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Andromeda Acolytes, by Wade Clarke

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A dazzling start, September 15, 2022

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.

Continuing…..

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.

Gameplay
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.

Story
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.

Characters
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.

Visuals
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.)

Final thoughts
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.


Trial of the Inuop, by Jordan Jones
Simple but fun UFO-reminiscent game, September 10, 2022

The premise of the story is that you have been abducted from your house by an alien species who call themselves the Inuop. They put you in a room with instructions to solve the puzzles within. If you solve it correctly, they will not invade Earth. If not, you are sucked into the vacuum of space. Currently I have not completed every puzzle in the game to see this outcome.

There is nothing in the game that flat-out says, “you have been abducted by a UFO,” but the introduction depicts a PC minding their own business in their living room when they are suddenly transported onto an alien vessel. That seems close to the abducted-by-an-UFO trope. I do not know if we ever get to meet the aliens directly in the gameplay. Hopefully they will keep their word about not invading Earth.

Based on what played I have played so far it appears to be a one room escape game, although I cannot say for certain until I finish it. The gameplay begins with a timer permitting the player 11 turns before the airlock opens. This adds some momentary suspense until (Spoiler - click to show) the player finds a way to disarm the timer. After that, there are no time restraints on the gameplay. The room has mostly Earth-familiar objects such as a desk, wardrobe, and couch. Later, this is combined with more alien technology. There are in-game hints, but they cut off when you reach the gameplay with alien gadgets.

I enjoyed the puzzles. They are simple and familiar but still require the player put their puzzle-solving hat on. It is not a difficult game either, but I must admit that I am currently stuck on one puzzle that is preventing me from making any more progress. I am stuck at the part where you (Spoiler - click to show) press the buttons on the panel to reveal the glass container that contains an alien device. Trying to open or break it had no effect. The game does suffer from some light implementation issues. One obstacle was:

>open glass container
It isn't something you can open.

>break glass container
The container remains undamaged. There must be some other way to get it open.

Looks like you are supposed to open it. If only I could figure out how.
Oddly enough, there is (Spoiler - click to show) an eye printed on the glass container. If you stare at the eye it appears to move. Is there a way to communicate with it? The game implements the BLINK command but so far blinking has done nothing towards solving anything. After a while I decided to stop there. If I ever finish it, I may update this review. In the meantime, I still recommend this game. I enjoyed it and it has a nice balance of refining things down to the basics without being sparse.


Containment, by Kevin Mintmier
Suspenseful but with snags, September 7, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Inform

Containment touches on a familiar concept, a nuclear plant on the verge of a meltdown. The game pairs this with the trope of a lone security guard who runs into a crisis that they alone can fix. This setting and premise come together to create a story of danger and suspense. You are a security guard working the night shift for the city's RPV-1 power plant. After falling asleep on the job, you are awakened by an alarm that informs you that the plant is in danger. The one technician assigned to your shift is seemingly absent. It is up to you to prevent a disaster.

To ramp up the heat the UNDO command is forbidden. Oh yes, save often.

Gameplay
A coolant line malfunctioned and the reactor is about to go critical. The main objective is to activate the failsafe device but the door to the failsafe room is not functioning. This leaves you with no option but to take the long route by navigating the lower levels of the facility to reach the control room’s back entrance.

Containment centers its gameplay around a single puzzle type of manipulating hatches, valves, and other machinery. Each level has a water reservoir stacked on top of each other, almost like an elevator, and on top of the water sections are walkways that are raised and lowered by turning valves. A reservoir must be filled to a level before it can be explored.

While this concept is straightforward the puzzles were challenging to complete. This was a game where I needed to draw my own map. It was hard to visualize my progress as more hatches and valves were, and as I made small adjustments, I often felt that I was undoing my work. Because of this I became stuck relatively early in the game and had to use the walkthrough. The idea of being the only person in an unstable facility with mysterious circumstances is a thrilling concept, but the technicality of the puzzles sometimes dulled the thrill.

This was my initial progress: (Spoiler - click to show) The first two valves encountered in the gameplay are the drain valve and backflow valve. If both valves are open you can walk across reservoir 1 but not reservoir 2, and the opposite occurs if both valves are closed. But once you make it across reservoir 2, an overflow valve is added to mix. While I could alternate between levels one and two, I could not figure out how to use all three valves raise the water level 3. That is where I resorted to a walkthrough.

There is some roughness of implementation. If you try to open the failsafe room door at the start of the game you get “A door stands defiantly in your path, refusing to open. Something is very wrong here -- your security badge should provide unrestricted access to all areas of the facility. Perhaps a closer look at the door is in order.” If you examine the door, you get the same message, and if you try “x badge” the game says, “You can’t see any such thing.” I feel that a little more attention to these details would refine the gameplay.

Story
The protagonist is gender-neutral and has no other details aside from their job at the facility. The game is not story intensive, and its premise does not need an elaborate storyline. There are five endings. To reach a (Spoiler - click to show) decent one you simply need to fix the failsafe device and leave, but you can improve the outcome if you investigate the whereabouts of the maintenance person who was supposed to share your shift.

There is an inherent build-up of suspense (nuclear plant about to go critical) during the gameplay that makes you eager for an explanation of what caused the malfunction of the failsafe device. But the ending seemed somewhat dismissive. When you are in the failsafe room (Spoiler - click to show) you realize that the door was sabotaged so that it could not be opened on the other side. Your first guess may be that the technician was behind the malfunction. That is, until you open the cabinet and find the technician’s body. This means that some unknown entity was behind the thwarted accident and death of the technician. But who (or what)?

