The Witch’s Apprentice follows aspiring apprentice Esme Friggleswick, a young woman wishing to be a student of Madam Ingra. Her task is to retrieve a legendary staff from the villainous sorcerer Zandor.
I was not sure of what to expect when I saw the cover art. It gave the impression that it was going to be a Harry Potter riff but turns out I was wrong. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this game. Its puzzles require strategic thinking, and its gameplay is well paced. I think many players will like this one.
The Witch’s Apprentice has straightforward yet cruel gameplay. Straightforward in the sense that the gameplay is not too difficult and most puzzles being intuitive (although some tripped me up, such as (Spoiler - click to show) finding the hidden coronet). But cruel in that there are a few instances where the game can become unwinnable. Some of these are instances are semi-obvious because it has to do with wasting resources. Do not eat the (Spoiler - click to show) dewberry, for example.
The central gameplay mechanic is collecting items to make potions. At the same time, there are a lot of puzzles that do not directly involve acquiring ingredients. Solving them does not result in finding an items. Rather it merely gets the player closer to a part of the game where there is a puzzle that does produce potion items. This made the game less linear and more complex.
One of the tricker elements of the game is knowing what potions you will need to use. You are limited to what you can make based on the items you find which helps in determining which potions are possible to create. Still, it is a fairly long list of potions, most of which sound like they could be relevant to the puzzles. Out of all of them you only need to make (Spoiler - click to show) three (and you find a fourth one). There are some red herrings but nothing too unmanageable.
Challenges aside, the creativity in the puzzles makes the game sparkle. They require you to think outside the box. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) one of the potions requires fish scales. Now, you find a fishing rod in the castle. Your first instinct is to catch a fish in the river with the fishing rod, but it turns out the fishing rod is used for a different purpose. Instead, the fish scales are found from the plate of salmon in the banquet hall.
There are some guess-the-verb issues. The "use [object] on [subject]" syntax is frequently used in this game. For example, in the (Spoiler - click to show) cave you knock out the goblin by collapsing the rotting beam in the roof. The phrase, "Break beam with shovel" does not work but "use shovel on beam" does. Once I figured this out this syntax the guess the verb issues fell to the wayside.
Thoughts on Quest
The Witch’s Apprentice is a Quest game that wields a wide variety of puzzles with varying levels of difficulty. I am always hesitant about trying puzzle-heavy games made with Quest because typically the further I go into the gameplay the slower the game becomes. It can get to the point where it takes five full sections for the game to process a command which is why I try to crank through everything as fast as possible, so I have a chance to reach the end. This is NOT the case with game.
In fact, the funkiness with Quest is probably not even authors’ fault. Perhaps it has to do with the website or a problem on my end. I am not sure. All I know is that Quest games that have graphics or built-in maps (both of which are cool) tend to slow down faster than those without them (such as this one). If you have the same experience as me, know that this game take a while before it starts to lag.
There is not a lot of written story content. Rather than having the game flat-out explain the history with Zandor and his wrath, the player learns bits and pieces through the places they visit. The subtleties of the guarded castle and ruined tower all hint at this story which I liked. It is an example of showing rather than just telling.
I would like to think that the game ends with the protagonist becoming an apprentice, but I must confess I only played 99% of the game. If you are able to save with Quest, make sure you save after you (Spoiler - click to show) retrieve Zandor's staff. When you return to Ingra’s cottage and give her the staff, Zandor appears and destroys the cottage. The game then only gives you one move to respond, or he kills you which immediately ends the game. I played a couple times to try to solve this, but I ran out of ideas. Do not let that deter you from playing, however. This is an excellent game, and I would love to see if anyone can (Spoiler - click to show) defeat Zandor. Please let me know if you do!
We do not learn much about the protagonist besides her name. The game focuses more on her goal of becoming a witch rather than discussing her backstory. While it would have been interesting to know more, I like how the game does not bog down in details.
There are almost a dozen NPCs including humans, animals, and mythical creatures. Game uses "talk to" command for characters, and dialog is brief and witty. I especially liked the talking Eagle who seemed like a character who could appear in The Lonely Troll by Amanda Walker. Character interactions typically consist of "I'll give you this if you'll give me that" transactions but this is offset by other types of puzzles.
The only character interaction that had some vagueness was meeting (Spoiler - click to show) Madam Elsa. We find her confined in a cell with chains that bind her magical powers. But there is no reaction to her predicament when you enter her cell. When you speak to her there are no dialog options that lets the player ask or acknowledge her imprisonment. Nothing like, “gee, what happened here?” Instead, the dialog only consists of either asking her about Madam Ingra (her cousin) or if she has any advice for the player’s quest. At least, the player can free her.
I would say that this is one of the best puzzle-heavy Quest games I have played (although I guess I cannot say that I have played many to compare it to). But The Witch’s Apprentice would be a great game regardless of if it were made with Quest or not. I was pleasantly surprised with the story and immersed in the puzzles. I recommend this game to anyone.
And on that note, Halloween, at the time of this review, is on the horizon. Over the next several weeks, this may be a festive game to play if you are in the mood for magic, witches, and other spooky themes.
