Reviews by AKheon
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The Shadow in the Snow is a choice-based game by Andrew Brown, published in 2020. The game is about getting stranded in some isolated forest area during a snow storm (Spoiler - click to show)and surviving a werewolf attack.
This is one of the first titles I tried during IF Comp 2020, and I ended up playing an early version of the game that had some truly game breaking bugs. For instance, you could softlock the game by simply using a certain text link too many times in a single session. Since then, the developer has fortunately fixed the worst bugs in the game, making it at least playable.
The gameplay consists of clicking text links to move around the area, occasionally examining and picking up things. There is an element of trial-and-error here, since sometimes you have to choose between multiple choices that you can't know in advance which leads to salvation and which does not. Other than that, it's a pretty simple and short game, with a few additional details you can miss during a playthrough if you're not thorough.
The lack of ‘undo’ is an inconvenience - if you get a game over, your only choice is to return all the way back to the beginning of the game. While the lack of ‘undo’ suits horror, in my case it made playing the game feel extra unrewarding since I also encountered those major bugs that forced me to restart several times.
The writing style is simplistic but functional, with short paragraphs and terse descriptions of what’s going on. The brevity keeps the story moving along at a respectable pace while helping to create a somewhat tense, mysterious atmosphere.
The game uses background music. The music track itself is a pleasant if melancholy symphonic piece. It sounds very midi, but it brings to mind a wintry scenery and old video games, so it works quite well for its purpose. The dark presentation and the music together create a strangely cozy atmosphere that makes me like this game more than I probably should.
While flawed, The Shadow in the Snow could still be worth a try for some players. It should only take around 15 - 30 minutes to finish, so feel free to give it a try if you dare.
Minor Arcana is a choice-based fantasy game by Jack Sanderson Thwaite, published in 2020. You are a sentient Tarot deck with a long, grimy history and an air of misfortune about you. The story consists of a loosely structured series of recollections, some of which can be explored through your choices.
The game features bits of real life Tarot-traditions mixed in with some dark fantasy and fatalistic drama. The writing is of high quality, and it has a foreboding, mysterious tone that makes it quite interesting to read.
The story has a few different branches to explore, and (Spoiler - click to show)it seems that some of the content can only be seen while replaying. The design gives the game a secretive air - even after multiple playthroughs I was left curious about the game's story and setting, wondering if there were still any important details or additional closure to find.
It’s a fairly short game, only taking around 30 minutes even if you replay it a few times. It should be worth it if you’re looking for something otherworldly and ominous. Personally, the game consistently held my focus due to its slightly unique format and esoteric storyline.
Phantom is a choice-based game by Peter Eastman, published in 2020. It’s a story-driven 30-minute experience about an aspiring opera singer who meets the Phantom (of the Opera).
The game begins with some discussion about the tropes pertaining to this classic horror character. On my first playthrough, I assumed the purpose of this was to refresh the player's memory and ease them into the setting. (Spoiler - click to show)You could argue the whole game largely *is* a character study of Phantom; in some ways this idea even eclipses the rather low-key main story line.
The writing is generally good. It has enough detail to create a convincing image of the main character and her aspiring opera singer ways. The overall pace of the story is quite fast, though, and towards the end characters are introduced and plot developments happen so fast that not all of it has the weight it deserves. (Spoiler - click to show)The biggest twist here is that the protagonist is also villainous, so it’s not a clear-cut “beauty and the beast” tale this time around.
Your choices during the game (Spoiler - click to show)are less significant than you'd hope. Act III changes depending on what you picked earlier on, but not by too much. For example, I think that even if you choose classic Phantom, he is still a master of using modern technology and cameras for some reason.
The game has multimedia. There’s a background image of red curtains that creates a nice stage for the story, although when I was playing on Chrome, the lowest part of the graphic sometimes cut off to white instead of black, which looked a bit glitchy. The game also uses some background music. The snippets of classical and opera music work well in the context, but some of the public domain samples suffer from the limitations of their day, making the game feel a bit anachronistic. The story is supposed to take place in the modern day, but the audio quality brings to mind the 40s.
Overall, Phantom is not perfect, but it should offer an interesting time if you enjoy any media related to this classic horror character.
Amazing Quest is a choice-based game by Nick Montfort, published in 2020. The platform is quite unusual, as this appears to be a Commodore 64 game running on an emulator on the IFComp website.
You are a space wayfarer at the end of a victorious journey. To get back home, you answer simple yes / no questions about what to do in various randomized situations.
The minimalism is one of the most striking features of Amazing Quest. The various planets and areas you visit are described with exactly one adjective and one noun each, and the rewards for your success or failure are likewise expressed very succinctly. The writing is as terse as you could possibly get without losing sight of the core idea. It all leaves a lot to the imagination - perhaps too much.
