Reviews by verityvirtue

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The Whale's Keeper, by Ben Parzybok

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Tell me I'm scared, October 4, 2023
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic, IFComp 2023

Time spent: 30-45 mins

You find yourself in a whale. Survive.

It is not a personal slight to the writers that I was not moved.

The text declares a lot of terror and nightmarish qualities, but fails to describe it, or illustrate any existential threat or urgency to the player character. Even the NPC interactions seem mostly benign. I found little to anchor myself and have an emotional stake in the PC; even less to understand if there was a threat to them at all.

The writing is blatantly transparent about the story’s scope - at every major choice, the player is reminded of the key stat, sanity, and number of passages explored. However, the Sanity stat seems to act as a binary switch rather than, e.g. a way of colouring the PC’s perceptions. (Spoiler - click to show)It was hard to tell which choices reduced it, and there was little to no sense of threat when it reduced to zero. One of the scenes when the PC reaches zero sanity becomes a “get out” clause, which felt reductive - I thought I would have to work through the consequences of my actions.

There were lots of potentially juicy themes that went unexplored. The loss of control, being at the mercy of something impossibly beyond an individual scope, the fragility of companionship… Instead I felt almost detached. The scope presented by the choices at each decision-making point is quite narrow, where one is presented as moving the story forward, as a yes/no decision rather than one between two interesting potential paths.

This game is built on a platform called Plotopolis, where you progress by typing keywords. It behaves like a choice-based game, despite the appearance of a parser, and does not accept what should be synonyms.

I recall similar chat-like software used in choice-based stories in previous years. I presume this is meant to make IF more accessible to people used to chat interfaces. I do wonder how much the IF-naive person interacts with a chat interface expecting prose and narrative, though, compared to how they approach games (a framework and premise; expectations on how the player interacts with the game; a reward for a skill performed correctly or interaction in the “correct” way).

The Whale’s Keeper had potential, but I fear it failed to hit the right notes for me.

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DEVOTIONALIA, by G.C. "Grim" Baccaris (as G. Grimoire)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
light a candle for me, September 19, 2023
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: religion, IFComp 2018, melancholic

play time: 15-20 mins

The reader plays the last remaining priest devoted to an unnamed being, whose worship takes the form of daily ritual.

Loneliness and duty run through the story: this priest houses not-quite-human children, and they too make up part of the priest's daily duties. While there may be loneliness in unanswered prayer, there is, ultimately, solace and a kind of community in this sort of care. And if a religion lives only with belief (deity is an entirely different matter), then the player/character holds existential power.

The overall aesthetic, both in writing and visual design, is appropriately gloomy and formal. There are subtle nods to a deeper backstory, but the focus still lies squarely on the earthly: the priest, the children, the physical setting.

Different levels of choice are made transparent to the reader with the text formatting to indicate its importance in the narrative's progress. The story has shallow branching which converges in a suitably ambiguous ending, as befits a deity which may or may not exist - whose existence may, in fact, depend on the player's choices.

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INK, by Sangita V Nuli

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
song-like exploration of grief, October 22, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022, melancholic

A grieving narrator finds a letter with a secret. Playthrough: 10-15 mins

This short game had the cadence of song lyrics, and I found Texture a good fit for the story: I ended up reading the verb (which, in Texture, you drag to the relevant word in the prose) like a sort of chorus.

The loss is depicted as historic, yet the narrator’s feelings are raw, unaddressed, difficult to disclose to others. That gave the developing story a creeping horror(Spoiler - click to show), one which can be read as literal or metaphysical.

I have only minor gripes related to the aesthetics of the platform itself - I wish Texture would display the text at the same size regardless of the amount of text on screen, and so could be more legible. But this is no fault of the author, and I’m not inclined to attribute it to pacing.

A commendable use of this particular platform to tell a story about an unresolved, malignant grief.

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Through the Forest with the Beast, by Star

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
a short fugitive monster escape, October 21, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric, IFComp 2022

You are a fugitive, running through the woods in search of safety.

A highly branching but short story - I reached an ending in about 15 minutes.

I came up against a number of technical issues: I found the text hard to see against the background, and there were a couple of typos.

An inconsistent tone undermined the game’s mood. This was both in the dialogue and environment descriptions - contrasting with both the internal monologues and the theme. Also, I always expect any customisation options to play an important role in shaping the character, however these had minimal effect on the story.

While the core themes were promising, they felt underdeveloped. Themes of identity and the “us vs them” of humanity vs monsterhood all have great potential - with more focus on the narrator's developing self and how it interacts with other characters, it could definitely form a more focused story.

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Let Them Eat Cake, by Alicia Morote

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
scavenger hunt-style game with a dark undertone, October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022, sanguine

CWs as given in the starting screen: violence, implied murder, and implied animal cruelty

You are assistant to baker Benoit in this small town, and your first day coincides with the Saving Day Festival. What better chance to get to know your neighbours?

The small town with secrets is a well-worn trope of interactive fiction. Different authors and games handle it differently, and in this case this dark side is given a relatively light touch for most of the game. There is signposting throughout the story where the choices get more explicitly horrifying, which I found was a nice tone adjuster

What Let Them Eat Cake did really well was establishing the discomfiting experience of intruding on a close-knit community. Even with nothing explicit going wrong, there is enough awkwardness in the narrator’s interactions with other townsfolk, reaching a satisfying ending in the conclusion when the core secret is revealed.

The game is a good length to replay to try and get another ending as well, or to uncover more about the neighbours. No flashy implementation or mechanical tricks here, but solid storyline, good handling of the themes and enough detail in key characters to be intriguing.

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Bogeyman, by Elizabeth Smyth

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A horrifying story told with fairytale elements, October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, phlegmatic

(Warning: This review might contain spoilers. Click to show the full review.)CW: violence - spoiler reveals more specific, but spoilery CWs: (Spoiler - click to show)Abduction, violence against children, abuse

Although the titular character is framed as the bogeymen of children’s stories, to another eye - an adult eye, probably - he is a more quotidian, though no less terrifying variety of criminal. Fairytale elements meld easily with real-life methods of cruelty and control: the strange food and drink; the deserted cabin in the middle of the woods; turning frightened people on each other.

Bogyeman is largely linear, but where there are choices, they are difficult - emotional dilemmas most of them, choices between self-gain and protecting your fellow captives.

In other aspects, it’s simply a good game. Its slick design reminds me of A Good Wick, though much more readable. The layout of choices, especially where they concern exploring a space, are laid out to reflect that space. This has been one of the things that I found difficult when building a map of the story world during choice-based games. The directions I can explore are almost always laid out in lines of text, which I must translate in my head to how they would look on a diagram.

Bogeyman is certainly not an easy-going read, but grim and focused and well worth playing.

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Under the Bridge, by Samantha Khan
the monster under the bridge finds a home, October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022, melancholic

CW: gore, violence

You, the narrator, are the monster under the bridge. Prowling in the night to catch unwary travellers.

There is gore; the narrator is a man-eating monster, after all, but the prose reads almost a nature documentary - not revelling in the gore, but framing it as a necessity.

Little bells and whistles: simple text effects which some might find distracting; hand-drawn illustrations which I quite enjoyed.

This story had clear branching and multiple endings which encourages replay, some endings more unexpected than others.

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Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee's, by Geoffrey Golden
brief vignette of a psychic for hire, October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

You are a psychic for hire at this grungy late night diner, and you have one job: make people buy Schtupmeister beers.

There seems to be a small element of randomisation. The writing nails the “grungy” mood pretty well, and each character whose mind you read has a bit of a twist.

I think it works well on ink, creating an impression of a continuous unbroken narration - or, you know, one’s train of thought when doing some light voyeurism.

An enjoyable snack of a game.

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The Pool, by Jacob Reux

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
fight the monster of our own making, but self consciously, October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

The storyline is a familiar one, of course. The narrator remains generic throughout, without a place on the lab team, and in fact so do the other characters. The explanations for each choice gives the narration a distinctly self-conscious air.

My overall impression was that it could use more polish. The writing feels rushed in places - as if it was trying to sketch out a scene and ran out of time. There are unfinished branches, which is a shame for a competition entry.

Without being emotionally invested in the narrator as a person, I felt no need to ensure their survival - instead finding all the branches felt like a story mapping exercise. There is definitely potential in the storyline to populate it with perhaps fewer but more realised characters to give the choices some emotional weight.

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The Lottery Ticket, by Anonymous

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Chekhov short story adaptation described as “stateful narration” , October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

The Chekhov story is framed as something someone is reading on her phone - this results in a whole lot of text, and multiple parallel storylines.

The decision-making points come in the form of free text, but not like a parser in the sense that you input commands (i.e. verbs) and seem to be largely determining mood. As far as I can tell, though, they don’t actually change the following text. Maybe the choices affect the reader more than the story…? Maybe the act of choosing is part of the game; the appearance of having an open choice changes the interaction.

The elements of this story were intriguing separately: the purple prose surrounding a meme site, a la Imgur; the lottery theme in a late capitalism-type setting. But together I didn’t know how they fit together (especially the juxtaposition of those two threads), and perhaps I missed something; I’m afraid it didn’t quite work for me.

An interesting mechanic, and I would be curious to see how it worked with different styles of story. I would have liked to see it used for more than aesthetics, and it would be even better if such an unusual mechanism tied in with the themes of the story.

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Who Shot Gum E. Bear?, by Damon L. Wakes

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
comic noir: the world is candy, October 7, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022, sanguine

In the best tradition of noir crime fiction, you are a private eye, tasked by the police to find out who murdered Gum E. Bear. The world is indeed candy, but it’s not been the same since the old taffy plant closed down…

This was mostly a conversation-led game, in which you bring up topics and characters to each character. The scope is nicely pared down to the bare minimum, without feeling constrained.

The writing had a light touch overall - from the cultural references (”the sky was tainted by the old taffy factory”) to the dialogue - keeping the whole candy theme from becoming overly saccharine (sorry, had to do it).

Overall pretty straightforward, with what I thought was a very clever resolution/’correct’ ending.

implementation: good

mechanics: time-honoured

storyline: good

writing: just right

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Big Trouble in Little Dino Park, by Seth Paxton, Rachel Aubertin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Generic PC escaping marauding dinos, January 4, 2021
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

You play a kid working your summer job in a theme park with a teeth-grindingly twee theme. But everything goes wrong when the dinosaurs are let loose!

It’s technically sound, though some proofreading would have ironed out a few typos here and there. It did have the breadth I expect of an IFComp game, though with the multiple ways to die I almost expected a running tally or achievement board.

The biggest thing for me was that I found it hard to be invested in the player character. With few details on who the player character is, the stakes for their survival becomes relatively low. The way the story is laid out also means the player’s first time navigating the park is during the attack: without me, the player, being able to make a plan, the deaths might as well be random.

The setup is not bad, really; with more preamble and more distinctive characters I might even get invested in it. But as it is now, it feels more like a skeleton not given enough flesh.

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Savor, by Ed Nobody

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Foreboding, creepy search for a cure, January 4, 2021
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Seeking a cure for chronic pain, you meet a dying man in a strange house surrounded by strange creatures.

Foreboding from the start, it uses the “creepy country house” setting to good effect. The landscape echoes the story. The style is what I’ll describe as baroque, partly due to some turns of phrase which suggest the author’s first language is not English.

The branching tends to be lawnmowery, where redundant choices dead-end and lead back to the main path. Some choices are obviously signposted, and I would have liked more consistency in the formatting – especially since some choices that result in a premature ending are not signalled as such. What makes it more frustrating is the sheer speed at which the text is revealed. Mathbrush’s review on IFDB suggests that this is incredibly deliberate, yet something which even the author couldn’t stand on repeated playthroughs…

Another thing that struck me, in the time waiting for text to appear: the player’s main motivation appears to be a mystical curse, but in most aspects is chronic pain – a relatively common experience. Sans an obvious supernatural cause, I had to wonder why it warranted this treatment in the text.

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Academic Pursuits (As Opposed To Regular Pursuits), by ruqiyah

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Ostensibly about unpacking, October 18, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

This game is ostensibly about unpacking and furnishing your new office. It has a simple mechanic, but has enough intriguing details to make it more than an (ahem) academic exercise. To tell more would probably be spoilers…!

If you liked this, Bruno Dias's New Year's game Not All Things Make it Across should scratch the same itch. Unpacking, after all, is a liminal space sort of activity - marking a transition from one location to another, and in this case one stage of life to another.

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Phantom, by Peter Eastman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Light-touch remix of Phantom of the Opera, October 18, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)

It's from Phantom of the Opera, of course. Keenly aware of its source material, the game opens almost by establishing the player's own understanding. I, for one, enjoyed the possibility of a modern remake - how do you maintain the mystique of Gaston Leroux's Phantom when everything, it seems, can be found on the internet?

Structured in three short acts, with broad-strokes choices, Phantom casts Christine Daae in quite a different light. I found it interesting that the choices given the most granularity were the emotional ones, not the moral ones.

Overall an attractive adaptation of a story one not usually remixed (as much as, say, Sherlock Holmes or Lovecraft).

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Dead Pavane for a Princess, by Emily Boegheim

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tiny escape game with Impressionist classical musicians, August 11, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Escape the zombie form of Debussy! Technically, a survival thriller; in practice, comedic horror. You can be done in 5 moves, and you might appreciate it more if you knew a little about Ravel or Debussy, but you don't need to, to enjoy it. Short and sweet.

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Old Jim's Convenience Store, by Anssi Räisänen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short, timeless adventure, August 6, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)

A convenience store with a secret - standard fare I'm sure for those who grew up on adventure games. This game feels timeless, actually; what use is trappings of modern life if all around you is blank desert? Features a generic PC whose motives are generic and relationship with the titular uncle conveniently vague. Look, it's not a bad game. While short and predictable, it's complete and mechanically sound; please don't see my rating as meaning that the game is actively bad.

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Dull Grey, by Provodnik Games

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Coming of age in a stark landscape, August 6, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

This review is based on the current version, not the IFComp version.

Dull Grey is a coming of age story in a mechanised, stark landscape with the aesthetic of Soviet fiction. The story universe is dominated by the Progress-program, but it seems to have little sway in the towns we venture through. To them, the Progress-program is a distant mandates and forms flashpoints for ideology; the decision-making power does not lie with them.

The game itself is visually gorgeous, with just enough descriptive writing to sketch out a deserted depot here; a village house there.

Handling the choices was simply and very well done. You technically only ever have a binary choice between two professions. Neither seems good. The lack of choice is by design - and to good effect. There is a bit at the end which reveals the true scope of the game(Spoiler - click to show), rather like Caleb Wilson's The Northnorth Passage (I hope this isn't too revealing!). It also divulges the percentages of players who found certain endings, and looking at contemporaneous reviews, I'm starting to wonder how true this is.

This game piqued my curiosity in many ways, and was surprising in the best ways.

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Each-uisge, by Jac Colvin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Sombre take on folklore, August 3, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

MacLeod the neighbour has a kelpie - the water horse of yore - the same kind of creature that drowned the PC's aunt.

The story was compact; the writing descriptive and the storyline fairly straightforward. Each decision has realistic moral stakes, and if we're talking about moral decisions in IFComp 2019, this was much more convincing than, say, the Milgram Parable. Overall this was a polished piece of work and very competently done.

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The Milgram Parable, by Peter Eastman

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Allegory with a hint of story, August 3, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

Starting with the story of Stanley Milgram's psychological experiments, The Milgram Parable reads like an allegory, using the setting of a corporate militia. All the elements are there: unquestioning obedience, limited information and one to one meetings with superiors. I guess the sporadic binary choices come with the narrative territory, too.

So the game forces you to make increasingly abstract choices. Showing compassion at the start of the game yields the admonishment that you are quick to judge using very little information; this is what the game forces you to do. Ironic? Purposeful? Maybe. The scope of the game is so narrow, the stakes and emotional impact so vague, that the decisions start to feel academic.

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The good people, by Pseudavid

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Conversation-powered living poem, August 3, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholy

This is a conversation-powered, living poem in which two people uncover a village previously submerged by a dam. As they uncover layers of the physical landscapes, so they also uncover the landscapes of the PC's childhood and family.

Everything is fragmentary, forgotten, which creates a sort of creeping horror. The unpredictable visual design adds to that.

The game has a striking use of images throughout, and whether by design or browser variability, the text design occasionally looks buggy - text sometimes appears in unexpected places, or laid out in odd ways. Here I chose to see that as part of the effect of the game.

The Good People was intriguing, not least because it scratched my particular itch of exploring abandoned landscapes and memories.

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It Is not so Much a Story, by Bruno Dias

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Cycling, sparse hypertext, June 4, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholy

Here is a tiny story of an assassin and a contract and a deal to keep a kingdom safe. It's a bit like a braided bracelet: there are no proper endings (veiled commentary? An inevitable unsolved struggle?) but you can take different threads each time. As with the most intriguing small games, offers the prospect of a much bigger narrative space - much like hearing the reverberation of a huge room, yet only seeing one corner of it.

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Under the Sea, by Heike Borchers

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Delightful, brief seascape exploration, June 4, 2020
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Explore a thriving underwater coral reef in search of treasure, so you can report back to your local Adventurer's Society!

The imagery in this game feels like a summer's day, all bright colours and friendly characters. Some underwater adventures are characterised by peril; Santa Tortosa is punctuated with wonder. The logging was a particular highlight for me, and provided a fun added bit of flavour text.

Verb handling is, as always, a tricky beast. How much is an artefact of Inform 7 is not for me to question! However, item states can be unpredictable, and I found unreasonable resistance with the jar. That said, the puzzles are generally straightforward.

Under the Sea is a short game - I took about 15 mins - but is a prime example of a straightforward, cheerful puzzle game.

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Nightfall, by Eric Eve

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Slightly generic espionage work in an unnamed town against an unnamed enemy, June 30, 2019
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Premise: You're one of the last people in the town. Everyone else has fled on the government's orders, on threat of an unknown Enemy (yes, capital E).

Nightfall is technically proficient, featuring several good examples of parser conveniences. The player can use the "GO TO" command to navigate the substantial map, and there is an impressive amount of content to explore.

I found the sheer number of memories available slightly overwhelming, even if most of them appear almost… trivial. Memories sparked by visiting certain places for the first time are indexed for future reference, though not all of the memories turn out to be important for progressing in the story.

The swelling inventory is disambiguated, but in a way that shows off the underlying skeleton of the parser format. Items of the same kind are colour-coded, like one might find in a point-and-click game (does anyone even remember those any more?!), whose artificiality becomes more obvious the more time one spends with non-parser or more modern, naturalistic games.

I found it hard to suspend disbelief starting from the premise. The town in Nightfall has the air of an unimportant town caught in the thrall of international politics, a little like Salisbury was to UK politics in 2018. The game remains infuriatingly vague about specifics, though, and do not offer too much information payoff for following a lead. If anything, the character motivations struck me as being a bit threadbare. The player character appears to be motivated mostly by an obsession with the unnamed female character, whose motivations we never understand - we cannot even infer it from the PC's memories of her - until the ending.

Nightfall is a large and mostly well-constructed game. The espionage setting will be familiar to denizens of the parser format, and despite everything I could still enjoy the game. Recommended.

(This review was based on the IFComp version on IFDB.)

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Phone in Mouth, by Leon Arnott

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal cyberpunk-esque thought experiment/cautionary tale, September 13, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

This is a surreal story about… having your phone in your mouth. It’s more cyberpunk than it sounds, promise, and delivers a complete narrative arc in not very many words at all.

Arnott captures the craving for that rush of neurotransmitters that social media is designed to deliver, but transforms it into something a bit more insidious. (Spoiler - click to show)The titular phenomenon (yes) forms a whole subculture by itself, into something meshed into the fabric of society.

Phone in Mouth is less of a fully-formed dystopian story, but almost more like a thought experiment. It ponders what wearable technologies could possibly look like, then what it might look like when it all goes wrong. It is a little on the nose as a cautionary tale, with shades of 1984 - but then again, looking behind the scenes at companies like Amazon seems to suggest that whatever you can imagine, there’s probably a company doing worse.

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Bloody Raoul, by Caleb Wilson (as Ian Cowsbell)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Comic violence with an ornate edge, September 12, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

The game world suggests one accustomed to sudden, almost comic violence, where one’s weapons are identity. The comic aspect, however, takes some of the edge (ahem, mind the pun) off: to aid surgery, for instance, the PC comes with a “pectoral zipper”.

The world described here is festering and disgusting, but with the embellished, ornate language, the terse phrasing, we readers are, at least, one step away from all that.

(Spoiler - click to show)It is striking that there are no completely happy endings here. There is no escape to a less violent future - not without relinquishing your identity as a knife punk. As much as I would love to see more in the same universe, I get the feel that this universe is most intriguing in small snippets.

Bloody Raoul is brutish and short, but not nasty at all. If you liked this, you might like The Unstoppable Vengeance of Doctor Bonesaw, from the same author.

