certain satisfaction even though they weren't exactly difficult.

If you enjoyed Plundered Hearts, August, or the games in SwashComp, you may find this a fun few minutes' play.

On a Horse with No Name, by Greg Ewing

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
More satisfying than I expected, January 11, 2015

On a Horse with No Name is a fast-playing, lightly puzzly fantasy short. It's a tale about a person with amnesia in a trackless waste, but it has better than usual excuses for this, and the main selling point of the piece is its slightly Twilight-Zone twist. Neither the prose nor the setting depth are as strong as the concept itself, but they work well enough to get the point across.

The game's biggest puzzle is a bit underclued -- I had to look at the walkthrough for one step of it -- but it's well integrated: it serves to teach some rules of this story universe that you need in order to understand the stakes of the final scenes.

There are some polish issues. The parser is not fabulous. It's using an earlier version of Alan that gives some unhelpful responses to now-standard kinds of interaction. And I ran into a couple of bugs if I did things out of the expected sequence, but these flaws really weren't serious enough to impede the progress of the game; a few descriptions that were out of sync with the world state, but nothing that made it impossible to continue.

As an aside: there are points where I got stuck because I just needed to WAIT. It's worth giving that a try if your situation seems to be uninteractive.

HOLY ROBOT EMPIRE, by Caleb Wilson (as Ralph Gide)

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Lightweight but solid puzzle game, September 20, 2014

HOLY ROBOT EMPIRE is a short and easy puzzler built around the premise that robots have become dominant over humans, not just technologically but spiritually as well. The new theology is based on a robotic comprehension of the universe, which they will sometimes deign to communicate to humans. Your protagonist's goal is to kiss the ring of the Robot Pope, though as there are a lot of other humans who want to do the same, you'll need to solve some puzzles in order to get close enough.

This premise feels silly and is mostly handled in an amusing way, but there are a few darker or more serious moments: a musing on the nature of faith towards the end, the relics one finds of human religion, the suggestions of an Inquisition, and the treatment of some of the human NPCs. These give the worldbuilding a little more heft than it might initially appear to have.

The puzzles, meanwhile, are on the lighter side in terms of difficulty. They mostly involve finding objects to fit spaces or locks, but there are a couple of nice twists in which the player may find her expectations inverted. Solidly implemented and fairly clued.

Though HRE is a Shufflecomp game, built using song suggestions submitted by other members of the IF community, it does not require any familiarity with those songs to play.

10 Second Defence, by Christina Nordlander

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Small puzzlefest, April 23, 2014

10 Second Defence is a single-puzzle game about laying out a booby trap for someone you know is coming after you, using a combination of objects found in your one-room apartment. There is a tiny amount of backstory about how you got into this situation, but really not very much: the game isn't so much interested in telling you a story as in setting up a replayable challenge.

When a piece is primarily about inventive uses of objects, implementation becomes extremely important. 10 Second Defence is a mixed success in this department. It doesn't always offer implicit actions that ought to be obvious ((Spoiler - click to show)such as picking up the glue before gluing something to the wall). Some of the actions are a bit surprising or require finicky wording ((Spoiler - click to show)I had to experiment with several phrasings before figuring out how to fill the syringe from the capsule), and one solution requires things to behave in a way I found a bit implausible ((Spoiler - click to show)it was hard for me to believe that even a very strong glue would affix the knife to the wall in a way that would successfully stab the hitman).

On the other hand, there are multiple uses for most of the objects, and the replay concept worked pretty well for me. I found that each playthrough gave me some ideas about what might work better next time, without being entirely obvious about it.

I was able to replay to a successful conclusion in about five tries, and enjoyed doing so.

Into the Open Sky, by Matthew Lindquist

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Ambitious story, modest implementation, March 17, 2014

Into the Open Sky tells a big sweeping story: after many generations, an interstellar empire is brought down by internal betrayal, the great starships that defended the Empress turn against one another, and access to the Imperial time vortex, the Palace of Mirrors, is lost. There are many additional pieces of lore: love stories, myths, bits of imperial history, and hints of the protagonist's own complicated and storied past. Many of these stories and pieces of information are presented through database entries and diaries that can be unlocked, in a way faintly reminiscent of (but less disciplined than) Christine Love's Analogue: A Hate Story.

The gameplay aspects of the piece are not up to the scale of the narrative conception, however. There are a few key scenes of present-day dialogue or combat, but these are delivered as cut scenes; when it comes to the aspects under the player's control, they involve tasks like swapping out power couplings and giving predefined commands at particular starship consoles. There are a number of minor polish issues, as well -- for instance, descriptions that describe a particular object being a particular place even though the player may have already picked that item up.

The structure of the game also gives somewhat the impression that the author significantly scaled back his initial plans. There are some doors that never become openable through the whole game, and others which open only during an epilogue sequence at the end, when the player is told to wander around gathering as much data as she likes, then quit when she's done. So in this portion one gets the impression that the author originally intended a longer sequence of gameplay to introduce those rooms and objects organically, but perhaps ran out of time to make that happen.

