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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Frustration, by Jim MacBrayne

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Very big, expansive game designed to be played a long time, January 24, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a classic in the style of the period between Infocom and Inform. Those few years in the 90s saw the rise of several gigantic indie games, often with obtuse puzzles and nonsensical, Zork-like landscapes. The Unnkulia games were the most popular I know from then, with lots of silly Acme products.

This game seems influenced by the same era, with a lot of ACME products.

You are getting a shopping list for your aunt when you fall down a big hole. There you find a complex web of locations and buildings and teleporters that take you all around a house, a village, and the world.

This is the kind of game that's designed to be played on and off for months, possibly working together with others online and not necessarily designed to actually be solved. Often times the solution to a puzzle is something found far away in a different room.

There are many teleportation devices in the game, including one powered by geometric objects, another with different button presses, and another in the form of a wand. A lot of puzzles are coded messages, as well.

I played this game to clear it off my wishlist as one of the longest-running games on that list, but was surprised to see that this author is the same Jim MacBrayne that has recently released games in IFComp and Parsercomp. Those games are written with a Basic engine (and I think there is a version of this game that does that too), and they have very similar features to this game, including giant maps with many rooms called 'corridor' or 'path', and puzzles involving color-coded combinations and obtuse messages that must be interpreted correctly to pass.

I know several people have greatly enjoyed these recent games from Jim MacBrayne; if you're one of them, this older game has a lot of the same flavor, just longer and more difficult.


Der Angstbaum, by Jens Bojaryn

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Character-driven fantasy drama about chicken murder, January 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has been on my wishlist for years, as it was constantly recommended to me by IFDB's old algorithm. But it's in German, and pretty complex german at that, which my high-school-german brain can't handle well. I also had to use DOSBOX to play it.

But I'm glad I did! The story in this is actually one of the best I've read in a while, not even just in IF, although it is very short.

The game has some worldbuilding you can read up on in a txt file attached to the Zip. It talks about the Boronois, a group of people that live far away that are (I think???) short, non-religious, and with traditions about marriage and competitions, and some relationship with magic.

You're in love with a girl, but to win her heart you have to have the biggest chicken in the competition tomorrow! So of course you break into your rival's house to poison his fat chicken. Unfortunately, you aren't the only one who's broken in...

Beyond one puzzle early on and a basic puzzle later (that is on a timer), most of this game is menu-based conversation, with an interesting cast of characters, including your love, your rival, and his family.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. It was definitely worth the wait. As a non-native speaker of German, the very complex language (for me!) was mitigated by the shortness and the multiple choice aspect.


Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge, by Dee Cooke

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A long and rich mystery game with wide variety of locations, January 21, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I don't know why I forgot to review this one when it came out.

This is one of the best Adventuron games I've played and also one of the most complex and rich mystery parser games in the last few years. You play as a young high school student whose aunt has gone mysteriously missing, and you have to check out her house.

The first half or so of the game is a mystery/drama as you investigate both your aunt's disappearance and a deadly party held at a farm, which is being investigated by your high school friend. Your sister is acting bizarre, as well.

Later on, as others have noted in their reviews, the game takes some decided twists, and becomes both more deadly and more surreal.

I found the overall plot to be the strongest point of the game, as well as the satisfying classic-style parser gameplay. I got frustrated a few times trying to figure out the right action, but overall I'd say this is a very successful and fun game.


T-Zero, by Dennis Cunningham

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A giant, obtuse, puzzle- and pun-filled time travel adventure, January 21, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I started going through my wishlist on IFDB, and this game has been on their longer than any other, because it was so intimidating I put it off. I ended up playing the ifarchive version, which uses local browser storage for saves.

I played for a while, using in-game hints and getting < 20 points out of 365, then used a walkthrough and maps from several different sites, including CASA. Even then, it was difficult to follow and required solving some puzzles independently.

If you had to play just one IF game for a very long time and didn't have access to any other, but could talk to other people, this would be a great game, because it's designed for long-term group play.

Many factors make it large. First, it has a giant map with many diagonal connections and cycles in the graph structure, and doesn't list exits automatically (unless I missed a command to turn that on; I just used the EXITS command), and this giant map exists in multiple time periods at once.

Second, many of the puzzles rely on pun-based commands, requiring a leap of intuition that can't be solved with just brute force.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, many actions have long-delayed consequences, and many items are used in scenarios quite different from the ones they're found in.

None of these are bad game-design wise, but they mean that you will spend a great deal of time on this game in order to experience its content, while many current IF games are designed to be completed in one or two sessions with little 'friction', due to the multitude of competing games and other reasons.

The plotline is buried at first but becomes stronger and stronger, especially once time travel is allowed. If the author created the first areas first, it would explain why the game starts with a mishmash of silly things (including a tortoise and a hare on a Moebius strip a suspension bridge that suspends you). Later areas have strong thematic consistency, especially the future world. There are a few other threads of plot that weave through the game consistently, like the use of opiates to expand the mind and a meteorite that makes several appearances.

