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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A Matter of Heist Urgency, by FLACRabbit

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A brief action-packed pony parser game, February 7, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a parser game where the characters are all four-legged hooved creatures. It of course reminded me of My Little Pony, similar to the Daring Do episodes.

This game is unusual in that instead of focusing on traditional puzzles, it consists of primarily action sequences, outside of an initial investigation sequence.

The author says in the notes that the only way they could think of to make the fights interesting was to have multiple opponents. I have to say, I think it does help. I've played a lot of parser games with combat in them, and some of them are pretty great (like Gun Mute) but others suffer. I think the multiple opponents here help since it allows for strategy, like taking out the strongest one first or the one attacking your ally.

The implementation was actually pretty good. Something about the game as whole, though, felt just a tad thin, and I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it feels like there just could have been more, like using your powers more, more detail about you and your backstory, etc.

Edit: Since I wrote this, the game was updated with a cool little backstory if you are doing well after the first fight. It uses a technique that's very rare in parser games, and which would be annoying if overused, but is actually really cool here and helps fill in some of the gaps.


Le Morte D'Arthur, by Chris Crawford

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An unusual epic-length retelling of King Arthur with longterm choices, February 6, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I played version zeta-3 of this story.

This review is a bit odd to write, as I'm approaching it from two points of view. On one side, this game is a definite artistic statement. The author writes in the overview:
"It's not a game. It's not interactive fiction. It's not a puzzle. It's not action-packed. It's not fun. If you're a gamer, you'll hate it and should not play it. It's not interactive fiction. If you like interactive fiction, you probably won't like it. The reason such people should not play Le Morte D'Arthur is that it violates all the norms of these firmly established genres."
And so as someone who does like interactive fiction and puzzles and action, I have to take that into account. It's essentially like a vegan reviewing a steakhouse, and so as someone not from the target audience, I wouldn't take my feedback to indicate necessary changes.

On the other hand, I also have to see how I feel about the game just as a game, as if I had found it out in the wild, even though it's impossible for me to be completely subjective.

In this game, you play as King Arthur. Most fantastic details have been removed; though I haven't seen it or read it, I'm reminded of the showrunners of Game of Thrones who reportedly stated that they tried to strip as many fantasy elements out of the show as possible, as 'We didn't want to just appeal to that type of fan'. Here, too, it seems like the author has strived to appeal to a broad audience. There is no magic, and the traditional systems of chivalry or witchcraft or even tragic noble love are generally missing here. Instead, the focus is on a life of poverty, sickness, animals, and decay after the exit of Rome.

Play is based on little storylets that happen one right after the other, with a few choices per page of text. The game is very large and mostly cyclical, with Arthur dealing with local disputes, having family discussions or issues, spending time with his dog or nature, fighting the Saxons, and discussing with Merlin in turn. Each of these elements progresses as time goes on.

The discussions with Merlin are a focal point for the author, and seem to be the central thread of the game. They are posed as Socratic dialogues, with Merlin asking you questions, generally correcting you for your mistakes.

Now I'll take about my five criteria for rating IF (which as the intro says, this game isn't designed for standard criteria, but I find it useful as a way to organize my thoughts):

Polish
The game is polished. While it is still being updated and there are some unfinished artwork, it is a very large game and has few issues for its size, and no bugs that I could see. The ending (Spoiler - click to show)has a surprise use of video, which was well done.

Descriptiveness
The game is very descriptive. It depicts a squalid and lawless world, with crude but humble people. It paints a picture of decay and loss, loss of culture from Rome and loss of life and land from the Saxons.

There were a lot of features I wasn't sure whether were historical or not, so I looked it up. For instance, battles tend to have very high casualties, so I looked up how common that was at the time. There is a great deal of rape and sexual interactions with young teenage girls in the first half of the game, so I looked up how common that was. There is a casual disregard for life and a system of slavery, so I looked up about that. Sometimes what I found agreed with the game, and sometime not, but there is a lot up in the air.

The text uses few archaisms but throws in some celtic curses. The language is brusque and casual, with references to farts and diarrhea but also tender family language. There were a few incongruities (one noble uses modern slurs to insult another as a (Spoiler - click to show)pu**y fa**ot).

Interactivity
The storylets are disconnected. Choices from one are generally not brought up later on. Instead (behind the scenes) incremental changes to overall stats are made, like Choice of Games. You need not worry if you make the wrong choice about who should lead a clan or who should be put to death, as it doesn't affect anything later down the road. That's only at first, though; the last 25% of the game has many important choices to make.

The interactivity does feel better as you go along. At first I felt like I could pick anything and it really didn't matter, while near the end it did matter more.

I had a very satisfying ending right until the last screen, where I was more or less informed I had been defeated (the code for my ending was (Spoiler - click to show)defeatresolution. I support being able to 'lose' in long games, but I think it can be done in a more satisfying way. In fact, the ending was pretty great; I think one or two lines might make it more satisfying. It's rough after playing a 6 hour game that takes quite a while to replay to hear 'you played wrong as a player' rather than 'your character made wrong choices', which are two different sentiments, and I'm getting more of the first sentiment.

As an accessibility note on the ending, (Spoiler - click to show)I had difficulty hearing the voice as I was in a public space on a quiet computer without headphones. Having a text transcription or subtitles of both sides of the conversation could be useful, even if it only appears after.

Emotional Impact
I started this game with a bad attitude, and felt justified as the game was often repetitive at the beginning with low stakes in most choices.

But, due to the slow buildup and epic length of the game, I began to know the characters a lot better, from the local doctor/healer to Mordred and others. It made the ending actually quite satisfying emotionally (outside of the very last few lines), and felt like there were real stakes in dealing with betrayals and friendships and loss.

Would I play again?
I might, although it is difficult to say. The game is very long, and the mechanics are more or less intentionally obfuscated. There is no real way to look at options and think, 'What is my strategy here?' Sometimes being bold pays off, sometimes it hurts you. I think that's a great way to introduce real-life ambiguity into a game, which was why I was so surprised to have 'you played right' and 'you played wrong' as endings. With all the micro choices over the course of the game and no indications as to what their effects are, I think there's room for endings that are equally valuable for the player, just varied in the actual results.

Overall, if I had found this game on its own, I would have thought it was a marvelous game. There are parts of it I don't agree with in terms of treatment of women and some language, but I am often an outlier in feelings of that sort and wouldn't base any decisions off of that. Due to that, and to my feelings about the combination of unclear consequences and strongly delineated endings, I'm giving 4 stars out of 5. I think most players who stick it out through the lengthy game will enjoy it, and I would consider it a success and one I can recommend to others in the future as an excellent historical fiction and military story.


Le grenier de mon grand-père, by Tellington

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Spy on grandpa in this text game with graphical UI, February 4, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game reminds me a bit of Sweet Dreams by Papillon or of Bitsy games. Basically, you control a character on the screen and you interact with objects by hitting the space bar. Then you get some text or possibly some options.

It's a relatively short game, but well-done and polished. Your grandfather never lets you up into the attic, but you've sneaked in and now you're going to discover the truth for yourself. The relationships depicted are by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, and there are definite funny moments (like the expressions grandpa makes when you ask very personal questions).

The game's only fault, to me, was that it was fairly brief, giving a limited sense of interaction. I don't think a game has to be long to be great, but I feel like this game didn't fill up the full size of its concept. I did enjoy it, however.


La harpe du Dieu-Rouge, by KorWeN

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Complex and evocative game about a town and its secrets, February 3, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game grew on me quite a bit over time.

It's a French Comp 23 game and written in a beautiful and evocative style. For instance, you start in a part of the city called the Luna Plaza that has a kind of mirror-like thing that reflects the stars so that you have two night skies.

You are in a medieval kind of town, and lore and secrets abound. I thought I had seen a lot of the game when I found a strange little house where a man talked about things like 'software' and 'photographs' that made no sense to me, a medieval person, but that was just very early on in the game. Later on, I found a lot of worldbuilding, some mythology, etc.

At first the game felt constrained, and then it had paths that branched so much I worried I was missing much of the game. But then it really opened up, and I truly began to understand the scale of the game. It was still manageable (a couple of hours), but quite large.

There are many people in this city, and as the time of day changes, what you can do with them changes.

In addition, the game has hover-over text, which lets you get additional info on things and occasionally provides extra interactions.

Overall, I found the writing very descriptive and had fun finding little secrets. I found one ending early on but stuck around for a final ending, which required a difficult choice. Great game.


Archives et trahison, by Doublure Stylo

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An Ink game that turns a round of magic the gathering into a story, February 3, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was vibrant and full of life but also pretty confusing. I couldn't tell if I was just confused because 'bad french' or because the game was weird.

Once I finished it and saw the attached youtube video it made more sense, and it's kind of a cool idea!

Basically the author played a game of Magic the Gathering: Arena and then wrote a story imagining how all those things could have happened. So, for instance, Ormos the Archivist gets played, so Ormos becomes a character in the story, a beautiful archivist you fall in love with.

Some of this translates well into a story and some doesn't. In many parts of the game, you have a bunch of links with unhelpful names like 'a little chat' or 'call a professional' that don't tie into the story. Clicking them sometimes has no effect, but sometimes has a longer story. Overall they don't seem to affect the main storyline much, as I played a couple of times to see what happened.

So I think the polish and interactivity of the game are a little weird, but I did play more than once and found the MTG idea amusing.


Retour vers l'extérieur, by No Game Without Stakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A bunker escape game with nice UI, February 3, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game was real surprise for me. I was looking for something short to play in the French Comp, but this ended up begin quite large.

You are in a bunker during a world problem (something like Covid but bigger, forcing many people underground in bunkers).

The game is split into two sections. The first is a complex computer system with areas like digital libraries, an encyclopedia, archived footage, etc. The second is the bunker itself, which you can explore, including lockers, a library, etc.

The system used is Moiki, and it looks great, with satisfying fonts, click effects, images, and music.

Overall, the story was quite complex. I had to use hints eventually (I didn't realize at first that you can't access later hints without accessing earlier hints). I feel like the ending I received didn't resolve all the narrative threads, but I liked it overall.


Quel Roi êtes vous ?, by Léo Tranlin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fun, short branching game about defending from treason and war, February 2, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This French Comp game uses the theme of 'betrayal' well. An army is coming to your castle at your weakest moment. Someone must have betrayed you, but who?

The game is short but pleasingly symmetric. There are three suspects, each with three possible actions (consult with them, accuse them, and interrogate them). When it's time to face the enemy, you have three choices.

There are a lot of endings, mostly bad ones, of which I received two, but overall it was fun. The text doesn't vary much based on your choices so you can replay very swiftly. Investigating the treason felt interesting. Overall, the game is short but with a fun pattern.


Alice, by SAB

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Brief but nice-looking fantasy Twine set in Spooks universe, February 1, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I've never read the Spooks series before (called The Last Apprentice in US), but this story makes it seem really cool.

This game is set in the Spooks universe, and follows Tom and Alice, the main characters from the series. You play as Alice, a young woman raised to be a witch who escaped before you became completely evil. However, your actions can increase your connection to the darkness, so you have to be careful.

There is a cool font and some nice coloring on the links. The writing is descriptive as well, and is friendly for people like me who aren't familiar with the book series.

There were two slight disappointments for me: one is that the story was cool, but the ending I found was anticlimactic (it was a 'happy' ending and just ending right after a quote from her father, which sounds like a great ending but it just kinds of cuts off). The other weird thing was that the moon image sometimes cut off the text.

Overall, I was glad to have some real choices; there's at least one choice that splits the game into two very different branches. It does feel a bit unfinished with the endings, though, and has potential for a much larger game.


The Manor at Whitby, by L. E. Hall

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A rough and buggy but compelling short Lovecraftian game, January 31, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Honestly I was surprised to see this game was entered in the Jay is Games Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7, since I associated that with one room games (like the excellent Dual Transform by Zarf or Fragile Shells by Sargent). This game isn't a one-room game at all, but has a large manor to explore.

I love Lovecraftian horror games, so I enjoyed the storyline of this one. You have a cousin that has passed away, so you go to his house in order for his mother, your aunt, to bequeath various possessions upon you.

The horror in the game leans heavily on fossils, a feature I haven't seen as much before, as well as some more normal archaeological finds. Also, fire-building takes a prominent place in the game.

The game is very buggy. Most items mentioned in room descriptions don't exist at all. Four items with similar names cannot be disambiguated one from another. Items often can be read or examined but not both. There are odd spacing issues. I reached an ending and the game didn't end, just a statement indicating an ending and nothing more. I reached things in the wrong order, like reading a letter before opening an envelope or putting things in a slot and then later revealing the slot.

Because of this, I resorted to the (very nice) walkthrough early on.

The highlights to me were the fossil stuff and the cool map you find. The drawbacks were the bugs, which were so prevalent that I didn't feel like replaying to try for a better ending.


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.


The Usher Foundation VIII: The Spiral, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Madness and minotaurs in a metropolitan subway, December 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the eighth in a series of short Twine games based on the central themes of the Magnus archives.

This one is based on the Spiral, associated with the feeling of losing you mind, as well as being lost.

In this Twine game, you are exploring the subway tunnels under NYC after a hurricane as part of your job, when your crew comes upon a perfectly preserved wooden door deep underground that leads into a well-lit, carpeted hallway.

The game employs some clever mechanics to track the feeling of slowly losing your senses.

My five star rating is not necessarily because I would recommend it to everyone as being an exceptional game, but because it satisfies my personal rating criteria in terms of emotional impact and interactivity.


The Usher Foundation VII: The Slaughter, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Civil war reenactment gone terribly wrong, December 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the 7th in a series of Twine games centered around the main themes of the Magnus Archives podcast. This one is based on the Slaughter, or fear of mass violence and death.

In this Twine game, you are hired on to help with a Civil War reenactment, helping fix uniforms, belts, etc. But one of the men has a strange book, and you almost feel like you've gone back in time...

This one didn't pull me as much as the others in this series, probably because the Slaughter has always felt like an academic fear to me, given that I've been lucky enough to avoid direct contact with war during my lifetime, only seeing it in the news. The best parts are linear and the branching parts are rather dull, so I'm glad to see this one go and move on to the next. So far this author's best games that I've seen have been ones that focus on personal connections.


Trigaea, by RynGM

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fight, upgrade, explore, recover memories, and negotiate between three factions, December 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

Inspired by Kinetic Mouse Car's review, I tried this very long Twine game.

It is at its core a cycle of procedurally generated combat, with upgrades that can be bought by the player. Upgrades are earned by fighting, and the more you explore and fight the more areas you unlock, which have stronger enemies with stronger rewards.

You play as a Corrector, a figure with unknown properties and goals, and you have the ability to come back from death due to an AI that has access to a cloning mechanism. Both you and the AI are missing large chunks of memories that you have to recover.

This is done by finding microchips to plug into the computer to increase its capacity and give you upgrades. Small upgrades cost just a dozen or so chips, while the biggest upgrades can cost over 500,000 chips.

The storyline is complex, and reminiscent of shows like Avatar (James Cameron one). You interact with three factions: human, robot, and alien.

There are 15 endings, corresponding roughly to which factions you support. There are some romantic figures, lots of literary references, and some psychologically intense scenes.

Overall, I found it very satisfying, and it took me at least 4 hours to complete, much of which was through fairly repetitive combat. But it was enjoyable combat, due to the constant upgrades and escalations.

Like KMC commented, there are noticeable typos, which can be distracting, and I believe the armor plating doesn't actually work (one version of it does). But these are pretty slight faults in a large game.


The Usher Foundation VI: The Desolation, by Apollosboy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief tale of a criminal escaping a burning hospital, December 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is another entry in the series of games based on archetypes from the Magnus institute. This one is based on the Desolation, which is associated with loss and fire.

Thematically, it works well; it features a burning hospital and a health point meter, and has some complex decisions in regards to human life.

Emotionally, a lot of it didn't land with me; the PC is unequivocally bad, so it sets you up to play as a bad guy, but then presents moral decisions which would be completely straightforward for a villain in distress.