Disclaimer: I am not literate in French. Instead, I played the game with translation. I would highlight the entire page, right click, and select "translate selection to English," which did a decent job (I think). Does that overlook the fact that it is a game made in a foreign language? I hope not. I am not trying to distract from that. But it was a game that I wanted to play for a while, and I was excited to find a way to do so.
The premise of the story is that the protagonist previously received a job from a high-ranking executive of a large corporation with the task of ensuring the safety of a visiting nephew. But when this goes wrong the executive goes on the warpath. The protagonist is now on the run, trying to make ends meet with shady jobs.
Night City 2020 is set in a world where only people with upper-class jobs can live in the middle of the city with skyscrapers containing the best cutting-edge technology. Without a corporate job, an individual cannot even indulge the thought of stepping foot into that area of the city. If you did have such a job, it would change everything.
This is an RPG game. Stats, character customization, combat, you name it. All in a choice-based format. It also follows a choose-your-own-adventure style. The player is presented with one or more choices that are numbered: If you want to do X click to passage 4, if you want to do Y go to passage 10. This format tends to make the gameplay more generalized at the risk of the player not feeling like they can closely interact with the story. I think Night City 2020 makes up for that by allowing the player to fine-tune their character’s stats and inventory items (as is often the case with RPGs). Without these features the game would have been less engaging.
The game begins with customizing your character with cybernetic implants. Each option gives you a wide range of abilities from built-in night vision to brain-computer interface. However, each implant reduces your humanity score, a stat that affects your ability to connect with other people. This was a catchy way of starting the game.
Gameplay branches out quite a bit, depending on the job you pursue. You can investigate a gangster's missing sister, investigate the disappearance of a corporate official's daughter, or accept a mission to assassinate a former rival. Each route has unique gameplay but later, they start to merge. The game has a score system of 20 points. Not all endings reach a perfect score. Instead, the game encourages the player to try out different routes, adding replay value.
While the jobs feature different gameplay in the first half of the game, they eventually gravitate to the (Spoiler - click to show) same location: the pharmacy, where the endgame occurs. This is where the story becomes streamlined. They all center around discovering a scheme of illegal cybernetic surgery and human trafficking. How the player responds to this is tailored to the job you choose at the start of the game. The story content consists of language and violence. There was one scene with some (Spoiler - click to show) brief graphic sexual content that caught me off guard but most of the game does not include this.
There is some worldbuilding. There is an opportunity to check the news online, and the game will sometimes interject news items in certain scenes, such as when using public transportation. The Neuromat implant also sometimes provides extra information on things you encounter. I think this attention to detail helped make the city setting more interesting.
Its appearance is white background with black lines and text. Some dialog is colour-coded for convenience. The left side of the screen has a column with the player’s stats and links with reference guides, such as a glossary, that provides nifty background information without leaving the game. This was one of the first things that stood out to me.
Occasionally, there is art. I did not see the first piece of art until later in the game, so it took me by surprise. The art is basic and done in pencil or ink but does augment the player's imagination of this futuristic cyberpunk world (I guess technically it takes place in the past since it is set in 2020 instead of 2022 as I write this review. Everything in it is still futuristic). I found four total.
Design wise, there are some rough areas. I only found one broken link. When I clicked on (Spoiler - click to show) 305 it led me to a page where the only option was 85, but it was not a link. All it said was "[" which required that I restore to an earlier save. I also encountered two cases where a macro error shows up instead of the link. Other than that, the game seemed consistently built.
It is not a flawless piece, but it is one that can maintain the player’s interest, especially if they enjoy RPG games. Be aware, if you end up translating the game like I did with my browser, you will probably have a slight less seamless experience. There is lots of stat management with a focus on combat, and its branching gameplay encourages more than one playthrough. Overall, it is a nice addition to the cyberpunk genre.
When I first saw the game’s IFDB description I was expecting a story about a protagonist’s experience with being turned into a cyborg. Waking up from an operation and realizing that being a cyborg was not all that it was cracked up to be. Perhaps even trying to demand answers from NASA 11. Not quite. Instead, the game begins on a dirt path surrounded by forest in front of a lizard wearing a spacesuit. But this soon takes the player in an interesting direction.
Right now, I cannot say that I am familiar with the innerworkings of early parser (any parser, really) or how they are archived online. All I do is click on the “Play On-line” button and see what happens.
I am so used to the convenience of Inform games with their white screens and black text, and their utilization of a wide range of verbs. This was a completely different experience for me. Right now, it is the oldest interactive fiction game that I have tried. It certainly did not look like an Inform game. Visually, it has a brown background and yellow-white text in all-caps. But the differences did not stop there. Instead of "look" you use "scan" to survey your environment, and “scan strange fruit” instead of “x strange fruit.” It took a while to acclimate but eventually became quite manageable. I especially liked how the player can communicate with their cybernetic half using the command "opinion on [subject]." This offers insight into how things may be used or their relevance to the story.
My only complaint is that the parser can be slow about processing commands, taking anywhere from one to three seconds to respond. But otherwise, it was still a fun change.
The driving mechanic in the gameplay is to find sources of energy to sustain your biological (snacks) and cybernetic (batteries) components. The cover art shows the protagonist being split down the middle with one half being all organic and the other being purely mechanical. I am not sure if that is the case in the game, but it is definitely how I imagined it.
