Reviews by chairbender

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1-10 of 10


Cape, by Bruno Dias

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A morally challenging superhero tale, September 20, 2016

Definitely worth playing unless you know you don't like the superhero theme. Took me about 2 hours for one playthrough.

I haven't encountered this format before and really liked it. It's choice-based instead of the parser-based stuff I'm used to. I appreciate the fact that it's clear what you can examine and can do, so you don't encounter situations where there's a disconnect between what you want to do and the parser's ability to interpret it.

At the same time, there's still a disconnect at times between what you want to do and what the story will allow you to do. You are roleplaying as someone rather than as yourself. As such, some of the decisions in this game feel less like a question of "what do YOU think is the right thing to do" and more of "what do you want to happen next?". I think I came to this with slightly the wrong assumption, thinking the decisions are about providing a simulation with which to test my decision making ability. After playing, I think I realize more that it's about exploring the consequences of a particular line of thinking (it's a "game" in the sense of being something that lets you play with an idea, rather than being something that you win or lose). Overall, though, I think the main character's mind is pretty made-up with regards to what he's going to do with his newfound powers. I would've appreciated being able to do something else.

The only reason I didn't give this 5 stars is because I like to leave a little room at the top for something absolutely mindblowingly amazing, and this wasn't that (though it was very enjoyable). I don't know if the limitations inherent in a choice-based IF would ever allow for something to achieve the level of 5 stars, for me.


The Warbler's Nest, by Jason McIntosh

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short and simple, September 19, 2016

Good prose and good puzzle design. The puzzles do a good job of hinting towards the solution. If you are experienced with IF, you'll probably find them to be pleasantly easy and not frustrating. If you aren't there's a convenient "hint" website that can give you some tips if you are stuck. There's really only one "puzzle" to speak of in this game, that's pretty much it as far as challenge.

Overall, I have no complaints, but it wasn't particularly engrossing to me. It was short (about an hour) and the subject wasn't particularly interesting to me. Can't really talk about the subject without getting into spoiler territory, all I can say is that this IF didn't leave me "in awe" or anything like that - it just wasn't very memorable. I say that as someone who has never been a fan of short experiences.

You don't really stand to lose anything by playing it though, so go ahead and give it a try at some point.


Photopia, by Adam Cadre

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, unique, and relatively on-rails, December 18, 2015

Likes:
-Not frustrating. The lack of challenging puzzles and presence of an adequate parser and adequate descriptions made it so I didn't encounter any frustrating moments.

-Non-linear storytelling makes things a bit more interesting than if this story were told in a linear fashion as you learn more about the story and piece it together yourself. This approach is not without its problems, though (see dislikes).

-Short. Even if you don't find this to be the most amazing thing ever, it's so short that you probably won't really feel worse off for having played it.

-Use of images and color. It's not particularly flashy, but it's a nice break from typically monochrome IF.

Dislikes:
-Not particularly exciting or touching. The story is quite short, so I don't really have time to develop an attachment to the characters. I don't blame the game for a lack of characterization, I just feel like I need more time with the characters in order to care more about them. Maybe it's my fault for not letting myself get drawn in, but I suspect the non-linear nature of the story also made it a little harder to get drawn in to caring about it. I sure did care about that wolf, though (I have that not uncommon habit of caring more about animals than actual people).

-Not particularly challenging. There aren't really puzzles in this game. I like the sense of accomplishment I get from solving puzzles, so in that regard this game isn't as fun as other games that do have puzzles. I don't think puzzles really fit with the theme of the game, but I can't help myself having a desire to overcome challenges.

-On rails. I didn't get a sense that the presence of a parser and text-based interaction really enhanced the story.

Conclusion
Overall, I recommend giving this game a play due to how short it is. Other than that, I don't think it's as exciting or remarkable an experience as I've gotten from other games. I've come to expect a high level of stimulation and engagement from playing too many video games, though.


Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!, by Steph Cherrywell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Consistent fun, beginner friendly, December 5, 2015

I'm new to IF, but I still had a good time with this game.

In terms of the gameplay, I was never frustrated, but I still found the puzzles to be enjoyable.

I wasn't a big fan of the old (50s? 60s?) setting, but I appreciated the opportunities for humor that it afforded. It made me chuckle quite a few times.

