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The Ascot, by Duncan Bowsman

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Very good against all odds, June 8, 2010
by Nusco (Bologna, Italy)
Related reviews: positive

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?”

> no
Oh, so you wanna go home, then?

> no
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?

> no
Okay, so... you’re standing around and... standing around... and...

Gertie asks you again if you wanna go down the other tunnel.

> no
Gertie stares at you. “Are you going?”

> no
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.



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