Keepsake is a surreal parser-based game by Savaric, published in 2011. The story begins with the main character having just committed murder. Afterwards, (Spoiler - click to show)the game shows you what happened immediately before the murder through scenes playing in reverse, although this is not explicitly told to the player at any point during the story.
The ambiguity gives the game a sense of mystery at first. The game prompts you to escape the scene of the crime, and you do so, but then (Spoiler - click to show)you start seeing things in double and it feels like you have stumbled upon some strange time paradox. The tone of the game is uncanny, yet it has a sense of creeping fatalism to it too.
The writing is clear and functional, giving the gameplay an appropriate sense of urgency and mystery. I didn't notice anything wrong with the implementation either, although (Spoiler - click to show)having two similar things in many rooms does cause a lot of ambiguity questions.
It's a fairly short game, only 10 - 15 minutes long, but the ending changes a bit depending on what you did during the game and (Spoiler - click to show)you also see the game in a whole new light the second time around so in practice you will probably want to replay it at least once or twice.
But eventually you realize that (Spoiler - click to show)this is really just a very mildly branching and somewhat undeveloped crime story that is told out of order. The only thing your choices affect is whether you are a nice murderer or a slightly less nice murderer; a detail which seems incidental in the bigger picture. In this sense I would say the journey is far more interesting than the destination.
Keepsake could be worth a try if you're looking for something fairly quick yet different. It doesn't have hard puzzles, but it can still be challenging and refreshing in its own way.
Symetry is a short parser-based horror game by Ryan Stevens, or Rybread, published in 1997. It's about a posh aristocrat who has an encounter with a haunted mirror.
With a small game world and a completely linear story, the gameplay basically boils down to figuring out the next command that lets you progress; sometimes it's easy, sometimes hard. The design is usually not very intuitive; for instance, the first item you find is a letter opener, but you don't even use it to open the envelope that you are carrying. The worst part is (Spoiler - click to show)the finale where plot-critical clothing - a night gown - appears on your character out of nowhere in the middle of a frantic timed section. I don't think this section is impossible to figure out without a walkthrough, but it's still quite nonsensical and unfair to the player.
The writing style is both pretentiously ornate and riddled with typos, like a bad imitation of classic gothic horror. The poor writing and the pompous yet crude tone almost makes Symetry seem like some sort of a parody game. Who knows, maybe it is? But to the game's credit, some of the imagery is otherworldly enough that it does have a somewhat memorable or unnerving effect.
The game has some bugs too. On my first playthrough I somehow managed to turn off the lamp so that I ended up in complete darkness with nothing happening afterwards, although I no longer remember what command created this result.
The game comes with a walkthrough as well as some other "bonuses" which seem fairly random.
With a better implementation and writing Symetry could have been a decent horror title. But, as it stands, it's closer to a clunky curiosity. It could still offer some fun for 15 minutes if you're willing to accept a few design shortcomings and other peculiarities.
Toiletworld is a parser-based comedy / troll game made by "Chet Rocketfrak" for IFComp 2016. I spontaneously gave this game a try because I thought the title was too silly to pass.
The game begins inside the titular Toiletworld, seemingly a bizarre dimension with a fractal arrangement of toilets. Toilets within toilets down to an atomic level, most likely. Such surreal toilet-shaped wonders!
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the game is little more than a throwaway joke at the expense of the player. The room texts are pointless and misleading, many directions are not listed, items have weird debug-names that are arduous to type, there are no puzzles or meaningful interactivity or an overarching goal to the game. Most insultingly of all, I couldn't find a single toilet that was actually implemented. While you can type "in" to go deeper in some rooms, that's just a regular room entrance and not a fully implemented toilet.
Some bad games become endearing through the effort that was put into them. There's no effort here. The game has a dire lack of amusing things, and a player who is planning on having the slightest bit of fun in Toiletworld really has their work cut out for them... although there is irony in the fact that a game named Toiletworld is completely bereft of toilet humor.