Even with the (Spoiler - click to show) best ending we never know what agents or potential agents are responsible. The protagonist escapes, tells emergency responders about what happened, and become a local hero for preventing a catastrophe. I understand that the game focuses on gameplay mechanics rather than story, but I was expecting a little more context into what happened. The game does not feel incomplete, but it does leave the player with unanswered questions.

Setting
Now, this game has effective ambience of approaching doom. As you burrow into the innerworkings of the facility the game throws out phrases such as "A low rumble in the walls heralds the growing instability of the reactor core" which create a strong sense of urgency. But now that I think of it, is it possible for the plant to go off while you are inside? If you (Spoiler - click to show) leave without activating the failsafe, you get the ending where everyone dies within a mile-plus radius. But if you wait with the intention of running out of time to see what would happen, well, nothing happens. I think part of the thrill is to be racing against the clock. On the other hand, given the technicality of the puzzles it might be frustrating to have to start over because you ran out of time. I wonder what other players think.

Final thoughts
This game is perfect for players interested in fiddly mechanical puzzles. The gameplay has an exciting atmosphere and features multiple endings. For non-technical players you may want to consult a walkthrough halfway through the game to get past stubborn puzzles so you can experience a winning ending. Still, it was fun.

Also: The gameplay in Containment reminded me of the game Oxygen by Benjamin Sokal because it focuses on mechanical puzzles. While Oxygen does not feature a failing nuclear reactor it has another type of crisis: a mining station is running out of oxygen after an explosion, and you need to decide on how to allocate it.


Aurora, by katz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Great beginning but I want to see it finished, September 6, 2022

You are peacefully snoozing away in cryosleep when an alarm wakes you. The ship has not reached its destination and there is an unknown emergency. Sound familiar? Yes and no. This game draws upon recognizable themes of a starship running into trouble in space and pairs it with creative gameplay mechanics. Because the game is unfinished the goal of this review is to offer feedback over its strengths and weaknesses. (This is also probably my longest review yet so hold on………!)

Gameplay
Basics
This is a multi-protagonist game. You start as Jake, the ship's physician. Once you start to wake up the crew the game uses the command “switch to [character name]” to let you play as a different character. The characters remain in one spot until you return. Other games have probably used this mechanic, but it was relatively new for me, and I enjoyed how it shaped the gameplay.

So far, the inside of the ship has about 19 rooms to explore plus locations outside of the ship accessible via spacewalk. I have been unable to get past the retinal scanners that lead to the cockpit and cargo bay. I appreciated how the game allows to you choose between nautical directions and compass directions. Yeah, yeah, I know nautical is more realistic but with IF I am always tempted to just stick with compass directions when I play. Is that lazy of me? Maybe.

Cyberspace
Part of the game takes place in cyberspace which was cool. Accessing the computer is done through VR where the user dons a set of goggles and navigates cyberspace with an avatar by touching links and opening folders. Locked folders require a key, and some contents are protected by encryption. The game says that you need a pass to decrypt the files, but I have not found one yet. I especially liked (Spoiler - click to show) the puzzle of learning how to operate the pods by accessing the instructions in Aleksey’s folder.

After a while, navigating these folders can be tedious because each time you enter cyberspace you have to unlock each file individually and ensure that you have the proper keys. While I think that the character avatars are a bit childish* (anime cats?) and detract from the gameplay’s more somber tone, I like how the contents of each crew members’ personal folders share some insight into their personality.
*Childish given the context.

Stopping points
There are two points in the game where I ran out of progress. The first is (Spoiler - click to show) with diagnosing the crew and the second is (Spoiler - click to show) the phenomena found in Wu’s spacewalk.

The issue with the (Spoiler - click to show) crew stems from the alarm that goes off at the start of the game. The alarm reveals that Aleksey died in his pod. If the player performs an autopsy on Aleksey, they find a small crystal burrowed into his head. The crystal is a nanomachine and likely responsible for his death. The gameplay does not go any further into this. Three other crewmembers have mysterious brain damage and are comatose when you open their pods. Jake keeps saying that he needs to further investigate the crew's condition by running an MRI. But is that possible? I cannot find an MRI machine anywhere in the sickbay. That was as far as I could go.

The second progress stopping point that I reached was (Spoiler - click to show) having Wu attempt a spacewalk to fix the subspace jumper. But Wu’s spacewalk is completely different than if you spacewalk as Jake or Gail. When you step out of the airlock your spacesuit disappears and you are surrounded by mist with voices in the background. There is also a creature lurking about. In the dead of space. Strange but exciting. Furthermore, the game does not let you switch with other characters. If you try the response is "You're not getting out of this that easily.” This effectively created suspense and a sense of danger. Trying to wake up also brings an interesting response. You seem to be in a dreamful state.

When you listen in the mist, you hear voices. I followed the voices’ instructions of "wait, wait, wait, search, search, look" and then got ambushed by an unknown space creature which caused everything to plunge into darkness. Then what? There is more whispering, but it leads nowhere. This felt like a dead end. Still, it leaves the player on an interesting note.


Story
For trivia, the game takes place in 2149. Not bad in terms of advancements in space exploration! Humanity is now heading out of the solar system.

