NOTE: as explained below, I think there are a couple of bugs in the "play online" versions: read on if you are stuck.
I'd been looking for a new, medium/large puzzle game to play, but I often find parsers difficult and slow to get off the ground, and tend to give up on them very quickly. First Things First finally broke this streak.
You are off to return your time travel books to the library when you discover that you've locked yourself out of the house. Quite coincidentally, an actual time machine materialises in your neighbourhood (you accept this in a somewhat matter-of-fact way), allowing you to visit a further four time periods, starting from before the house was built, and ending in an apparently dystopian future.
The puzzles are pitched at just the right level: difficult enough to get me thinking, but not so hard that I gave up. Notably, they are often of the kind where, just when you think you have solved the problem, another barrier turns out to be in the way, and what was apparently a simple goal gets further and further away: truly infuriating and deeply satisfying. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, you try to plant a tree. One bottle of Miracle-Grow is not enough to get it to grow large enough, so you need to figure out a way of taking all the bottles. When that's done, it turns out still not to be enough, so another bottle has to be acquired. The tree allows you to get into an otherwise unreachable part of the map to pick up an object which you had been looking for, but the next problem is getting out, and so on. Some puzzles have more than one solution.
The game was written with real attention to detail: it's a joy to see how the descriptions of different parts of the map change as you alter the past and the future. The tone shifts a great deal, encompassing tranquillity (the woodlands that were there before the house was built), urgency (long passages of dialogue with a major character at a crucial part in the game) and occasionally terror(Spoiler - click to show): there is one surprisingly unnerving sequence, which some players might miss, where you grow the tree to its full extent and fix the roof but do not install a lightning conductor, and then go into the +10-year future and attempt to climb the tree. The game goes to considerable lengths to instil a sense of growing panic as you lose your grip, and fall to the ground, leaving you alive but unable to move. Playing with (Spoiler - click to show)the bank while having time travel abilities is also great fun.
However, I ran into a wall at an important point in the story: in the section called "Outside the Executive VP's Office", the game froze: in the middle of a block of text, there should have been a "press any key" option and there wasn't! I was using the Parchment interpreter on iplayif.com (the "Play Online" option above) - there seems to be something wrong with it. So I restarted using the elseif player ("Play Online in Browser"), which has a separate window for typing in commands, and that did the trick.
Unusually for me, I didn't need to resort to a walkthrough: the in-game hints were enough. However, I ended up consulting it because, close to the end, I got stuck in a loop which may be a bug because it doesn't make sense as a deliberate way to get the player stuck. (Spoiler - click to show)If you just walk into the museum, the young man will offer you a tour, but there is no way of accepting it: typing "yes" or "follow young man" just lead him to repeat his offer; you can't even move beyond this point. I checked the walkthrough and discovered that there is a note underneath the doormat, instructing you to knock on the door. If you do so, you can type "yes" in response to the man's questions, and "follow young man" should work also.
It looks as if First Things First has been relatively underappreciated in the twenty years since it came out, and undeservedly so. If you're looking for a well-thought-out puzzle game that will neither be a pushover nor impossibly taxing, this could be the one.
This is one of the most polished, multimedia-confident Twines I have ever come across. Some great graphics, particularly at the end, and a really good, atmospheric soundtrack.
Writing a puzzle game in Twine is potentially a challenge because the options are laid out for the reader already, but a way around that is to have lots of options so that the signal is hidden amongst the noise. I took a few tries on this one, and found a way of exploring every location before making any irreversible errors. Part of me wanted a bit more detail about the world which the PC is living in, the mission, and what has happened - but perhaps it was all the more evocative that these things are only briefly sketched in. It took me several plays before I managed to get to the good ending, and held my attention through all of them. A very accomplished game.
The title (from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) almost makes it sound like this game is going to be amusing, except it's anything but.
You are lost at sea, alone, and have a number of choices to help you get out of your predicament. Consume your supplies, or save them for later? Save your strength, or row - and in which direction? Try fishing?