The supplementary materials feature a 2-page manual written on a typewriter. The manual elaborates on the game’s apparent purpose: it should be all about meaningful decision making and getting the player into the mindset of a returning wanderer who has to decide if it would be wise to f.e. speak plainly in a strange place, potentially revealing your weaknesses to hostile characters. The language is somewhat mythical and dramatic, and it reminds me a lot of slightly pulpy science fantasy fiction, possibly even power metal.
The gameplay would work better if (Spoiler - click to show)there was anything at stake here. I tried intentionally creating a fail state inside the game by answering all the questions “wrong”, but I couldn’t do it very consistently and ended up winning every single playthrough. In fact, just smashing ‘enter’ over and over is enough to win the game. It gives me the feeling that victory is inevitable, wrong answers only delay it. I wonder if something like this *is* the intended message of the game? Such an optimistic vibe might be par on course for a game called “Amazing Quest”.
Overall, this is a rather strange title that requires a large suspension of disbelief from the player. Depending on how seriously you take it, there could be a world of adventures here, or there could be almost nothing. I personally found it a bit thought-provoking, at least.
A Calling of Dogs is a choice-based horror / thriller by Arabella Collins, published in 2020. In it, you’re a woman who is being held captive in a cage. Interacting with your kidnapper and (Spoiler - click to show)thinking about how to escape or gruesomely murder him make up most of your choices inside the game.
The tone of the game is intense and unpleasant. The slightly rambly and at times very graphic writing creates an impression of a feverish thought process where it’s mainly hatred that keeps one sane. I thought the characterization of both the hero and the villain worked well - I was always interested in seeing what would happen next in the story.
The game has an ambiguous lack of polish. The writing has a lot of typos and odd turns of phrases, but that might be an intended part of the expression here to create that aforementioned feverish, raw feeling. However, I did find one softlock too, which is a bit harder to defend. (Spoiler - click to show)During day three, right after being let out of the cage, I examined one of the choices twice. This resulted in a dead end with no more choices appearing.
While the game is short - only around 15 minutes - it has some significant branching paths and therefore replay value, in case you want to relive this harrowing scene. It’s simply a potent experience, if you don’t mind entering a darker place for a moment.
Savor is a choice-based horror game by Ed Nobody, published in 2020. The main character seems to be afflicted with a curse that makes his body ache and mind forget. Delirious, he finds his way to an old farm house, somehow convinced there’s a cure there.
Like in many other choice-based games, you simply click on text links to progress. The story is generally linear - most sections have one or two branching paths, but they eventually lead back to the same point. The game has a streamlined inventory system as well - the decisions you make during the game as well as any items you find impact which of the multiple endings you’ll end up with.
I think the writing is pretty good. The farmland setting as it is described has an eerie beauty and mild quirkiness to it, which creates a contrast with the more horrific moments. The game can get very dark very fast, for instance, (Spoiler - click to show)suicide is featured in more than one of the endings. I saw three endings, which for me wasn’t enough to solve the full mystery here, but (Spoiler - click to show)the story gave me strong Silent Hill-vibes with how there seemed to be two different versions of some locations - one nice and one hellish.
Actually playing the game is a bit cumbersome. The game extensively uses timed text which cannot be fully skipped - only sped up. I also had a somewhat bad time since I missed the “controls” screen, which is the only place the game ever tells the player that they can access the menu with ‘esc’ and load / save with ‘l’. I generally just avoided using the menu after one instance where the game seemingly restarted on its own and I lost all my progress after I entered the menu.
The cryptic, often surreal nature of the story can make it hard to predict what will happen as a result of your choices. It’s a pity that replaying and trying out different branching paths feels a bit arduous due to the aforementioned timed text.
The game uses a lot of multimedia - background images, music and even sound effects. The imagery consists of low-saturation photos with a bunch of filters on them. The photos themselves are usually quite good, although the visual filters don’t always look very smooth, and something about the resolution and zoom level might be a bit off too. (Spoiler - click to show)Something is added to the background during the farm house nightmare sequence, but I can barely see what it is because of how the picture is cropped by the edge of the screen. I can’t say if this is intentional or not, though. Could my browser (Chrome) or some other factor have caused the graphics to not work properly?
The music is varied and atmospheric. The most frequently heard track is a nearly uplifting piece with a conspicuous rhythm - I can’t say I was expecting something like that in this context. Many other bits of the ambience and music bear some resemblance to Akira Yamaoka, especially the eerie track that plays during night time. The music eventually grew on me a lot.
My biggest gripe with the multimedia is that the game doesn’t have a very fine-tuned pacing. It’s not uncommon for it to go from something very intense with a dark music (Spoiler - click to show)and even jump scare audio clips of people screaming back to a carefree vibe with no warning. Some of the use of audio is rather ham-fisted too. When the multimedia works properly, it complements the writing, but during the poorly handled moments it can cheapen it too.
Overall, I think this is close to being a worthwhile horror IF. The ingredients are all there, and the music adds a ton of charm and personality to the game. Some better tutorializing would be helpful to prevent people (like me) from missing important keybindings. I might still give this game another try after the competition to find out its remaining secrets.
