Reviews by Jim Kaplan
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Play it if: you want a lengthy and engrossing puzzle-solving experience and a healthy dollop of satirical humor to occupy you for a day or two.
Don't play it if: you're in the mood for something that more heavily emphasizes atmosphere or depth of characterization.
Boy, did I like Counterfeit Monkey. It had me grinning like a maniac within five minutes of starting, and that grin never let up. Even when my face got sore after the first few hours.
The most consistent tonal impression I got from Counterfeit Monkey was that of a high-quality Monkey Island game. Surreal plot devices, anachronistic histories, a coastal setting, a light-hearted story with streaks of darkness...it's all there. Oddly enough it also reminds me of The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game in its tone and charm, though I prefer Monkey for its outstanding gameplay and depth of setting. There's even a hint of Planescape: Torment lurking in there somewhere (a detailed setting where belief and opinion have physical power).
In gameplay terms, Monkey combines a feeling of casual puzzle-solving fun with a profound degree of technical effort. In that respect it feels like a sort of leveled-up crossword, which is appropriate because almost all of the puzzles here are navigated through some form of wordplay. I spent a chunk of the first half of the game a little concerned that the gameplay wouldn't significantly change. The letter-removals were great, but they also felt fairly straightforward, more so than what I think I'm used to in the early stages of a longer Emily Short game. But then the story starts to throw in some fun alternative powers, and remains fairly dynamic from there. Mixing it up with some memory exploration and the ongoing plotline, and you have a story which is fairly excellently paced.
It's difficult to overstate how much effort it must have taken (at least form the perspective of a novice like me) to have implemented the wordplay. A lot of my enjoyment came out of trying some more obscure ideas and realizing just how thorough the research was - how delighted I was to find that the author had taken the time to implement a cad, complete with "smouldering gaze"!
Definitely worth your time. Entertaining and impressive.
Related reviews: emily short, humor, speed IF
No one comes up with a work of genius with two hours' worth of coding, but Emily Short still gives us a wacky and offbeat vignette to match the wacky and offbeat prompt. The IF equivalent of a decent two-minute YouTube video: fun, light, harmless.
Related reviews: Emily short, one-room, short
Play it if: you're in the mood for bite-sized IF with a bit of innovation and Emily Short's trademark narrative voice.
Don't play it if: you're in the mood for something more ambitious, or if you're easily put off by gameplay that constrains player actions.
This is a curiosity: a non-linear game that feels linear. Emily Short's Glass tells a modified version of the Cinderella story from the point of view of the parrot. The objective is to use your limited speech skills at opportune moments to influence the story.
The one or two twists on the classic tale are interesting enough to make the game worthwhile by themselves, but perhaps the biggest draw (at least in concept) is the ability I influence the flow of things from a bird's-eye-view.
Unfortunately, I played Glass very soon after another conversation-based game, Whom The Telling Changed by Aaron Reed, and it blows Glass out of the water when it comes to the main gameplay mechanic. Choosing what to say and when to say it in that game required paying close attention to the story and constantly trying to interpret it subtextually. In contrast, getting to any of the endings in Glass feels more like an exercise in trial and error, and as such the gameplay is not as satisfying as it could have been.
Nevertheless, Glass is a good five-minute distraction with good writing and some engaging concepts. Now that the game's source code has been made public, it can also serve as an educational exercise by giving aspiring IF writers some insight into the inner workings of conversation- and scene-heavy games.
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Play it if: you have a thing for fairy tales, ancient Greek philosophy, non-linear puzzle-solving, or general weirdness.
Don't play it if: you want truly difficult puzzles or a backstory that completely wins your heart.
Metamorphoses has many of the traits I like the most about Emily Short's best work: a fascination with the past, a fairy-tale atmosphere, and innovative game mechanics - traits which can be found to various extents in works like Galatea, Savoir-Faire, and Bronze.
In this game, it is the mechanics which come to the foreground, with your ability to resize objects as well as change their chemical composition. It's absurdly tempting to lose sight of the game altogether and just spend time looking for different configurations you can achieve with random objects in the setting.
True to form, the puzzles in this story have multiple solutions - courtesy of the above-mentioned game mechanics - and while this substantially reduces the overall difficulty of the game in some ways, it in no way detracts from the fun. In fact, a couple of puzzles may even be harder, since you are forced to consider the uses of not only the normal objects in your inventory, but also the potential objects. In this sense the game is nothing short of mind-expanding in terms of how interactive fiction can model worlds.
The rest of the game, while solid, is more textbook. As you solve puzzles you learn more and more of the protagonist's backstory and understand something of her role in this world. It's good stuff and quite intriguing, but by itself it won't really hook you or haunt you afterwards. Which is fine - a game can't be everything at once - but it does mean that you'll be more likely to find the game itself impressive than the story.
Nevertheless, this is a work that is definitely worth your time: a quirky setting, an interesting story, fun non-linear puzzles, and most of all some fascinating game mechanics.
P.S. Personally, I was curious as to whether or not living objects could be modified. Shame that I couldn't find an animal or something to try it out on...
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Play it if: you loved everything about old-school IF other than its cruel gameplay and frequently illogical puzzles; if you want to see Emily Short's talents for innovative gameplay in a more traditional framework; if you're a sucker for prose that is both elegant and vividly detailed.
Don't play it if: Come on, just play it.
In almost every sense of the term, Savoir-Faire is a masterpiece, and in my opinion the best of Emily Short's longer games.