But all this is just a distraction from what is really going on. There's a tale waiting to be told, and you'd prefer not to tell it ...
A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things has a solid enough story, and makes worthwhile enough use of a choice-based interface, to be a decent read in its own right. But what raises this game to being something truly special is the use of simple graphics (well, one particular graphic: you won't have to play for too long before you'll know the one I mean), and, above all, the music, composed and arranged by the author, which is by turns awe-inspiring, evocative, and sinister.
I've played three times and I think have only reached two distinct endings, but I believe there to be at least four. It'd be nice to know how many there are, because this is definitely worth a few replays to appreciate in full.
I had long marked Bee for reading one day, but was disappointed to see that it was no longer available as the original platform was now defunct; thanks to the efforts of the author and of Autumn Chen, this sweet story is now getting the readers it so well deserves once more.
The unnamed narrator, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, is educated at home with her younger sister. Her life is shaped by the seasons of the church, the homespun ways of her frugal parents, the trends of her local home education circle, and a long-running desire to win a national spelling competition.
Each 'turn' in the story gives the reader a set of options, which recur throughout: the chance to review some spellings; a social engagement; household chores; services for different times of the Christian year. Within the chosen passage, more options nudge the narrator towards different actions, subtly shifting the story in one direction or another.
Gradually, four different endings emerge. As with any choice-based fiction that commands my attention, I was pleased to read this one over and over, each time uncovering a few different passages, and moving the story in a different direction.
The subtlety of the story comes from the fact that the narrator's family are presented as trying to be distinctly different from the world around them while also avoiding real fanaticism. The narrator sometimes wishes to please her parents, while also displaying a streak of sarcasm from time to time. Above all, she begins to get a sense of how her life could unfold after the competition and once she has a chance to live differently one day.
A really lovely story, and worth the wait.
I've often wondered what it would be like to write a full-length novel in Twine which branched off in all kinds of different directions, with a really long reading time, so you could end up reading several completely different novels depending on which path you took. Or simply a vast fantasy world, which you could explore at your leisure, finding more and more places to discover and be delighted by.
I mention this because The Hole Man goes some way towards achieving both of these objectives. You start out preparing for jury duty, and have your identity - your whole self - stolen from you, and end up in a kind of surreal world. There is a whole world in this game to explore, and though the different branches often overlap, the game area is big enough that there were always new things to discover. You drift from one setting to another, whether realistic or pleasantly surreal, almost without noticing, just as if you were in a dream. It's funny in places (Spoiler - click to show)(such as, when asked for your favourite genre of writing is, and you say 'interactive fiction', the narrator calls you an "apple-polisher"), bizarre, whimsical, and philosophical.
I love games with a strong sense of place, and particular of fantastical places, so I enjoyed simply getting lost and wandering through this world - often I would wander around in circles, coming to places I had been to before; at other times I stumbled upon whole areas I had never been to before. Although the place descriptions mostly don't vary when you return to them, I did appreciate the 'hint system'(Spoiler - click to show):the slow loris in the tax office will tell you which areas of the game aren't worth returning to, and which require more exploration. Although of course the real problem is finding them again... As a Twine writer, I found myself thinking about how the game had been constructed: which passages linked to which, and when variables came into play.
If you wander far enough, you encounter one of several different Men, each of whom has a bit of wisdom to impart, and whose job you are allowed to take over, if you wish. (Spoiler - click to show) If you do accept, you reach an ending; if not, you collect a token from each one and carry on with your quest towards one of two winning endings. I'm not sure what the promised 'special surprise' was, although I did appreciate the 'I'm not a man' ending.
Of all the games in Spring Thing 2022, this is the one that I kept coming back to.
You are Qiuyi/Karen Zhao, a young Chinese-American who is home from university and celebrating New Year's Eve with friends and family - except that you suffer from terrible social anxiety and really, really do not feel like celebrating or even socialising at all. It's six hours until midnight. How will you fill all those hours?
