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Reviews by MathBrush

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View this member's reviews by tag: 15-30 minutes 2-10 hours about 1 hour about 2 hours IF Comp 2015 Infocom less than 15 minutes more than 10 hours Spring Thing 2016
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Weyrwood, by Isabella Shaw
A story of manners, magic and daemons, February 25, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This is an engaging and well-written game where you play a somewhat-wealthy member of the gentry returning to your childhood estate upon the death of your guardian.

Your city has bargained with daemons and weyrds (treefolk) to survive. Everyone lives on the edge with the daemons. Do well, be scandalous, attract attention, and you'll get more magic currency. Do poorly and lose it all, and the daemons come to suck out your soul and make you their slave.

There is a lot of variety in terms of romantic partners and factions to side with. I intend on replaying as I saw tons of material about the daemons but almost nothing about the weyrds (my choice).

I would heartily recommend this game, but I really didn't like the narrative direction regarding one of the possible romances.

Your childhood friend is recently married, but they hit on you, and the game encourages you to have at least an implied affair with them to generate more scandal. If you press, she hints that her partner is okay with it. Later, even when I was engaged to someone else, it pushed for us to be together, saying that your partner would understand.

I get that they're going for polyamory representation. I'm not completely opposed to a certain form of polyamory: my ancestors in the 1800s were polygamous, and I think that was fine. But this is offputting, even with 'modern' polyamory, which is completely about trust. I met the husband later, and he seemed 'chill', but she could have plied him with a fake story about you; and later, you are encouraged to be with her without your spouse knowing (you have a 'feeling' they'll be okay with it). If you look up anything about polyamory, it only works with everyone's explicit consent. What's in the game is just cheating, and it's pushed on you multiple times.

Honestly, I find that pretty gross, and for that reason I'm not recommending this game in general. The rest of it is pretty great.

Edit: Narratively, I have no problem with games allowing you to bad things, as it makes your choices more real. I don't like it telling you in your own voice that this is okay and that you kind of want to do it.

The Xylophoniad, by Robin Johnson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A humorous, polished old-style IF set in ancient Greece, February 23, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016
The style of this game should be familiar to those who have tried Portcullis or Draculaland by the same author. You wander around a fairly small map in the Scott Adams tradition of short descriptions, 1-2 items a room, and well-characterized NPCs with a few interesting lines.

Like those games, this game evokes the same feel of adventure and exploration as the early text adventures. However, the author has managed to remove a great deal of the frustration inherent in those games by providing well-thought-out hints and gentle guidance.

You play Xylophone (pronounced in four syllables), a Greek woman accused of various crimes and given 3 labors to perform. You travel to Minos, Hell, and Troy to complete these tasks.

The game is chock full of puns and mythology jokes. It made me chuckle.

Some of the puzzles felt a bit tedious in the middle, as you were mostly matching things (Iron door? Find an iron key. Need to get past a bear? find some honey. Not that these are real examples). This isn't necessarily bad, but some of the other puzzles were quite clever (giving some nice Eureka! moments), so it made me wish for more.

Sword of the Slayer, by S. Andrew Swann

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Classic fantasy with monster slaying, encounters, dungeon, February 23, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
Honestly, I got into "text-based games" with paper-based Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks and fantasy CYOA books. Even years later, that stuff really appeals to me (like the Sorcery series, the parser game Heroes, the twine game Tavern Crawler, etc.).

So when I say I love this game, that's the background I'm coming from. This reminds me so much of the 'intelligent weapon' rules from AD&D 1E, where you'd have a legendary weapon with intelligence that has a benefit and a drawback, etc.

You find an intelligent magic sword and swear an oath to train in swordsmanship. You find a mentor and start attacking monsters, eventually coming to the attention of Demorgon (with a name very similar to the AD&D 1E demon Demogorgon), as well as several others.

The stats are generally easy to understand, although each fight seemed to have an option to attack quickly, hide, or defend, and that didn't seem directly connected to any visible stat.

The characters are admittedly not too fleshed out. There are about five or six factions, and each needed to have like 50% more text included to be more interesting. I've worked in the last year on expanding my own choicescript game, and I think S. Andrew Swann would benefit a lot from that (even 10K more), although I think he's got a different contract he's working on. I was personally okay with this, as the AD&D modules I compared it too have similar levels of detail for side characters.

I was definitely looking forward to playing this. I'm familiar with Swann as author of one of the most popular pages on the SCP wiki (with his name on it, 'S. Andrew Swann's Proposal'), and I'm so glad this wasn't disappointing.

