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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
[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.
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.
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.
[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.