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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The Little Match Girl 3: The Escalus Manifold, by Ryan Veeder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A combat RPG through multiple worlds, April 26, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is set in the Little Match Girl universe, which is very different than what it sounds like (to me it sounds like a drab and depressing slice of life series based on Victorian London, whereas in actuality its about a time-travelling assassin).

In this one, you have to take down the Snow Queen and her army of henchmen spread out over many worlds. In the meantime, you can add members to your party (up to 5), gain powerful abilities and engage in turn based combat (none of which were features of the previous Little Match girl games).

I had two experiences with this game, one 'okay' and one great.

In my first experience, I just plopped in and started exploring. I got confused by the large number of exits, especially diagonal ones, and I had forgotten the key feature of Little Match girl games (remember below for anyone in a similar position). Once I figured out how to go to other worlds, I met people but no one would join me. I kept gaining more abilities on my own and I was worried I'd get through most of the game without ever finding someone to help me.

So I asked for help from the author, and restarted. My second experience was much better. The three things that helped me were:
1. Keeping an actual map (I could have gotten a fairly early companion if I hadn't missed a room)
2. Remembering the key feature of Little Match Girl games (very light spoiler) (Spoiler - click to show)examining fire takes you to new places
3. Realizing the key to getting companions (moderate spoiler, got from author): (Spoiler - click to show)each companion requires one object from another world, and there's no companion in the first world.

With these in mind, I had a great time. There were some fun puzzles, and a variety of combat.

I'm actually interested in this a lot, because as an author I like to learn from these games, and they cover so many topics that at least something is always relevant to my current interests. The last little match girl game had an escape room that I liked, and I read it right when I was working on an escape room.

I play this game as I'm working on a combat mini-game. I had learned from someone else that having multiple antagonists made combat more interesting, and I was working on a system where you had a couple of robots with you you could program to fight.

So seeing how Ryan Veeder approached his combat was really interesting. Most randomized combat doesn't work well in IF, with Kerkerkruip being a major exception, but I think this one works well, especially with using HP to fuel attacks, even using HP to heal other's HP (but only one person being capable of it), as it can become a kind of resource management puzzle.

Overall, Vorple is working well here, with some surprises with sounds and colors. A couple of times when restarting or right after saving (maybe a coincidence?) the game automatically skipped through some cutscenes (like the very ending one), maybe because I had hit a lot of keys and there was a delay? Not sure, but I had to UNDO multiple times to see the ending correctly as it was just zooming past me. I'm almost sure it's something on my end but I'm putting it in the review in case it's useful for the author or happened to someone else.

I liked the plot threads about Ebenezabeth's overall growth and the ambiguity of her relationship with her father (is he possibly malicious?). I didn't really understand the overall storyline but I felt like it was supposed to have a lot of implied secrets (or maybe I accidentally skipped the opening?).

One of the areas (spoilered discussion about non-game stuff related to one area) (Spoiler - click to show)is a pink hotel in Hawaii, which is fun because I drove by that hotel a lot when I lived in Laie. It really stands out and for me was a big landmark in Hawaii, so I enjoyed seeing that).

Hanna, We're Going to School, by Kastel

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Ghosts, suicide and gender issues, April 24, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a Twine game with some well-done styling that runs for a little over 15 minutes for me.

In this game, you are (I believe) a young Chinese girl at an American high school in Japan. Hannah, a friend of yours, has died, and her ghost is haunting you, but in a mostly positive way, like helping with homework.

Outside of death and ghosts, the games secondary emphasis seems to be sex; although no explicit scenes are shown, there are discussions about the relative attractions and submissiveness of different ethnicities, and of high school girls in general. I felt uncomfortable at times, but it never went beyond talk.

The story centers on finding more about Hannah and the reason for her death, as well as a couple of bullies in the school who do more and more over the top actions.

Gameplay was pretty linear at first; each screen had multiple links, with the last one going to the next page and the earlier ones revealing hidden text. Eventually there were more choices, with two major choices in the game providing the four endings (although the first choice, (Spoiler - click to show)taking the umbrella or not, may not seem important at the time).

The endings vary significantly. Some were about building friendships, but the others felt more shocking to me. One involved (Spoiler - click to show)violently dismembering a girl because she used anti-trans language and revealed she had bullied Hannah prior to suicide. The author in the authors note said that they could have seen themselves doing that to someone in their own life. Another involved (Spoiler - click to show)the bully pushing herself romantically onto the heroine, explaining that all the mean stuff she did was because she was attracted to her.

