Codename Obscura is a parser-based IF made by Mika Kujala, published during IFComp 2023. In this story, you are a secret agent in Italy on a mission to gather intelligence and possibly unravel a clandestine scheme or two.
The game has been made on Adventuron and is intentionally very retro in style. It's basically an old-school, puzzle-heavy adventure game with a fairly limited parser as well as some lovingly crafted low-res graphics which help set the atmosphere. You can have shrill PC speaker sound effects, too, if you enable them from the menu.
This title lacks many of the niceties of modern parser-based games, which raises its difficulty on occasion. The parser error messages are generic to the point of being unhelpful. The game is a bit inconsistent on verb usage - sometimes "use" works, sometimes it doesn't. There aren't many synonyms for common verbs either. You can't examine portable items before picking them up, which often leads to some redundant typing. There are a lot of contextual actions too, which only do what you'd expect in some specific room in the game and nowhere else. The puzzle design, likewise, can be a bit obscure in its reasoning, and I had to resort to the walkthrough more than once while playing.
I like the quaint charm of the 80's Italian setting, though. The graphics look nice, and the prose also uses some snippets of Italian to create an impression of visiting a foreign time and place. It's a kind of a pity that the implementation is not very deep and there isn't much to do in the game world besides general exploration and puzzles, but I suppose it makes sense considering the style of gameplay this title is going for.
Overall, Codename Obscura provides puzzles and intrigue for at least an hour or two. Retro puzzlers are not my favorite style of IF, but the game's terse writing and spirited atmosphere managed to leave a positive impression.
The Vambrace of Destiny is a parser-based IF by Arthur DiBianca, published for IFComp 2023. The game is a dungeon crawler with a very streamlined execution. The writing and world building are both fairly minimal, and the normal Inform 7 interface has also been heavily modified to only accept single-button input, which makes the gameplay feel remarkably fast-paced and smooth.
The game is technically very impressive. Once you get used to how the game works, playing it feels like a breeze. Although the limited input scheme is quite unusual, I could see it working for a number of other kind of games on Inform 7 too. There's also a map screen that becomes updated as you keep exploring the game world, which makes moment-to-moment gameplay feel even cleaner.
One drawback of all this streamlining is that it really highlights the old school, essentially fetch quest-like and quite repetitive nature of the adventure itself. There are some fairly intricate puzzles which require you to do things in a certain order, or with certain timing, to mix things up. Still, with the minimal storytelling and minimal interface, I found myself slightly demotivated to continue after a point. I think you might have to love old school dungeon crawling just for the sake of it to get the most out of this title.
One Does Not Simply Fry is a ChoiceScript-game written by Stewart C Baker and James Beamon, published during IFComp 2023. It's a kind of a Lord of the Rings-parody where much of the cast partakes in an onion ring cook-off at the summit of "Mount Boom".
The gameplay is what you'd expect from a fairly well fleshed-out ChoiceScript-game. There's a character selection, some stats, achievements, a lot of branching story text and multiple different endings. It's simple to get into but has a lot of potential for replayability as well.
I remember reading and enjoying Bored of the Rings back in the day, and I think that the comedic execution in One Does Not Simply Fry goes to a somewhat similar direction. The prose is a hurricane of absurd puns and parodic references from the start to the end, down to silly character names like "Sour Ron". It doesn't take itself very seriously, and some of the humor is a bit hit-or-miss, but there are so many jokes here that at least some are bound to land... right?
The tone of the story is also quite contemporary, starting from the way the whole setup is reminiscent of reality TV in all its overbearing glamour - there's even a Gordon Ramsay-expy acting as one of the judges. The occasionally heavy-handed progressive politics (e.g. race-lifting and/or "queering" the cast) also firmly make this story a product of its era, in both good and bad.
I had the willpower to play through the story 2.5 times. The way the writing prioritizes quantity-over-quality when it comes to jokes eventually becomes a bit tiresome, even though there are some clever comedic payoffs here too, such as (Spoiler - click to show)Leggy Ass' bad ending. I freely admit I probably just didn't get all of the humor here - especially more referential and wordplay-based humor tends to get lost on me.
Overall: a fun premise, fair amount of content, competent execution, arguably a bit one-note. Like any deep-fried delicacy, enjoying too much at once leaves you with a heartburn.