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Hexteria Skaxis Qiameth, by Gabriel Floriano

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Some ideas about language untethered to story, September 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

This is a game about forming words and the nature of language. You can flick through clusters of syllables to form nigh unpronounceable words which later form the names of languages and places.

It calls to mind, for me, Emily Short’s procedurally generated almanac, The Annals of the Parrigues, as well as the style of 500 Apocalypses. The style is slightly formal, as one might find in a Borges short story. Polysyllabic words dot the prose like raisins in a bagel. HSQ includes the phrase “it's [sic] decipherment like a feverish hallucination”; the same applies to reading this game sometimes.

HSQ will probably make more sense if you’re familiar with linguistics concepts. Languages can be formed with different “basic units of thought”, and so on. And all this would be fascinating if there was a chance to use this knowledge practically.

Dear reader, there was not.

HSQ presents some rather interesting and original ideas, but without a narrative arc to bind everything together, remains an idea - an interesting one, but not quite a story.

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Missive, by Joey Fu

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A large Twine game with optional word puzzles, September 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)

Missive starts with the familiar my-grubby-apartment setting, but really it's about a murder mystery wrapped in word puzzles - armchair detective work at its finest. An alternative headline for this would naturally be "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

The puzzles are optional, not connected, and of the cryptic crossword type. A phrase in the text might prompt the reader to look for, say, every third letter of each word. These were pretty fun, even if most of the puzzles were completely unintelligible to me.

Good if you like cryptic crosswords and lots of wordplay loosely connected to plot.

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Yesterday, You Saved the World, by Astrid Dalmady

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A subverted magical girl story with surprising parallels, September 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric, sanguine

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

Yesterday explores what happens when the excitement over and the gilt is peeling. You are Lucy Newman, in eighth grade, but yesterday you were a Stellar Warrior. You had to face off The Void alone. And today, you have to wake up and go to school.

Two groups came to mind, reading this, who would probably identify with the PC strongly.

The first: those labelled as “gifted” in childhood. The burden of expectation from family, school, society lies on you, but you get all the wrong support. All the support to develop your abilities - to win all the competitions, ace all the exams - and too little to equip you emotionally and psychologically.

The second: those who do jobs that require them to run towards danger - emergency services, healthcare, mental health services, social work. You are the help that people call for. Sometimes you face things that terrify you, absolute disasters on a scale big or small, and you run out of resources, knowledge and wits. Yet, you can’t abscond from your responsibilities, and when you go back into the “normal world”, you have no words to explain to your friends outside this line

Structurally, Yesterday flashes back and forth between the PC’s life as a schoolgirl and her previous magical girl life. This is further set off by a parallel choice structure. Yesterday also uses the limited choices afforded by the CYOA format to illustrate character development.

Amongst many other things - a vivid protagonist, thoughtful design, a subversion on the magical girl narrative - Yesterday is a really good example of how a choice-based narrative can play with choices to reinforce the story.

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Relic, by Caelyn Sandel

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A strange little artifact indeed, September 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Briefly mentions a nearly abusive relationship. Time to completion: 15-20 mins]

Relic is a largely linear piece of interactive fiction about a salvage collector who chances upon an incredibly valuable figurine - but there appears to be something wrong with it…

Relic is set in a universe that melds cyberpunk technology - think handsets and novel plastics - and earthy magic, but the technology and even the magic merely forms the backdrop. The world building details are more of a focus and filter for social issues and tensions that also exist in our current world. What matters, then, is the people, and the story.

Sandel’s conception of the lore and traditions around the salvage community will doubtless be familiar to anyone who has even dabbled in such interests as stamp collecting and comic books - those interests commonly relegated to “hobby” status, but which attract lots of gatekeeping. In particular, those who purport to maintain quality within the community disproportionately exclude minorities.

Relic may look plain at first glance, but this would be to overlook a cracking good story.

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How To Be A Blackbird, by Holly Gramazio

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Finding beauty in the small things, September 1, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 10-20 mins]

The blackbird is one of the most common birds, certainly in the UK, but surprisingly beautiful in the right light. Its feathers are black speckled with white, or so glossy black they shine blue; they are small but complete, and perfectly formed.

Holly Gramazio’s How to be a Blackbird captures the same sense of finding beauty in the smallest of things, using playful text effects, a stream of consciousness style of writing, even the background noises that make up this game’s soundtrack.

This game is a pleasure to play: it is a world not without worries, but with no bad endings, starring a character incredibly comfortable in their own body (with the glossiest feathers and the prettiest song).

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Winter Storm Draco, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A grimly playful exploration of a winter landscape, September 1, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Winter Storm Draco is a moody traipse through an over-snowed path, but with some strange sights on the way.

Winter Storm Draco is a game that is well-suited to its format. It plays on one of the strengths of the parser format, by allowing the author to wrench control from the player at key moments - first in navigation, when even the compass directions so ubiquitous in parser games mean nothing; later, in the end-scene.

I relied on the walkthrough in several parts but mostly there were textual clues enough to let a reader canny with parser game conventions to proceed without too much difficulty.

It has the signature self-referential, dry wit that came through so markedly in Nautilisia, though Winter Storm Draco is a little more introspective, a little grimmer. Overall, enjoyable and atmospheric.

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Doki Doki Literature Club, by Team Salvato

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Subverting visual novel conventions with a dark story, September 1, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

[Content warning: depicted violence, suicide.]

In Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC), you’re invited to join your neighbour’s tiny after school club, the literature club. Even though your only exposure to literature is reading manga, the club members themselves are each compelling in their own way.

Much has been written about this game, by people who are much more familiar with visual novels than I am, so I won’t feign familiarity with the conventions of the visual novel genre. But judging from this game alone, it seems that visual novels, like parser games, are good at signalling inevitability. Unlike parser games, they can do this with long stretches of dialogue-heavy storytelling without any choices. DDLC uses this to its advantage, using its episodic format to set patterns and break them.

This game is deliberately vague in its advertising about its content warnings, since those are spoilers in themselves. These are big heavy subjects that the game mentions, though, and it’s mostly used as plot point rather than being discussed.

Some gripes, then. Some of the story elements didn’t feel gelled together. In particular the poetry-writing felt like a flimsy justification for the premise. Additionally, the way this story handles mental illness is pretty superficial - more plot point than anything else. This attitude is endemic in horror fiction in general. We can do better.

DDLC is probably more worth playing for seeing how the visual novel format can be subverted than for its actual storyline, and for its questioning of the divide between player-character and player. It displays some clever tricks, but tends to use violence and mental illness as a shock tactic. Lynnea Glasser’s Creatures Such as We also explores such metatextual issues, but far more thoughtfully.

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All Hail the Spider God, by Nelson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
You and all the Yous you've left behind, August 31, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)

[Time to completion: 15-25 mins]

You play an arachnoid deity, who flails against your environment. Despite your greatness and your manifest ability to manipulate the forces of nature, you have no name; you are incomplete.

You play a high priest, whose devotion slowly becomes undermined by their discontent. Or puns. It’s hard to tell.

This is a game that probably would only work in text. Nelson’s feather-light touch balances comedy and seriousness. Only in his games would you be able to pull off a pun battle in the middle of a Serious Religious Ceremony.

All Hail switches between perspectives, softening the boundaries between the identities of the two PCs. Because who is the Spider God?

And… who are you?

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Inheritance, by rosencrantz

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Portals as just another room, August 31, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Yulia’s inherited a ring from her beloved grandmother - one which opens up portals to other worlds.

Inheritance draws on what is now surely a familiar concept of portals to other worlds. These other worlds, however, are never anything more than sketched out, and encounters with NPCs feel like a fever dream… or perhaps just a little transparently like an NPC encounter. They have exactly one message to impart, not that Yulia can actually interact with them, and then she’s off.

Yulia can only agree or disagree with NPCs, and/or move somewhere else. In this game, she is forever running away from something. Yet, without a clear story direction, exploration becomes a thing to do to find an ending instead of being intrinsically motivated. Being able to see portals merely expands the story map, instead of being a tool for achieving some goal.

Inheritance is prettily styled, though one might wonder if this formatting could have been put to more intentional use. One of the many other games which plays with the idea of portals is Invisible Parties by Sam Kabo Ashwell, which brings out the idea of worlds being tangled and messy, with consequences which matter to the PC, a bit more than Inheritance does.

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Hefty Seamstress, by George Buckenham, Jonathan Whiting

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A wordtoy rather than a word-game, August 31, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)

There isn’t too much to say about this game. Hefty Seamstress creates nonsensical acrostic sentences from words, even allowing user input, starting with “You ogre! Unhand that hefty seamstress!”

Tasking the reader to add their own phrases where they lack creates a universe of strangeness. These additions do not appear to be moderated or supervised: proceed with caution (although everyone appears to have been very civilised so far).

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All the pleading emoticons, by Finny

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A brief vignette of an ultimatum, August 31, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

The game opens with the player-character on the cusp of harming themselves. This is not a moment of impulse, not a “call for attention”. This is a culmination of seconds upon seconds, years of keenly feeling one’s lack of agency, in social situations and intimate ones.

What was slightly unusual was the mixing of divine and profane imagery and language, which portrayed the player-character’s action or inaction as a sort of reckoning with a faceless, unknown force.

Games like this are easily dismissed for their “navel-gazing”, but are well worth considering for what are often first-person, personal narratives of mental illness, discrimination and/or marginalisation. Games in a similar vein include Tapes, by Jenni Vedenoja, or All I do is Dream, by Megan Stevens.

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Eat Me, by Chandler Groover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Visceral, lush, a grotesque escape game, July 17, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

Chandler Groover’s work often mixes the decadent with the grotesque, the macabre with the picturesque. Think rotting roses; mouldering filigree.

Here, bound in a prison made of food, your only way out is by eating.

Who knew that eating could be so visceral? This is not just simple eating, it is consumption for consumption’s sake, for pleasure, for satiation. This is not going to be a game for everyone: the descriptions are so detailed as to be cloying, and there is heavy use of cutscenes to denote scene transitions.

This game is generous in allowing the player to backtrack and figure out what to do. As the name suggests, the range of actions available for the player are limited to eating, with the occasional exception clearly signalled - similar, then, to Arthur DiBianca’s games, such as Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box and Inside the Facility.

Eat Me resembles Groover’s Bring Me A Head, both in setting and in grotesquerie: both set in crumbling castles, each compartment holding just one singular occupant, doomed, it seems, to pursue their one occupation for the rest of time. Eat Me is not for the faint-hearted, definitely, but well worth playing, perhaps alongside other games with a similar setting.

For a lighter version of an eating-oriented game, try Jenni Polodna’s Dinner Bell; for more of the same, Bring Me a Head and Open That Vein by the same author.

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Honeysuckle, by Cat Manning

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A mid length Texture game about escaping an abusive relationship , July 10, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Mentions abusive relationships. Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

Being the wife of an august wizard brings its own dangers.

The PC is wife to the wizard who is now her husband. They were, if not colleagues, then teacher and student, yet he dismisses her own “unruly” research, allowing her to continue only because “it seems to please her”. This echoes sexist assumptions of skill common to numerous other fields - from game development to medicine - which often casts women as the amateurs, forever the apprentice to their male counterparts. And, most notably, she plays into this as well, describing herself as an amateur.

The use of the verb ‘consider’ turns an invasion of privacy into something more like observing, but it quickly becomes clear that the PC’s husband is not who he says he is, that the PC is not /safe/, that prying is the only way to survival. Unusually for Texture games, Honeysuckle is strongly location-based.

What I most enjoyed - if one may call it ‘enjoyed’ - was the subversion of the traditional player as the chosen one, the powerful one, the one with the gifts. In Honeysuckle, the PC is, initially, utterly disempowered. She is the apprentice, the junior one, the amateur. She is the humble one - the /humbled/ one - who does not speak up because she knows few will listen.

Honeysuckle stands up as a modern retelling of Blackbeard: a predatory husband; the PC just one in a line of victims. The difference, of course, being the outcome. In the same way, this game has similar themes to Sara Dee’s Tough Beans. Both have female PCs who are babied by their male partners, and both find their salvation in his destruction. But where Tough Beans is unambiguous in its outcome, Honeysuckle is a little more ominous: each of its ending branches is wracked with uncertainty.

Honeysuckle is a game about alchemy and escaping domestic peril, and it is straightforward in that front. Several aspects of the story, however, are far from fantasy for a significant part of the population. Although its ending is ambiguous, Honeysuckle envisions the possibility - with both means and opportunity intact - of escape.

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Murder on the Big Nothing, by Tony Pisculli

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal vignette-driven Western, July 10, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]
[This game contains descriptions of gun violence.]

You’re on a boxcar, but something’s not quite right… You need to figure out why you’re here.

Murder on the Big Nothing is told through a series of vignettes, each described with enough visual detail to suggest cinematic inspirations. Indeed, there is a bit of the classic Western of it, from the storyline to the setting.

This game feels a little rough around the edges, and it felt like it ended before I had seen all the story has to offer. There was an implied puzzle (i.e. an obstacle stopping you from seeing everything there was to see), but no way I could figure out to solve it. It’s interesting enough though, and calls the reader to draw their own conclusions.

If you enjoyed this, you might like Niney, another surreal game set on a train (well, boxcars, trains… moving boxes on rails, right?).

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SCP-3939 [NUMBER RESERVED; AWAITING RESEARCHER], by Croquembouche

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Monster-investigating CYOA given a self-aware twist, July 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

[Time to completion: 10-15 minutes]

An SCP - standing either for “Secure, Contain, Protect” or “Secure Containment Procedures“, depending on who you ask - is also a weird phenomenon or creature; an aberration. Known only by a number, SCPs are governed and classified by a generically-named Foundation which is as much bureaucracy and

The majority of the SCP wiki is much as you might expect from an encyclopaedia.

SCP-3939 - the game - follows a familiar choose-your-own-adventure style, making the stakes clear straight away. The wiki’s structure is part of the story, too, since the encyclopaedia entry appears above the game text. The more you find out about the SCP, the longer the article becomes.

What makes this more interesting is the interaction between the story and the game. Not to spoil anything, but the crux of the story hinges on the very self-aware SCP. Good fun, especially if you’re already a fan of the SCP wiki.

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REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS, by Dawn Sueoka

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A textual equivalent of the uncanny valley, April 17, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

This game is described as an exercise in human-mediated computer-computer interaction - based on a chat programme meant to simulate a psychotherapist.

It’s… strange. This game has the disjointed feel of a b minus seven work. Common phrases twisted into unfamiliar shapes give the narrative not much more than a direction, but not any material details. This is the uncanny valley of natural language, and Really If, Really Always delights in it.

Of all the works focusing on singularity - this is one of the most polished… and I wonder what all these works say about our vision of artificial intelligence.

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The Imposter, by Enrique Henestroza Anguiano

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short vignette of a man, bereft, wandering in Paris. , April 17, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

The Imposter uses Windrift’s mutable text to create a rhythm, and the prose flows with an easy rhythm. The distortion of the everyday added to the feeling of disorientation pervasive throughout this piece. The Imposter is dynamic fiction, and of a kind particularly well-suited to Windrift - a pleasure to read.

If you enjoyed this, you might like Patrick, by michael lutz.

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Confessions of an NPC, by Charles Hans Huang

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The people behind fantasy adventures, April 8, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

This game is split into several vignettes of the player-character talking with several characters. These are often the peripheral roles in your classical fantasy adventure story: the people that make the story possible, but who rarely get any other role in the story. Characters like the mother of a villain, speculating what made him become that way; or a commoner, who’s put his heroic days behind him.

Some might find this game preachy. It’s monologue-heavy and quite topical - some of the topics it mentions have been at the forefront of the public mind in recent months, and appropriate content warnings are provided at the start of each vignette. Given that the player must read through at least five of the initial six vignettes to progress, though, it seems a little contradictory though.

A point of interest - each vignette ends with a binary value judgment, and you must explain yourself. It could either be gimmicky or thought-provoking, depending on how you view it.

Confessions is very linear, with a mixed bag of a setting - there are hexes and monarchies, mechas and chatrooms. Although there are several points which could put off a player looking for polished games, Confessions does still take a slightly unusual approach to fantasy adventure.

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Best Gopher Ever, by Arthur DiBianca

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Do a good deed for fun and (a small) profit!, April 8, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine, 2018

This is a pared-down parser game with an exceedingly straightforward premise - help the animals in the town for a small profit! The setting is pastel-colour simple, with friendly NPCs; the puzzles, relatively straightforward retrieval tasks.

This game has several player-friendly features which fans may be familiar with from DiBianca’s previous work: an ASCII map and a running summary of your progress.

Overall, an enjoyable, light game - possibly one you could play with a friend. If anything, possibly even a little frothy. If you liked this, you might like Foo Foo. Same talking-animal setting, but playing on noir tropes, and with crime at its heart.

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AETERNAL, by massivebittrip

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A simple Twine exploration of ennui, April 2, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

As you drift through time-space, you see sights that no mortal would ever imagine... yet, it's not enough. As a god-like being, you can go out to the depths of the universe, travel wherever you like, eat every kind of food, and yet you're bored.

Aeternal's prose is slightly purple (as is the background), and its circuitous structure drives home its point. It’s a good setup and could have been an interesting setting, were there - for lack of a better term - more human interest. Something to make the player curious. Something to make the player care.

This game branches prolifically, with more content that it might seem, but it never really leads to anything concrete, and it feels like the game could go on forever, and ever, unto eternity…

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The Mayor and the Machine, by J. Marie

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A meta, self-aware not-quite parody, April 2, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 15-20 mins]

You are the mayor of the hilariously named Buttsville and, as you deal with the various problems (like the city breaking down around you), there’s a mysterious tool, left to you by your predecessor. A button that allows direct contact to… the Authority. How much will you rely on that omniscient, omnipotent force?

For such a jokey setup, most of the game is quite earnest in following through all the awful things that can happen to a city.

One playthrough is relatively short, but with frequent branching and checkpoints, it’s quite replayable.

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Map, by Ade McT

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Space as metaphor, April 1, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: >1 hour]

[Content warnings for mentions of abortion, child death]

In Map, you play a fed-up housewife in a subtly mutating house. Space, here, is used to reveal memories. As the reader learns more about the PC, the more the house expands to accommodate that, and each new room offers a chance at atonement. Just as space moves non-linearly, time creeps strangely. If you know Pratchett’s metaphor of the Trousers of Time, or think of decision-making as creating forks in a timeline - it’s very much like that. Just as the PC can enter new rooms in the house,

The themes in this game reminded me of Sara Dee’s Tough Beans, or, a more recent example, Cat Manning’s Honeysuckle. All of these feature female protagonists who have been dutiful and responsible doing what was expected of them until they were all but forgotten, until some catalytic event drives them to change.

In Map, the protagonist is much less involved, on the micro level. The rooms you discover let the player relive key decision-making moments in the PC’s life, but once you enter a moment, you can simply wait for it to get to the only choice you have: a binary yes/no choice. Without this, though, the game might have swollen to an unmanageable size, so the limited agency is more strategy than anything else, and on a conceptual level, this does work - how many times have you wondered what would have happened if you’d made a different decision?

The scope of this game is narrow and deep, delving into the emotions underpinning life-changing moments and distilling these moments into a fork in a very personal timeline. Some bits went way over my head (the rubber plant, for instance), but overall it was an ambitious, thoughtful piece.

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Foo Foo, by Buster Hudson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Sharp-witted noir under a fluffy covering, March 30, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

If you like Jasper Fforde’s Jack Sprat series, a novel series giving a noir spin to nursery rhymes, you’ll probably enjoy this. All the field mice have been leaving town; someone’s been bopping heads - and it’s up to you, Fairy Detective, to find out why.

Hudson’s writing is extremely readable, and while the characters may be talking fluffy animals, there is sharpness underneath. The forces working in the town are the familiar push and pull of racism and the search for better opportunities, anthropomorphism or not.

Foo Foo is directed enough that I could figure most things out with just a little guidance and some in-game hints. Overall a well-written murder mystery, with an intriguing setting that I enjoyed.

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Accuse, by David A. Wheeler

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A tiny logic puzzle in Inform, March 25, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

A short, minimal puzzle parser game, with a similar concept to Clue, in which you have to figure out the location of a murderer, the weapon used and the murderer. As a slight complication, you can’t use the same element (location, weapon or murderer) in consecutive accusations.

There are some self-referencing Easter egg-style props, and characters that sound like they could be condiments on a fried egg, but the game is basically that. If you’re used to this kind of game, one playthrough could take about 5 minutes. A little rough around the edges, but it’s a bit like one of those little plastic toys you can fidget with.

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The World Turned Upside Down, by Bruno Dias

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A cosy, gritty New Year's vignette, March 23, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 10-15 mins]

A New Year's Eve offering from Bruno Dias, set in the same world as Cape and Mere Anarchy.

When I played this for the first time, I had barely played the games referenced here, so why did it appeal so much to me? It's something about being a refuge from chaos, a safe place where those who put things right can rest - for now. The characters are weary, but at peace.

