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ChoiceScript

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Blood Island, by Billy Krolick

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
What could possibly go wrong?, November 14, 2022

In a nutshell: Slasher horror + Reality TV + Dating sim = Blood Island

This is the only ChoiceScript game in the 2022 IFComp. Blood Island begins with a great start. You are watching a video of a contestant from the previous season of a reality TV show being stabbed by someone wearing a Barbie mask. The video ends and Chloe, a manager, enters the room. That’s because you are a contestant for the upcoming season of Passion in Paradise!

Blood Island cleverly replicates the qualities we recognize in romance-oriented reality TV shows but adds a unique and gruesome twist while maintaining an underlying light-heartedness. Even if you do not typically like horror or romance, Blood Island may surprise you.

Gameplay
Scenes usually focus on character interaction. A chunk of gameplay choices is reserved for discussing the nature of horror and reality TV with the other characters. While I would have liked to have a few more action-oriented choices about doing instead of talking (both are valuable), I like how the gameplay introduces the player to key ideas about popular culture and then pitches the concept of a Final Girl as part of the discussion.

We learn that a Final Girl (or Final Guy/equivalent) is more than just someone who is the sole person standing when the smoke clears. It is also a series of designated characteristics packaged by social expectations, often with gender norms. The traditional idea of a Final Girl has qualities ranging from drinking habits (or lack of), expectations about purity, graciousness, beauty, all the way to having the right name. Interestingly enough, the player can pursue an inverted version of a Final Girl to challenge the tried-and-true mold.

There are stats although they are only shown at the end of the game which I usually do not see in ChoiceScript games. I guess the point to use it in a more reflective manner since (Spoiler - click to show) the game wraps up with the player being interviewed about their whole experience.

Some encounters have a measure for endurance. If a player has a high enough stat more choices are available. If it is lower, some of the choices will be greyed out and unavailable. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) when the player is swimming from the shark as fast as they can, their choices are about having enough endurance to out swim the shark. These choices look like:

Keep swimming.

Keep swimming!

Swim harder!

Swim like hell!

Swim, damn it!

Don't. Stop. Swimming!!!

If you are in good shape, most of these options will be available. Otherwise, the faster options are greyed out. The game seemed to take your previous gameplay choices into consideration. If you partake in less healthy habits the game will say, “You're not exactly out of shape, but you also haven't been making the healthiest choices since you joined the show,” whereas healthy choices result in, “You take care of yourself, and it's paying off.” I thought that if I played my cards right and increased my performance, I could out swim the shark. But no matter what I did the last choice of, “Don’t. Stop. Swimming!!!” would always be greyed out.
The outcome of the scene remained the same.

If there is any underlying content, I am more than ready to go digging for it, but so far, the game sticks to the same course no matter what I do.

Story
I was hoping that the game would indulge the reality TV show premise for a little longer because it is not often that I see this envisioned in interactive fiction. Passion in Paradise tasks contestants to entering a relationship by the end of each week to avoid from being disqualified. Now that I think of it, if this were a real TV show it would probably have more than eight contestants total, but this size works perfectly for this game. Contestants also receive date cards that details a fun excursion they can go on with another contestant. The gameplay never goes past round 1, nor does it reach the point where a contestant is eliminated- (Spoiler - click to show) that is, eliminated according to the show’s rules. By other means? Watch out. The stranger with the Barbie mask makes several appearances in this game.

Spoilers! (Spoiler - click to show) I thought it was sad at how the person you choose for the one and only date on the show dies but if you think about it most of the contestants (and even some non-contestants) get slaughtered in the last scene as well. Takes the idea of Final Girl literally. After all, this is a moment for slasher horror. In the epilogue the player receives a phone call about returning to Passion in Paradise. Considering how many contestants died, I am surprised that the show still manages to continue for another season.

Characters
There are seven romanceable contestants, and their introduction to the show is spot-on in creating a reality TV opening montage effect. What frustrated me about these intriguing contestants was how interchangeable the dialog and character interactions were after the opening chapters. They respond the exact same way for everything without any consideration of their unique characteristics that are portrayed when they are introduced at the start of the game reality TV-style. There are certain situations where I figured that Nick would have a different response than, let’s say, Mona, but the writing is almost always the same aside from their names. I am being a bit unreasonable since it is a lot of work to write content for seven separate contestants but please understand that the writing is well done, and it will take time before you exhaust the content.