And the 'overarching plot' section at the end felt a bit like an exposition dump, one that is well-needed but could have been dragged out a bit more.


The Usher Foundation V: The Eye, by Apollosboy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Magnus archive fangame about being watched, December 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the fifth in a series of 12 twine games about types of fear from the Magnus Archives podcast.

This story is about the Eye, or fear of being watched.

Like the others in the series, it is short, with a couple spelling errors. But it does some fun tricks that make you, the reader, feel that your personal space is being invaded or that you're being surveilled, in addition to the regular story, giving a more direct version of the fear than the other stories so far.

Besides these tricks, the main story is about a man selling off his dead father's possessions, including a very large collection of glass/plastic eyes. But he starts to get a feeling that he's being watched.


The Usher Foundation IV: The Vast, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Interestingly-styled Twine game focused on adrenaline and open spaces, December 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game is the fourth in a series of Twine games centered around the Magnus Archive podcast. This one centers on the Vast, or the fear of very large things like the sea, sky, or space.

Except...this one's not really about fear. Quite the opposite, really. This story is about two girls that meet and start to bond romantically over falling, whether tripping on a sidewalk, bungee jumping, or skydiving.

The game implements 'vastness' into its styling, with very long pages to scroll through; it's actually very effective, I liked this quite a bit. It adds a bit of interactivity to an otherwise linear story.

I was a little disappointed that this doesn't really follow the modus operandi of the Magnus Archives. No one is really afraid, here; this is honestly a feel-good love story with a bit of drama at the end. Which could be great, if that's what you're looking for.


The Usher Foundation III: The Buried, by Apollosboy
A brief horror story about a gay couple and deep snow, December 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the third game in a multi-part series based on the Magnus Archives. This one focuses on the Buried, or the feeling of claustrophobia.

The main characters are a gay couple on a vacation to a cabin in the mountains. One of them finds a disturbing book in the cabin, a copy of a Jack London novel that's not quite as it should have been.

As the story progresses, things get increasingly more frightening. I actually found the writing very strong, feeling visceral discomfort from the horror.

Unfortunately, I found some formatting issues, which others apparently also experienced. At different points, the white links disappeared, until I went to full screen, and even then I had to change the font size multiple times to reach the next links. This took away from the experience somewhat.


The Usher Foundation II: The Hunt, by Apollosboy
Spend a horrible night in a lab, December 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is the second in a series of short Twine games centered around the themes of the Magnus Archives podcast.

This one is based on one of my least favorite archetypes from the series, 'The Hunt', and it's presented in a fairly straightforward manner without a lot of twists or turns. For most of the game (spoilers for midgame) (Spoiler - click to show)you are running away from bizarre beast, dodging different directions in a maze-like labyrinth.. It was just so on the nose that I wished there was more subtlety, more build-up.

Overall, the writing is strong; in both games I've played there are occasional typos (I've been guilty of that quite often myself), but the ideas and atmosphere are solid. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.


The Usher Foundation I: The Dark, by Apollosboy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
First in a series of games based on Magnus Archives, December 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

While hunting through few-rating games from this year, I was pleased to see a whole series of Twine games based on the Magnus Archives, my favorite podcast (I've listened to the whole thing at least three times). The organization of the games in this series is based on some of the deeper lore of the series, centered around archetypes of fear.

This one is about darkness, a fear the original podcast writers said they had trouble writing effectively themselves. This one does a great job; at first, it's a pretty mild/boring Twine game about going the bathroom, but quickly gets darker...literally. Warning for those who have trouble reading, (moderate spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)the text gets harder to read and eventually you have to hunt the screen for text that pops up.

The game is pretty short and could probably have been extended, but overall I'm looking forward to playing and reviewing the other games in the series.


Black River Prison, by Sparks
Short game with colorful links about an abused prisoner aided by voices, December 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I've been browsing IFDB by searching 'added:2022' by the fewest ratings to see games that didn't get noticed this year.

This was an interesting IFDB entry: added by an author who only was on the site for a couple of days, editing this post a couple of times, with no other activity.

The game itself is actually an interesting concept. You are a prisoner in a torture chamber-based prison deep underground.

Three voices, (a red one, a blue one, and a green one) urge you to acts of escape and violence.

It doesn't last too long, but looks neat visually. There were several typos (it's possible the name of the player was some special effect that doesn't display, since the subject was missing of several lines). Overall, it could stand to be fleshed out a lot more. But the core concept works.


Towers of Hanoi, by Phil Riley

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Completely straightforward ascii art version of towers of hanoi, December 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

One of the old tropes in reviewing IF was to complain about how many people put the Towers of Hanoi in the game, since it was an old puzzle that had a well-known but tedious solution and there wasn't really any mental thought in solving it.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen many towers of Hanoi games recently, so I've lost my privilege of complaining about them.

That's why I'm glad I found this game. It's a perfectly implemented and otherwise completely straightforward implementation of Tower of Hanoi. The only implementation problem I did find was that it was a bit hard to find the instructions (typing HELP is how to start).

Now that I've played this game, I can complain about Towers of Hanoi for several more years. Thanks, author, for your contributions!


Big Nose on the Big Pyramid, by Andrew Schultz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Q-Bert in text, December 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I was browsing through games published this year without reviews, seeing if I missed any good games.

I saw an Andrew Schultz game with no reviews, which is surprising because of his well-known style and positive general audience reception of his games.

It seems this was an April Fools game in the style of the old IF Arcade pack, which had some very funny games and some very traumatic/horrifying games.

This is an optimization puzzle game where you have to change the colors of a board that is an isometric triangle of cubes, but presented in text form. Your goal is to change the color of every square on the board.

It's a fun challenge, and I appreciate that the game doesn't punish brute-forcing things. I found some fairly simple solutions, but they took a ton of turns, so getting faster would be hard.

Overall, it was polished, pretty descriptive, I had fun and liked the interactivity. This is a small and simple game, but I'm giving 4 stars because it achieves what it sets out to do in a smooth and forgiving way.


Into The Sun, by Dark Star

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An optimization puzzle set on a derelict spacecraft, December 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I played this game during the testing period.

In this game, you run into an old, abandoned spacecraft. It's a large and confusing ship, but fortunately a clear map is provided. Your goal is to grab as much of the loot on the ship as you can before it is pulled into the black hole.

This game is similar to other optimization games like Captain Verdeterre's Plunder and Sugarlawn. The main differences are that this one has an adversary, and that there is much less 'easy money' in this game than those. You can wander for quite a while before getting anything really worth something; the good stuff is all locked behind puzzles.

The adversary is interesting, strategically. You both have to prepare weapons and also deal with the effects its acid has on the terrain; it can both destroy useful items and open areas or containers that were locked.

In my best run, I made 1,755 dollars, including (Spoiler - click to show)taking the ship AI and a gold drone.

As others have noticed, the game is heavily influenced by the hit movie (Spoiler - click to show)Alien, featuring characters and the same setting as that movie.


According to Cain, by Jim Nelson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A biblical tale with a dark retelling, plus alchemical magic, December 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I helped beta test this game.

The idea of this game is that you are part of an alchemical society that possesses the ability to travel back in time. It is your job to go to the very beginning and discover the truth about Cain and his Mark.

The alchemical system in this game is rich. It consists of the four humours (blood, phlegm, etc.), their 'poisons' (substances that counteract them), and a host of other substances. It is accompanied by a gargantuan book with many pages, dozens of them. It's too big to just read straight through, so I strongly recommend NOT taking the book as soon as you get it and looking up every topic you see; the game will guide you in using the book later on.

The main gameplay is unlocking memories of Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel through alchemical means, gathering more ingredients, and learning the mystery of this early world. Often you will told a formula you need, but for which you lack an ingredient or two and must find them.

There are some tricky puzzles I struggled with as a tester, including mechanical puzzles and flashes of intuition.

The game has a darker tone to it; this is an unhappy and grim retelling of Cain and Abel's already grim story. It doesn't conform to my personal beliefs, but it's clear this is a work of fiction and a well-written one at that.


The Princess of Vestria, by KPO

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A long, well-fleshed out fantasy adventure about saving your brother, December 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I beta-tested this game, so I won't post a score until after IF Comp.

This is one of the longest games in the competition. It's a Twine game with 7 chapters, and it has quite a few choices that have a major effect on the game.

I beta tested it a year ago, when it was unfinished, and it has been substantially improved and extended since then.

You play as the young princess of the kingdom of Vestria. Your brother has taken ill. You have to go on a quest to find how to save him while also dealing with the political fallout of a failed marriage and disastrous rebellion many years prior.

The pacing, writing, and interactivity are all imperfect, but come together in the way that really good games do (for my taste; everyone has different styles they like). The genre might theoretically be described as young adult (a young protagonist, no profanity and little sexuality or gore), but the game does allow you to be frequently ruthless in ways typically reserved for adult games. There is a family-friendly version for people who want to play with kids.

This game is noticeable for having several choices that affect big chunks of the game. When I beta tested, I killed someone early on; in this run through, that person ended up as my companion for much of the game.

There is a timed section in this game which can be rough; it gives you 10 minutes, though, for a single puzzle, and you can save and reload if needed.


The Lady's Book of Decency, by Sean

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Adjust to life as both a werewolf and a high-society young lady, December 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a branching stats-based Twine game that is fairly brief, split up into 4 or 5 segments that each last an in-game week.

You are a young woman from an upper-middle class family who has recently discovered she is a werewolf. You must learn how to deal with that while simultaneously maintaining your lifestyle.

The presentation is well-done, with good font and color choices and cleverly-named stats (like ILL vs VIM and GAL vs FUR). I didn't like the typewriter/slow effect, but hitting any key skips it so it wasn't a factor.

Overall, the things I most wanted more of was more satisfying endings and maybe a little longer game. I had one ending that was just a stat getting to 0, but another one seems like I got to the end but didn't really wrap up anything (Spoiler - click to show)I ate my date at the ball. I liked the writing.


Restitution, by Anonymous

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A classic story with a small addition involving reader response, November 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game is part of a group of similar stories. Other such games by this author have consisted of a classic short story with modern additions by the author where people comment on the story, including a text box where the reader can type something which the game then interprets using sentiment analysis to change some subsequent text.

This game is no exception, although it is smaller than the others. It is also different from the others, in that its 'meta-commentary' is no longer a separate, modern story; instead, it's an addition in-universe, still with the sentiment-analysis text box. However, due to this being a speed-IF, only one text box is included.

The short story chosen this time is obscure; I only found one 'hit' when searching, on an internet archive of an old magazine.

My view on these games has certainly changed over time. I went from believing they had no interaction to believing that they are excellent at hiding all the interactivity.

A game that makes you think its responding to your actions, even if it doesn't, is a game that is very fun to play, if only for one time. (For instance, see Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies). But the converse is true; a game that does extensive work, but leads the player to think it does none, is not fun to play. Simply putting a message next to the box that is, as the author once said, metaleptic (or maybe extra-diegetic???) saying 'positive sentiment detected' in green and then highlighting the subsequent changed text in green or using red for negative sentiment would instantly improve reaction; this is just one idea, there are many ways to make it look like the game is really thinking.

Like a character says the movie The Prestige:

"The trick was too good, it was too simple. The audience hardly had time to see it[...]he's a wonderful magician; he's a dreadful showman. He doesn't know how to dress it up, how to sell this," and I think that applies to this whole series of games.


You Are a Zombie Yelp Reviewer, by Geoffrey Golden
A light snack of a game about reviewing zombie brains, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game has a pretty simple concept and executes it well. You are a zombie who has just completed a tasty meal of brains, and so you write a yelp review.

You pick the number of stars, describe its connection with past meals, discuss how you approached the entree/victim, etc. It's all pretty brief, but I didn't see any bugs, and it was descriptive and funny.

Overall, a nice note to end playing the ectocomp games on.


Starlight Shadows, by Autumn Chen

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Assemble your super team and fight, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a speed-IF written in 4 hours or less. It's written using Dendry.

Basically, you're at a party and need to assemble a party of fighters to take on a coming entity. You have both telepathy and future-telling abilities. You can use your telepathy to talk to others and know what type of arguments will convince them most.

There's still some puzzle elements, despite the mind-reading, as you have to figure out how best to implement what you learn. I always liked Divination specialists in D&D and this game seems to show exactly why being skilled in information gathering would be an excellent power.

This story is brief, but has easter eggs from the author's other works, including A Paradox Between Worlds (referenced in on friends' costume and favorite book series), and The Archivist and the Revolution, referenced in encoding data in DNA.


BLACKOUT, by Playahead Games
It's the end of the world. What do you want to do?, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a speed-written IF game using the Twine system. In it, the singularity has happened, but technology is giving humans exactly 7 days to do what they want with their lives before being assimilated.

It's a sobering situation. The emotional stakes are subtly raised by changing the background color every day.

This is a speed-IF, so options are limited. The main options here are to write or to go outside. I varied back and forth between them, and had an ending that to me was satisfying.

Shoutout to the very specific descriptions of listening to local indie bands, felt very realistic.


origin of love, by Sophia de Augustine

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Love poem about romantic encounter with a husband, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This brief game is essentially a poem about physical love between the main character and their husband.

It is simultaneously explicit and not, similar to the Song of Solomon, which represents sexual feeling as a form of divine worship. This short poem combines both that religious sentiment and also a form of physical violence.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and each person experiences romantic and physical attraction in different ways. While I could appreciate the author's emotion and feeling, I didn't feel a universality in the experience that called me to share in the experience.

The styling is quite complex, with shades of pink and red. The majority of interactivity is in moving to the next page or clicking on words to get essentially footnotes.

Overall, I valued the elegance of the language the most.


ZIT, by Amanda Walker

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief, pustulent game about a horrendous zit , November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a surprisingly polished game for 4 hours (I've said that a lot this comp, I wonder if this shows that I don't use my time as wisely as others do).

You have a job interview coming up, but you also have a massive zit! It's described in excruciating detail. You're in a bathroom with a little but a few things in the drawers and your cell-phone.

To me, the real appeal of the game is in the insight into your loved ones. Each one you call has a different reaction, some of them showing off a poor moral character, others a sweet or charming one.

The other big component is dealing with the zit itself. I had some trouble near the end with the game saying I hadn't done something when I had already done it, but it fixed itself pretty soon. Overall, a strong entry.


The Trials and Tribulation of Edward Harcourt, by MelS and manonamora

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent gothic horror choice game, currently a WIP, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I loved the part of this game that is currently complete. It's a well-style gothic horror game involving you and an old acquaintance, Edward Harcourt.

The idea is that you are one of the few people who are acquainted with Edward Harcourt, who has newly come into power and position. He has asked you to join him at his castle, where you have to deal with suspicious servants, dark dreams, and a town filled with unfriendly folk.

The demo has a lot of branches that seems to really affect the game, as I chose one of three backstories and ended up with some lengthy sequences regarding that backstory later.

So far, only the first two chapters are complete. It's still enjoyable, but I'm definitely interested in seeing the final product. One of my favorite Choicescript games was Heart of the House, which has similar vibes, but this one is taking some different directions that make it fresh.


Zombie Eye, by Dee Cooke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief but frightening Adventuron game about a zombie eye, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a pretty surreal Adventuron game with images and a little music about confronting a giant Zombie eye in the London Underground. It involves a lot of sensory details, including sound and touch, in ways I found pretty poetic.

Dee Cooke is perhaps the adventuron author I know best, having made several excellent games before and winning or placing high in a lot of comps. I was surprised when this game was so small, then impressed when I realized it was in the 'made in 4 hours' division instead of the 'longer than 4 hours' division it seemed like it was in. This is pretty great for a speed-IF, with conversation, a reactive NPC, and graphics and sound.

Overall, it's a nice little treat with good atmosphere and some perspective shifts.


Something Blue, by E. Joyce

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A riff on gothic horror and folk tales through letter rewriting, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a charmingly complex game for one written in less than 4 hours for a speed-IF.

