If C.E.J. Pacian keeps churning out little games of this quality and consistency, I'll have to go back to his other games and rate them all up one notch. As usual, Walker & Silhouette sports the author's trademark mix of pulp space-opera fiction, relentless pace and deliciously flawed characters.
In this game, Walker is an inhumanly smart crippled police detective specialized in solving freaky mysteries by sheer force of logic. His counterpart Silhouette is a passionate anarco-feminist bad girl with a big hearth. Together, they solve a case involving as much steampunk staples, English understatement and freaky accidents as Pacian can cram in a one-hour game. Both characters border on gender bending, and their nuanced mutual attraction works very well to keep this short game together. I'm regularly bored by romance in games, but Pacian's unusual approach to the topic actually works for me. You can feel that the author really likes and respects his characters.
Like Gun Mute, this game experiments with restricted input: in this case, you move the game forward by typing keywords rather than relying on the usual (semi)-free form IF commands. Although limiting, this device works well for such a short game, smoothing out the experience and preventing you from getting stuck. Pacian even manages to build a couple of puzzles around this limited parser, which gives you the feeling you're actually playing a game, although very linear, rather than reading a short story. The result is a small polished game that doesn't last long enough for you to suspend disbelief and actually question its calculatedly naive absurdity.
Like other games from Pacian, this one feels like the author was smiling constantly as he wrote it. I also carried that smile throughout the experience.
A confession: I really liked The Ascot.
The Ascot is one of those cheap Choose Your Own Adventure games - and a particularly constrained one, for that. Apart from a few special exceptions (like meta-verbs and the nearly useless EXAMINE), the game's parser only understands two words: YES and NO. As a result, the game feels extremely limited in scope. You can finish The Ascot in just one move (by typing NO at the first prompt), or invest a few minutes and work your way to a somewhat positive ending. You could even argue whether this is actually IF. However, I'll take a short constrained game that's actually fun over a boring game with a good parser.
Another reason not to like The Ascot is that this game belongs to the dreaded "wacky dorky humor masquerading as generic fantasy" club. That genre is usually populated by first-attempt games by teenage authors who then proceed to submit their bedroom experiments to the IF Competition, and force the poor judges to suffer through streams of lame jokes and random narratives. However, for some reason, the humor in The Ascot really worked for me. The narrative voice is consistent, if deliberately silly, and it even managed to make me laugh sometimes - especially when it self-reflects on the game's own limitation, a device that usually falls flat in other games. Here are two (mildly spoilery) examples:
(Spoiler - click to show)
[...] the old woman clucks at you. “[...] Are you ready to finally claim your family’s fortune, young master?”
Oh, so you wanna go home, then?
So, you’ll accept your quest, then? (I can keep this up all day, by the way.)
And here is how the game forces you to accept one option over the other when you enter a dead end in the story branch:
“Let’s try the other way,” whispers Gertie. Are you gonna listen to her?
Okay, so... you’re standing around and... standing around... and...
Gertie asks you again if you wanna go down the other tunnel.
Gertie stares at you. “Are you going?”
Gertie stares at you. “Are you going?”
Oh, man. You have no chance at winning this one! She’s good, she’s good...
It might be cheap humour, but it made me chuckle. I'd rather take this game's honest tongue-in-cheek approach over a linear game that attempts to give you an illusion of freedom and fails.
Overall, I'd probably give The Ascot three stars on a very good day. But then, of course, there is The Ascot's main claim to fame: the infamous "smart puzzle that you can easily overlook and actually turns out to be the game real raison d'etre". That's why this little harmless game was nominated to a Xyzzy (that it arguably deserved to win) after being very harshly dismissed by many IF Competition reviewers. That puzzle changed my perspective on the game's strictly constrained mechanics, and it probably justifies investing a few extra minutes to get to the optimal ending... And that's where the fourth star comes from.
Average geek takes drugs and dreams his way through a confusing game. Pretentious, condescending tone, as if the author is trying to teach you something very profound. The competent implementation and writing is not enough to make this game less irritating.I have to make use of the standard disclaimer here: although I didn't like it (and arguably I didn't get it), most players consider Blue Chairs a modern classic, and this game got close to winning the 2004 IF Comp. So it's a game that deserves to played. At the very worst, you'll be as disappointed as I was.
Ecdysis is underimplemented, extremely short and linear, heavy on directing the player and very limited in scope. However, it makes up for all of its shortcomings by being a very disturbing small piece of IF - even more disturbing than Lovecraft's average work. Not for the squeamish.
Giant laser-firing robots, steampunk-ish western bad guys, radioactive mutants, badass gay cowboys with an attitude and a lot of shooting at people - this game has everything you need. You can call it an experiment on the form, because it purposefully limits itself to just a few verbs (of which "shoot" is the most important by far) and declares itself "an IF shoot-em-up". Experiment or not, this is one of the funniest short pieces of IF I've played in a while. Its unassuming attitude, approachability, shortness and blatantly linear gameplay only make this spaghetti-western-meets-mad-max-meets-doom pastiche more of a pleasure.
Prepuberal Prince of Denmark wannabe peels the deep implementation layers of his parents' home. Exceptional atmosphere, flourishing prose and dark, dark humor abound.Gamlet is a missed chance for a classic. It's deeply unsettling and funny at the same time, but the effect is somewhat spoiled by the ending sequence. The ending itself is mildly interesting, mainly because it reveals a lot about the game's author - which probably wasn't the intention of the author itself.
I tend to like single-puzzle games, so I had high hopes for this one. The concept is very good: take a classic puzzle and twist it by making the standard solution impossible.The game itself is a bit underimplemented, but the strong concept makes up for that in part. I had a good time playing it, but unfortunately I ended up winning easily because of a bug. I didn't even realize it was a bug, so I headed straight for the hints and ended up surprised and somewhat disappointed. Overall a nice effort, but wait for a post-comp release.
A number of funny and pretty smooth mini-games tied by a loose narrative about a young arcade gamer. Geeky humor transpires throughout.
A fascinating mess-up of some IF conventions, this (very short) experiment is only partly successful. But somehow, the game manages to keep the thrust of its catchy opening line. Pleasantly subdued humor, decent puzzles.
A clever and funny time-travel puzzle game where you play a scientist trying to save the world from her own invention. Coherent setting and puzzles and a genuine sense of urgency make this one lift off. A bit confusing at times, but ultimately deeply rewarding.