Now, I know the game is playing around with stereotypical concepts, particularly with the trope of an ideal character that the audience adores, but it also seems like all the NPCs are equally enamored by the player, which feels flimsy. The relationship between a Final Girl/Guy PC and NPCs almost skims the Mary Sue trope which is partly the point in Blood Island. Afterall, you are the package deal. I feel that just because a contestant wins the hearts and minds of viewers does not mean their fellow contestants automatically feel the same way. The NPCs are also competitive contestants who, unlike a TV audience, directly interact with the protagonist and have a chance to form a deeper opinion of them.

Final Girl or not, even if you try stir up drama, and there are opportunities to do so, they forget about it a scene later. It makes me wonder, (Spoiler - click to show) is it even possible to get them to reject me when I choose them for the date card activity?

Also, just for the heck of it, I decided to try an alternate path. The game almost hints at a (Spoiler - click to show) possible Chloe, although I cannot say that I like her character, route. Is it possible to go through with it?

Final (get it? Fine.) thoughts
I have played two of the author's games and I noticed a skill for taking a potentially seedy premises and making it work. Horror game in a retirement home? Slasher horror on a reality TV show? The author pulls it off. (By the way, consider playing The Waiting Room from last year’s competition. Horror with a human touch.)

I was similarly impressed with Blood Island. This game offers a wild time. Your first playthrough is exhilarating and will likely leave you reaching for seconds. After some experimentation the allure fades, but there is enough content to sustain the player for a while. Its discussion of the Final Girl concept is especially memorable.

Question: If someone (Spoiler - click to show) stabs you with a cake knife in your stomach all the way to the hilt, would you survive that? It is surprising at how the human body can withstand major injuries but that sounds like it would test the limits. Then again, perfect for a slasher story.


Star Tripper, by Sam Ursu

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Rescue your sibling and dominate as starship captain, October 23, 2022

You are blissfully working in your home lab when an urgent message from your older sibling arrives. They have been kidnapped by pirates through an elaborate plot and need rescue from Sector Zero. Unfortunately, Sector Zero is just a myth. But that should not stop you. Command a ship, embark on the life of a trader, and do what it takes to be reunited with your sibling.

Quick note
I have already reviewed two other ChoiceScript games by the same author. One game was successful, the other less so, but they were both novel pieces. Star Tripper blows them out of the water in terms of creativity and innovation. It is one of the most ambitious ChoiceScript games I have seen. Not the cream of the crop in terms of quality, but I find its ambition to be remarkable. However, this is dulled by rocky implementation. I spent a long time on this game, far longer than any game I have played so far for this year’s IFComp. It has been idling on my computer for days. I have been utterly unable to reach an ending and have exhausted every lead. But I want to finish it. This will be a long review simply because I want to share my experience so far.

Gameplay
The intro is mostly exposition, but the player chooses their sibling’s attributes and other logistical details. The main gameplay begins once you reach space. Travel is straightforward. The setting is broken into quadrants and sectors, with each quadrant being divided up into four sectors. You manage your fuel and battery levels as you travel while also conducting trading and buying. If you are a fan of resource management, this game may interest you.

At first glance, this game is an open world dream. So many places to visit, including banks, churches, bookstores, bars, coffee shops, casinos, you name it. A big part is trading and selling items, but there are other ways of earning income. There are also all sorts of adventurous encounters. Avoid black holes, fight off pirates, claim your own asteroid, upgrade your ship, and more. When they gameplay begins after the intro, the possibilities seemed endless. I had the same feeling when I first tried Skybreak! Unfortunately, none of this fully comes to fruition.

The player must micromanage just to get ahead. As I was busy puttering around the galaxy, trying to maintain my fuel levels and finding planets willing to buy the excess cereal grains I had in my cargo hold, I totally forgot about my quest to find my sibling. Plus, the game sometimes gives mixed messages. Some activities are blanked out and only available in Arcade Mode which is unlocked once you complete the game. Fair enough. But there is inconsistency with Story Mode. For instance, the game will let you attack this trade ship but not that trade ship even though nothing about your ship’s status has changed. Planning is difficult when you are not sure of the game’s reasoning. Also, there is only one save slot, but I am grateful that it is available. Cling to it like a life raft when you are uncertain.

As I struggled to make long-term progress, my mind would wander to Superluminal Vagrant Twin. I want to be careful about comparing the gameplay between the two because they are made with different formats (Inform and ChoiceScript) that provide unique experiences. Nonetheless, their stories touch on a similar theme: Overcoming obstacles to save a sibling. They are also both sci-fi trading games.