You are essentially a protagonist in a gothic novel, writing to your sister about your husband whose previous 6 wives have mysteriously disappeared. You can choose several different versions of each letter you write to communicate different tones, leading to different endings.

This rewriting mechanic is reminiscent of Emily Short's First Draft of the Revolution, another letter-writing game that involved cycling through different options; in fact, that game inspired the cycling mechanic in Twine!

The mechanic here hovers between too simple and too obscure but lands, I think, in a happy medium. The writing is a pleasure as always from this author, with many references to well-known tales (and some less well-known; I was glad to see Ann Radcliffe mentioned, as Mysteries of Udolpho is one of the few gothic novels I've read). Very neat overall, especially for such a short time-period for game writing.


HSL Type Ω MEWP Certification Exam, by Duncan Bowsman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A multiple choice certification quiz with extensive manual (but spooky), November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This gave me a chuckle, especially as a high school teacher. The game consists of two parts: a 1000-line text manual and a 35-question multiple choice test.

The game encourages you to do exactly what most students do when studying: start the assignment first and only look up answers as you go along.

The text is dry, an imitation of standard technical writing, but sprinkled with a variety of frightening or hilarious spooky situations, like scissor lifts made of solid flesh or horrifying accidents brought on by improper rituals.

Overall, there's a lot of effort here and the extra flavor is good. But a simulation or parody of a boring thing is often, itself, boring, and while there's a huge effort here to alleviate that, it doesn't fully succeed. As an idea, though, the whole setup is very clever.


Cell 174, by Milo van Mesdag

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Grimdark prison interview, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game, written in Ink in 4 hours or less, has you, apparently a psychologist, interviewing a cold, emotionless killer.

You have to ask about his life, his actions, and his dreams. He is emotionally unstable, so you have to be careful what you say. Your comments can make him shut up or open up.

The game uses a variety of charged language and imagery, including strong profanity, descriptions of violence, incest, misogyny, and violent death, and strong hatred.

It's all very grimdark. This man is irredeemably bad, and seems to hate himself or everyone around him.

It has some interesting narrative twists and the craftmanship in the choice structure really spoke to me. But the content did make me feel deeply uncomfortable, which is a subjective thing that of course differs from reader to reader.


MARTYR ME, by Charm Cochran

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A torture/religious game written in 4 hours or less, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

(I discuss some body horror stuff in this post, so squeamish may want to skip)

This is a speed-IF made for Ectocomp. In it, you play as a victim of a torturer who sadistically injures you.

The game is quite gory. There's a lot of things that various games can have that makes me uncomfortable and not play, but I don't really hear that as often from other players. So when several commenters on other websites had said this game made them feel deeply uncomfortable or stop playing, I was expecting perhaps the most horrible game ever created. With such foreboding expectations, the game itself, while still excessively gory, wasn't quite as bad as I thought.

For one, you are a very willing and happy participant in the events. While the descriptions are written to shock and horrify, is it all that different than a C-section, or a dentist visit? I go to the dentist, and they stab the roof of my mouth with a needle and then grab my tooth with pliers and pull as hard as they can, ripping out what's essentially a bone and leaving a bleeding cavity for weeks. So the game wasn't quite as bad as I expected; in fact, the part that turned me off the most was the first ending which had some unexpected misogynistic language.

Overall, the game captures a rapturous tone in a way that reminds me of some of Porpentine's work, specifically Their Angelic Understanding. The violent torture in exquisite detail reminded me of Paperblurt's The Urge.

I don't recommend this game in general, due to a few people having an adverse reaction (and me personally not being a huge fan of torture), but I think the craft is well-done and the writing is descriptive.


THROW. MARIA. OVERBOARD., by Travis Moy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief Choicescript tale about a troubled ocean voyage, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a speed-IF written in 4 hours or less, written using Choicescript (which is a hard engine to do speed-IF in). It features a dinner party in old Constantinople, where you, a ship's captain, have to tell the story of a fated ocean trip that leads to the title of the game.

The story itself is bizarre and perturbing, and well done. The opening setting is also solid. Other parts of the game are a bit patchy, as is usual for speed-IF, since time runs out; the main things here are the quickly-sketched out endings and the fact that some parts of the game are written in rhyme and others are not.

Still, the story itself is very solid, and I like this setting and would like to see more. The only Byzantine/Constantinople game I've seen before is Kyle Marquis's Silverworld, also in Choicescript. Overall, I'm glad I played this short Ectocomp game.


Untitled Ghost Game, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A time management game where you make your house as creepy as possible, November 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I had a lot of fun with this game. Modeled on Untitled Goose Game, your goal is to cause trouble. Specifically, you have 6 hours before the new owner of your house arrives, and you have to make the house as scary as possible before then.

It's a cost/benefit analysis thing that requires trial and error: some actions take a ton of time but provide little benefit, others are short but trivial, some are heavy hitters. It requires some replay, but fortunately the choices are really funny and the text is enjoyable to read.

This was made in 4 hours, so it doesn't have huge depth, but it felt complete as a game. According to my rubric:

+Polish: I didn't see any errors, and the human-voice sound effects were really funny.
+Descriptive: The game had fun descriptions of everything.
+Interactivity: I felt like I could strategize and that the game was both responsive and not too easy.
+Emotional impact: it was funny to me.
+Would I play again? I played through three times.


One More Page, by PRINCESS INTERNET CAFé
A text message horror game written in 4 hours or less, November 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a relatively brief choice-based game with an interface written in Ink that mimics text messages.

You are texting your mom and your friend ash, just having a regular day, when things get strange and weird. The game's appeal is mostly based on its twist, so I won't spoil it here.

The plot is pretty good, but the dialogue and characterization are a bit generic; it's hard to get a feel for who the characters are, and their individuality. The texts are slow to come, which was a bit frustrating.

The UI looked neat, which seems like a good accomplishment. This game makes me think its author is really talented at web programming.


Nightmares Within Nightmares, by Grahamw

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A series of cyclical nightmares with inter-connected puzzles, November 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a Twine game where you have three dreams in order, over and over again, about dying.

Each dream is fairly brief, with 2-3 or 4 choices per dream. There are a lot of options, though, so it's hard to know what to do to be safe.

Fortunately, if you explore each dream enough, you find hints about the other dreams. Phrases that don't make sense at the time but later you look at options and go, 'Oh, I get it now!'.

Even after playing a couple of times, I didn't always understand why some things happened (like why the kitchen just kind of disappears or what triggers the ending for the final dream).

The writing is on-point and covers some frightening situations. I didn't feel sucked in emotionally, maybe because I was focused on the puzzle-aspects and felt safe as it was all a dream. But it was very descriptive.

Excellent work for a 4-hour game, and a neat way to do choice-based puzzles.


The Good Ghost, by Sarah Willson, Kirk Damato
A lovingly written short story about a ghost protecting a family over time, November 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is written with Twine and takes place in five acts, each of which is brief but meaningful.

You play as a ghost that finds itself in and out of existence, with the times in existence being important moments in the lives of your surviving family members. At first, there is very little you can do, but over time you develop more abilities. But it's not really a power-based or puzzle-based game; it's more about the story, about how your connection with the family deepens and grows over time.

The five acts vary between light hearted, dangerous, and sentimental. Gameplay mostly consists of navigating through the house, inspecting everything once, and then finding the one thing to return to to make things better. The pacing is excellent, as it does take some effort to finish each act but it never took long enough for me to feel frustrated.

The game does have some twists in it which, even though I saw it coming from some vibes in other reviews and though I've seen it done several times before, I did feel chills/lots of sentiment at the end, which to me means the author(s) executed the overall story with a lot of skill.

Overall, the best feature is the skill in plot and characterization.


The Sun Doesn't Shine Here, by Stanley W. Baxton
Untold horrors in a changing labyrinth with giant story twist, November 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is based on cosmic horror. You and two companions have been trapped in a shifting labyrinth for days, trying to find your way out. Tensions are rising, especially between your pushed-to-his limits friend Vlieg and your deeply-fascinated friend Tia.

The game is written using Binksi, a combination of Bitsy and Ink that uses tightly-constrained pixel art and the dialogue capabilities of Ink. You sometimes move around, running into things to talk, and other times have pure dialogue.

In the ending I reached, there was a massive shift in perspective. It was a clever concept and I enjoyed it quite a bit. However, it also brought a ton of profanity for a long time that honestly wasn't that fun to me. The big twist doesn't quite make sense conceptually, looking back, but it does make sense in terms of cosmic horror.

This game is quite complex, and I think it really shows off just what Binksy can do, for those interested in the engine.


The Enigma of the Old Manor House, by Daniel M. Stelzer

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A pleasant, methodical ghost-hunting parser game, November 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game was made in 4 hours, but has about a dozen beta testers, and it makes sense, as it is very polished.

This is a game where you explore a dark mansion with a lightsource and a helpful notebook. You are trying to find a ghost, and have to navigate around, dealing with blocked passages and places your light can't get through.

The atmosphere is generally creepy, especially since someone died there in the past. The descriptions of the dark areas are especially evocative.

Overall, it's a clever game and has some heartwarming parts.

I think it could still do with a little more polish, even with the cadre of testers. That's to be expected for most speed-IF, but it would make sense for the author to add on to it, since I could see people liking it in the future. The commands I think would be useful to have responses to include(Spoiler - click to show)POINT POINTER or STACK BOOKS, or X ROD.

I liked this one quite a bit. I used hints 2 or 3 times.


The Haunted Help Desk, by DSherwood

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A maze full of whacky horror-fied coworkers, November 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a Twine game with a neat little map in the corner showing all the rooms in a kind of maze. You navigate around with a score described as 'Survival Chance' which goes up or down depending on what you do.

It's a lot like gamebooks in gameplay style, except without randomized combat. You have different encounters with people and need to pick up various keys and tokens and other items in one area to progress in another.

Story-wise, you have to go to the help desk, but you get trapped, because it's haunted. All your coworkers are skeletons or werewolves or other wild things, and the humor is pretty goofy.

The game could use a little more polish; there were a few typos here and there, and I never really connected emotionally. But overall it was a pretty strong game and amusing while I played it. The author did add several features that improve gameplay, like the map and back button.


Zombie Blast 2023, by Sam Ursu
Zombie defense minigame written for Ectocomp, November 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a fun little whack-a-mole game written in Choicescript for Ectocomp in the Grand Guignol division.

In this game, you have a four-room house, with the baby in one corner and supplies and windows in all the others.

Your options are to forage for supplies, or rest, or, if zombies are approaching a window, to attack with shotgun or axe.

I passed one horde and leveled up, but didn't pass the next horde. It didn't seem like there'd be a lot more variety, so I didn't replay. Overall, an interesting concept.

+Polish
-Descriptiveness
+Interactivity
-Emotional impact
-Would play again


Defrosted, by Riyadth

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Man-shaped mushrooms make me maniacal, November 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a relatively brief twine game with three endings, two bad and one good.

The idea is that global warming exposed a layer of mycelium all over Antarctica that is sentient. Scientists made super-soldiers out of it by using genetics to create human-shaped versions of the very strong mushroom material. But these mushrooms tend to cannibalize each other, so to stave off their desires, humans volunteer to be companions that the mushrooms can drink the blood of every now and then.

You volunteer to be this companion, and have to fill out some intake forms and get acquainted with the area before meeting your future companion.

The game does a good job of expressing the alienness and horror of the creatures, but I'm not sure it presents as strong of a picture of the protagonist, whose motives and actions didn't always seem connected to each other or to my desires. Overall, the styling was nice and I enjoyed the ending I reached.


Trick or Treat or Trick or Treat or Trick, by Stewart C Baker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Mad scientist time-loop game written in 4 hours, November 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a game with a fun little idea for the speed-IF portion of Ectocomp. It's hard to write a parser game at all in 4 hours, let alone a time loop, so this one is pretty impressive.

I thought at first it was set in the world of Gravity Falls, since there's a guy with the name Old Man McGuffin that sounds like the gravity falls scientist guy, but the names aren't entirely similar (McGuffin vs McGucket). Either way, the game has the old scientist offload a weird time-loop device on you as a 'trick' during trick-or-treating.

The game has a pretty big map for a small game, but a lot of it is red herrings. Once you find the areas that are 'real', you can piece together what to do.

This game wasn't polished or fully descriptive (which is usual for speed-IF, including my own), but was fun and the puzzles were neat.


God is in the Radio, by catsket

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A tarot- and cult-influenced Halloween Visual Novel, November 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is an impressive game for one made in 4 hours.

It features a kind of cult or religion that has 22 members, one for each of the major arcana. You are death. One of the highlights for the game is the custom art of each member (one of which features the non-sexual nudity mentioned in the content warnings). My favorite was the high priestess, with a symbolic-looking pose.

There is also music, background images, etc. The gameplay style is Visual Novel style, with several pages of text interspersed by few but impactful choices. I only saw a few choices, and it was hard to know the outcome, but I know there are multiple endings (I got ending 2).

The story is that your cult is horrified by Halloween, when the devil's servants are allowed to walk around unless placated by candy, so you go to a house whose owners have died and decayed in order to try to hear God's voice on the radio.

Overall, the writing is well-done, descriptive and evocative, and the game is well-polished for being made in such a short time. My current preference is to have more agency in a story (or to be able to read more quickly for replays for endings), so I wish I had a bit more to do. The worldbuilding is done well, and I'm glad I played.


Escape from Hell, by Nils Fagerburg

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Big, puzzly hybrid parser game about possession and archdemons, November 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is a complex, rich game written using a custom parser-choice hybrid system similar to Robin Johnson's Gruescript, in which you have traditional parser actions like NESW movement, taking, and dropping, but all through a choice interface.

You've been trapped in hell too long, and want to get out. Fortunately, you are capable of transferring your consciousness between others, able to possess all but the lowest beings (gross!) and the highest beings (that's what got you into trouble in the first place).

The map is laid out visually on the screen in a perfect grid, and has several affordances to allow you to travel around the map.

This is primarily a puzzle-fest. For those who like parser puzzles (including me!) the ones here are excellent, with timing puzzles, pattern recognition, and required leaps of intuition. I got through most of the game but needed a major hint for finding the last 4 or 5 squares of the map.

Some of the best parts of the game involve finding a way to defeat all 7 arch demons, each representing a different sin. This part was very clever.

There is some sexual content in the game but very non-explicit, more just hinted at or left to the imagination.

The only drawback I found was the sparseness of the text. Minimalism in games isn't a bad thing; there are many minimalist games I've played that can evoke great effect. And some areas of this game were very well-developed. But I feel like some more parts or people in the game could have used a little more shine, especially since I've seen lots of bits of excellent description from this author both in parts of this game and in past games; I may not even have noticed the sparseness in, for instance, the statue rooms, if I didn't know what he's capable of.

Still, I think the broad majority of parser fans will like this one, it's very clever and fun.


Nowheresville, by Morpheus Kitami and Cody Gaisser

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An expansive city with sparse puzzles and creepy atmosphere, November 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is an interesting game; there is a large city that is literally part of hell, with tons of streets and cross streets.

Each area either just connects to others or has 2 buildings in it, with each building usually having a single person in it and a sparse description.

Wandering around, your goal is to leave the city. There is a vague air of menace, with hints of a threatening Candy Man and a creepy emptiness around and uncanny valley of NPC interaction.

You can progress pretty far by grabbing everything and combining them. I ran into some difficulty because I didn't realize that some of the random scenery in each room was useful. I've found in the past that it's generally pretty frustrating for players to have a large group of similar rooms and hiding important objects in a small number of them with no special indications; the worst case of this I've seen is the Horror of Rylvania, where there are baseboards in every room and in exactly one room you have to exam them to find a mousehole. This game is much more generous than that, but still it was hard to find the needles in the haystack.

Overall, the big city was cool. It had a similar feel to Winchester's Nightmare, which is also a giant hellscape city with sparse rooms. But this game has it's own character and style and is, I think, worth playing, especially using the source code, which accompanies it and which is organized very neatly.