I spent hours (okay, maybe an hour and a half) crawling through the forest trying to make progress. And I did, to an extent. There was a lot of trial and error. When you use your (Spoiler - click to show) microlaser you drain your own energy. I did not realize that when I first encountered the snake. I set the energy level to 600 and lost the game. Next time I was successful. There were a handful of other puzzles that I managed to solve but I ultimately ran into a metaphorical roadblock. Then I turned to the walkthrough.
I must admit that the walkthrough held my hand for the rest of the game, primarily because the setting becomes more cryptic (though still cool) as it transitions from a forest to (Spoiler - click to show) the depths of a spaceship. For those parts I even made some colour-coded maps for the two lowest levels so I could explore a little without getting lost. There were multiple times where I made an error that ended the game because it caused too much damage. As I made more progress in the gameplay, I found myself heavily relying on the walkthrough to limit the times I had to restart.
If the player makes a mistake that causes bodily damage sometimes the game will take the player back to a previous location, no save file needed. It does scatter your inventory items around, leaving you to recover them again, but at least you can still play. However, too many mistakes end the game. At least it has a sense of humor.
(Spoiler - click to show)
"TOO MUCH DAMAGE SUSTAINED OVER TOO SHORT A PERIOD TO EFFECTIVELY MAKE REPAIRS AND REORIENT OUR INTERFACE. BUT PLEASE ACCEPT MY CONDOLENCES... BYE. THANKS FOR PLAYING"
Condolences accepted. Of course, now I have to restart everything.
During the first section of the game, we realize that the forest (Spoiler - click to show) is not a typical forest. Parts of it have been cloned and organized into artificial patterns, giving the feel that it is manmade. Turns out it was created to be a colonization spot for humanity. The game takes place on a planet called Aurianta, not Earth. Maybe I am mistaken but based on what (Spoiler - click to show) the NPCs said it seems that Aurianta is also not the home planet of the reptilian characters that we meet, contrary to what I first thought. Dialog with these characters is minimal but it is as if both civilizations planned to divvy up the planet. There were parts that I wish had more backstory but overall, the story seems cohesive enough.
I have played cyborg characters before, but this game took an interesting approach. The gist is that cyborgs have an artificial intelligence that runs the mechanical half of the body. It narrates the game and talks directly to the player. Two beings with separate minds fused together in one physical body. If you have played Counterfeit Monkey this method should be familiar. The player just happens to be the organic half.
The game does use the amnesia trope. Something has happened and neither side of your cyborg being remembers anything. To avoid giving the whole game away I will not delve more into the protagonist’s identity, but I will say that while it was not what I expected it was still an interesting twist.
There are few NPCs consisting of lizard-like aliens (compelling geckos in spacesuits) with whom you can briefly interact with. While I am not sure if this qualifies as an NPC, there is a maintenance droid found in the gym that will comment on things or even give small hints as you carry it around. When you enter (Spoiler - click to show) the laboratory supply room it says "...KABOOM..." hinting to the fact that you can gather the liquid oxygen in the room and use it to cause an explosion to clear debris later in the game. Otherwise, the dialog is just meant to add some humor to the atmosphere.
I had fun trying out a different type of parser game and I liked how the story slowly developed rather than heaping information on top of the player. The gameplay is long, and the parser tends to lag. Now that I have played it all the way through from start to finish, I do not see myself replaying it again. But it was worth the time and effort. If you are a sci-fi fan then yes, I suggest trying out this game. If you find yourself getting stuck do not hesitate to reach for the walkthrough.
I will end by sharing a list of things I learned that are not mentioned in the walkthrough in case you play the game and wish not to make the same mistakes. If you want to rush ahead with open arms without my help interfering with your expectations do not continue reading.
(Spoiler - click to show)
-Do not wander off the catwalk while repairing the spaceship’s hull or you will drift off into space. I had to start over because of that one.
-Do not drop the dead insects or moldy bread (and to be safe, avoid dropping other food items) because a space suited lizard will zoom out of nowhere and devour it before you can react.
-If the game warns you that you are in a place with low visibility, leave. Do not go fumbling around without a light source or some form of seeing aid like I did.
-Make sure you kill the snake. Do not skip this part. Apparently, this is a requirement before colonization can occur.
-Be careful not to fall into the debris maze when navigating cargo hold. I also had to start over.
-Remember to take your ID after using it unless you want to spend time trying to find it again.
-Also: West of the tree with the string is a power unit I did not see in walkthrough.
This is a sequel (or maybe a prequel) of sorts for the game With Those We Love Alive. Its description merely says that it is set in the same universe. It is made up of five surreal chapters that can be enjoyed even if you are new to either game.
In the first chapter you play as the Empress, one like the NPC in With Those We Love Alive. You have a limited amount of time to explore the Empress’ apartment before an assassin arrives and stabs you. This is reminiscent of howling dogs where (spoiler if you have not played howling dogs) (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist is in a VR sequence about an empress taught to die gracefully if assassinated. The way you die (piously, peacefully, or shamefully) in this game depends on your location and influences the writing. To move forward, (Spoiler - click to show) wait for the assassin to kill you in the garden. At the brink of death, the Empress cuts out her own heart to let it fly away. If this occurs elsewhere the assign will squash the heart. Only outside can it escape. This theme appears throughout the game.
