Ratings and Reviews by Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

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Goat Game, by Kathryn Li

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The ramifications of research, October 26, 2021

This piece is set in a speculative/fantasy world and follows a young biotech researcher (and goat) who must deal with an ethical dilemma at their lab and ultimately take charge of their own future.

I immediately fell in love with this game as I started playing: the beautiful illustrations, the evocative setting and location, the sentence level writing, the flow on the page as different sections slide into view, and the descriptions that paint a picture of life in a hybrid academic/industry setting. I also think the endings, three of which I found, are very interesting and distinct, and accurately reflect the choices made.

I was surprised when the plot arrived at its conclusion after about 20 minutes, in part because on IFComp it's listed at 2 hours, but also because it's written in a way that establishes setting details, character arcs, and larger plot threads that feel like they need a longer narrative to resolve. As just one example, I wanted to know more about the two Aegis cities, which strongly hint at a military or natural disaster backstory: what did these "twin shields" need to shield people from? The piece ultimately played a bit like a prologue, which also made the big changes/leaps in some of the endings feel abrupt.

The Waiting Room, by Billy Krolick

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A place you don't want to come home to at night, October 17, 2021

This is an exploration horror game that takes place in and around a haunted nursing home, with a central mystery that needs to be solved before very bad things happen.

I like that the piece proceeds at a brisk pace and is easy to follow, and I appreciate the sense of setting, geography and movement. There are some intriguingly creepy room and object descriptions, and I also enjoyed working through the light amount of puzzle solving needed to understand the mystery.

On the other hand, the ending that I found felt rather rushed, and overall I wish there was a more gradual buildup and a mix of some slower scenes/moments for the horror story to breathe and take on a more nuanced shape. I also wish I had gotten a better sense of who the protagonist and the final bad guy are, what motives them, etc.

Universal Hologram, by Kit Riemer

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Life on Mars?, October 17, 2021

In this sci-fi game, a simulated protagonist undergoes an astral projection experience and becomes tasked with getting back to the original universe to make a decision that could free everyone.

The writing is enjoyably trippy and creates a nice sense of place, as do the computer-generated images. When proceeding through the piece, I felt transported to life on Mars, astral-projecting into different spaces, and wrestling with questions of existence in a simulation.

Oddly, the choice structure of the piece felt a bit like an add-on rather than a core part of the experience. There’s some navigation to different locations, and some quizzes whose impact I didn’t understand. This is coupled with a somewhat disjointed quality to the narrative as a whole, which left me confused (though not unpleasantly so). I’m left wondering how the piece would read with less interactivity, say as dynamic fiction where the vibes could just wash over the reader a bit more.

Funicular Simulator 2021, by Mary Goodden and Tom Leather

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Up, up and away, October 17, 2021

This magical mystery game involves taking a ride up a mountain with an odd assortment of possible companions who each hold the key to a different possible explanation for the celestial phenomena at the peak.

The writing is compelling, and the companions are each evocative in their own way with a distinctive background, personality, and theory on the aurora and crystals. It’s fun to mix and match, going “all in” with a companion and then replaying with a different one, like a super-short dating sim. I also like that past trips up the funicular impact some dialogue options on subsequent loops.

Although the game seems to offer many different paths (three loops per play-through, each time picking one of four companions), I didn’t notice any variation in the companions’ behavior based on which other companions I had previously picked. Also, while each companion’s scene offers a long sequence of choices, they mainly seem to boil down to (a) engage more, or (b) distance yourself; this made the conversations a bit less compelling, since I couldn’t figure out what benefit or interesting outcome came from not engaging.

How it was then and how it is now, by Pseudavid

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Escape before the polyhedrons get you, October 17, 2021

This game tells the story of an abstract race against time where the protagonist and his on-again, off-again partner try to hold off an impending apocalypse of geometric objects while also dealing with their own unresolved issues

I like the disorienting effect of the different elements: visuals that don’t seem to match up with the options provided (questioning the player’s senses), dialogue choices that often don’t have the desired effect on Clara, and snippets of flashback that only start to make sense after playing for a while or on replay.

