Reviews by Joey Jones
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The following review was for the original competition game. I replayed the later release and it easily deserves 4 stars (4.5 even?) and so I've adjusted my rating up accordingly.
Patanoir is like chocolate flavoured wine: interesting, unique, not to everyone's tastes and too much of it is likely to give you a headache. But either way you'll be pleased you tried it.
I probably played PataNoir for more than two hours on and off. It was good enough for me to bother finishing but not good enough for me not to resort to using the walkthrough a few times. The name 'PataNoir' is taken from the word 'pataphor'. Some people might object that a pataphor is a metaphor but the game deals in similes, but my contention after studying the various philosophy of language arguments about metaphor is that a metaphor is just a truncated simile. So I approve of the name.
I love the concept of the game: similes coming to life such that they can be manipulated to solve puzzles. There were some issues in the implementation. A lot of it made me smile. The writing is very sparse, similes aside, but sometimes it works. Simon is obviously going for the Chandler style patter and occasionally he gets it right.
The game was blessedly free of typos and grammar mistakes. My overall impression of PataNoir was that it's a neat idea, mostly well implemented- with some puzzles overhinted at and some nearing impossible without the (mostly excellent) in-game hint mechanism. This is surely a sign that the puzzles were hard to hint for as they weren't very naturalistic, which I suppose is an inherent danger in a surreal game. I'm glad the game was made, and it's exactly the sort of game that lends itself to non-IF players as a good example of the possibilities of IF. I wouldn't recommend it first, but then I wouldn't recommend it last.
I thought I'd give it a little time before I reviewed Six. Enough time to work out whether it really was worth the five stars I initially gave it. And oh how it is worth it! Just thinking about the game physically fills my heart with joy. As in, I experience a genuine biological sensation of warmth just in the recollection of the game. That's how amazing it is.
In Six you play a girl on her sixth birthday playing a tag/hide-and-seek hybrid game in a park. This nice little premise is unpacked into a deeply immerse experience that positively oozes with infectious charm and the joy of play. And like a game in which you play a game should be, it is so fun! And when it ends, you can play it again with different and interesting permutations. Oh, and there's clever use of sound, cute visuals and all round excellent production values.
If I could give Wade Clark a high five through the internet, I would.
The initial setup seemed promising, and I envisioned a game based around secret societies and the playing of complex games. It didn't exactly pan out as I first hoped it would. The opening section hinted at a game more interesting than this one.
Playing Games is easy (i.e., I wouldn't have dreamt of using a walkthrough), and mostly well clued. I had a little trouble with one of the puzzles (Spoiler - click to show)(setting the watch), because it involved performing a general action on an item immediately after mechanically interacting with the item (so you're falsely led to believe that you should mechanically interact with the item in a different way). There was some nice comedic touches, but there really wasn't much descriptively or story-wise to the game. The point of the game was the game boards rendered in ascii art, which was competently done.
I was sort of looking forward to a series of logical solitaire-esque games*, but they were really all just invisible maze puzzles. Perhaps other people find these challenging, but my spatial memory is good enough for them not to pose a challenge. The main benefit of the game was rather that it showed the possibility of rendering game boards visually in an IF game (perhaps that's already been done before, but I haven't seen it). All in all, it seemed to be an amusing if not particularly awe-inspiring game. UNTIL, I learned about the metapuzzle, and then its awesome factor (along with the other three games) ever so slightly went up a notch.
*I have a history of disappointment with logic puzzles that don't turn out to be logic puzzles.
In A Comedy of Error Messages, you play an avid gamer's loving computer, and it is your task to stop a disastrous blind date from happening. The idea is great and it was mostly well implemented. The puzzles were pretty easy but even so the time limit was very harsh.
The game does a good job of imaginatively realising virtual environments, even if it does lead to some head scratching moments when you consider the metaphysics of what's going on.
As a comedy game it was fairly amusing, especially if you get the references. The humour for the most part relies on an familiarity with internet-culture. A lot of things people generally find funny aren't really funny per se, but are just shorthand for shared experiences. I think my favourite line was (Spoiler - click to show)'The bird looks as if it wants to give you the bird. But it can't, since it's a bird.'
I liked the ability to choose your gender, race and sexuality at the start- and how it affected the shape of the things, even if it was essentially the same plot. I can see how this is an improvement from what I understand to have been the old 'Elfen Maiden' default; when I played the unwanted date played an Orc princess. There were a few moments where this wasn't completely implemented, and the text assumed incorrectly that my master was a man.
