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.
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.
Itís a fairly short game, only taking around 30 minutes even if you replay it a few times. It should be worth it if youíre looking for something otherworldly and ominous. Personally, the game consistently held my focus due to its slightly unique format and esoteric storyline.
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 whatís 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 ďfast textĒ mode which makes replaying even faster. Itís 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 canít 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.
Sage Sanctum Scramble is a parser-based game by Arthur DiBianca, published in 2020. The game is about collecting keywords to save a fantasy realm.
The story is very thin, essentially just an excuse to get the player to engage in puzzle solving and wordplay, which the game is full of. Instead of typing full sentences you only have to type single words to progress. Each new puzzle presents a simple clue - or a series of clues - that lead you to the needed answer. Solved puzzles unlock new puzzles, and the non-linear structure of the game allows you to skip a few if they prove too hard.
I havenít played many other wordplay-focused games before, so the idea seems fresh to me. Figuring out solutions and making progress feels good, as youíd expect in a puzzle game that forces the player to really think, and the game is generally quite polished as well - thereís little to distract from the onslaught of brain teasers here.
One significant issue for me, being a non-native English speaker, is that the game is generally quite difficult. Having to think of (Spoiler - click to show)20 different colors or specific-length names for trees, etc. requires some specialized enough lingo that itís virtually impossible to win without consulting a dictionary or similar. At worst the gameplay becomes a matter of browsing an online dictionary and trying out different answers as they come - at that point I canít say it's fun any longer.
The flimsy setting could also be an acquired taste. At times I felt like there wasnít much motivating me to push forward, other than the mild rush I got from my occasional victory over the gameís logic. (Spoiler - click to show)Apparently you fight a boss at the end, but I never got that far.
This game is perfect for people who are proficient in English and for whom wordplay is its own reward. For anyone else, it could still be worth a try since the style is so original, but the experience may have a few frustrations.