I particularly liked the conversation system. I've been constantly frustrated by conversations in other IF, and having a multiple choice system like this works well, IMO. I've heard a common criticism of this type of interaction is that it feels too much "on rails" and doesn't feel immersive because you're not able to do whatever you want with regards to interacting with a character. I don't really agree with that criticism - in practice, you ARE limited to what you can do with a character even when it's not a multiple choice dialog system. Sure, you can type whatever you want, but a large class of actions are going to receive an identical or very similar non-response, so, effectively, you get the same experience. Even for choices that may seem like valid things to say to a character, the author might simply not have had time to implement responses or the parser might not be good enough to anticipate them. I like the compromise the multiple choice system achieves. Instead of spending time figuring out how I'm supposed to say what I want to say, I can just see my options right away.

The choice-based dialogue may not work so well, though, for a more first-person type of game where you're supposed to get more of a sense of "being your character", and it also has issues with regards to hiding information from players and having the dialog choices change when certain events occur, since, as the player, you don't always know when an event is going to let you say new things to a character. But I still liked it for this game.

I also really liked the inclusion of character portraits when you start a conversation. Just a few images to characterize the characters and give you a bit of an easier time imagining what the author intended adds a lot to the game, in my opinion. I thought the style of these portraits really went well with the style of the game, too.

So, overall, I definitely recommend it if you're new to IF. It's quite short, but it's solid and lacks some stuff that can make other IF frustrating to new players.


Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
A decent Lovecraftian story, but a little frustrating for an IF novice, December 3, 2015

I'm pretty new to IF (though I'm no stranger to video games). I chose to play this game because of the high rating it received. After playing it through to completion, I'm slightly surprised at how it could've gotten such a good rating, given the experience I had with it. The writing in this game is on par with any good Lovecraftian horror story, but as for the actual gameplay, I encountered a number of frustrations and issues that I'm not used to in the other video games and few IF games I've played. Ultimately, my experience with this game was one of frustration and annoyance, but I suspect if I had a few more big IF games under my belt, or I wasn't so used to the fast pace and instant gratification of modern video games but not the pace of IF, it might've been a much better experience for me. That said, I can only judge the game based on how much fun I had with it and compare that to how much fun I have with other games. I took some notes on the parts I had trouble with - I'm sure some of these "issues" are due to my own lack of familiarity with IF, but perhaps it's interesting or useful for future reference to see how someone of my level of experience (and with my addiction to constant stimulation brought on by modern video games) felt and thought as they played the game.

My main criticisms with this game tend to involve failures of the parser, the lack of sufficient description, a lack of describing "affordances" (or what you are currently able to do in a given situation, a necessary feature when your only interface to the world is text), and several glaringly bad puzzles that usually fail due to parser issues, lack of description, or a failure for the game world to do what you want it to do and having to guess what the author wants you to do. It's hard to really get a sense of the problems with the game without pointing to specific examples. The frustrating experience of this game is caused by many little small, specific issues rather than glaring, generic flaws. So, from here on, I'm just going to go through all of the specific, little problems and issues I noticed as I played through the game, and most of it is going to be spoilers. Just know that knowing a few story points or puzzle solutions isn't going to hurt your experience of the game. If anything, it'll make it better.

At some point, you will notice a locked room in the house attic. (Spoiler - click to show)This door is locked, but it has a keyhole, like so many other doors in the game. You may assume that, as with the other doors, this door will not open until you discover a key somewhere else. Also, if you've been paying attention to the writings, you'll know that, at one point, William was kept in here, locked away from the rest of the family. You won't find a key, though. You are supposed to first decide that you should look in the keyhole. You almost NEVER have a reason to do this anywhere else in the game. There's a hint that light is coming through the crack under the door, but that doesn't immediately make you notice that there ISN'T light coming through the keyhole itself. The absence of this keyhole light isn't noted by the description, but, even if there were light coming through the keyhole, you probably wouldn't expect the parser to say something like that - it's just an irrelevant detail. So, it's very unreasonable to expect the player to think to look through the keyhole. Furthermore, you have to perform several actions before you even look in the keyhole. You look at the door, then the lock plate, then the hole, the you look IN the hole. Why make someone go through all the trouble, risking losing some percentage of players at some step in the process as they decide, oh, everything checks out, no reason to keep looking here.

Furthermore, you have to jump to the conclusion that, because the keyhole is dark, it's because a key is in the hole. That's a very unlikely explanation. First of all, why the hell would a room that's been used to lock somebody inside it have a key stuck in the hole on the inside? Second of all, perhaps there's a piece of furniture or covering over the hole? The description hardly hints at all that the hole affords sticking something inside it, if you're even fortunate enough to realize you can look at the keyhole in the first place. Also, if you've had any experience with keyholes in 1999, you'd probably notice that they don't typically go straight through the door. So you wouldn't really think anything of looking in a keyhole and seeing black - you'd think you're looking at the back wall of the key receptacle for this side of the door. Anyway, once you somehow figure out that there's a key in the hole and you can push something in the hole to push the key out, it becomes a good puzzle.