Now, the gameplay is story heavy. Some parts of the gameplay have free range of movement, as is the case in chapter one, where the player can travel between rooms. This is an immersive method often featured in Porpentine’s games. It is part of what makes them such a delight to play. But other parts of the game give the player a lot of information to take in. It is full of new events and terminologies that are fascinated but also bewildering. That too is what makes Porpentine’s games shine. The gameplay and story are tightly intertwined and impossible to separate.
Story + Characters
I believe there are only two protagonists in this game. The first is the Empress who, as we know, is assassinated in chapter one. The second protagonist is a worker-convict who is introduced in chapter two and remains the PC for the rest of the game (although themes about the boundaries of individuality make this notion variable).
The story ramps up after the first chapter. I am going to summarize some parts because A, it is an incredibly rich story, and B, I want to see if anyone else had a similar impression. In chapter two (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist works in a greenhouse that grows advanced perhaps sentient plants. Everyone lives under strict sovereign rules about what plants can be cultivated. The protagonist finds a letter explaining that convicts are now allowed to join the Stamen Vanguard. They jump at the opportunity.
The third and fourth chapters are about the (Spoiler - click to show) protagonist’s service in the Vanguard, the latter of which involves visiting a city where the Empress’ skeleton is on display. The player arrives at a garden where a woman explains that the only way to truly kill an Empress is to kill her heart. She tells the player to do just that, but the player is caught by a guard. Ironically, the Empress’ heart makes unexpected decision. She decides to use the protagonist’s body as her next reincarnation.
In the fifth and final chapter the (Spoiler - click to show) protagonist has been reincarnated into the new Empress. However, the heart often asserts its own consciousness onto the new Empress’ thoughts and actions. The game explains this in a manner that some players may already be familiar with: Dream sequences. These sequences explain how the heart contains the collective soul of all empresses. Even better, they utilize a red gradient background reminiscent of those seen in With Those We Love Alive. The gameplay too also shares some resemblance. Consider asking the Sartorialist to make clothes (below):
Crimson fabric: The better to be stabbed in.
White fabric: For a striking death.
Black: Goes with everything.
Lavender: Your new favorite color.
Look familiar? It is just like crafting items as an artisan in With Those We Love Alive.
The player makes speeches and other duties until the game ends. I only found (Spoiler - click to show) two endings. The first is where the Empress’ body and the heart seem to reach an understanding with each other. The second involves jumping out of a window in an attempt to regain control over yourself.
Overall, I liked this story because everything comes full circle. The start of the game depicts a (Spoiler - click to show) newly assassinated Empress; At the end, a new one rises to power. And yet, the Empress never really dies. The second protagonist is small and yielding in the face of the empire for most of the game but later becomes a central part in that empire’s leadership, even if they set out to do otherwise. There is a lot to think about.
The game has a black background with white text and purple links. A small flower icon is included at the end of some words which was a nice touch given its imagery about plants. I figured that this would remain unchanging, but the game decides to surprise the player more than once. The screen unexpectedly goes white with black text for the scene when you (Spoiler - click to show) cross the desert and uses a gradient red background for the (Spoiler - click to show) dream sequences in chapter five. Having a black screen for most of the game and then, bam, a gradient one has an exciting effect for the player.
The Soft Rumor of Spreading Weeds is quite an adventure. I encourage you to play this more than once since the story is extensive and always shifting. If you like surreal interactive fiction and Porpentine’s work (especially if you enjoyed With Those We Love Alive) than I highly recommend that you give it a try.
Normally AIF is not my thing, but they could use reviews anyway, so why not. This one is about being casted in adult film. You receive a letter inviting you to audition at Badger Studios but when you show up you learn that your audition has been canceled. The only option is to try to convince the director, casting director, and producer that you are the right pick for their next film.
The objective is to gain the approval of people who will help you land a role. Puzzles are straight forward and do not require much creativity: Give each character the time of their life based on what they want. The score consists of the tasks that you complete. You do not need a full score to win the game. Heck, I could not figure out how to get a full score, though I came close. Maybe someone else can. I thought the game would (Spoiler - click to show) end once you are casted but there is an endgame where you perform in a film (BSHW2, you will have to play the game if you want to know what that stands for), which was a nice conclusion.
Story + Characters
The only thing we know about the protagonist is that she is unnamed, eighteen years old, and came from England. She has already had a dream of becoming an actress in the adult film industry, but besides that, Casting does not seem like a protagonist-oriented story. Instead, she seems more generalized. There is also a total of six other NPCs that you directly interact with.
The game suffers from lack of atmosphere. I am not talking about “action,” I mean worldbuilding, character building. For example, Anna (film director) is said to be an award-winning director when you first meet her, but you do not see any awards on her office wall. It occurred to me that this would have been an opportunity for character building.
The character dialog is the weakest part of this game. You can talk to characters about hardly anything, even basic things such as Badger Studios. And then you have this:
>ask Anna about audition
"I don't think you've got what it takes to get this part," Anna tells you.
>ask Anna about me
"You've a fairly interesting look," Anna says. "You might have a shot at movies."