It's all just a cruel subversion of expectations, that's what it is. I suppose it's not saying much, but I really did expect more of Toiletworld. As it stands, this game is not worth dipping one's feet in. (Is this a toilet-related pun? I can no longer tell...)
If you're still planning on giving it a try, here's a small hint for dealing with the items: (Spoiler - click to show)type "take all" in each room instead of dealing with the hassle of the long item names. This also tells you if you can even pick up the items, as some of them are arbitrarily fixed in place to mock the player for even trying. You can also use "take all" to pick up the eight nameless items in the secret room to the north, not that they have a real use anywhere.
Afflicted is a parser-based horror game by Doug Egan, published in 2008. You're a health inspector who is supposed to inspect an extraordinarily seedy bar called Nikolai's Bar and Grill. The core gameplay involves moving around the bar and gathering information by examining things and talking to people; there's some light puzzle solving to do as well.
You have a notebook that you can use to mark down any health code violations you find. Using it acts as the game's score system too: every infraction you list makes Nikolai's Bar and Grill lose points. A big part of the game's charm lies in simply finding as many infractions as you can while reading colorful descriptions about the Bar's filthiness and seeing the score sink deep, deep into the negative.
The game is pretty easy on the player. While there are some actions that lead to untimely game overs, it's easy to deduce from context when doing something is a bad idea. The game doesn't lock the player out of success either; like the IFDB-page of the game says, it's always possible to reach *an* ending.
The writing is generally good. There is dark comedy in how over-the-top it can get, not to mention some of the multiple endings are also quite humorous in tone.
Sadly, Afflicted could have used some more polish. One example of this is the slightly inconsistently handled player scope. To simulate outdoor areas and windows, the game often adds things into player scope that are not in the same room as the player. This can be mildly confusing, and in one case it directly makes a puzzle harder to figure out: (Spoiler - click to show)at the start of the game "x window" gives you the message for the Bar's front window no matter your location. This is bad because there are three different windows in the area and you have to "knock" on a specific one to progress in the game but the buggy examination message makes it seem like there is only one window.
Another example of slightly lacking mechanics is the (Spoiler - click to show)anti-climactic end game. The villains aren't programmed to do anything very threatening - they just hang around waiting for you to solve some more puzzles.
Besides that, some descriptions lack a punctuation, examining the mirror gives a slightly buggy message, some objects in the game world partially share a name which leads to constant disambiguation questions... Small rough spots like this can be slightly immersion breaking.
Still, Afflicted is a decently fun way to spend one or two hours. The game is not too difficult to complete, especially since it offers an internal hint system for any subjectively tricky moments. It has personality and some gruesome imagery, so you'll probably like it if you're a fan of parser-based horror.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "Detective" is a parser-based game from 1995 by C. E. Forman, Graeme Cree and Stuart Moore. Its sole purpose is to be an interactive satirical commentary of Detective, an infamous low quality IF title from 1993. The game uses the characters from Mystery Science Theater 3000, a TV show that was all about riffing on bad films, for this purpose. (Isn't this a bit iffy copyright-wise, though?)
After an optional intro and explanation, you are left playing Detective as normal, although the game will print some additional lines as you move from room to room and try doing various things. The presentation ends up looking slightly cluttered as the text of the original game is frequently disturbed by out-of-world dialogue, but I guess it can't really be helped in a strictly text-based format like this.
Detective is not necessarily a bad game choice for this sort of meta-commentary. After all, it's short and easy, plus you have a flimsy storyline and implementation to make jokes about. However, a lot of the humor here is riding on the idea that Detective is not only bad, but it's spectacularly, heinously, criminally bad... which I don't fully agree with. I think Detective is fairly painless as far as bad games go, and the constant exaggeration of its badness just seems uncharitable, even insecure, as if MST3000 Presents "Detective" was trying a bit too hard to justify its own existence.