Finally, a lot of steam reviews suggest the ending is fixed for you to win. I wish! I had to replay the final chapter 4 times to actually survive. I'm so glad he added a save feature, which works beautifully. Very happy with this game, and I plan on replaying it.

At 180K words and with a lot of branches, it does feel shorter than some other choicescript games, but satisfying.

I received a review copy of this game.

Station spatiale S16 - Prologue, by Samuel Verschelde (Stormi)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A mid-length french inform game about an abandoned space station, February 22, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This french game is written in Inform and reminds me a bit of Starcross, as you spend the first part in a spacecraft while approaching a cylindrical space station.

The game alternates between linear, exposition-based segments where people tell you things and unusually difficult or illogical puzzles, where being illogical is the point.

The game seemed well-implemented, and the writing was interesting. The author went to a lot of trouble to implement a ton of different responses.

I guess if I could change anything, it would be that the conversation near the end was no conversation at all, just hearing one side of everything. I wonder if some kind of menu system might be good here, since it would fit with the theme of that section. Anyway, I'd be interested in seeing the finished game.

I used the walkthrough the entire time, as there were a lot of words I didn't know!

Poussière d'Asphalte, by Tristan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A bizarre and poetic french choice game about an old robot, February 22, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
In this French comp game, you are a robot that wakes up to be greeted by a cute little helper-AI that has a little emoji face.

In this Moiki game (a relatively new and complex engine for choice games), you have to explore everything around you to see if you can be repaired and fixed, as you are close to dying.

Everything you see, though, is rendered in poetic language, as someone has hacked you. A supermarket becomes a body, where you explore the heart, the colon, etc. and a repair shop has become a church.

I probably missed a lot of figurative language due to not being a native speaker, but the concept and execution worked really well. It can be gross at times, but is more often funny or charming. Great game.

Dernières heures avant liquidation, by Fabrice G.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A French gangster sim, February 21, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This game is a money-based procedurally generated French twine game.

You take the role of a leader in the mafia who is in debt. You go on missions (each giving a certain payout, lasting a certain amount of time, and having a certain downtime, while requiring a certain number of gangsters), get money, and either die after 24 hours (which usually happens), or, if you made enough, win. Your debt and your savings persist from round to round.

It's a pretty short loop, and you'll see the same text a lot. There is some variety, and things change as the game goes along, but I think the main story just wasn't very compelling for me.

It was polished, though, and had a distinctive 'voice'. I spent a while looking at the code after, and it seems very complex.

Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts, by Alana Joli Abbott

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A magical school game which could use a little more oomph , February 21, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
In this choicescript game, you play as a new student at a high school for magical kid. Kind of like Harry Potter, which the game lampshades with a character who constantly compares things to Harry Potter.

You attend classes and prepare for a sky sailing competition while dealing with periodic magical disturbances. There are also magical non-human creatures who are fighting for rights. You can decide to help them or help the government agency which tries to hide magic from the world.

This game has a lot of good elements, and it was quite a few ratings on the omnnibus app (though it has some negative reviews on Steam). Overall, I feel like everything would be great in it if things had a little more weight.

Magic itself is probably the biggest culprit here. The first chapter has almost no magic in it except for some feelings and a throwaway line or two. Essentially, what happens is:
-You cross a causeway to the school, noticing nature is in balance,
-You get a room and a roommate
-You get told what your classes are
-You get told about an athletic competition
and that's about it. Magical things start happening later on, but it never really feels like a vibrant part of your life. Your class discussions are mostly about mortal philosophy and folklore, your dates are mostly non-magical things.

And it felt like the game was controlling the character for me a lot, almost like unskippable cutscenes in video games. This happens throughout the game, even for a crucial scene near the end where it could put you in a ton of legal trouble.

Overall, though, I think other people enjoy high school slice of life games more than me (like The Fog Knows Your Name), so I would recommend trying out the demo, as it's a very accurate representation of the game itself.

The Mysteries of Baroque, by William Brown

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A pastiche of older dark fiction with a revenge plot, February 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This game is essentially a love story to all things old and creepy, mainly gothic horror but also the Barsoom series of books, mythology, urban legends, weird horror, and other such things.

You play as a Frankestein's monster-like character, brought to life by the power of science and lightning. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, you realize that you had been betrayed by someone you once respected and swear vengeance.

The game has a lighter side. As an example of the game's tongue-in-cheek nomenclature, you live in a city called Baroque whose principal enemy is the city Rococo. Other cities and people are torn from famous (and less famous) works of fiction, including speculative fiction from the Bronte sisters.