Overall, I think the interactivity could have used a slight tweak; either having more options early on, or, if it was intended to be read straight through, adding a smooth transition to the link-clicking effect (like a .3 second or less slide-in animation) to give a little more satisfaction with the links.

I didn't strongly connect with the story, but as a roughly 40-yr old cis man I'm not the audience this is going for. I could definitely see someone in a similar situation deeply appreciating and feeling touched by the story.

Weird City Interloper, by C.E.J. Pacian

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A fantasy conversation game with a Miyazaki-like setting, April 18, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

In this game, every 'room' is a conversation with a new individual. Topics that you can discuss are highlighted in brackets or by other means depending on the interpreter.

Interestingly, every topic you learn in one location can be used in another. An important command here is 'GOODBYE', which I didn't learn for a while.

The story is intricate and interesting, told only in conversation. You have returned to a city dominated by a new god and his priest, Salyndo. You try to find a way to overthrow it.

Short, but breathtaking in the images it gives you glimpses of. I used 'help' about 5-6 times.

Strongly recommended.

Sidetrack, by Andi C. Buchanan

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A charming and low-stakes journey through a dream land, April 16, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has you enter a place you shouldn't, a portal, an actual liminal space between the real world and the world of dreams.

The main gameplay loop is looking at a subway map, picking a station to go to, and exploring, with items you pick up at one station coming in use at another.

Each station is a pure fantasy, mostly disconnected from the others. It's reminiscent of Miyazaki films like Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro (with their subway/catbus). The locations aren't intentionally scary, although some are pretty trippy.

I forgot which station I entered in and it was literally the last one I went back to. I ended up seeing everything, and it was a lot of fun!

To describe the vibes, one early station has a market run by people made of wood; another is a station almost identical to our world, but subtly not.

There were some spelling errors, mostly in the first few pages (like 'rennovating'). There was a pretty bad bug where trying to click on 'alight upon water' to transfer from the brown line to purple line going north gave a twine code error. You can get around it by going south instead and turning around. I think that one other station was like that as well.

Overall, a pleasant game with a few bugs.

The Magic Word, by B.J. Best

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Maddening puzzles personified, March 31, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game really hit me in a weird spot because it coincided with an idea of mine in an amusing way.

In my own game, I wanted to come up with something to 'scare' the player, a horrible device so terrible that every player would run in fear, only for it to turn out to be a joke that can be solved in one move.

My device was called 'hideous contraption' and had random dice, twenty six levers, 8 strings corresponding to elements, Towers of hanoi, goat and cabbage, etc.

But it was all a joke.

This game is just like that. But not a joke. The most horrifying thing I could think of a game having, that's what this game is.

After a brief intro, you find yourself in a room with two switches, fives lamps, rope, a ladder that is movable, an exit, a chandelier, a button, a fitting, a track with fire on it, moveable scales, an egg timer, etc.

You have to manipulate all of these devices, plus far more. Oh, and your verbs are extremely limited to 2 or 3 at a time. Oh, and there's a turn limit. Multiple ones, in fact.

I just refused to play it. Hints wouldn't give the full experience for this game, and I just frankly didn't want to play this type of game. I like games where you don't need to take notes, just learning over time.

I said as much to Mike Russo, a tester of this game, and he said it wasn't that bad.

I drew a very extensive diagram of this game, took careful notes, and got 4 or 5 points by being careful and a sixth point by dumb luck. At that point I looked at the hints.

I don't like this game style and don't want to see games like this in the future, but that's my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the general populace, and should not be an impediment to future games in this genre. However, I do recognize the craft and polish that went into the game, and the storytelling is exquisitely good given the circumstances.

Cage Break, by Jac Colvin

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Choicescript game about a bird escaping with other birds, March 26, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is based on a seed from the first round of Seedcomp about birds escaping from a cage and freeing other birds. Another game, free bird, is in the comp based on the same seed.

I liked this game, and found it fun to build up plans to help the other birds. It reminded me of 90's television like Captain Planet and Ferngully.

It was a bit hard at times to see the effects of things I did. I didn't look in a mirror until near the end, when it let me set my name and stuff, and that felt a bit out of place; occasionally text about releasing a bird would be repeated.

There were moments of tension (did I do the right thing letting the Wren get out when they were anxious?) which helped improve the game.