Chorus is a choice-based fantasy game by Skarn, published in 2020. The game is about an organization of strange creatures who are trying to complete three community projects, such as cataloging old books.
The gameplay is about choosing which of the numerous characters will do which projects. The physical properties of the characters are vastly different, ranging from a gorgon to an amoeba, so you have to think a little who might be the best suited for any given task. After making your choices, you get to read what transpired afterwards. The game has a lot of different outcomes - tasks can succeed or fail in a variety of ways, and certain characters can also have unique scenes if you put them working on the same task together.
The writing is good and the setting is imaginative, although there is a dark, stressful undercurrent to everything: (Spoiler - click to show)things seem to be on decline - massive amounts of red tape, among other issues, are choking the organization. Some creatures and elements here are Lovecraftian, which could also explain the feeling of mild gloominess.
The first playthrough will take less than 30 minutes, but Chorus is really at its best when replaying since you then have a better grasp of what’s going on and what type of character teams might create good results. There are a lot of branching story paths and multiple endings, plus you can conveniently place the game on “fast text” mode which makes replaying even faster. It’s quite user-friendly that way, so depending on your level of curiosity, it can be easy to spend a while just tinkering with the game and seeing what can happen.
To criticize something, it can be a bit hard to get into the story at first since it starts with a massive info dump where you are introduced to the world of Chorus as well as 9 different characters at once. Some of the gameplay is also a bit trial-and-error, as most outcomes can’t be predicted until you try them. (Spoiler - click to show)Consequently, it seems fairly tricky to reach the best ending - for me it happened by sheer accident after 6 playthroughs.
The good concept makes Chorus worth exploring, especially for fans of dark fantasy and low-key management games, even if the execution has some arguable bumpiness.
The Turnip is a choice-based fantasy game by Joseph Pentangelo, published in 2020. It features a story about a mysterious turnip a man finds on a field while working.
The gameplay is simple and linear, and the presentation neat. The real draw here is the eccentric story, which at first feels a bit like a slice-of-life story from somewhere in the 18th or 19th century, but turns into something more surreal in short order.
I think the writing is good. It’s economical with words, but it creates lively imagery and dispenses fantastic and weird details at just the right pace to keep the reader guessing. The story is very short, though - I would’ve liked seeing even more of the world where the game takes place in.
The game is worth setting aside 15 minutes for if you like well-written, strange tales.
Big Trouble in Little Dino Park is a choice-based comedy game made by Seth Paxton and Rachel Aubertin, published in 2020. The game is a parody of Jurassic Park, where you, a reluctant summer employee, have to survive a particularly grueling work day at a cheap knockoff dinosaur park.
The gameplay consists of clicking text links to move around and make decisions. The game opens up after a linear beginning, but even at its most complex it remains a fairly relaxed affair where you don’t have to think about your choices too hard. Game overs are frequent, but you can usually just retry from previous choice if that happens, so it doesn’t impact progress too much.
The writing is exaggerated and comical, as you’d expect in this type of comedy. At times it feels like the humor is a bit unfocused and shallow since the pace of the game is thunderously fast - it doesn’t dwell on any scenario or idea for particularly long. In addition, (Spoiler - click to show)later on the tone changes to something slightly more serious as you embark on a rescue mission, dampening the pure carefree comedy factor here.
Some more polish wouldn’t have hurt, as there are a few typos here and there. I also found one game over link that just flat out didn’t work, forcing me to restart the entire game.
I would’ve personally preferred either a sillier or a more fleshed-out and well-paced story, but still, the game can be amusing, and it’s clear the authors love dinosaurs from the way they name-drop so many different species here. The game could be worth a try if you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, dinosaurs and fast-paced madcap comedy.
The Place is a choice-based game by Ima, published in 2020. The game features (Spoiler - click to show)a poetic, flighty description of a young woman known by the narrator, although you wouldn’t know it from the bizarre game blurb that directly addresses the player, talking about fate, choices and meaninglessness.
The story is short and relatively linear. The gameplay consists of clicking text links while trying to make sense of what’s going on; slightly annoying pop-up messages are also used to make the player choose between options and name some things inside the game. Having the player give custom names to things might be a good way to make them feel more invested in a story in some cases, but here the pop-ups often felt like an interruption. Also, since the blurb flat out states that your choices are meaningless, and there’s a quite a number of these pop-ups, I felt like there wasn’t much incentive to play along and name things the way the game would want you to.
Presentation-wise the game is fairly ordinary, although small things like timed text, changing text and background images are used in moderation to add some variety. Everything seems to work as intended, although the writing could have used some more polish as it has some rough spots and typos here and there.
I’m not sure what the game made me feel, if anything at all. I didn’t become immersed in it very well due to the unfocused expectations set by the blurb as well as the frequent pop-ups. It might be worth a try if you want to set aside 15 minutes for something original but confusing.
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