The chief technical innovation is the magic system, which allows the protagonist to blend the properties of different objects and create interesting cause-and-effect relationships. This system is not merely for show: the puzzling possibilities of this game mechanic are explored very fully - you need to use this skill to acquire items, reach areas, observe rooms, and more. The gameplay never feels repetitive as each puzzle involves a different use of these skills, and this is one of those games where you want to take a week to give yourself time to stew over all the possibilities. Another less visible but no less wonderful detail is the fluid dynamics (allowing you to have containers with different amounts of water, to pour them on the gruond, to have the resulting puddles evaporate gradually).
If this is an impressive achievement - and make no mistake, the Lavori d'Aracne is implemented in all sorts of interesting ways - what makes it even more brilliant is the quality of writing to hold it up. Because links can only be forged between objects that are similar in meaningful ways (form, function, or appearance), it becomes necessary to examine objects closely to look for possible links. Accordingly, the aristocratic mansion setting is brought to life with amazing levels of detail; you can examine details that are minute almost to the point of absurdity, sometimes discovering some lovely anecdotes (the reason for the family's cups and plates all being metal made me laugh out loud).
These aspects by themselves would be enough to make Savoir-Faire a great game. But added to this is a back-story that becomes something of a fore-story - the tale of the protagonist's origins and the possible fate of his family. You get a glimpse into the kind of conflict fans of Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice would love, involving aristocracy, intrigue, and class identity.
If I had to sum up Savoir-Faire in one image, it would have to be a tapestry. The magic system is intricately linked to the puzzles, and the puzzles' raisons d'Ítre are linked to both the magic system and the backstory. The result is that you have a game with a medium-sized setting (a mansion) but which feels incredibly tight. There's an almost effortless sense of completeness at work here.
This is perhaps the game's ultimate triumph, for if there was anything we tended not to associate with old-school IF, it was writing this strong. Games like Zork may have had interesting settings and great humor, but they tended to be much looser, with puzzles rarely subscribing to some overarching puzzle or story. In this sense Savoir-Faire is the culmination of an entire genre of interactive fiction, recreating the wonder of exploring a mysterious setting while tying it into an intricately interwoven plot and puzzle system.
The one real flaw in the game is almost absurdly minor: there doesn't feel like much of an overall difficulty progression (Spoiler - click to show)(for instance, the solution to the rat-hole problem seems almost absurdly simple in comparison to navigating the maze, or helping Marie escape D'Envers) which is probably due to the fact that the puzzles themselves don't really have to be done in a specific order. But in a story which has an abundance of fascinating puzzles to offer already, and which is admittedly emulating the exploratory style of early IF, this isn't really something to raise much complaint about.
In sum, this is a game pretty much everyone should play. Newcomers to IF might find it a bit much to take in when you throw in the Lavori d'Aracne, but somehow I think they'll be fine with it.
A definite masterpiece.
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Play the game if: you're a fan of Emily Short's trademark attention to detail and creative command systems, or if you want a short, not-too-challenging puzzler which will nevertheless excite your curiosity.
Don't play the game if: you wished this was comparable in scale to Savoir-Faire, or if you're looking for a story that is emotionally gripping.
Damnatio Memoriae is a flawless game, by which I mean that it hits all the marks it's aiming for. It adapts the magic system from Savoir-Faire into a novel setting and a more constrained story, the premise here being that you have to find a way of effecting a room escape and the destruction of certain objects at the same time.
The difficulty level on this one is quite low, which is understandable given the constrained environment that allows for brute-force solutions; it is, however, tricky to get the most desirable ending on a first attempt, though not impossible. Even without prior knowledge of how linking, reverse linking and enslaving work, it shouldn't take more than a few playthroughs to get the hang of things. A minor flaw here is that the help file is perhaps a tad bit too vague for the newcomer as to the magic system: I hadn't played Savoir-Faire when I first tried this one out, and as a result my initial attempts were perhaps more clumsy than they needed to be. In the event of an updated version or future installments in the series, I'd recommend an inclusion of some basic example scenarios to get across the points - as certain help files will so often do for the basic command system.
The setting is a rather cool mix of ideas - Imperial Roman political intrigue mixed with a crime story mixed with fantasy. The environment was given sufficient detail and verisimilitude that I wouldn't be averse to a future game exploring some side of Agrippa's family history. In some ways, though, that's the great gift and curse of complete short stories: they can stir up such curiosity about the world, rather than making it feel mundane by actually showing it.
Although I can't really fault the story for anything, it gets a four-star rating from me just because, apart from being entertaining and interesting, it won't occupy much of a place in my memory next to more complex or emotionally engaging works, many of which were authored by Ms Short herself. Sometimes perfection and inspiration just aren't the same thing.
(But there are worse things than a perfect game!)
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Play this game if: You have a fondness for witty banter and a craving for short and easy games.
Don't play this game if: Just play the darn thing.
Something akin to a slice out of a fantasy/soap/comedy webcomic, A Day for Fresh Sushi is short, simple, and fun.
The main reason you'd want to play this - other than as a basic introduction to IF - is of course the fish, the feeding of whom is the objective of the game. It's an objective you may want to put off, though, because the fish's commentary on what you're doing in the meantime is hilarious enough that you may find yourself just trying to get him to react more.
Certainly not the kind of game one plays for a challenge,(Spoiler - click to show)since after all you can win in three turns, A Day for Fresh Sushi is instead an entertaining five-minute distraction.
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