Reg and the Kidnapped Fairy, by Caranmegil

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A goofy over-the-top short combat game speed-IF, November 7, 2022

This is a parser game written for the Petite Mort version of Ectocomp 2022, written in 4 hours or less.

The game is intentionally silly; a fairy begs you to help her against a bad fairy, but you have to eat a taco and taco medicine first and punch an undead gorilla.

It's short, with three main scenes. Punching is the main action, and always works, which reminds me of One Punch Man (although this would be multiple punch man). Examining yourself shows an image of a werewolf.

I teach creative writing to high schoolers, and I have a couple that likes to write stream-of-consciousness meme stories about Tyler Blevins and people in the school and random whacky fights, and this story reminds me of that style of writing.

It's quite descriptive, but unpolished. The interactivity surprisingly works well, since there's only one important verb. It was funny, but I wouldn't play again.


There Those Dare Doze, by Andrew Schultz
Quick and short wordplay game centered around rhyming pairs, November 7, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is the the first Petite Mort game I've played this year (games writtern in 4 hours or less) and the fifth entry in Schultz's series of rhyming pair games. It has less of the glitter of the other games, but has some nice coherence.

You play as someone summoned to aid some ancient beings in a great battle. To help them, you need to gather allies. The map is small, basically a cross shape, with a central area and a room in each of the 4 cardinal directions.

The story here is much more coherent than most of the games in the wordplay series, and it's nice having concrete goals and an honestly cool backstory.

The rhyming pairs are a bit tricky, though, and due to speedy implementation there are a bunch of rhymes that didn't make it in, especially in the main room. I eventually turned to the walkthrough.

The game is not yet polished and because of that I had some trouble with interactivity, but was emotionally impactful and had some fun descriptions. I would play again after more polishing, it was pretty fun.


The Spectators, by Amanda Walker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Complex and rich historical tragedy with multiple perspectives, November 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a fine game, one of the most complex and deep I've seen during Ectocomp. I may be making this up but I swear I heard the author say she was planning on entering this in IFcomp but decided to enter it into Ectocomp to allow for more polish time. This might not be true, but it would make sense, as this game has the kind of structure and polish that high-ranking IFComp parser games tend to have.

The idea is that you play as multiple player characters, each with their own chapter, but sharing a large map: a duke's castle, where the young duchess, only 15 years old, is struggling to please her older lord, and his anger has found its expression in unpleasant ways. The various chapters provide a solid narrative arc, from introduction to rising action to climax and denouement.

The story is based off a poem (whose name I'll omit, as the authors has), and has the feel of a richly researched game. Period-appropriate clothing, art, jewelry, architecture, horticulture, etc. are described in detail.

The game has a high ratio of words-to-action; new scenes will often have page-long introductions, and single actions will often set off large chunks of story. This is often paired with a short game, but this game is quite large, with a big map and many things to see and do. Instead, the game strikes balance by providing significant guidance for most events, a style that is more of a guided tour than a puzzlebox. (I've adopted similar a similar playstyle in some of my own games, including a Sherlock Holmes adaptation; it fits adaptations well, as it keeps players on the main narrative path).

This is an earthy game in a grim world, though happiness exists for some. Players encounter domestic abuse, rape, sexual abuse, degradation, intimidation, underage marriage, and psychological manipulation. Most characters are on the bottom tiers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, concerned about physical safety, food, and sexual desires, while a couple reach for love or even esteem, but none are situated well enough to reach for self-actualization.

The map is a large castle, hard to navigate at first but slowly becoming more familiar. By the end I could make my way well-enough, but I found out after finishing that there is a map available for download. I don't feel it was completely necessary, as the oppressively large castle and getting lost adds to the sense of fear or awe in the game. And getting lost is the main source of in-game hints, outside of talking to people.

Speaking of conversation, it's a topic-based system that works pretty well, especially since you're primed on how to speak early on. I think adding 'A' as a synonym for 'T' would be useful, because ASK/TELL is a fairly common IF trope and it's usual to implement both (just now, going back in the game, I see that T stands for TALK [Noun], not TELL [noun], which makes sense. It might be worth making A/ASK/TELL synonyms for TALK/T).

It's interesting to see the connections between this game and the authors' other games. The use of poetry, either author-written or as inspiration for the whole game is a strong pattern (at least 6 other poems have inspired games by this author, including 4 in a single game). The darker historical setting is also common in these games, although the exact time period varies. This game is unusual in that there are less puzzles and more roleplaying as a renaissance character.

Overall, a strong game and one that I think everyone should check out.


A Pumpkin, by fos1

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A spooky halloween text adventure, November 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is the first released by fos1, a long-term supporter of IF through helping to organize ParserComp and other IF writing competitions and moderating IFDB.

It starts off with a gentle, fun recreate-real-life experience; there is a house that seems modeled off a real-life house, and you're asked by your wife to carve a pumpkin with your son Greg. The house contains things where you'd expect them (in drawers and cupboards), but it thankfully avoids a lot of clutter by not implementing a ton of red-herrings.

After working on your tasks, though, things change drastically and you find yourself in the Pumpkin World (as the description says, Be careful in the dark side of Pumpkin World!). Pumpkin World has more puzzles and some interesting characters.

Overall, I ended up making my way back. I had to use the walkthrough for the final command.

I think this is a promising first start. Some things I think could be improved, given more time. Probably the biggest thing I would do is add some flavor to parser errors and default responses, since that's what people see the most when playing. I find it helpful when writing games to type RESPONSES ALL during a game; it gives you a list of every default response in the game. You can then rewrite them yourself (like, The standard report waiting rule response (A) is "Okay, Dr. Law. I'll wait."), which I think is a neat effect.

Because of that, I think the game could be more polished; while the descriptions are minimalistic, they are heartfelt and positive; the puzzles were fairly well-clued; the overall emotion was cheerful; and I think my one playthrough was enough.


This Old Haunted House, by Jason Love

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Multiple choices for making a truly terrifying haunted house, November 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This Inform games looks very polished and refined, unusual during Ectocomp, which often features quickly-written games.

Also unusually for Inform, most of the machinery of parser games is omitted in favor of essentially binary choices.

You are Bone Villa (a riff on Bob Villa), working with the Property Boo-thers (a riff on the Property Brothers), and it's your job to select the perfect haunted house. You walk through ten rooms, in each of which the two brothers, Hoary and Terry, present competing alternatives to the design. At the end, your choices are summed up as one of 33 different possibilities.

The first playthrough was pretty fun, seeing the different possibilities and coming up with strategies in my mind. It was longer than I thought, since 5 rooms with 2 binary choices each would have been enough for 32 possibilities, with the 33rd being special. So it wasn't just a binary tree, which was interesting. It said I should try to find more possibilities at the end, so I replayed.

Replaying shortens some descriptions but is the same material, same choices. Eventually the game can give you hints, but it wasn't until I had played several times that I realized there was an 'ideal' house. That was confusing to me, because both descriptions just seem contrasting styles; at first it seems like they're going for an 'over-the-top vs restrained' thing in the choices but that turned out not to be the case. I was puzzled on how you could have a best house when there was little chance to distinguish between them.

Eventually, you can summon help, which helps you find out that (moderate spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)different choices correspond to different 'colors'. But even with that hint I was a bit bewildered.

I think 10 choices is a lot for a game that is intended to be replayed quickly and has no other new content between rounds besides finding out your score and placement. I think more clues as to the system could have helped as well.

I played about 5-6 times through, then decompiled to see what a perfect game would be like. I saw in there that this game is actually (Spoiler - click to show)based on an earlier 10-choice game by the author, reskinned to be haunted.

Overall, I think experimentation like this is what drives IF forward, but as an overall game experience I felt an imbalance between the rewards for success and the effort required to achieve it.


Quintessence, by Lapin Lunaire Games

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A lovingly illustrated short horror story based on Slavic folklore, November 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has really high production values. It's even got a custom loading icon! There are nice custom-styled fonts and colors and background images, and the text is rich and subtle. It includes cyrillic letters in cursive (I think) which say 'Welcome, sister' or something like that.

The story is about Rusalkas, water spirits that are created when someone betrays a woman and she drowns afterwards. There is a prelude, telling the story of a rusalka, and then a longer story with more choices about a young girl and the boy in the village she broke up with.

I was very impressed with much of this game, but I had some trouble, too. The text is complex, and I had difficulty following along between figuring out what's implied, jumping between multiple narratives without clear indications, and following the allusive language. And, for all the setup, the game feels incomplete; we only see the story of one rusalka, when the game seems set up to tell more.

In any case, this game could serve as good inspiration for people wanting to see how they could style Twine, it looks great, similar to Grim Baccaris's work.


You're In Deep, by Xuelder

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Branching supernatural disaster game during Hurricane in Louisiana, November 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game has you play as a well-prepared Louisiana resident hunkering down during a category 5 hurricane. Fortunately, you have an attic stocked with tons of equipment. Unfortunately, all sorts of supernatural creatures are messing around with you.

This game has nice presentation with Chapbook and music/sound effects. The color and font choices worked well for me. It's pretty brief, but has some nice non-linearity and several endings.

The thing I liked best about the game was the specific local flavor. Several of the monsters are referred to with French names or have characteristics unique to the area.

The only drawbacks to me were that each path was fairly short and a lot of the items didn't really do much that I could see.


Civil Seeming Drivel Dreaming, by Andrew Schultz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Rhyming pairs in a strange parser dream, November 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

Andrew Schultz has made many wordplay and chess games which are a lot of fun. There is a series of games now (I think the first was Very Vile Fairy File), where you have to find rhyming pairs of words. This game is the 4th in the series, which is called the "Prime Pro-Rhyme Row".

For me, the quality of these wordplay games specifically (not all games) depends on a couple of things.
1. Is it fair?
2. Is it challenging?
3. Is it coherent?

My favorites in this category are probably Shuffling Around and Threediopolis. In this series of rhyming words, I like Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey in the current IFComp. They do a good job of tying everything together and offering several paths forward.

This one does #2 well but feels a bit weaker with #s 1 and 3. There are less options for progress, both in terms of the map and in terms of words. At least one required solution used a word I hadn't heard marked as 'archaic' by online dictionaries, and a few combos used a feature the game had actively hinted against previously (specifically (Spoiler - click to show) 1-word answers, where the game says that usually those won't be needed).

There are things to help you, like the machine that says if your rhymes are close, and the Jumping Jerk, which tells you the answer once you've tried enough. I used it 5 times in this game. And, of course, there is always the walkthrough.

The other thing I think I miss from the other games is a bigger tying-together of the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this game, but I would only recommend it to people who liked the other rhyming pair games and want to get more of that experience.


Euphoria Brighter Than A Comet, by Naomi Norbez (call me Bez)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Twine romance game about a genderfluid alien trying to fit in, November 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a prototype Twine game entered in the Ectocomp 2022 Grand Guignol competition. It is kinetic fiction, which means it currently has almost no choices besides going to the next page, where the main choice is pacing. The current stated plan is to expand it to include more choices in the future.

You play as an ornithologist who is also an alien assigned as the only alien in the area of earth you're in. Everyone stares at you, because you're literally from Pluto. You've managed to get some good work done and make friends, but your existence makes others uncomfortable and you just can't fit in with human traditions.

Especially gender, which your planet doesn't have a conception of. Most of the game consists of dealing with good and bad reactions to your conception of gender and self.

I said the game contains almost no choices; one that I appreciated a lot is the ability to skip the sex scene. I honestly wished this became a standard in choice games, as I was able to enjoy the genuinely sweet romantic buildup while avoiding content I'm not comfortable with.

I had a strong emotional reaction to this game for a couple of reasons. [Apologies for the long, unrelated personal story]. One is that I almost didn't play it because I was having stressful flashbacks. I used to be a math professor, but I always struggled. I had done all of my undergraduate and graduate work in the same math department where I had a lot of friends among the professors and staff. I had done well, and people had always supported me.

But once I left to be a 'real' professor, everything changed. My research faltered, and I encountered a lot of pushback from professors in my very narrow field. I was told that I had misunderstood major parts of the research topic or left out key parts of theorems, that my research didn't really have any applications, and the most hurtful, that my writing was just bad and/or sloppy. I started having papers get multiple rejections, and since that's the main 'currency' in the math world, I lost my chance at getting a permanent job, and ended up in limbo for a few years. And my refuge, the school I graduated from and where I liked everyone, had implied they would hire me when I came back, but ended up going with other people, only hiring me for a temp job, out of pity, I thought.

I eventually left academia (which is really looked down on in the field, like complete failure), and I've suppressed those thoughts. But I started fooling around with an old research problem today for fun, and I felt so many bitter, jealous, sad, and stressed thoughts remembering those times.

So I almost cried reading the story of Beckj, because even though the setting and reasons were so different, I recognized the feeling of everyone around you just feeling judgmental or looking down on you, and feeling like everyone just wishes you would be different than you are (I remember my postdoc advisor telling me I should never have become a father, because I took so much time off to be with my disabled ex-wife and newborn.). This story is a very specific story, but I think the author has done a great job of tapping into universal experience.

It also resonated with me because of the experiences I've seen with my trans friends, both Bez emself and also the numerous trans people I've met locally. I've seen how hurt they feel when people misgender them or feel uncomfortable using their chosen name (which is odd, as so many other people have nicknames completely unlike their birth names and no one cares), and the positive scenes between the MC and the love interest seemed completely authentic.

I do think adding the extra choices in could enhance the game, so I'm glad that's in the works.


Las Cartas de Mery, by Mery

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Branching Twine Tarot game written in 4 hours, November 4, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This was a fun game to finish on while playing through Ectocomp games.

You are at a party that is winding down when your friend Mery suggests using Tarot cards to predict your future.

In the game, she deals 5 different piles, each of which contains 2 cards. When she gives you a brief interpretation, you are also allowed to pick one of the two, or to quit playing and walk away.

There are a lot of endings, including gruesome deaths, but there's at least one cute and positive ending about being creatively inspired.

There's some content warnings for sex, drugs, etc. but I only really saw deaths and the Tarot cards have some nudity. This game has a lot of endings for a game made in 4 hours, which is nice!


Exoplaneta, by BlueTeapot

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A nice, brief spanish visual novel about crashing on a planet, November 4, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I liked this short spanish Ectocomp game entered in the '4 hours or less' part of the competition; it's brief, but longer than you'd think for a game made in 4 hours. It is in visual novel style, with some white-on-black lineart and relatively few, but impactful, choices.

In my playthrough, I had 5 days to live after I crash-landed on a planet, since oxygen was running out. The main theme was discovering nature on the planet, both good and bad, and deciding to interact with it positively or negatively.

I never felt super invested in the stakes, but I thought the game was charming and glad I played it, and since it doesn't take long I think people should check it out.


Siluetas, by Fran_Kane

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A trippy Spanish binksi game about visiting a small town, November 4, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game was complex and difficult to understand at first. It's a binksi game, similar to bitsy (the game system with minimal sprites, color schemes and animations), but mixed with Ink, the scripting language.

In this Spanish Ectocomp game, you wind up driving to a small village that still has people using donkeys and children play strange games with silhouettes and with a fountain in the town.

The game has several shifts in perspective that I didn't fully understand, which I can mostly attribute to my own poor understanding but also seems to be a mechanic designed to mirror the protagonist's own troubled mental state.

I definitely found the imagery in the game disturbing and frightening, but only from a psychological viewpoint; there is little to no gore and no jumpscares or anything. I think it is effective at being frightening. Like the author says in the description, it can be easy to miss things; I missed a lot of things on the first try and had to replay. Fun, short, and easy to play.


La escalera de la bruja, by binary-sequence

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An unfinished Spanish witchcraft horror game with promise, November 4, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I was very excited by the beginning of this game but soon found that it was fairly unfinished.