Its size and scope are kept deliberately small: the verb set is pared down to three verbs; the setting, to one room. But that one room suggests an entire world - one the player gets to know through its people rather than its locations. For a New Year’s Eve story, The World Turned Upside Down doesn’t point so much to hope for the year ahead, as it does to the fixing of past wrongs.

Disclaimer: I identify, to a frightening extent, with one of the characters.

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Heretic Dreams, by Hannah Powell-Smith

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Survival and betrayal in a frozen wasteland, March 23, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You are a pathfinder, responsible for the survival of this ragtag group by determining where they should go next. But this ability, this gift - it threatens to tear you apart as well, because you aren’t quite what people think you are.

In Heretic Dreams, you must challenge your changing nature, and decide whether humanity is a source of strength or a necessary obstacle. Heretic Dreams is not quite survival story, not quite horror, although there are elements of both. It feels like distant footsteps on freshly fallen snow; like dark clouds congealing on the horizon promising thunder.

Do you lure trouble away with yourself or stick together? Is it possible to get out of this unscathed? It’s hard to tell. Nonetheless, the narrator’s position within their community and their proximity to the leader gives your choices a sense of impact.

A well-written, grim story about leading your community to the promise of a better land.

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Digital Witnesses, by rosencrantz

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Punchy dystopian story with a familiar plot, March 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

You are running. From what? Where to?

Digital Witnesses is set within a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, one which regulates every step its citizens make, every role each person plays - think of your standard dystopia - think Brave New World and The Giver and The Island. You, your running: that is a spanner in the well-oiled works of the city.

The passage constraint means that, for economy, passages loop round. Chunks of backstory are revealed as you go along, and it gradually becomes clear what the stakes of this are on you. (Note the phrasing: this is dynamic fiction - not linear, because it is not told linearly, but without choices in the traditional story-altering sense either.)

The world building here is evocative, eschewing exhaustive detail for revealing it through actions and people. Perhaps the predictable setting and plot works for it - what else would a dystopian story be about other than escape? - since it allows the reader to fill in the details with their imagination, and allowing the reader to focus on the craft of the writing rather than the mechanics of the world. Certainly this was an enjoyable, short piece of dynamic fiction with the pacing of a movie.

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Fabricationist DeWit Remakes the World, by Jedediah Berry

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Hope after the apocalypse, March 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You are a Fabricationist, and you are the last of your kind. And now, you have awoken from your centuries-long slumber… and you have a visitor.

This game looks and sounds beautiful. Its soundscape is vaguely industrial, all hollow metal booms and gratings and the squeal of an untuned radio; the backgrounds are swimming watercolours.

This post-apocalyptic salvation story has an emotional heft that transcends the usual stakes implied by a post-apocalyptic story (the loss of life as we know it), thanks to the interactions - the give and take, really - between the narrator and an unexpected companion. Alone, who would have mourned the Fabricationist’s passing, or celebrate his achievement?

This remains one of my favourite games, for its message of hope in the midst of apocalypse is sorely needed these days.

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Emma the Trust Fund Baby, by garcia1000

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A linear look at a pampered life, March 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

As the title suggests, this game is about Emma, a generically-named child of a rich family. Her sole defining characteristic is that she's a "trust fund baby", a tycoon's daughter. What she would be called in Chinese can be literally translated as "thousand pieces of gold".

For all that, the game feels colourless, populated as it is with stock phrases and characters. Emma herself has barely any background and a scant personality; she might as well be a machine. The writing is relentlessly expository, sometimes going to the extent of explaining common phrases. Even the conflicts and seamy underbelly of Emma's surroundings are neatly summarised.

It doesn't quite read as a satire. It reads more like one of those TV serials - the type that goes on for two hundred episodes, which makes you painfully aware of the actors trying to show you that they're angry, but never quite succeeding.

It doesn't help that this game is almost entirely linear, despite the fact that Emma’s extraordinary privilege gives her an unusual amount of choice of what she could do with her life. Even the choices play on gross stereotypes instead of investing the player in Emma's development. There is little sense of development, growth or humanity… and whether or not that’s part of the point is up to you, dear reader, to decide.

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All Your Time-Tossed Selves, by Porpentine

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An exploration of an unlikely medium, January 23, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

This game uses Google Forms, and why not? It sets up your own website for you, it allows you to make choices in various ways, it even can display text conditionally. It’s a blunt tool, obviously not suited for the task, but it… kinda works?

It is primarily dialogue-focused, taking on the feeling of an interrogation, an interrogation one who has brought on some unnamed catastrophe on the city. There is gentle, devastating rhythm in the prose.

All Your Time-Tossed Selves explores the various ways there are to make choices, with a little surprise at the end.

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Victorian Detective, by Peter Carlson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mildly entertaining detective romp, January 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Time to completion: 45 mins - 1 hour

One of the top-rated games on textadventures.co.uk, Victorian Detective has you take on the persona of a distinctly Sherlockian police detective to solve a murder.

The structure of the game is, intentionally or not, very similar to the Conan Doyle stories, in that the titular detective makes an impressive but slightly far-fetched inference about some tiny observation, which determines the entire course of the investigation. Victorian Detective rewards detailed reading by carefully firing Chekhov's guns, even if the clues given are sometimes frankly esoteric (Spoiler - click to show)(I don't know, but can you identify the smell of haddock compared to other fish? This isn't Toby's Nose!).

Although this game predates Toby's Nose, the way both games get the reader to come to their own conclusions is quite similar, and indeed constructing a web of clues for the reader to pick apart is no mean feat.

This game is relatively well thought out. Occasional illustrations add a whimsical tone to the story, and in at least one point serves as a plot point. Not the most solid mystery, but mildly entertaining.

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MINUTEMAN, by nebulaictoaster

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short, tense game about nuclear-era relics, January 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

You’re exploring a nuclear shelter - alone - on a dare. It’s not entirely clear what era this is set in, but it’s almost unnecessary, partly because the threat of powerful men doing rash things is ever present, partly because I suspect that was the intention - what matters is that nuclear shelters are a thing of the past, decommissioned, relics, ancient… but safe? Are they safe?

It’s hard to describe this without spoiling it, because the twist is one of the main things that holds this game together. Cutting out the spoilers makes it a very short piece of text, so I’d say you could safely go off, play it - it’s not long - and come back. I’ll wait. Minuteman is a bit of a mood piece, a piece of dynamic fiction, because of its linearity. It is more a relived memory than an adventure. I couldn’t quite follow the logic of the thing, but I certainly caught the mood, and its brevity gives it the intensity of a fever dream.

(Spoiler - click to show)By your actions - born of ignorance, but that is no excuse - you doom a whole town. You never see the havoc you wreak directly, but only ever observe it from a position of relative safety, which adds to the feeling of feverish detachment - like those dreams where you see disaster coming, but cannot move a muscle, cannot say a word. Text effects transform the piece from passive interaction with a static, dead place to one bristling with imminent threat, and while I don’t usually appreciate Harlowe’s default text effects, here I imagined them as different voices in a spoken performance.

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Wedding Day, by E. Joyce

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Not an unfamiliar wedding story, January 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

An Ectocomp game with the name of what is usually a joyous occasion is quite the juxtaposition. In this short game, you are preparing for your wedding day, and everything about the preamble suggests reluctance, hesitance; it is immediately clear that this is no consensual union. The wedding is a matter of practicality, as many are, and this affair was the best you were going to get.

The author’s light touch with world-building is not unlike watching a theatre backdrop: sketched out with just enough details for the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Of course, this treads the line between minimalism and under-implementation, and one might argue for the description of this or that.

Like The Unstoppable Vengeance of Doctor Bonesaw (to compare ECTOCOMP to ECTOCOMP), Wedding Day seems at first to have a single path laid out, waiting for you to walk it. But the parser effectively masks the second ending hinted at in the ABOUT text, which gave it satisfying depth for a game with a carefully limited scope.

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Off the Rails, by Katie Benson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Going down a familiar route, January 19, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine, IFComp 2017

You're on the train to meet your family for the weekend, and the thought fills you with dread.

The cover suggests a cutesy story aimed at younger readers; the blurb suggests something deeper, with a hint of unhappy family life.

Vague allusions to emotional baggage (at least in the branches that I played through) and a mundane beginning taps on a common urge in IF, though not necessarily the most attention-grabbing. Infrequent binary choices are sprinkled in the midst of linear text. The sheer amount of linearity actually hides the broad branching, and players might be put off from replaying by the verbosity. Conciseness would have helped this game, but at least one of the branches is weird enough to warrant all this.

Off the Rails has some good ideas, but could be more compellingly presented.

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a partial list of things for which i am grateful, by Devon Guinn

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A tiny, story-less ramble through things one might be grateful for, January 18, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

“Partial” may be in its title, but its length is pretty much unknowable. Links nest in links, and upon replaying, one is likely to find something completely new, suggesting a cobwebby tangle of links from idea to idea.

A short, easily overlooked interactive, more meditative practice than game.

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Black Marker, by Michael Kielstra

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Running familiar ground, January 8, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic, IFComp 2017

Black Marker is a game about censorship in an authoritarian regime. In this case, though, the redaction masks a mystery, and you can choose the types of information to censor.

This game is not the first of its kind. Other notable examples include Blackbar and Redactor. In Blackbar, you have to guess the redactor word - you play an anti-censor, where you must create meaning from what was eradicated by government censors. Redactor is probably closest in implementation, but with the added pressure of a time limit. Black Marker, however, grounds the material in its own universe, with a coherent storyline across pieces of material.

Select one piece of information, and all the phrases in the passage relating to that piece of information will be censored for you. The game penalises both censoring too much or too little, and so requires a little more thought than just clicking phrases at random. Where the game could have been stronger, though, is the emotional heart - the player character is little more than a faceless actor, and having some in-universe intrinsic motivation to do one’s job - or not do one’s job - would have heightened the tension in Black Marker.

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little mermaids, by Prynnette

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A grim retelling, January 1, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

This is a Twiny Jam game (hence, a short Twine) in which you are a mermaid - think sirens. But instead of luring sailors to their death for seduction’s sake, you’re doing it for your sister and your survival.

This game casts the sirens’ song as performative: born not out of a desire to seduce, but of necessity. Each attempt to lure a ship to its doom is built on the backs of your sisters. No one can win: either they die, or you perish.

Although tiny, little mermaids reveals just enough about the universe to form a thought-provoking retelling of the mythology surrounding sirens.

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The Elevator Game, by Owlor

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An enjoyable take on the urban legend, November 7, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

Trapper is a private detective of the equine variety, and he’s been called in to assist the police in investigating the mysterious death of the mare Serene Lotus, who was seen to be behaving oddly before her death…

Like Owlor’s other games, this game borrows the anthropomorphised pony aesthetic of My Little Pony, but really it’s a neat noir/horror mix based on the urban legend of the Elevator Game, and evidently by the stories surrounding Elisa Lam’s death.

If you’re familiar with the urban legend, then it will perhaps be the implementation rather than the reveal of the core mystery that draws you in. If you aren’t: look past the benign-looking illustrations to the weird and horrifying amongst the mundane. Owlor’s line illustrations are used to great effect here (note, though, that the illustrations are not described in the text), and the screenplay-like format gives the sense of distance, of watching in from a CCTV ourselves.

The Elevator Game is a satisfyingly creepy implementation of an urban legend/creepy story that has made its rounds in certain corners of popular media.

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Something, by Linus Lekander

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Vague exploration of a state of mind, November 6, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

This game is something like All I Do is Dream by Megan Stevens from last year’s IFComp. The insomniac PC must decide whether to get out of bed, because of a lingering urge to wash themselves - despite having already done so. This game is a bit vague, but it’s an attempt to describe a particular state of mind. It ended, though, before it could get into the meat of the matter.

That said, short, one-topic games like this make up the IF ecosystem, even if most of the IFComp games tend to be more ambitious. I am grateful they exist. I am glad the tools exist to allow people to create games without any expectations of form or substance.

Something is much smaller in scope than the typical IFComp game, and a little forthrightness could have turned it into a sharp, glittering small thing.

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last&final, by 1beetle

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fatigue opens the eyes, November 6, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

The student rushing a big project has been the subject of many a game. Perhaps it’s an extension of the My Grubby Apartment trope. Perhaps it reflects a certain IF-making demographic. It’s not always well-done, but last&final is a creditable contribution to this ‘genre’.

This genre often gives, at most, a vague nod to the actual content of the project, focusing rather on the peripherals, often procrastination. But here, describing the incremental steps required to create a facsimile of real life adds to the creepiness. When machines have a precision far beyond human perception, how do you know you’re imitating real life details? Where does the border between mimicry and wishful thinking stop? Might you spend all your life fiddling with tiny details, only to notice that you were creating something totally alien?

last&final uses deliberate choice placement to create a rhythm in the prose. Combined with the disorientation of being alone in a big building with its own rhythms and seeing a part of its life you never otherwise see, and personal experiences of fatigue-sharpened senses, last&final presented a creepily plausible horror story.

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Corrupter of Dreams, by Robert Patten

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Manipulating dreams for good or evil, November 6, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You are a parasite. You manipulate dreams — no, you corrupt them. In this brief game, you have just one target, one dream. But although you bring corruption and fungal decay, your target’s circumstances make the decision to corrupt a bit more complex, both because the consequences of corruption are not initially clear, and you can stop the corruption at any time.

Corrupter of Dreams is succinct, but manages to establish the PC’s motivation and the key dilemma early on. Without this dilemma, this would have already been an interesting game; I enjoy one-verb or limited parser games because of its limitations and the subversion of parser conventions of offering as many synonyms to make it as player-friendly as possible. But introducing a reason not to go down the obvious route made the route that much stronger.

This is a short, simple concept executed well within its contraints.

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Inevitable, by Matthew Pfeiffer

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Very brief subversion of an escape room adventure, November 3, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

You are a maverick (and frankly dangerous) scientist, and, at long last, you have your crowning glory: the time scryer! Allowing you to see into the future - well, ten minutes - it might finally be your way out of obscurity…

The premise - which you might have guessed from the “escape your fate adventure” description - was intriguing. I’d expected something like (Spoiler - click to show)My Angel or The Art of Fugue, which play around with delayed actions, but Inevitable is so short that that never really comes into play. There simply isn’t space for repeated themes, because there’s no space for repetition.

This game’s style is jocular in the way that, say, Peregrine Wade’s work is. Its brevity means that the humour and style never gets overbearing; on the other hand, the payoff could definitely have been more dramatic.

I’ll admit that I’m not fond of the “mad scientist” genre. Works in this genre rarely seem to acknowledge the incremental nature of empirical scientific research. Also: unappreciated brilliance does not a maverick scientist make — rather, it is the lack of accountability; the refusal to document anything; the insistence on unsafe practices. But that has little to do with this game - so that’s all I will say now.

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Behind the Door, by eejitlikeme

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A benign haunted house puzzler, October 28, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

You’ve been receiving a series of weird postcards. In a bid to find the person behind them, you find yourself at a very strange house indeed.

It’s the archetypal start of a haunted house story. What follows, however, could well be set anywhere else.

The cover art had me primed for Alice in Wonderland-style whimsy. I think that was the intention of the author, with the non sequitur rooms, but this game gives me the overriding impression of being… benign. The prose is quite plain and functional. The puzzles work, without being too contrived, and are reasonably logical.

The Quest interface at least provides more than one way (well, most of the time) to perform basic parser-like actions, such as moving or manipulating objects, though this was inconsistent across rooms.

This generally reminds me of Transparent, which also involves a haunted house, albeit a much more malevolent one.

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The Very Old Witch and the Turnip Girl, by Megan Stevens

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The pastel-hued story of a world-weary witch, October 28, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

You play a very old witch who’s not quite at the end of her life… and she feels like something is missing.

Witchcraft, here, runs along the lines of Pratchett’s practical, world-wise witches. Our witch is fully equipped with hexes and curses, but also browses mail catalogues for entertainment. Her attempts at plugging the gap in her life are quite old-style witch, though, including seeking out motherhood. Women finding their fulfilment in motherhood is not a new story. This game subverts it - though I would have been delighted if this had been lampshaded with a bit more of the spunk that the witch PC herself shows.

The Very Old Witch eschews anything more than a veneer of branching narrative, making this mostly a work of dynamic fiction. Nonetheless, it’s not too tedious to click through this linear story - and indeed I think I would have enjoyed this as a short story. There are areas where I would have appreciated a more biting wit - the titular characters don’t quite take things lying down, yet this isn’t always conveyed so well in their dialogue. Overall, The Very Old Witch reads with the simplicity of a children’s story, with some uniquely urban/modern twists.

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Rainbow Bridge, by John Demeter

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Cosy, almost seasonal short parser game, October 27, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

It’s Christmas, or thereabouts, and you have to go… but first, you need to charge up your sceptre. Well, at least that’ll give you some precious last minutes with your boyfriend.

Rainbow Bridge is a cosy treasure hunt - cosy both in scope and in-game universe. For something focused on colours, though, I had expected more… colourful descriptions; it seems a little bare at the moment. The game would definitely benefit from a little editing; a few more details would give the impression of a much richer world.

There are some touches which made this game a little more interesting - the choice of names, for instance - though the premise struck me as a little… cheesy. Still, a pleasant, well-meaning game.

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The Wand, by Arthur DiBianca

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Pared-down puzzling, October 27, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

DiBianca's Inside the Facility won Miss Congeniality in last year's comp, featuring a huge in-game map, a pared-down parser and puzzles which involved not much more than the simplest object manipulation.

The parser in The Wand is similar, with well-circumscribed limits to what verbs might be used. This time, though, we have a much smaller map and a configurable wand to play with, which gives the player different abilities, paring down the parser further.

Puzzle clues are given abstractly, like Flash escape room games of yore. Object manipulation is more complex, since the player can do more with each object. Puzzle-solving in The Wand doesn’t quite have the same snappiness as In the Facility, but there’s some nice framing of the central game premise here.

The Wand is overall a polished game, with a streamlined puzzle system. If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy Sub Rosa by Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy.

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Redstone, by Fred

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A functional murder mystery , October 19, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

From the blurb: “A VIP's been murdered at the reservation casino. As the deputy on call, it's up to you to find the killer. You have until morning before the FBI turns up the heat.”

This murder mystery takes the form of a parser-choice hybrid, with an interface reminiscent of Robin Johnson’s Detectiveland. Settings are individually illustrated, and the system is more or less robust, with a separate conversation mode. It may not look the slickest of interfaces - it recalls, vaguely, flash web games with a touch of homebrew about it.

The stakes are not always made clear: there are hints about this being troublesome because it’s on reservation land, and about FBI involvement, but these hints never added any tension to gameplay.

I would have liked a little more flair, a little more panache in the descriptions, but overall this is a mystery which does what’s expected of it.

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Swigian, by Mathbrush (as Rainbus North)

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A minimal escape, October 18, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Swigian is a text-sparse parser game. You are an outdoorsy person of no distinct description (“You look like me” is… suggestive) and… well, let’s start by building a fire.

The player’s only stated motivation is escaping an unnamed group: “them”. I would usually prefer more explanation, but here, in this style, that is enough. You are running from them. That is all I need to know.

Objects are barely described – “That is what it is” – encouraging the player to take the writer at face value. Object manipulation for puzzles is simplified, though most of the usual parser commands have been preserved.

Solving puzzles opens up new areas of the map. While the in-game map actually covers a large area, you only ever spend a short time in each area; often, there is exactly one thing you need to do there. The writing is evocative, but firmly rooted in reality – no metaphor for this, unlike, say, baby tree, another text-sparse parser game.

Overall, a solid game which I enjoyed playing, set firmly in parser’s traditional penchant for object-oriented puzzles.

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The Richard Mines, by Evan Wright

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An exploration devoid of excitement, October 18, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

The blurb tells us that this is ostensibly about one or more abandoned German mines in Czechoslovakia, circa 1949. If I had been playing without that knowledge, I would never have known that.

Despite it being about discovery and exploration, the narration is devoid of excitement. The PC betrays no emotion or indeed reaction to anything. Because of that, it was hard for me to find in-game motivation to keep exploring. Most of the context comes from the blurb, in fact.

While this game could do with a little proofreading and beta-testing for functionality expected of most parser games (the game doesn't end properly, for instance), this game was not submitted without thought: relatively straightforward puzzles whose presentations suggest their solutions, and an object-based hint system. A decent entry, though using the exploration to frame a story would have given it more depth.

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Bloodless on the Orient Express, by Hannes Schueller

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A short riff on vampires, September 21, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Written for ECTOCOMP, Bloodless is a short game which takes inspiration from - what else? - Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. You play a vampire on board a delayed train. Someone's had the life sucked out of them, but it definitely wasn't you. Time to investigate!

Bloodless may not be hugely surprising, but is a solid, short game, with light-hearted, bare-bones narration along with relative straightforward puzzles, of a variety familiar to IF.

