All the Little Match Girl games are just plain wacky fun. The time/space-hopping, the Metroidvania-ness, and the outlandishness of the premise all make them a delight to play, and LMG4 is no exception. I loved the humor of the parser responses, the vividness and variety of the settings, the construction of the puzzles, the way the various worlds connect to each other, being able to (Spoiler - click to show)turn into a mouse and have chats with other animals, the commentary from the scanning lens, and (Spoiler - click to show)the poignant character moment at the end.
My only critiques are that I would have liked a bit more implementation of synonyms, and that when playing in browser (which I did for the pretty colors/other stylings), there’s a long sequence of timed text that repeats every time you sit down and reflect on how things are going. As you progress in the game, new text is added to the end of this segment; however, you still have to sit through the slow doling-out of the text you’ve already seen each time, with no way (as far as I could tell) to skip through or speed it up. But that's quite a minor thing--on the whole, I love this series and this game!
The main thing I knew about this game going in was that it makes significant use of the "timed text" mechanic. While I did find it slightly too slow at times, and wasn't sure it was needed as prevalently as it was used, it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the game, and definitely served the author's intended purpose. It's also very nice to be able to turn it off on subsequent playthroughs.
Anyway, on to the rest of the game! I felt for the protagonist a lot; the game seemed to really capture what it’s like to go through life with a stutter, and how difficult it can make everyday interactions. The flashbacks to childhood were quite sad, witnessing this struggling child be ignored and othered (the My Cousin Vinny one especially...). I enjoyed the gameplay, and how it was never a matter of picking the “right” option--rather, it’s left up to the player to decide if they’d prefer to stumble over ordering their favorite food, or smoothly order a food they hate. The color coding of the choices was a good way to indicate how fluently each option would come out.
Ultimately, the game isn’t about beating the stutter; you’re simply experiencing what it’s like to have it, and coping with it however you think is best. I played through four times, interested in seeing the differences between a covert, overt, and middle-of-the-road approach, and enjoyed each playthrough (and getting all but two of the achievements!).
One point of critique is that, regarding the job interview plotline, I would have liked some more background on the PC’s adulthood experiences, in addition to the childhood ones. I wondered if the stutter played a role in them leaving their previous job, and what it might mean for future job prospects. I think more of an exploration of the PC’s dreams, and to what extent the stutter has impacted those dreams, would add a bit more depth. But on the whole, a great game that accomplishes its purpose very well.
This game has a very fun premise and voice; unfortunately, though, I had to guess-the-verb my way through it, at one point resorting to asking someone else who’d played for a hint because I was completely stumped (and the in-game hints didn’t have anything for that particular situation). After that I made some progress on my own, but ultimately turned to the in-game hints quite a bit. In retrospect, I could see how the things I got stuck on were clued, so I think this was a case of me just not being as clever as the game required! There were a few small implementation errors that I found, but overall it's a well-done game with excellent writing, fun puzzles utilizing unique, world-appropriate objects, and a great comedic character in Captain Booby. Maybe just a liiiittle more cluing for those of us who might otherwise (Spoiler - click to show)(fail to) struggle.
I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed by this game at first; the worldbuilding felt a bit bizarre and random for what’s essentially a museum heist story. But once I got into the puzzley portion I was hooked. It’s easy to locate the item you need to liberate from this museum, but less easy to acquire and escape with it.
The gameplay reminded me of the Lady Thalia games—explore, find useful items/info, heist, escape. The game does a good job at creating tension, with an officer following you around to keep an eye on you, appearing and disappearing as you traverse the rooms, and at creating a sense of time passing, with the security office going from occupied at first visit to unoccupied at later ones. The achievements at the end make it clear that there are multiple methods for escaping detection, and that it’s possible to succeed at the job but incriminate yourself in the process. All of this added a great amount of complexity and made for a fun game! (Another note: you’ll find an in-game map, which is nice—I had thought about drawing a map at first, but then I was glad I didn’t bother.)
I do have some nitpicks; I found the (brief) dialogue section rather clunky, and didn’t buy the supposed romantic chemistry between the PC and their conversation partner. And then there were some elements that felt set up to have an impact on gameplay, but didn't seem to in the end, such as choosing your character at the start, and the list of locations to go other than the museum. But I certainly had fun solving the puzzles and will gladly play any future games in this series!
This game's delightful UI, emulating a video call (complete with a Mom sprite), struck me immediately and was a very charming touch. The game also features an accidental call disconnect and a few appearances from the family dog (<3), increasing the verisimilitude.
What I soon found, though, was that the verisimilitude goes a little too far for my taste. A significant part of the game is a very realistic depiction of remotely troubleshooting for a non-tech-savvy older relative, and while I had expected that premise to be balanced out by a certain level of goofiness, that portion of the game is actually played pretty straight and felt a bit tedious because of it.
Each set of choices throughout the game typically consists of a patient/nice choice, a more neutral choice, and an impatient/rude choice. I went mostly with the nice choices, because why would I want to be cruel to this cute old lady sprite? But that made making choices less fun, because there was usually only one option I even considered. After reaching the end I did start a replay to see some of the other content, with the intention of being consistently mean, but I quickly found that I didn’t enjoy doing that, and honestly I wasn’t motivated enough to go through the whole troubleshooting portion again, so I stopped pretty quickly.