Overall, I liked it; I do think it could use a little more polish on a few things, but I think this is a game the author can be proud of.

Constraints, by Stephen Granade

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A very complex-appearing game for Walkthrough comp, March 25, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Walkthrough comp was a competition that had a bizarre 'walkthrough' posited to have been sent by telegram, and each game had to be designed to make the walkthrough make sense.

This game is very rich and complex-seeming, starting with a bizarre meeting with an occult man deep underground. It moves on to magical painting abilities and a sexually harassing duck.

It interprets the walkthrough in very creative ways, making parsing the walkthrough the hardest part.

The walkthrough itself is here:

The one command I didn't understand was 'put grey on', possibly because I dallied around too much in one scene.

As a narrative, it's disjointed; as a game itself, far too complex; but as a walkthrough comp entry, it's fantastic.

While Rome Burns, by CSR

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An unpolished first game about Emperor Nero, March 25, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

It is clear that this game wasn't really finished. It even says so in the description, that it is a first game, rushed, etc.

The idea is that you are emperor Nero and that you are furious, because it is the day of your concert, but instead of paying attention to you, everyone is crying about their houses burning!

You have to investigate three different groups of people to find out what's going on, and then try to get your concert going.

The amount of typos and such increases as the game goes on, with errors in Twine popping up and at least one blank spot. However, I do think it's being updated during the comp, since it says only the Epaphroditus path is finished, while I was able to talk to a few people.

The text is descriptive, and the interactivity is actually a bit fun (should you sacrifice dignity and talk to the guards naked?), but this just needs more polish. Emotionally-wise, Nero is a bit too much of a single note--his arrogance just gets hammered over and over again without anything to contrast it with.

From what I've seen, I think this author could make great Twine games with just a little more preparation and time.

The Bony King of Nowhere, by Luke A. Jones

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Quest fantasy adventure with a snarky attitude, March 25, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I played this game years ago but somehow never reviewed it.

Luke Jones wrote several games in the mid-2010's that had a unique style of humor to them. The games tended to be implemented in kind of a sparse way but to have lots of characters and lots of dialogue. A typical example of the 'Luke Jones' style is the opening of this game, with words like:

You see an apple, a log, and Your Dog here.

But there's also a pigeon that drops a letter at your feet then flies away saying 'F*** you!!'

The goal of this game is to deliver a letter to a king in a fantasy world, although the actual events end up changing over time.

There's a glulx port of this as well, which I haven't tried. Overall, Luke Jones games are just a brand of their own, like halfway between Robb Sherwinn and Zork. If you like one of these games, you'll like his others.

9:05, by Adam Cadre

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
The most-reviewed game on IFDB, March 25, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

As of writing, this game has 54 reviews on IFDB, more than any other game on the database.

I had a review of this game years ago that was mildly spoiler-y, and it was my lowest-rated review on IFDB by far (like 0 out of 9 people found it helpful).

I thought I'd give it another go.

This game is short but memorable, and its main defining feature is the way that it sets expectations. Funnily enough, this helps it serve as a great introduction to IF for newbies, since each command is hinted so heavily without feeling like handholding.

For instance, in my games, on the first turn I'll say something like 'You can PICK UP the telephone', just holding the player's hand very heavily, while this game simply says 'the phone rings'.

The room prominently displays loose objects, encouraging the player to pick them up; mentions only a dresser, encouraging the player to try OPEN; clothing, encouraging the player to WEAR, which then triggers the need to shower, adding a little complexity.

Driving can be complex in other games, but hear any reasonable actions with the car will get you in and going. Even the (Spoiler - click to show)ID card, usually something people code in a weird way, is hinted nicely with saying the reader has a place for you to INSERT the card.

For most people, at least in the years when this came out, the events in the game are completely reasonable and logical ones that they've either experienced or seen on TV (younger players may be confused you can't take the telephone with you). For experienced IF players, the bare-bones house descriptions are par for the course. So in this way, the author manages expectations in a brilliant way.

In my last review, I dinged the game for its bland prose, but looking back, it manages to add a lot of character in small ways. Like, if you eat the pop-tart, it says 'It's not Sunday brunch at Le Trop Cher, but it'll do.' That's clever. So it's not that the game isn't well-written and punchy, it's more like an optical illusion where it takes good descriptions and interesting responses but puts them into the same overall 'shape' as a bad, first 'my apartment' game so you just gloss over them until you realize they had more depth than you thought.

Overall, an interesting game, and an influential one.

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