The opening is very mysterious: you and your wife arrive at a house. Your wife has a bruise--is it from you, or someone else? You enter a house with 5 rooms, greeted by an old woman with dark secrets. That night, you have a terrible dream...

All of this is great. But much is left to be done. Conversation doesn't work (TALK TO, ASK ABOUT, direct speech, etc. in Spanish), and many items are not implemented. One of the few things that is implemented is an inventory limit of just two items.

The game has so many cool ideas, I would like to see it more developed. It stopped right at a very cool part! But for now I think it just needs more work to flesh it out more.


Estado Profundo, by n-n

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A well-implemented small scenario with thriller and occult elements, November 2, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

As a non-native speaker, I appreciated this game, since it was well-implemented, suggested verbs in the text that can be used (like "Montando el kit se construye un..."), and is a tightly-contained one-room scenario which limits possibilities to a reasonable amount.

The idea is that you are in a building watching a newly-born political party (the Party of the Future) holding a rally. Something odd is going on, as people and buildings around you demonstrate if you watch them closely. On the bed is a suitcase containing a disassembled rifle.

This game is short, but it had a couple of twists I didn't expect. It has one main puzzle, which I think is pretty fair. I decompiled it to figure it out, but even then it didn't give it away, I still had to think about it. I really liked the writing in this game, too, it was terse vivid and descriptive with its few details.


Halloween, by baltasarq
A cool custom engine used for a creepy murder game, November 2, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was interesting. I thought it was Twine, but it seems like a custom engine made by the author on github. It has regular links but includes a row of buttons for common actions like dropping, pushing, attacking, opening, etc.

The game has a world model with several locations and items and NPCs in them. You start with a dramatic opening: a note to yourself saying that you must kill Rodrigo.

The story is interesting and is based on a scene from a movie that left a deep impression on the author, but I wonder if it isn't a perfect fit for the UI here. I had trouble figuring out how to use a bank card to pay for food, for instance; do I click on the card itself? Open the card? Attack the card? Similarly, there were a lot of background red-herring items that had no real story use.

I felt like the story got progressively creepier, and the ending was impactful (literally). The engine overall seems very solid; I could see it working great in a larger game that was more puzzle-based.


Tratamiento Mortal, by ivsaez

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Horrific uncanny valley 3d-models with humorously extravagant characters, November 2, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is the second entry in one of the weirdest series of IF games I've ever played.

Last year I played the first game, Fiesta Mortal, which was a bizarre kind of visual novel that used Sims-like 3d models with pre-Toy Story quality and a horrifying uncanny-valley look. There was a bunch of navigation and inventory trying to stop Steisy, the popular girl, from murdering everyone and you.

This game takes everything from the first game and amps it up. Steisy, now a psychiatric ward patient, looks horrifying with an immense grin and shaved head to support the Free Brittney moment (which she later finds out has already succeeded before she shaved her head).

Her brother, Marlon (I think, I can't remember), when he isn't busy spying on his 50-year old female neighbor with a telescope, wants to visit her to triumph over her. In the meantime, Steisy has to put up with rectal inspections by angry nurse Latoya and meetings with her cellmate and doctor.

Every Spanish swear word I ever learned is used a lot, as well as a few more I had to look up. The characters are oversized stereotypes and parodies, like the flat-earther who derails the game for an intense argument about how Nazis are building bases under the earth and made the south pole as a giant wall around the earth to hide the true mega-continent that lies on the edges.

Overall, the game is inappropriate or crass or over-stylized in many ways, but that is its style, and it kind of works, to be honest. It's like watching Trolls 2 or other B-movies. I think I would have backed out if it were in English due to weird content like severed PS1-style heads, but the language barrier helped provide a buffer between me and content. Wild experience.


El Virulé, by paravaariar

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A tale of emotional resolution in older times, November 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is fairly complex and its a good chance I didn't understand it completely. It involved quite a bit of folklore and older time things that were hard to translate (and copy and paste doesn't seem to work for google translate), and it is written in a dialect that drops the 'd' at the end of words (like tablao for tablado), which was a bit tricky for me. It's written in Adventuron, and is actually a well-implemented example of the engine.

You play as a man in a Romani family whose name I couldn't quite understand (I think it means something like the evil eye?). The game is divided into two sections; the first involves obstacles in the path of a wagon trip, and involves both conversation and some standard fetch quests.

The second part is a loop where you sing or play guitar for money in a cafe, each time receiving feedback on how to improve. I started off with horrible music but eventually got much better. That unlocks some ending scenes that are quite shocking and weird at first, but, upon reading the beginning quotes of the game again, seem to represent a kind of catharsis. I got kind of stuck on this second half of the game, to be honest.

Overall, this game is incomplete, according to the author, but I found it complex and descriptive. I appreciated the manual and the suggestions at the bottom of each page.

I debated for a long time between 3 stars and 4 stars, but I'd rather be nice if I can't decide so I'm going with 4.


La Petite Mort, by manonamora
A cute twine game about a young girl helping out her spooky grandma, November 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This French game written in 4 hours has quite a bit of material. You, a young girl, are excited to go out and assist your grandmother, who is quite old and maybe a witch?

She has the strange ability to speak only in capital letters. She leaves you a note with chores you have to do, mostly feeding cute or spooky animals.

Overall, I thought it was well-written and looked nice. There was at least one bug that made it a bit hard, but that has been fixed since then.

The grandma is a neat character, very intriguing. And the UI is beautiful.


Torche et Sors, by Khü Bone

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A creepy French speed-IF about waking up in a bathroom, November 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This entry in the Petite Mort portion of the French Ectocomp speed-IF is simultaneously perhaps the most ambitious of the games I've played so far but also the one with the most problems.

It is a parser game, and you wake up in the bathroom wrapped up in something. Weird objects lie around the room, and you have to find a way out.

I thought it was descriptive and had a compelling idea, but I don't think the author had enough time to finish much of the game. Lots of objects have no description or just don't exist in the room. I looked at the code, too, which was really interesting.

In the end, I guessed half of the solution to the main puzzle but had to get help with the second half. None of the mysteries really get resolved. Overall, I think this is a good game for 4 hours of work, but would need more hours to get all the way great.


Une soirée costumée, by Julien Zamor

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A trick-or-treating CYOA in French, October 31, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is an amusing/frightening story written for the French Ectocomp competition in 4 hours or less.

It's an Ink game where you go trick or treating, and I actually found it more fun on replays to see where the 'tricks' are. You have to get a costume, meet up with friends, and choose what order to visit different houses. It's fairly short and simple, but has some strong characterization.

The writing is, as far as I can tell as a non-native speaker, slightly child-like, with run-on sentences and a carefree attitude.

I played three times, because each time I reached what I'd consider a bad ending. I think a good ending exists, but I haven't been able to find it; if anyone gets there, let me know how!


Une Histoire, by dunin
Amusing French game about getting inspiration for a spooky story, October 31, 2022

This was a fun Petite Mort game in the French Ectocomp competition (Petite Mort here meaning a game completed in 4 hours or less, quite different than its usual meaning).

This is remarkably polished for such a quickly-made game, but I think that's due to its well-chosen scope. You're in a room with just a few objects, and you have to hurriedly think of inspiration for a story. Every time you look at something, you improvise part of the story based on that object.

Each object provides a different story for each section (except maybe the very last one?), so, as it claims, there are 1024 possible stories, although there are only 20 or so distinct pieces of text to read. Still, it's fun, and includes an intro story based on an Arno Schmidt story.


Trouble in Sector 471, by Arthur DiBianca

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Minimalism with robots; metroidvania lite, October 29, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a fun medium game. The author has a long-running series of games that feature a limited parser, where only a select few commands are recognized. In fact, you could say he's a pioneer of the field.

I've come to learn how to play these games, although they're still pretty hard for me. So I was looking forward to playing this game.

You play as a robot that has to go around zapping bugs who have infiltrated a robot factory. It kind of reminds me of the MO factory in adventure time, if it was working well (the only similarities are single minded robots, but still...).

It's kind of a metroidvania situation, as you gain new abilities and items as the game progresses. There are also codes, waiting games, patterns, etc. However, there's no sequence skipping possible like in a lot of Metroidvanias.

I did better than I usually do, completing all the optional tasks and getting all but 1 of the bugs. But man, that last bug was nasty; I looked at every hint and then had trouble. It was the (Spoiler - click to show)sculpture bug. It was fairly clued, I just forgot some capabilities, which shows how complex can get.

I liked the characters in this game a lot; they were simple and often dumb but it makes sense for a collection of bots.


The Archivist and the Revolution, by Autumn Chen

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Struggle to live in a future where you extract text from bacteria for cash, October 29, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game was played at the Seattle IF Meet-up with the author narrating the game and adding her thoughts, and then I played again on my own.

You play as a future trans woman (now known as Lavernean) who has been let go and now has to do basically gig-work to make money. You also have a longterm fatigue-related illness and there's 'nanoplague' going around.

Each day you can decode more dna to make money. You also need to deal with your illness, find food, and deal with your impending eviction.

This game was hard to play because it is very realistic. I've had to do day jobs and night gig work to make food money and/or rent in the last few years, and it's pretty stressful. Three of my closest family members have fatigue-related illnesses, too, so there's a lot that hits home.

Things are pretty rough for our protagonist. It's sad but also accurate for some people I know that (Spoiler - click to show)hitting up and/or sleeping with your married ex-flame is the best way to make money.

There are a ton of endings; the writing is on-point and well-done, the characters distinct and vivid. I did find that the difficulty was (realistically) pretty high, and I kind of felt like I was slowly drowning. It takes a lot of work to be able to impart that feeling, but it was also stressful. The level of craft evident is very high, and I'm glad I played.


Under the Bridge, by Samantha Khan
A pleasantly creepy multimedia experience, October 29, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I'd first like to say that the art, animation, and audio for this game are very well done. I loved the style, and would be happy to see it again; it's unique, I haven't seen other games with the scribbly dark figures.

You play as a dangerous and large being that is hunting for food by a bridge. Humans pass by, and you can decide how to act towards them.

I played through to one positive ending (villager ending 1), but the way the game reacted to my choices made me feel like there were many very different endings. That's pretty cool!

There were some typos here and there (like "One of the small humans'", with an extra apostrophe). Overall, it was fairly brief. But what is here is excellent.


Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee's, by Geoffrey Golden

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Use mind control for corporate profit--sparingly, October 29, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

As of writing, this is tied with Esther for the most-reviewed game of IFComp 2022.

It's a fun short Ink game where you have the ability once per night per person to inject corporate slogans into people's brains.

The fun of the game is that you can use your powers to mind read 4 different 'tracks' all night (i.e. following each of the four main NPCs), jumping tracks at will, as well as watching the TV as a 5th track.

Your actions have a variety of drastic side-effects, and strategizing is fun, so I replayed several times. I do think it could have been fun to be a little longer, or have one more person, but overall I found it very impressive.


CHASE THE SUN, by Frankie Kavakich

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Flee an apocalypse while connecting with others, October 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is the last of the Texture games in this IFComp 2022 competition, of which there were quite a few.

This one is fairly long and well-developed. The world is ending: the sun hangs still over the horizon and has for days, while a storm is sweeping behind you and other strange happenings are occurring.

In my playthrough, I encountered a haven in the storm which seemed to have sinister undertones. The game ended on a positive note.

Most or all of these Texture games were written in a workshop, and they generally seem to all have some supernatural manifestation of an inward emotional issue that has to be worked through, like the ending of a relationship. I think this one handles that 'prompt' (if there was one) really well. I would give 4 stars except I didn't, for some reason or another, really connect with the emotional aspect personally, just admiring it from afar.


Nose Bleed, by Stanley W. Baxton

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A gross game about nosebleeds and social anxiety, October 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I had heard rumors about this game before I played it.

This is one of many Texture games entered in this competition, and it's probably the best-put-together one out of the bunch.

It's a visceral body-horror game in a limited sense; you have blood leaking out of your nose while at work but you feel desperately like you can't pay attention to it or fix to it or you'll be letting everyone down.

I'm sure there are many interpretations of this, but I definitely feel like it touches on social anxiety/impostor syndrome (actually, looking back, one of the content warnings is social anxiety).

The visceral text is accompanied by excellent animations that make the spreading drip of the nose bleed a lot more real. I had some trouble, though, with a completely black screen, taking a long time to find the right way out.

This game grossed me out and I didn't enjoy playing it, but I think that speaks to its quality.


Glimmer, by Katie Benson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A brief spot of hope in a life that spiralled, October 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

Katie Benson has made many games of varying length that are always well-polished, descriptive, and generally have simple, story-focused gameplay with a positive message (such as the Crumbs series), although sometimes things can get wild (like Off the Rails).

This game is a bit short but has a nice message. Each screen generally has two choices, one that expands the text and one that moves on.

The idea is that your life is spiraling out of control. Things are getting darker and sadder and you find yourself more and more isolated. But there is a glimmer, like the game name says.

I definitely appreciate seeing games from this author in competitions and hope to see more, always a positive spot.


Esther's, by Brad Buchanan and Alleson Buchanan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A charming story about mice with a few small puzzles, October 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game is small and designed for children. It has some lovingly made illustrations of little mice and the girl who runs a cafe.

Story-wise, it's about two mice who want to get special food at the cafe but can't communicate. Mechanics-wise, it's almost like a language puzzle, and had surprising depth for such a small game (like the depth of a medium-sized game).

The writing is generally pleasant; it had some, but I wanted more, humorous incongruities of the type common in good kid's stories (may favorite was the (Spoiler - click to show)fall of the pudding at the end and everyone's reactions. The whole thing feels like it was designed with prudence and restraint, maintaining a small size and scope and polishing itself in that sphere.


No One Else Is Doing This, by Lauren O'Donoghue

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Twine game about community organization, October 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a Twine game that has a brief intro followed by a large open segment where you can choose between 30 or 40 houses to knock on, each with their own mini-story.

You work for a community organization group and your goal is to collect a certain amount of subscriptions before the night is over. You have to monitor both the funds, your bathroom needs, and your body warmth. Each action takes some time to complete.

Out of all the 'simulator' games this year in IFComp, this one works pretty well mechanically, with clearly understandable variables and some ability to strategize how to use your time.

Storywise, I could partially identify with it. I spent 2 years as a missionary, and quite a bit of our daily time was spent knocking on doors, handing out fliers on street corners, or doing service work like English teaching or soup kitchen volunteering. I guess the difference is that I wasn't looking for money donations, but trying to share a religious message. I would say that the results in this game are much more positive than the ones I experienced on average!

It was well known even then that door-to-door is one of the lowest-productivity ways of making contacts. Referrals were much more effective, since you could find people who were already interested instead of bothering people who don't care. Door-to-door knocking for anything can be extremely wearing.

I'd be interested to see how community organizing plays out in real life. It almost sounds like a HOA in this game (give us money and we'll make decisions for the neighborhood). It's interesting seeing different problems people care about in the game and how the protagonist evaluates their importance.


Witchfinders, by Tania Dreams

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A relatively brief game about witches in Scotland, October 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has a brief intro about the history of Witches in Scotland, and then lets you wander around several areas with an inventory of items, taking on different quests and trying to help people while avoiding suspicion of being a witch.

This sounds like a great setup, but all of its a bit thin. Inventory doesn't really get used much, maybe once or twice. I looked around a bunch but only found one of the quests that I could finish. (I looked at the code and see I should be able to finish the other, and other reviews seem to have managed it!) There are some spelling problems (the author says it's not their native language, which is very understandable). After a while, my game just ended the day; I think it might be on a timer? And it assigned me some points.

So, overall, some good ideas, but it felt like it could be more fleshed out, I think. It had a lot of clever concepts that just didn't feel like they got fully used, to me.


The Grown-Up Detective Agency, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A comedic but heartfelt game about growing up and finding yourself, October 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

It's hard to review this game objectively. I got into IF for parser games, and it wasn't until I tried You Are Standing at a Crossroads by Cat Manning that I realized I could like Twine games.