Superluminal Vagrant Twin is not about finding your twin. The game does not go too deep into backstory but in a nutshell, your twin is frozen in a cryo tube, and you need to pay off your debt to get them back. A lofty objective, especially you are essentially broke. As a trading game, trading and buying goods is the core mechanic. But the game does not just toss the player out and say, “off you go, trade and buy until you make enough credits.” The gameplay is structured to point the player in the right direction by helping them identify smaller goals that lead to the master objective of getting your twin back. Having sub-objectives in Star Tripper would have been infinitely helpful, or at least an objectives list to remind the player of what to look for.

Once you manage to get your foot in the door you have more mobility. There is just a steep learning curve. I floundered for a while. Let’s see what I looked like as I floundered.

For such a vast and dynamic setting, I was overly hesitant to experiment due to the outcome of my first playthrough. I had to start over because I was stuck on a planet with not enough fuel to leave, which is not as tragic as it sounds. Every planet has a bar or drinking establishment where there is always a customer who will sell you fuel pods and other items if you buy them two drinks. The downside: I had almost no credits, not enough to buy two drinks, let alone fuel pods. I had no cargo to sell. The only option was to work a few shifts at the café. However, you get about 22 credits per order you complete during your shift. When you need hundreds of credits just to get off the dang planet this is not practical (and to seal the deal, I saved the game when I landed on the planet). Starting over seemed like the best option. I approached my next playthrough much more cautiously and was more mindful of when I saved the game.

As I mentioned earlier, it is hard to get ahead. Buying a ship to travel to Sector Zero is a distant dream. The most hopeful opportunity for my floundering self was mining on Class 1 planets. Filling a sack full of ore brings in 1000 credits plus a bonus. Sounds great. You decide how deep you want to go down a mineshaft. The deeper you go the better chance at finding ore (the max is 50 meters). However, if you decide on 50 meters you must click on a link- tap, tap, tap- 50 times in a row to reach the bottom of the shaft. If you find ore, you click on a link a few dozen times to fill your bucket. Then you click 50 more times to reach the surface. It takes about eight of those trips to fill up a sack, and that is assuming you find ore when you go down the mine. Progress was so slow.

But that can change.

The following is the rest of my semi-successful adventure. I found a strategy that made a million credits become a realistic goal, and even learned a few more details about saving my sibling. I am just going to hide it under one big spoiler tag. Hopefully this may give you some ideas.

My experience
(Spoiler - click to show) Fortunately, I did not flounder forever. The key is to establish a colony factory on an asteroid. But this is far, far, easier said than done. If you stumble across an asteroid, you can claim it for your own without fees or legal tape. Then, you hire colonists, and supply them with building materials such as iron or lumber. If you bring enough of these to your asteroid, you can upgrade its production level to increase your profit. The downside is that every time you upgrade your asteroid the game decides to reduce your cargo hold limits, which is unreasonable if your ship’s cargo hold only has five storage slots to begin with (as is the case with the Pigeon class ship you have at the start of the game). The game does not even explain why. Furthermore, each upgrade requires more materials that will need to fit into a rapidly shrinking cargo hold. Because of this, industrializing an asteroid was not something I could do for quite a while.

I finally managed to hammer out a strategy for buying and selling goods on planets, and I reached the point where I was doing pretty well. The days of mining were gone. I went from a mere Pigeon class ship to a Firefly, and then a Gila. Making 100,000 credits became an unexpected reality, and this allowed me to buy a Clipper class ship with 100 cargo hold spaces. This whole process, however, was slow and repetitive, so I decided to take a whack at colonizing an asteroid. Even if my cargo load were reduced there would hopefully be some left to continue trading. It did not take long for my ship’s cargo hold to go from 100 to 0, but by then things were looking up. I was making enough that I could simply buy another Clipper class ship to replace the old one. I burned through THREE Clipper class ships as I industrialized my asteroid, but by the time I had my production level reach level 16, the cost of a Clipper ship was practically pocket money. I could now buy the million-credit ship that my sibling mentioned in their message.

Oddly enough, that is where everything stagnated. Now that I had millions of credits at my disposal, I was relying on several scraps of information to carry me through, but none have brought me any closer to finding my sibling. I have tried everything. I will share them in case you have any input.

ONE: At the start of the game, your sibling says that the ship you need to buy costs a million dollars. There are two ships that fit this description. I bought both, but nothing happened.

TWO: Your sibling’s friend tells you that they may send you information on Sector Zero if they found anything in their research. That never happens. I did get one, and only one, message from my sibling after the intro, and all it said was that I needed to find the Golden Key to reach Sector Zero.

THREE: Once you have a million credits, you will eventually stumble across traders who happened to find the Golden Key and are willing to sell it. When you buy it, the game says,

🔑 Now that you've got your hands on the infamous Golden Key, it's time to find someone to help you install it.

