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1-4 of 4


Lost Coastlines, by William Dooling

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
It’s time for a nap, November 8, 2022

This game looks at what could happen when you fall asleep and dream.

Overview
I want to keep myself from going on a tangent of Lost Coastlines vs. Skybreak! since this review is ultimately about Lost Coastlines, but that is probably inevitable. Both are excellent games. They are also the only ADRIFT games that I have committed to playing because I always run into lag issues (not the authors’ fault) that make me hesitant about long, epic pieces. These two are definitely worth it.

I must confess, Skybreak! wins me over a little more, probably because I am into science fiction. Sentient-computer-adventure-friend/narrator is tough to beat. But Lost Coastlines has a lot of great features not found in Skybreak! Ultimately, they both bring something new to the table while retaining similar structural framework. If you have previously played Skybreak! which came out a few years ago, you most likely will say to yourself, “this seems familiar” when you launch into Lost Coastlines. Same goes for the other way around. William Dooling has a distinct and creative style.

Gameplay
Lost Coastlines begins with character creation. You choose factors like where you fall asleep or what type of person you are in the day which then determines your skillsets and some of the gameplay content. I thought this was clever because it makes the gameplay more personalized to what interests you the most. You then decide who you want to be in the game, such as a Scientist or Mystic, which also sculpts your adventures. Lots of possibilities. I highly encourage you to use the author’s nifty guidebook for this portion.

A key mechanic in the game is with stat related encounters where the game lists your options along with the skill used in each choice and the probability of success. It is also colour-coded! I thought that this was a consistent structure. It is easy to keep track of your stats for these encounters and I did not experience burnout after several hours of this. One of my favorite features was how you can wear individual clothing items to improve your stats.

The part that took me the longest to manage is the currency system. Believe it or not, gold and coins are not the standard. Emotions take center focus instead.

Pleasance:15| Sadness:5| Madness:42| Fury:36| Worry:218|

Emotions are generated through different encounters and can be used to make transactions or initiate opportunities. Some are easier to accumulate, for better or for worse, but it appears that they all have an application somewhere. The problem is that it can feel as if you always have the least amount of the emotion you need. There was a bit of a learning curve for me.

A complaint that some people had with Skybreak! is how the player can decide on everything except their destinations. Travel was random. Spaceships never used compass directions. But Lost Coastlines does. When you want to leave, you get back into your boat, pick a direction, and set sail. You have much more wiggle room with navigation. Many locations only allow you to perform one action, but it is easier to return to them because you can correlate their location relative to other areas. The in-game map is especially helpful. While travel is not always smooth sailing, the randomness is reduced. I think players will like that.

Story + Characters
As I already mention, gameplay content is molded by character customization choices. There is not an overarching story in the game’s world, just the player’s role-oriented objectives. You can find bite-sized story content in places you visit. Populated areas have legends or rumors that span across multiple regions. But the dreamlike quality of the gameplay means that there will be something to engage you.

Despite what the (lovely) cover art shows, I am pretty sure that the player is not puttering around in a little rowboat. Your vessel has a crew, a relatively anonymous and replaceable one that does everything automatically. You never truly interact with them, although I would not be surprised if you can recruit individual NPCs. If so, I never reached that point. You still have the chance to mingle with NPCs at destinations, particularly harbors, taverns, and markets.

My first playthrough
I will just stick this “dream” under one spoiler tag in case you want to know about my experience.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Character customization: (I decided to stick to a science-oriented theme for these choices, as was the case when I first played Skybreak!)

1. I fell asleep in class
2. Brought an old telescope with me
3. Intellectual
4. Scientist

Let's see... Highlights:
-I saw Natalie Portman in a bar (she was the bartender).
-Spent three years with a talking cat to learn about the magical arts.
-Found the Pendant of Fire (is that a big deal?)
-Crew supposedly came this close to eating me.
-Dueled it out with Schenckloth. Did not go as planned.

Challenge: At one point, my crew and I were stuck on a 3x3 grid of rooms consisting of eight jungle locations and one beach location, and I had no idea of how to leave. I tried "SET SAIL," "LEAVE," "LEAVE BEACH," but nothing. I spent the better part of an hour puttering around, studying insects, plundering ruins, and hunting for meat, but there was never any opportunity of leaving.

I wondered if I should have left it at that, but there was another issue. When you read the in-game help section it says, "As an open world game, there is no final goal or overarching story: do whatever you want! You can end the game at any time by typing WAKE UP." But if I try to do this, I get this response:

➢ WAKE UP
You are not asleep!