Once I got started into Twine games, the funniest games I found were by Brendan Hennessy. I was very excited when, in my first IFComp, he entered a game, Birdland, which is the most-rated game on IFDB since 2013 and the most-rated Twine game ever. I thought it was brilliant and have shared it with many students since. The couple of mini-sequels that came out since then were enjoyable.

So when I think of 'what should a good twine game be like', or, I guess, 'what do I like in a Twine game?', it's basically 'whatever Astrid Dalmady or Brendan Hennessy write'. Which is why this isn't an objective review.

Anyway, as for the game itself, you plays as Bell Park, one of the longest-recurring characters in his games. While in past games you were a teenager full of promise, you are now an adult with history. Unfortunately for you, your younger, 12-year old self has travelled to your present and wants to know all that history.

Meanwhile, the two of you team up to find the fiance of your old crush Cassidy. In the meantime, you encounter a wide cast of characters and use a nifty map screen to choose how to navigate around town.

This game is different from Birdland. Birdland had a very consistent day/night mechanic over a week, making it clear how the game was progressing and allowing for a sense of excitement and overall motion. While the mechanics in this game are also interesting, it lacks that overall drive. Instead, though, it has a lot of real poignancy and emotional depth. How would your teenage self view you now, with all of your hopes and dreams having been tested by time? (or, if you are a teen, what's your older self going to be like?) It's a mechanic seen before in other stories, but I like all those stories (thinking of 13 Going on 30 here). It is a less substantial story physically, but has more to say, I think.

The game has excellent artwork (I went through a phase where I wanted to copy Hennessy's design for my Twine works but it was too hard and didn't really go anywhere, but I ended up commissioning art more often and he does that so maybe it did go somewhere?). The backgrounds and fonts and colors are easily readable and unobtrusive.

This game does a lot good that is unnoticeable because it's just not doing what bad games do. It gives you a sense of agency without pushing but also lets you feel like you didn't miss out on branches you didn't click on.

To me the highlight is the humor, subtly leading your expectations and then defying them. I enjoyed (minor spoilers (Spoiler - click to show)the part with with the two crowns, as well as the taurine chewing gum, just the fact that it exists). The many bizarre worldwide events over the last decade made for a lot of potential jokes at the time traveller's expense, but were selected with good sense and care (could have made a lot of darker jokes, which I'm glad didn't happen).

I really like this game, glad it was made.


HOURS, by aidanvoidout

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short Twine game with lots of worldbuilding, short time, October 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

The name of this game comes from the fact that you have 5 remaining hours and each big action or scene takes up one.

This is a short Twine game, but it seems like it has the worldbuilding for a much larger story. There is an ancient, near-immortal Shogun (named (Spoiler - click to show)Charlie????) that enslaves and tortures special people who have Curses.

A weird apparition gives you a weapon to fight the Shogun (from searching, the weapon may be inspired by Sword Art Online). You can have various fights, or just remember all the deaths in your life and give up, etc.

The game feels a bit rushed or unfinished, with lots of plot threads left hanging and some little bugs (an option near the end wouldn't let me click it, for instance).

Overall, I think this just needs more time in the oven. The slavery in the game doesn't really seem to serve a purpose besides being a shorthand for suffering.


The Thirty Nine Steps, by Graham Walmsley

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An adaptation of a spy thriller, October 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I really am not sure how to review this one, because sometimes I think it's excellent and sometimes I think it's a bit choppy.

This is an adaptation of the book The Thirty-Nine Steps. I haven't read it myself, but from Wikipedia it looks pretty cool, about a man on the run who is hunted down everywhere he goes.

This adaptation adds a good deal of additional content, and allows you to focus on being Bold, Open, or Clever. Interestingly, the choices not only increase your ability in that area, but they also affect the way you see the world about you, making you more paranoid or clueless, etc.

The game gives you a lot of freedom, but I feel like, due to that freedom, I missed a few essential plot points, such as never really learning about the people I'm pursuing. A couple of other things I feel like are confusing without context (late game spoilers:(Spoiler - click to show)I pushed a fireplace rod and a bunch of steps disappeared in a cloud of chalk. Why? What's the purpose of such a mechanism?).

So I'm wavering between 3 and 4, but I'll round up to 4.


To Persist/Exist/Endure, Press 1, by Anthony O

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An exercise in futility, made in Texture, October 26, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is one of the more polished Texture games in the IFComp 2022 competition. Texture is an engine for IF that involves dragging verbs onto nouns to make choices.

This game is primarily a phone menu system. There are a lot of options, many of them creative (like turning it all into Polish).

The overall feeling is a sense of futility or frustration. I tried out several endings, and all of them seemed to express the same sentiment.

Overall, the game is very polished and descriptive, and conveyed its sense of frustration to me. I wonder if the joke could have been extended a bit or if there could be more of a central narrative, or something else to extend this a bit. Unless of course I missed a big final ending! I've missed stuff like that before.


Zero Chance of Recovery, by Andrew Schultz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A famous chess endgame in a puzzle format, October 26, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I've avoided playing chess most of my adult life. so I never learned about famous endgame positions and puzzles.

I've learned a few recently through Schultz's work. He has several chess-based puzzle games that teach principles of few-piece chess positions, including a few mini-puzzles that teach a single position.

This one involves a setup where each side has the king and 1 pawn each.

I found it enjoyable, and liked the backstory. But I spent a long time on it due to encountering a bug in scenario 2, which I forwarded to the author; essentially there is an unintended solution to that scenario, so I couldn't figure out if my unintended solution was blocking the 'real' one of if I could still solve it. I looked at the walkthrough and found one line that more or less gave away the second solution, to both puzzles in fact (the line was that (Spoiler - click to show)the king can only focus on one pawn at a time). If that bug were patched, I would definitely put 4 stars for the rating.

As a side note, I think this game struck a good balance between 'let the player keep playing in a losing position to see why it's losing' and 'cut them off right after the first mistake'. One quality of life change I would like to see is a more dramatic heralding of completing one of the scenarios. Right now, it is very similar in appearance to losing, so if one is repeatedly replaying quickly to try different strategies (especially since there's no undo), the text can blur together, so some kind of major break (like bold, or a line of asterisks, or some other signifier) can be nice. The counter in the corner does go up, and that's the main way I noticed the scenario number increase.

Overall, it's been fun to learn more about chess through these puzzles.


Tower of Plargh, by caranmegil

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A decidedly undercooked parser game, October 26, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

Almost any game can be polished up and made great. This game needs a lot of polishing.

This is a parser game that puts you in the middle of 9 rooms, 8 of which have the same description that includes a typo. None of the standard responses are changed, ABOUT, CREDITS, HELP, etc. have no response. There are only two items.

It seemed like there was absolutely nothing to do. I eventually decompiled the code and used it to finish the game; the following set of rules may serve as hints to others:

(Spoiler - click to show)When Floor 1 begins
After dropping colored egg when the location of the player is flod room and Floor 1 is happening
When Floor begins
After jumping when the location of the player is pled room and Floor 2 is happening
Every turn during Floor 2
When Floor 3 begins
After inserting something into something
When Floor 4 begins
After touching monkey during Floor 4
Every turn during Floor 4
After pushing when the noun is Ye Shiny Red Button and Floor 5 is happening and player has golden egg and player has golden seven and player has golden octagon and player has golden monkey
After pushing when the noun is Ye Shiny Red Button and Floor 5 is not happening


According to my rubric, this game is not polished, descriptive, has obscure interactivity, did not have an emotional impact, and I wouldn't play it again in its current state.

But I don't think the effort is wasted or the author is bad. Clearly there are some good ideas here; this just needs more stuff implemented. I would recommend the author to pick the source code of one of the games you find when you search IFDB with the tag "tag:I7 Source Available", and look around to see what kind of things authors can do to make games more polished.


You Feel Like You've Read this in a Book, by Austin Lim

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A conglomeration of literary references in a surreal twine game, October 26, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is another surreal Twine game based on exploration (after just having played Lucid), but I'm happy with that since it's one of my favorite genres.

This game is built out of a bunch of literary references, starting with Neuromancer (which I've never read), and branching into Kafka, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Most of them are oblique references, ones you have to puzzle over or which potentially could describe several stories (at least for me).

The tone is fairly dark, beginning with unwanted surgery and poisoning and including a lot of theft.

The game is somewhat narrow; at first I thought there'd be tons of options or strategy but the game funnels you pretty effectively. I can say there are several options that are hard to discover and the endings can take work, so that's actually pretty good, now that I think about it. Maybe the funneling is actually a good thing, since with Lucid I had the opposite problem of too many choices.

Overall, it was pretty fun to try to puzzle out the literary references. 'Diary of Anne Frank' is a bit of a bold choice to have alongside more goofy or wild entries. But I had a good time with this. The main drawback to me was the lack of weight in the endings; to me, the endings were abrupt and didn't resolve many narrative arcs (I saw 3 endings, including a death).


The Last Christmas Present, by JG Heithcock

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A text memory of a real-life Christmas present with Harry Potter themes, October 25, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game definitely seems like a good contender for the Best Use of Multimedia XYZZY award specifically for its map 'feelie' attached to it, which is a complex map that folds and unfolds multiple times.

That map is an essential part of the game, since it marks the main treasure or objects you're looking for.

Those objects are Golden Snitches. The idea of this game is that the programmer made a real-life treasure hunt for his daughter, hiding four golden snitches in the house and creating a map that reimagined their house as various locations from the Harry Potter series.

The game itself is sparse in comparison to the lush map. Your father, Papa, follows you around, serving as a hint system, and rooms he doesn't enter are unimportant, as he feels no need to give you clues in them.

I was struck while playing with the casual, unaffected display of wealth. I've been both moderately wealthy and moderately poor in life; in my youth, my father was a video game executive and supported 7 kids in a large house with a big backyard. But his business went under, and years later after my divorce I've experienced food scarcity and can't afford a reliable vacuum or a washing machine. With that background, this house seems quite magical, with a balcony over a grand hall, a spacious backyard with water features, multiple secret passages and hidden rooms, and multiple rooms for the child, including their own bathroom. It feels like reading British books like Middlemarch (which I've been doing), seeing the life of the upper middle class or lesser aristocracy.

The game itself is charming and full of love. The two areas that I think are drawbacks are the sparseness of the room descriptions and the lack of implementation of several objects mentioned. For instance, when I first encountered the bookshelf, I couldn't X BOOKS.

As a final note, the Harry Potter themes are heavily prevalent, as a heads up for people that have strong feelings towards JK Rowling.


Lucid, by Caliban's Revenge

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal imagery, time loops, and visceral images, October 25, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is an interesting game, and kind of intimidating at first.

Basically, you are in a surreal landscape, perhaps a dream. There are many, many options at first in this Twine game, so many I felt a bit overwhelmed. They are all bizarre, like someone with a singularly non-descript face or a host of voices telling you to avoid a specific thing.

As you explore, it becomes more clear how to navigate around the map. You will also die, or end, many times, resetting in a loop. Sometimes things can carry over.

I peeked at the walkthrough a bit at first to gain confidence. I really like how this played out; the surreal imagery was cohesive and coherent to me, and it really felt sinister.

I think I would have appreciated some way to have more guidance at first without using the walkthrough, and I was a little frustrated with the very last choice (Spoiler - click to show)going into the light resets the whole game so you can't try the other option without replaying everything. Great writing overall, fun game.


[IFComp 22 - Beta] Cannelé & Nomnom - Defective Agency, by Younès R. & Yazaleea

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A long and rich comedy detective game with shares-one-brain-cell duo, October 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is quite a large and complex Twine game that has a lot of humor. It's about a mysterious male protagonist who wakes up and seeks the help of two magical detectives named Cannelé and Nomnom. They are a duo who act like siblings (maybe are?) and express intense dislike for each other while also acting pretty dumb.

The game has excellent styling with colors used for text, animations, and some minigames that are quite well done. One is a card game; another is a complex 'detective board' with red string and post-it notes that unfortunately doesn't always work well with saving and loading, but is fun while it lasts.

The game is very long already, lasting over two hours for me, and is actually incomplete. The player is invited to post their hypotheses and guesses for the finale online, with the author taking these hypotheses into account for their later writing of the big finale.

I loved the images, the interaction between the protagonist and the two detectives, the minigames, all of it. Except...

I don't like the dynamic between the two main NPCs. It's just pure negative all the time, completely unrelenting. It can be a funny bit, but I wished for just an occasional gleam of fondness, or loyalty, etc. There may have been some, but it was few and far between. This is 100% just personal taste; I think there could be many people that like this so it doesn't have to be changed. But I like 'jerk with a heart of gold' more than 'jerk with a heart of jerk'.

I also found more than a few small typos and had some trouble with saving and loading and keeping the 'memory board' the same.

Overall, this is one of my favorite games of this comp, and the criticism above is just a small detail in a great work. I'm looking forward to the finish, and can recommend this.


The Lottery Ticket, by Anonymous

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Anton Chekhov short story with lightly interactive framing story, October 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is, I believe, the third 'stateful narration' game I've played, and the first I've figured out how to get a reaction on. Edit: It was in fact the second, I have lied.

These games have an engine where you type something in a box (the game requires it to be in its internal dictionary) and then it parsers that output.

In all the past games I pushed the boundaries of it, like typing 'fart' in every box, and the game didn't respond at all. Even this time, I used words like 'deciduous', 'petrochemical', and 'brobdingnagian', and it didn't respond at all.

So I decided to just give in and type clear words like 'happy' and 'sad'. The game seemed to understand those, as well as 'despondent'. Given a couple of similar projects I've seen recently, I suspect that what's underneath the hood is 'sentiment analysis', where there is a database of dictionary words with a score associated to them about how positive and negative they are. Or not; I could be completely wrong. But that's what it feels like.

Like the other games, this has a classic short story inserted uncut and unchanged with a framing story around it. I'm not sure why this is the pattern; the short story is interesting, but it doesn't affect my feelings about the new parts of the game. It's kind of like buying a car and entering it into a car-decaling competition and putting a realistic copy of the Mona Lisa on the hood and then adding your own work around it without altering the original in any way. I think I rather prefer remixes of originals more than juxtaposition; A Fifth of Beethoven is a great remix of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, for instance.

The framing story has some interesting elements, but I found it hard to find a narrative thread or two outside of mimicking the lottery element of the chekhov story. It's possible the main purpose of the sauce story is just to provide several opportunities for the stateful interaction that is mostly about reacting positively or negatively to something.

Fun fact: the image used in the cover art is from a picture of a baby lottery held in early 1900's Paris and featured in Popular Mechanics. Pretty wild!

For my rubric, I find this game both polished and descriptive, but the interactivity could use a little more pushback on words with neutral sentiment; my main emotional impact was from the Chekhov story rather than the surrounding material; and there's not a lot of replayability here.


The Tin Mug, by Alice E. Wells, Sia See and Jkj Yuio

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A cute, short choice-based story about a mug come to life, October 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a game intended for kids about a magic cup that comes to life, written with the Strand system, which is the system used for the Magnetic Scrolls memorial and several IFComp and ParserComp games since then.

A lot of stories intended for kids end up being too inspid for either kids or parents to enjoy. This game was 'corny', but it was a kind of corny I liked and an imaginative one as well, with its own internal logic and, to me, compelling arcs, even in its short playtime. I found the writing detailed and vivid.

You play as a tin mug that has the ability to affect the world around it, especially on today, its birthday.

Choices were usually binary, often with one clearly better choice, which would make sense when teaching a young child about how choice-based games work. I guess my only thought about possible drawbacks would be that the breaks between choices are fairly large and it would be difficult to hold a child's attention that long if they're excited about choices.


You May Not Escape!, by Charm Cochran

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A procedurally generated maze with some symbolic elements, October 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I really enjoyed Charm Cochrans previous game, and I was surprised at how different this was compared to that. That one was a religious-themed Twine game with good graphics and lush descriptions. This is a stripped-down parser maze.

It's well-implemented and runs smoothly. You are met at the beginning by a man who introduces himself to you and explains the maze. You then go through it.