Bloodless, being set on a train, has a spatial layout similar to the long, featureless corridors so beloved to this genre, but grouping rooms into carriages chunks them into more memorable sections. Bloodless is a pretty entertaining, bite-sized riff on the vampire genre.

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Secret Agent Cinder, by Emily Ryan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A tongue-in-cheek historical fiction/adventure hybrid, September 13, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

You are Cinderella, and you must infiltrate the ball to steal the King's secret military plans - and fret not, it's all in aid of the revolution!

The visual novel-style illustrations define the tone of the story and, in parts, deliver information relevant to the story. You, intrepid reader, will need to pay attention to detail, and, like me, you may get imprisoned a few times before figuring out how to escape in one piece.

The directions were my main stumbling block; I had trouble correlating compass directions, map and directional arrows. Otherwise, though, this is a fun one.

Taking about fifteen minutes' playtime for a runthrough, Secret Agent Cinder would make a great lunchtime game - mischievous, well-executed and often surprising.

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Krypteia, by Kateri

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A neon-tinged allegory , September 13, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, choleric

[Time to completion: 15 minutes. This game mentions violence and harassment.]

You leave the village, defying the wills of the "wise men", in search for the heart of the forest. You have nothing, and danger presses in all around.

Krypteia sounds like an allegory, using both the language of adventures and quests, and the familiar language of the "monsters" and the "wise men" will likely be familiar to femme-presenting folk, who are, for instance, so often told not to dress a certain way, lest they invite trouble ("You can't go out dressed like that, the wise men told you. The monsters will tear you apart.").

The theme of metamorphosis suffuses Krypteia. This game diverts based on a single dichotomy: stealth or fierceness. Do you blend in, or do you confront? I found it striking that despite the approach you choose, the PC still loses her identity.

The language used here blends imagery of the wilderness with that of the night-time city, filled with leering men and streetlights. This is also interpreted literally in the ever-moving graphics. Building on that, symbols usually associated with femininity were, here, weapons.

With its purposeful text styling, graphics and sound effects, it is no surprise that Krypteia was nominated for a XYZZY in Best Multimedia, but it is also allegory, social commentary, kinda-fairy tale and a story of personal growth.

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You are Standing at a Crossroads, by Astrid Dalmady

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The ground shifts under your feet, August 21, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, phlegmatic

You are standing at a crossroads. Wherever you go, you will end up at a crossroads.

The writing is memorable: evocative language, unsettling imagery. Visit a location twice, and it opens up. Enter. Participate. Maybe, finally, you'll discover where you are. Some locations recall childhood - a playground; a zoo - but all are deserted. There is a semblance of life, but you never get to see it for yourself.

Quiet piano music, links which set the pace and mutable text illustrate a place which changes only when you're not looking, which constantly keeps the ground uneven under your feet.

In the pattern of my father's long, long legs, Crossroads presents itself as an unsettling, low-interactivity twine. As dynamic fiction, one tends to ask, would this work as static fiction?

Perhaps not. Not without a way to set a reader's expectations, and let the reader discover how they might be broken.

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Inventory, by Joey Fu

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A lesson in making do with what you have, August 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You start out trapped in a dungeon - not an unfamiliar scenario - with a long list of possessions. Not all of them are tangible.

The basic idea behind this is simple enough: choose the right belonging, and you'll move on. The right object is not always obvious, however, and the error messages are unhelpful (probably due to the word count). The landscapes that this game traverses are often surreal non-sequiturs, leaving me to suspect that the inventory objects might have come before the story.

Inventory uses the aesthetic of old-school parser - monospace font, green words on black background, even a command prompt - but I think making it choice-based streamlined the actual process of using the objects.

(Spoiler - click to show)The heart of this game is escape, and it is elegantly brought out - yes, even in such a brief game as this. Escape is always in service of a goal, marks the start of a journey. But escape, here, demands a price: every time you escape from something new, you must give something up. (In this aspect it is tangentially reminiscent of Cat Manning's Invasion.) For what end? Is it worth it? For me, this made Inventory feel much more substantial than a 300-word game should be.

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Predictions of a Strip Mall Psychic, by Jake Elliott

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Telling the future in Texture, August 14, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

This game was one of the first few games written in the current incarnation of Texture, presumably meant to showcase Texture's strengths and capabilities. At the moment, these are very similar to that of a limited parser. Like a limited parser, Texture lends itself to focusing on a small collection of verbs while giving the reader some ability to interact with the environment (compared to, say, purely choice-based games), and it is used here to simulate making and redirecting conversation, to surprising effect.

There is an elegant twist in this, and it's pleasingly circular, topping off the whole game like the proverbial cherry on the ice cream. Predictions is brief and very largely linear, but hides a positively delightful surprise.

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KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
KING OF TROPES IN PASTICHE LAND, July 23, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

You are a space knight. Earth has been laid to waste, and you are one of many setting out to discover new inhabitable planets. This planet on which your space pod has crashed seems ideal - if it weren't for the evil bees!!

This is a pastiche-y work by Hennessy similar to You Will Select a Decision by the same author, both featuring consciously imitated writing styles/speech patterns and a delight in subverting and lampshading tropes.

Conscious effort has been made with the styling. 8 bit fonts shout retro; typos and awkward sentence structures suggest a non-native English writer - a similar tactic used in You Will Select a Decision. (Spoiler - click to show)The plot twist is reflected in a major change in style - which is reflected even in details like the number of choices.

A bite-size game - ideal for a lunch break, maybe - in a cheerfully weird sci-fi setting.

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The Unstoppable Vengeance of Doctor Bonesaw, by Caleb Wilson (as Lewis Blanco)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A artfully crafted toy box with some hidden depths, July 23, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

In what is essentially a one-move game, you play the unfortunately-named Doctor Bonesaw, who has finally uncovered the names and locations of the four people who have ruined his life. Finally, vengeance is his! (or even !!)

The writing leans toward the absurd, but never gets a chance to be over-the-top. In the spirit of The Northnorth Passage, there is really only one thing you can do; the parser's illusion of choice is just that - an illusion. (Spoiler - click to show)Mostly. Even the illusion of space is an illusion. It would have been fun if more objects in the starting location were implemented. If you think simply and act simply, it feels just too short to make the final move, however inevitable, feel satisfying.

There are, however, hidden depths to this compact game.(Spoiler - click to show)It's pretty well-hinted textually, so if might be worth going back to it a few times to see if you can, in fact, stop the inevitable.

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Elixir, by Zoyander Street

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Go through hell to assume your true form., July 23, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

You have gone an ocean of souls and crossed the underworld all for this: the Metaphysician. Only the Metaphysician can help you ascend to your true form.

The subject matter - identity - gives the story an added sharpness. The story Elixir tells is beyond just parlaying with demons and dealing with paperwork. The PC can only fulfil their true form with the approval of a Metaphysician - a third party who knows nothing about the PC - and this comes only if the PC's behaviour must jibe with the Metaphysician's seemingly arbitrary criteria. Why? The Metaphysician is the only distributor of the titular elixir. What real-life parallels this has is left as an exercise for the reader.

One notable aspect of this game is the use of Infernal, a conlang (constructed language) with its own grammar. Its Latin-like construction and its heavy Gothic font set the tone for the setting. This Hell is gothic, ornate, yet detached, its horrors hidden more in paperwork than in demons. Goat-headed, hornèd beasts hold no more terror than unnecessarily complicated bureaucracy.

The use of the conlang creates an asymmetry in the reader's and the PC's knowledge. When choosing how the PC responds to NPCs, the reader can only guess at the meaning of each of the choices. You can't choose the 'right' answer; you can't plan ahead; all this makes the Metaphysician's unsaid, inscrutable criteria for dispensing the elixir frustratingly unreachable.

Definitely an underrated game about creating identity and throwing off the shackles of the system. It's short, maybe insubstantial in scope and length, but glances off some very real present-day issues.

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The Little Lifeform That Could, by Fade Manley

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An affectionate take on the evolution/building sim genre, July 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

You start as a single-celled organism, wriggling in primordial ooze, but by making decisions on your approach to other cells and what to eat, you slowly build up an organism, then a population, then a civilisation. A game with a similar premise is Epitaph, although that approaches the evolution of civilisations from an outsider's perspective, while this is very much an insider's view.

Systems-wise, it might be the most similar to Evolve; both use quality-gated choices. It's a good fit for the platform. While Evolve aims to be educational and brings the reader through the actual nuts and bolts of evolution and other concepts, The Little Lifeform takes a much looser view of the science, with a whimsical touch. Hats feature greatly.

A polished, simple game - could make a longish lunch break game.

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Seven Bullets, by Cloud Buchholz

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A long, highly branching game that treads familiar ground, July 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

[Content warnings: violence, especially gun violence; torture/dismemberment]

You are a trained assassin. The Boss has your sister, and you will bring him down, do whatever it takes, to get her back, even unto death.

This is a highly branching, very long game which keeps track of a number of stats - and it makes that quite obvious through notes in the prose itself. Like Choice of Games games, there are achievements and Easter eggs galore, evidence of the breadth and effort put into Seven Bullets.

Decision-making points are inserted only when there is a significant tactical decision to be made, which makes each branching point's significance clear, but which also produces large swathes of text.

The story itself is fairly standard fare: mob bosses, arms deals with unnamed Chinese and Russians, unemotional protagonist. The typecasting here is almost stereotypical. Goons and villains remain categorically bad. Regardless of realm, they are to be taunted, killed and/or used solely as a means to an end: little chance for empathy. Pretty much every female character I encountered needed to be rescued.

I got the overwhelming feeling that it was the PC's personality that shaped the whole game, not necessarily for the good. Its prose is terser than it needed to be. The PC's stubbornness forced fantastical landscapes into shapes the assassin protagonist can understand. This may be a common enough human endeavour, but it stole the opportunity for humour or humility.

Seven Bullets is polished, and what appears to be Twine Sugarcube's autosave system - much needed in this very long game. I found it hard to enjoy it, though, because of its protagonist - I wasn't sure I wanted to spend all that much time with them.

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Down, the Serpent and the Sun, by Chandler Groover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A polished game with a lavish, gory setting., July 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

The serpent has eaten the sun. You are the last one who can get it back.

Based loosely on Aztec myths, this game presents a prime example of Groover's signature imagination. Down is dark and bloody - set, after all, in the maw of a monster - but unlikely metaphors abound. Gemstones in gullets. A sun in the stomach.

Contrasts abound in this game. You must relinquish control in the beginning to be able to participate, despite being a warrior - a person of action! The serpent is a broken, diseased creature, despite being undeniably powerful - having swallowed the sun and defeated all before you.

Though somewhat more ornate, and definitely more outspoken than some of Groover's other games, Down, the Serpent and the Sun is well worth playing.

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Three-Card Trick, by Chandler Groover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Magic tricks with a dark heart, July 19, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

Groover's works are dark and delicious, and this one especially so. You are Morgan the Magnificent, the esteemed magician. Last year, your two-card tricks granted you the favour and popularity from the most influential, wealthiest patrons.

Now, however, a rival has emerged: ostentatious, flashy Ivan, and his three-card trick. Now is your chance to regain your rightful title.

Despite a carnival-like setting - one often associated with summer and fun and play - there is an unsettling undertone (why would you need guards around a group of magicians?) which hints at higher stakes than are initially stated.

Highly polished both in style and substance, Three-Card Trick once again features several parser tricks which enhance its delivery. Text is doled out to control pacing; directions are highly simplified, similar to What Fuwa Bansaku Found.

It's a delicate balancing act Three-Card Trick does. It remains one step ahead of the reader, through to the end; yet, the required actions are hinted with sufficient contextual clues - one is unlikely to get stuck for too long - to give the sense of player agency. This is a game that is well deserving of its multiple XYZZY nominations.

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Oxygen, by Benjamin Sokal

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The ship's fate in your hands, July 19, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

The premise of Oxygen is simple - no tricks, few puzzles, mostly choices. You, a lowly technician, have the unenviable task of deciding who on board the Aegis mining station will get oxygen from the slowly leaking tanks.

This is a resource management game in which you decide how oxygen supplies on a spaceship are to be diverted. You have three moves each time to decide. Tension comes from the fact that the ship is, literally, divided: striking miners on one side, and "the establishment" - the captain and the rest of the crew - on the other.

The initial section was very fiddly for me, because I have lots of trouble visualising mechanical solutions, so I followed the walkthrough for that. The bulk of the story is mechanically much simpler, though.

Oxygen's story is largely linear, with just a few major branches; so far, none of the endings I've found are exactly happy. Your position as a tech notwithstanding, you ultimately must choose where you stand - with the miners or with the leadership - and either results in the destruction of the other (or both). It was heartening to see the PC change from lazy and over-ambitious to actually taking a stand.

Oxygen reminded me of Fragile Shells: both are set in a spaceship, with mechanical puzzles. Fragile Shells is a bit more focused on story and characters, while Oxygen, more on the PC's current relationship with his other crewmates and resource management.

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The Moonlit Tower, by Yoon Ha Lee

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Exploration in a lush, beautiful East Asian-influenced setting, July 16, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

The Moonlit Tower is a small, self-contained game, set in a lush, unusual setting. Who you are is not immediately clear; finding out is its own experience.

Again, the player's goal is not clear at first. While this would usually be considered less than desirable, in this case this encourages exploration, and what a world there is to explore! The setting here draws on East Asian influences, and various features give the impression of gilt and intricate detail, such as you might find in a palace in ancient China or during the Joseon dynasty, and it is this detail in the crevices of the text which encourages replay.

This is a small game whose sparse puzzles are enriched by the enjoyable writing. The game boasts gentle, evocative, lush descriptions galore, rich with odd turns of phrase. Story is revealed in vignettes, flashes of memory; nothing is concrete.

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Space Princess Coronation, by Marie Vibbert

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A irreverent sci-fi/fantasy vignette, July 16, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

You're a space princess, and today's your coronation... or it was, until the Borgons started attacking! This is a light-hearted story about subverting your destiny. Your weapon: your knowledge of ceremonial rituals. Your awfully comprehensive knowledge.

I found the mix of sci-fi and high fantasy-style rituals novel, and the style has shades of Douglas Adams in its irreverence. Given that, consequences such as defending your people against invaders or a fiery death dwindle to an incidental outcome. Because, hey, you got to do what you wanted, right?

I would liked to do more with the setting. The choices in the game are mostly a binary choice between doing what is expected of you and not doing it; although the choices presented suggested vastly different personalities, there seemed to be little consequence to this.

Maybe I overthink. Space Princess Coronation is obviously lighthearted; this is a game that wants you to have fun. And it is fun, kinda: the PC is snarky and spirited; the protocol droid threatens to kick butt if you refuse to do what you're told. So if you're in the mood for very short, lighthearted sci-fi, then Space Princess Coronation might meet your needs.

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Psychomanteum, by Hanon Ondricek

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short "haunted house" game with reality-warping possibilities, July 16, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Every year, your friends hold a Halloween party, and each guest must complete three dares. The Psychomanteum is new: a mirrored chamber, in which you must stay, in darkness, for an hour. That shouldn't be too bad, right? You're a connoisseur of haunted houses and all things Halloween, after all, so nothing should really surprise you.

This game has all the usual trappings of Halloween - pumpkin spice, haunted houses, darkness. This contrasts with the genuine sense of increasing derangement as the PC spends more and more time in the titular box.

Psychomanteum has a strong concept, aided by the background music and sound effects. There were some disambiguation issues, if memory serves, and I didn't know what to make of (Spoiler - click to show)the slate. Psychomanteum leaves its truth deliberately ambiguous, but presented some deliciously creepy possibilities.

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brevity quest, by Chris Longhurst

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Time cave RPG with sparse prose, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

This is an RPG in the barest sense of the word. You choose a class. You encounter characters and go places, each narrated within the space of one line. The brevity of each passage belies a very broadly branching decision tree. In fact, given how widely stories could diverge, I found the narration of your choices in the end to be a nice touch. brevity quest makes liberal use of familiar tropes and creatures, making the reader's imagination take up most of the storytelling slack.

Several games share the text-sparse, location-based mould. A few which come to mind: The Tiniest Room, vale of singing metals or even burning temples.

What makes these worth having a look at are how they simplify foreign terrains, diplomatic moves and combat into the sparse language they use. I found pleasant small surprises, at times, when the game (brevity quest, but the others as well) showed me that it wasn't just branching blindly - it remembered the decisions that I made. Of course, this is technically very easy to do, but satisfying nonetheless.

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Four Sittings in a Sinking House, by Bruno Dias

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A barroom back fable about a haunted house, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes; this game doesn't work in Google Chrome]

Right. Yeah. The whole island was sinking, really. I say island because that's the official term, but if we're being honest it was more like a pretentious sandbar.


On a house on this sinking island, you perform sittings to uncover memories and, by so doing, figure out what went on in the house. Four candles flicker in the background of your choices, each one going out as you perform a sitting.

In this self-described "barroom back fable", the narrator is cynical, jaded. I got the sense that they, like the titular house, has put their glory days behind them, though having never played into cheap dreams peddled by cons,

You can perform tasks in roughly any order, but you have to uncover all available bits of memory to really figure out what's at the heart of this house. Not to give away the plot, but what's happening in the sinking house reflects the island itself: a place that free market forces took over, yet was chewed up and discarded when it lost its value.

Bruno's writing belies a keen eye for detail. The house's fallen state shows through its faded, garish fittings; the hypocrisy of the promises that were sold along with the house, in its sterility. Four Sittings is a satisfying, polished tale of urban magic, with the same sort of seriousness as, say, American Gods.

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Flash in the Pan: ADHD Simulator, by Thom Simonson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A procrastination simulation , May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

This game captures the experience of continually getting distracted: there are countless detours that one might take en route to completing a necessary task.

Flash in the Pan uses its medium well: hovering over nouns gives a tangential thought, and this mechanism is used for a tiny easter egg at the end.

It reads a bit as a "normal workday simulator", though some of the choices at which one could detour - stopping to help at a road traffic accident, for example - are not exactly routine. This game is very clear, though, about how it impacts the PC's everyday life, which is perhaps the most important point.

Games in this vein are not exactly uncommon, and while there's a spark of mischievousness in some of the side remarks, little translates to the rest of the writing. This game also lacked a sense of urgency - I got a feeling overall that even if the PC was late, it wasn't really going to matter, so why should I conscientiously avoid distraction? The opportunity cost of distractions, here, was low enough that choosing tempting distraction over boring duty was a trivial one.

A more colourful take on procrastination and the lengths to which one can go to avoid responsibilities is the now-classic Violet.

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The Skeleton Key of Ambady, by Caelyn Sandel (as Adalai Trammels)

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A folk tale-esque game of uncommon depth, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes; full content warnings given at the start of the game]

You are Adalai Trammels, Skeleton Key, and that means that you can unlock any safe, open any door... even intangible ones. It's a surprisingly nomadic job, and you carry naught but your key and the money you earn in exchange for your gift.

There is a surprising depth and breadth as to what you can do here. Sandel deftly creates a web of conflicts in the town that has no easy conclusion, no single villain. Every decision - including the decision to action or inaction - has consequences on the townsfolk: just because you can open any lock, doesn't mean you have to open all of them.

The Skeleton Key finds strength in its structure, borrowing the cadence of a folk tale or fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, the onus is on the hero to pass moral judgement on the villain, and the power of the interactive format is that we, the player, get to decide who we condemn and who we save.

This is a particularly strong example of Sandel's work, featuring distinctive settings and nuanced, sensitive characters; further examples of her work may be found here http://inurashii.xyz/games/.

Readers interested in the folk tale style but with a taste for horror may also enjoy A Good Wick, in which you play a lamp in a town shrouded in eternal night.

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Bring Me A Head!, by Chandler Groover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A gem in Groover's signature grotesque, vivid style, March 5, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

You are the executioner in the Duc's palace, and the Duc wants a head. You have to get it. The problem is, the next execution is four days away, so you'll have to... improvise.

The setting is one of the strong points in this work. The Duc's palace stars inhabitants so perfectly adapted to their role, it seems they would shrivel and perish if they were removed from it. The... oozy aesthetic reminded me of Nekra Psaria (https://jayisgames.com/games/nekra-psaria/).

Bring Me a Head is, at heart, a chain of fetch quests. Talk to characters, who will tell you what you need to get them. Chandler's writing is succinct, sketching out a disgusting, baroque setting, off set by wry humour - a double entendre here (Spoiler - click to show)in, say, breaking horses, an unexpected name there.

If you liked it, I recommend a tiny utopia by the same author, Skullscraper.

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Li You's Secret Admirer, by Mrs. Pollard

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A generic romance using basic Mandarin Chinese vocabulary, January 26, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

This is a deliberately simple romance story between a Chinese and an American student, intended for learners. The branching in this story branches and bottlenecks very quickly - it's a largely linear story. Is it good for learners? Hard to say.

The good: parallel sentence structures might allow readers to infer the meaning of similar sentences. Sentences are kept short and straightforward.

