Reviews by Kinetic Mouse Car

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1-4 of 4


You Are a Zombie Yelp Reviewer, by Geoffrey Golden

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Undercooked, November 7, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Ink, Horror, ECTOCOMP

You are a zombie reviewing a meal.

I was not anticipating an undead connoisseur penning comprehensive reviews after sampling a smorgasbord of brains. Based on the words “Yelp Reviewer” I figured that the game would put the player in the role of someone who wants to write an earnest review about their dining experience, the catch being that they are a zombie eating brains. But above all I was expecting the game to take things a little more seriously.

Instead, the game opts for an ALL-CAPS approach to everything. Zombies are not going to be the most eloquent of review writers (although the PC is obviously tech-savvy enough to use a smartphone and an app) but having, "SO ME STUMBLE AROUND LOOKING FOR BRAINS" the entire time felt like it was trying to get the player to laugh.

Nor does it really “review” brains. It barely feels like a Yelp review. My guess is that the author wanted to include some backstory, which is great, but ends up cramming it into the zombie’s review to the point where it becomes a ramble of how the man was slaughtered. Critiquing the quality of the brains occurs in the last choice in the gameplay. It reminds me of Yelp reviews of restaurants that focus on how they found the place rather than their experience inside of it.

I must say, the title of the game is pretty cool. Yelp reviewing + Zombie is a creative idea that drew me in. The final product, however, did not sell. Geoffrey Golden is a talented author. If you have played Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s, you can see his knack for humor and novel ideas, and I encourage you to do so. But You Are a Zombie Yelp Reviewer is a clever concept that needs more development for it to be palatable.


1-555-trouble, by Julien Zamor

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Polished visuals, weak gameplay, September 6, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Ink

It is a casual day at home. You are lounging around and suddenly find yourself in the mood for a cold drink. But when you stand to leave, a vortex opens in the living room and deposits a small creature that starts wrecking everything in sight. You flee to the kitchen which is now your sanctuary. Using resources from your surroundings, you need to find a way to defend yourself.

Gameplay
While hiding in the kitchen you have access to the fridge, counter, and cupboards that have spices and other substances for cooking. Inventory items are listed on the screen. It would have been nice if you could examine things to learn more about them rather than automatically picking them up for the sack of hoarding them in your inventory.

The player can call the protagonist's mom or Alex, an acquaintance. Neither character picks up. The only option is the hotline. Its number is written on a label in the fridge. The player calls the number to ask for help on dealing with the creature. The operator however wants to engage you in random conversation before providing help. There is a phone puzzle where the player answers questions that increase the operator’s willingness to help.

These questions range from whether you any kids or if you play chess. The objective is to respond in a way that makes the operator pleased and entertained. For each response you get right the more helpful the operator begins. The game keeps track of this by adding notes such as "The playful operator is now a little helpful." The challenging part is that a question may have multiple right answers, but the answer that is correct at the moment is difficult to determine since there seems to be not structure to the questions. I think that the game is trying to be humorous with its dialog, but it needs polish. I like the concept of strategically using conversation through trial and error to persuade an NPC, but the phone puzzle is frustrating and lukewarm.

Once the player (Spoiler - click to show) satisfies the operator’s desire for conversation, they are asked to provide three details: the creatures colour, its physique, and its behavior. Using these details, the operator explains a basic recipe for banishing the creature. You can also just (Spoiler - click to show) guess by throwing ingredients into the bowl and flinging them at the creature. When I first played, I brewed and threw a scalding mix of random ingredients and it worked. Probably chance. Still, at least it gives you a chance to test out the kitchen.

Story
There is no explanation behind the creature and the portal, nor is there any discussion about the hotline except that it was found in the fridge. I feel like this left some loose ends. Here you have a normal house setting and suddenly a creature appears out of nowhere. I do not think that this game necessarily needs a broader story, but it could have integrated things a little more. The game is solely focused on the puzzle of finding a concoction that will eradicate the creature. This some potential story about Alex but they never answer when you call their number.

Visuals
1-555-trouble has some spectacular graphics for an Ink game. The backdrop is of different areas in a house, about six total. Not grainy or awkwardly scaled ones but showroom quality. The text space is set against a white semi-transparent background with orange boxes and links. The text is light grey, and the title of the room is shown in a black rectangle that reminds me of those slender sticky notes that you use to mark a page in a book. Everything looks crisp and modern. I encourage Ink authors (or anyone, really) to give this game a look if you are looking for some visual inspiration.

Final thoughts
It is a short, interesting diversion. The game has some interesting ideas, but its presentation is lacking. The phone puzzle could have been smoothed out, for example. Then again there are some polished features. There are no bugs as far as I can tell, and its strongest point is the graphics. It may not be the best of quality, but it is a completed piece.