My main criticism with this puzzle is that it's really not hinted at enough and doesn't really make sense in the first place (because why would the key be inside the door, anyway?). In the context of a text adventure where you have many, many rooms to explore, this dramatically magnifies the problem. You don't even know that you CAN open this door at this point, so you might spend your time wandering and wandering elsewhere, spending countless hours of your life seeing the same descriptions over and over again, making no progress. If this was a self-contained puzzle where you had some knowledge that you were supposed to be able to get into the room in order to make progress, that would be fine. Or, if the description of the door hinted more towards the solution. Like, instead of asking the player to look at the door, then look at the keyhole plate, then look at the keyhole, then look IN the hole, just put all that info right there when the player looks at the stupid door.


In the town, you will come across a bum holding a key. (Spoiler - click to show)The bum turns out to be the obstetrician who birthed Edward and the abomination William, something you can discover by asking the bum various questions after giving him some alcohol. I don't really have a problem with this part of the bum puzzle - I thought it was fun to try asking different questions to try to figure out what he's talking about and cross-reference it with the various documents I had read up to this point.

Eventually, though, in order to get the key, you are supposed to convince him that William, who he thought was dead, was not actually dead. I thought that showing him the pages of the Anna's writing found under the child's bed would be sufficient, because it explained exactly what had happened. And I figured my character would be able to fill in the details. But no, it treats it as if you had shown the bum any other useless item, instead of offering a hint like "the bum isn't convinced by what is written" or something to that effect. So, you need to go to the crypt and open the coffin, which you've probably already found at this point, and grab the bones. Now, why would anyone think that showing some random animal skull to somebody, when that person doesn't know where it came from, would have any effect of convincing someone? I could've just brought any old animal skull. Better yet, I could've just told the bum what happened; it's not like showing the skull offers any more solid evidence than my words.

The worst part, though, is that showing the skull is not even enough. Wouldn't your character be able to explain it to the bum? No. You have to keep asking different questions. The types of questions you have to ask are VERY restrictive, and you don't receive any sort of feedback that "it seems he is starting to realize something" or anything like that. I tried asking lots of different things and they kept getting the same responses. How are you to deduce that you're on the right path? You freaking can't. It makes me mad. It's almost laughable when you finally say the "magic words" and then get a large text dump. Why not just let me show the skull and be done with it? Why force me to guess what I'm suppsoed to do? The only challenge is due to the parser not being able to translate what I want to do into actions. How am I supposed to guess the exact way you want me to phrase the question, you stupid parser? It's just making a game challenge by forcing me to get around the limitations of the interface. This was terribly frustrating.


Here's a more general problem with the game - an occasional, but critical, lack of a clear description of the available exits. There's several spots where a room description utterly fails to inform you about an available exit. And there's no "exits" command. Even worse, a few rooms WILL tell you where the exits are when you go in an invalid direction, but many rooms will simply say that you can't go there and that's that. This causes frustration at several points in the game: When trying to find your husband near the start of the game after getting the manor keys, (Spoiler - click to show)the room just south of the pub doesn't tell you that you can go west, which is where you need to go to get to the college. I wasted a bunch of time thinking I had already explored everything because I assumed that the descriptions were exhaustive. And later on, (Spoiler - click to show) when you get to the path near the slaughterhouse with the stump and the trampled sapling, there's no indication that you can go SW (or SE or wherever it was). You NEED to do this in order to make progress. Why is my character able to go there, but not able to see that they can go there?

In general, that class of problems is frustrating because it's only challenging because the author didn't include an adequate description of the room. You generally trust those descriptions, though. So now, if you decide not to trust them, you have to try EVERY possible direction in EVERY room, lest you miss some possible exit. It's a boring, tedious, time consuming process. If you don't happen upon this realization, you'll be stuck wandering around irrelevant areas of the game, thinking you've explored every option and there's some solvable puzzle in one of the rooms you need to do in order to advance. But no, you just made the mistake of trusting the room description. There should've been an accurate representation of the exits, or at least some indication that there's possible exits not in the description, or an "exits" command.

