Reviews by Denk

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Time's Enigma, by Jim MacBrayne

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Time travel with decent homebrew parser, February 3, 2021
by Denk
Related reviews: Homebrew parser

(Played on Windows - can run on Mac using Wine somehow)
This rather new game from 2020 is a very good old-school puzzlefest with minimal story and a good parser (Infocom-like, no undo).

Following a heated discussion with your old college professor, you are pushed into his "Time Manipulator" and sent to another time an place. You are told to find some evidence of where and when you are before you return. The first step is to figure out how to operate the Time Manipulator. After that, you can travel to many known more or less historical places.

All the puzzles are fair, though I needed a single hint from the author to complete the game. And I needed one more hint to get the best ending. However, the game has been updated recently, so that the best ending is better hinted. If you type AUTHOR while playing, you will get his contact information. Jim replied very fast in a friendly manner, so you don't need to worry about that there isn't a Walkthrough available in case you get stuck. Many of the puzzles are about handling different mechanisms, though more traditional puzzles are present too. From a logical point of view, you may sometimes wonder, how a clue for one time period is to be found in another time period. But that isn't really the purpose of this game. The purpose is an entertaining puzzlefest. Some might find some of the puzzles too easy but for me, they were just right.

The game has an inventory limit. As in many games with inventory limits, there is a remedy for that problem, though your inventory limit will not be infinite. While playing this is not a problem at all, as you can have your objects in a central place. Only when you reach the end of the game, which objects you bring might be important. However, in the newest version (February 1st 2021), It is pretty well hinted which objects you should bring (or at least how to figure it out). I encourage you to find the best ending (maximum points) as it is more fun than the easier ending.

Jim's style is such, that most location descriptions mention what was once in the location and that most of it is gone when you arrive. Thus, there will only be a few things necessary to examine in each room. Thus you don't need to examine countless of scenery objects. I like this approach. However, you may sometimes need to look behind or under objects too.

NPC's are extremely rare and it could have been fun with a few more NPCs, which could also be a little more active.

Nevertheless, this was an entertaining game I recommend if you like old-school puzzlefests.


The Mines of Lithiad, by Jack Lockerby

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A well-implemented PAW game from 1992, February 3, 2021
by Denk
Related reviews: STAC, The Quill, PAW

(Spectrum version reviewed - legally available from http://www.zenobi.co.uk/ )
Jack Lockerby was one of the most prolific homegrown authors on the ZX Spectrum and c64. Luckily the ZX Spectrum versions have been made available by John Wilson, who owned Zenobi Software and the right to distribute these games.

The Mines of Lithiad is definitely one of the better ones. As it is made with PAW, it is often possible to use 4 words, similar to e.g. PUT BALL IN BOX or GET PEN FROM BASKET. However, whenever two words are sufficient to describe the action, you should stick to two words.

The plot: Cavilan, the last surviving dragon, has chosen you to rescue her egg from the clutches of the Master and his band of Orcs.

Once you are past the introduction location, the game starts out with a large area with mostly empty locations. Though several of these have the same location description, it is not at all a maze, as the map is very logically laid out. I guess the main purpose of this map layout is to make it a bit challenging to solve a specific puzzle within a time limit. Here, I should add, that there are a few real time elements. These real time elements are very rarely a problem, especially as you can save as often as you like quite quickly with a free ZX Spectrum emulator like Fuse. So even if you don't like real time elements in IF, I recommend that you try this one.

And if you dislike inventory limits, you should know, that you can find a solution to that quite early in the game, so that isn't a problem either.

Once you are past the big opening area, the map becomes more standard with lots of fun puzzles, some original as well as a few classic puzzles.

I never had serious guess-the-verb problems but I needed a hint for two puzzles. They weren't unfair, so with more patience, you might be able to solve it without hints.

Very entertaining, certainly one I can recommend.


Return to the Castle, by John Wilson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent Z-code sequel arrives after 31 years, December 21, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: PunyInform, Inform

(.z3 version reviewed - also available on vintage computers)
It has been 31 years since the classic ZX Spectrum game "Retarded Creatures and Caverns" arrived and now John Wilson has finally made a sequel, this time in Inform 6 using the PunyInform library so that it can be published as z-code for modern IF-players as well as the retro-community. There are still only a few PunyInform games out there, and I have only played a few before this. My impression is, that PunyInform maintains the "good parser feel" of Inform without sacrificing something crucial. The only "speciality" seems to be, that you cannot UNDO. However, in this game you are not told what is inside a container when you open it. You must SEARCH it (or LOOK IN it) if you want to know. This was the default behaviour of earlier PunyInform versions but could be changed by the author.