The Naughty Neural Net, by Julius Tarng

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A sci-fi take on Santa gift-giving, August 19, 2022

It is the near future. Earth’s population is nearly 10 billion and the old days of flying in gifts via reindeer have become obsolete. Instead, Santa has installed 3D printers in every household. At precisely Christmas Day the printers print gifts appropriate of each child's behavior with machine-learning software that determines if they were naughty or nice. But when the Neural Network malfunctions, Santa may have to reevaluate the way gift-giving is managed.

Gameplay
In this game, the traditional take on Santa Claus has turned cyberpunk. Instead of snowmen and polar bears the North Pole is now biometric scanners, DNA analyzers, and computer labs. And of course, the Neural Network. These themes are heavily portrayed the game. One of my favorite moments is (Spoiler - click to show) trying to bypass a door’s verification steps to enter the Ratings Department:

> PLEASE COMPLETE THIS CAPTCHA

"What. Ugh. Of all the times."

The display shows a grid of 4 kids in naughty or nice acts.

> SELECT THE NICE KIDS

(What follows is then a list of kids doing nice or naughty behavior)


You play as Santa watching as the first presents are being printed on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the nice kids are receiving coal while the naughty kids are getting the good presents. You soon realize that the Ratings Department has a faulty “Naughty or Nice Rater,” causing kids for getting the wrong presents. Fixing the faulty Network is only one step. You must figure out who is responsible for the error.

Story
Previously, elves would train the Neural Network by taking logged examples of kids’ behavior and assigning a rating, giving the Network an understanding of how a rating coincides with a behavior. But it is (Spoiler - click to show) soon revealed that raters were training the Network with intentionally false ratings to give it a skewed perspective. Few elves who trained the Network remain employed at the North Pole. One elf, Popeep O. Werbles, is summoned into your office for questioning.

Popeep explains that these raters were protesting the loss of elf worker jobs due to the installment of the Neural Network. Once it was trained and implemented, millions of elves were laid off.
The player can then decide on how to (Spoiler - click to show) punish (if at all) the raters responsible for sabotaging the system. My only criticism is that the game (Spoiler - click to show) ends abruptly. Once Popeep leaves after your decision, that is it. It feels like there should be some implementation of your final choice or something other than just sitting in your office staring at screens.

Final thoughts
Nonetheless, this is a humorous and festive Ink game with a unique twist on the holiday season. It is about ten minutes long and is worth playing if you are looking for a Christmas game or a game that uses the concept of machine-learning in a creative way.


Anonymous Connection, by moniker ersatz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Making anonymous connections in the strangest of situations, August 17, 2022

This game is about the feasibility of forging human connection during extreme and anonymity-strict reality with special attention on how connection can in fact bloom in unexpected ways.

Earth has been taken advantage of by an alien hive mind that makes life on the surface hostile for humans. A xeno-intellect, known as the Hive. No one knows its reasons, but the Hive detests human interaction. It does not want to see people gathered in groups socializing and forming connections. To protect themselves, people now spend their time in bunkers, hardly daring to leave at the risk of being killed by the Hive. People are scared to question it. But does that deter them from seeking connections anyway? No, it does not. Without any opportunities to meet with people face to face, interactions are now done through anonymous digital avenues.

Gameplay
But first, a quick note on content: The gameplay consists of (Spoiler - click to show) two characters engaging in roleplaying with kissing and similar activities. I would not call this a graphic game. Some of the content just starts to cross the threshold before the game reels it all in. There is language but it is often blotted out with the * symbol. While the game is more focused on the (Spoiler - click to show) Hive's control of interactions than of sexual content it would be safe to approach it with an 18+ rating.

The player first chooses from a list of callsigns is that is used to interact with users and assures anonymity. I experimented with all of them, and they did not have a noticeable effect on the gameplay. The conversation is always with Topaz, a user who has been having chats with the protagonist for some time.

The player usually has two to three dialog options for each turn, some of which upset the Hive. Your dialog options are shown in green text except for a few that are green and red. These (Spoiler - click to show) end the encounter with Topaz either because they terminate it, or you do. When this happens the Hive intervenes, its text appearing in red. It seems dismayed by the outcome of the conversation and inflects its will on it to reverse the player’s previous choice. Here is an example of a response that occurred when I clicked on one of those links (The player callsign I used in this playthrough is ICEBERG):
(Spoiler - click to show)
HIVE> WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND
HIVE> THIS WAS NOT THE DEMONSTRATION WE WERE PROMISED
HIVE> ICEBERG ABORTED THE ATTEMPT TO INTERFACE WITH TOPAZ
HIVE> DELIBERATE SABOTAGE POSSIBLE
HIVE> TEMPORAL REWIND...