What does it mean I am not asleep? It is one big dream! I should be snoozing away here. Waking up was supposed to end the game and give me a final score, but I suppose not. Sadly, I had to end my first playthrough there. I wanted to keep playing but you can only search the same area for insects for so many times. That did not, however, stop me from replaying the game to sample the different character creation options. While I did not devote as much time to my other playthroughs of this game, I had fun experimenting with the gameplay. There is a lot to do.


Final thoughts
Lost Coastlines is a beautifully descriptive game. Calming with an edge of danger. The best part of this game is the open world format. Go. Explore. I love it when games capture that notion. You have your boat and go wherever you want, assuming you can weather the challenges.

Ideally, play this game when you have several hours of time available for a leisurely playthrough. Don’t try to cram it into your lunch break because it takes a while to accumulate items and stats that allow you to pursue some of the more daring opportunities. Then it becomes really fun.

Before you go: Maybe I am wrong, but isn't (Spoiler - click to show) Schenckloth, the Lord of Nightmares in Skybreak! as well?


Hanging by threads, by Carlos Pamies

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A city of webs that is tough to untangle, October 3, 2022

Hanging by threads kicks off with an exciting and clever intro. You and a group of people are traveling to the city of Oban when the tour guide decides to throw a wrench into the game plan: Only one person gets to enter. The decision is made by drawing sticks. This builds the suspense of winning an exclusive and coveted access to the innards of a mysterious realm. Atmosphere has a faint, faint similarity with Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, minus the candy and the kids. Instead, it is a city suspended over a chasm held together by spider webs.

Gameplay
Once you win the sticks drawing (which is a no-brainer) you make an important choice. Do you take a lantern, knife, or binoculars into the city? Each item opens unique content in the gameplay. This also encourages replays to try each item. If you want my take on it, (Spoiler - click to show) the lantern’s content was the most innovative while the knife’s content provides more exposition on the story. Binocular’s content was interesting too but with less pizazz.

After the intro you can explore the business level or the lower level to see some of the locals. Here, the gameplay is descriptive. Life is a tangle of catwalks and ladders. All you have to do is explore.

Story
The overarching story is intriguing. Turns out that Oban is (Spoiler - click to show) slowly falling apart. There is some secrecy about this. You hear quiet conversations in the game room and bar where people discuss an unnamed decision they need to make. An evacuation, maybe? I cannot say for sure.

There is a major weak point that drags everything down. Sudden and abrupt endings. You are puttering around doing this or that when the game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) (see below):

My surroundings seem strange, as if everything is moving and I can't stand, so I sit where I am. There's no doubt now. I don't have time to watch what the others are doing, and being honest I don't care, they should be ready for it, and I shouldn't be living this situation.

____________________________________
End

??? What does it mean by “others” and what did the player do to cause this ending?


The game is fickle. In one playthrough you may step foot somewhere and be fine. In another, you get this message. Experimenting is tricky because you never know when the game will cut you off. Perhaps there is a pattern that I am missing. But after playing and replaying the game, I still ran into the same issue.

Because of this, I have not reached a winning end. Or any end at all besides the one mentioned here.

Characters
I felt like I did not see enough to really experience the other characters. You do get a sense of people’s livelihoods which was interesting. Instead of (Spoiler - click to show) fishing for fish in a body of water people “fish” for birds inside the chasm beneath the city. Surprisingly, we also learn that (Spoiler - click to show) some people are not too concerned about the city falling apart. They just see it as the natural way of things. But when I had the chance to talk one-on-one with another character the game would come in with the abrupt ending.

The protagonist's background is also unexplored. The gameplay is in first person. We know that the PC is male and uses a cane to walk even though he is relatively young. But that does not stop him from braving the floating walkways. He seems ambitious and I would have liked to know more.

Visuals
The game uses a beige background with black text and a black line at the bottom of the screen. It is a simple design, but the game sometimes surprises the player with extra effects.

The most prominent effect occurs when (Spoiler - click to show) visiting the bar by the catwalk with the lantern. The screen and text are black to hide the words from view, but the player’s mouse is surrounded by a halo of “light” represented by rings that conjure up the appearance of a flashlight illuminating a wall quite convincingly. When you scroll over the words they appear. It closely follows the effect found in another Twine game called my father’s long, long legs where (brief spoiler for that game) (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist uses a flashlight to search underground tunnels. The only difference is that in this game the light is white instead of *yellow. Either way, this is great application of effects to tell a story.
*Correction: I remembered wrong. They are both white.

There are other effects thrown in there, but I will leave those for you to find. The only criticism I have for design is that there are some noticeable spelling errors.

