Reviews by AKheon
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alone is a parser-based horror game by Paul Michael Winters, published in 2020. The game is about a post-apocalyptic scenario where an infectious disease has ravaged the earth and youíre a survivor, just drifting aimlessly... at least until gas runs out of your car.
Itís basically a tightly designed, gloomy puzzle-fest. The design feels pleasantly streamlined - the game world isnít overwhelmingly big, and as befits a world half-empty, most rooms donít have too much to examine either. At least up to a certain point, the challenge of the game feels just right - itís neither too hard or too easy to figure out what youíre supposed to do.
The writing is terse and subdued, which works with this type of horror. The tone of the game manages to be consistently morose, although to criticize something, (Spoiler - click to show)the setting isnít particularly original - from a dark forest to an abandoned gas station to the underground bunker - nor is there any major twist awaiting here that would turn it all upside down in the end. This overall story feels a bit ho-hum, although to the gameís credit, the ending is surprisingly optimistic and leaves a nice feeling, and the gameís focus seems to be on puzzles anyway.
The polish is generally good, although sometimes the implementation felt just slightly lacking. Some things donít exist in the game world that seem like they should, but I donít think there are any problems that really hamper a regular playthrough.
The game can be finished under 2 hours if you donít get stuck on anything for too long. It could be worth a try if you want a solid puzzle-focused adventure and donít mind some unsightly horror imagery.
Academic Pursuits (As Opposed To Regular Pursuits) is a parser-based game by Ruqiyah, published in 2020. In it, youíre a newly tenured professor who has arrived in her new office and has to unpack her things. Along the way, (Spoiler - click to show)you discover that you are not what you seem and have a secret agenda.
Itís a one-room game where the gameplay mostly concerns interacting with objects. You open boxes, take out things and then decide where theyíll end up: on the shelf, on the wall, etc. or straight in the garbage bin. Itís like a small sandbox with a few simulationist mechanics too; for instance, the game keeps track of available shelf space, and you can only hang certain type of objects on the wall.
The storytelling is non-linear and subtle. The player isnít given a very deep motivation at any point - youíre just expected to unpack your things. Examining and interacting with the items you find generates some useful story and flavor text, though, and the game world actually has a lot of detail that rewards the inquisitive player - there is even unique text in response to the multiple different ways you can decorate your office.
This was one of the first games I played during IF Comp 2020, and back then I found that it lacked polish. Dealing with the boxes was a bit awkward, and you could also ďtake passerbyĒ to pick up what should probably be a scenery object. Since then, however, it seems the author has went and fixed a lot of these bugs, so the game probably works much more smoothly nowadays.
Overall, Academic Pursuits is a bit of a mixed bag. The indirect storytelling is interesting, although I do wish the player was given a bit stronger motivation to start with. The gameplay has some meaningful decision making, but it also contains hassle from dealing with dozens of objects and their containers (especially since the coding has - or had - mild roughness here and there). Itís an original idea, at least, so it could be worth checking out if you have 30 minutes and want to try out something different.
Sheep Crossing is a parser-based game by Andrew Geng, published in 2020. In it, you need to take a bear, a sheep and a large cabbage to the other side of a river. If this setup sounds familiar, itís because the game is essentially presenting the age-old ďWolf, goat and cabbage problemĒ in an Interactive Fiction-format.
The writing and implementation are both pretty minimal. The game doesnít establish much of a tone beyond being mildly charming - itís first and foremost just a puzzler. And since the main puzzle is historical, you might already have a decent idea on how to solve it due to cultural saturation alone.
The game works as intended, and it has a few small secrets that you can read about from the ďamusingĒ menu after beating it. But itís overall a somewhat small and light affair, and it can lack surprise value too since the main puzzle is played pretty straight - (Spoiler - click to show)the only real curveball is having to find some grass first to get the sheep to comply. I think the game would have benefitted from going a bit further and possibly featuring some larger twist to the core idea. Still, it could be worth a try if youíre looking for a quick puzzler.
Mortal Kombat: Fire and Ice is a fan-fic parser-based game by James Mullish, published in 2020. In it, you play as Sub-Zero and have to defend Earthrealm by (Spoiler - click to show)walking one screen to the east and punching two guys.
This seems to be a practice game by the author. It only has two rooms and a bare minimum of interactivity; the help-screen also suggests this may be the author's first work.
Neither the writing or the implementation lend themselves to some fantastic Mortal Kombat-brand adventures; the silliest part is how trying to fight most characters results in the default message "Violence isn't the answer to this one". Like, it's Mortal Kombat. When isn't violence the answer to something in this setting?
Congrats to the author for learning the basics of Inform 7. However, as a stand-alone game, there isn't much to see here.
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.
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