Reviews by AKheon

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The Best Man, by Stephen Bond

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Slightly elusive but rich, October 9, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: drama, IF Comp 2021, choice-based, Twine

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, by V Dobranov

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A taste for horror, October 7, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IF Comp 2021, horror

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 Waiting Room, by Billy Krolick

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Still waiting..., October 3, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: horror, IF Comp 2021, choice-based, Twine

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.


Killing Me Softly, by Fobazi M. Ettarh

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Sticks and stones and words may break my bones, March 13, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: educational, twine

Killing Me Softly is a choice-based game by Fobazi M. Ettarh, published in 2016. It's a type of an educational title; it has a simple story line, but more than anything else, its intention is to illustrate how microaggressions work in practice through simulated examples.

You play as one of two characters: Alex, a white gay male, or Leslie, a black disabled woman. As you attempt to live your everyday life, your co-workers and other random people often say inappropriate things in your vicinity, and you can (typically) choose to either call out this behavior or stay quiet. Some of the choices may become blanked out if you get too stressed from dealing with all the hassle, (Spoiler - click to show)although on my multiple playthroughs I got the impression that this mechanic is mostly an illusion, and that most of these blanked out choices will always be blanked out regardless of your playstyle.

The game has a pretty good presentation. The layout has two parts to it - the left side has options and right side has the story text. The colors and fonts are clean and readable, but there are some things about the technical quality that could be slightly better: some of the writing is a little unpolished, and I found one bug too: (Spoiler - click to show)at one point in Alex's campaign, someone makes a rude comment about you and your Indiana Jones-costume. I then tried to talk to my supervisor, which caused a "Error: bad evaluation" text to appear on the screen.

I can't say the game entirely works as a story-driven experience. The story is short and mostly centered around its educational topic, and so I felt like I didn't really get to understand the two main characters as people - only as identities. But playing the game and reading how the story unfolds does generate some feelings of frustration and bitterness - even if a bit shallow, it does have some type of an impact on the player.

*sigh*

Finally, as you might have guessed from the fact that the topic here is microaggressions, this game is indeed very much rooted in Critical Social Justice, an ideology with a lot of postmodern baggage. If you decide to play it, I recommend keeping an open mind, but do pay attention to the broader implications of what the game is saying. (Spoiler - click to show)In my opinion, the attitude here is rather pessimistic, even infantilising, as it portrays normal adult humans routinely spiralling into depression and sleepless nights by clumsily well-intentioned but rude mannerisms and words.

The game is very linear, with most of the story unfolding the same way regardless of your choices. It takes around 15 minutes to complete the first time around, but it has a bit of extra replay value too if you want to see both Alex's and Leslie's stories. I'm not sure I'd recommend it for either educational purposes or as a fun pastime, but I guess there are worse ways to spend 15 minutes.


The Shadow In The Snow, by Andrew Brown

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Somewhere between cozy and clunky, December 13, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IF Comp 2020, horror

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, by Jack Sanderson Thwaite
Otherworldly and ominous, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: fantasy, IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Twine

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, by Peter Eastman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Phantom considerations, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: drama, IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Twine

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.


The Turnip, by Joseph Pentangelo

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The taste of a turnip, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IF Comp 2020, surreal

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.


The Place, by Ima

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
It's a very elusive place, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Twine, surreal

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.


You Couldn't Have Done That, by Ann Hugo

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Genuine, unpretentious storytelling, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IF Comp 2020, drama

You Couldn't Have Done That is a choice-based game by Ann Hugo, published in 2020. You play as an autistic teenager who starts a job at a clothing store.

The gameplay is quite linear. You have the occasional choice in what to do or say, but it usually doesn't make more than a minor difference in the following story text. However, (Spoiler - click to show)there is a reason for this - the main character finds herself unable to do certain things when stressed out; that's where the title of the game "You Couldn't Have Done That" becomes significant.

The story is written with just enough detail that it's light to read, but it also illustrates quite well what challenges there might be in retail work for an autistic person. The writing is believable, and I like the main character too - she has her uncertainties, but she's still willing to face her fears and earnestly try doing her new job. The way the color of the background changes to illustrate her anxiety is a nice touch; together with the changing background music it made (Spoiler - click to show)the encounter with Janice feel quite oppressive.

As for the level of polish, there are a few typos like "ettiquete", and the second music track with piano sounds a bit off, as if it doesn't loop properly. But still, the game generally works and does its job. It's worth a try for a short but emotional story-driven experience.



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