Despite all this, there were some striking and vividly imagined pieces to the story, which kept me interested enough to play through to the end.

I came away thinking that perhaps the author would have had an easier time with choice-based rather than parser-based IF: the larger sections of non-interactive text would have flowed more naturally in that context, and some of the puzzles could have been implemented in a more streamlined way, allowing the author to focus on the expansive lore-telling that seemed to interest him most.

Candy Quest 3: Edge of Sweetness, by Michael Brough

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Polished in its own way, January 28, 2014

Candy Quest 3 is a text-based RPG, reminiscent of the bizarrely addictive Candy Box but, in this case, implemented in rainbow-colored Twine.

You belong to a world where combat and magic-like powers are accomplished using candy. Monsters drop rock candy as loot. NPCs require lollipops to do you certain favors.

Descriptions are simple and spare, so as not to get in the way of the numbers involved in combat. The mechanics replicate a lot of standard RPG features, but with a very deft touch.

Take combat: each time you go up against a monster you can choose to attack or to consume some of your candy in order to strengthen your armor or attack abilities. There's no randomness at work here, and even so, it's possible to undo an unsatisfactory move by using the browser back button. Winning combat is typically about figuring out a good way to stack the multiplicative properties of your candies: some candies double the effect of the next candy you eat, for instance, or double an existing stat rather than simply adding a number to it. While you never level up, you do find more and more types of candy that can contribute to your stats, creating absurdly heightened powers.

There's a tiny bit of object-collection grind, but really only a taster amount: enough to make the process of collection interesting, not enough to make the player really sick of trooping back to the village store.

There are one or two other fun surprises, including a puzzle or two. Taken together, it's an amusing and extremely well-balanced piece -- unsurprisingly, considering the respect Brough commands for the ingenuity of his other indie games.

The only part that confused me came at the very end. (Spoiler - click to show)I'd reached 99% doom averted when I encountered a state where my only option was to "wake up", accompanied by a broken image link. Clicking "wake up" brought me back to the same state over and over. I suppose I could see this as an end (of sorts) to the game, but the fact that the image link was broken made me wonder whether it wasn't a bug instead.

This is a good example piece for people who are interested in Twine games that push the traditional boundaries of Twine, and also for those who are interested in IF combat options that go beyond randomness and UNDO-prevention.

Besides, it's just fun -- if in a very different style from a classic text adventure.


4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Very many brightly colored links, April 5, 2013

If you have tried other work by Porpentine, you probably have some idea whether you'll like this: it too is about the relationship to your body, about reclaiming your sexuality for yourself, about culture and the way society frames gender. It is also about video games and the game as body.

It is not about any of these things in a way that resembles an ordinary plotted story. It uses music, voice, colored links, images, sometimes links to outside resources and video. It is not contained in the files of the game, but reaches out into the real world.

At one point, the protagonist's body is represented by a huge page of links, an overwhelming number of nodes, some of them active, some not, painfully colored. The process of navigating this page, bringing more nodes alive, might be seen as a kind of puzzle, but it is meaningful less as a puzzle than as a metaphor for the strangeness of the self; of parts that are numb, parts that are in pain, parts that are aroused.

In other sections, the piece hints at a more IF-familiar world model, of spaces to move through and directions of travel, and then subverts that model by offering attitudes and emotional stances as moves, alongside the usual EAST and WEST.

"HOW TO SPEAK ATLANTEAN" needs to be experienced more or less completely before it becomes comprehensible, because it uses confusion and alienation intentionally. I suspect some people will feel lost. I was a bit at sea myself during certain bits, but when I came to the end, I felt I had been told something interesting, something that would be hard to sum up in any fashion other than by handing on the piece to someone else.

So. I liked it, and found it both personal and artful.

Intake, by Maddox Pratt

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
"You" and you, February 11, 2013

The premise of this extremely brief game is that you're undergoing an intake interview for mental health services, and you're being asked to identify your gender and your feelings about how your gender is treated in society. When you pick an answer or category that doesn't fit the intake interviewer's expectations and bureaucratic forms, you're forced to pick an option you're less happy with.

I get the idea and I'm interested in understanding the problem it describes. But I also was distanced a bit from the piece precisely because the answers that I myself would have given were not always included in the initial option lists. (Spoiler - click to show)Do I feel oppressed or empowered? A little of each; it really depends on the circumstances, the day of the week, the people I'm interacting with. Sometimes I feel respected and sometimes I don't. But there was (unsurprisingly) no way to express that answer, or that kind of answer, through the interface provided.

To some extent that distance comes from the fact that, as a cisgendered person, I don't share the experiences of the protagonist -- but that could have been an opportunity for me to learn more about the life of people unlike myself, and the work as it stands occupies a spot where it doesn't feel like it's about me but also doesn't really feel like it's about someone else.

I think lengthening this work might have clarified the separation between the fictional "you" and the player, making for a stronger presentation of its core points.

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