Final thoughts
It has a lot of great things going for it. Compelling beginning, whimsical setting, and the freedom to simply wander. Unfortunately, there are snags that cut the game short. Just as things get going the game decides to jump out and say, "surprise! The end." If this were fixed, I would give this a higher score, without question.

I do think the surreal city setting makes it a game worth playing for a few playthroughs. But playing one that trips you up with random and contextless endings without providing the ability to save weakens the experience.


The Witch's Apprentice, by Craig Dutton
Solve creative puzzles to prove your worthiness, September 24, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Fantasy, Quest

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.

Gameplay
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.

Story
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!

Characters
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.

Final thoughts
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.


Ataraxia, by Lauren O'Donoghue

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A notably polished RPG Twine game about joining an island community, August 21, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Fantasy, Twine

The story is one of finding a place in a welcoming community. You have been granted a cottage in a town on a new island and have access to a range of locations and townspeople. With this new start, you find ways of making the cottage your home.

There is one thing I want to say about content. When I first played this game on itchio it came with one of those “You must be 18+ to view this content” popup warnings but there is little explicit content to be worried about. The game’s content warning includes (Spoiler - click to show) language, violent events, and brief blood, which is true. However, after playing the game I sincerely feel that the content implemented is nowhere near an 18+ rating. I am only saying this because the +18 rating may discourage some players from even trying it which would mean missing out on an excellent and light-hearted game. That is my take on it. I would describe this game as not for kids but reasonable for most ages.

Gameplay
The gameplay is broken into days. Each day begins at the player’s cottage. At the start of each day the player can travel, harvest their garden, craft items, read books, and invite people over if they have a good enough relationship. Sometimes the player will get notifications in their mailbox about events and festivals held by the island community.

The travel locations are the town, forest, coast, and river, each having one main character that the player can build a relationship with (and possibly pursue romance). At each location the player can scavenge for raw materials and then craft items from them. You can then sell these creations at the market or give them to other characters as gifts. Sometimes new locations will briefly be available, such as (Spoiler - click to show) a shipwreck.

You can sell and buy things at the market which was exciting at first. However, it does not take long for you to buy out everything in the market. It also felt unrealistic that you can harvest a fresh crop from your garden every single day. Selling all that produce contributed to the excess of coins that I accumulated. I was surprised there was no way to customize your cottage beyond books and plants. A room extension or remodeling would burn off those extra coins.

One of the biggest strengths in this game is that quests are smoothly implemented. Quests usually involve finding and talking to new characters for information or crafting special items. Even though quests follow a similar model they avoid feeling repetitive. Sometimes they overlap which makes the game’s world more fluid.

Story
The ultimate goal is to become a happy member of the community but there is no variation in endings. The only ending is to (Spoiler - click to show) complete every task and achievement which is shown in a list. Because of this, players may not be compelled to replay it. I could see this as a game that you play again several months later when you stumble across it and decide to revisit it.

Characters
The game requires that the player become friends with the other characters. The only way to move forward in character interactions is to (Spoiler - click to show) alternate between giving them gifts and talking to them. It feels sort of awkward to have a heated interaction with a character and then earning points with them by giving them things out of nowhere. It is like in the Sims games where you give someone a high five until they become your best friend. Nonetheless, characters are richly implemented. They may be found strolling along in locations you normally would not find them, giving you an opportunity to chat. I also liked the idea of (Spoiler - click to show) recruiting the characters as teachers if you decide to turn the abandoned house into a school because it ties back to the theme of community building.

There is also a mild stat system that is used in character dialog. Gameplay choices affect your Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and Phlegmatic levels. There is no way of checking your stat levels and it is not clear on what choices contribute to a particular stat, but it does add some extra depth. You might be presented with a list of options such as these: Here is an example of three links you could click on to respond to a character:

'Sorry. I didn't mean to intrude.'
'You left your door open.'
(Choleric) 'Looking around. Who are you?'


Each one of these would be a response to a character. If you did not have a high enough Choleric stat for the last option, it would be crossed out. Using stats in Twine games always adds a little complexity to the gameplay and Ataraxia is no exception.

Visuals
Game uses a simple colour scheme of teal background and orange text with occasional text effects in some of the quests. Everything is easy to read and navigate which is especially helpful in an RPG game where you are constantly flipping through inventories and stat statistics. I think its appearance is one of the game’s strongest points.

Final thoughts
Ataraxia is a nice ambient game with lighthearted themes of aspiration and productive community-building (along with just a touch of fantasy). Its gameplay is complex but not puzzle heavy and is an excellent example of a choice-based RPG.



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