Here's another small gripe - having to close and lock doors before you go to sleep. I understand how it adds to the atmosphere of the game, about not feeling comfortable and feeling vulnerable in your own manor. But, in practice, it just turns out to be WAY unnecesarilly tedious. It starts with you remembering that you left a door open. So you try to leave the room. You idiot, you have to get up first. So you get up, then leave the room. You idiot, you have to put on some clothes for some reason. So you put on clothes and find your way back to the door. "Lock door". The door is open, you idiot, so you can't lock it. Close door. Lock door. Back to bed. How about this, instead - I go to bed, then I get a brief description describing how my character does all these steps for me, which I would have to manually do anyway? It's just unnecesarry tedium and it doesn't add anything to the game that wouldn't be there with just a simple description. This would give the author opportunities to embellish these descriptions to add to that atmosphere. At the very least, if the only way my character can leave the room is to put on clothes, get me the hell up, put on my freaking close for me, and leave the room. I don't care about losing control of my character, I care about having fun, and Mavis Beacon (or even Super Mario) Teaches Typing is always there for me if I want to have a blast typing words that I'm asked to type.

Your kitchen has a pantry.(Spoiler - click to show) That pantry leads to a wine cellar with a puzzle involving bottles, which could've been fun had it not been so poorly implemented. The actual puzzle involving rotating the bottles is actually pretty great - especially with how you have to use the information you learned about the family history. But, in context of the larger game, there's a glaring flaw. I discovered these bottles earlier. I KNEW that this lead to a hidden passageway because the bottles were fixed in place. So I tried all sorts of different commands to try to get my character to thoroughly search these bottles, to no avail. If I was there in real life, I would be pulling, twisting, and feeling every single bottle. But there was no way to get my character to do this. So, having exhaustively tried all sorts of options, I decided there was nothing to be gained here. Later, though, after your Michael uses the wine cellar, your "look" command reveals some new information. Argh. I had already written off this room because I thought I had exhaustively searched it. Plus, if that really was how you got into the room, I would think there would already be a noticeable difference with the bottles even without Michael using it (since obviously people used it before) - at least a different amount of dust or some scratch marks on the floor or hearing a hollow thud when hitting it. None of which happens. So I wasted a bunch of time, as always, exploring other areas of the game because that's what the help text told me to do. But I got nowhere. This should've been hinted at more when you initially explore the bottles, otherwise you may end up just writing them off and forgetting about them. Also, the dream says that "michael is doing something in the basemenet". But the room from the stairs in the pantry is called the "cellar", not "basement". So you may think you need to find some OTHER passageway. Maybe there's an exit in one of the rooms that the description neglects to mention, as has been done so many other places in the game? Time to waste some time...

Let's talk about the librarian at the library. The interaction here is godawful. (Spoiler - click to show)It's possible to discover this information in another way, but it doesn't excuse this small, stupid puzzle. Let's not even talk about trying to get Michael's ID. It's another "magic word" puzzle, because the parser absolutely fails to produce the desired result, even after trying so many different commands. No "librarian, give book", no "ask librarian about book" (replacing book with the full book name). The actual command that worked for me was "ask librarian FOR book". This is a problem, to me. At no point in the game do we know we can use "ask person FOR". Up until then, we can only say "ask person about", like with the bum. So, to expect the player to know to use "FOR" instead is absolutely rage inducing, ESPECIALLY considering that you get a sense that the parser is not very robust to inputs after trying so many different commands here. So you CERTAINLY wouldn't mess with the established practice by using "for" instead of "about". But no, you have to. You may not even think that you CAN get a book from the librarian, because the description hints that the librarian is a strange fellow. Maybe they'll just always ignore you? This one made me mad.

At some point in the game, you may discover a musical instrument. (Spoiler - click to show)The interaction with this stupid flute is also terrible and clunky. First of all, it took me quite awhile to figure out how to even cover the different holes. I didn't realize I could even do so, after trying so many different commands and not receiving any sort of useful feedback. The description doesn't hint at this. It tells you about holes but doesn't say how you can interact with them. In real life, this wouldn't be a problem, but in a text adventure you need to describe the affordances of the interface. So it fails on that front. Even then, when you figure out how to cover holes, the interaction for covering and uncovering them is woefully inadequate. As far as I could tell, there's know way to tell what holes are currently covered. It could've simply said what holes are covered every time you covered or uncovered one, or told you what's covered when you look at the flute while holding it or use the inventory command.