The bad: I saw the brevity and blandness of the writing as a missed opportunity to expand a reader's vocabulary, as well as showing a reader what lively Chinese prose can look like. For example, in the beginning, the reader can choose what impression one character has of the other. If the reader decides that they have a poor impression of each other, the resulting text simply repeats that, without explaining why.

The... questionable, maybe: I spotted at least one grammatical error. There was another which may be regionally idiomatic, translating "asking for his telephone number" as "asking how much his telephone number is" (the original: "她问王朋的妹妹, 王红, 王朋的电话号码是多少"). It's a minor point, but raises an interesting thought as to the extent to which teaching Chinese (presumably non-native) learners strongly idiomatic expressions would be helpful, if those same idioms would be considered grammatically wrong in other regional variants of the language.

There is scant intercommunication between the Chinese IF community and the English, and even putting in on IFDB is already a form of outreach. The intent of this project certainly fills up a void - few IF projects appear to be created for Chinese learners, one of which includes Wordswing (https://wordswing.com) - but the execution is distinctly lacking. With a stronger story and more natural, vivid prose, this could be a notable work indeed.

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A Good Wick, by Little Foolery

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Visually attractive horror game about a doomed town, January 24, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Mentions violence and mutilation. Full content warnings are given on the first screen. Time to completion: 30-45 minutes]

Pyre on the Water is a doomed town, and you are one of its lamps. You've burned for three years, and that is no mean feat in a town with no more sun, in a town whose lamps must be relit by travelling knights. But it is in one of these knights who holds the town's destruction.

A Good Wick has strong writing, with the cadence of a folk tale. It makes deliberate, thoughtful use of repetition and chapter headings as transition. Characters are defined largely by their roles in the community - and the horror derived from their deviation from these roles.

This game makes heavy use of multimedia and text effects. The background flickers and writhes. Links glow like a lamp in the dark. It works well on mobile.

Sometimes, the effects that make it so visually distinct make it less than reader-friendly. The atmospheric backgrounds were occasionally distracting, and some of the links were hard to find - although that may well have been the intent. There seemed, sometimes, to be so many transition headings that it broke up the flow of the story.

Nonetheless, A Good Wick is a visually rich, haunting folk tale - without the immediacy of games like 1181, but with a song-like cadence.

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Masks, by lioninthetrees

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fairy tale-like story about a greedy magpie, with illustrations, January 10, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Masks tells a charming, fairy tale-like story of a magpie who encounters various woodland creatures (all with alliterative names - Margaret the mouse, Owen the owl...) who have some problem or another. The story is linear, with branching via binary choices: to help, or not? As befits a fairy tale, of course, the morals are simple - ignore people in need at your own peril, with potentially terrible consequences; as befits a fairy tale, too, the 'right' action is equally simple.

Most of the story text is integrated into the illustrations, while choices are in text-only screens, which struck me a being a bit jarring. It would have been lovely if the layout was more responsive: removing the sidebar, for instance, or allowing resizing.

Nonetheless, Masks is worth clicking through if you're looking for a fairy tale told straight, with pastel-hued illustrations.

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Ash, by Lee Grey

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A midlength meditation on a parent's dying, January 8, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, IFComp 2016

[Time to completion: 20-25 minutes]

Ash is about watching someone die. The PC, here, is getting to grips with their mother's proximity to death; the prevailing mood is deep weariness. The writing is stark, the descriptions minimal. The links mostly appear in conversation, and their brevity suggests that both the PC and their mother have long since exhausted most conventional conversational topics.

Institutional healthcare looms large in this story. Healthcare professionals appear mostly as faceless, nameless, taciturn individuals, delivering bad news bluntly and awkwardly, referred to in aggregate, making the hospital seem not even like a prison, but a mechanised facility. Ash emphasises how no one knows what is going on, how no one cares enough to look up from the charts and see how patients are doing, how bureaucracy strangles good medicine. The result is claustrophobia, a sense of being trapped.

Ash illuminates an aspect of illness not often touched on in games, and despite everything, despite everything, remains hopeful.

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vale of singing metals, by foresthexes

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tiny maze in a harsh landscape, January 1, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Time to completion: 10-20 minutes

Written for Porpentine's Twiny Jam, vale of singing metals presents a dream-like maze in a strange landscape. Landmarks like boiling streams and oil lakes give the impression of a volcanic landscape, life creeping in fields of grass and flowers. And, yes, it is that now-rare thing in IF, a maze. Yet, it feels less of a hassle than an exploration through an empty space.

vale of singing metals is a lovely little piece, scenic in the way that Kitty Horrorshow's work is, and an interesting take on how mazes can be implemented in very little space.

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The Periwink, by Jedediah Berry

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A delightful, sinister exploration , January 1, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

You are a groundskeeper on the last day on the job. The majordomo demands it be so.

The Periwink brings the player through surreal, toothy, quietly alive landscapes, somewhat like a pastel-hued Porpentine work. The monuments in The Periwink are not neutral or even benign, but if you treat them right, they will return the favour.

As groundskeeper, the viewpoint character knows much more about the perils of each monument than the majordomo, which forms a foil to his casual arrogance. But the groundskeeper also knows a lot more than the player - hence, while the player may have control over the PC's actions, the first-time player cannot guess at the motive or implications of those actions.

The horror here is understated; the writing, a pleasure to read. For someone who loves rambling around alien landscapes, this was a delectable treat.

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Bus Station, Unbound, by Jenn Ashworth & Richard Hirst

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A highly branching interactive novel exploring a liminal space, January 1, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholy

You're going home for Christmas, for the first time in years, if only to make up for all the damaged relationships you've had over the years. But the snow is coming down hard, and your next coach is likely to be delayed.

The authors describe this substantial, large work as primarily an interactive novel, but it works as a vaguely open-world exploration as well. There are lots of optional 'side quests' and characters with whom you can interact; exploration opens up different endings and storylines.

But this is built on an emotional heart, reflected in the parallels between the PC and the building. The location's brokenness reflects the PC's own. The shoddiness of the building itself, the glitchy machinery, the inertia of the buses, even the irritable, argumentative NPCs: aspects of these are reflected, in some way or other, in the PC's own relationships with their family and in their own life decisions. Perhaps even the liminal nature of the bus station - a space characterised by transition and impermanence - reflects how the PC stands on the cusp of something new.

The theme of symbolically rich buildings, buildings as containers for ideas, is not a new one. This idea, for instance, is taken more literally in Bruno Dias's Four Sittings in a Sinking House. In both, the titular building reflects brokenness elsewhere: it is the PC themselves in Bus Station, Unbound, while it is the owners' material worship in Four Sittings.

Something else I enjoyed in reading this were the contrasts and almost-contradictions in the bus station's 'characterisation'. It is described in ways that sit uneasily with each other. It is at once a "monstrous waste of money", but also a structure of "pale concrete petals", "heartlike" in its action. The storylines invite comparison between Preston Bus Station's mundanity and terror, human warmth and mechanical coldness.

There's a lot to explore here in Bus Station, Unbound.

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Cat Simulator 2016, by helado de brownie

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
You are a cat. Find a place to nap., December 28, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

Fun fact: in the past two years, there have been at least one game with 'cat simulator' in its title. What's not to like? It's certainly fun to speculate on cats' motivation for their inscrutable behaviour, and since domestic cats live in such proximity to humans, it does make one wonder what they think of us, as a species.

In this cat sim, the titular cat is a lazy domestic cat looking for a spot to nap. It's broadly branching, largely relaxing and self-aware: 'good' and 'bad' endings are indicated as such (although is there really a bad ending, if you're still a cat at the end of it?); there is even a list of AMUSING things to do, as in some parser games. A short, pleasant diversion.

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Spellbound, by Adam Perry

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Changing reality with spelling, December 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine, Introcomp

In this wordplay-based game reminiscent of Counterfeit Monkey, you have been tasked with retrieving the 23 letters of the alphabet not currently known to man. In this world, spelling takes on a much more concrete role. 

It's a good premise, supported by enough puzzles to showcase the author's ingenuity and reflect the depth of imagination. Importantly for a potentially sandboxy game, Spellbound handles error messages pretty well, though in some cases the solutions to the puzzles were not as informative as it should have been. The game, though, feels complete: there's a path to the ending, and the proposed expansions involve making the game comprehensive. 

It's an impressive effort, and while some of the locations feel like a bunch of narratively-relevant objects just rained down on them, I imagine it would be good if you liked Emily Short's Counterfeit Monkey or Dubbin and Parrish's Earl Grey, and are a Scrabble fan. This is one game that I would love to see finished.

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Hana Feels, by Gavin Inglis

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
We can only reach but never touch, December 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[This game contains discussions of self-harm/self-mutilation. Please exercise discretion. Time to completion: 15-25 minutes]

Hana has been acting unlike herself lately. Can you find out why?

We, the player, see Hana's feelings through the eyes of four different people. Each is meant to play a supportive role in her life, but their different personalities means that their support can express itself in very different ways. The catch: the only thing you can control is what other people say to Hana. Some of the NPCs would have been self-centred had we only been able to see from Hana's point of view, but being able to play through their perspectives - and seeing their doubts and awkwardness - made them much more sympathetic, even when they say things which would be frankly hurtful.

Hana's journal entries provide immediate feedback about your conversational choices. I found myself wondering how I could optimise outcomes for Hana - or, indeed, if it was even possible. But there's something to this, isn't there? No matter our intentions, our words of comfort can so easily be interpreted in the exact opposite of what we mean.

Depending on the branch you end up getting, the overall tone of Hana Feels could be either cautiously optimistic or achingly sad. Despite occasionally getting to experience Hana's perspective, she remains distant; we can only ever reach her indirectly, through the filter of other people.

Hana has been nominated for Best NPC in the XYZZY awards, a fact which delights me, even if I'm never really sure what makes an NPC 'good'. The most I can say, though, is that the emotional investment the PCs pay into their interactions with Hana pays off. Each character reacts believably and sensitively to what the other says. A comparable game would be Hannah Powell-Smith's Thanksgiving or Aquarium, in which conversation is fraught and intricate as a dance.

Hana Feels ultimately deals with some weighty stuff - Hana, after all, has to deal with a lot and she doesn't always do this in a healthy way - but there are areas of levity, and perhaps even hope.

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I THINK I'LL STOP OFF ON THE WAY, by piratescarfy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, surreal Twine about a strange service station, December 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

You have been driving on a nameless road, for more hours than you can remember, for more hours that you should be. It's time to take a break, so good thing there just happens to be a service station coming up. It's deserted. The bathrooms are all boarded up.

The setting and premise has rich pickings for a horror story: one might find anything in an unfamiliar, deserted town - monsters, abysses, pure evil... The wee hours of the morning and tired narrator mean disorientation even in the best of circumstances, mean isolation and loneliness.

This Twine contains an inventory and location-based system, using the PC's need to use the toilet as impetus for exploring the locations. The objects in the inventory make up parts of an implement. The choice format removes the need to fiddle with verbs like one might in a parser IF (e.g. USE X ON Y), but, at the same time, wrenches control of the environment from the reader. This adds to the somnambulant atmosphere, like a malignant muscle memory: your limbs following the orders of something other than your conscious mind.

The cadence of the writing is staccato; terse - in moderate amounts, it underlines the starkness and desolation of the setting.

The LEDs flash pink and green. The buzzing gets louder. The buzzing gets louder. The crying stops.

There is sometimes too much of it, presented in uninterrupted chunks. Pacing is not always the strongest point.

This game strikes some of the same notes as Kinsale Horror: in both, the PCis a traveller stranded in a strange town which just becomes stranger and stranger. This game has much more ambiguous ending - benign, almost, as if you were recounting this as an anecdote in a social gathering - while Kinsale Horror carries through with the threats the setting makes.

As has been mentioned, this game has many parallels with a typical creepypasta - an almost real-world setting, amnesia, mutable settings - though I THINK I'LL STOP OFF ON THE WAY does make use of its format, by giving and removing player agency to drive in the creepiness.

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Compound Fracture, by Jimmy Evans

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A timed Twine game about dying in a car crash, December 17, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

The actual text in this game is scarce, as words would be when oxygen is scarce, yet it begins with a blasé This game embraces deceptively simple text effects, where links wriggle and shift out from your cursor. Fragments of thought flick by under a visibly lengthening bar, with the implicit understanding that when that bar runs out, so does your time. The thoughts that flicker past hint at past regrets, a family less than proud of you: the usual emotional baggage, but even there's no time to pursue those thoughts. The writing, though sparse, has a stoic, matter of fact tone, from the first line: "you are going to die/okay". In one of the endings, you can do nothing but watch the timer count down.

This is a shining example of real-time effects done right, adding as it does to something otherwise quite simple. (This might be easier played with a mouse.)

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Light into Darkness, by Christina Nordlander

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short, disturbing parser game jumping between planes of reality, December 14, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Depicts murder/violence, gore. Time to completion: 10-15 minutes]

This short parser game does not make for light reading, but it's so short that to explain more about its premise would spoil it. Suffice to say that the initial setup reminded me of Ecdysis (down to the mental images it conjured) and The Baron.

The PC switches between planes of reality within a few moves, constantly keeping the player off kilter. I found this pacing just right for the size of the game. The writing is tight, too, wasting no time on extraneous details.

The game was built on a small enough scale that I couldn't get lost, and of note is one scene in which the actions you have to do to move the story on is indirectly shown to the player. For its size, though, it still let the player decide on the ultimate interpretation of the PC's actions.

Discretion is recommended for player murder and violence.

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What to Do When You're Alone, by Glass Rat Media

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
It knows what you're thinking, December 12, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic, ECTOCOMP, ECTOCOMP 2016

[May mention suicide, abusive relationships, self-loathing. Time to completion: 5 minutes]

What to Do describes a Google with sinister intentions - one which sees through the user's seemingly innocuous searches to the doubt and fears behind it. Perhaps it is the intimacy of a search engine that fuels this idea, and the fact that we might address the search engine as we would a friend, and indeed, in the starting screen, the engine introduced itself by saying, "Don't worry about keywords; just talk to us like we're a friend.". It's the ultimate natural language processor, isn't it? These games ask, "What if your ultimate reference, your personal librarian, was thinking, remembering, learning?"

While it may be superficially and mechanically similar to Josh Giesbrecht's Awake, the intent of this game's search engine is unambiguous. Awake's search engine is wide-eyed with wonder. This is actively malicious - this was written for ECTOCOMP, after all.

The text effects are normally much maligned, but are used especially thoughtfully here, making What to Do work well as an interactive vignette of a sinister encounter.

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All I Do is Dream, by Megan Stevens

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short game about the inertia born of depression. , November 24, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

This is a game about inertia. Every action you, the player, try to do is met with a refusal to do it: it's too daunting, it's too meaningless, it's too disgusting...

Conceptually, it's similar to Depression Quest, except that this game frames the PC's life in relation to Evie, their - I can't remember if it was explicitly said, but implicitly - the PC's partner, or at least girlfriend. However, it's very short, and it doesn't give a huge amount to judge it by. I can see it being expanded out, though. Even if some readers might tire of inhabiting the body of a PC who's tired all the time, the game as it stands makes me interested about, for instance, Evie.

I particularly liked this line: "You're good at pushing things, mostly because you have to push yourself to do anything, whether it's brushing your hair or getting a drink of water or going swimming with Evie. For that reason you're good at pushing everything back in the closet."

What really redeems it and lightens the tone of the game is how it ends on a hopeful note, which counterbalances the mood so far.

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A Time of Tungsten, by Devin Raposo

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A long Twine game about looking through another's eyes, November 22, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You are looking through the memories of an Agent aboard some kind of space outpost or spaceship. Your job is to figure out what was behind some unnamed disaster.

Characterisation is one of the stronger points of this game. As the PC switches between their own memories and those of the Agent's, the viewpoint characters' affection for their colleagues becomes clear.

I liked the switches between narration styles as well, to distinguish between the two timelines. The banter between the PC and the operator is casual, riddled with jibes at each other; the crew member's narration, in contrast, is stilted, almost, but contributes to a sense of distance - and, if I may say so, alienation. Dimensions are given to the nearest 0.1m; descriptions of dialogue and people are conveyed through lists of adjectives; body parts and bodily functions described as if the narrator wasn't used to them.

It's a slow burn, and I can see where readers might be put off early. The story slips between different timelines. Tenses change, not always consistently. Sometimes there's a wall of text, carrying information that the reader doesn't necessarily need to know. This, at least, is not necessarily bad. It suggests the author has thought about the game universe in depth. But what made me finish playing A Time of Tungsten wasn't the meticulous world building or the thought given to the technology in the world - it was seeing the characters gradually grow and warm to each other.

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The Curious Incident at Blackrock Township, by Bitter Karella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A witchhunt narrated entirely through secondhand accounts, November 12, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

The Curious Incident is a witch-hunting incident narrated entirely through secondhand accounts. One might draw an obvious parallel between this and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, but where the play puts the reader (or viewer) right in the action of the moment, here we dip in and out, switching between narration and secondhand research. Historical records are interspersed with academic accounts, and branching points are incorporated similar to how The Domovoi did it. This indirect style works well, especially when one of the branches imply that the nature of the main character is ambiguous.

As another reviewer has commented, it is particularly ironic that the reader gets to choose how the story goes. Who's to say what happened? Who's to say who was truly to blame? In the end, does that really matter, if the outcome remains unchanged?

(Spoiler - click to show)One thing I feel would improve this game is pacing. There was scant buildup to the manifestation of the curse itself (not just the context of it) that the ending felt premature; I would have liked more detail on how the curse started manifesting, but this may be at odds at the matter of fact style of the rest of the game.

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Molly and the Butter Thieves, by Alice Grove (as Cosmic Hamster)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A tasty parser tidbit in fairyland, November 11, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Someone - or something - has been stealing your butter and you, dairy farmer extraordinaire, are going to find out who.

Molly and the Butter Thieves is a well-designed, lovely game drawing on fairy mythology: there's the insubstantial but beautiful fairy castle; there's the thieving, mischievous, capricious fairies themselves.

There are some noteworthy design decisions - the first being the FOLLOW command, which allows you to follow NPCs, and a nifty trick which (Spoiler - click to show)allows you to wander around only in places the NPC leads you. This creates the feeling of messiness, of space, without having to implement every single bit of it.

Similar to The Warbler's Nest, content-wise, Molly and the Butter Thieves has relatively small game locations (i.e. number of rooms) and the actions the player needs to do to progress are clearly stated. Where The Warbler's Nest turns dark, though, Molly and the Butter Thieves keeps light, by keeping the stakes relatively low - it's more about protecting what's yours rather than rooting out an unwanted visitor in your home. Despite its brevity, there are still sufficient interactions with NPCs and environmental details to make it feel like a small slice of a vibrant world.

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Eurydice, by Anonymous

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A mid length parser about loss and remembrance based on the Greek myth, October 26, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You, the PC, are mired in grief for the loss of Celine. Everything in the house, the initial setting, reminds the PC of Celine, down to the most trivial detail.

The setting, here, is both used to elicit the PC's memories and to create a sense of claustrophobia. Despite the social nature of funerals, the PC's grief is so intensely private, that to share it with others would be an invasion, almost. The tone is bleak - actions are sometimes rebuffed with terse messages: "You've been better"; "You can't remember anything important now".

Unusual turns of phrase - the curve like that of a human spine; the baboonish chatter - make everyday settings seem strange, something highlighted with the reality-bending lyre, one of the most obvious elements borrowed from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The game allows for exploration and is generally forgiving, except for the endgame, in which the player's sequence of actions is crucial.

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Breakfast on a Wagon with Your Partner, by bananafishtoday

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, dialogue-focused Twine about hope in the apocalypse, September 26, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine, melancholic

This is a short, cosy Twine set on the back of a wagon, in which the PC and their partner discuss their future. It's been a while since the apocalypse happened, but you're alive, and the town up ahead is a new opportunity...

The setting borrows elements from Westerns, though it is not unique to them: travellers on the road, never knowing what lies ahead, being separated from human company for prolonged periods at a time.

There is something comforting about discussing what seems so trivial, so individual despite the world crumbling all around you. There is something comforting in planning for the future at the end of the world, and even more so in the NPC, Sam, who responds to even the most cynical of conversational options with good grace. Emphasising that is a gentle soundtrack, partly guitar, partly sounds of nature.

Design-wise, this game features the thoughtful use of colour schemes - with different colours for each speaker - and cycling links to present conversational options.

A peaceful, intimate diversion, not unlike laika's Heretic Pride.

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To Spring Open, by Peter Berman and Yoon Ha Lee (as Two-Bit Chip)

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A courier in a deeply implemented, richly described world, September 23, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

This is a technically strong, very attractive game in which you deliver messages and courier goods, all to maintain the delicate balance of power between Sonnenblume, Einzapfen and Angel Temple.

The puzzles in To Spring Open, if you call it that, are so steeped in the mythos of this world that they didn't feel forced or contrived. They're minimal, and the game establishes a routine for the player early on.