It seems like she contradicts herself. When you try to get her to elaborate on these points you get “Anna shrugs.” Well, perhaps dialog is not meant to be the focus in this game. But even if dialog is not how progress in made, it would still have added some depth.
What else? You can also play the game in commentary mode (Spoiler - click to show) (“cmtry on”) if you want to hear the author’s take on things. I do not have a lot to compare it to, in terms of AIF. As a general IF piece I would say it is a decent game. The puzzles are straightforward and there are no noticeable bugs. It was an interesting experience but not really a game I would return to. But if you are looking for some AIF then yes, I recommend it.
You play as a young man named “Olde” MacDonald. Do you have what it takes to be a farmer and support your family (and maybe even become famous)?
The game is organized into “cycles” of five days that begin on December 27th which ends when the new year begins. Gameplay consists of feeding or medicating animals, fixing stalls, or butchering animals.
Here, you have the following materials on hand:
🌾 Animal feed: 3764 kilograms
💊 Medicine: 54 units
However, the game predominantly focuses on butchering animals. Once you stockpile a certain amount of meat everything after that can be sold for income. There is some strategy to this. Certain animals produce large quantities of less expensive meat while others produce small quantities of expensive meat. I would focus on the former until I fulfilled the stockpile and then switch to the latter when it came to selling surplus. Butchering animals is not my thing, but this is NOT a graphic or gory game. When you do butcher an animal it is merely implied.
When I first played the game, I thought I was in a dream of resource management. But this wilted. For instance, there is hardly any resource management with the medicine. Only the (Spoiler - click to show) lambs get sick and require use of the medicine supplies. The lambs also die too quickly. The first time I played I was busy exploring the barn and within a few turns (less than one day in the game’s world) all the lambs died of starvation. I had to start over. Because this occurred at the start of the game it was not an issue but still seemed weakly designed.
⚠️ The 🐑 lambs in Stall 1 are out of food!
☠️ All of the 🐑 lambs have died.
::: What do you want to do?
With each year new types of animals are added to a stall and the number of animals in each stall will also increases. Gameplay becomes chaotic. The animals keep damaging their stalls and running out of food too quickly for the player to keep up with.
The game ends once you make $10,000. You can either choose to keep playing (and instead of going to the December of the next year to start a new cycle you keep on playing into a January) or give up farming to seek a different path in life. There are some achievements including three hidden ones. The only hidden one I reached was called (Spoiler - click to show) “Clean Sweep” where you manage to butcher all your animals before the year ends.
Just so we are all on the same page, the game is a rift off a song by the same title. Each verse is about the animals on a farmer’s farm. In the game school children visit your farm to write songs about it. That is supposed to be a reference to the song that it is based on.
It seems like original song is based on barnyard animals, livestock. The game introduces lambs, cows, goats, ducks… snakes? Parrots and frogs? An elephant? The game transitions towards housing, slaughtering, and selling and/or consuming exotic animals (again, nothing graphic). I think the game is trying to take a creative approach to the song by incorporating more novel animals, but the result is confusing and outlandish. The frustrating nature of the gameplay makes it difficult to appreciate these changes because you can barely keep up with everything. Plus, the introduction of these animals does nothing to influence the gameplay or the story beyond needing to butcher them.
I recently played another game by the author called Zombie Blast 2023 which I also reviewed. Zombie Blast 2023 took a unique approach to ChoiceScript by incorporating free range of movement in its gameplay. Free range of movement is where the player can roam around in a space while directly examining or interacting with things in their environment. In Zombie Blast 2023 the goal is to defend your house against zombies. Having free range of movement in the house emphasized that the player must engage in combat. Old MacDonald Had a Farm also tries to use free range of movement in its gameplay, but the result fell short.
Old MacDonald Had a Farm uses this technique to map out the barn which is creative. You can walk across the barn in sections and enter six different stalls. It flows like a parser game, which is great to see in ChoiceScript. But its implementation in the game is repetitive and inconvenient. It means having repeat the sequence of “enter the barn,” “move east,” “move east,” “move east,” “move east,” “enter the stall to the north” just to get to stall 5 to put some food down. It gets tedious as you try to process dozens of animals throughout the barn. As you gain more animals the screen becomes filled with notifications which means that the screen is always shifting. It becomes “enter barn” (scroll down), “move east” (scroll down), “move east” (scroll down), you get the idea. Disabling animation in settings reduces this a little but does not completely prevent the screen from jumping around.
You may run into bugs. Frequently, I would get popup error messages such as, "farmer line 1351: visited this line too many times (1000),” that would appear while I was moving through the barn. I applaud the author’s experimentation with the medium, but it was not as successful as Zombie Blast 2023.
Story + Characters
The game begins with a story segment where MacDonald attends a dance where he encounters a young woman (her name is randomized) that he knew from childhood. Here, the game strives to create a wholesome 1940s atmosphere. The two fall in love and get married. This was a great story-centric way of starting the game and I thought that the gameplay would be intersected by more story scenes. Yes, there are scenes at the end of each year to summarize your progress, but it is not the same. Instead, everything is stagnant and repetitive.