There is a chapter similar to the Phantom of the Opera, a chapter like the Red Death, a detective chapter, etc.

I found this all to be great. Near the end, it turns to weird horror, as many dark books in an older setting do, but it does it well.

One drawback is that there are very few opportunities for stat increases (you will likely end the game with most skills never having changed). Another is that many threads are brought up and then lost again. For instance, I received a modification that allowed me to have perfect photographic recall. But it never seemed to come up again, even in situations where it might be useful (searching through a pile of artifacts, trying to learn a secret name from a page, etc.)

Overall, I found the story fun and interesting.

The Empress' Shadow, by Emily Short and Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Education, political intrigue and strange romance, February 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
Surface stories generally aren't my favorite in Fallen London. To me, it feels like being in a dark room telling ghost stories at a sleepover, then going out into the brightly-lit kitchen to say hi to your parents and grab some snacks before going back in.

That said, the player agency in this story is impressive, and mechanically it is one of the best stories, and has poignant moments of writing, especially the drawn-out ending. Reading this made me feel that Failbetter made an excellent choice hiring Short as their creative director; the grasp of the world of Fallen London as a whole and the creative mechanics are exactly what I'd hope a creative director would bring.

In this game, the oldest daughter of Queen Victoria, called the Empress's Shadow, is the only normal child she has left, and is coming down to the Neath to visit for unknown reasons. She is the empress dowager of Prussia, just like in real history.

You want to get close to her. It turns out that she desires a revolving suite of new servants to keep from getting too close to anyone or revealing too many secrets. So, for you to get her secrets, you become a teacher at Sinning Jenny's finishing school, training your own set of spies (chosen from 6-8 of the factions already in Fallen London), and using them to find out more about her.

Her motives include both romance and power, which is interesting, and the game gives you a permanent carousel that can result in a favor (although I failed the 50% luck check all 3-4 times I tried, which is just what luck is).

The only drawbacks to me personally are the lack of engagement I felt with the surface-based story. Otherwise, it is very well-done and was interesting to play.

Sorcery Is for Saps, by Hilari Bell and Anna-Maria Crum

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A silly and fun court intrigue story with constrained choices, February 18, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
I have to admit, I didn't have high hopes for this game coming in. My own game is usually near the bottom of the barrel sales-wise (according to the 'bestselling' section of the iOS omnibus app), but Sorcery for Saps is usually right around there, too.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the involved and intriguing mystery story that played out over the couple of hours the game lasted. You have to impersonate your master sorcerer at the king's court, where he has been cursed by an unknown person at a critical time in negotiations.

There are many suspects and many side-intrigues going on, and it all ties together nicely. Even if you guess some of the secrets, it's still fun to see the others.

But this game had a few things going against it.

For me personally, I disliked that many choices were forced on you. So instead of 'Would you like to talk to the servant or do one of these other options?' the game would say, 'You've decided you like the servant, feel sorry for her, and go out of your way to cast a specific elaborate spell to fix her problems and gain her confidence. Why did you do that player?'

Imagine someone doing that when making dinner plans or game mastering. Instead of, 'Where are you thinking of eating tonight? We could go to Taco Bell or Mcdonalds since they're close,' it's more like, 'Well, I can tell already you're going to tell us to go to Taco Bell and get supreme burritos because you love their beans. What made you think of it?'

It makes for stronger storytelling, because you (the author) have complete control of what happens, and perhaps that's one reason I found the story so engaging. But I found it less engaging as a game.

The second issue that a lot of games lower on the bestselling list have (and mine does this too, though I've updated it a bit to work on it) is 'bad stat disease', where you can end the game with pretty much all of your stats between 50% and 60%, and your opposed stats at essentially 50-50, due to a combination of infrequent, low stat boosts, confusion about what tests opposed stats vs setting it, and difficulty figuring out what skill is used in each test.

The last thing is that the game has zany, silly humor, especially in the first chapter, with spells like 'CTRL-Z' or 'Thingius stoppius' (not a real spell, but similar to ones in the game). I've noticed that games with silly humor tend not to do well, even if they're actually pretty fun (like For Sale:Haunted House, Yeti's Parole Officer). The same goes for anything that seems targeted towards children (like my own game or Demon Mark).

So, if the authors read this, I really liked your game, and I think there are some things that can be improved, but overall your mystery was great and I'm going to be thinking about it for a long time. Loved the characterization of the ferret.

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