Some general background: The ship’s mission is to travel to a planet named Aglaea to establish humanity’s first presence on a world outside of Earth’s solar system. Ideally, the crew remains in cryogenic sleep until the ship reaches its destination. Once they construct a prototype colony the crew goes back into cryogenic sleep and return to Earth. I can tell you now that things do not go as planned.

The alarm at the start of the game is (Spoiler - click to show) caused by Aleksey’s death in his pod. The only bit of story connected to that is the nanomachine crystal that was implanted in his head. Was it put there to kill him? Is there any data on the crystal? We do not know yet. In some cases, if you examine Aleksey, you will notice that he is wearing a helix ear piercing. Wearing metal accessories in cryogenic sleep is unsafe. That is why everyone keeps their jewelry in the crew quarters. In fact, (Spoiler - click to show) there is a single helix-shaped titanium stud in the jewelry box that most likely belongs to Aleksey. Perhaps there is something deeper, but it is too early to say.

There is potential story about the encrypted files. (Spoiler - click to show) Commander Adam Connor has files in his personal folder mentioning a cargo list, classified objectives, and other subjects. But unlike the contents of the other folders these files are encrypted and require a decryption pass. The player can pull him out of his pod, but he is unresponsive. I have a feeling that answers can be found in the cockpit, but the door scanner does not let you scan his eye while he is unconscious. We also do not know what damaged the subspace jumper that left the ship stranded in space. How (or if at all) these events are connected is unclear, but they raise interesting implications, nonetheless.

Characters
Games with the wakeup-in-a-cryopod trope tend to focus on NPC-less exploration, and if there are NPCs, they are often non-crew characters. Usually, the protagonist is the sole crew member weathering themselves against the elements, but Aurora diverts from that by using multiple protagonists (not just NPCs) that each have a different role to play on the ship. Currently there are three playable characters: Jake, Gail, and Wu, introduced in that order.

Gail and Jake are married which was a surprise since usually you do not see this (for me, at least) in games with similar content and storylines. In fact, they were assigned as a pair. Gail had a specialized pod built to accommodate her issues with low blood pressure to ensure that they could both be part of the mission. It is a refreshing change, and I found their relationship to be endearing.

Most of the characters are (Spoiler - click to show) unresponsive even when you pull them out of cryogenic sleep, but their cyberspace profiles provide some details about their backgrounds and personal interests. There are even character drawings for the crew dossier in the ship’s computer. If you give this game a try, be sure to check them out. Look for the folder called (Spoiler - click to show) “Shared” under the DOCUMENTS section of cyberspace. If this game is further developed, I look forward to interacting with the other characters.

Writing
Dialog (or lack of) is probably the weakest part of the game. I am going to devote a section for this for the sake of feedback. Certain scenes lack dialog, such as when (Spoiler - click to show) Gail or Wu first see Aleksey’s corpse. There is simply no response. Other scenes have random banter that could be smoothed out.

It is impossible to TELL anyone about anything to advance the story. If I use (Spoiler - click to show) "tell Gail about Aleksey" with the intent to inform her that I found Aleksey dead with a suspicious crystal in his brain she says, "I want a kitten" or "I'm sorry, I was distracted by your handsomeness." These seem to be the stock response for queries not yet programmed in the game, but the subject matter of these responses distracts from the game's story (Spoiler - click to show) (death in space) and setting (broken starship). I get that Gail likes animals (so do I), especially since she has an animal slideshow in her computer files. But saying “I want a kitten” while the ship is in a state of emergency completely severed the momentum of the conversation.

The game also needs to have proper responses for some basic and critical topics when you ASK another character. If I ask (Spoiler - click to show) Gail about Aleksey she may say "I only answer programming questions. What's that got to do with programming?" I know it has nothing to do programming! I just thought you would have a comment about his death. This goes for topics such as the mission, speculation over the (Spoiler - click to show) funky crystal in Aleksey’s head, the state of the ship, or even your fellow crewmembers. Hardly any of this emerges in character dialog. Even if the subject is out of a character’s expertise there are some topics that everyone should acknowledge. Just because you are (Spoiler - click to show) not the ship’s surgeon does not mean you have to be opinionless or lack a reaction about Aleksey’s death.

The game explains that it does not provide hints but says, “Maybe one of the other crewmembers can.” In all honesty, the crewmembers are a tad useless in this regard. They have little to say about topics that match their own specialty. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) Gail is a programmer. Jake identifies the crystal from the autopsy as being a nanomachine. Perhaps Gail has some insight.

>ask Gail about nanomachines
"I only answer programming questions. What's that got to do with programming?"

Okay, fair enough. But then:

>ask Gail about programming
"I'm not the girl to ask about that, sorry."

Or

>ask Gail about ship's computer
"Come back when you've got a computer question."


I think that the puzzles are reasonable in length and difficulty. The game is not particularly puzzle intensive. But when the player runs into a roadblock, it is challenging to make any progress since there is little guidance. Using the characters as an in-game help system is a great idea, but it currently needs more polish and refinement.

Final thoughts
Development for Aurora seems dormant. There was activity about it at the IF Forum which died out. For all I know the game is abandoned. If you are reading this, katz, I want you to know that this game has a lot going for it. This review is not meant to pressure or persuade. It is simply to share feedback. As for players, expect this to be an incomplete game. I recommend playing it as far as you can, especially since you might discover things that I failed to notice.