Character dialog seems unnatural. For example, at the end of each day the protagonist’s wife says, "MacDonald, time to wrap things up and come home for dinner. Tonight, the family needs to eat 9 kilograms of meat." The phrase “the family needs to eat 9 kilograms of meat” is awkwardly worded and too clinical given the context.
You seem to have a (Spoiler - click to show) kid every year and once the oldest is barley older than a decade you start getting a grandchild each year. If you fail to butcher enough meat your family has to eat cabbage and potatoes for dinner. This is enough to make them malnourished within one day. Within two or three days (Spoiler - click to show) a child dies from malnourishment because they had to eat cabbage and potatoes for a few days instead of meat. It just seemed so artificial and unrealistic in comparison to the content we see at the start of the game. Perhaps it is meant to be comical, but I was expecting some story milestones.
Its creative visuals are probably the strongest part in the game. Visually, it is incredibly polished and a creative use of ChoiceScript. Text area is dark blue set against a pale blue backdrop. There are clever little icons used throughout the game including animals and human characters.
I wish I could say this was an excellent game, but it falls short of its goal. The ideas are there: colourful visuals, resource management, basing the story after a song, and more. But the finished piece is lacking. The implementation is flimsy, and the story dulls soon after the game begins. There is no denying the unique use of ChoiceScript and I think that the game is worth trying for that reason alone. But it probably will not sustain players’ interests for longer than a few rounds.
In fact, dazzling would be an understatement. But before we dive into that let’s start with some background.
Note: This review is about a first chapter demo for a commercial game (hm, now that I think about it Andromeda Acolytes is probably the first commercial Inform game that I have played). As a formality, the review is also based off info on the IFDB listing. Other websites have additional content.
Andromeda Acolytes is part of the Andromeda Series and, based on what I have seen so far, seems to branch off in terms of story depth and gameplay style (such as scuba diving). If I had not known that this game was part of the series, I would not have made the connection, or at least within the demo. The Andromeda Series was created by Marco Innocenti and is certainty worth your time. I was not particularly a fan of Andromeda Awakening - The Final Cut (I must admit, I only played the first half) but was really impressed with Andromeda Apocalypse — Extended Edition which won the 2012 IF Comp (and I played that one several times and recommend it). There are other installments by other authors but those two seem like the "main ones.” Even if Andromeda Acolytes takes the series in a new direction, I have no doubt that it will be valuable addition.
This is a seriously cool game. When I first saw it, I pounced. The demo reminds me of the game Subnautica (non-interactive fiction) and Tangaroa Deep (Twine) composed into vivid Inform piece. For a true effect watch Blue Planet afterwards.
The protagonist’s name is Korhva Vits, but usually referred to as Vits in the game. Vits has been assigned to a submersible mission to clear debris and relocate sea life. The player stays in a dive zone where they manage objects’ weight limits and their own oxygen levels. The game ends once you complete all tasks.
The locations can be overwhelming at first due to the amount of detail (which is also a good thing) but the game makes things user-friendly, especially with character dialog. The “think” command summarizes your tasks which is especially useful. I appreciate how the player’s oxygen levels decrease at steady but slow pace rather than depleting too quickly. Part of the immersive quality is that creatures are swimming around as you explore which gives it a simulation feel. It is the construction of a detail ecosystem that makes it vivid.
The overarching story is that the planet Monarch (actually, I do remember Monarch from the other games) is populated with a modern human civilization that has no knowledge of how humanity came to exist on their world. The demo is too short to really delve into the game’s vast story. If anything, I was expecting a bit more in terms of a synopsis, but the effect only leaves me drooling for more. The game’s description (VR, cities, machines, wild technology, you name it) is vast, and the demo only skims the surface. There is a (Spoiler - click to show) mysterious slab under the boulder in the trench, which was interesting, but otherwise no story developments. But hey, it is a demo, and I think the author balanced story content with gameplay. Andromeda Acolytes paces its worldbuilding.
The gameplay is in first person. There is not a whole lot of information on Korhva Vits, but unlike Innocenti’s first two games in the series the protagonist is female. I thought that this was an interesting change and look forward to learning more about Vits. The game’s description explains that there are three other female protagonists who will appear in the full release, but for the demo it is just Vits.
There are three other characters whom the player hears over the comms: Dion, Hugo, and Eichi, but the player only speaks to Dion since the other two are in different dive zones. The game uses the “talk to” mechanic and characters have detailed responses based on the location whenever the player speaks. Even though the game does not share much about Dion’s character they are still interesting because of their friendly relationship with Vits.
That is correct, there is a few visual elements in this game. There is a map on the right side of the screen and consists of a bright blue gradient background with boxes marking the player's location and the possible exits. This minor but crisp feature evokes an ocean atmosphere with its colour choice. It can also be turned off to save screen space. The author seems to strive to make things user-friendly. Hopefully the full release will continue with built-in maps.
(The cover art is also fantastic, by the way.)
As you can see, the game’s page on IFDB says that the game will be released in 2025 (potentially shorted if you support the author) which is a while, but I think it will be worth the wait. If the demo is any indicator, I have a feeling that it will be immensely popular with players when it is released. The player only gets to dip their toes into the sand with the demo, but it has every sign of being a stellar game.