I didn't complete the game on the first run through as the time limit ran out. This wasn't because I was particularly stuck, I had a good idea what I should be doing at any given time, but I must have wasted time along the way. I could see the reason for having a time limit but it doesn't gel well with my usual playing style: I like to examine everything and talk to everyone and try to see if things work that I think should work.
The fact that I wasn't as effective at playing a time-based game as I could have been is no real criticism of the game, but I did I think there were game design elements that didn't help. I would certainly have completed the game first off if it weren't for the fact that errors and mistakes increase the turn count. Every time I tried to go up when there wasn't an up, or tried to examine something that I misspelt or the author hadn't implemented, the minutes crept inexorably onwards. In the end, every time I did something that didn't work, or had a look around the room to remind myself of exits, I'd undo immediately afterwards.
But the game was interesting enough to motivate me to finish it and I was pleased it all worked out in the end.
The basic concept of The Binary is that you replay the same few minutes over and over until you get the right change in the time-line. You use things you learned from earlier play-throughs to proceed. Because the pace is moving so quickly, you barely have time to take stock of your surroundings before the time loops back again. But that's okay, because the time is always going to loop back again. This works well because when you want to get things done, there's a great sense of urgency and economy of action. When you don't need to get things done, you can look at things free in the knowledge that you can look at other things in the next go around.
Despite the non-linear timeline aspect of it, the plot itself is pretty linear, though there is one real and difficult choice to make near the end (I only played to completion once so I don't know if the other ending proves fatal). Like all of these non-parser games, figuring out what to do next is easy because you just exhaust all of your remaining limited options. The Binary had the additional time element (some actions would only work at certain times etc.) but even still I wouldn't have needed any hints or a walkthrough. Not to say that the game was a walk in the park: I'd say the challenge was on the lower end of well pitched.
The substance of the plot (working for a strange group of time travellers on an island with a man in your head interspersed with memories of your father and a dash of mysticism) was a little hit and miss. I liked the dual-narrative aspect of it, but the nature of the time travelling group and their motives seemed a little wooly. I suppose there is only so much I can ask for in a game this short.
Though not as smooth as The Play, The Binary works very well visually, refreshing what you can see each round. Ultimately, hyper-link games are limited in comparison to parser-based IF and so it's hard to compare. Compared to earlier hyper-text games, it's pretty swish.
Mr C. Zombie gets full marks for taking time off between eating brains to write his very own program, with old-school type-sets and everything. Also, the in-built release of secrets after the competition had ended was an interesting if a little unfathomable game design choice.
Unfortunately, that's where the pros end, and the cons begin. After some easy pick-an-option-from-the-list-style gameplay, the game ends saying:
"Somehow you got the feeling that this is just the beginning of a zombie apocalypse in New York City."
... and somehow I got the feeling that that was a very short and unsatisfactory ending. Somehow I got the feeling that it would have been interesting to know I was even in New York before the end of the game.
My impression is that this is just part of a much larger unfinished project. It kept asking me if I wanted to save, but as the game could be completed in five minutes (or 30 seconds if you knew what you were doing) I didn't see the point. The whole zombie idea is very cliché and no attempt was made to mollify this. About the most interesting thing you could do in the game was kick a zombie head.
The sad thing is, a lot of effort has obviously gone into the project, and writing the program from scratch must require some considerable skill. I just wish it were put to better use.
(I've rated it '2', because the game deserves a '1.5' average for effort.)
Tenth Plague is a competently handled short game- each scenario (other than the final one) is slightly more trickier than the last. There's also a hidden commentary mode, which is a neat feature.
There are only a few problems in the implementation of incidental items that Lynnea probably didn't expect anyone to bother interacting with, and I struggled with finding the wording for at least one of the puzzles, though it was always clear what I needed to do to proceed.
I really liked the small visual elements like the dead locusts on the roof, that hinted at the plagues that had come before. The puzzles were simple enough that the game moved along at a fast pace, which worked well for evoking the swift inevitibility of the plague. One of the strengths of IF, seen clearly here, is that novel game and story premises can be explored.
(As far as ratings go- I take 3 as being 'good', '4' as 'great', and five 'transcendental'. In truth, it deserves at least a 3.5).
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