While it seems hideously complex at first, the vast majority of the maze rooms have only one entrance and one exit. If mapping, it's only really necessary to write down the rooms with three exits, which are rare.

There are several layers of meaning in the game, from the base Inform implementation level (with little meaning in itself), to the maze itself, to the objects in the maze (like the lizard you can follow or string you can leave behind you), to the messages from Everyman and the LED tickers, to clear political statements that are plain and not symbolic (especially (Spoiler - click to show)the gravestones describing people who died from being denied an abortion for a non-viable pregnancy or who died without anyone using their real chosen name).

Overall, I enjoy surreal games and well-implemented games. I thought that a lot of the messages were delivered well, and if it is designed as a way to feel the frustration of being a marginalized person in a white male cishet-dominated world, I think it demonstrates it very well (also the frustration of caring about the climate or similar issues and getting a lot of promises that don't get acted on). But the main gameplay loop was not one that I enjoyed; a frustration simulator is still frustrating; a frustration parody is still frustrating; a metaphor for imprisonment through frustration is still frustrating.

But given that the game seems designed to incur those feelings, I can only conclude that the author has succeeded. Given that they've so far made an excellent Twine game and an very well-coded parser game, I can only expect that his next game will be brilliant.


Let Them Eat Cake, by Alicia Morote

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A decadent and grimly humorous illustrated twine game about a terrible town, October 24, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a lavish Twine game that has you visit a town as an apprentice baker, set on making a cake for the town's Savings Day.

The real appeal of this game is the characters. You meet a variety of well-illustrated characters, each in a unique style that reminded me of Tim Burton or Ruby Gloom or the Haunted Mansion or even HxH's Palm. Each one has their own dark secrets to hide.

The game simultaneously has a lot of variety and very little. Every time, you must visit the same people to get the same things. But you do have a chance in how you treat them and what you discover. You even can choose from many endings, but all of the good endings have a lot of overlap.

There were some minor inconsistencies here and there (like the credits page softlocking the game by not offering a way out of it) that damped enjoyment, but this is one of my favorite games so far in terms of content, characters and art.


Who Shot Gum E. Bear?, by Damon L. Wakes

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A somewhat unpolished but creative candy murder mystery, October 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

My dad use to run a video game company, and one idea he always had was to make an incredibly bloody and vicious fighting game with entrails and gore, etc. but with all characters made of chocolate, so that it would technically pass Nintendo rules.

He never got around to making it, but this game reminds me of that concept. It's a hardboiled detective story with candy version of murder, gore, hardcore pornography (alluded to only), a strip club, etc. All of it is bowdlerized through the candy medium.

The author of this game has made quite a few interesting and/or bizarre experimental Twine pieces (and one using an RPG making software, I think), so I associate him with creativity and innovation in a choice medium.

In this move to the parser medium, he's brought the creativity and the amusement. One thing I think is lacking though is dealing with 'bad' parser responses. Due to the parser medium allowing theoretically infinite possibilities, a large part of parser craft is nudging players gently (or not) towards commands that actually do something. So more custom parser responses, implementation of basically every noun in every description (or turning them into synonyms of other nouns), etc. This can often take up a huge part of programming time, but it also represents a huge part of player time, since often half or more of a player's commands will result in an error, as they try out whatever they think of in the moment.

That, coupled with some capitalization problems in room names, makes me feel like what this needs more than anything is some more time in the oven. I've found that the best way to get this part of the game nailed down is to have a bunch of testers send transcripts and then implement a response for everything they try (or redirect it to a pre-existing response).

Overall, a clever concept.


Am I My Brother's Keeper?, by Nadine Rodriguez
A Texture game about a lost sister and your quest to find her, October 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a well-written texture game about a young woman who is desperate because her sister is missing.

Starting with a true crime-like opening, the game soon pivots in another direction.

This is written using Texture, which is an engine where actions are dragged onto nouns. As far as was apparent to me, this story is mostly linear, with choices either expanding some dialogue or moving the story along. It is possible there is some branching but I didn't find evidence of it.

I enjoyed the story and the characters. I felt it ended a bit abruptly (I had a successful ending), and would have liked to see more variety in interaction.


The Absence of Miriam Lane, by Abigail Corfman

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful game about finding someone who has lost herself, October 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

Abigail Corfman has made many high-quality games in the past, so I was excited to play this one.

This is a richly-illustrated Twine game, with black-and-white chiaroscuro images on one side and options on another. The game has background music and sound effects. The screen was too low-positioned for me to click on at first, but going to full-screen made it work better.

This is a combination story-focused and puzzle game. The idea is that a man, Anthony Lane, suspects that he has a wife but can't find her. You have to investigate the house to find out what's missing. Like another game in this comp, A Long Way to the Nearest Star, you have an inventory of thoughts and items that you can select from in each room, providing two-factor puzzles that make for a richer game.

The first half of the game had a lot of narrative momentum for me, with the puzzles being fairly light and forgiving. It bogged down a lot in the second half as it is possible to make irreversibly bad decisions.

But that made me have to think a lot. I had to really stop and imagine this person, what their life might be like. I continued to do poorly, even restarting. But I worked at it more and more. It was compelling to try to really thing about what their life was like, instead of what I wanted it to be like or assumed it would be like. It was like an exercise in empathy.

Overall, I think this is really well done. Love the art, too.


Elvish for Goodbye, by David Gürçay-Morris

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A poetical and philosophical fantasy story about the coming and going of elves, October 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is an IFComp entry that is entirely focused on story, understanding and self-thought rather than gameplay or mechanics.

The idea is that there were once elves who one day left. You meet (or met) a woman who was one of the last to live among the elves. She teaches you about their language, and about their 497 words for goodbye.

That description doesn't really do justice, though, because the real content of this game is its style rather than its story. More than anything else this story reminded me Borges and Calvino, both of whom I've read less than perhaps I ought to have. I looked up those authors after reading this game and enjoyed learning about them and their literary techniques.

One thing this game does that those writers do is to purposely jar the reader from their pleasant immersion in the story. Frequently the game will lead you to what seems like understanding only for the author to say 'but it wasn't like that at all'. Kind of like, for imaginary example, if you were telling a story about people lining up for miles in NYC to get cheesecake, and then the PoV character asking 'It must have been good then,' and then getting the response, 'Of course not, it was terrible. It was all tourists lining up.' I'd like to say this technique is an example of Verfremdung, but I just learned that word 10 minutes ago and am almost certainly misapplying it.

The language is lovely and complex, requiring a slower reading for understanding, similar to Chandler Groover's work. One runs a risk telling stories about storytellers like this; if you're writing about a group who is known for great poetry and expressiveness, you yourself must be expressive and poetic. But this game sidesteps this a bit neatly by having the main character him or herself be impressed by the secondary narrator.

There were a few minor typos (I found four, two of which were in this phrase: (Spoiler - click to show)the the City when I first arrived here; I lost myself within its imensity . Overall, it's fairly polished.

I first heard part of this game read by the author after the comp started in the Seattle IF group, and I could still hear his voice while playing it. I enjoyed it. I suppose the only negative to me was that I felt a bit at a distance from the narrative, both mechanically and narratively; it felt like someone else's story. But it was a beautiful one.


Blood Island, by Billy Krolick

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Choicescript version of a dating show/slasher flick, October 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is, I believe, an adaptation of an award-winning screenplay by the author, and I think it shows in the quality of the writing.

In this game, you are invited to a reality show the season after someone got stabbed by a Barbie-masked attempted murderer. This season, everyone is back, so the would-be killer is among your group.

Gameplay is split between some classic-style romance gameplay (who do you talk with? who do you ask on a date? etc.) and running from or fighting with the killer.

The tone isn't always realistic, but it feels like a stylistic choice, making it more like a slasher flick. People get injuries that would be deadly in real life but continue to run or talk for a long time after; tv producers seem not worried about liability, etc. It makes for a slightly surreal game that puts you at a level removed from the experience, better able to contemplate bigger questions like gender roles in film and why audiences like terrible things.

Overall, I felt like the writing and agency worked well. I played a ton of Choicescript games last year and I would say this one is above-average in its use of the system.

This is a more mature game, with some profanity, a large amount of violence/blood and some mild/network-friendly sexuality.

While each individual part of this game is excellent, it didn't completely gel for me; a part of that was that I chose to be a cis het male and the game seemed to anticipate I'd be a woman, including people staring at my heaving chest and so on. That's probably intentional, given that the game is questioning these very assumptions, but making intelligent and thoughtful statements doesn't always translate to compelling gameplay. By and large though this is an excellent effort and one I believe most people would enjoy if they are not turned off by slasher flicks.


The Thick Table Tavern, by manonamora

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A lengthy and somewhat heartwarming game about running a tavern, October 21, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

As someone who's never tried alcohol, mixed drinks always seem intriguing; I always imagine they'd be like milkshakes or punch or other sweet things. From what people say, it's not really like that. But I like the way the bottles look and the idea of trying to combine ingredients in a neat way.

This game heavily features a minigame where you have a stock of drinks (represented visually with nice graphics) and have to mix specific cocktails from it. All real-world drinks have been re-named, and some are pretty funny (especially ones that are just nicknames for a single drink).

The main storyline is about you, a young individual, trying to save up enough money to buy out the tavern owner. Simultaneously, you are contacted by a 'watcher', an extradimensional being, who discusses the nature of agency with you.

The dialogue in the game is written with an accent, which is always a risky choice, as it can come off pretty goofy or hard to read. This one was fairly simple, though, so that's good.

There is some strong profanity in the game (I have a filter that turns it off, because why not?), and some mild references to sexual situations.

Overall:
-Polish: I had a couple of times where a major event repeated itself (making a buffet, passing out, etc.) and there was some fiddliness with things like the tip box, where you made a choice whether to put it out or not, then when doing the 'getting ready for the day' menu, you had the choice again, repeated word-for-word. Just things like that I feel could be fixed up a bit.
+Descriptiveness: The game is very descriptive, especially with the imaginative cocktail names.
-Interactivity: Like several other reviewers have pointed out, the main minigame can get monotonous. I got to flinching when I'd get another round of 9 orders. But I think the core idea is good, maybe it just needs a few tweaks. I wish there was a sense of progression in skill, or something to learn, but after the first few it's mainly repeating identical actions.
+Emotional impact: I found it heartwarming the way the group could hassle each other but also bond in positive ways.
+Would I play again? With a few changes, like those mentioned above, I think it would be fun.


Graveyard Strolls, by Adina Brodkin

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Texture story about several ghosts in a graveyard, October 21, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I initially misinterpreted this game quite a bit. I found 2-3 bad endings early on and thought that was the whole game, and was pretty disappointed.

But it turns out it's actually a 'gauntlet' structure game, with multiple binary choices, one leading to death/failure, one leading to success.

If you find the right path, the game leads you through several different ghosts, each of which are very distinct from each other. The 'failure' text actually gives a lot of background you can't get from just succeeding; fortunately, the other coded in mini check points for these parts of the game.

I enjoyed this the most out of the texture games I tried during this competition. It had some interesting themes about grief and those who may or may not deserve it, as well as the fun cast of characters. It is polished and descriptive and has interesting interactivity, but I didn't feel a strong emotional connection for some reason or another. Worth checking out.

This was my former review:
This is a tiny game written in the Texture language, which involves dragging verbs onto nouns.

When I say tiny, I mean it's only 3 or 4 screens, with 1-3 possible actions per screen and a couple paragraphs per page.

Tiny isn't necessarily bad; I love the Twiny jam games, which had < 100 words each, and even made some of my own games inspired by them. But this game and story don't have any features that benefit from brevity, like branching or innovative twists.

What is here is entirely competent: nice artwork, interesting writing, some fun action design. It could be a fine story/game if expanded.


Admiration Point, by Rachel Helps

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A future museum employee deals with desire for affair, October 21, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is a fusion of a couple of concepts/story threads. The first is a futuristic story where you are part of a VR museum curation team. This is a really interesting story that feels well-researched and describes things like how to crowdsource tagging videos with metadata and how perception of culture changes over time.

The other thread is where you are a burnt-out member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and mother and wife, and your older but handsome coworker Sean starts looking really attractive to you as a way to escape.

A lot of the game deals with the outlook of unhappy wife who somewhat believes in the Church but feels oppressed and dislikes several aspects. A lot of this part was hard to read as I was divorced primarily because my wife felt much of the same things that this protagonist feels with regards to the our church, and just like the protagonist, she wanted a way out.

I appreciated a fact I didn't discover until the end notes, which is that (Spoiler - click to show)there is no way to actually have an affair. It made me feel like the game really did a good job of representing player agency, since (Spoiler - click to show)just because you do everything can to make someone like you or want you, doesn't mean it will work.

Besides dredging up a lot of uncomfortable personal feelings (which I think is a sign of good writing), the one thing that didn't entirely click for me was the pacing; it was never clear just how close we were, or just what actions would have what results, if that makes any sense. Stylistically, it's a reasonable choice, since relationships are messy and confusing. But I felt like the gameplay was obfuscated (if that's the right word here).

Overall, I think this one will do well. Great research and touches on a lot of pertinent points in modern society.


Hanging by threads, by Carlos Pamies

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Exploring a city from Calvino's Invisible Cities, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game lets you explore Octavia, a city described in the book Invisible Cities (by Italo Calvino) as a spider-web city hung on a great web of ropes, pipes, etc.

You are offered three different items to take with you. When you arrive, you have time to explore and look around, seeing the wonders of the city.

But not very much time. After 20 turns, the game ends with a vague message. I unfortunately got that message on my first playthrough right when I was trying to click a moving link, so I thought that this was a 'failure message'. With no undo, I was out of luck.

But I think the intent here is that you explore for a short time but are unable to see it all in one playthrough. That's a beautiful idea, but I find the execution a bit wanting. There's no indication that that's what the ending signifies, and the other review on IFDB I read also seemed to consider it as a bug or problem of some sorts.

I'm giving 3 stars mostly because I like the conceit both of the spiderweb city but also because of the idea of the limited time, even if it came off a bit weird.


The Hidden King's Tomb, by Josh

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short, minimal parser game about a hidden tomb, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a short parser game with a premise similar to Infidel. In it, you explore an underground tomb and have to discover a way out, since your friend shoved you into the tomb so that he could take the treasure for himself.

The map is pretty simple, laid out mostly east to west with a couple of branching rooms. There are a lot of unimplemented objects and identical objects (like a large proliferation of candles).

There's only one real puzzle; the rest of the game is essentially a red herring. The descriptions do sound cool; seeing it depicted visually would be fun I imagine it would look a bit like the tombs in Moon Knight.

I struggled with the main puzzle because I didn't pay close attention to the room descriptions. Overall I think does the story pretty well and some technical details pretty well, but overall could use some work. I think the author has good potential if they get more practice and maybe more beta testers.


An Alien's Mistaken Impressions of Humanity's Pockets, by Andrew Howe
A short Twine game with a few puzzles about aliens inspecting humans, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a brief Twine game that has some complex parts to it. You play as a alien technician or researcher working in a lab with a professor, going through a pile of human artifacts and trying to figure out what they're for. It's kind of like Little Mermaid, when Scuttle tries to guess what human artifacts are used for.


The game is a little unpolished; I found several typos and capitalization errors. It's pretty descriptive though, and it's funny when it shows the items it's been describing. The author does a pretty good job of thinking of objects from an alien point of view, but sometimes it's too on the nose (for instance, some human keys are described as possibly a physical form of an encryption key).

The puzzles can be pretty interesting (a color one threw me for a loop), but some segments that seem like they should be puzzles actually are taken care of as cut scenes.

Overall, I found it generally amusing, but didn't feel a strong desire to play again.


Approaching Horde!, by CRAIG RUDDELL

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A real-time resource management zombie Twine game, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

In this game, you have a brief introduction explaining how zombies have caused an apocalypse, and then you become the commander of a base that needs to defend from zombies.