Then, there's my most hated puzzle in the game. It involves a hatch that you're trying to open. (Spoiler - click to show)In the sewer, there's a rusty hatch that you need to open late in the game in order to get north of the bridge. When I first encountered this hatch, earlier in the game, I assumed rust was the problem and the solution was using the fish oil. So I "put fish oil on hatch", or "put fish oil on hinge". It tells me that "putting something on the hatch wouldn't accomplish anything". Okay, guess I have to maybe open the hatch from the other side or something...NOPE! Wrong! You have to first OPEN the tin, THEN you can use "put fish oil on hatch" to loosen it up. This is unforgivable. The first message makes you think that you shouldn't try anything else, so look elsewhere for a solution. But you literally have to use that EXACT command, it's just that the fish oil tin was in the wrong state. Why not at least say that you need to open the tin first? This puzzle is the true horror of this game.

There's a few random nitpicks I had with the interface for reading documents. Sometimes, while reading a document, the description will shift from the text of the document to a narration of your personal reaction to that document. But there's nothing to distinguis those blocks. Addiitionally, when the length of a document exceeds the length of the screen and you need to press space to scroll, there's no indication of where you left off, so you'll probably spend a moment having to figure out where you should resume reading from.

At some point, there's a wheel you want to turn. (Spoiler - click to show)It's too hot, though. So you have to wrap the towel around the wheel. Again, the parser utterly fails. There's all sorts of commands that totally make sense, like "wrap towel around wheel", "wrap wheel", "grab wheel with towel" or something like that but none of them work. You have to use "put towel on wheel". Ugh. I don't think "put" is a very descriptive verb for what I'm trying to do, and the only time I had to do it earlier was when I wanted to put things inside another thing. If someone told me to put a towel on something, I would just fold it up and set it on top of that thing. A frustrating waste of time that could be easily solved with a little bit of hinting or better description of affordances.

On the third day, towards the end, (Spoiler - click to show)you'll get a key from a corpse. You're supposed to use it to unlock a locked drawer in the real estate office. How are you supposed to know that there is a locked drawer there? Of course, the description for the room doesn't give you any indication that there's a locked drawer. I've been in quite a few offices and I've rarely seen locking desk drawers, so I would assume that a locked desk drawer would be called out in the description. Heck, some desks don't even have drawers, so I would expect that fact to be called out in the room description (it never is, with the few desks that appear in this game, the opening of which is required to make progress). Even then, you would assume that the key on the corpse is just the key to enter the building, which is locked at the start of the game. And it would be a big leap in reasoning to assume that this key ALSO unlocks a drawer, because that's not usually how keying works.

There's a few areas where the unlocking of doors is needlessly complicated. For example, if I'm in front of the lighthouse and I have a key, I can't simply type "unlock lighthouse". I have to type "unlock door". I shouldn't even have to do that - it should just unlock doors whenever I try to enter them, if I have the key. It's just a simple quality of life improvement that prevents breaking up the flow of the game.

Here's one that also had me pretty annoyed. On the final day, (Spoiler - click to show)once you break out of your padded cell, you don't have any of your items. Oh hey, there's actually a closet right next to your door that wasn't mentioned in the room description that has all your stuff. What? First of all, why would the cultists bother to even keep my stuff so close to my room? Second of all, and more importantly, WHY THE HECK IS THAT NOT IN THE DESCRIPTION! I NEED MY STUFF IN ORDER TO BEAT THE GAME! ARRRGHHHH!!!!!

Another small annoyance I encountered at the very end of the game - (Spoiler - click to show)when Michael asks you for the mirror, even if you have the "treated" mirror, and you say "give mirror", it doesn't bother to ask which mirror you were referring to. It just gives him the working one, which you would have NO motivation to do. Also, why doesn't Michael notice that you're holding one mirror but taking a mirror out of your backpack and giving it to him. It's the conclusion of the game, so I'd expect it to be the most polished part of the writing, but there's this big, glaring plot hole. This Crosius guy or whatever his name was has lived for a long time, certainly he is observant enough to detect trickery.

Finally, also at the very end of the game, (Spoiler - click to show)how are you able to physically get the needle from your jacket while cuffed? You're probably not going to happen on this solution if you correctly assume that this simply isn't possible in a reasonable amount of time. But no, you have to use the needle.