Belief, by Justin de Vesine

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief journey through limbo, August 30, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Inform

This is a short game about limbo and the afterlife. The protagonist's backstory is vague. All we know is that they died from falling from a great height and now wake up in a reception room that represents limbo. There is brochure on the desk with three coupons for Paradise, Purgatory, and one for a place called Joseph and the Technicolor Discount Afterlife. The Paradise and Purgatory ones are expired, leaving you with the Discount Afterlife coupon. It may be a discount afterlife but at least it is not limbo.

Gameplay
The gameplay consists of discovering how to leave the reception room using items found in your surroundings. The content is minimal and sparse but is consistently implemented. There were no noticeable bugs, and its few puzzles are straightforward. This game took about 15 minutes to play. Initially I thought it was (Spoiler - click to show) a one-room game but technically it takes place in two, though most of the gameplay takes place in the reception room.

Story
The story is brief without much information on the protagonist’s death or the how the afterlife is structured. Once you (Spoiler - click to show) find the hidden bell you can travel to a dock shrouded by black mist. I expected the game to last a few more scenes but it ends once you board the ferry. The ending does leave the player with a stroke of optimism since your journey has finally begun.

The game has the familiar concept of a protagonist thrown into the realm of the afterlife who must find a way to reach their ideal destination. There are also elements that remind me of other games about death and the afterlife. The brochure on a desk reminded me of a few small scenes in All Hope Abandon (spoiler for that game) such as (Spoiler - click to show) the brochure on the pros and cons of Oblivion, and the coupons remind me of the humor in Perdition's Flames. Belief is by far the shortest but still manages to set itself apart from the other games because of its own interpretation of an afterlife, or at least one on discount. It is (Spoiler - click to show) too bad that the game ends so soon. I really was looking forward to experiencing the Technicolor Discount Afterlife…

Final thoughts
It may not be a particularly complex game, but it is a solid work. I noticed that it is an IntroComp game which probably factors into its length. I would love to see an expanded version built on some of these ideas. I like how it draws upon classic imagery, such as (Spoiler - click to show) a figure waiting to boat you across the water to the next stretch of afterlife, and yet has a unique approach with the steps needed to reach that point. This would be a reasonable lunch-break length game if you are in the mood for a game that lightly touches on themes about the afterlife.


Star Hunter, by Chris Kenworthy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An absolute marathon of an empty game, August 23, 2022

Star Hunter begins with "You wake up, ready to make yourself incredibly rich in the forgotten ruins of the Tartuest sector." Sounds like fun. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly fun game. So many rooms. Large locations that are mostly empty and devoid of any story content.

There are only a few cases where the exciting feeling of plundering abandoned alien worlds does emerge, briefly. The author has the right idea, but the implementation is lacking. The walkthrough will make your head spin. If you are going to attempt this game, I recommend that you use it.

Gameplay
You have a small personal spaceship called Atlantis, just large enough for you and the treasures you uncover. A central gameplay mechanic is the management of navigation tapes and transit bubble chips for travelling. Navigation tapes allow your ship to travel to other planets whereas chips enable you to beam down (Spoiler - click to show) (bring your gizmo with you to avoid an unwinnable state) to the surface.

The game has a Robot Bazaar where you trade items with androids. This sounds like a cool concept except that these are the stingiest androids you will ever find. They want chunks of your inventory for most items, and it is extremely difficult to know which items you will need later down the road. Many of the items on sale are red herrings. Things that look like they would be helpful only end up being a waste of precious tradeable items.

There is a pattern of going to a planet to find valuables and returning to the Bazaar to trade those valuables for other items and then going to another planet to repeat the process. After a while it became tedious. If you are not using the walkthrough I recommend saving whenever trading your items.

When it comes to scavenging objects are often found in the most random of locations such as a (Spoiler - click to show) milkshake in the middle of a transit alcove at the Bazaar. They have little context for their placement. I can understand finding a (Spoiler - click to show) discarded spoon in a campsite but a navigation tape conveniently on the ground or a chip in a deep mine shaft? It seems too random and happens throughout the game.

One last note on gameplay: When the player tries to dig deeper and go off the beaten path the game totally leaves them to fend for themself. For example, the (Spoiler - click to show) purple barrier in the bazaar that is said to be off limits but there is a Saxon disc being sold by the black android. So of course, I tried buy it hoping to find something interesting. This is what happened:

Saxon's transit alcove
You are standing in a bare and cramped chamber. Were you expecting something more exciting after all the trouble to get inside?

(yes, yes I was)

I should have known better that the game would not offer anything.
Naturally, this also meant that I was in an unwinnable state since I had to sell most of my stuff to get the disc.

Setting
Some places are more engaging than others. Lack of a detail-heavy narrative can give the player an opportunity to just explore and experiment with their environment. Unfortunately, there is usually little to interact with. These are just my thoughts on each of the locations in case you want to compare your impressions with them. This whole area is one big spoiler so I will just put it all under a spoiler tag. Besides the Android Bazaar there are six other locations.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Survey site: An abandoned archeological site and the first location in the game. Mildly interesting and carries as strong “scavenger vibe.” What ticks me off is that the player must purchase the hatched tape to return to this location. But this is where the game begins how did the protagonist manage to travel to I without having the hatched tape in the first place?

Statue: This was a cool idea but extremely sparse. You wander through a giant statue of a warrior. Sadly, you cannot even examine the city ruins that are visible from the top of the statue or explore any of the details in the abandoned train station under the trap door.

