Reviews by Walter Sandsquish
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"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.
"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.
"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.
"Labour's Letters Lost" portrays Edwardian England's sense of class and propriety properly. The player-character's friend is, after all, quite embarrassed that he meant to call your father, instead of you, for help. And neither he, nor anyone else, would like to admit they would wear eye glasses, though it might be helpful if they would. Speaking of the help, they would never allow that they might be interested in their employer's business, and the PC would never intrude on them by going downstairs to see if that's actually the case. You won't even ask about the particulars of the letters you're searching for until it can't be avoided.
But, the PC will take the kind of proper notes that will help the player sort through what can't be said as well as what has been. The notes, as it turns out, are the real focus of game-play.
Unfortunately, Huang's implementation isn't quite as proper as his characters. "Talk to" is described as a more general form of interrogation than "ask about," but "ask about" does not even reveal the information that "talk to" does. This makes interviewing frustrating, because "talk to" chooses the subject for you and "ask about," which should allow you to get to the particulars you're interested in, works very infrequently.
Fortunately, these coding problems don't make the game unplayable or even particularity unpleasant. "Labour's Letters Lost" is still a suitably proper example of a cozy mystery.
"The Awakening" creates a sense of dread in a creepy setting, and its puzzles are reasonably clever, but it is hampered by several annoying bugs.
Aside from a few guess-the-verb and guess-the-preposition problems, there are a couple places in the game where you can take items, and then view the same location from a different vantage and still see the items you took in their original place.
Nevertheless, the game's unsettling atmosphere overcomes the distractions created by bits of careless programming.
This short adaptation of one of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories features engaging prose and good characterization, which is odd, because I remember Howard's prose and characterization as clunky and overblown. I suppose all Howard needed was a good editor.
The game itself, however, is under-implemented. Nouns, plurals, and synonyms are missing, making it tough for the player to communicate with the parser. There's even a guess-the-preposition puzzle here, which forced me to consult the walk-through. And, instead of providing clues in the descriptions, the author makes suggestions directly to the player.
Still, this game has interesting stuff in it. One of the game's branches creates a small role-reversal for the player-character. Instead of an NPC following the PC, you follow another character. Fun, but taking this path bypasses the game's best puzzle. There's also a vivid, and effective, action sequence here, a rarity in IF.
I'd say it's worth fighting the parser a bit for a few good puzzles and the excellent writing this game offers.
Just read the title instead.
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