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.
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.
The Last Doctor is a choice-based game by Quirky Bones, published in 2021. You are an impoverished doctor in a conflict-ravaged, ambiguously post-apocalyptic setting. Some patients enter your clinic, you assess them, and you then decide how to use your scant supplies. The story can progress to a few different directions depending on your choices.
The writing style is compact and stylized. It feels like many details about the game's world are obfuscated by the intentionally vague and evocative prose, but it still tells you enough to create interesting mental images and make you care about your choices. (Spoiler - click to show)It's a pity that the game is very short and doesn't build much on its core ideas. You only take care of two patients, and the story ends so soon that it's a bit of an anti-climax.
The game has some brief descriptions of medical procedures and injury, but they aren't very detailed and come across somewhat milder than I'd expected considering both the main character's bloody profession as well as the grim feeling of the setting itself.
The technical quality of the game is decent. The interactivity is simple but functional. I did notice two text mistakes, including a missing word and a typo. It's nothing deal-breaking, though.
The suggested playing time is 30 minutes, although I think my first playthrough was actually closer to 10 minutes. However, the game does have multiple endings which gives it replay value. Overall, it's not a bad title to try out if you want to briefly dip into a dark setting and think about humanity.
The Waiting Room is a choice-based game by Billy Krolick, published in 2021. You are a new employee at the Shady Oaks Nursing Home and you accidentally end up tangled in a supernatural mystery. The game's disclaimer says that it was inspired by "various snippets of true accounts", and it's easy to believe that. (Spoiler - click to show)Besides the supernatural threat, the evil that exists at Shady Oaks is unfortunately all too mundane - basically criminal negligence by the staff.
As usual for a choice-based title, the gameplay mostly consists of reading and clicking various text links. Some meaningful branching paths as well as one slightly puzzley sequence add some intrigue to the otherwise quite straightforward user experience.
The writing is decent. The prose can be slightly inelegant and unpolished, with some occasional typos. Sometimes the game just flat out tells the player what they should feel, which I think is not optimal horror writing. "...all the lights are off. The windows dark and empty. Weird."
The story itself is often eerie and even sad, but I do think it's a bit too fast-paced and compressed for best results. The flow of time is inconsistent and the world building somewhat minimal. Even the main character is just a nameless cipher, which feels off in a story like this where you have extensive social interactions with other characters - you are a nurse, after all. The game gives you enough context to care about the choices you make, but it does sometimes feel a little thin.
Besides that, the story (Spoiler - click to show)seems somewhat unfeasible, with the Back Hall apparently having actual rotting corpses which everyone just decided to hush up before getting back to work. Or are the corpses a hallucination which only appears at night? The game isn't exactly clear on this. Some of the big choices in the game also seem counter-intuitive. For instance, why would anyone cover up for Austin after realizing what he's done? You've spent exactly one work day with him, and this brief encounter shouldn't really inspire the needed camaraderie or attachment that would make the player want to cover up his crimes. This choice seemed to come out of nowhere, in my opinion.
The suggested playing time is around one hour, although I think a single playthrough takes much less than that, possibly around 30 minutes. However, the story does have branching paths and multiple endings which give it replay value.
Overall, I feel like The Waiting Room has a few powerful moments but also some strange design and wasted potential. At the very least, it's a generally functional title which can be worth a try if you want a somewhat eerie and sad visit to a haunted nursing home.
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.