Frustrating, but fascinating, LBM is a puzzle of a game in several ways. With a tone that swings from aggravation to black humor to horror, a genre that shifts from slice-of-life to mystery to horror, motivations that are obtuse, and metaphors that are dense, the game may be absorbing, but it may also leave a player bewildered. And, no matter how it's interpreted, the game's notion of what "learning to love yourself" means seems horrifying.
"Underoos" is a nicely-designed game with a silly premise and several clever puzzles. There's not much in this goofy homage to monster movies, but what is here is fun.
"In Memory" places the player in a surreal environment and prompts him to reminisce about a hazily-remembered past. While the game's ambiguous situation creates an engaging sense of mystery, the game's prompting inhibits the player's sense of agency.
Presumably, any reasonable response to the game's prompts should be accepted and used in feedback, but this doesn't work as often as it would need to in order to evoke the emotional response it wants. This turns "In Memory's" interaction with the player into an unintentional guess-the-word game. Even if the player can win this guessing game, his inability to change the game-state in any significant way hampers the game's intriguing premise.
Still, Jacqueline A. Lott's writing conveys feeling without becoming sentimental, and it effectively foreshadows the game's ending by making use of some common folklore without giving away the game through obvious cliches.
Characters deliver back-handed compliments, subtle put-downs, and blunt reminders of social station to each other in "The Magpie Takes the Train." They are so absorbed with maintaining their own class personas they can't suspect that someone right in front of them is changing his own social standing with disguises every time the train enters a tunnel.
This cheeky, class-based humor is plenty of fun, but a few implementation problems occasionally mar game-play. Possessives aren't recognized, so terms like "Horus' talons" or the "Viscount's neck" produce unhelpful responses. "Change into" isn't a verb, which is odd for a game about costume changes. Even stranger, "costume" isn't always understood, for instance "maintenance costume" isn't recognized, but "maintenance uniform" is.
Also, a design decision hampers the generally enjoyable game-play. The "say topic" conversation system results in awkward, unintuitive commands, the topics don't have synonyms, and the topic announcements are intrusive and reduce player agency.
Otherwise, "Magpie's" game design is remarkably enjoyable. It features a set of iterative puzzles, which reveal new puzzles, which disclose more about the amusing situation, all of which reinforce the stifling class-conscious world the Magpie happily exploits.
"The Magpie Takes the Train" is first-class game hampered only by an odd design choice and a few implementation oversights.
The "Eleusinian Miseries" follows a vacuous, self-absorbed player-character as he is introduced into an ancient Greek mystery cult. Amusingly, the cult resembles American universities' fraternities, and their mild hazing rituals and toga parties, except its members speak with British idioms and have names like Alky and Puffy.
While "Miseries" characters are well-acquainted with ancient Greek clothing, foods, vases, and architecture, they are also flippantly vague on other Greek folkways. The PC's unrequited adoration of his friend, his ineptitude at practical tasks, and his surprising aptitude at accidentally emasculating statues of Hermes appears to be a joke about the virility of either the ancient Greeks, American fraternity brothers, or British trust-fund kids. Regardless of the way you read it, it's pretty funny.
The game is structured by five distinct scenes. The first scene is a well-designed and implemented set of find and fetch tasks. The second scene is a little under-clued and linear, with a brute-force puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(you'll need to try a lot of clothing combinations until you find out what amuses your cult-mates) and a guess-the-verb puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(if you want to splash or spatter something on yourself, try "wash" instead). The third scene is more open and involves some lateral-thinking repair puzzles. The fourth scene has little interaction, but carries some thematic weight for the game. And the final scene is a clever optimization puzzle which points to several alternate game endings.
"Eleusinian Miseries" is a funny, engaging, well-structured game, with only a few implementation problems.
"Alone" plunges the player into a desolate landscape. Its stark, spare descriptions suit the aftermath of an apocalyptic epidemic, but, unfortunately, it doesn't follow through on its characterization of the shell-shocked, exhausted player-character we are introduced to at the beginning of the game.
Nevertheless, "Alone" consistently displays effective game design. Its puzzles lead to each other in a logical progression and establish the game's backstory unobtrusively. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly inventive, but they are engaging and, for the most part, sensible. There are a few exceptions, though. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)the player is expected to remove a cash-register's money tray, even though the description of the register tells the player that the PC knows money is useless after the apocalypse.
The game's implementation is just as spare as its landscape, sometimes too spare. The PC can't, for instance, open the door of a junk car or examine the food in a hydroponics lab. "Alone" could also use a lot more synonyms for both nouns and verbs to help the player navigate its environment. Scalpels are not also knifes, gas masks and gas cans get conflated with each other, and panels can be touched, but not pressed.
But, "Alone's" combination of a stark tone, suitable to its environment, and solid game design, which guides the player through the post-apocalypse, works well.
"Edge of Chaos" has the makings of an interesting game. The player-character, Jay Schilling, is well-defined, childish and petulant, and surprisingly unsuited for his work as a private detective. He, for instance, constantly makes assumptions about people at a glance, even though his job is to investigate them.
This creates an opportunity to play with both the problems that Jay's character would create while attempting to perform his job and the problems the player will likely have with Jay while attempting to guide him through his investigation.
But, instead, the game just allows Jay to do things without the player guiding him, and then prompts the player to do Jay-like things when the player is given the opportunity to play. This reduces player agency to a frustrating level. Worse, the game's keyword-based conversation system breaks the interface's imperative-sentence format, forcing it to reveal topics the player no longer has the opportunity to discover though game-play.
"Edge of Chaos" is a missed opportunity to allow the player to experience the consequences of clinging to a puerile outlook in a situation which should require the player-character to adopt a more mature approach involving research, empathy, and reasoning.