Back to the game:
Once again we follow Algy as he returns to the castle some 30 years later to gain gold and glory. There are several references to the first game but you do not need to have played it to play this. Still, I would recommend that you play the accessible Adventuron version of the previous game first, as it is a good game and it has a decent parser (not all Adventuron games have such a good parser - perhaps Adventuron has been improved significantly over the years). With this sequel, John Wilson has captured the feeling of returning to a place many years after, which adds something to the game.

Return to the Castle (RttC) is a relaxed comedy (fun but not hilarious) with some good puzzles of medium difficulty, which is what I prefer. Everything was well done and I enjoyed RttC very much.

The difficulty level has often a big impact on how much I enjoy a game and therefore also the rating. To me, the difficulty level was just right. Others may find it too easy or too hard. However, a walkthrough is now available so everyone should be able to finish this game. Recommended to all puzzle lovers.


Alien Research Centre 3: Footprints In The Snow, by John Wilson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short but good Inform game with strong parser, December 21, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform, PunyInform

(z3-version)
This game can be played independently of the first two games. This is the first PunyInform game by John Wilson that I have played. I have tried other games by John Wilson, but this is clearly the game with the strongest parser. You are never in doubt if the game understands commands like LOOK BEHIND or LOOK UNDER 'object' and the game understands commands like GET ALL FROM BIN (fictive example).

This is the second PunyInform game I play, and as the first one (Tristam Island Demo) I rarely notice that I am playing a game with a library optimized for 8-bit machines. Well, if you go looking for unimplemented verbs you will find them, such as SING, PRAY, BLOW etc. though such verbs can easily be implemented if the author wants to. Fortunately, the game tells you whenever you try to apply a verb not known by the game.

EDIT: The previously mentioned bugs are not present in the newest version.

The game is fairly easy and can be completed without maximum points. Thus I played it twice to get the last points. Recommended.


An Everyday Tale of a Seeker of Gold, by John Wilson and Sean Doran

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Decent "homegrown" first effort from 1986, December 19, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: The Quill, Adventuron, DAAD

(browser version - port made with Adventuron)
This is a fun little spoof of The Hobbit with some nice puzzles and humour. Some of the puzzles are "pun-based". However, the "genre" 'homegrown British text adventures from the 80s' is to some extend something you need to learn how to play, just as you need to learn how to play parser games in general. To some extend you need to be more accurate about which verbs you apply in these homegrown games from the 80s. Still, some verbs and phrases became a sort of standard within that "genre". Also, do not expect a lot of feedback if you try an incorrect command. You will never know if a verb is accepted by the game unless you find that it works.

Add to this, that this was the author's first effort (though the browser port I played was first made in 2018), you must expect a few guess-the-verb/phrase issues here and there. However, there is a sort of indirect limited "hint system" in the game, though it is not clear if it is intended to be used or only if you are really stuck. I used it whenever I could, and still, I needed to consult a walkthrough a few times.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this quite a lot. If you are unfamiliar with British homegrown text adventures from the 80s, I propose that you see it as a learning curve. If you are stuck for a longer time, don't hesitate to consult a walkthrough. You will learn as you go along and you will get the hang of the style and probably solve most puzzles by yourself anyway.


Tristam Island, by Hugo Labrande

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Review of full game: Very good!, December 17, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: PunyInform, Inform

After playing the demo in September, I was very much looking forward to this game. I wasn't disappointed.

The game starts as you have arrived on this apparently(?) deserted island after crashing your plane at sea. Since I don't want to spoil anything, I just want to say that the game can roughly be divided into four parts of different lengths, and that the demo only covers the first part.

The genre of this game is "Mystery". In case the exact genre of the game is important to you, you should know (Spoiler - click to show)that the game is not science fiction nor fantasy but purely realistic.

The game comes with some invisiclues and a post card. I am not sure if the post card is intended to be found inside the game, at least I did not find it, and it wasn't mentioned in the walkthrough available form CASA. So I first read it after completing the game.

I needed help with a single puzzle, and was later annoyed that I did not figure it out myself, so that puzzle was fair enough: (Spoiler - click to show)I did not realize that I would get a different response when trying to search the buckets while on the floor, instead of searching them while on the mezzanine.

