Reviews by Denk

Inform

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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.


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.


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.


The Incredibly Mild Misadventures of Tom Trundle, by B F Lindsay

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent first hour followed by Bullhockey-like puzzlefest, December 8, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

I liked the beginning of this game a lot. The story is on rails with a puzzle here and there, which increases immersion. After 1-2 hours (depends on how fast you are), the game turns into a puzzlefest very similar to the Bullhockey games. I have played both Bullhockey games for a while, but they couldn't hold my interest, in the long run, so I never finished those.

I think I played for four hours and got 155 points out of 400 while I tried not to peek too much on the walkthrough. So the game is definitely huge. I do like a good long puzzlefest, but for some reason, this part of the game is not for me.

Perhaps because too many similar standard objects (chairs, tables etc in most rooms) must be searched and examined, too many locked doors must be attempted to be unlocked with each key (confusing, as the game, in the beginning, can figure out which key to use) and there are too many keys to keep track of. All this becomes rather tedious with only a few clever puzzles (maybe there are some deeper into the game). Perhaps just a combination of all these things.

I think the game would be more fun if the tedious puzzles were removed and only the good ones were kept. A lot of locations could also be removed, as they seem to be there mainly for realism, which isn't necessary.

Still, the beginning is truly excellent and I wanted to see the end, so I copied the very long walkthrough into the command line (had to cut it into 25 pieces) to see the ending, as I didn't feel like playing through the whole game to see the ending.

If BF Lindsay ever makes a game with the same gameplay style throughout as the beginning of this game, I would love to play it. Also, if he is able to improve his puzzlefests, I would like to play those too. Still, if you liked the Bullhockey games, you will probably like the entire game.


Entangled, by Dark Star

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Well implemented old-school game with lots of conversation, December 7, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

This is a very well implemented game, old-school in the sense that you need to examine and search a lot. But modern when it comes to the number of endings and how much you actually can ask the NPCs about.

In this game you get to talk to a lot of people and you can ask them about lots of stuff. You might get some proposals on what to ask about if you TALK TO the NPCs, though these proposals are not exhaustive. When I first finished the game, it was without hints, and I got 35 out of 50 possible points. The ending tells you a lot about the fate of the many NPCs, so you might want ot play again to get all the 50 points. I tried to replay it once. This time I understood much more, but didn't get any more points. Then I decided to stop.

For what it is trying to be, I think this game succeeds. If you don't mind examining and searching a lot in addition to "standard puzzles" I think you will like this one.


Elsegar I: Arrival, by Silas Bryson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A few puzzles and a big maze, December 7, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: inform

This game seems to be a test game for someone who is just starting to learn Inform. It doesn't appear very bugged, but there is almost no story, a few puzzles and then a huge maze. I mapped more than 60 rooms in the maze before I gave up. What there is before the maze isn't horrible, but nothing special either. Feels like someone just wanted to create a game real quick though.

The maze is not a classical IF maze (no need to drop objects to distinguish the locations) but it is more logical, i.e. if you go east you can get back by going west etc. Still, the location descriptions are identical so it may make it slightly easier if you drop objects at certain locations. However, the real problem with the maze is, that it does not mention which directions you can go, so you have to try by trial and error to figure out which directions you can go in each location. And I wasn't sure if it is only N/S/E/W in all locations or if I should also try NW/NE/SE/SW and up/down. It appears as if N/S/E/W is sufficient though.

If you like mapping big mazes, you might like this one.


Seasonal Apocalypse Disorder, by Zan and Xavid

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Time travel to solve puzzles, December 7, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

This time travel puzzle game has some original mechanics and nice puzzles. You have to save the world from the Order of the Fiery Doom. There are several endings, though some of them are not accessible depending on what you did earlier in the game. Most puzzles were good, some easy, some a bit tricky. Except for a few uncritical bugs, the implementation was good. The writing was good too, though some of the comedic solutions did not fit so well with the writing which didn't feel like it was supposed to be funny. Still, a good atmospheric puzzle parser game.


BYOD, by n-n

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A very short but entertaining IT adventure, December 6, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

This game starts out when you arrive on your first day as an IT intern at McKenzie & Lloyds. The game is quite original. I would spoil it if I say much more. I managed to find two different endings. Not sure if there are more, but I don't think so.

In the time of writing, there is a sort of "bug" if I play the included zblorb-file with Windows Frotz: When the game begins there is a quote. You then press a key to continue but then the first three sentences of the introduction are not displayed. However, all I had to do was to start the online version, read the first three lines there and then continue playing using Frotz. Thus it did not affect my rating. (EDIT: later I have found this to happen with other games too when using Windows Frotz. I have switched to Lectrote, which doesn't seem to have that problem)

Also, the online version has a very cool presentation: An apparent DOS-screen where you can click on seven different files, with some related but not required information and a nice demo in the style of old commodore 64/Amiga demos.

The puzzles and game mechanics are fine. This game is quite short, but enjoyable as long as it lasts. If you don't mind short games, I can recommend this one.

PS: A note on my ratings: (Spoiler - click to show)On IFDB I rate games by how much I enjoy them, not for how long I am enjoying them. Thus short games can get 5 stars if I am highly entertained as long as it lasts. This is in contrast to how I rate games in IFComp, where the longer games get higher ratings if I am equally entertained (based on the two first hours).



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