This game also doesn't elevate the source material by all that much. The jokes mostly consist of someone pointing out the obvious, for instance how some bits in the writing are redundant or how the room connections are bizarre. It doesn't help that Detective is a very simple game where the same type of mistakes crop up again and again, which means the riffing also ends up being pretty repetitive. So, while I would say the commentary has its fun moments, it's overall a bit one-note and limited in its effect.
If nothing else, MST3000 Presents "Detective" is a success on its own terms. The writing does justice to the style of the TV show, and while personally I would've preferred a more informative commentary over unceasing sarcastic complaining and snide one-liners, the game essentially does exactly as advertised. It's pretty unique too, as there aren't many games out there that have this angle. Could be worth exploring if you have half an hour.
Detective is a fairly short and simple parser-based game made by Matt Barringer in 1993. You play as a detective who is ordered by the Chief to solve a crime. To do this, you progress through a series of rooms and (optionally) interact with various clues and items scattered around. There is a score system, and you are awarded points for picking things up and finding new areas. Eventually the plot thickens as (Spoiler - click to show)you find out that it could be a group of vigilantes orchestrating the murders. There's also a werewolf, or something.
Apparently the author was only 12 years old when he made this game. Unfortunately, it shows, as the game is rife with various types of implementation and writing errors. Besides the main character and a few items you can pick up, essentially nothing exists in the game world. There are no puzzles, and almost none of the items do anything beyond giving you some points. While the game is entirely linear, the room layout is rather confusing, with a lot of dead ends, one-way exits and even an instance or two of rooms seemingly overlapping. The room descriptions are also misleading, with mentions of items even after you have picked them up. All of this makes the whole adventure seem nonsensical at best.
The narrator voice is slightly smarmy in a very pre-teen sort of a way, regularly breaking the fourth wall and sometimes mildly teasing the player if they - by trial-and-error - accidentally enter rooms which are dead ends or contain a random game over. It can be slightly amusing at first, but it also leaves the whole storytelling aspect of the game very unconvincing.
So, is there something this game does right? Yes! The ending where (Spoiler - click to show)the killer is caught and the "Jurrasic Park" (sic) theme song starts playing in your head actually made me laugh out loud. It was suitably uplifting and somehow made the whole short trip feel worth it, if only barely.
So, if you have 10 to 15 minutes to kill and wish to embark on the flimsiest of detective adventures, this game isn't a bad pick.
The Fat Lardo and the Rubber Ducky is a very short, seemingly aimless parser-based game from 2003. Its flippant subject matter caught my attention, so I decided to give it a try.
You are apparently an obese, simple-minded man confined in a small room with a rubber duck. You are invited to pick up the duck and use various verbs on it to see what happens, but in the process the narrator will insult you.
I must admit that the extremely abusive, foul-mouthed narrator voice caught me off guard at first, making me laugh out loud. It's not very often you get a narrator like this in Interactive Fiction, so the game is pretty unique in this respect. I even thought whether (Spoiler - click to show)we could be dealing with a completely unreliable narrator here. He does seem to be quite petty and intent on disliking you, so he probably wouldn't be above embellishing some important details about how ugly, fat, clumsy, dumb and gassy your character actually is. But the truth of the matter is probably irrelevant, since almost nothing happens in this game. There are no big character moments, no grand revelation, no heartbreaks to mend (except maybe the player's own, if they listen to the insults for long enough).
The implementation is better than you'd expect, but still not very thorough. There are only two things to interact with: the player and the duck. Many standard verbs give generic messages. A lot of the verbs hinted by the prose do nothing. Especially by modern parser-based game standards, it comes across somewhat inconsistent and slight, and it doesn't help that the humor is pretty one-note as well.
This game might be fun for 10 - 15 minutes if you're someone with a dark sense of humor (like me) and also enough of a pedantic completionist that you'd try scrounging the limits of a joke game to find all the verbs that work (also like me). But for anyone else, might be the best to steer clear...
Oh, and I did find an ending (of sort) to the game: (Spoiler - click to show)by typing "xyzzy".