However, the solution was NOT in the invisiclues. As a consequence, I read the clues for the wrong question by accident. I think the invisiclues could be improved here: (Spoiler - click to show)In the first room in the white house, there is a door to the north. It is not clear what it leads to, but I expected that there was clues for this door. Since there weren't any clues mentioning this door, I thought the door was actually "Major's office door" and read the clues for that, too late realizing that it had to be another door. I think the solution is to make some clues for the "contraption door" appear before "Major's office door", even if only giving vague hints if you don't want to give clues for it.

In the end, I had to look at the walkthrough on CASA to solve that puzzle.

Another problem was the final puzzle which had a (for me) Guess-the-verb/phrase/disambiguation problem: (Spoiler - click to show)X TRANSMITTER SAYS: "The dial of the transmitter...", which made me think that I should TURN DIAL, which works in other parts of the game. Then I tried X DIAL and was told about the geiger counter, so I left the geiger counter outside the COMMS room to avoid that disambiguation. Back in the COMMS room I once again tried TURN DIAL and got: "You'll have to specify if you want to turn it left or right." Thus I tried TURN DIAL LEFT and TURN DIAL RIGHT but that wasn't understood. I tried the same with "transmitter" and "radio". Looking at the walkthrough I realized that the answer was TURN KNOB RIGHT, i.e. the noun KNOB was required. Looking back at the X TRANSMITTER response, I see that the knob is mentioned. Still, I think the misleading responses to TURN DIAL/RADIO/TRANSMITTER should be avoided. I do acknowledge that many players will figure out the right noun as it is mentioned in the text. Still it would be good to get rid of the misleading response.

Despite my few problems, the parser is good and there were no really hard puzzles, so I think most experienced players will solve it without needing help with the puzzles. Some players prefer very challenging puzzles. Perhaps, they will find this game too easy. I can only say that I enjoyed the game a lot and recommend it very much.

Review of Demo:(Spoiler - click to show)
I just completed this free demo. I am not sure, but I think I used about 1.5 hours to complete it without hints(*). The full game should be 2-3 times bigger (I scored 34 out of 100 points). I am very much looking forward to the full game, which should arrive on the 20th of November. I have a feeling that the end of the game is going to be even better. If so, this might be changed to a 5-star review.

About this demo: The game starts as you have arrived on this apparently(?) deserted island after crashing your plane at sea. There are some fair not too hard puzzles, some more original than others, but all entertaining. Of course, the ending is a cliffhanger making you want to play the whole game.

(*):Only once did I feel stuck, and couldn't help looking at some of the screenshots. I got a single "hint" from one screenshot, but I more regard this "puzzle" as a bug. Since the full version hasn't been released yet, perhaps this might be fixed before the release. Except from this, the implementation is very good.
EDIT: This bug in the demo has been fixed.

I played the c64-version and it was surprisingly fast. I guess that is due to PunyInform and Ozmoo. I decided to play using the VICE-emulator and run it at 200% speed. However, you don't need to play around with emulators. You can just download the z3-file and play it with Gargoyle, Frotz etc. The implementation is thorough and the parser felt as good as any other Inform game - I never noticed that I was playing with a reduced Standard Library. So technically, this game is also very good.

The full game will only be $3.99 but try the free demo if you are in doubt. I am very much looking forward to the full game.


The Fishing-Trip - Brown Trout and Goblins, by John Wilson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fun demo game with a few puzzles written with PunyInform, December 11, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: PunyInform, Inform

This game was written to illustrate the option in 'PunyInform' to change between the main characters. It is a fun little game, though its background shows. It is not especially well thought out and it can easily be made unwinnable. However, the player can quickly restart this short game or return to a previous save, so it isn't a big deal. However, as this game was made with PunyInform, there is no undo functionality, so save often. Besides that, the parser feels pretty much as most Inform games.

In this game we follow the two "boggits" Fuddo and Slam (many of John Wilson's games take place in a parody world based on Tolkien's universe). These characters had their first game in 1998, which simply was called "Fuddo & Slam". I haven't played that one, so I can't really comment on any similarities between the games.

In the present game, you can switch between these two characters at any time by typing "Become Fuddo" and "Become Slam". The primary difference is, that Slam is stronger and heavier.

Roughly speaking, this game is a treasure hunt. I don't want to reveal much, as part of the game is figuring out what the objective is from some subtle clues in various locations. You can get 230 points maximum, but not all points are required. Also, expect a few maze-like locations.

