This game is a perfect koan of an IF that plays with all of your expectations. I've seen a lot of folks say this is perfect for an IF beginner – which, considering how easy it is to navigate makes sense – except that the twist is very much based on a classic IF meme (and I worry that a newcomer wouldn't quite get why it's so funny.)
I knocked it one star...because, I was disappointed in the replays after knowing what happens (I loved the initial experience, but playing it again, I was a bit disappointed).
It's a testament to Andrew Plotkin's skill as an IF writer that this is my least favorite of his works that I've played so far, and yet I would still highly recommend people experience its tight, disturbing narrative. (and plan to do so, soon).
It's a "one-room" game with no real puzzles nor ability to affect or shape the main narrative, but that's probably the point. The "reality" of your situation and this inevitable illumination of your predicament is superbly crafted.
My gripe is that it didn't impact me as much as others, and I can't explain why. I was more frustrated with trying to understand what was going on and the psychological horror elements never entirely took hold, and the final denouement also added to cognitive confusion (at the expense of an emotional gut punch). That being said, it's such a perfect example of what IF can do when it colors outside the lines, and it's such a short game, I can't imagine there being any reason not to experience it and see how your mileage varies.
Plotkin has created, through details such as the songs that play on your apartment radio to the transfiguring plant in the corner, a very believable world which then compels you to stop believing in it.
I was completely enthralled by the fantastic world and implied history of Dreamhold. Like Spider & Web, the world of Dreamhold grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Plotkin's ability to masterfully craft such intertwined riddles within a believable (and compelling) magical reality is singular.
That being said, I don't know if this is the best way to introduce a new player/interactor/guinea pig into interactive fiction. While none of the puzzles are excruciating, the final puzzle, and many of the alternate endings are going to remain beyond the limits of the introductory player. To my eternal shame, I even got stuck on the final puzzle and had to hit the hint system (and still didn't understand!)
My other minor complaint is that Zarf obviously has created a fascinating world but the narrative clues are so obtuse and difficult that a player expecting for all the pieces to fall together in the end is going to be disappointed. As an introductory IF piece, having the prose be more James Joyce then Stephen King to me is a curious choice. One of the endings was fairly incomprehensible to me.
As a standard IF piece, though (and I do think the puzzles will provide challenge even to the most experienced adventurer), it's one of my favorites. I just wish, at the end, I understood a little more of the world. To Dreamhold's credit, though, it has given me enough reason to go back in again.
I have a lot of thoughts on this piece that wouldn't fit in a review. It's so well written, such a fascinating concept - and perhaps the best IF I've ever experienced that takes place completely through conversation and the haunts of memory, and desire...
...but I was disappointed in how un-Eliza it felt, that I kept approaching the animate Galatea as I might a computer program or Exploratorium exhibit to poke around in and never believed she was a living, breathing NPC. I didn't feel like the things I did had any real effect on her emotions - even though I knew that they did (considering Emily Short's IF talent and other works) and I also grew frustrated that so many of the things I wanted to chat about I couldn't...and then, when I peeked (after a few interesting endings) at a walkthrough, I noticed so many things I hadn't thought of...
...but I was also frustrated I never knew to say get down (instead of leave, step down, come with me) though the one "true" desire I'd had during the experience was a wish to get her off the pedestal.
That being said, Galatea does offer a markerstone experiment for how NPCs can react and be dynamic, though the lack of context and conflict make me wish so much to see her again with a story for me to truly be invested in.
Lost Pig is perfect in its execution of a light puzzler through the eyes of a character who seems perfectly real despite being a fantastic beast in a world which seems intriguing despite the small glimpse we're provided.
Honestly, after I'd played, I wondered why it received such high praise - neither its gameplay nor narrative ambitions are particularly high - but after reflecting on the experience, I began to truly respect the perfection of its implementation. Funny without being corny, challenging without being obtuse, and finally, subtly moving without overburdened pretensions.
Good stuff, though I docked it a star because I did, in the end, want more...(and I wanted so badly to wear the thought-augmenting hat which sadly never appeared.)
Putting aside technical criticisms, Photopia clearly succeeds in its artistic ambitions - to create an immersive, emotional resonant experience by using IF elements to build intimacy with a touching, devastating tale. Revelatory.
If you've never played the FF series, and have any interest in a slightly more sophisticated CYOA type book with a fun D&D style fighting/luck mechanic, I strongly urge you find them on Amazon (I was able to find the whole series.)
The folks at inkle have done a spectacular job translating them for iOS, keeping the spirit of the original works intact while allowing you to be able to play the books w/o lugging around dice and pencils. That being said - I wasn't entirely thrilled with how much easier this version plays, being able to quickly save/restore made my playtime with this version a much quicker experience. I was also disappointed that I didn't have to memorize the spells - which I did studiously as a youngster.
That being said, from retaining the original illustrations to the fun mechanic of seeing your character move throughout the fantasy land, I believe inkle did a fantastic job.
Side note - this isn't traditional IF, it's a CYOA adventure translated to a graphical UI for iOS.