Observatory: This is an abandoned house with an observatory. The rooms tend to have more scenery even if they player is unable to interact with it. The nice thing is that the valuables are easy to find, and at least it shares the same tape (striped) as the Robot Bazaar. All you need is the OBSR chip to get to the surface.

Mine: I do think the game captures the feeling of being deep underground, especially the surprise that the bottom of the shaft is not the true bottom. Here, you look for things that have hardly seen the light of day. This one is also touchy. MAKE SURE YOU SAVE BEFORE YOU EXPLORE THE MINES! There is an absolute trap. The mine shaft platform has a lever for going up and a lever for going down. When you first arrive, it is so easy to pull one of the levers thinking that you are in the platform area that moves. Suddenly the thing will start descending with both levers on it and before you realize it you are in an unwinnable state (you cannot “undo” twice in a row). Same principle goes if you are standing at the bottom of the shaft.

Cube maze: This is one is probably the worst in quality. You arrive outside a giant cubic structure in an alien grassy field, which had cool atmosphere. But when you step into the structure all you find is an endless maze of dark rooms. Without the walkthrough it is impossible to know how many items you need to find. When the player searches the maze, their will likely find a chip and white cube* without much hassle, and then leave (like I did). But there is another precious item, a crystal cat shoe, that is hidden deep in the maze on the third floor. This gets the player worrying if there is anything else that they missed (the walkthrough says no), making the gameplay frustrating. The two redeeming qualities is that one, it is easy to exit the structure (stumbling around usually does it), and two, you only need to visit this location once. *The white cube is interesting but none of the androids seem to know what it is. Perhaps it is a red herring?

Garden world: This was the nicest location with its flowers (smell is implemented for the flowers) and streams. But I have a complaint about the gate. The key to unlock it is found on the planet with the observatory. What is the likelihood that the rusty key happens to unlock the gate in a mystical garden world? The fact that the key was found in an overgrown garden serves as a subtle hint, but it is still hard to believe logistically. You must be careful too. To buy the tower disc you give the black android nearly all your transit chips. If you do this without having found the key in the observatory you end up in an unwinnable state because you can no longer go back to retrieve it. Right when you are almost at the end of the game!


Story
Apparently, the whole point of the game is to find the “fabled lying bear of Deneb.” But the game never mentions it aside from a short sentence (and in the IFDB blurb) if you ask for help. There is no story about the bear or why it is so legendary. It is only after you (Spoiler - click to show) find the bear that the game has anything to say about it. The only indicator of its location is if you ask the blue android about the rainbowed tape. The android will explain that it leads to “Deneb Eta.” But there are no legends or bits of information that fuel the protagonist’s drive to find it. Having some story background would be immensely helpful in focusing the player’s objectives. It makes things less meaningful. There is simply no story tying everything together.

The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) finding the bear in the tower on the garden planet. But after all that effort put in to find the bear the player is rewarded with a flimsy ending. It reads, "After a moment's consideration, you take the lying bear, which is worth the fortune that you were looking for, and the unfamiliar transporter chip. Will it take you somewhere that you can make the sale??" Game finished. It left me thinking “that’s it?!” We never learn what is so significant about the bear, only that the protagonist is tempted to sell it. The only part I liked was (Spoiler - click to show) that the bear comes with a NEXT chip which hints at a future adventure.

Characters
It was not until after I played the game that I realized that it is almost NPC-less. The only other characters are the androids at the Bazaar. The protagonist has no defining details aside from the fact that they are called “Sir” by the androids and the Atlantis onboard computer.

There is an inkling of a story with the protagonist but the game reveals little. If you examine the (Spoiler - click to show) rusty pipe from the mine the game says, "Something about the pipe tugs at your memory." The description of the cap from the tower in the garden world is "Something about the hat seems very familiar, and you remember wearing it.." A similar thing occurs if you examine the white candy on the statue planet. I actually thought that there was something to be discovered but sadly interacting with the objects did nothing.

Final thoughts
This is a long game. Really long. But I am rating this game with two stars because I did enjoy bits and pieces of it, however small. I think the game would have greatly benefitted from a smaller map with more detail rather than using vast and weakly-implemented locations. On top of that the forgiveness rating is cruel. There are so many ways to make the game unwinnable. This game has all the potential of being an exciting treasure hunt game with a sci-fi setting but instead the gameplay is confusing and leaves the player anxiously wondering if they traded the wrong item or made the game unwinnable.

Was this game ever tested? I found no tester credits. That said, it is not a particularly buggy game. If you enjoy excessively long and technical treasure hunt games this might be an interesting piece to try. I do believe some people might like this game. But if anything, play it with the walkthrough.


Afflicted, by Doug Egan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mm-mmm (or maybe not), August 21, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: IFComp, Inform, Horror

You are a health inspector conducting your rounds in the city’s dining establishments. Today on the list is Nikolai’s Bar and Grill, an unsavory restaurant with some not-so-hidden secrets. Will you finish your inspection and leave, or will you dig deeper?

Gameplay
The player jots down citations with their notepad. The immediate goal is to gather enough citations to condemn the restaurant. But simply getting in your car and driving away feels like a premature ending. The game has the player to look beyond their health inspector duties and rewards them, rather gruesomely, for it by advancing the story. And another detail: Even though the game has the time listed at the top of the screen (Spoiler - click to show) time does not seem to matter. You can wait until 2:00 am and nothing changes. I am not sure if there is anything significant about it.

