Reviews by AKheon

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CODENAME OBSCURA, by Mika Kujala

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Old school puzzle adventuring in Italy, November 14, 2023
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023, Adventuron, parser-based, retro, mystery

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.

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The Vambrace of Destiny, by Arthur DiBianca

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A well-presented dungeon crawl, November 7, 2023
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: parser-based, Inform 7, IF Comp 2023, fantasy

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.

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I Contain Multitudes, by Wonaglot

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mystery somewhere at sea, October 18, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Quest, parser-based, IF Comp 2021, horror, mystery

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.

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What Heart Heard Of, Ghost Guessed, by Amanda Walker

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Elegantly made, October 12, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Inform, parser-based, IF Comp 2021, horror

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.

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Codex Sadistica: A Heavy-Metal Minigame, by grave snail games

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The power of metal compels you!, October 6, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: comedy, IF Comp 2021, parser-based, Inform

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.

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Hard Puzzle, by Ade McT

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Redefining the word "puzzle", February 3, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: horror, parser-based, Inform

Hard Puzzle is a one-room parser-based game by Ade McT, published in 2015. You are a person held in a garage against your will, and you're told that you must assemble a three-legged stool to please your mysterious benefactors, or tormentors, called The Family.

The setting is that of undefined post-apocalyptic sci-fi or horror, with only dramatic proper nouns like The Event hinting at what grave terrors may have occurred in the past. The writing style is terse, which gives the game some sense of mystery - the player doesn't get to learn much about the exact circumstances of the game world, or even what's really at stake with this whole stool assembling operation.

Mystery really is the key thing about Hard Puzzle, and this extends to the gameplay and implementation too. You deal with a lot of different objects during your time in the garage - the stool parts, plus other miscellaneous things you find around the room - and figuring out how to use any of it is, ostensibly, a large part of the gameplay. Many items are discovered by taking apart other items, but the game never explicitly lists what you get when doing this. You have to keep manually checking your inventory, trying to keep a mental track of what is new, what might be useful and how everything connects to everything else. It's all somewhere between engrossing and frustrating.

With the slightly unhelpful and rough implementation, along with certain mechanical quirks that may very well be bugs, the game comes across a bit rough around the edges. Then again, it is said to be a "speed-IF", so maybe this is understandable. Many would even say that the technical shortcomings add to the odd charm of the game.

(Spoiler - click to show)The repetitive nature of trying to assemble the stool eventually makes you question the whole ordeal. You start wondering if, like the intro suggests, there could be a way to escape. As the player is stuck in the minimalistic environment doing the same things over and over again, even the mechanical quirks themselves acquire a significant meaning. For example, I personally started wondering whether the weirdly teleporting assembled stool could be used to leave the room. The way the fourth wall is broken here and there also casts doubt on everything the game claims to be about. Are the apparent implementation flaws a part of the design after all? What parts of Hard Puzzle are red herrings? Is it really a speed-IF? Can you take anything about the game for certain on a meta-level?

(Spoiler - click to show)Hard Puzzle is a trollish meta-game that is veiled in misinformation and deception. It's a puzzle game where the player knows neither the rules or the objective. It's a dysfunctional sandbox with a lot of moving parts that don't connect to each other. It's a contrived enigma. My opinion is that while the meta aspect is clever, it is essentially a game designed to waste the player's time.

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The Eleusinian Miseries, by Mike Russo

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Delectable and farcical, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: comedy, IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform

The Eleusinian Miseries is a parser-based comedy game by Mike Russo, published in 2020. The game is about partaking in secret religious rites in Eleusis, (Spoiler - click to show)although in practice itís close to just being an excuse to gorge on food and drink, at least as far as the main character is concerned.

The game is, above all else, a puzzler. It consists of several mostly self-contained scenes with clear goals on what to do. The design is streamlined enough that itís usually not hard to figure out what to do, although sometimes locating needed items or understanding how to complete the various objectives might be a problem. I personally got stumped at a few parts, but I wouldnít say the design here is unfair in any respect.

The writing is rather verbose but polished. The game presents itself as a farce, and it definitely has some comical, unfortunate situations in store for the hero. The narrator voice has a lot of personality, being jovial yet a bit dainty and spoiled - it really fits the character of a cultured wastrel with a short attention span.