The effects used in this Twine 1 game are also not to be sniffed at, and in fact added to the story. I particularly enjoyed the effects in the train, but the choice of colour schemes to denote different locations was well done as well.

The language in this game is distinctive - "Unsettled bones recall the shock of your notification." is one of the first sentences you will encounter - and the game's breadth gives it enough space to shine. The mythos recalls Egyptian mythology (you have natron and jackal symbology) and lots more things besides - instead of messenger pigeons, you have paper planes. There's depth to the setting, and indeed choosing different costumes gains you access to different places. As another reviewer has said, the world in To Spring Open could well populate a much larger game, and is one of the most enjoyable parts of this game. Recommended.

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ENGINE MACHINE: The Deities of Time and Space, by Adam Bredenberg

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Bewildering existential poetry, September 23, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

[Contains occasional profanity. Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

This Twine poem is about human suffering and the inevitability of death, at least according to the blurb. I have difficulty understanding all but the most concrete poetry even at the best of times, and I did not understand this piece. It slams out metaphors and images and rhythms in what is sometimes wordy verse. It grabs references and images from cultures from antiquity to modernity. It's quite the wild ride.

If you like lines like "ancient archaeopteryx of crews and heathens/mollusks, plagues/black bastard symphonies, thousand talons/
lice and the lance of doomed reverberations," then you might like this.

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Boxes, by Anastasia Salter

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A meditation on futility (in the context of academia), September 21, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 20-30 minutes]

The PC is grieving for the loss of their husband, a professor, and they now have to clear his office. This is a short, one-room parser game in which the things you uncover reveal something new in the room.

The tone is weary and cynical: much of the trappings associated with academia elicit remarks on its futility, and the lack of lasting meaning - fitting, considering that the PC is rifling through the trappings of a life in academia.

Implementation is a bit spotty. It's not immediately obvious what triggers the appearance of new items, and some changes are triggered after a seemingly arbitrary number of turns, so it was hard for me to figure out how to finish the game. Some seemingly obvious nouns/actions were unimplemented (Spoiler - click to show)such as >OPEN CARDBOARD giving me "That's not something you can open.".

Boxes is a short meditation on futility and disillusionment, but is unfortunately marred by its less-than-comprehensive implementation.

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walking home, by spinach

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short Twine poem about risk and fear, September 21, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: ~5 minutes]

This short poem, presented in Twine, is about the experience of walking home as a person of colour, and the fear of being seen as a monster and being attacked.

Links, here, act as punctuation, giving it the rhythm of song. So yes, it's better if it's read aloud, but it needs the player's interaction - of clicking on the link - to drive in the rhythm.

walking home uses the symbology of religion to represent the power of weapons, of always staying more dangerous than other people out there - there are lines such as "pray to the brand on its edge for protection" - but it is, ultimately, born of fear. And despite this, fatalism is everywhere - a fatalism born of weariness, born of helplessness.

It may be "just" dynamic fiction. It may not be technically spectacular. But it's powerful stuff.

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Cryptophasia, by Alan DeNiro (as L. Starr Voronoi)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Selling Viennese pastries in space, September 21, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 20-30 minutes]

This cyberpunk-styled Twine is based on the Shufflecomp release. I could not access version 1.5.

You are a space baker in a galaxy where everyone's voice is surgically removed at birth. For entertainment and relaxation, people watch ASMR videos; in fact, people have implants to enhance the effect of such videos.

This game is broadly branching, with a few major decision-making points leading to different and distinct endings. The author has really thought about the setting, here, and merges the incongruous (Viennese pastries, ASMR) with the typically dystopian (a great plague, a disfigured people) to create something wonderful.

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Opening Night, by David Batterham

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, dreamlike parser game set entirely in one location, September 21, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

[Time to completion: 45 minutes-1 hour]

This is a short, surreal parser game which opens in front of a theatre on its opening night. You are here to see the actress Miranda Lily, but you're not well-dressed enough.

I underestimated this game at first, taking it for your usual puzzle game. The puzzles, though, used a bit of adventure game logic: (Spoiler - click to show)searching through a dumpster after attending a concert seems a bit off to me.

Opening Night is much more than the puzzles: it's almost dreamlike, and the single setting - the theatre - changes as you progress, reflecting the player's knowledge. The PC's identity also changes as you go through the game, ultimately revealing them to be (Spoiler - click to show)an unreliable narrator. The final reveal of their identity was not exactly unexpected, but was still satisfying.

Worth a whirl, it's not too long.

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School 4, by GRMMXI

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short "my grubby apartment" game with interesting platform, September 13, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

This game opens on two well-worn tropes of IF: the school deadline (so favoured by games such as Violet) and the grubby apartment (which also featured, most famously, in Shade). You're in the throes of inertia for your assignment. Of course it's due tomorrow. Of course what you do is everything but actually do the thing.

The story is a little light on actual events or decisions. It isn't particularly introspective. Neither does it have much of a unifying story arc. If, however, it was read as a prototype, then it does work, and it's a working demonstration of an interesting system.

The platform here deserves some mention - it's a home-brew choice-based platform, and it gives the impression of laying out each passage in a grid on a giant field. It's like Prezi, basically. It's worth playing, if at least to check out the interface.

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The Surprising Case of Brian Timmons, by Marshal Tenner Winter

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Mid-length noir Lovecraftian mystery doesn't quite hit the spot, September 13, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[This game describes violence and suicide.]

[Time to completion: 30-45 minutes]

In this noir-esque parser game, you are a private eye trying to find out what happened to Brian Timmons, and it's a case that will bring you through a mental institution to a creepy cabin.

The good: the game is clearly heavily invested in building atmosphere - flavour messages abound at every turn. Story-wise, the game is based on the Call of Cthulhu RPG and has a nice bit of Lovecraftian mystery at its heart, even if it's a bit predictable.

This game also features an efficient way of transporting the PC to various locations, splitting the story into regions a la Pilgrimage.

I'm playing what I assume is the comp version, and, surprisingly enough, it seems to lack in polish. Dialogue was delivered awkwardly; the cogs and gears of the dialogue system sometimes shows. The messages that ASK [character] ABOUT [topic] produces conflicts with dialogue delivered through cutscenes. There were some typos and punctuation errors; exit listings not always listed. State (i.e. changes in variables) was not remembered elegantly. (Spoiler - click to show)I tried to get past the guard without a pass, eliciting a “Hey, sizzle-chest, no one goes up to the patients’ rooms without a doctor’s pass.”, yet could get into the wards without a problem.

Design-wise, the in-universe stakes presented never seem high enough to deliver a sense of true tension, but I realise that this is a tricky design problem, balancing players' ease of use and creating tension.

One last point: the Lovecraftian legacy and noir atmosphere do not help, but this game pretty much demonises mental illness and sketches the flattest of stereotypes. The femme fatale character feels like she was shoved in without context, making the PC's remarks about her figure and appearance all the more jarring.

The Surprising Case of Brian Timmons treads a familiar path, in both the horror and the mystery-solving aspect - sometimes too familiar - so if you like a straightforward mystery story, and you don't mind cutscenes, you might like this.

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Kinsale Horror, by Arek Arktos

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, conventionally creepy game about a deserted seaside town, September 12, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

[Time to completion: 10 minutes]

You are a lone hitchhiker stranded in Kinsale, the gourmet capital of Ireland. The longer you stay, the weirder things get.

This brand of horror blends elements which wouldn't be amiss in Welcome to Night Vale or Stephen King. There's much which is familiar here: Your standard hollow bells soundtrack. Sinister, suspicious villagers. People behaving weirdly.

The prose is clipped, terse. The author uses small elements - a shop sign, a smell - to build up atmosphere. The setting is grounded by specific details: shop names, landmarks. The ending was... witty, to say the least. It's a relatively short one, so well worth a try if you like Stephen King-style or Lovecraft-style deserted towns with strange happenings.

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Three Dragons, by Tim Samoff

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
RPG-style game with slick text effects, September 6, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic, sanguine

Three Dragons was designed as a micro-RPG, and is a technically polished Twine with slick text effects. This game has several of the hallmarks of a usual RPG: there's an inventory system, combat, and a completely characterless PC.

Two things of note: stats are presented qualitatively, not quantitatively, meaning you see "You are in good health" or "The dragon is stable" instead of numerical values for health, or any other stat. This, for me, kept it from being a numbers game - it signalled that trying to keep track of health lost and damage dealt was not the point. What you have are tactics: do you feint, or swipe with your weapon, or retreat?

Second, combat is in realtime. This lends a sense of urgency to the fight: if you delay, your options dwindle. In IF and text-based combat games, this is a rare thing indeed.

So far, I haven't found any way to get anything resembling a 'successful' ending, though it's not actually clear why. Three Dragons feels like an introduction more than anything, but it introduces some interesting system which I wouldn't mind seeing in future works.

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Seeds and Solutions, by Caelyn Sandel

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Interpreting clues and gathering plants, September 4, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 10-15 minutes]

In this small, exploration-based Twine, you are apprentice to root-mother Manya, and in exchange for story, you must help fetch herbs. The challenge here is in interpreting the indirect clues to match the description of the plants you find.

This game is relatively simple, and certainly has few frills. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this; I've found precious little IF about botany and plants (apart from Starry Seeksorrow; recommendations would be welcome), even though the act of collecting plants suits itself well to the traditional treasure hunt mechanic.

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Skull-Scraper, by chandler groover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Macabre rituals of transformation, September 4, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 5 minutes]

This was written for the Tiny Utopias jam (https://catacalypto.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/possibilities-in-the-tinyutopias-if-jam), organised by Cat Manning (and is still ongoing!).

Skulls are not usual fare for utopias. Skulls mean death. Death means filth. But here, skulls are just another part of the PC's family trade, and what skull-scraper promises is plenty, abundance, enough for generations to come. Each skull holds a little vignette of experience, a ritual of transformation. Your role as a skull-scraper is not certain; what is certain is that there will be enough (see also Hannah Powell-Smith's take on the tiny utopia, Enough.)

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The Tiniest Room, by Erik108

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Tiny escape game done right, September 3, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Porpentine's Twiny Jam has sparked off a multitude of tiny Twines, each using 300 words or less, and it has been a veritable education seeing how people use those 300 words.

In The Tiniest Room, the author opts for a minimalist escape the room game. It provides the bare minimum you need to know, yet has all the usual keys and combination locks that you might expect from an escape game.

What really puts the cream on the cake is the ending, and so, as the Chinese idiom says (no, it actually exists), the sparrow may be small, it's nonetheless complete (麻雀虽小,五脏俱全). A good exercise in what you can do with very little.

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Uncle Zebulon's Will, by Magnus Olsson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Solid puzzle game with humorous bits, September 2, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 45-60 mins]

Your Uncle Zebulon has died, and while you're sure you were his favourite nephew, he bequeathed you just one item - it can be any item from his house, but you can only take one out. Your relatives have been all over the house, though, so will there be anything left?

This game is one of the games I've played this year with longer parser puzzles. One of the reasons I have stayed so far from these is because I am very bad at visualising and manipulating machines in IF - I do better when I can actually move things with my hands, which is a bit of a feat in IF. The puzzles here, however, are well-hinted. As befits an old wizard's house, Uncle Zebulon's Will makes use of some simple mechanics which work once, but are consistently implemented.

The writing is enjoyable, and I know some have called it terse or economical. This was typical of the time, but it felt natural to me; also, as others have mentioned, the one NPC that you get to talk to feels convincingly bored, with in-character 'error' messages when the player breaks the game's rules (most notably being the one object restriction when exiting the house).

A very solid game with good implementation and enjoyable writing. Would safely withstand the so-called test of time.

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Amity x Li, by KimikoMuffin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Magical girls in the park, September 2, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

[Time to completion: 10-15 minutes]

You're Amity, and you're out in the park to meet Li Anderson, your girlfriend, when somebody starts yelling for help. This starts as a cozy story about two girls, but abruptly turns into a story about fighting monsters.

The writing in the beginning is not as inspired, not as sharp as one might expect. There's some self-examination along the lines of "This is my average high school life", which is not entirely unwarranted. The conversation between the PC and Li touches on deeper issues, such as how sexuality is portrayed in media.

The later part moves faster, but I sensed that it was trying to hint at something greater through elements from mythology and metaphor and cultural references - as far as I could tell, anyway. It felt incongruous - perhaps because there was too little space, narrative-wise, to lead up to this.

I had strong vibes of Birdland and Astrid Dalmady's Yesterday, You Saved the World in this game, but the emotional impact didn't quite hit it for me. Birdland did it by establishing Bridget's and Bell's character and weaknesses earlier on, making their eventual triumph more satisfying. Here, there's a lot less tension from the start, which loosens the driving force for the resolution.

Some interesting elements in this one, and this game seems to have angled at invoking fuzzy good feelings, so it's probably good for a short diversion.

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Please, rewind me, by Bric-à-brac

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short game about grief and time-bending, August 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

Here, you are a husband to a grieving wife, and you have the curious power to rewind time. Each time you do this, it comes with a physical toll. Ever since the accident shattered your small family, you've been making more and more use of this skill.

This game is not always polished - in some places, the prose would have benefited from a rigorous editing. What this game does well, though, is give a sense of weariness as the narrator deals with what is now nothing more than routine - emotionally taxing and unusual it may be, but routine.

The in-game action of rewinding essentially gives a reason for undoing, but makes the reader think hard about the act. Do you want to risk hurting an already-unwell wife, or do you want to spare yourself an act you have been performing thousands of times? There are no happy endings in this game. It is not lighthearted playing.

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Before The Show, by piratescarfy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Twine manifestation of the restlessness before the curtain rises, August 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

The stage is prepared. The house is open. Now, you wait.

The author captures the inner landscapes of performance well here. There's the restlessness before the curtain rises. Reflecting this, there's a small number of things you can do in this game, which is randomised in parts. There aren't any obvious goals. You can do things for NPCs - tiny quests, if you will. Regardless of what you do, the curtains will eventually rise, and you will assume your role.

Another aspect of performance: the bleeding over of on-stage roles into how you see the actors themselves. NPCs are referred to by their roles - Chatillon, 1st Executioner - even before they get on stage.

I was attracted to this because I've had my share of performances, with very similar feelings. If you've ever been part of any kind of performance, you'll probably enjoy it.

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The Ocean, by Joyce Hatton

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Listen to the sound of the sea, August 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

In this game, you are at the beach with your boyfriend, medicinal weed brownies and a lump in your breast. This game is not about the lump, not mainly. This game is about confronting your own mortality and anxieties.

The Ocean is surprisingly similar to Tapes: both have a female protagonist who has some kind of physical ailment; both are in a relationship with a man, but most of all both share the same introspective, melancholic mood.

The Ocean uses a stream-of-consciousness style, coloured with metaphors, to explore the protagonist's emotions. The tone is distant, as if recalling a long-ago event, but unexpectedly snarky in places. The reader, here, is the narrator's confidante and companion. The reader's role, here, is not to perform or do or solve problems: it is to listen. And in the act of listening - of clicking through the words and reading it - the narrator comes to a kind of peace.

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Tough Beans, by Sara Dee

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
A babied woman comes into her own, July 31, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

In this mid-length work, you play as Wendy Little, secretary in Pickleby, Otis and Meyer, a position your father got you. You’re engaged to Derek, and, well, everything… is peachy.

Tough Beans is, on the surface, a going-to-work simulator – go to work, perform menial errands and so forth – but the story stands out. It highlights how women – especially those who fit the archetypes of femininity – are so often belittled and infantilised. The game opens with an extended musing on the names that people call you – in fact, barely anyone apart from the PC herself calls her by her given name:

Baby. Babe? Babe?

For as long as you can remember, you’ve never really had a name–never needed one. For 22 years people have swaddled you in epithets, letting you know that even though you’re not quite on the right track, the world is there to hold your hand. Your father, your friends, your boyfriend. Gas station attendants.


This game is heavily reliant on cutscenes (do I hear accusations of “not interactive enough!”?) to tell the PC’s account of a lifetime of being put down. Given that the game focuses on the story of an established character, I’d argue that it works, just that it can look daunting sometimes.

What would have made the game better would be work on the technical aspects and hinting actions that I needed to do to progress were not always obvious. The choice of verbs is not always intuitive (for me, anyway). If it were not for the walkthrough, I would have missed a puzzle altogether. Changes in location were not always clearly indicated in the text.

The story arc reminded me of Hedda Gabler’s play A Doll’s House, with the PC’s progress palpable through the story and contrasted clearly at the end. And I liked that (Spoiler - click to show)the asides, too, were written in a way that foreshadow troubles in the PC’s relationship (in response to examining the PC’s boyfriend’s books, you get “You’re trying to get moving, not put yourself to sleep.”

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Singular, by Gritfish

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Compact, well-conceptualised RPG, July 31, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

This entry in Twiny Jam uses the 300 word limit and a endlessly looping structure (similar to It is Not So Much a Story) to create a landscape. It's remarkably evocative, and in terms of content, it's similar in spirit to vale of singing metals.

Singular is well-conceptualised and, like The Tiniest Room, makes full use of the 300 word limit. For its size, there is progress, of a sort. There is a world to explore in little chunks. Take a little more time than you might and you might discover something unexpected.

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woods leaves stream body blood, by David Demchuk

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
What you find in the woods, July 19, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[This game features graphic descriptions of violence. Please exercise discretion.]

A short horror IF about something you found in the woods. There is a body. There is blood.

This game uses a branch-and-bottleneck structure, lending it some of the dread-inducing momentum as False Mavis had. The descriptions are visceral; the pace, inexorable. Instead of focusing on verbs - how you interact with your environment - the game instead focuses on nouns - what you interact with, as alluded to in the title. This gave me a sense of the PC focusing on the trivial, filling their senses with the minutiae of one thing, to block out the horror of the whole. Perhaps making the protagonist a child enhanced this: for how can a child make sense of all this?

The ending is ambiguous and addresses the story indirectly, so one might fill the blanks with one's own imagination. wood leaves stream body blood is a bleak and desolate short story, well worth the 10 minutes it took to play.

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Glass Jar, by elizawriteshere

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An unsettling epistolary work, June 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

He's been stalking you again. He knows where you live. Your only hope now is through this forum. Through the one person still on this forum.

Glass Jar is a short work of dynamic fiction. Its brevity serves it well, keeping it from becoming melodramatic, as well as setting up for the subsequent reveal. The twist was similar to the type of story one might find on /r/nosleep - gory, disturbing and plumbing familiar depths of depravity. It's put together well, although the premise might not be to everyone's tastes.

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Redactor, by Austin Auclair, Katie Atkinson, Laura Buda, Teddy Rodger, Catherine Shook, Brent Stansell

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Time-based puzzle set in Orwell's 1984, June 25, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Time to completion: 15-20 minutes

Redactor is based on George Orwell's 1984, where you are a worker in the Ministry of Truth who is charged with changing written history to suit the party's needs. The task itself is simple; you simply click on what needs to be changed. The trouble is, it's all time-based, and you'll need a quick eye to find all the keywords - and it's not always easy.

The key mechanic is ingenious and well suited to Twine. Timing adds tension, interaction with NPCs adds tension; the subtlety of the job adds tension (when it goes from redacting all mentions of a certain name to changing bad news to good, it can get fiddly).

Ideal for those who enjoyed (or at least fascinated) by the world of 1984 and would like to explore it from an insider's perspective.

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False Mavis, by Ted Casaubon (as Litany Brisket)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
In the style of a murder ballad, June 25, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Time to completion: 15-20 minutes

This game is based on the English murder ballad Long Lankin and Burning Rope by Genesis. You are a servant in the Wearie household, and you need to secure the house, or Long Lankin will get in.

This game was based on and inspired by murder ballads, not just in the plot, but in the tone. It's probably worth listening to it after playing False Mavis. The author paints a decrepit mansion, filled with relics from a better time, filled with subtle dread. The reveal of the PC's true intentions was brilliantly done; the first time I read it, I did a double take. It's not immediately clear what you're supposed to do, but there's a lot in the setting to absorb the reader. This game apparently has multiple endings, but I haven't managed to reach a second.

False Mavis is a grim and brutal horror story about removing the traces of your past misdeeds. It has a great setting with lots of moving parts, and what the player has to do to progress in the story is thematically consistent.

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First Person, by Buster Hudson

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
An unsettling parser experiment, June 10, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

[This game concerns a sadistic kidnapper. Please exercise discretion.]

First Person turns the relationship between the parser and the player on its head, making your interaction with the parser into a dialogue of sorts between a kidnapper and the victim. It's very brief. Details are kept to a minimum, to the point of underimplementation - it sometimes feels more like a proof of concept rather than a full-fledged game that one may be immersed into.

First Person is unsettling once you figure out what's going on, and be warned: there are no happy endings in this one. It's worth playing to figure out what's going on with the parser.