Yes, there is gore but much of the grossness is atmospheric. Things like mold and cockroaches. It focuses on what is needed to tell the story. The content is woven into the protagonist's reason for being at the restaurant. As a health inspector, the protagonist is required to conduct a thorough investigation of the restaurant, giving the player a reason to go digging in the trash where moldy leftovers and (Spoiler - click to show) severed body parts are found. That said, this game has its moments. (Spoiler - click to show) Reaching inside the meat grinder was probably the worst part. Even more so than the vampire-body-part-scavenger game. Play the game a bit to see if it is to your liking.

For a health inspector the protagonist does not seem terribly worried about finding (Spoiler - click to show) human body parts hidden in Nikolai’s restaurant. A (Spoiler - click to show) human foot in the soup cauldron sounds like a notable health code violation, but the protagonist does not bother with jotting it down (although the game does add it to your score). And then there is this: (Spoiler - click to show)

>note corpse
You see nothing noteworthy about the mutilated corpse.

Why is it that you can (Spoiler - click to show) note the mold on the floor in your notebook of health violations but not the corpse in the crypt? This sounds noteworthy. If anyone is interested my record for the lowest sanitation score is (Spoiler - click to show) -119.

My only real criticism is that the game sometimes glosses over gameplay details in the endings. If you (Spoiler - click to show) discover the corpse, finish your inspection, and leave by car the game says, "You enter your car and drive away, satisfied that you have gathered enough observations to have Nikolai's Bar and Grill condemned. And yet, you feel as if there is still some mystery in that building which you left unsolved." Perhaps that corpse you found in the crypt? It does not acknowledge that the protagonist saw the corpse and/or the body parts scattered in the restaurant. Also, if the player (Spoiler - click to show) breaks a window and waits in the crypt for the police to arrive, they still somehow manage to miss the corpse.

Story
The blurb gives the impression that this is a murder mystery about a missing woman. Not exactly. It is not a mystery game where you (Spoiler - click to show) try to uncover the story behind the missing woman by talking to suspects and investigating different leads. There is no “mystery” to solve, at least not in the classic sense. Once you notice the body parts hidden in the restaurant you have pretty good idea of what is going on, and it does not take long to match the missing woman in the newspaper with the corpse in the crypt. But that is what gives the game a unique twist. Rather than solving a murder this game is about weathering a territory dispute between two ruthless vampires. There are tiny little hints that suggest “vampire” even before the player finds Sofia such as the vampire book in Nikolai’s office, the anemic waitress, and Angela and Nikolai’s unease when you ask them about vampires. It does not take long for the story to reveal itself.

I thought it was interesting how the author incorporated some (Spoiler - click to show) vampire lore into the story. According to the (Spoiler - click to show) handy guidebook in Nikolai’s office there are different groups of vampires with unique behaviors, specifically Bratislavan and Transylvanian vampires. Bratislavan vampires are always engaged in territorial disputes, whereas Transylvanian vampires prefer to fly solo. Sofia Kozyar and Nikolai are Bratislavan vampires, and the protagonist gets caught up in their mess. For a while Nikolai was the dominant vampire in the area but that changed as his health deteriorated due to diabetes. This weakened him until Sofia became a serious threat, so he had her abducted and killed. But killing a vampire is easier said than done. As the player knows, all it takes is (Spoiler - click to show) some neutral party to gather up the scattered remains to reform a “dead” vampire.

This has one of the highest replay values for a parser interactive fiction game. It is short with light puzzles and has a lot of endings. Finding new endings was exciting because you had to strategize, and that is where the replay value comes in. The game's hint section says, "The game features about seventeen distinct endings." SEVENTEEN! So far, I only managed to find twelve. I would love to know if anyone finds all of them.

Characters
What does it mean to be afflicted? According to Angela, Nikolai’s affliction is (Spoiler - click to show) diabetes. For the protagonist it is (Spoiler - click to show) being bitten by Sofia and turned into a vampire. The protagonist is unnamed and is only cynically described as Mr. Health Inspector by Nikolai. The protagonist’s background is an unusual one. I cannot recall ever playing any other game where the protagonist works for city sanitation, but this background only Afflicted more memorable. There are also other small details, such as a nostalgic love for disco, that make the protagonist more multi-dimensional.

Nikolai’s character is bold but also stagnates. He (Spoiler - click to show) denies the existence of vampires and Sofia’s corpse in the crypt but continues doing so even when the player catches him drinking Angela dry. Even when Sofia confirms that he is a vampire after her voice is restored. At this point Nikolai does not seem to bother (Spoiler - click to show) hiding the fact that he is a vampire. He locks the door and tells the player that they are next to be eaten. Sofia tells us about the territorial dispute between her and Nikolai, I thought this would be an opportunity to hear his side of the story. But instead, he keeps denying it. I wish there was a way to (Spoiler - click to show) stop Nikolai AND save Angela.

Final thoughts
This is one of my favorite (Spoiler - click to show) vampire games (not sure if this counts as a spoiler but I will mark it anyway). It is short with a high replay value and has an icky atmosphere (perhaps an option during Halloween) yet retains a sense of humor.


Recess At Last, by Gerald Aungst
...yay?, August 19, 2022

The school year is currently in the dead of winter. Most recesses have been spent indoors but today's sunshine changes that. Today will be an outdoor recess. Even better, this will be a much-anticipated chance to test out your brand-new pair of sneakers. But at the last minute the teacher calls you back, saying that you cannot go outside because of a missing assignment.