My Brother; the Parasite is a choice-based IF by growscant, published during the IFComp 2023. It's about a complex yet painful sibling relationship between a woman and her deceased brother (Spoiler - click to show)who still lingers in a pseudo-alive state thanks to a strange parasitic disease.
The game has been made on Twine, and it makes extensive use of self-made graphics. The visual style is quite polished, yet it has a certain rawness to it that suits the disturbing tone of the story. As one minor technical fault, it seems Twine can't change images on the screen completely seamlessly, resulting in small "loading times" when scenes and images change. Or could it just be my browser?
This is a very narrative-focused IF without much real interactivity besides clicking links to progress in the story. Timed text adds its own bumpy and unpredictable feeling to the game flow, and hyperlinks are also used in some different ways here and there for variety. Other than that, there isn't much else to talk about the gameplay.
The story itself is highly emotionally charged. The protagonist has to face the reality of her abusive brother's death and make sense of the mixed emotions that are brewing inside her. (Spoiler - click to show)The parasite adds an interesting twist to the storytelling. Although tonally the story is very much about pent-up emotion, like a prolonged, regretful, angry rumination about things the protagonist wishes she could've resolved with her brother while he was alive, in a sense the brother is still around and actually becomes a physical threat in some scenes. In this regard, you could read the story as being a kind of a cross between family drama and zombie fiction, or consider the parasite as a strictly symbolic storytelling device - it seems to work either way.
The writing is quite good in my opinion. The prose is usually compact and restrained, but it has a few more freely flowing and poetic moments when the situation calls for it. The forlorn small town setting is brought to life with some good worldbuilding detail too. It definitely feels like more than just character drama happening inside a vacuum.
Overall, I thought My Brother; The Parasite was memorable, gripping and full of anguish. Although I personally prefer IF with a bit more interactivity, as a story it was worth experiencing.
In the Details is a short choice-based story by M.A. Shannon, published during IFComp 2023. The story is about a vain musician who is about to enter superstardom (Spoiler - click to show)thanks to the power of the Devil, who has inconveniently come to take back what belongs to him.
This is the first time I've played an IF that's been developed on Texture. It has an interface where you drag 'n' drop buttons on top of highlighted text. I found this slightly awkward to do while playing on laptop with a touchpad-mouse, but otherwise, the system seemed pretty easy to use and suitable for this kind of streamlined choice-based gameplay.
The prose is pretty good, creating a sense of locale and character without expending too many words. The story itself is rather brief, though, and I don't feel like it has a lot of meat to it. The game description has both tags "comedy" and "horror", but I found the story neither particularly funny or scary. It has a few graphic moments and a life lesson, and that's pretty much it.
The game description says the estimated playing time is around 30 minutes, but for me it felt shorter, even though I replayed the game and managed to reach 3 or 4 different endings. There was one moment where I wondered if the design was buggy, (Spoiler - click to show)mainly the point where you have to choose between telling a truth or a lie, but being honest does nothing. I couldn't tell for sure if this was supposed to create characterization or if it was simply an unimplemented button, but this could be my unfamiliarity with this system too.
Overall, I found In the Details engaging enough, albeit a little short and light.
I Contain Multitudes is a parser-based game by Wonaglot, published in 2021. You are an engineer on a steam boat. A murder has happened, and the captain covertly enlists you to try to figure out what exactly is going on before the ship reaches its destination.
Being a Quest-game, the gameplay is a type of a hybrid between parser- and choice-based systems. You can move around and do various interactions by either typing or clicking on highlighted objects, and you also have a map. This makes the game quite comfortable to play... at least when it's working as intended.
The game world is like a small sandbox with some timed events as well as characters who move around. Besides basic exploration and information gathering, one major gameplay feature is that you have four different masks which you can wear to subtly influence other characters' reactions. Overall, it's the most complex and ambitious Quest-game I've played so far, and it deserves props for trying to do something unique.
Unfortunately, it could've still used some more polish and testing. The general implementation is spotty: not everything that is critical for completing the game is highlighted, which forces you to keep switching between clicking and typing instead of being able to comfortably choose your playstyle. Some items are unnecessarily difficult to find, for instance (Spoiler - click to show)the metal key inside the Walnut Desk is tricky to notice since the only time the game even mentions it exists is in the room description while the desk is open. Some characters seem to have little dialogue, with nothing to say about some topics that they should know or care about. The entrance to the Bridge is to the west, but you go there by walking east. And so on... In the end, I had to use a walkthrough to figure out some of the game's logic and be able to successfully complete it.