I could not find anyone who could help me install it, nor did I know where to look. Furthermore, I had this encounter twice in this game. I would buy the Golden Key a second time and the game would act as if I first laid eyes on it. The stats page does not even mention that you acquired it.

FOUR: A useful tactic is that you can get general hints at coffee shops by buying something and sitting at an empty table to listen to the background chatter. It is possible to catch gossip about Sector Zero. You hear two people talking about a scientist who attached a gold quantum capacitor (which sounds awfully like the Golden Key) to a Zheng He class ship and managed to get it to go Warp 11. So, I bought a Zheng He ship. I am not sure if this was the ship my sibling had in mind since it costed less than a million credits, but none of the other ships had any promise. I already had the Golden Key (see previous), and I knew I needed to find someone to install it. Off I went exploring, but I did not find anyone whom I could talk to about my ship. I even had my ship wired to go Warp 10 (the max speed) in case it helped. No change.

I am out of ideas. I have played this game for endless hours, much of which I enjoyed, but I simply cannot reach an ending. Now I am groveling about in my own review. If anyone has any ideas, please comment.


Story
From the start of the game, we get a sense of the complicated political environment in the game’s universe. It takes place in a galaxy ruled by a Galactic Council that is heavily influenced by the Central Families that dominate the center of attention. Then there are the wealthy Inner Rim families, the working-class Outer Rim, and everything in between. Lurking about is a pirate group called the Syndicate that plunder spaceships and planets. All this sound extremely simplified, a classic version the galaxy being categorized into polarized groups of “good” and “bad,” when in fact, these lines are blurred.

What I like best about this game is that it is one big learning experience for the protagonist who is from a Central Family and has always taken these benefits for granted. Now, they must rescue a sibling from a group of pirates that (Spoiler - click to show) turn out to have a closer association with the Central Families than most people, the protagonist included, realize. The protagonist is also unable to make use of their own affluence because the Syndicate is watching every move. The only option is to start from the bottom. No money, no ship, and no leads except the name of potentially sketchy friend who feel from grace mentioned in your sibling’s message.

Then again, whether or not the protagonist actually learns anything is technically up to the player. You see this development (or lack of it) with the dialog options where you can choose to respond to people with entitled indifference or with open-mindedness. Because I have been unable to reach an ending, I have no idea if this whole debacle will permanently change the protagonist’s view on life. But after weathering public transportation, Class 1 planets, and dingy spaceships, well, who knows.

Characters
Character interactions are shallow but are there if you want to seek them out. They are often quite comical. I think the overall light-heartedness works well in this game.

::: What do you want to do?
🪑 Join Saboson and Star at the table
🏃‍♂️ Turn and run back to the spaceport

For the most part, NPCs are just part of the scenery, but there are ways of initiating more one-on-one interaction. Aside from the characters in the intro (and even then, their names are randomized) there is no single character whose full identity remains the same for every playthrough. I think that adds some spontaneity. The game relies on procedural generation, and it wields it well.

👧 "You know what? Screw you, Saboson. You're a thief and a liar."
👦🏻 "A thief? Because I stole your heart? Give me a break, Star!"

::: How do you want to respond, Captain?
🗣️ "I'm learning a lot by listening to you two."
🗣️ "I don't feel like I'm really being heard."
🗣️ "I hate to be rude, but let's change the subject."

What surprised me was the depth of traveling companions. They travel with you in your ship and add some diverse dialog by commenting on the things you do or even initiating discussions. (Spoiler - click to show) Unfortunately, they are only interested in hitting on you in borderline-creepy manners. For science, I tried to marry one of the NPCs. It resulted in an error that said: wedding_chapel line 951: Non-existent variable 'priest_level' which almost crashed the game. Fortunately, I just loaded my save file and decided not to test it. And to be honest, I did not want to get married. Regardless of how you feel about the NPCs, it is nice to know that the option is there.

Visuals
The game is extremely sleek looking. The text boxes are dark grey outlined with glowing borders that add a pop of colour. All of this is set against a lighter grey background. There are also little emoji icons that I have seen in the author's other games. They add an excellent visual. A whole variety of emojis are found in this game and are used strategically by the author to illustrate a point while avoiding emoji overload. That is one thing I noticed about the author's games that I have played: regardless of their content at least they look spiffy.

Final thoughts
With the author, no subject is off limits. Zombie apocalypses, farming simulations, and now a sci-fi trading a game, and I genuinely love the creativity and innovative usage of ChoiceScript. For a while, I never perceived ChoiceScript as a format that uses visual effects in storytelling. Now I am seeing how flexible it can be with not only visuals, but also with puzzle types and gameplay mechanics.