The game isn't mean; it increases difficulty in generally fair ways. Hints are provided in most rooms, and a helpful friend gives you more and more commands over time that help out in a meta way (I loved FIND [ITEM] because it moves you to that room, enabling fast travel).

This would be a great game for a let's play or other group-based activity, since finding the right phrasing is good.

I don't think I'll play it again, because I just struggle with its style of expansiveness, but I enjoyed my time with it and think many others would as well.


The Usher Foundation XII: The Flesh, by Apollosboy

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Body horror with skin/flesh, last of unfinished series, January 10, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I hadn't realized when I started this series of games based on the Magnus institute that it would just end. As far as I can tell, the creator abandoned social media (under the current name) a year or two ago.

These games were based on the Magnus Archives podcast, which has 14 archetypes of fear. The ones that were missing, and would presumably end this series, are the Web, and, appropriately, the End, or death.

This game is about the Flesh, the fear of body horror and of being eaten.

Your girlfriend is getting a scarification, with some strips of skin removed. She has it bandaged while its healing, but when the bandages are removed...

Overall, this series started out strong and had some great parts (I enjoyed the Dark, the Spiral, the Stranger, and the Eye), but kind of petered out near the end, which may be why they stopped writing it. But I think, if they ever decided to finish it, a strong ending with The Web and the End could make the whole thing kind of a masterpiece.


The Little Match Girl 2: Annus Evertens, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Dream-hopping assassination through assorted vignettes, January 9, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is a sequel to The Little Match Girl, a game that was about hopping through various fantasies to solve problems in each of them.

This game is a bit different, with a different premise (you are an assassin) and a different configuration of dreams (nested, rather than interconnected).

Like the Castle Balderstone games, this give the impression of being a grab-bag of passion projects, where some idea or thread was worked on in great detail and then the rest of a game scaffolded around it and polished till smooth.

The first few visions are pretty light and easy, just follow directions and look around. This can be fun, especially in shorter games, and the worldbuilding was nice with fun fake-outs, and there was animation and title sequences and colors, but by the end of the second one I felt like I could use a little more to dig into. The next world had more involved puzzles (with another fun fake-out), and the one after that was incredibly dense, filled with puzzles of all kind, which contrasted nicely with earlier material.

Overall:
+Polish: The game was smooth and worked well.
+Descriptiveness: The settings were very vivid, especially the second and last, and I could picture everything.
+Interactivity: Like I said above, there was a good overall balance of streamlined playthrough and puzzles.
+Emotional impact: I was entertained. At one point I took out my plans for my next game and took down some notes.
+Would I play it again? Yeah, I'll probably go through all the games in order when the others come out.


The Usher Foundation XI: The Lonely, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Survive the aftermaths of a fire in a lonely watchtower, January 4, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the 11th in a series of games based on the entities from the Magnus Archives Podcast. This one focuses on The Lonely, or the fear of being abandoned or all by yourself.

This short Twine game opens a bit slowly. You are sent to decommission a fire tower in a US national park. With no one around, you can at least take comfort in another nearby firetower and its inhabitant that signals you.

Things pick up a little bit later.

While I think this one doesn't really evoke much fear in me, compared to the others, I think its twists and the overall writing is strong. It has also the most action I've seen so far in the second, 'worldbuilding' part.


The Usher Foundation X: The Stranger, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, sad trans horror game with some overall world-building, December 30, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the tenth game in the Usher Foundation series, in which each game is centered on one of the primal fear archetypes of the Magnus Archives Podcast.

This one is about the Stranger, which is a fear of the uncanny valley and that people around you are fake somehow.

This story is short. You are trans, and your best friend is trans. You are in high-school. Over the summer, your friend changes somehow. He appears to be detransitioning, possibly against his will.

This game is shorter than the others in the series, but has a more extended 'overarching worldbuilding' segment at the end, which is good, because I felt like that subplot had kind of stalled.


The Usher Foundation IX: The Corruption, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, horrifying insect/trypophobia twine game, December 30, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the 9th game in the series of games based on the archetypal fears found in the Magnus Archives Podcast. This one focuses on the Corruption, which is one that really gets me, a fear of decay, disease, and insect infestations.

You are bidding on storage units to sell the stuff in them, when you find one that has a peculiar insect infestation. Later, you find out it wasn't the only thing that got infested...

The game has some nice (as in very gross) interactions with picking/popping black dots on your skin. Overall, this game made me feel deeply uncomfortable.


whoami, by n-n

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Combination twine/parser game with simulated OS, December 25, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a fascinating Spanish Twine game that makes excellent use of both Inform 7 and Twine.

You are dying during a radioactive apocalyptic war. You are also a researcher at an advanced quantum computing simulation lab, and you have the capability of uploading your mind to the computer.

Most of the game is navigating a complex computer OS system with a variety of folders and subfolders and apps such as email and the internet.

Once you get through that large portion, there is also a small parser portion that represents setting up societal norms in a simulated society. There is also one Towers of Hanoi section, which I honestly don't generally enjoy, but at least there was significant tie-in with the game itself and it had backstory.

Overall, a very impressive work, one that I think deserves a larger audience. For at least the non-parser parts, I think this plays quite easily using google translate.



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