A part of me was expecting the game to go even further in some respects. The tone of the comedy strives to stay rather clean and prim at all times, which might clash a little bit with the hedonism- and debauchery-laden setting. Then again, Iím not too familiar with the major inspirations behind the story, or historical farce in general. Maybe this is the most authentic approach for this style? I couldnít say.

With around 2 hours playtime and a detailed implementation that is fun to mess around with, thereís a good amount of content to be found in The Eleusinian Miseries. Itís worth checking out for a solid puzzler, especially if youíre interested in anything pertaining to ancient Greece.

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The Impossible Bottle, by Linus Ňkesson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Intricately realized puzzling, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Dialog

The Impossible Bottle is a parser-based game by Linus Ňkesson, published in 2020. In it, you play as a six-year old girl who has to clean up and help do other chores around the house. Things are complicated by the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)she and her family seem to live inside a fractal arrangement of doll houses. Or maybe itís all just the power of the girlís imagination?

The gameplay is all about puzzles. The core mechanics here are really clever, supported by a well-designed and responsive world that encourages (and demands) experimentation. I was a bit frustrated by (Spoiler - click to show)how chronically helpless Dad is, but I guess most games wouldnít exist if everyone else in the game world were more competent than the player.

The writing is efficient. The tone is sometimes ordinary, sometimes imaginative and whimsical. It does its job without wasting words.

The game has three clearly defined acts, but it still feels like a loosely structured ďsandboxĒ puzzle game at heart. The drawback with this approach is that the gameplay can feel a bit uneven. I solved some puzzles before even realizing they were puzzles, and then, at other times, didnít have the slightest idea on how to even begin accomplishing some task. Some random or timed events can also add to the confusion.

The way the game is playable either parser-based or choice-based is a nice and unique touch. I played the online version and thought the presentation was all around smooth.

The Impossible Bottle is an impressive puzzle game that makes me interested in the potential of Dialog. Even though my playthrough had some small snags and confusing moments, itís probably nothing that canít be fixed in a post-comp version. Itís fundamentally a solid title that does some unique things, and itís simply fun to mess around with.

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Turbo Chest Hair Massacre, by Joey Acrimonious

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The things people will do for love, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform, comedy

Turbo Chest Hair Massacre is a parser-based comedy game by Joey Acrimonious, published in 2020. In it, youíre a woman about to go on a date when you suddenly discover you have some light chest hair you need to shave.

The gameplay is exploration-heavy - you mainly search around your apartment for ways to get rid of your chest hair. You are also able to switch between the point of view of yourself and a robotic colleague who is present. The narrative voice completely changes depending on who youíre playing as, which is a very nice touch that adds a lot of personality to the experience.

The tone of the story is pretty light-hearted, although sometimes all the naughtiness, innuendo and (Spoiler - click to show)the main characterís recklessly stupid behavior can border on the limits of good taste. Personally, I think good taste is a bit overrated anyway, but this is still useful to note since some players will inevitably find crassness of any sort a turn-off.

I feel like itís hard to get enough information about your surroundings in this game. The room descriptions only mention objects on a very general level; if you want to know whatís really inside some room, you need to examine individual things to reveal more individual things again and again. Opening a container doesnít seem to automatically list its contents, and the ďsearchĒ command can be criminally unhelpful at times too. It doesnít help that the rooms are generally full of red herrings and other detail that makes it harder to know whatís really relevant to the problem at hand. One final layer of confusion stems from the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)the two main characters see the world slightly differently, each listing different things in their room description - realizing this is necessary to solve some of the puzzles in the game.

Since most of the gameplay is centered around nearly unguided exploration and discovery, and the design is non-linear, plus the gameís train of thought can be rather eccentric at times (Spoiler - click to show)(you have to weaponize old yogurt against the final bossÖ?), my playthrough of the game felt sprawling, aimless and mildly desperate. But I guess you could say itís exactly what the story was going for, since the main character too doesnít know what sheís doing, and sheís willing to go to immense lengths just to rid herself of a bit of hair. Fortunately, thereís a walkthrough - it should come in handy with a few of the puzzles here.

This game could be worth playing if you want something with personality and outrageous humor, and are willing to deal with a lot of unguided exploration.

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Sage Sanctum Scramble, by Arthur DiBianca

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Wordplay game with a brutal challenge, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform, fantasy, wordplay

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.

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