Finally FINALLY, I really am not keen on the game's insistence on "save scumming" as the only way to make progress at certain parts of the game (especially towards the end). In general, I'm fine with games that rely on saving and reloading, but only if that interface does an excellent job of supporting that use case. Needless to say, this game doesn't. You're going to have to save often and you're going to have to name your files really descriptively, or else you'll end up in a state where the game is unwinnable. You'll have times where you have to replay through sections you've already been through. It's like if a book or a movie asked you to re-read or re-watch the same scene over and over again before letting you watch the next one. Designers should think more about how decisions to stick to certain generic conventions, like save / restore, affect the enjoyment of the player, instead of just going with them because that's what everyone else does.

That's it. I'm done. That's all the stuff I noticed. Thanks for sticking it out through this long review.

To sum up my thoughts on this game: it's ruined by an abundance of frustrating situations that hamper the enjoyment of the story and the enjoyment of the few good puzzles. I know there's an interesting Lovecraftian horror story in there, but, if that's what you're after, let me let you in on a little secret. There's this site, Amazon, on which you can buy books. These books allow you to experience the story without having to solve frustrating puzzles or re-read the same pages over and over. In fact, there's an author called H. P. Lovecraft who writes stories similar to this, and there's even books that contain his entire works.

Anyway, to avoid these issues in future games, I believe that developers could do a few things. First, more play testing, by people that don't already know the game. During this testing, make sure to collect enough info so you an re-play a player's session and see what problems they ran into. Second of all, be mindful of the concept of affordances. It's a text adventure, so you have to make it clear what somebody can and can't do. This means things like making obvious exits clear and providing feedback on how you can interact with objects and NPCs. This ALSO includes things like making sure all the relevant elements in a room are in the description. If you don't trust your ability to do this entirely through the description text, then provide procedural ways to list the state of a room - like listing all the interactible objects or something. Third, when designing a game, at least for someone like me who wants to enjoy playing a game, actually consciously think about the enjoyment of the player at each point in the game. For every decision, try to maximize player enjoyment. Don't just include generic conventions from IF because it's an IF game. Include them because they make the game enjoyable. Remove them because they suck and make the game frustrating. Avoid saving and loading-based gameplay unless you have a really solid interface for that, because people don't usually like to do that because it hurts immersion when you die and reload. I'm not saying that you should compromise your artistic vision or your message in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator - think about the enjoyment of your art or aesthetics as one aspect of player enjoyment - I'm just saying that there's some design decisions you might be making "on autopilot" that can have devastating impacts on the game. In this case, it took an entire person's many hours of effort and toil and turned them into something I wished I'd rather not played.

In short, if you're an IF novice or you're used to the fast pace and instant gratification of modern video games but not IF, I do not recommend this game. However, if you're new to IF but you generally have a good time with games regardless of whatever problems others might have, I would definitely recommend this. For me, though, it gets two stars because, at least, it's a decent Lovecraftian horror story and quite a few of the puzzles are fun. If it weren't for the frustrating moments throughout the game, it would've received a much higher rating. But, a few major frustrations can completely sour the experience of a game - it doesn't matter how GOOD the good parts of a game are if the bad parts are really, agonizingly bad.


Aisle, by Sam Barlow

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting and short, but kinda boring, November 29, 2015

I didn't feel very invested in the characters. The behavior and insanity of the protagonist doesn't help with this. I don't feel like I can really figure anything out because the narrator is unreliable, and I don't really feel like the personal experience of the narrator has any relevance to me because I'm not insane. But, most of all, I found the absence of challenges to be the biggest reason for not enjoying this very much.

I play games to have fun, and one of the biggest sources of fun for me is being engaged in solving problems and overcoming challenges. When you take that away from a game, you'd better have a really darn good case for me to want to play this game as opposed to the many, many other games out there that DO have that engagement. This game doesn't provide a good enough alternative to that.

After playing without a guide and figuring out enough of the story, I went through and tried all the commands in the walkthrough. There's certainly some fun in that, with how many different commands are implemented, but it's just not structured in a way that makes it interesting. The lack of a goal makes it particularly problematic.

This game reminds of Her Story. You have to piece together what is going on by watching short video clips. I think Her Story is basically a better version of this game because it actually has a goal and actually has a flow and pace to it. Stuff changes in the "meta" game as you discover important bits of information. Having, at the very least, a meta layer might've made Aisle more interesting for me.

All of that aside, it's quite short and you can play it in the space of an hour. This, alone, is it's most redeeming quality (and I don't mean that in the sense of "it's great it's short because it SUCKS"). It gives you a complete, fully-realized, unique experience all in the course of an hour.

I give this three stars because, despite my lack of engagement with it, it was short and unique. I would recommend this, because what do you really have to lose with a game this short?