Our PC is Yonza, an alien protagonist seeking out a life with purpose. Often games opt with human protagonists with diverse alien NPCs, so I like the game’s approach. It is also a game about gender and life circumstances. As Yonza you will explore these issues by interacting with a diverse range of characters.
The decision at the start of the game is to pick between the Rebel Alliance and the Federation. If you choose Rebel Alliance, you go home to share your decision with your family before leaving to find Rebel presence in the city so you can accept your first mission. This part involves hanging out at bars and burger joints until you find the correct password to meet with other rebels. If you choose the Federation instead, you will automatically be assigned to a mission. This too, involves investigating culinary establishments but character encounters have some variation.
The game has the player roll dice for some choices, but dice concept is only used a few times. I am not particularly a fan of games that rely on dice, but if they are going to utilize it, I feel like they should stick to it. This game abandons it early on. The game also does not say that you need dice at the start of the game so you might be left hunting for one after the game begins. Or you can skip but I still gave it a try on my first playthrough.
Eventually, the game becomes less interactive. Aside from choosing the order in which to talk to people, which does not affect anything, the gameplay consists of clicking on a single link at the bottom of the screen. There is also a lot of text on the screen that can be difficult to process. I recommend playing this game at least twice to experience its content.
The game's genre on IFDB is "Educational," and its description says that its goal is to tackle queer issues in a sci-fi setting. This is an excellent goal. Science fiction opens all sorts of possibilities with alien species, locations, technologies, and political customs that act as a backdrop when exploring present day subjects. For an author, your mind can go wild while conveying important messages to players. In fact, there already are games out there that analyze crucial topics about social issues and human rights through their engaging stories. Star Yonza would be the same way if it did not suffer from unpolished implementation. The idea is still important, but it is too confusing and scattered at the moment for its idea to leave a mark on the player. I liked how the game portrays a diverse range of family structures, such as with Yonza’s family, but the rest felt murky.
There are two story points that the player investigates. The first is (Spoiler - click to show) housing displacement in the aftermath of a civil war, and the second is a lumber resource conflict. The player interviews a selection of individuals for both issues. The most cohesive part of the game is talking to NPCs about their experiences. This is where the game starts to dig in with subjects about housing and economic equality. For each case the game lists NPC responses on the screen so you can compare them until everyone has been interviewed. The gameplay then shuffles on. I found it difficult to outline the game’s story structure and plot elements, but the ending (Spoiler - click to show) is lighthearted. It is about cultivating your own family and friend support system with the people around you. It also a satisfying ending for Yonza because everything seems to click into place.
The game sticks to a basic visual design with white screen, black text, and blue links. The text was easy to read though paragraphs are formatted awkwardly.
There are quite a few spelling and grammar errors. I am not referring to pronouns which at first, I thought they were misspellings until I realized that they are intentional. I do like how the author strives diversify beyond him/he, she/her, they/them pronouns in a sci-fi work.
Star Yonza is a short game (10 minutes) that you should play more than once to get the most out of it. Even though it seems to have (Spoiler - click to show) only one ending there is variation in the gameplay that can be enjoyed. The game is rough around the edges, something that would be alleviated through testing. Regardless, its characters, including Yonza, are still vibrant and its subject matter on queerness is still significant.
This is a short mystery game where you search someone’s apartment in their absence for a black phone.
There is a brief intro that is a bit confusing. I will summarize it here to provide some context. It is the dead of night in the apartment. Peter, a possibly a doorman or attendant, hears a stranger loudly ringing at the entrance. This stranger is named Ronald and is the PC for the gameplay. Ronald manages to sneak into the apartment of Anastasia Kozlowa who happens to be away on a trip. By the time the door to the apartment closes, Ronald is already inside. Peter decides to wait in the hallway. That is the intro.
The story is in omniscient third person because it covers the thoughts of both Peter and Ronald. However, Ronald is the only playable character. The gameplay begins in the living room. From there, the player has free range of movement to visit each room and search the items within. Most choice-based games with free range of movement tend to be Twine games (I have a recommended list about it if you want to know more), so it was nice to see this implemented in a different format.
Ultimately there is only one puzzle which is to (Spoiler - click to show) unlock the box containing the phone. The significance of the phone is unclear. It seems to have something to do with Leonard Yakovlev, a painter whose name crops up throughout the game. Everything else is either atmosphere or hints on the (Spoiler - click to show) box’s combination.
Story + Characters
Ronald somehow already knows that (Spoiler - click to show) the phone will be in a box in the bedroom. Some parts of his thoughts and mannerisms suggest that he is an acquaintance of Anastasia, or even a friend. But at other times he feels more like a stalker or someone who only knows her at a distance. She is an exotic dancer and the game hints that she is big enough of a celebrity to be covered in the tabloids. This provides some explanation as to how he knows about mundane things like the clothes that she often wears, but something tells me that he knows her through more than just following the tabloids. Ronald absolutely refuses to search through Anastasia’s lingerie or bathroom out of respect for her privacy. Would a stalker do this? It is hard to say. Ronald remains a mystery throughout the game.