There’s definitely a lot to like in the game: lines like “bush-shaving is a legitimate and beautiful artform!” and place names like “West Furthersburg”, for example, as well as the cute art. The story overall is sweet, too, at least if you pick the nice dialogue options. But in a way, choosing only those options made it feel too simplistic. So while I found aspects of the game well done, on the whole it didn't fully work for me.
Trail Stash is similar to Andrew's other wordplay games, but it’s written in Twine (Sugarcube specifically) rather than Inform—so it’s not up to the player to think of (in this case) spoonerisms, but rather, to figure out which of the spoonerized objects you acquire will be useful in each of the spoonerized locations. Success unlocks new locations, which yield new objects.
Being familiar with Andrew’s other wordplay games was definitely helpful in catching on to this one; the “use object in place” mechanic isn’t too hard to figure out, but it also is never spelled out, and the need to spoonerize the place names and object names to figure out which object goes with which place isn’t either. Of course it’s a matter of personal preference, but I don’t tend to enjoy when the first part of a puzzle is “figure out the conceit of the puzzle;” I’d rather just be told upfront. Of course, with the choice-based format of this game, it’s entirely possible to solve it by simply collecting all the items and then lawnmowering through them in each location; I tried to avoid doing this and actually think each one through, but I found some to be clued better than others, and I did resort to random guesses a few times.
I enjoyed Trail Stash as another entry in Andrew’s world of wordplay, but I do think it has a rather niche audience and isn’t going to feel particularly accessible to newcomers to Andrew’s work. But if the concept at all appeals to you, I definitely recommend checking it out!
I liked the “mundane horror” vibe of this game, with the eponymous wretched thing wandering around the PC’s house but not posing any active threat. The gameplay, then, is mostly exploring the house and piecing together what might have happened to get you to this point. Of course, you can also--as the game strongly suggests you should--poison the wretched thing and see how that plays out, and in fact that is necessary in order to get the ending that reveals the most information. Unfortunately, this additional backstory still doesn’t shed much light on the situation, and in fact introduces a new mystery that is left unsolved. On the whole, I think the mood is the game's most successful aspect, while the story and pacing don't quite hold up.
I was looking forward to this one, and it did not disappoint! I knew it included (Spoiler - click to show)a clever use of the “undo” command, so I thought that aspect wouldn’t be a surprise when it arrived—but it actually still was, and it was delightful. (Spoiler - click to show)I love time shenanigans in games, so I found it very fun to rewind to the beginning and play out a different version of events.
Given the Single-Choice-Jam origins, the game is rather on rails, guiding you the whole time to the single correct command for that turn (as such, it isn’t possible to die or otherwise hit a game-over). You won’t get much out of examining things (typically the description from the main text is just repeated) or trying to explore; rather, it presents a kind of “guess the verb” puzzle of figuring out which of the custom commands is needed at which time. I found this aspect fun, and one of the game’s charms; while it took me a bit to hit on the idea of (Spoiler - click to show)looting the wine bottle in order to drink the wine, it was very satisfying when I did make that connection. I also liked having to (Spoiler - click to show)smite corpses, plural, in order to win that battle; the game really does reward thinking like a barbarian! So I think adjusting your expectations is key to enjoying this game—don’t look for typical parser conventions, but instead appreciate the clever new things this game does with the format.
I didn't finish this one, as after playing for a bit it became clear that it just wasn’t for me. The super-limited parser (e.g., type “i” to “investigrab”, which provides more detail on and/or takes anything that’s important in the current room) removed the aspect of parser games I most enjoy, which is the sense of agency and exploration. Here, I knew there were no secrets to uncover by closely examining my surroundings; it was just a rote matter of hunting down gems to increase my powers to hunt more gems. It’s definitely a well-done game, just very much not my style!
(Review largely hidden because most of my thoughts contain spoilers.)
(Spoiler - click to show)My main thought coming away from this one is… this game was deeply sad. Eddie (i.e., child Ed)'s pain comes through so clearly in the game he created, with the idyllic lake serving as a security blanket, so precious that it even comes up in his imagined futures of winning the lottery and being president of the moon. Otherwise, his life is steeped in bleakness: the bullying, the sister dying/dead of leukemia, the bad/absent father, the best-friend-of-convenience… There are moments of joy, like the lake and the cat, and overall the game doesn’t feel too bleak because it’s so mitigated by the childish excitement—you can feel how happy this kid is to have created a game, how clever he feels, and it’s very cute. But now, as adult Ed looking back on it, it mostly just brings him pain.
The ending felt like a gut punch. Ed’s daughter, named Erica after his sister, comes into the room needing to use the computer. She’s kind of rude and dismissive, preoccupied with school, stressed by the shift to online learning due to the COVID lockdown. So her attitude is understandable; she has no idea what her dad’s just been through (and in fact it seems likely that she has little or no knowledge of this part of his past at all). But oof, did it feel like a knife twist.
This game reminded me of the type of literary fiction that essentially reads as a portrait of a deeply unhappy person. I’ve never liked this kind of story because it leaves me wondering what the point is. Here, Ed basically asks that question for us at the end. “Does ancient history matter?” He says he doesn’t think so, but isn’t 100% committed to that answer. And I mean… my thought is, of course it matters. It matters because those events made Ed who he is today, just as ancient Rome played a part in shaping the way our world is today. Even if Ed doesn’t want it to, how can it not matter?
But then, maybe the reason he’s asking is because he does want it to. Maybe he wants to know that this experience of reliving his traumatic past wasn’t pointless after all.
On the whole: too sad for my taste. But definitely a well done game.