This is a thoughtful, character-focused narrative written in Dendry, a choice-based format which is well suited to this story: Karen feels trapped, her options limited. Various social interactions are on offer, but all are difficult; other possibilities include taking a walk, eating from the buffet (I did a lot of that) and playing interactive fiction to pass the time.
This game did a really great job of simulating a social event that goes on for too, too long, and the feeling of having to find something to do to fill all those empty hours - but though the evening is boring, the game itself, the relationships described and the narrative voice, held my interest really well. If you check out the 'Credits' page, there is a Spotify playlist which I would have played while reading for extra atmosphere, if I'd read that bit at the start.
This is a really polished, professional game, and I must check out the prequel.
Twine can be used for storytelling: it can be poignant, sensitive and subtle. Or it can be used for gameplaying, with divergent paths and, if desired, a lot of ways to go wrong.
NNRNAJ is firmly in the second camp. This game's atmosphere is one of slapstick, and its basic premise absurdly pantomime-villainous, outrageous and exaggerated beyond anything remotely realistic. I enjoyed figuring it out, getting to the happy ending, and winning the day against the odious Mr Jett. That said, I agree with a lot of the points raised in other reviews: a few lines could have been toned down a bit, the option to punch Mr Jett in the face comes too soon in the story to be plausible (it could have waited until Ned has legitimate grounds to be annoyed at him), and one critical puzzle doesn't quite make sense.
While not a long game, NNRNAJ was complex enough to take me a while to get to the 'good' ending. Fortunately, it is divided into three acts, with a progressive hint system - particularly important in the second act, which took me a while to figure out. However, the 'bad' endings are many and varied enough to make it worth going on the wrong path a few times.
This is one of the most atmospheric and evocative Twine stories that I have read. The things you see and read on your mysterious journey seem full of meaning, yet I could not say what they mean exactly.
The strangeness and arbitrariness of some of the objects which you interact with allow for some workable puzzles, even in Twine: rather than logically figuring things out, as in a parser game, you need to visit various different locations several times and note when they change and where new links appear. Many of the passages and descriptions do nothing to move the plot onwards, but they serve to develop the atmosphere and act as red herrings as you try to find a way forward. The visuals were absolutely appropriate to the gloomy midnight setting - black background, white serif text with pale grey link text - but I found that I really needed to look closely in order to notice where the links were.
I first played Tethered two years ago, and it must have been one of the first parser games that I played, so it took me a few days to get my head around; as a relatively short game, it was an excellent introduction to the genre.
In the introduction to this "interactive role play", as the title page has it, you play Charles, a mountaineer, but the main part of the game is shown from the perspective of Judith, his unfortunate partner who is left alone in the snow. The early puzzles see her exploring a cave system and deal brilliantly with the logistics of navigating around it. The descriptions of these caves are atmospheric and help prepare for the unexpected shift in tone that slowly develops as the story continues.
I was puzzled, but quickly came to realise what was beginning to happen; but as I reached the very final stages of the story I became confused again - what was really going on? I never guessed until I read the deeply poignant ending, with its ironic twist on the title. Tethered has all the clever plotting of a good short story, but it is one in which you actually have to act out all the things that Judith would do while sheltering in the caves, even ones which the reader knows would be a bad idea - and there's a very good reason for that. For this alone, I would hold it up as a great example of how parser games can be an excellent medium for storytelling and even have features that conventional storytelling does not.
A short game about getting up in the morning and going to work, but with a twist ending. Plays with your expectations - there are some assumptions you make when you play a parser-based game, and it didn't really occur to me to question them here. Ironically enough, (Spoiler - click to show)when I got to the bit where you leave the house without locking it, I wondered if someone might break in when I was out at work.
If I hadn't been in such as hurry to get to work, I might have done what I normally do in parser games and (Spoiler - click to show)examine everything - in particular, to look under things and behind things. Of course, I did that on the replay.
One bit left me trying to guess a verb: (Spoiler - click to show)"get in cubicle" did the trick.
If I had to give someone a short game to play in order to teach them how to play a parser game, it'd probably be this.