While I got a bit of new dialogue on multiple replays, it didn’t appear that my actions had much of an effect on the overall flow of the narrative or the ending. The piece was also so abstract that it was tough to understand or become fully invested in the relationship or the intriguing setting.

Weird Grief, by Naomi Norbez

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Losing a friend and lover, October 17, 2021

This is a heartfelt, slice-of-life Twine piece that details the loss a beloved person and explores how the people in his life grapple with the gap created by his absence.

The writing is raw, real, and put me squarely in the place of someone battling grief after the loss of a loved one. I appreciate how straightforward it is in tackling topics of depression, sex, love, and the furry community, with dialogue that feels very lived-in.

I do wish there was more choice and interactivity in the story, especially since I became invested in the story and wanted to help shape the responses of the protagonist more in my play-through. I’ll also note that there are a fair number of spelling and grammar mistakes, but I wonder if this might be an intentional way to convey something about the protagonist; I didn’t notice this with the companion piece “The Dead Account.”

The Dead Account, by Naomi Norbez

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A heartbreaking choice, October 17, 2021

This piece follows a content moderator in an online community who faces the decision of closing out the account of a person who has recently died.

The interactivity of the game fits well with the story, as we get to browse through chat conversations that people in Mike’s life have continued using for various reasons: an outlet for anger and disbelief, a way to grieve by speaking to him, etc. The decision of whether to close the account or not is a heartbreaking one, especially if this piece is played after its companion piece and we know how much the characters are struggling with Mike’s loss.

I was expecting more of a consequence at the end for not closing the account (e.g. having to face the supervisor), which might have made the decision feel more weighty. Also, the game might have a bit less impact on its own without the context of its companion piece, "Weird Grief."

Fine Felines, by Felicity Banks

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Cats terrific, October 17, 2021

This life-simulator deals with the ups and downs of a protagonist juggling a new and exciting cat breeding business with the grief of a parent passing away and the dawning realization that they’re suffering from a chronic illness.

The writing and choices here brim with compassion, creating space for the player to consider their character’s needs and those of others: close friends with active children, a budding romantic interest, a neighbor who worries about the presence of cats, and, of course, the cats themselves! I love that the cats have their own personalities, and each delivers their own laughs and adorable moments.

I was surprised when the ending seemed to arrive abruptly, perhaps because I assumed the story would last a full year (it ends halfway through). Some of the plot threads, like the relationships with the dad, friends, and romantic interest, are appealing but don’t feel resolved; I was left wishing for more of an arc structure to them.

The Golden Heist, by George Lockett and Rob Thorman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A heist and a half, October 17, 2021

Set in Ancient Rome during a turbulent time, this game follows a protagonist who seeks to avenge their father by facing off against a power-hungry and unpredictable emperor.

The writing, tone, and pacing are expertly carried out, with a particularly great sense of setting. I appreciate how this has the feel of a tabletop RPG campaign: the story has a fixed direction in mind, but the ways in which goals are met and obstacles are overcome vary in a tangible way based on the player’s choices.

A minor note is that I expected more negative consequences for messing up, e.g. when I wasted time talking to a couple at the party, or later missed the inside contact’s secret symbol. The game fell forward almost too smoothly with not even “close call” types of consequences, which dampened the tension of the narrative somewhat.

A Papal Summons, or The Church Cat, by Bitter Karella

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Some doors are better left unopened, October 17, 2021

A short but sprawling journey, this piece enters the Vatican and delves into the depths of horror as a rural priest tries to get an audience with the Pope, but discovers a rotting institution in bureaucratic chaos instead.

The writing is pitch perfect—if it were a paperback, it would be unputdownable. I was engrossed by the evocative details, from the cat spewing increasingly horrific Bible passages to the vivid scenes of debauched religious fervor. I also enjoyed finding a fair amount of new content on a second play-through, which provided added nuance to the plot.

I did feel that the finale was oddly muted, which left me wondering if there might be a better ending just out of reach and I had simply made the wrong choices. On a second play-through, I got the same ending, and I was left wishing for a conclusion with a bit more impact.

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