Star Tripper is a tough and confusing game, but it also has humor and adventure. Even if you do not manage to find your sibling you will still have a memorable experience with making a name for yourself and formulating strategies. It does need more polish, hence the low rating. There are some clunky bugs, but the biggest issues are, A, it is difficult to make progress, and B, long-term objectives are murky. But underlying it all is a solid foundation. If you have more than a few minutes, play this game. It has a lot of fun sci-fi and resource management themes. Just requires a little extra patience.


Old MacDonald Had a Farm, by Sam Ursu
Had a farm (didn't last, though), September 16, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: ChoiceScript

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)?

Gameplay
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?

Great.

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.

The song
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.

Setting
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.

Visuals
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.

Final thoughts
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.


Zombie Blast 2023, by Sam Ursu

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A creative choice-based zombie combat game, September 2, 2022

The zombie apocalypse came and killed your parents. Then it killed your spouse. The only person left is your baby. Using a shack as shelter you will fight tooth and nail to keep the zombies at bay. Hopefully the two of you will survive the night.

Gameplay
This is an incredibly creative use of ChoiceScript. Currently it is the first one that I have encountered where the player has free range of movement to roam around with north, south, east, and west directions. Rather than presenting the player with list of story options such as "Choose to defend the baby" or "Ambush the zombies from the north" the game has the player actively fight the zombies each step of the way. It instead uses “Go north,” “East some food,” or “Fire shotgun” options that require the player to strategize as they defend against each zombie that approaches the house. While the player cannot examine individual things in each area they can scavenge for supplies, rest, or eat. This is such a unique gameplay approach for this story format.

There are four rooms in the house, one room (randomly chosen) containing the baby. The gameplay’s core objective is to protect the baby from the zombies. You go from room to room killing zombies with an axe or shotgun before they can shuffle to the baby’s crib. There is a stats page that tells lists your energy levels, inventory, and number of zombies remaining in the wave. The player "Levels Up" after defeating each wave of zombies. Between each wave you can scavenge for shotgun shells and cans of food. I had fun coordinating these different aspects of gameplay.

There is no way of saving the game nor are there checkpoints that let you return to the previous level. It would have been helpful if these features were available because the gameplay can become repetitive. My initial strategy (Spoiler - click to show) was to shoot zombies when they were three to two steps outside of the house and axe those that entered the house or were right outside the window. I found it helpful that the game alerts the player to the number of steps a zombie has before it enters the house. Each time I cleared a room I would immediately return to the baby’s room to see if any zombies snuck in.

At one point I ran out of energy and could no longer move to other rooms. I also had no food. The only thing I could do was rest. My strategy was to wait in the baby’s room and simply wait for the zombies to come to me. This allowed me to alternate between attacking a zombie with the axe and resting. This was so effective that I continued to do this even when my energy levels were no longer an issue.


Story
The story is your standard zombie apocalypse narrative about a nondescript virus turning people into zombies which results in survivors having to constantly fend off wave of zombie attacks. This familiar storyline in zombie games does not necessarily need too many details to feel like a finished piece, especially if you enjoy the classic elements of the genre but it certainly does not hurt when authors choose to incorporate a more complex story. Zombie Blast 2023 sticks to the basics which is just fine.

The only story is about the protagonist’s desire to protect their baby after losing everyone else. The entire gameplay spans over one night. Once you (Spoiler - click to show) complete Level 9 the game declares that you made it to morning and awards you the “Survive the night” achievement worth 25 points. The game then asks if you want to continue playing or just to end it right there. I believe that this achievement means that you have “won” the game. It definitely felt like an achievement!

Visuals
This is a nicely stylized ChoiceScript game. The top portion for the story text is light orange while the menu choices are shown in black with an orange border. All of this is set against a black background. I liked this look because the colours make it stand out from other ChoiceScript games that I have played. ChoiceScript games are something that can be enjoyed with or without fancy visual effects, but it is always fun to see when authors experiment. The game also uses fun icons to illustrate player choices such as a cereal bowl next to the “Eat some food” option. It adds just a little bit of pizzazz without being distracting.

Final thoughts
This game is a great concept with some novel features but has characteristics that might frustrate players, particularly not being able to save or return to checkpoints. But at the same note it is incredibly entertaining and gives the player a chance to strategize. I recommend Zombie Blast 2023 if you are interested in the zombie genre, looking for gameplay with combat, or curious to see a creative application of ChoiceScript.



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