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Boogle, by Buster Hudson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A very short game about a strange search engine, June 4, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric

Time to completion: 5-10 minutes

[This game contains a large, unannounced picture of a certain animal - see image files included with the download]

Boogle riffs on Google default messages and online ads to create a creeping sense of dread. The eponymous search engine is an NPC in its own right, which directs your search results to serve its own purposes. It's a mood piece more than a game, really; the story is not particularly fleshed out, but the idea is so very creepy.

This game deserves a mention of multimedia, because it makes ingenious use of otherwise basic Twine functions to replicate familiar sights.

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City of the Living Dead, by Joshua Houk (as Tanah Atkinson)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Forever wandering, June 3, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

This game takes the form of a continual uprooting and moving. Circumstances - renovation, increasing cost of living, disruptive neighbours - constantly make it impossible for you to live there. Each passage lists what you missed from the last place, a sketch of the place you've moved to, and what eventually forces you to leave. At each turn, the direction from which you came is blocked off: you can never return where you came from.

The mechanics work well to illustrate the concept. It stabs at the insidious force of gentrification and also casts a glance at the impersonal nature of urban living, where it is possible to live months in a place without ever knowing anyone.

It would have been good if I, the reader, could have been more invested in the PC. The reasons why you move out are so varied that it can be hard to tell what the PC is like, and the descriptions are always more about the environment than about the PC. I imagine, though, that each play through shows the player a different set of circumstances which drive the PC out.

This game is otherwise technically sound: each passage appears procedurally generated, making it possible to wander through this city virtually forever.

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Even Cowgirls Bleed, by Christine Love

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Maybe allegorical, but definitely a surreal, short Western, May 29, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

[This game involves self-mutilation and violence.]

Time to completion: 5-10 minutes

You are a city girl, seeking thrills and spills out West. You gather your petticoats, get yourself a gun, and get on the next coach.

Turns out, though, that being out West isn't quite what you imagined...

This game makes extensive use of mouseover effects (this is replaced by the normal touch on mobile), which makes moving through the story very fast. Your only interaction with NPCs and objects is to shoot them, and (on PC at least) having mouseover replace clicks means that when you, the player, interact with anything by touching it, you destroy or maim it. There's a moment where this is especially brilliantly handled, where you can only ever destroy, regardless of your best intentions.

The writing is witty and self-aware. The PC swaggers into a bar, only to be snubbed by the bartender for ordering a bourbon on the rocks; the PC's bravado has her shooting everything in sight, but this gets her told off by the woman she's fixed her eyes on.

The story's surreal overtones are buoyed by the PC's initial idealism - there's something in shooting everything in sight which doesn't strike true for me - so your mileage may vary. I'm sure there's something deeper to it, but, for now, I really just see it as a strange riff on tropes in Westerns.

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Sheets, by Some Strange Circus

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Grim game-poem, May 26, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

This, the blurb states, is a story about growing up. Well, it isn’t wrong, not entirely, but one thing the blurb doesn’t state is that this isn’t a game. (Or IS it? The debate continues at 5…) Well, it's a game-poem.

So if you do have a look at it, know that there are no choices. As a poem, though, it does pack quite a punch.

Warning: mentions suicide and sex.

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Heretic Pride, by laika

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An intimate view of the apocalypse, May 24, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

This game reminded me strongly of porpentine's Ruinness, with its multiple protagonists and deliberate strangeness. Like porpentine's worlds, institutions are mostly faceless, cruel, unsentimental; mystic symbolism is commonplace; place details are but sketched out.

Here, you attempt to stop the end of days. There's no narrative conflict more often thrown around: after all, what bigger stakes could there be besides the end of the world?

Heretic Pride's view of the apocalypse is intimate, gentle. There is less of dramatic world-saving, more conversation. Who do you miss, one character asks. How was your childhood. Heretic Pride is a phlegmatic/melancholic read, with a focus on building a spare, gentle mood.

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♥Magical Makeover♥, by S. Woodson

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Entertaining, if wordy, parody, May 24, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Magical Makeover is a self-styled parody of over-the-top Flash games 'for girls', namely those whose interactivity consists wholly of choosing outfits. It starts with floridly named makeup products and a rhyming, snarky mirror but delves into a touch of body horror, and into riffs off fairy tales.

This game is generous, in various senses of the word. The writer revels in description, evoking sparkly, colourful images. While the passages got lengthy at times, this was made up for by the wit: the game lampshades tropes from fairy tales and adventure stories. ‘Lampshades’ doesn’t even begin to describe it - much of the game felt more like an exuberant riff.

The level of story branching was certainly generous as well. As the author says, there are seven possible endings, but I was impressed by how distinct and well-developed each of them were, with their own backstories.

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Eclosion, by Buster Hudson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Insectile body horror, May 18, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Time to completion: 10-15 minutes (your mileage may vary)

Three cycles since fecundation. The pharates can taste our thoughts. Their pupal minds yearn for mothers' milk.

You are sending commands to a parasitic, insectile entity, and there are a number of steps it must complete before it can successfully parasitise the host. Your task, then, is to figure out the correct order for the steps.

The puzzle is aided by informative failure messages, but even then, I took many turns to figure out a vaguely correct sequence. There is no question of error.

The writing in this game is deliberately wielded as well: the language is florid, like that favoured by Lovecraft, but terse; a tally of the casualties (or the pharates you fail to guide to eclosion) reminds you of the consequences of your clumsiness. This is body horror the way I like it.

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Room Serial, by merricart

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Changing verb sets illustrate a tragic tale, May 18, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Time to completion: 15-20 minutes

[This game describes an abusive and violent relationship.]

The key conceit of this game is that the more rooms you escape, the more abilities you gain. This is an interesting play on the idea of restricted actions. Your powers parallel what you know about yourself and the thing that brought you here in the first place.

The rest of the game is thinly implemented. There are some rooms with poorly disambiguated nouns. The choice of verbs and the implementation thereof sometimes feels clunky. There are built-in walkthroughs for individual rooms which make this much less painful, though I found myself relying on them more often than I should have.

The game overall is buoyed by its underlying story and its unreliable narrator. The reveal of the story feels satisfying and the journal tied things together - some might find it contrived, but I felt it worked.

In any case, the changing verb set is thematically appropriate, never mind that the puzzles could be frustrating at times.

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Rough Draft, by Erica Kleinman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Earnest implementation of a meta idea, May 16, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

In Rough Draft, you’re helping Denise, a writer suffering from writer’s block, decide the course of her story, a fairly generic fantasy-type story. At some points, though, the narrator decides that the story can go no further; you, as invisible editor, can go back and get her to rewrite at a certain decision-making point. It takes the concept of the meta-writing game and really runs with it.

What makes this game unusual is being able to visualise the story structure. I liked how information from one rejected branch unlocked decisions in other branches – a reflection, perhaps, of how brainstorming sparks off ideas, even if the original ideas never do make it into the final product.

Story branches are quickly pruned off, which means that players must do a bit of lawn-mowering (this is not necessarily meant as a harsh critique, goodness knows I’m guilty of that myself) to find the ‘right’ story branch that allows progress. It would have been great to be able to complete the story using a variety of ways – that, after all, is the power of the imagination.

It’s a pity that the meta-story (the fantasy story the player helps to write) is relatively bland. The fantasy story seems to follow stock tropes and template-like encounters; dialogue sometimes feels stilted. Nonetheless, it is evident that the author has spent much effort on this – the screens which show the story in progress are in reality separate images, as is the story map – and its implementation of this idea, which has so often been talked about, is laudable.

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Howwl, by Tipue

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Urban fantasy with nice interface, May 16, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Content warning: this game contains sometimes unexpected descriptions of death and gore.

You wake up in a North London flat, unable to remember how you got there (sound familiar?). Tottenham is devoid of people. It's time to go.

The game is initially a lot about exploration. There isn't much of a clear goal, but as you explore, it's clear that something very bad has happened. The game never makes it clear what you're aiming for - perhaps a vague attempt at safety - even to the end.

Howwl is written with a vaguely Twine or Undum-like format, where you click links to progress.The links suggest what would be common actions in a typical parser game - taking inventory, inspecting objects and so on. The layout is attractive and neat, in which links add to a growing transcript which can be scrolled back. Header images mark changes in location. You can create an account to save your place in the story, but given that the scope of the game, as it stands (I played Beta 0.81), isn't too long, you might not need this.

Howwl aims for the gritty urban apocalyptic atmosphere in its abandoned buildings and filthy interiors, and does it quite well. You never get to see the source of ominous (and sometimes uncomfortably human) noises. You stumble over unexpectedly gruesome sights. The writing style is detached - is it resignation on the PC's part? Hopelessness?

I found the PC to be way too generic to give the reader a stake in how the story progressed- not that you get to make many significant choices, anyway; the author's method of removing options if they're not necessary makes it impossible, for example, to escape a certain place or to explore more buildings than the author intended you to.

Because the author removes links deemed unnecessary, it is possible to get impossibly stuck at some point(s?) in the game. So it's not that the game is unforgiving in its puzzles - there aren't really puzzles - it's more... a design fault, kind of. (I'll email them to let them know.)

I had some minor niggles about the writing. Brand names are mentioned, almost to the exclusion of actual description for some items. The PC is horribly generic; we know more about the PC's dressing and clothing than the PC themselves. (Spoiler - click to show)Also, when you start, the PC is somehow aware that you're on the eleventh floor despite not knowing where you are or how you got there.

(Spoiler - click to show)There are occasionally external links to illustrate what, for example, a minotaur or a Molotov cocktail is. Though I can see how they might be useful, I found them distracting.

Some things I liked, though: I liked the interface, though I found the scrollback style made it visually distracting since your gaze must constantly move from the new text to the links. (Spoiler - click to show)I also liked the unusual mix of classical monsters (there are minotaurs, for example) in a modern urban landscape, something I've not seen before.

Howwl is hugely promising, I think - I like the way it looks, the way it does atmosphere and its premise. (Urban fantasy. I dig urban fantasy.)

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stone, by Penny Stirling

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A love letter to an aromantic friend, May 13, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sub-Q, melancholic

stone is a love (?) letter to a close friend, who is an aromantic student. Their incapability of infatuation and romantic love is viewed, in this world, as a sign of illness - of a stone heart, so to speak.

This is a work of interactive poetry, and in many respects is highly atypical. The kerning is uneven; the tone, conversational. The relationship between the two main characters is clothed in a magical setting where students build bestiaries and have to pass evoking exams. It is fitting, then, that the NPC's inability to feel romantic love is compared to a pathological calcification of the soul.

stone is affectionate, intimate, reassuring. The world building reminded me of Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter, with its mix of sci-fi and high fantasy. stone, however, is almost its opposite. While Swanwick's novel heavily features sexual energy as a source of power, stone's magicians need not experience sexual attraction. The Iron Dragon's Daughter features an unforgiving, gritty world; stone depicts a tender, intimate moment between two friends. Recommended.

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Beware The Faerie Food You Eat, by Astrid Dalmady

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Grim fairy tale about searching (and never finding), May 11, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

You've heard that faerie, if you treat them right, will grant you any wish. That's why you've sought out a faerie ring, to step into the other world.

Like Dalmady's other work, BtFFYE is a beautifully designed Twine work, with stylistic (and judicious) use of rhyming. There aren't really outright puzzles, though there's a bit where Dalmady does some rather clever things with the text... 'nuff said.

Each scene plays on the tranquil image of elves and fairies playfully cavorting in the woods, combined with common stories: that cold iron will stave off the fae, that eating or drinking food in the faerie world will change you permanently, and so on. Another common theme in BtFFYE's fae world is the search for home. This is explicit in one of the choices you can make early on, but it's there in the other story branches, I think.

Despite the genre, this is not child's play. Dalmady includes multiple endings in BtFFYE, and none of them are happy endings. Some might say that as long as you meet the queen, you're pretty much set for disappointment, if you were ever expecting anything vaguely optimistic to come out of it. It made sense, though, because it was in line with the idea of faerie being duplicitous, of being all about glamour and trickery. Some of the endings are brutal, visceral; others are bittersweet.

A technical note: the link text jumps around every time I get to a new page when playing on Chrome, but this resolves when I put the browser on 90% view. Or switch browser.

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Light My Way Home, by Caelyn Sandel (as Venus Hart)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A melancholic story of longing and loss, May 11, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic

Light My Way Home is a contemplative Shufflecomp entry set by a hydro corridor, and the landscape is unlikely: metal towers, scrabbly grass, abandoned barns. But in the midst of this comes a simple, lovely story of longing and loss.

Light My Way Home is a lovely sensory experience. The location descriptions are evocative; it features a quiet soundtrack punctuated by the chirping of crickets. This game revolves around a special command, >POWER OBJECT, which allows you to change the environment around you to guide the one NPC and, in so doing, find out more about yourself.

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13 Minutes of Light, by Jod

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An epistolary visual novel set in space, May 8, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Ludum Dare, sanguine, Ren'Py

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

You play Jack, whose girlfriend Elizabeth has left for Mars for a position teaching anthropology. Constrained by cost, the only means of communication you have with her are the letters, and each takes three months to arrive. Three months is a long time...

The gameplay reminded me of First Draft of the Revolution, with the epistolary format and the way branching is achieved. 13 Minutes of Light introduces a wider story arc of political unrest and social inequality to contextualise the relationship, contrasting the content of the letters with snippets from a mockup of Reddit's /r/mars.

I particularly liked Elizabeth's development from anthropology graduate to (Spoiler - click to show)political leader. This game also plays on the uncertainty and tension that comes with such a restricted form of communication as letters: how do you know what the other party really means?

There are some bits which could have been improved to make 13 Minutes of Light more enjoyable, one of which was a feedback system I didn't understand. The game tells you which parts of the letter go off well, which don't and which are mysteriously relevant to the story. This felt out of place with the theme, given that we are told (repeatedly) how long letters take to be delivered - and whose point of view are these from, anyway?

13 Minutes of Light could maybe stand to be aesthetically more pleasing, but it still represents a solid example of epistolary branching IF.

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The Domovoi, by Bravemule

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The fluid nature of storytelling and grim folklore, May 1, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Your friend is a storyteller, and she's polishing her latest work about a domovoi, or protective house spirit, lingering in a guttered hut. You are her audience.

The Domovoi is a game about storytelling. Like Whom the Telling Changed, you get to influence events in the story, but where the PC works against an antagonist in Whom the Telling Changed, here the story is a collaborative work. Your friend may express doubt or satisfaction at your choice, and the PC's perspective outside of the story in the making allows for in-universe commentary. The unnamed NPC in Domovoi has her own views, after all, and if you suggest something with which she disagrees, she will probably slant the story to include that, but make her feelings known.

This game is also a pleasure to play, not least because it is styled attractively. Like Beneath Floes, it features illustrations that set the mood and whose colour schemes demarcate changes in perspective.

Perhaps true to oral tradition, the story you help to tell can vary between play-throughs, depending on the choices you make. The game didn't dwell on the meta aspect much, though, focusing instead on the meat of the story.

In summary: The Domovoi is an introspective work which taps into Slavic folklore, with a lively NPC and a story within a story. Recommended, if nothing else than for its luscious illustrations and sound effects.

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The Warbler's Nest, by Jason McIntosh

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Quietly sinister short story set in a reedbank, May 1, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

You are searching amongst the reeds for eggshells. If you believe the tailor, these are what you need to take back what is yours.

The Warbler's Nest doesn't immediately give up its story, but rather reveals it both through cutscenes and through environmental detail. This is aided by the mechanic, which is basically a treasure hunt. Given that this game is rather short, though, to reveal more about the story would spoil it. All I will say is that this game taps on faerie folklore and rituals related to them. It follows the interpretation of faerie folk as being intensely selfish yet bound by immoveable, arcane rules, which gives a quietly sinister air to the game as a whole.

Overall: understated horror is one of my favourite genres, and I really like how The Warbler's Nest handled that. This is a gem of a short story, well worth the 20 or so minutes it takes to play.

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The Northnorth Passage., by Caleb Wilson (as Snowball Ice)

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A family curse brings you across space and time, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

The family curse has activated. If you do not go north, you will die.

The Northnorth Passage plays around with restricted actions, and this is what makes it so extraordinarily suited for the parser, because the parser gives the impression of freedom, yet you can only really do one thing. Obeying the parser, though, brings you through a series of self-contained scenes, colourful and detailed; Wilson's writing sparks with life, with the kind of evocativeness reminiscent of Sunless Sea.

Yet, in each scene, you must forever remain at arm's length. In this sense, it is similar to dynamic fiction, the term coined to describe linear games which nevertheless require the player's interaction and participation to reveal the story. The PC's travel north also seems to reflect the passing of time (the movement over swathes of space and time reminded me of Victor Ojuel's Pilgrimage).

There was a very, very clever move right at the end of the game - an invisible puzzle, if you'd like - which wrapped it up perfectly. If I were to mention a game with a similar move, it would be very spoilery, but there is one...

Originally published here: https://verityvirtue.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/the-northnorth-passage/

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Toby's Nose, by Chandler Groover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Dog detective a la Lime Ergot, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: parser, sanguine

Time to completion: 40-45 minutes

Groover presents a game in the best tradition of the locked-room murder mystery, featuring a canine protagonist. As with other games featuring canine protagonists, the sense of smell is tremendously important. In fact, in Toby's Nose, >SMELL acts like how >EXAMINE does in Lime Ergot. In fact, the author's note acknowledges the contribution of Lime Ergot and Pacian's Castle of the Red Prince in his coming up with the game's core mechanic.

Toby's Nose is generously and lavishly written; almost everything is implemented and written in vivid, eye-catching detail. As with other games using 'telescopic' observations, the parser remains a uniquely flexible tool to shift the PC's focus from objects distant both geographically and conceptually.

There are generous hints provided, but the writing gave clear enough hints to allow the reader to figure out what's going on. That brings us to another thing unique about this game: the reader has the responsibility to make the observations and deductions. Unlike many other mystery games, the game reveals nothing of the correct answer (i.e. whodunit), not in the form of a notebook, not in the form of a list of clues, leaving any explanation of the crime to the end. Shifting the responsibility to the reader to figure out what's going on invests the reader much more in the game.

As with other dog-PC games, this game remains lighthearted, even when the PC is recalling other characters' sordid details, and maintains a gentle sense of humour throughout. A comment about the ending is below, but overall, I found Toby's Nose a very charming and highly polished game, featuring excellent writing and a good use of the core mechanic.

(Spoiler - click to show)One might complain that the ending of Toby's Nose is a bit of a wall of text. One would not be wrong! However, this echoes the structure of the original Holmes stories - Doyle's idea of a resolution was quite often to have Holmes explain what he had been doing right under the reader's nose - so Groover is perhaps justified in this aspect.

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QUIMER-B, by David T. Marchand

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Snippets from an apocalypse in action, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

From the creator of When acting as a particle / when acting as a wave comes a polished work of linear fiction about the creator of QUIMER-B, a virtual consciousness so powerful it could take over the running of a city, and, ever since its conception, a source of moral outrage. To prove QUIMER is capable of running a city, you're going to put your whole facility under its control for one day. If you can prove that, then maybe it can handle the pressure from everyone else.

Except it never really goes to plan, does it?

QUIMER-B is part epistolary, part first-person narration of an apocalypse in action. This game has a good grasp of pacing, creating tension through static and dynamic text. It sometimes uses the mechanic of clicking to draw out a scene, or to contrast it with the timed appearance of a piece of text.

Compellingly written and story-driven, this game's strength is in sketching out the story - and the relationships between the PC and NPCs - and in letting the reader draw their own conclusions from these snippets. It's a bit like watching an opera with minimal backdrops, where it just takes a few props to suggest a palace, or a battlefield.

It's worth having a click through this short, polished game.

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Allison and the Cool New Spaceship Body, by Tempe O' Kun, Samuel Pipes

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Charming adventures of a child in space, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: sanguine

Time to completion: 30-40 minutes

You are 10-year-old Allison. When you were very young you were in a horrible accident, and since then you've used a cyborg body. But today, your parents have prepared a surprise for you... your own spaceship body!

The game is set in a space colony, in which AIs make up a major part of society. Despite that, there is still a distinct division between AIs and 'true' humans, leaving cyborgs like Allison in a grey area. The author takes full advantage of the world building by focusing more on exploration rather than plot - its approach felt a little like some of the moon scenes in Creatures Such as We. The writing is rightly described as charming.

Allison is, on the surface, about a girl's adventures, but the story world has enough detail to allow it to touch on more contentious subjects like discrimination, about identity, about growing up. It feels like a gentler version of Birdland, with its focus on relationships at school (even if those in Allison are entirely platonic), its child protagonist and its themes. Allison is a thoughtful, charming game with a nicely fleshed-out world - recommended.

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Tangaroa Deep, by Astrid Dalmady

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Polished deep sea exploration, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016, melancholic

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

In Tangaroa Deep, you are a marine biologist going down to document creatures of the deep in SS Tangaroa. The deeper you go, the stranger these creatures become. After all, there is so much we don't know about the deep sea.