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Read Doulgas Adams' books instead, November 29, 2015

The puzzles are absolutely stupid. There are plenty of more enjoyable games you could play instead of this. People say you should play this for the writing, but I would say you're not really missing much, and you're certainly not spending your free time effectively by trying to figure out these stupid puzzles. If you want to enjoy Douglas Adams' writing, read his books.

You will have to save often and reload often. You might even find yourself in a situation where you have to revert to a save much earlier in the game due to the game becoming unwinnable without you realizing it, causing you to have to play large sections of the game over again. A game designed around saving and reloading is acceptable as long as the interface for performing those actions is fast and makes it easy to see where you're going to end up and makes it easy to restore to specific points. Of course, this game doesn't do anything in that regard. It's up to you to create descriptive file names. Just unnecessary busy work.

The puzzles are just ridiculously bad and unenjoyable. There's so many other games that do puzzles in a much better and more enjoyable way. It would even be possible to maintain Douglas Adams' brand of humor and style without making these puzzles so stupid.

If you seriously want to try to solve this game with a guide, and you persist even after so many saves and reloads and so many hours spent without making progress, you should seriously stop and ask yourself what the hell you are doing with your life. Do you value your time? You only have a short time here on Earth, and maybe you only have a small amount of free time to play games. You should play games that are fun. You are unlikely to have as much fun playing this game as you are many other games. Put this stupid game down and find something more fun.

If you still think you want to play this game, do NOT hesitate to use a guide. I give this two stars only because of the unique style and writing that Douglas Adams brings to this game. It has a few small, funny moments. But, as a game, it's just doesn't provide even a remotely acceptable amount of enjoyment per minute.


Counterfeit Monkey, by Emily Short

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Thorough, polished, and usable, but sometimes challenging in a frustrating way, November 28, 2015

This is one of the first few IF games I've played, so that's where I'm coming from.

I enjoyed the writing and story.

Overall, the parser had all sorts of useful features that made it much less frustrating and more enjoyable than other IF that lacks those sorts of features. I rarely had difficulty figuring out how to get the character to do what I wanted, something I can't say for the few other IF games I've played.

In particular, I appreciated the great space of possibilities achievable through word-manipulation that the game actually accounts for, even if it isn't directly relevant to advancing the story.

There's 2 main reasons I didn't give this five stars:

First, I encountered a few small bugs. One that particularly annoyed me was that the "exit" command didn't work inside the University. Additionally, (Spoiler - click to show)on the ship at the end of the game, the look command made no mention of a wardrobe (or at least it wasn't highlighted in bold if you turned that feature on), but you need to open the wardrobe in order to progress. How is that supposed to be fun?. Those two are my primary reasons for docking a star because they frustrated me due to making it unnecessarily difficult to progress. Most of the other bugs I encountered were related to missing content but had no affect on the gameplay.

Second, especially as the game goes on and your inventory grows, I found some of the puzzles to be more frustrating than enjoyable. I was holding so many items because I had no idea what would be useful, but this made it harder to figure out what I was supposed to use to solve a particular challenge because it increases the pool of objects you have to pick from - complicated by the fact that each object can potentially be transformed into other objects using word manipulation.

One particular puzzle that frustrated me was the one in the middle of the roundabout where teens are chained up and there's an all purpose officer. I eventually looked up the solution after spending far longer than I'd like to admit on it. (Spoiler - click to show)I was told that I couldn't do anything that would make me suspicous. So why could I grab the gun and shoot the tree? Also, it seemed that the solution hinged on looking at the tree with your monocle. I had mine off, I think because I had to remove it to avoid detection earlier. I understand that it makes sense to always have your monocle on if possible, but, due to the large space of possible things to try in this situation, it makes it far less reasonable to expect someone to guess that they need to use their monocle on a perfectly innocuous tree. The only hint you get is that the all-purpose officer has been transforming things. You have to deduce from that that you should check for more transformed things, but that wouldn't be my first suspicion. Especially because I would expect a tree to be at that location. There's also lots of red herrings - the octopus, the statue itself, the signet - all of which are bolded objects but have nothing to do with the solution. Also, the officer's actions made me think I had to do something at a specific time or else the game would become unwinnable - like I had to do something while they were climbing or something. There's all sorts of stuff that could throw you off..