The only criticism I have about this game is the ending comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. When you (Spoiler - click to show) leave the apartment, Ronald turns on the phone. Immediately the phone starts emitting the sound of screeching monkeys. He then spots a body on the ground (Peter, perhaps?). Then the game says, "A QUANTUM MAGICAL SMART PHONE FIESTA." Ronald leaves, and the game ends. This confusion is why I am giving this game four stars rather than five. The gameplay is excellent, and the story is intriguing, but the ending leaves you blinking at the screen in confusion. The only correlations that I can think of is the (Spoiler - click to show) letter on the kitchen table that mentions something about “Quantum audio,” and the bedroom wardrobe is filled with portable audio players. But I do not get the connection. If anyone else does, I would like to know.
It plays and looks like an Ink game. If I did not know otherwise, I would have thought it was made with Ink. Instead, it is a combination between Undum and Raconteur, both of which are formats that I am less familiar with, especially Raconteur.
The screen is a dark navy blue that runs a bit lighter at the bottom of the screen. This small contrast adds some depth to the background. The title of a room's location is listed in large text in the lower left hand of the screen. Beneath it are listed the other locations you can visit in the apartment. The text is clean and crisp, and I did not find any spelling errors.
This was a short and refreshing game. It felt like a gem when I stumbled across it on IFDB, and it did not disappoint. The confusing ending knocked it down a few points but everything else was consistent. It does not take long to play and is a good choice if you are looking for a mystery game.
BaoBao follows the trope* of a protagonist digging through a computer only to find a surprise AI. Our protagonist is Aiyo. Her mother recently passed away and she now needs to sort through the contents of her computer. Along the way she uncovers an AI.
Gameplay consists of the player rummaging through a directory system on a computer. There are several directories, such as recipes or notes, each of which contain a file named “baobao” and a string of numbers. The other files in the directories are of no interest. The player only makes progress by exploring the baobao files, but when they do an AI intervenes. The AI prevents the player from viewing the file’s contents but instead adds new commands to the home folder that expand the story.
The game also has the option making a cup of tea before returning to the computer. This added some ambience because the protagonist is trying to stay calm, and level minded in the aftermath of her mother’s death. It adds a nice self-reflective approach. And if the player wants to pause the game itself to make some tea, that is fine too.
The game's description is "A young woman is sorting through her deceased mother’s personal computer and finds an AI in her way." If I did not know otherwise, I would not have said to myself "oh wow, I found an AI!" It is more subtle than that. They only part that screamed AI was when (Spoiler - click to show) the game says, “Aiya, don’t try to hide your face. I can see you know. This computer got webcam. Aiyo. No make-up also,” implying that it is Aiyo’s mother, or at least a digital version of her, is present. These interactions are brief and sometimes it can be confusing to keep track of when the AI is addressing the player and when the player is merely experiencing the Aiyo’s thoughts, especially since they are both shown with the same white text formatting. It does not feel like you are interacting with an NPC. While I liked the subtly, this vagueness may disengage players.
Game has some interesting themes on femininity, especially from traditional conventions. Aiyo has vivid memories of her mother and philosophies of beauty. Especially vivid ones are the smell of her mother's perfume or the fancy ornate patterns on her lipstick case the surface as she searches the computer. We learn that her mother was (Spoiler - click to show) always worried about her daughter's chances of finding a decent husband, one that would love her and never have affairs since her own husband had a beautiful girlfriend on the side. That was her main priority for Aiyo. She would often say that Aiyo was not pretty enough and that she should take things like makeup seriously. From the mother's perspective, this was not meant to be mean but to ensure that her daughter found a husband who would love and respect her. From Aiyo’s perspective this was stifling, and she was frustrated over her mother's attempts to find her the perfect lipstick shade colour or pressuring her to diet to maintain a feminine size and figure. These differences in ideologies come to light as the AI reveals more about the mother’s view of her daughter. They begin to come to an understanding.
I kept thinking that baobao is a pretty cool name for an AI until I found the translation. 宝宝 (baobao) is a word from the Chinese language that means baby or treasure and can be used as a term of endearment. The application of the word can vary, but this definition was the bulk of the results I found. So, is the (Spoiler - click to show) AI Aiyo’s mother or is it just a model of her personality and interests? Did her mother intentionally create the AI or was it accidentally formed from the clutter on the computer? There is a lot to consider with intriguing implications. The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) the AI giving the player full access to every baobao titled file on the computer so that the Aiyo can finally see the parts of her mother that were always hidden, the parts where she genuinely loved her daughter but failed to convey it in life. In death it is as if Aiyo is relearning her mother. The game wraps this up on a graceful note that I found to be memorable.
The game keeps it simple with the visuals but uses stylization to create the appearance of a computer screen. For these segments the game has a black screen with green text and blue links. Otherwise, it sticks to white text. The creative part was that the player could choose between clinking on links to navigate the computer or type them in. This added some nice interactivity to an otherwise basic Twine format.
I really enjoyed this one. It is a thoughtful sci-fi game with a contemplative approach to death and memories. The dynamics between Aiyo and her mother were especially compelling and thoughtful. Throughout their lives they always seemed to clash in values but now Aiyo gets to see the possibility that she was closer to her mother than they both realized. Plus, I liked the cover art.
*Binary by Stephen Granade comes to mind, even though it has a different tone and subject matter.