Gameplay
You play as a fourth-grade student named Jamie Nelson. You need to turn in an "Explorer worksheet" about Vasco da Gama. There are two paths to approach this. If you look at the (Spoiler - click to show) blue folder in your desk you will discover that you have Daniel’s (your younger brother) schoolwork folder. This means Daniel must have your schoolwork folder containing the Explorer worksheet that you had already completed. The gameplay then consists of tracking down this folder to retrieve the missing assignment.

The other path is to (Spoiler - click to show) ask the teacher for a blank copy of the worksheet and fill in the answers. With this path you can consult the library for help. Neither of these paths are particularly exciting but at least it allows you to choose. This is followed by a puzzle about (Spoiler - click to show) finding some mittens, a coat, and a hat so the teachers allow you to go outside. This too is lackluster but does not take long to complete.

Story
In the “about/introduction” section the game says, "The daily school routine of going out to recess, transformed into an epic quest." There is nothing epic about the gameplay although I like the author’s enthusiasm. The conflict is being unable to go outside because of a missing assignment but completing gameplay objectives does not reveal any plat developments or build upon the story. The result is that it does not always feel like a game. But, in all fairness, the game ensures that there are no lose ends or questions left unanswered. It may lack pizazz but at least it presents a consistent and laid-back story.

Characters
Jamie’s personality does shine a little bit. I liked the feeling of rebellion that occurs when he dares to open the door to the bus circle which is forbidden until the end of the school day. The rush and exhilaration of such an act is humorously described, especially since Jamie is normally well-behaved and would shy away from this behavior. The other characters are not particularly interesting, but Jamie’s descriptions of his teachers strongly convey the perspective of a young student.

Final thoughts
It is bland but has no bugs. Everything is smooth and reasonably short. But there are still some upsides. In the credits section the author explains that he based this game off childhood memories, and this earnestness shows. And it might appeal to you if you are looking for a realistic school setting with a younger protagonist.


Snowed In, by Jason Self
Underdeveloped but nice suspenseful atmosphere, August 19, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Horror, Inform

Snowed In is a cat-and-mouse-get-eaten-by-a-grue game. While on vacation the protagonist visits a forest and becomes stuck in a blizzard on their way back to their hotel. In the forest they find a recently abandoned cabin that they take shelter in, although it becomes apparent that the blizzard is not the only threat that they need to hide from.

Gameplay
The game begins with the player already standing inside the cabin. The place has been ransacked and there are bullet holes in the walls and furniture. Almost immediately the player hears weird noises and the sound of something trying to bash its way in. A grue.

The player is safe from the grue if they have a light source. But when the power goes out the player must (Spoiler - click to show) fend off the grue with a lantern. The gameplay’s main mechanic consists of scavenging for light sources until you reach safety. Eventually (Spoiler - click to show) the lantern runs out of juice, which forces the player to leave the cabin and seek sanctuary before they are left in the dark.

There is a strong sense of urgency in the opening segment of the game. The player gathers as many resources as possible they can before they flee the compromised safety of the cabin, knowing that they are being hounded by a grue in the middle of a blizzard. Even more exciting is (Spoiler - click to show) the presence of an unknown figure in the distance who seems to be in leagues with the grue.

While trudging through the snow outside of the cabin (Spoiler - click to show) the game says, "Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a tall, shadowy figure lingering at the edge of your vision. When you turn to look at it directly, however, it disappears." Eerie. If you have your lantern on the figure will throw a rock at it to break it. With this, timing in everything. If the player (Spoiler - click to show) steps outside too early with the lantern, they are sabotaged when "somewhere off in the dark distance, far away from the light, a rock is hurled in your direction. It hits the lantern, breaking it, and putting it out of commission." Clearly this mysterious person is helping the grue but their identity is unknown.

After escaping the cabin, the player essentially wanders around the forest until (Spoiler - click to show) they find a hotel, fighting off darkness and the freezing cold along the way. The only (Spoiler - click to show) plot development in this part is "Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a tall, shadowy figure lingering at the edge of your vision. When you turn to look at it directly, however, it disappears." Sadly, that is all that we hear about this mysterious figure and their motives.

Story/Characters
Game hints at a complex story but does not go anywhere with it. The protagonist's backstory is simple and clean-cut: A tourist who wanders the wrong way in a forest after dark, which works fine. The compelling story is about the former occupant of the cabin because there are hints and clues in the cabin that paint a picture of what happened to them and why they deserted their cabin. These clues also indicate that the forces behind this are still lurking in the forest which adds to the gameplay's atmosphere.

The cabin owner (Spoiler - click to show) left a message on the office computer explaining that they were hunted by a grue outside their cabin for days until they ran low on supplies, prompting them to abandon their home in search of help. There is also a business card and receipt listing a company called Lasting Solutions which seems to be the cabin owner's employer. Initially I wondered if Lasting Solutions had something to do with the grue, especially due to the lurking figure in the forest who seemed to oversee the grue's assault. Even though the business card and receipt do not mention any explicit danger my guess was that the cabin owner did something to tick off their employer. However, there is no follow up on this possibility.

The player does learn about the cabin owner's (Spoiler - click to show) fate, but nothing about the grue, the figure in the forest, or Lasting Solutions. In the forest the player finds a blood-soaked backpack with the initials CE, the same initials on the snowsuit in the cabin. It is probably safe to say that they were eaten by a grue while trying to escape but there is nothing more to learn about their story. When the player staggers into their hotel staff rush to greet them and the game ends without further discussion.

