It's an interesting question, whether playing and reviewing probably hundreds of IF games improves your skill as an IF writer. With Mr Rush that seems to be the case, at least judging from "Color the Truth".
"Color the Truth" is a detective adventure, in which you collect the statements of suspects in order to find hints, or rather topics, as they are called here. Topics represent a specific aspect of a suspect's statement, and sometimes this aspect is in contradiction to a topic from another person's statement. Then you can link the two contradicting topics in order to get a new one, that in turn will prompt a new statement, until you finally discover the truth.
So far so good, but the knack in this mechanic is that each statement is a mini adventure, played from the viewpoint of the interrogated suspect. You get to play through each of these minis several times, each time revised in the light of the new topic you raised.
This all works very well, and analysing and combining the hints and playing the resulting new statement is a lot of fun, as it conveys a sense of steady progress in revealing the mystery, and also because the writing is on point.
I have to say I was a tiny bit disappointed of not being able to play out the murder itself in a statement (I like creepy adventures), but probably that would not have fit the tone. My only other caveat is that the case at hand is rather simple and therefore has only few surprises. Maybe Mr Rush or someone else uses the mechanic for a more involved case in the future. I would certainly play that!
"The Skull Embroidery" is a classic computer role playing game, except that it is text based. It's the first game of this kind I played, so I cannot compare it to its peers like, e.g., the well received Kerkerkruip.
In this game you start out without equipment, and also without any memory of your past. Your clothing and the circumstances you find yourself in hint at a dark past and a betrayal. All actions in the game are taken in game rounds. Each round you have three action points and each action takes a variable amount of points. Only actions available - based on circumstances and remaining action points - are presented to you as a menu, from which you select them by the one or two first letters of the command.
The engine for this was implemented by the author in the programming language Ruby, probably a considerable and technically successful effort. However, I found the interface often clumsy, especially when I had to take a "wait" action outside a fight, because not enough points remained for what I intended to do, or when, instead of just typing the direction letter, I had to first choose the travel action and then the direction. Furthermore, combat in the early game is quite a drag, as you have only limited actions and it requires a lot of menus and additional key presses to read through the same descriptions over and over.
Still, despite all my problems with the game, the writing is of high quality and the traditional attractions of RPGs, i.e., levelling up and equipping your character, certainly work well here. There even is a crafting system! If text based RPG sounds like up your alley this is worth a try.
Darkiss! Chapter 2 is a short game, it is not really innovative, and there is only little NPC interaction. But that's about all what is negative about it! On the plus side are a fun main character, simple but entertaining and well integrated puzzles, and a good help system, which prevents the frustration of being on the right track but not knowing how to tell the parser.
You play as a very powerful and evil Vampire trying to find the secret of surviving sunlight in a Dante inspired version of hell. The puzzles mostly revolve around using the right item in the right place, or employing your Vampire powers (mostly shape changing).
The writing is apparently translated from Italian, but I found no problems with it - in fact, I found it very compelling (I am not a native English speaker myself, though).
Recommended to anyone looking for traditional, albeit not very challenging, text adventure entertainment.
Having played through Mass Effect 3 again recently, I could not help but view "Creatures" as a commentary on that game, and in particular on the discussions revolving around its ending. I did not check if that is even possible, but in any case: "Creatures" covers a lot of game theory relevant to ME 3, like whether players or authors should decide a games ending, how romance should be portrayed in games, the meaning of self-sacrifice, whether games should mirror life or rather provide means of escape, etc.
This is all packed into a well paced story on the PCs moon adventure with the designers of their favorite game, including that game as game within the game.
So why is "Creatures" not five stars for me? I think it lacks a bit on the game side of things. Most choices I really had to think about concerned my opinion on the game theory questions mentioned above. The choices regarding the actual plot seemed a bit bland in comparison, even though the story itself is quite compelling.
That caveat aside, in my opinion anyone even remotely interested in game design (and romance!) should play "Creatures Such As We".
The basic idea of the game is that your PC is an astronaut in a dire situation, the only person he is able to contact is you, and the only medium available is text messages. So you control him by sending him messages and you see the world through messages he sends in response. If your PC is sleeping, or is doing something time consuming, the game pauses. This simple concept really works wonders in drawing you into the game and building up suspense.
The execution of the idea, however, is not flawless. Often it seems the authors could not really decide if the medium is text or voice messages, which breaks immersion. The story is interesting, but not really innovative. Some passages feel very linear.
Still, all in all a great idea for IF on phones.
The Axolotl Project tells a very interesting and often gripping SF story. I especially liked the action scene and the descriptions of the aliens. There is also a final decision to be made, which, even though a bit foreseeable, draws the player right in. There are no real puzzles, and the amount of thinking required is just right as to not distract from the story but still keeping this interactive fiction as opposed to just fiction.
I have a few nibbles, though, which put this closer to a three star game then a five star game for me. For one, some technology seems rather old fashioned for a moon base. Sure, there are fully automatic cleaning robots, but also password authentication and (Spoiler - click to show)old fashioned secret doors. Also, some texts are rather long-winded, especially compared to the generally very dense and to the point writing in most parts of the game.
Still, all in all a satisfying SF game and a good example of what can be achieved with Twine.
The best part of this CYOA game is its dark superhero story. The prose is evocative and tense. The second person writing is strengthened by the possibility to customize it: Some words are clickable and clicking them adds additional details. Sometimes you can choose a part of the text, for example a name or an action without impact on the further story. This really draws you in.
However, true choices are rare in Cape and often their impact feels weak. I have only played through the game once, but from what happened in that playthrough there seem to be only one or two handful of truly meaningful choices.
Still, superhero fans should find Cape to their liking.
The Pawn's most distinguishing feature, at the time of its release, was (as far as I remember it) the use of graphics for some of the locations. While a few non-animated graphics can hardly impress players nowadays, the images, vaguely reminiscent of "ligne claire" comics, offer a different view on the locations and add to the atmosphere of the game without distracting from the text.
The text itself is well written, with some irony and a small dose of British (black) humor. It tells a rather traditional fantasy story, which still manages to surprise once or twice and kept me entertained till the end. The parser is powerful and has a big vocabulary. I stumbled over a few oddities, but this might also be caused by English not being my maternal language.
The puzzles are interesting and well interweaved with the story. At least for a beginner like me some were quite difficult and I had to consult a walkthrough a few times. I did not encounter a single bug.
All in all a polished and entertaining experience.