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.
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.
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.
writing: just right
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
[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).
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.