Design
Snowed In reminded me of It is Pitch Black, a Twine game where the player also fends off a grue using failing light sources scavenged from their surroundings. The goal is to survive long enough until help arrives or until the player reaches safety. It is Pitch Black has a short but compelling story that creates a feeling of overwhelming suspense. It is also backed up by excellent gameplay, creating a strong piece. Snowed In has a similar gameplay concept of fending off a lurking threat but lacks in story structure and plot, especially near the end where there is no follow up on some of the key plot points that the player encountered. Despite this the game is still exciting to play and there is no denying its suspense. It just leaves the player wishing for more.

Final thoughts
This review strives to provides constructive criticism for a game that is flawed but built on a solid idea. The game has suspense. You hear something trying to break down the door. You only have a matter of time to escape. The light in your lantern is failing and if you try to turn it off to conserve power you hear the grue scrambling around nearby. (Spoiler - click to show) There is a mysterious figure in the distance. All these elements create a suspense ridden horror game. In fact, despite the bugs that trip up the gameplay Snowed In has some of the most suspenseful moments I have encountered in interactive fiction. It short enough that I would recommend it to anyone.


A Day for Soft Food, by Tod Levi
Not your typical housecat, August 13, 2022

You are a housecat hungry- no, ravenous- for soft cat food. Usually, you turn to your owner for such things, but he has not been himself recently. It seems like everything annoys him and when he does feed you it is mostly boring dry food. Instead of waiting for him you decide to take initiative and acquire some soft food.

Gameplay
You start the day curled up on the windowsill inside a one-story cottage. Your Provider* is asleep but will move about independently as the day moves on. He is one of a handful of independent NPCs that you will encounter. The initial goal is to satisfy your immediate hunger before addressing your hankering for soft food. The gameplay consists of tiptoeing around the cottage and surrounding forest in search of ways to reach this goal.

The puzzles are not always intuitive. In fact, some of them left me scratching my head. (Spoiler - click to show) Rolling in ash to disguise yourself so you pounce on a bird makes sense. And I liked the puzzle where you wake up the Provider without him knowing that you are trying to do so. But (Spoiler - click to show) tying the shiny egg* to the balloon and releasing it from the roof of the cottage so it could float down to the little boy was something I needed the walkthrough for.

I like how there are (Spoiler - click to show) two solutions for removing the Rival when he comes back for revenge. You can lure him into the road where he gets hit by a car or, and I prefer this one, dump the sack of dry cat food on him so he leaves. Perhaps that way someone will find him and give him a home. But I must say that the author really replicates the finicky nature of cats squabbling over territory (and the preposterousness of sharing a food bowl). Similarly, (Spoiler - click to show) I am glad that it is possible to reach a peaceful resolution with the Provider. He goes from throwing the cat outside to cuddling the cat during excursions in the forest. Both cat and Provider reach a sense of contentedness which made for a satisfying ending.

Story/Writing
Though the puzzles can sometimes muddle up the pacing, the game makes up for it by capturing the player's attention with humor and descriptiveness. Take the description of the beast* in the garage as an example: "You've heard such beasts rumble, sigh, bleat, and stampede. This one is quiet, and perhaps ill. He appears to be bleeding from his underside." Through the cat's perspective it takes a cold and static piece of human technology and turns it into something living. A car leaking away in a garage is suddenly a wounded creature biding its time. This formed a more vivid image in my head than if the game simply said, "a human vehicle is in a garage. It is leaking fluid." It adds extra dimension.

This game really does give a cat's-eye-view of a hungry feline in a forest setting. There are so many scents and things to climb. The alarm of encountering a strange cat, the surprise of an unexpected human, and the enticing allure of capturing feathered wildlife. And yet the house is the focal point of your world with its heated rooms and Providers who give you food (Obviously this is not the case for all cats, but the protagonist seems to be a well-adjusted housecat). I think my favorite slice of writing is when (Spoiler - click to show) the cat finally gets to eat the soft food:

A blend of tuna and chicken livers, your entire consciousness swims in its taste, texture, and smell. You lap up its succulent juices, and slaver down every delectable mouthful. After a moment of complete rapture, you find yourself staring into an empty shell, grease dripping from your whiskers.

I can almost image chowing down in bliss the delicious food I waited forever to find.
The obsession with soft food is a familiar one for me. I know what it is like to have a cat meowing at you for food and when you put down dry kibble, they look at you as if to say, "what is this garbage? I wanted the stuff from the can."

Final thoughts
If you are bored of playing as human protagonists A Day for Soft Food offers a refreshing change in perspective. I recommend it if you want to play a game with an animal protagonist or is you are just looking for something lighthearted and humorous.

...
Oh, and one last thing...
What is up with (Spoiler - click to show) riding down the river in the basket? Who is that saucy cat? The game describes her as "the most beautiful feline you've ever seen lies languorously on an unreachable limb." Is this a love interest? Apparently, this just earns you a bonus point, but it is certainly a memorable one.

Cat Glossary* (Spoiler - click to show)
-Beast: Car
-Beast's Cave: Garage
-Billowy wall: Window blinds
-Confusing box: TV
-Food Room: Kitchen
-Jangly ring: Keyring
-Lumpy mountain: Sofa
-Provider: Cat owner
-Shiny metal egg: Can of soft cat food
-Shiny stool: Wheelchair
-Silvery leaves: Keys
-Small white box: Garage opener



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