Immediately afterwards (Spoiler - click to show) Topaz returns online and resumes as if the exchange never happened. The only thing Topaz says is, "sorry, connection dropped" or they blame it on a glitch. When I first played this game, I wondered if Topaz was a simulation or maybe even the player. But now after playing the game a few times (Spoiler - click to show) I think that these two characters are real and that the Hive simply possesses some serious capabilities that allow it to discretely influence human interaction, such as the ability to adjust time, further hinting at its omnipresence over Earth.

I still have questions about the (Spoiler - click to show) meaning behind the Hive’s response. The Hive seems to be analyzing the conversation with an expected outcome. The discontinuation of the conversation clearly goes against these expectations, prompting the Hive to intervene. But if the Hive is so against human interaction, why is it angry that such an interaction ended? It is almost as if the Hive makes a breakthrough on the nature of human connection without fully realizing it. My only complaint is that the game could have explored this development in greater detail.

Story
One reoccurring concept is what the game calls “digital hygiene,” which involves painstakingly avoiding sharing any sort of defining information about yourself, especially location. Your name, age, gender, religious beliefs, and even hobbies are all considered to be poor digital hygiene because it could catch the Hive’s attention. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) when Topaz shares that they found a bottle of whiskey outside of an empty 7/11 the player can choose to remind them that even mentioning a 7/11 was risky because the Hive could choose to search every 7/11 in an area to narrow down Topaz’s location. This uncertainty is a reminder of the Hive’s ever-present influence on daily life. The practice of digital hygiene is a concept that we see throughout the game.

Near the end of the game Topaz asks the question of what is required to make a meaningful human connection and what happens when anonymity strips it away. It seems like the protagonist has successfully built a connection with Topaz and yet it manages to be both genuine and flimsy. Genuine because they enjoy engaging with each other. Flimsy because digital hygiene ensures that you never really get to know them. What surprises me is (Spoiler - click to show) that the game lists itself as a romance piece. While the game features romance-like activities, such as kissing, the gameplay did not give the impression of being about romance. I think that some of that is up to the player to interpret, especially since the game is not long enough to really dive into these ideas.

As the game ends the conversation draws to a close and both characters log off. Afterward (Spoiler - click to show) the Hive is stumped about the interaction that took place. It views the two characters as being small and insignificant and yet it is baffled that they are willing to spend time and energy into seeking a connection, even if that connection is only a shadow of what human interaction once looked like. This is followed by an archivist's note that adds an unexpected twist to the story. The end of the game portrays the characters’ dialog as an archived sample from the past by leaving an archivist’s note. The player realizes that the gameplay was a glimpse of a past conversation. It then raises the question of the fate of the characters and their society.

The archivist explains that “It is unlikely the events recorded contributed to the xeno-intellect's decision to withdraw their consciousness from this universe, but the possibility cannot be entirely discounted." What does one make of this? Were the contents of the conversation enough to sway the Hive’s decision to execute Topaz and the protagonist? Is withdrawing consciousness the same as execution? There is also the suggestion that the Hive was eradicated when the note says, “a dormant processing node retrieved from the husk of the xeno-intellect.” The word “husk” forms the image of it being a dead carcass rather than the beast that hear about in the gameplay.
There are no clear answers but is interesting to contemplate.

Characters
We learn little about Topaz and the protagonist which falls in line with the themes of anonymity. The Hive, on the other hand, is the overshadowing antagonist, but we never learn much about it. The gist is that (Spoiler - click to show) it is an alien lifeform that supposedly invaded Earth and took up residence in the atmosphere. If someone decides to risk their life and explore the Earth’s surface they know better to glance up at the sky. Its history with humanity is not explained in detail, just that it has an iron grip on humanity and is responsible for many deaths. There are some suggestions on why it is opposed to the gathering of people. Topaz and the protagonist ponder if the Hive understands the notion of individuality and how unique connections can be formed between individuals that is not shared with the broader population. The game only brushes the ethical implications of such a being and does not elaborate on its physical and mental composition that causes these qualities.

Visuals
This is one of the most visually stylized Ink game I have played. It uses a black screen with mostly green and red text. It creates a “digital” look that adds atmosphere. The Hive’s text even trembles slightly to convey a charged and angry energy.

This game uses a lot of fade-in text effects but implements them well. Choice-based games sometimes fall into a trap with fade-ins, often when it is portraying chatrooms or similar forms of communication. Text fade-ins and pauses may be small, but they can slow the gameplay if it takes a full second and a half for the text to appear. That may not sound like much, but it adds up, especially with replays. This game manages to avoid that, using appropriate pauses to simulate conversation while also keeping a steady pace.

Final thoughts
The game is linear and takes about 15 minutes to play. Even though (Spoiler - click to show) it wraps up the same way the gameplay has enough variation to encourage multiple playthroughs. It is a fantastic use of Ink both visually and in gameplay quality. If you like chat interfaces in choice-based interactive fiction games or dystopian sci-fi settings than you might enjoy this game.



1-4 of 4