The PC's only link with the outside world is their connection with Jackie, their research partner, and their banter is a delightful foil to the creatures living down below, which get weirder and weirder. Like parser IF, the world model is location-based, which means story branching is dependent on where you move, meshing wonderfully with the overall story.

Several visual features illustrate atmospheric changes as the PC goes further and further down. The air meter ticks down. The background deepens from aqua to black. The description of creatures gets weirder and weirder. Where Dalmady's writing shines, I think, is in the late game, if you choose to go as deep as you can, and then some.

Recommended.

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Sisters of Claro Largo, by David T. Marchand

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Telescopic tale of two women and a city, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

When you escaped, you were childless. Now, away from the City and its cells, you have two daughters, both special and peculiar in their own ways. Their stories will shape the future of Claro Largo.

The narrator in this game is pretty much invisible, compared to what the titular sisters do (and end up doing). The story is grim, melancholic; the village setting suggests claustrophobia, despite its promise of freedom. To me, this called to mind stories such as The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin, or Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (Of course, these comparisons are far from perfect, though they share similar tones and atmospheres.)

This game uses telescopic text (similar to what this tool does) to slowly reveal the story. This gimmick is purely mechanical (technically, there's nothing really to stop this being a linear story), but the order in which text is presented makes clear the conceptual links, the story's chronological order. Sisters is very simple, but tells a good story.

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Ruiness, by Porpentine Charity Heartscape

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Travels in a dystopian wilderness, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2015, melancholic

Time to completion: 30-40 minutes

You are a traveller - whether you be scavenger or dustrunner - and, on your steed, you traverse the hostile lands.

Ruiness is set in what I term 'dystopian wilderness': not quite post-apocalyptic, but barren, harsh, downright caustic environments. The prose is purple and abstract; the story typically abstruse. The florid prose thrums with purpose, though: each place has a distinct climate and role, and the different races or roles you can assume remain thematically consistent.

This game has all the hallmarks of a Porpentine game, but what I found the most interesting was the map/travel system. You travel by typing in your destination in a text field. Whilst in new locations, you discover new names, and the cities you have discovered are mapped out on a chart you carry. This allows for Easter eggs, for openness, for a sense of discovery.

Ruiness is a mid-length confection of a game which affords slightly different perspectives with different characters. The travel system is definitely worth having a look at.

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Kotodama, by Aidan Doyle

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An outbreak of lethal poetry, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Time to completion: 15-25 minutes

Tokyo has been hit by a poetry outbreak. You, a robot, have been sent to deal with it.

Kotodama is set in a world in which poetry is akin to a contagious disease, and that shapes much of the world-building. This is evident from the first line, and the game is consciously thematically consistent.

The writing sparkles with wit, and the game's use of metaphor (that is, making it have literal consequences) called to mind Patanoir. Kotodama also gives a welcome depth to the world-building by giving a nod to familiar narratives such as racism or the role of immigrants. This seems to have some link to the title: according to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, which the game quotes, the concept of 'kotodama' applies especially to Japanese in its 'purest' form - that is, the language without any loan words - yet, definitions of what counted as 'pure' varied over the years.

Kotodama is relatively short, but is highly polished (I found the Poetry Dojo to be a stroke of genius) and very cleverly written. Highly recommended.

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SABBAT, by Eva

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Surprisingly affectionate witch fantasy game about gaining power, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

(There is also a commercial/paid version of SABBAT with art and a soundtrack. This was based on the free version, linked above.)

[Warning: this game contains mentions of sexual content and self-harm, also optional animal abuse.]

It's hard to have a sabbat of one, but hopefully, once you get all the materials together, you'll be able to gather power for yourself.

SABBAT's narrator is friendly and encouraging. It was kind of like having a friend to guide and cheer you on, and in a game about making blood sacrifices to gain power, it was unexpected, but oddly cheering: I cannot hate a game which calls me witchdumpling. The mildly cynical humour here is refreshing. Instead of making trite remarks about how awful everything is, the humours slants toward the self-referential. You've made candles infused with centipede venom, and you muse how hard it was to get that venom in the first place and why did you buy a centipede again?

This game taps on the 'Living Alone in My Sad Apartment' genre, but uses this to highlight the contrast between your current state and the power that you eventually attain. Amongst other things, SABBAT draws on the idea of power through sex. Part of the PC's transformation involves a change in sexual organs, and one of the ways the transformed PC gets power from people is by having sex (or at least attempting to).

The game could be a bit of a mixed bag. The subject matter involves mixing with unknown forces, a theme usually given a more serious treatment in other fiction, but here it feels almost everyday. Yet the game remains self-aware as the PC acknowledges the strangeness of it all.

The branching reminded me of Magical Makeover, where combinations of items combine to produce different outcomes. Like MM, there are no 'bad' combinations in SABBAT (though there are some which are more amusing than others).

I wouldn't usually have plumped for the storyline, but the narrator really made the game for me. It can be polarising, but, for me, it was a charming game about the powerless seeking power and the lonely seeking companionship.

(This was originally published here: https://verityvirtue.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/sabbat/)

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You’re Tiny People. Can You Open The Fridge And Get The Lemon?, by ClickHole

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Absurd but enjoyable exploration of an apartment, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

Clickhole has built a reputation for prolificacy, having released 20 games in 2015 alone. Their games are usually absurd and light-hearted. Their games usually have long titles which presents its central premise. Then again, I have not played many of Clickhole's games, so I shouldn't really generalise like that...

In Tiny People, you play a... group (swarm?) of tiny people, navigating someone's apartment. At your size, everything is huge. How will you get to the lemon? And what's Music Duck doing there?

Tiny People favours photos over textual room descriptions to illustrate the environment, which was really a welcome change to the usual Clickhole house style of generic stock images. It also features an especially location-based world model, even if it mixed cardinal directions with relative directions (you can go leftward and east in this game).

The perspective brings to mind other games with smaller-than-human PCs - A Day for Soft Food and Snack Time in particular. The close-up photos of everyday objects from a non-human perspective remind me of Mateusz Skutnik's 10 Gnomes series.

The central premise (i.e. the fact that you, the PC, appear to be a swarm of tiny people) is already surreal enough, but the ending is even more so, almost to the point of incoherence. Your mileage may vary, here: fans of Clickhole's writing will probably enjoy this, but those who are not may find it over the top. Still, I found this a reasonably enjoyable, short, slightly absurd piece.

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The Shape of Our Container, by Rocketnia

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A looping conversation with a loved one, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Tiny Utopias

Time to completion: 20-30 minutes

The Shape of Our Container is a peaceful, conversation-led game about lying in the grass with your loved one. Similar to the other tiny utopias, there is a broad sense of forgiveness and peace. Structure-wise, the game has a broadly branching time-cave structure, allowing large variations between play-throughs. This gives the impression of living many parallel lives, of the impression of time passing.

Container is definitely polished and has fairly high replay value. Short, tender and intimate.

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Fridgetopia, by Mathbrush

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The building blocks of a utopia, April 30, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Tiny Utopias

Time to completion: 10-15 minutes or shorter

Fridgetopia has been described by the author as "mechanically utopian", in that it doesn't necessarily sketch out a utopia per se: there is not much world-building here. But this is not a slight against the game. Rather than describe your interactions with a specific space or time, Fridgetopia instead gives you tools with which you can create your own world, to a certain extent.

Fridgetopia is very short, and perhaps not very polished. It reads as much as a coding exercise (albeit an interesting one) as a game, but it does hide at least one secret, which... let's just say it deserves the label of 'fridge horror'. Very clever.

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Evita Sempai, by Florencia Rumpel Rodriguez

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Vignettes of relationships and romances, April 28, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

Evita Sempai centres around one woman's adoration/love for Eva Perón, who was the first lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952. It is told in a series of episodes from the narrator's perspective, centred around encounters with Perón.

This game has social relationships at its core, but where other games allow us to manipulate our position in those relationships, the narrator of Evita Sempai already has a predefined position in her social circle. Dropping the player in all these relationships in medias res felt a little disorienting at first, but it also helped to flesh out a fully-formed protagonist who was not only in love with Eva Perón, but also a sister, daughter and breadwinner.

I went into this game without any knowledge of who Eva Perón was, but it's not strictly necessary. Context will certainly explain the later events in this game, and perhaps explain other NPCs' reactions to the titular first lady.

I found the narrator's relationships with NPCs difficult to follow initially, but this is really a minor quibble. Evita Sempai is neatly styled, with changing backgrounds highlighting the transitions between sections.

I am a sucker for local detail and this game does a nicely subtle job of it, even though (to my memory) city and place names are almost never mentioned. Evita Sempai explores a real-life setting not often found in IF, which is definitely something I'd like to see more of.

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The Role of Music in Your Life, by Five Dials

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An anxious mother seeks a piano teacher, April 19, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

The Role of Music in Your Life is, on first glance, an odd thing: a questionnaire? Seriously? Is this really IF?

The Role of Music in Your Life expands out into a dialogue-driven, minimal story about an anxious mother and her kid. The character development is handled deftly, especially when the kid in question speaks up, forming a good foil to his mother's perspective. Telling this story through just dialogue raised the possibility of an unreliable narrator, which gave a sinister edge to the mother's lines.

I was disappointed to find that, despite the choices, the story doesn't actually branch. It would have been satisfying, or at least fun, to see how different answers to the personality quiz-type questions affected how the mother treated the PC. Nonetheless, this minimal piece of CYOA has some very clever writing and a delicious use of unreliable narrator. I enjoyed it.

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Tapes, by Jenni Vedenoja

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A pastel-hued vignette of a relationship, April 18, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Tapes is a linear work about, as the author states, sex and disability. At its centre, though, it is a close-up look into a moment of intimacy. Both characters are shown naked in the game art and they hug-wrestle, but this is not sexual intimacy. This is emotional intimacy: about showing vulnerability to a loved one.

The exact disability from which the PC suffers is never really stated, but from context, we gather that the PC experiences painful muscle spasms which are relieved by kinesiology tape. Is the name important, though?

The sole two reviewers on IFDB (as of this writing) express their distaste at the linearity of this game, but it might be worth having a think on Linear IF, or dynamic fiction, is becoming increasingly accepted. Dynamic fiction borrows the structures and conventions (e.g. second person narrative, platforms) of branching IF to enhance storytelling, either through visual text effects, or by inviting the player to participate in revealing the story step by step. Tapes veers toward the latter, with the game art in each passage illustrating the dialogue.

Tapes is a sweet, peaceful vignette of an intimate moment. Play if you like linear, dialogue-driven scenes and 8-bit art.

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Get Lost!, by S. Woodson

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Faerie ambitions frustrated, April 10, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

You are a suburban teen and you're tired of your boring, non-magical, human life. Maybe if you go out into the woods where the faeries roam, you can join them - maybe... Of course, that depends on whether they'd want you or not.

Like Beware the Faerie Food You Eat, Get Lost! is a riff on fairy-related tropes, but where BtFFYE is grim, Get Lost! is a merry romp through encounters with jaded, ill-tempered fae. The protagonist's idealistic conceptions of the fae, combined with a comprehensive knowledge of folklore, is quickly frustrated by the ironically mundane nature of the fae themselves.

Woodson's writing sparkles with life, and the broadly branching game structure makes replay richly rewarding. This game is quite short - it took me about 15 minutes to play it through once - so it should make for excellent lunchtime play.

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Eidolon, by A.D. Jansen

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Puzzles within dreams, March 31, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

You can't sleep. It's like the insomnia your mother told you about: it's like a seed, and every night you can't sleep, it takes root and germinates... what then?

Eidolon is at first a kind of interactive dream sequence, but it quickly becomes something much weirder. The beginning sequences felt a lot like S Woodson's Beautiful Dreamer. The imagery and NPCs have the surreality of Alice in Wonderland, coloured by faerie folklore. Jansen's writing style favours the weird turn of phrase and evocative metaphors, which suited a story which may or may not exist in your own head.

The story is largely linear, but, unusually for a Twine game, involves some puzzles. These had consistent mechanisms and were meticulously done, with lots of moving parts. Because the story world relies on a bit of symbolism and not taking things too literally, I admit I had some difficulty but... this should not be a problem for most. (Disclaimer: I resorted to the walkthrough here.)

Eidolon is well-written, and much deeper than it first appears. If you like dreamlike stories set in a faerie world, of sorts, or subversions of fantasy quests, then you might like this.

(Originally posted on http://verityvirtue.wordpress.com)

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Inward Narrow Crooked Lanes, by B Minus Seven

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Twice any anger ran ragged its long ladder against the roof rough with orchids., March 24, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

I really liked the blurb. It sounds snarky. It sounds like it could be a satire. It sounds like it could be fun. The game itself, though, was none of these, sorry to say. It was hard to understand- if there was something deeper than what I saw, then I missed it entirely.

The intake form of which the blurb speaks doesn't even give you a chance to make sense of things. It doesn't start off normal - it's garbled through and through, and finishing it takes you to a room. Rooms, as it turns out - the content of which changes with your earlier choices in the form. What happens in them... (Spoiler - click to show)also doesn't make much sense. Playing it, I got the persistent feeling that I was missing something somewhere. Should I be understanding this? Is there some textual hint? Read the first letters of each word or something? Apparently not. This made the game vaguely unsatisfying, like an itch your arms are too short to scratch. In short, interesting premise, I guess, but either badly executed or just not for me.

(Removed reference to Twine bugs.)

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The King and the Crown, by Wes Lesley

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short and silly game/toy, March 24, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015

You are a king in this short little game, and your duties include listening to the cries of the people, giving advice and occasionally invading France. But before that, you have to find your crown and scepter.

True to the blurb, this game has self-deprecating, irreverent humour in buckets. For example:

>x cabinet
An intricately decorated wooden cabinet strengthened outside and in with a cage of the strongest steel in the world. This is where you keep the Royal Crown.

And, sometimes, also snacks.

This game brands itself as a one-puzzle, short game, and indeed, strictly speaking, only six actions are needed to complete the game itself. The author has, however, implemented little bonuses for those who poke a little more at the game, so it’s equally fun - if not more - to try and explore and uncover some of the game’s secrets, including the traditional references to other well-known IF games and pop culture

The humour sometimes backfires, though; the custom parser error messages start out cute at first but quickly become annoying. The parser could definitely be more comprehensive, especially for ambiguous references to nouns. Not a bad play- slightly silly and unsubstantial, but that’s completely excusable. Good for maybe 5 minutes' poking around.

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A Courier's Tale, by SJ Griffin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Couriering in an intriguing city (pity implementation lacks punch), March 15, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

Based on the Vanguard Trilogy by the same author, you play a newbie bike messenger working as one of the cogs in the premier courier company, Packet. One of the perks of working here is meeting the legendary Sorcha Blades... which, of course, is what happens when she needs a decoy messenger.

This game is a moderately branching story which takes the PC through an expansive setting, reminiscent of China Miéville or Emily Short's City of Secrets, and gives the sense of an extensively mapped-out city. Neighbourhoods are given characters of their own; distinct communities live in different parts of the city. The story attempts to illustrate a dangerous city running amok with criminals and secret dangers, in a city so starved of resources that fresh fruit is a minor luxury, but nothing really affects the PC directly. The story structure is simple; clearly, the focus is on the writing itself.

The writing itself, however, is not terribly polished; there are typos and missing punctuation marks, there are missing words, there could be more paragraph breaks to let the text breathe. As a spinoff from the source material, I guess it's no surprise that it ended just as it was getting interesting! If it was expanded to elaborate on the hook mentioned in the last part of the game, and polished a lot more, I think it would make for very interesting reading.

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Snowquest, by Eric Eve

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fast-moving, story-based game in the icy wilderness, February 16, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

You've been on this quest for so long, you can hardly figure out what's going on. All you know is that if you remain in this snow any longer, you'll die.

I enjoyed playing this game, mainly because it is more than it seems. The writing is descriptive and clear; the sense of pacing faultless. Snowquest is very much a story-based game, rather than character-based or even puzzle-based; establishing a distinctive PC voice isn't an emphasis here.

My playthrough was almost entirely free of mechanical issues, by which I mean problems with guessing verbs, not knowing what to do and so on. The puzzles are largely well-designed, with what you need to solve them usually pretty clear. I found navigation a bit of a chore sometimes, especially in the larger initial world, because the exit lister seemed to disappear without explanation - I suspect this is a technical/interpreter issue, but it disrupted the flow of the game. There is also a guess-the-verb puzzle, through which I bulldozed with the hints.

Overall, Snowquest is a linear, mildly puzzle-y game, making up a little less than an hour's play.

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A Gift For Mother, by Natalie Zed

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mild horror and an experiment, February 16, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

This was made in the newly released platform Texture, created by Juhana Leinonen and Jim Munroe. This system enables players to drag and drop verbs, creating hypertext games which are uniquely suited for mobile devices. The system is still in alpha/beta, having been released late last year, but is available for tinkering (http://texturewriter.com/alpha/) (caution: the site stores stories within your browser's local memory - there doesn't yet seem to be a way to download the story format, only the resulting HTML.)

Here, Zed uses the different verbs as a means for creating story branches. You are a commissary of Mother, gathering data from within your host. You can sense your host's vital signs, but, likewise, your every movement is detectible to your host. The more data you collect, the more you risk detection... and expulsion.

A Gift for Mother uses an elegant dichotomy to create branching, though I felt it didn't quite bring out the full possibilities of Texture. It would have been great if the same verb could have applied to multiple objects, but as it stands, A Gift for Mother is a striking story written from a parasite's point of view.

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SKATE OUT!, by PaperBlurt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Skate sim with a dark twist, February 16, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

The best way I can describe SKATE OUT! is as a skate sim with a dark twist. You showcase your sick (or slick) skateboarding moves to an adoring audience, but all the time half your mind is occupied thinking about other, more pressing issues at home.

The use of language in this game makes an interesting study: the skateboarding tricks are described with generic hyperbole, which alienates the reader from the narrator's external face, even though the terminology seems legitimate. The PC's monologue, on the other hand, is described more naturally, even if it occasionally verges on the melodramatic. The clash between the internal and the external formed an interesting contrast, highlighted by the visual aspects of SKATE OUT!.

This is probably one of Paperblurt's more introspective works. It works quite well as a 'concept game', as it uses a deliberate contrast in tones and styles to illustrate the divide (a divide is particularly nebulous here, compared to other works which have done this). As always, the writing could push the story further and there could be a clearer story arc for the 'internal' side of the story, but it's an interesting little game all the same.

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mer, by hastapura

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Small, pleasing slice-of-life confection, February 16, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

mer is a very short, broadly branching game about drowning your sorrows in lousy whiskey. You've been disillusioned. The tone is markedly different depending on which branch you go down, so I'll stop here.

What deserves mention, I think, is the use of visuals in this game to set the mood. The background is a kind of muted mix of colours, perhaps evocative of the flashing lights in a club; the sidebar is set askew. The writing is good, as well - there are some striking images, some particularly attractive turns of phrase. mer is a small, pleasing confection which touches on some very relevant issues.

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Traveler, by Caelyn Sandel

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Melancholic space explorations, February 15, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

You wake in your spaceship, sluggish. What are you here for? You can't remember. Your ship's not in the best shape; you've got to explore the stars. You may not have enough power in your engines to blast off once you land...

Traveler is a small, procedurally generated exploration game, with randomly generated descriptions of the stars. The individual planets are sometimes quite shallowly implemented, but Sandel uses each star as a pacing device. As you travel through the stars, your ship's stats decline, giving a tension to Traveler. Sandel's writing is strongest, I think, as she describes what you, in your travels, have missed; thoughts of home occur at the strangest times.

Overall, Traveler feels like a much more sensible version of Porpentine's Ruiness - both are about travellers who never make meaningful connections in any one place, for whom travel is work, whose constant moving around alienates them from everyone around them. A melancholic work which nonetheless ends on a hopeful note.

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weird tape in the mail, by adam dickinson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
small and strange, February 15, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)

weird tape in the mail was highlighted by Porpentine in her interview with Emily Short as featuring lots of art and 'piss ethos', so of course I had to check it out. This game features .gifs and animations with flashing effects.

You found a tape at your door last night. Your uncle is the only one who has a tape machine.

One of the most striking features about this game is the all-lowercase, no-punctuation, almost conversational or stream-of-consciousness writing style, similar to some of Porpentine's work, which could be dubbed 'flattened affect'. It suggests the weariness that comes with routine and less-than-pleasant living conditions. The writing sometimes feels rough - it wasn't written necessarily to be pleasing on the ear - but definitely not without thought. The art adds to the sense of tiredness with the same hand-drawn (or mouse-drawn, perhaps), scribbly quality of Nekra Psaria.

The game hints at consumerism and the idea of worth vs. value as a theme, but this was never explored beyond allusions and exaggerated statements. I found this a pity! It could have served as a backbone to the ideas floating around in the game.

weird tape in the mail is a strange, strange game, verging on hallucinatory, but it never really delved into any one idea far enough to use the strangeness to its advantage.