In general, I would say that, while some of these solutions may seem obvious in retrospect, you have to account for the state you are in before arriving there - you have potentially a lot of items. You have all sorts of different people and different actions to try. Sometimes you'll try an action but be given an explanation for why you can't do that, so you may develop an assumption about what you can and cannot try that leads you to never try something that was the solution all along. Puzzle games attempt to prevent this type of frustration by limiting the space of options you have to explore and/or providing small hints towards the solution. As a developer, you can't always rely on your own judgement to decide whether something will be fair or not too frustrating.

I don't know what went into the development of this game, but I suspect the puzzle frustration issues could've been revealed with a bit of testing from someone who didn't already know the solutions. As far as design, decreasing the amount of options available to you, having less unrelated objects and red herrings in the rooms involving the puzzle (because there's already enough with all the crap you have in your inventory), and providing more subtle hints would've helped keep me from getting frustrated with some of the puzzles. Overall, I felt like I spent a bit more time than I would've wanted not making any progress while trying to solve some of the puzzles.

That aside, it's still a great game and I enjoyed playing it; it just got a little too frustrating at times. I usually do well at puzzle games (they happen to be my favorite genre as far as video games go), though I'm new to IF, so I wouldn't blame the challenges I faced on my own inability. I'm fine with having difficulty with a puzzle - it's possible to have lots of difficult puzzles WITHOUT causing frustration and hurting the enjoyment of a game. I just don't think this game consistently achieves that.

All told, I would say I enjoyed about 85% of the time I spent with this game, so I definitely recommend this. Had some of the puzzles been designed more to be challenging without being frustrating, I would've probably enjoyed it a lot more.


A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fun, but occasionally too slow, November 25, 2015

Fun to play in short bursts or to give you something interesting to do during a long commute. The UI works decently well for mobile, unlike most parser-based IF.

There's not a lot of text or descriptions in the game (by IF standards). There's no graphics. There's just words, numbers and sometimes ASCII symbols. Despite the lack of text content, I myself still able to paint a mental picture of what was occurring. In some ways, the lack of concise description makes this easier and invites you to participate more in immersing yourself in the world.

As far as actual gameplay (without spoiling much), there's a lot of variety in what you do as you progress through the game. Not just in terms of the actions you take in the game, but in how you interact with the game itself. There's lots of downtime, especially as you get further in the game, while you wait for timers to tick down. As a pacing device, I think it works okay, since it gives you long moments of not having to make tough decisions or having to focus too hard on what's going on. However, I still felt a bit bored by the amount of time I was expected to wait for certain things to get done. It's hard to explain this "waiting around" mechanic well - I feel like there's some positive aspects to it that I'm not able to describe. Usually, I have no patience for games that make you do repetitive tasks for long periods of time. However, there's something about the presentation and text-heavy nature of this game that makes this more forgivable and somehow seems to enhance the game. I feel it wouldn't be as substantial or enjoyable if they cut all the timers out.

Anyway, if you're looking for something you can play on your phone that actually works comfortably on such a device, you should give this a try. You can play it whenever you have downtime and, despite the inherently repetitive nature of the "incremental" gameplay, it will still mete out just enough new content and story that you'll probably want to keep playing to see more.

I give this 3 stars because I had fun playing it. However, I had points where I was outright bored by having to sit there and wait for timers to tick down. Also, this isn't really a substantial experience compared to other IF. There's really not a lot of text content here and I felt the story was pretty sparse. More content and variety would've bumped up the rating, for me.


Westfront PC: The Trials of Guilder, by Paul Allen Panks

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Large but unfriendly, November 23, 2015

I have no idea what I am doing in this game, even after playing for several hours. It certainly has a lot of stuff in it, but that doesn't necessarily make it fun to play. I find it tedious to navigate through the 1000+ rooms only to die and have to find my way back to where I was. I want to give a piece of armor to my companion. I can't just say "give armor to <companion name>" - it recognizes that I have typed the command but it tells me that I must first unequip it. Obviously you know what I wanted to do so why not just unequip it for me and give it to my companion? There's are just a few small examples pointing at a larger pattern of letting the clunkiness get in the way of being able to explore the game.

I definitely would consider this to be a sandbox. So, if you are interested in just exploring and discovering, you may get some enjoyment out of this. But just know that the mechanics and general clunkiness of the interface are going to make it less-than-pleasant to work with.

I give this 2 stars just on the merit of having a lot of content in it. You can't go wrong with putting a ton of stuff in a game. But the aforementioned issues overall hurt the experience. That said, it's one of the first few IF games I've played, so perhaps I don't have the breadth of experience to know if it's really 2 stars when compared to other games...



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