Reviews by Walter Sandsquish
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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.
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.
"Toonesia" is a light, pleasant hodgepodge of Warner Bros. cartoons, which effectively recreates the world of 2-D animation. It manages to squeeze the desert of Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner, the woodlands of Bugs Bunny, and an abandoned jewel mine into a small setting. In the weird world of 'toons, this makes sense.
But, while Weinstein's writing is solid, and his programming is usually transparent, the game has some problems. One nasty bug will kill your player character if you pay attention to it. The east-west directions are reversed in the description of the cliff walls surrounding the Mesa. Even in a 'toon, this doesn't make sense.
And, while Weinstein did capture the essence of the Warner Bros. characters, he failed to make any of them very interactive. The most interactive one, Dizzy Duck, is also the most frustrating one. Oddly, Dizzy will react to Elmo's actions, but to nothing that Elmo, the player character, says to him! In the Warner Bros. world of hyperactive, clever, sarcastic characters, this just doesn't make sense either.
Despite these weaknesses, "Toonesia" is still an agreeable game. The puzzles are fairly simple, and entertaining, to solve, once you catch onto their theme, which shouldn't be difficult in a 'toon-sensical game.
A cheerful take on the "dog ate my homework" excuse and the "can't teach a old dog new tricks" adage, "A Very Old Dog" follows the player-character's attempts to housebreak a grad student's science experiment.
This experiment is a playfully menacing pet, and your attempts to train him involve diverting, but straight-forward, puzzles. Unfortunately, a bug in the game's auto-naming feature can break the game, so name your new pet yourself, and you'll likely enjoy this little romp.
The bleak humor of "HeBGB Horror" fits the frequently-frustrated actions of the player character. The PC may try to emulate his music idols, who all have names like Blitz and Yngvie, but Mayer ensures that the PC's successes will go awry, just as his world will get weirder.
In New York's Bowery district, occult horror and punk music intertwine. Weirdly angled floors and walls enclose sagging, decaying furnishings, used by pierced, drugged characters, who gather to listen to screeching and wailing music.
Atmosphere and wit are plentiful in "HeBGB," but synonyms are not. A more robust vocabulary might help a player better navigate the peculiar problems a wanna-be punk rocker might have with eldritch horrors.
Though most of "HeBGB's" puzzles are clued, many are also obtuse. You may, for instance, have problems understanding the relationship between dried cheese and frayed telephone cords, or distinguishing between the uses of a pin and a pen, throughout this game.
Nevertheless, "HeBGB Horror" is weirdly fun and strangely satisfying.
"The Plant" is an engaging game which plays off the silliness of high-tech conspiracy theories by whimsically contrasting current technology with that of a former, fictional, Eastern-Bloc country.
Players learn about this conspiracy by solving mostly-innocuous, but frequently amusing, puzzles in each of the three areas of the game, but each area also contains a challenging and ingenious puzzle which provides access to the next area of the game. The puzzles are well-implemented, but each area contains a non-interactive scene which changes the game-state to allow the set-piece puzzle to be solved, and one of these scenes isn't well-clued and could be easily missed.
Nevertheless, "The Plant" is an excellent text-adventure game, which is well-worth a player's time.
"Busted's" drug-themed subject matter allows it to play with campus-life tropes in a surreal manner, with a humorous effect. This also allows it to apply some of the more annoying conventions of old-time adventures, like hunger and sleep puzzles, to its collegiate setting in a relevant and clever way.
The result is as much a frivolous survey of university annoyances and practices as it is a homage to first-generation text-adventure games. It's enjoyable, engaging, and funny.
Play the AdvSys version if you're able to; it's much better implemented than the Z-Code version.
"Arthur" is a clever synthesis of a few of the earlier, usually neglected, legends surrounding the legendary King Arthur's youth. Arthur must prove to Merlin that he is ready to accept the responsibilities of a monarch. Empowered by Merlin's ability to transform himself into different animals, he slithers, burrows, and flies through the wilderness surrounding Glastonbury.
Despite the fact that it's set in the wilderness, "Arthur" teems with characters. Bob Bates quickly and cleverly etches the kind, but stern, Merlin with just a shade of menace; each of the variously-colored knights that stand in Arthur's way has a distinctive personality (my favorite is the Blue Knight, who must have just wandered over the hill from the filming of Monty Python's "Holy Grail"); and the evil King Lot is, well ... evil. The protagonist is, as usual, missing, but "Arthur" sports another dozen delightful personalities that I won't spoil for you. I will, however, tell you that Mr. Bates found room to pay homage to that first memorable IF character, Floyd!
"Arthur's" only weakness lies in its structure. After following Merlin's lead, the player could find himself wandering aimlessly through more than half of this sizable game. It's a problem that could have been easily fixed, and, as a matter of fact, I'll take care of it right now: (Spoiler - click to show) After you deal with the injustice Merlin mentions, walk as far southeast as you can. Listen to what the nice man in red says, and try to be agreeable.
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