There really isn't a story, but there were a few fun puzzles and the parser is strong, as it is written with PunyInform. So if you are looking for a quick uncomplicated game, you might like this.


#VanLife, by Victoria

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Well coded but underlying physics misunderstood, December 10, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Development system unknown

If you found this game difficult it is understandable. Much of the technical information and questions don't make sense. The author (one of them?) clearly has misunderstood one or more basic concepts, especially watts, which the author seems to think is a unit of energy, which it isn't. It is a unit of power, which is energy per time unit. Joule is a unit of energy and 1 watt means 1 joule per second.

The best example in the game to illustrate this is probably:
"Excess Discharge Error: The amount of energy required by the load, 33600 watts, was more than the batteries and inverter could supply, at 4302.7 watts and 90% inverter efficiency."

Here, it becomes clear that the author (one of them?) thinks that watts are energy ("The amount of energy required by the load, 33600 watts, was..."). That wasn't a big deal if watts did not play a big role in the game, but it does. It is at the core of the game, that you shouldn't run out of energy. Most tech questions concerning energy are completely wrong. This is a problem, since many may walk away thinking they learned something. But they learned something wrong, which will confuse them if they later need to learn about watts, joules, power and energy.

One more example:(Spoiler - click to show)"How many watts are required to run the loads of a kettle that uses 26880W per hour for 3 minutes?
-134.4W 1344W -13440W 8064W"

Again, the author thinks that watt is a unit of energy. If the kettle had used 26880 joules per hour, it would make sense to say it used 26880 joules / 20 = 1344 joules after 3 minutes of operation. Best case, this was a trick question (but it isn't), because, if a kettle uses 26880W, it uses 26880W whether you run it for 3 minutes or 10 hours, simply because watts means joules per second. But according to the game, the "right" answer was 1344W.


Most questions seem to hold this misconception. However, I get the impression that more authors might have been working on this game, as parts of the game seem correct, e.g. when looking into the solar panel: "The batteries currently have 1734.9WH of energy" (though it would normally be written Wh, not WH). Here, the author applies an energy unit for energy as she should.

I hope the author will be able to learn from the mistakes and update the game. I think it has the potential to be a good game for people interested in technical stuff, if all the incorrect technical stuff is corrected and the difficulty level is appropriate. Until then I recommend NOT to play it.


How The Elephant's Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings, by Peter Eastman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A slightly interactive series of fun "origin stories", December 9, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Twine

I'm not sure if "origin stories" is correct to apply on this game, since not all of the included stories result in how things really are, but that is part of the fun.

The content warning "Contains bad poetry" tells me that this game doesn't take itself too seriously - it is here to entertain. The title seemed at first a bit silly, but perhaps it was intended. But looking back, the title would actually be fitting for a bedtime story for a child, as it could have revealed what the story was about unlike most titles. So somehow the title makes sense anyway.

I haven't read the book "Just So Stories for Little Children" by Rudyard Kipling, which inspired this game, so I don't know how much the game has in common with that book. Anyway, I am glad Peter Eastman made this game.

I was positively surprised. The writing is really good and humorous. You do have choices but not puzzles. It is more like branching stories. I know that the number of branches can explode if a story keeps branching so it was understandable that the number of choices was a bit limited.

There didn't appear to be bad endings, just different paths to different endings. Thus I did not see any reason to try again, as I was perfectly happy with the path I took. But for as long as it took, I was entertained. A short but fun game.


Sheep Crossing, by Andrew Geng

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not very original, December 8, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

I don't mind short games if they have something original and if they are interesting or ingenious or hilarious etc. But I didn't think this game has much of that, though you might find a few funny responses if you specifically try NOT to solve the puzzles.

This game is an implementation of the classical "Fox, chicken and sack of grain" puzzle where you must cross a river, except that the animals and sack of grain have been replaced with something similar. Besides that, there is an extremely simple puzzle.

Nevertheless, I briefly felt slightly entertained as I couldn't quite remember the solution from my childhood, only parts of it. Luckily, the implementation is fine. After finishing the game, there is a short list of "amusing" things you can try, which was again fine but nothing special.

I think this might be a good game for someone new to parser games, as the player will get a feel of inventory limits, examining stuff, enterable containers etc.

For anyone else, they might be briefly entertained if they have never heard of the "Fox, chicken and sack of grain" puzzle.



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