The writing is something of a highlight. It's imaginative and expressive, and it creates a solid 19th century and slightly steampunk-ish feeling. Although, like the gameplay, it too has some unpolished spots here and there, such as a few typos.
As far as the use of multimedia is concerned, (Spoiler - click to show)the game utilizes graphics and audio during the finale sequence in a way that works really well for creating otherworldly suspense.
The game should take at least an hour on your first time through, and the multiple different story outcomes may give it some replay value too. My biggest gripe with it is the slight roughness around the edges, which I hope will be fixed in a post-Comp edition. But even as it is right now, the game should provide some enjoyment for someone with a taste for a mystery/horror game at sea.
What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed is a parser-based game by Amanda Walker, published in 2021. It's a kind of a gothic horror adventure that takes place in Goldengrove, a grand old house with some dark secrets of its own.
The game uses a set of unique verbs, which is something explained quite shortly after you begin the game: (Spoiler - click to show)you are a ghost who is unable to interact with the physical world via regular means. However, your strong emotional responses can cause a variety of haunting-like effects ranging from mirror shattering to limited telekinesis. These new verbs give the game a bit of unique flavor and also make the exploration feel more fresh and exciting than in your average parser adventure game.
The overall gameplay feels pleasantly streamlined and accessible both because of the unique set of verbs that can be recalled at any time but also because of the compact world design. The compactness makes the game feel as if you always have some type of an idea on how to progress, even without the prose containing too much blatant hinting or tutorializing at any point. In a word: the design is elegant.
The writing is somewhat terse and possibly slightly more utilitarian than I would've expected in gothic horror, only dispensing enough details to create basic impressions of the scenery and drive the story forward. It's not particularly lavish or indulgent in any way, which I suppose is another thing that contributes to the game's exceedingly neat and elegant air. (Even the cover is elegant!)
The technical quality is fairly good, with almost everything making sense and working as intended. I did notice a few typos, but it's nothing major. The difficulty seems fair, although I did personally resort to using a walkthrough twice since I couldn't figure out how to get past one door and also missed an important semi-hidden object in one of the rooms.
If the game has some real flaw, it's that it's possibly a little bit too neat and compact. For instance, parts of the game world can feel like they're mostly there in service of the puzzles, although to be fair, this is a pretty common thing in adventure games which rely heavily on puzzle solving. Perhaps the subtle dissonance between gameplay and story necessities felt slightly stronger here since the game does bank a lot on an immersive setting and a solid storyline, and so it stands to lose more compared to a more casual adventure-puzzler that doesn't care about story.
Regarding the story, (Spoiler - click to show)the narrative is centered around various types of emotions as you discover the truth about yourself and Goldengrove, but the comparative simplicity of the execution and character motivations, etc. among other small details kept me from fully connecting. Although I found the story tragic and interesting, it didn't grip me on every level that the game's blurb and the prose might have intended.
The estimated play time of around 2 hours seems accurate, at least if you take your time exploring and avoid the temptation of using hints or walkthroughs. Overall, it's a polished and thoughtful parser-based adventure, and probably worth trying out if you like gothic horror.
The Best Man is a choice-based game made by Stephen Bond, published in 2021. The suspenseful cover art and non-existent blurb both give the game quite a secretive first impression. So, what's it about?
You are Aiden, a young man who is asked by his friend Laura to be a best man for her wedding. This involves doing a few simple errands before the wedding begins. The fact that Aiden still has some feelings for Laura complicates things, (Spoiler - click to show)as does the fact that he is an unreliable narrator, and there's a good chance much of the story takes place in his imagination.
The writing is detailed and realistic, and it also has a good pacing as well as some interesting twists and changes of scenery to keep the reader on their toes. I personally found it entertaining from the start to the end.
The choice-based gameplay is fairly simple, as you'd expect. (Spoiler - click to show)The story is essentially linear, without any significant branching paths. However, the creative use of the user interface and text-links - even including an imitation of a breakfast menu in one point in the story - as well as the engrossing writing sometimes create a satisfying illusion of choice, at least.
