The House on Sycamore Lane is a very traditional haunted house mystery. It’s also riddled with bugs and typos. Despite this, I actually quite enjoyed it. None of the bugs I noticed were game breaking, and they also did not stand in the way of solving the puzzles. The puzzles were generally really nice, albeit a tad easy. What I liked about them were how they were integrated in the story, that they always felt reasonable and that they give a nice flow to playing the game. The story was nothing special, but decent enough and provided a certain level of immersion, enough to make it enjoyable. Some extensive testing and a good update could turn The House on Sycamore Lane into a rather good piece of IF.
For the Moon Never Beams is a tricky horror puzzler, though most of the trickiness comes from not really knowing what you are supposed to achieve, rather than from being easily devoured. I would have appreciated some inner thoughts from the protagonist giving clues about the end goal. Should I flee or should I fight? Is there hope of salvation at the end? After having played it twice (earning 10 and 70 points out of 100, respectively) I still have no clue. This, I felt, was also its greatest weakness. On the other hand, both the writing and the implementation are solid, and the pacing – emphasized by a constant fear of dying – is great.
Bradford Mansion is a largish puzzle oriented parser mystery that is possible to solve without understanding anything of the mystery. When I finished it (after 2 hours, 10 minutes and 24 seconds according to the end message) there were still four locked things, and 12 more points to achieve (out of 74). Perhaps a lot is hidden behind these points, perhaps not; without them, at least, the story was quite thin, with the biggest mystery being the behaviour of the butler. Throughout the mansion there are, however, a large amount of symbolic paintings, hinting at a strange and deep mystery that reasonably should stretch far beyond my 12 missing points. I am curious as to what I have missed, but perhaps not sufficiently to play it over again.
I don’t always mind a thin story if the puzzles are good, and for the most part, they were good enough, although not very original. Both interestingly and frustratingly, however, Bradford Mansion is written with a seemingly custom engine, running directly in the console. One one hand, this gave it somewhat of a classic parser feeling, though on the other hand, everything goes much slower without the shortcuts and assistance that modern engines provide. You can’t use pronouns, you often have to write the full name of a thing, the up arrow doesn’t bring up the last command and there was no abbreviation for ‘look’.
During my playthrough I ended up consulting the walkthrough twice. While the last one was the matter of me overlooking a fairly obvious clue, the first was the result of a very strict parser to the point where I never could have guessed the correct syntax. In fact, the parser is generally quite unforgiving here, with many reasonable synonyms not being accepted. For anyone else that would like to play Bradford Mansion – and it’s still quite likeable, despite its limitations – I’m fairly certain that you don’t need to ‘search’, nor to ‘look under/inside/etc’, something that would have reduced my amount of moves significantly had I known it.
Old Jim’s Convenience Store is somewhat simple and unoriginal, but rather sweet nonetheless. It is essentially a very short and easy parser puzzler, made slightly more difficult by having to guess a few verbs. It’s also quite unpolished, something that rather detracted significantly from my enjoyment of it. The writing is decent enough, but also nothing special. Still, it only takes about 15 minutes to play through it, and that much it was definitely worth.
Out is a puzzleless parser game that can be completed in less than two minutes, though it is worth stopping to explore the sights on your journey. The implication of the title and the blurb is what it seems to be, but although labeled as a slice-of-life it is actually much more. For such a short IF it is very deep and thoughtful and it surprised me in a good way.
Remedial Witchcraft is a really lovely game with spells and wands and potions and a cat. As a puzzler, it is an easy one, yes, but the puzzles are great too, well conceived and perfectly implemented; they’re generally not obvious from the start, though always solvable through experimentation and a bit of pondering. The protagonist is the most charming character I’ve encountered so far in this year’s IFComp and I really hope I will meet her again in a sequel!
ALICE BLUE may only run in a Linux terminal, but its general design is more akin to such Twine games where some words in the text are highlighted and can be clicked, which in turn changes bits and pieces of the text. In this case, the game, or the story, seems more abstract than most. You navigate memories and are supposed to be able to enter several rooms throughout it. I’m afraid I very rarely am able to enjoy such IF, but was very impressed with the fact that ALICE BLUE was written as a bash script – a very limited programming language – and really well implemented. For a game in a terminal, it looks very good, and it has nice music too!
The Untold Story is somewhat peculiar. With a touch of nature, some wizardry, a bit of classic symbolism and a protagonist dealing with loss, it builds on several familiar tropes, some of which they don’t feel like they belong together at all, not in the way they are mixed here. On top of that, the protagonist is extremely religious (which doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the story as a whole) and several actions are assessed morally out of the blue.
The main problem, however, is that the game is severely underimplemented and quite bug-ridden. It is functional enough to finish, but I had to resort to parser-aware methods (such as dropping an item in one place in order to pick up another item in another place) to progress, and repeatedly got stuck trying to perform an action that was hinted at being possible but the parser wouldn’t allow.
As a light puzzle driven IF, The Untold Story has it’s good parts too. The setting was rather nice, and many of the descriptions were good. In general I would regard it as a very easy game, as the solutions to most puzzles were rather obviously hinted at. If the game receives a significant update that fixes the implementation issues, I would recommend that the hinting be toned down a bit as well. I’m sure it can be turned into a decent game, but it’s just not there yet.
Treasure Hunt in the Amazon is not a great game by today’s standards. It shows that it was originally crafted in 1985, and I suppose it was a relatively decent game back then. The remake is certainly decently implemented and lets you disable all the elements of time and randomness that made the original difficult to finish on a first playthrough. Without such restrictions, however, the game became surprisingly easy; the map is not big, the verbs don’t have to be guessed, the descriptions are sparse, and an automap makes it easy to navigate. In the end it took about 15 minutes to play through. It was nice to play, but rather as a curiosity – a way to experience a classic from the eighties through the comfort of the present.
Surrealism and dreamscapes is something that interactive fiction, a medium where anything that can be expressed in words can be experienced, is particularly suited for. In The Four Eccentrics, you literally dive right into a very peculiar dream. Already the opening landscape, a park filled with globes containing other dreams, sparks the imagination in ways that visual media cannot. From there, the game opens up to a fabulous world of wonders and strangeness.
In a dreamscape such as this, there’s always a danger that navigation becomes an issue of some difficulty; if diamonds are food and words are currency, how do you even begin to guess the verb? The Four Eccentrics handles this very well, and although you can do several unorthodox things in its dream, most of them come rather natural.
In a way, the basics of the story, your mission in the game, is an archetypical one, which makes it easier to find your way forward and finally reach the conclusion. I liked this contrast. Two other surrealistic games I have enjoyed are Shade and Sub Rosa. The Four Eccentrics is very different from either of these, though somewhat closer to the latter. In particular, more things are clear, much thanks to the world being populated by several NPCs to assist you on your way.
To be honest, there is room for plenty of polish for The Four Eccentrics to become a truly enjoyable experience; I’ve seen descriptions coming before they should and others that linger on until the end, objects that are both there and not (but not in a dreamy way), and at least one case of serious disambiguation problems. Still, it was a very enjoyable game, and it certainly has the potential of becoming a classic.