The game uses a bit of graphics and audio between chapters. The music is sequencer-based, with a slightly cheap sounding quality, but it's not intrusive and helps set the atmosphere.
As for what the game made me feel, (Spoiler - click to show)I think the predominant feeling is slight sadness. There's something a bit wrong with Aiden, what with his tendency to sink into elaborate fantasy, see people as exclusively Good or Bad, not to mention the oddly self-important, nearly religious significance he gives to his forever unrequited love. He talks a lot about self-improvement, but to me it seems like he is stuck in an unhealthy reverie. The epilogue partially reinforces this feeling: a lot of time has passed, but he still seems to frame life in the same terms as during the main story - in Good vs Bad, where people like Laura's husband are still expected to get their comeuppance some time soon. I can't say I fully understand all of the elements of the story, though. For instance, the meaning of the term "fighting the good fight" eludes me. Is he simply referring to living his life the best he can, or could it be a reference to something else?
At its heart, The Best Man is a kind of a character study with some interesting and evocative writing. The story is quite elaborate and lengthy too, and the suggested playtime of 90 minutes seems accurate. Overall, it could be worth a try if you're looking for a well-written, introspective character-driven story in the choice-based format.
Taste of Fingers is a choice-based game by V Dobranov, published in 2021. You are a business man hiding in a cafe somewhere in Hong Kong after something very bad has happened outside.
The gameplay is fairly linear and simple, basically consisting of clicking on text links to unveil optional text or progress reading the story. (Spoiler - click to show)Most of the narrative is focused on exploring your memories, and you have six different memories you can sink into. You only have a limited number of choices regarding which memories to explore, so it's not possible to see all of the game's content on a single playthrough. The game has no branching story paths beyond that, but keeping the player in a passive role makes sense in a story like this which is focused on introspection and fear.
The user interface is quite smooth to both use and look at. It also uses color to create an impression of the weather and time of day inside the story, which works well for setting the mood.
The story successfully creates a feeling of anxiety and hopelessness. It also feels quite topical: (Spoiler - click to show)unrest in East Asia, viruses, isolation, racism, social collapse... a lot of the individual strands of the story here seem to have at least some type of an indirect connection with current events, which gives the story additional dramatic weight as well as potential to depress.
My playthrough of the game took around 20 to 25 minutes, but it does have a bit of replay value if you want to see all of its content. Overall, it's a somewhat short but all the more grim horror story that takes place in a contemporary setting, and it should please those who are looking for one.
Codex Sadistica is a parser-based game by grave snail games, published in 2021. You are Scream, a metal vocalist at a tightly packed metal festival that is held up by a pretentious glam metal band. It's up to you and your bandmates to save the day with the power of real metal.
This is a fairly compact, fairly light-hearted puzzling adventure. It has one quite unique puzzle mechanic: you are able to jam with your band members to produce different type of metal genres. The sheer power of music generates different effects, f.e. (Spoiler - click to show)death metal makes people angrier and sludge metal causes literal sludge to spill out and cover the floor. It's a fun system, although the way it's handled in moment-to-moment gameplay does rely rather heavily on trial-and-error. The game is a little bit short for the complexity of the system too - in a way, I felt like the story ended right around the time when I was coming to grips with all the existing genre combinations.
As an avid metal listener, I found the setting and the writing amusing, although there were a few times I couldn't completely follow the game's humor and logic. For example, glam metal is presented as having fantasy themes and a very slow tempo, which doesn't really resemble any glam I've heard in my life. (Spoiler - click to show)As a side note, Mae's tirade about gatekeeping in metal also rings a little hollow since the entire setup of the game is based around heroically ridding the music festival of lesser metal... but maybe that's a part of the joke?
The implementation is somewhat lacking. Many seemingly important things mentioned in the prose haven't been implemented, and the ones that have been implemented typically have generic descriptions. You can't talk to your bandmates outside scripted moments, random NPC dialogue can be intrusive and repetitive, you can't "listen" to get unique responses even though it's a game about music... and so on. The game generally works and can be played to completion, but this type of mild roughness makes figuring out its logic harder, and it also seems like a missed opportunity for additional jokes and lore.
Still, I can say I had a fairly good time with the game. It could be worth a try if you're looking for a short- to medium-length comedic adventure about the power of metal.