As commander, you have people you can assign to tasks. In the Easy Mode I played in, there were 6 roles (farmer, builder, etc.) each with several subtasks. It was overwhelming at first, especially when different bars started counting down in real time, but once I realized how slow it was I realized there was tons of time to make decisions.

Maybe too much time; the game got a little repetitive pretty quickly. I focused on farming and finding more survivors until those maxed out, then built a research base and focused on finding a cure.

Overall, the writing was goofy, but descriptive and vivid, and the simulation held together surprisingly well. I think it could have used a bit more variety though; I spent most of the game with the game in a side window just running, waiting for it to be done.


4 Edith + 2 Niki, by fishandbeer

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Very short Twine game about picking a partner, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

From the picture, blurb, and length on the IFComp page (which I swear used to say 2 hours, but I think I must have misread it because now it says 15), I expected this game to a big, polished Twine game with cool visuals, like Porpentine's Crystal Warrior Ke$ha.

Unfortunately, this is a very short Twine game with 1 major area, with simple links to rooms and back (each room being one passage). State doesn't seem be to be tracked at all. Almost all the endings are just vague statements that you slept with someone.

I think the author can do better. This kind of game can be written up in 30 minutes or an hour. That doesn't mean you can't make a great game in that time, but it's hard and needs good luck. I'd like to see more length and/or effort and/or cool new idea.


A Walk Around the Neighborhood, by Leo Weinreb

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A charming compact game about getting everything ready to go outside, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This one-room parser game has about 20 endings, of which I found 3 (one significantly more difficult to achieve than the others).

You are tired and hungover on the couch but need to get up and exercise by walking outside; it's explicitly set during this Covid-19 pandemic we're in, and I have the impression it's during a lockdown/quarantine.

I zig-zagged a lot with this game. My first thought when I started it was 'Oh man, that's a lot of unnecessary items in the first room.' This is what it said:

"The Living Room is standard-issue, complete with television, sofa, floor lamp, coffee table, side table, window, ceiling fan, rug, hardwood floor, and a thick layer of dust."

My second thought was, 'ha, if this is just a badly implemented game, I can just TAKE ALL and it will tell me what is important.' That seemed to work well, but then I started trying to explore and realized that this was actually a one-room game, and all those things were there not because this was a poorly scoped 'recreate my apartment' game, but because it was a single room with tons of detail.

The first puzzle was pretty hard for me because I wasn't exploring at first, just trying to reason things out. Once I worked out the game logic, I got better. I started using the hint mechanic in the game before I knew it was the hint mechanic (I felt less clever about solving all the puzzles I did once I found out I had technically been using all the hints).

Overall, it was clever how many puzzles were crammed into one room. I think that the descriptions could have used a bit of fleshing out; minimalism is a good style, but this didn't feel like aesthetically chosen minimalism, just quick and dry descriptions.

I think this game is fun, and can generally recommend it for puzzle fans.


INK, by Sangita V Nuli

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal, abstract game about loss and ink, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a Texture game, involving dragging commands onto nouns, one of several written in a writing group and entered into IFComp.

This one deals with grief; a loved one is gone, and a letter from her appears and follows you.

I played through twice, one being peaceful and accepting, one being hateful and destructive. I felt like it made a lot more sense the second way. This game has poetic and abstract style, and I didn't connect with it. By that, I mean I would often read a page and feel like I couldn't remember anything I read or anything I felt. The words felt slippery in brain.

Overall I liked the branching paths, but I didn't like how the text often lacked paragraph breaks and sometimes changed font size dramatically from one page to the next; I know that can be a stylistic effect but I couldn't the connection between the text and the font size.

Overall, I like surreal games and enjoyed the 'dark' ending of this. But the formatting and phrasing threw me for a loop.


A Long Way to the Nearest Star, by SV Linwood

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Explore an abandoned ship with a faulty AI, October 18, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a Twine game with a significant world model. In it, you explore a ship you've crashlanded on which is empty except for an AI named SOLIS.

There are a lot of areas to explore, and you have both an inventory and notes of all important information.

It has puzzles that are honestly complex and can be fairly difficult. The inventory allows for quadratic complexity: you have to be in the right room, and use the right item.

I enjoyed the AI, and felt an attachment to them. The nice thing about IF containing AIs is that the AIs exist in reality, in a sense; the organic characters are just described in words, nothing like their 'true' selves, but the AIs are supposed to be code masquerading as a person and that's what they actually are: code in Twine or Ink or Inform that takes your inputs and reacts to you. It's weird to think about.

Anyway, the game is fairly non-linear and has multiple endings and paths to victory. I think a large chunk of content is the same in each walkthrough, especially conversation, but you can replay those parts with different attitudes.

Navigating back and forth got a bit tedious by the end, but fortunately a new mechanic gets introduced that lets you 'warp' around ((Spoiler - click to show)following the robot).

Overall, I really enjoyed this polished game.


Lazy Wizard's Guide, by Lenard Gunda

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A custom web-parser game about completing a magical examination, October 18, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

There's a long tradition of games about completing a magical education, including early games like Enchanter and more recent games like Winter at Hogwarts and Junior Arithmancer.

This game is a pretty standard example of the genre, where you have 5 tasks to perform and must search for spell books and ingredients to complete the 5 tasks.

This game uses a custom web parser. It's actually not too bad, being able to handle things like hitting the up arrow to repeat earlier commands and getting a lot of commands I typed right. It does have weaknesses, though, like not understanding pronouns like 'it'.

The nice things about this game include multiple paths to solutions for many puzzles. It has a built-in hint system, but I often found the hints were only available for things I already knew about. I had to check the walkthrough for about 30-40% of the game, and finished at 2 hrs 7 minutes (according to the game's handy timer).

I found several typos in the game, and it wasn't very descriptive. But I had fun with this game, and appreciate how the engine seems to be coming along nicely.


Grounded in Space, by Matt Wigdahl

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A teenager fights pirates in space, October 17, 2022

In this game, you get grounded in space and have to go asteroid mining as punishment.

As you mine, you are confronted with pirates who shut down your ship.

The bulk of the game is a complicated puzzle with reflecting mirrors and xy coordinates and angles. I just followed the walkthrough, and have no idea what clues you would have or how difficult it would be without a walkthrough.


Crash, by Phil Riley

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A fix-the-broken-spaceship game with plenty of hints and multiple npcs, October 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is a fairly hefty parser game where a spaceship is sent spiraling off into space with only one person, you, in it.

You have a to-do list that expands and contracts as the game demands. There are a lot of little devices: cabinets, panels, fuses, etc. and a very intricate-seeming fuel injection system.

The puzzles are generally clever. Some of them are moon-logic type puzzles.
As a case in point, very near the end of the game (heavy endgame spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)you find the captain's journal and need to unlock it. The captain has two pictures: one of a dog named Pluto and one of the moon. The idea is that the password is Pluto's moon, Charon. But why would someone, in their own room, make their only personal objects just happen to be an obscure hint for their own password?. But most of the puzzles are fair.

Implementation is sometimes missing but when it's not it's very solid. So a lot of cool objects are implemented (including a large rope) but a lot of scenery objects are just not there or are missing reasonable actions. (For instance, (mild lategame spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)if you unlock the starboard chest, it has wires, but you can't refer to them or interact with them in any way. Similarly, there is an operations console on the bridge which isn't implemented.

I think this is already a good game, but I think with a few tweaks it could become a great game. Maybe there could be a post-comp release with a bit more things written in? Either way, I enjoyed playing this. It was a little unpolished, but had nice puzzles, pretty descriptive, and was enjoyable, and I would replay it if it was tweaked.


Lost at the market, by Nynym

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A surreal gruescript game about being lost in life and playing music, October 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

So I have to shout out this author for being the first person to release a Gruescript game in a competition outside of Robin Johnson (that I know of). It's a cool language and looks neat.

This is a surreal game where you explore various dreamscapes after having failed at a musical career.

In a contrast to Robin Johnson's puzzle-filled games, this is more of a thoughtful introspection game where you wander around and follow directions given in-text.

I love surreal games in general, and Gruescript is cool, so I have a lot of good feelings in general. The execution needs a lot of work, though. The author says they want to learn, so here are my thoughts on things that could be improved:
-I feel like there could be a little space between the output window and the room description window; it felt a little crowded (I don't know if this is adjustable?)
-Some buttons had underscores (Who_Am_I) and some had spaces; I think it would look better if they were standardized.
-Some options seem like they unintentionally lock the player out of an action; like going south in the very last area and finding the envelope. Even if you don't open it, you can't go back north.
-The writing is descriptive, but it often feels like something's off with punctuation. I had similar problems and always check my games with Grammarly (I promise this isn't an ad lol), may be useful here. by playing through and copying and pasting the output

Overall, I think the game could be substantially improved, so I'm giving a lower score for now, but I definitely think this is promising and would like to see more from this engine and from this author.


The Counsel in The Cave, by Josh

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short surreal game about graduation and finding yourself, October 15, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This brief Ink game follows two teens, May and Jason, who are graduating soon and preparing to head off to college. They stroll through the woods and discuss their future.

Things start just slightly surreal and go further, but it never seems to shake the protagonists, just like how it is in a dream.

There might be some plot branching, but most of the choices feel like character determination to me, like role-playing, not even necessarily saved as game states.

There was some beautiful imagery in the game, young adults trying to find their place in the world literally represented as a journey through an allegorical world.

It felt a bit disjointed and brief, though. I worried I had skipped a whole chapter when I reached the end of the first act and clicked on a tiny, almost missable 'right arrow' and ended up in a very different place than the last chapter ended. But the table of contents seems to indicate I saw all 3 sections, so I guess the game itself is just a bit smaller than its story could allow.

Overall, a pleasant game to spend time with. According to my rubric, it's polished, descriptive, has good interactivity, and reminded me of pleasant times, but I wouldn't play it again.


Headlights, by Jordan White and Eric Zinda

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Brief, custom web parser surreal game , October 15, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is the third game by Eric Zinda with the Perplexity engine. The first two games were intended to be played with voice, I believe, while this game didn't seem to have the voice option.

The Perplexity engine is still really rough, but each game has been better than the last one. I imagine there's a ton of backend work going on between games, but I think the front-facing part could use a tune-up.

In this game, you explore a bunch of surreal areas, usually involving nature, a deer, and traffic-related imagery.

While the game is a significant improvement over previous entries, it's still pretty rough.

Polish-wise, the game tends to form uncapitalized sentences when using automated descriptions. It is smart enough to answer the question WHERE IS THE _____? but not smart enough to make the output easily understandable. This version seems to understand most traditional IF commands and abbreviations (like X for LOOK AT and I for INVENTORY, which is a big relief.

Descriptiveness-wise, the game has many rooms with a cursory description followed by a list of visual objects, sometimes kind of confusing (like 'A bush, a bush, and a tree').

When it comes to interactivity, the game is mostly fair, but at least one point in the walkthrough asks you to interact with an object that is not visible and doesn't show up in the description of other objects (specifically the (Spoiler - click to show)branch in the mossy log area).

Emotionally, I liked the surreal theme and thought it was cool. The little clues were nice. The other issues made it harder to stay invested but I like the concept.

There's not a ton of replayability, but overall I wasn't sad I played.


Arborea, by richard develyn

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A very large puzzler parser game themed around trees, October 15, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is a very large IFComp parser game where you in a sort of simulation trying to find a 'kernel' of some sorts.

The main area is a giant tree, from which you can eventually find 8 sub-areas. Each sub-area is a simulation of a different part of the world, including the Amazon rainforest, Missouri, Elizabethean England, etc.

Gameplay consists of finding objects in one world and generally using them in another. It can be fun to try and think where one can be used.

Content-wise, everyone has things they like and don't like; while I enjoyed the mini worlds idea quite a bit and some of the sections like the Viking ones, I felt uncomfortable with some of the others. There's some sexual wish-fulfillment in play (like a dominatrix pirate and a harem of succubi), though nothing explicit seems to occur, and there are some cultural moments where I thought it wasn't an entirely respectful depiction or relied on surface-level depictions. At times I feel it reaches too hard (at one point, an extreme not repeated, it even says "they wander off[...]together to figure out what to do with the rest of the wreckage of their miserable lives (this is called "pathos", by the way)."

Overall, the level of polish is high; there were a few sticky situations (like how (Spoiler - click to show)ENTER BAOBAB works but (Spoiler - click to show)ENTER CRACK doesn't in the first room of the Savannah).

I messed around for about an hour on my own, accruing 11 points, then followed the walkthrough. Some of the later puzzles seem to require a great deal of mind-reading, but I suppose there may be more in-game hints if I had reached those points naturally.

Overall, it has a lot of satisfying parser elements. While the tone and characters didn't always reach me emotionally, there is a lot of craftmanship evident. I don't plan on revisiting it, but it is polished, descriptive, and has much good interactivity.


Jungle adventure, by Paul Barter

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A custom python parser game with ascii art but fiddly interactions, October 15, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This seems exactly like the kind of game that would be made by a talented and energetic individual who had never played a text adventure made in the last three decades if they woke up one day and said "I'm going to make the coolest text adventure on earth" but didn't have many people test it.

It's a python game with a bunch of actually really good ascii art. It has a maze, randomized combat, some tricky puzzles, art that sometimes changes according to your actions. Seems like everything a text adventure would need.

Except it has very few of the quality-of-life expectations most parser games have, and many of the solutions are poorly hinted.

For instance, on the very first screen, you are around some trees. Commands like N, NORTH, I, INVENTORY, X ME, LOOK ME don't work at all, but that's okay, this is a custom parser so it has no need to follow conventions from other games. Rereading the help text shows that STATUS gives inventory (although I didn't notice this till later). X TREE and EXAMINE TREE don't work, but LOOK TREE does. It turns out you're supposed to (Spoiler - click to show)CLIMB TREE. Once you make it to the next screen, it's not a big jump to (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK PLANE, but now what? After several fruitless minutes, I turn to the guide to discover I should (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK IN POCKET. But why? If the author had had several people try this game out, they would have found quickly that few people would guess this. You can access a HINT that generally helps you, but most people seem to like games to be solvable without HINTS, using them only when stuck.

The randomized maze combat was hard. I was determined to finish this game, although I kept randomly dying (and there is no UNDO and typing the wrong command after dying exits out of the game entirely, and the command for loading a game during the game is different than the command for loading the game after dying and typing the wrong one will also exit the game as will hitting enter just one too many time). Combat is just pressing enter over and over after picking your weapon, and looking at the code the strongest-looking weapons are incredibly weak while the weakest-sounding weapon is the strongest. There are several insta-deaths in the labyrinth as well.

Overall, it looks like it was magnificently fun to code and make the art, but it doesn't seem like a game that was created with a lot of player-side input, and I ended up frustrated. My 1-star rating is not indicative of the effort put into the game or the total amount of fun that can be derived from it, but merely results from the fact that my usual grading rubric (polish, descriptiveness, interactivity, emotional impact, and replayability) evolved from a different style of text adventure than this one.

(Note: for a much more positive review by a different reviewer, see this link: https://intfiction.org/t/b-j-bests-ifcomp-2022-reviews/57995/3?u=mathbrush)


i wish you were dead., by Sofía Abarca

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Heartbreak in twine: a relationship comes to an end, October 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a brief Twine game about a painful breakup of a relationship.

I have to preface this by saying that I didn't play the actual game. I noticed it had timed, slow text which I found difficult to read as it didn't sync up with my regular speed, so I'd finish fast then wander back above and miss the next part coming in, having to catch up again, etc. So I downloaded the game and opened it up in Notepad++ changing all the (live: 12s) or other such numbers to (live: 0.1s) using regular expressions so it all loaded a lot faster. I noticed one chunk of text was timed to slowly spool out over 156 seconds, while with my normal reading speed it took 31 seconds to read the same material.

Anyway, sorry for digressing about something unrelated to the actual story.

The actual story is heartbreaking and felt familiar to me from events in my own personal life, so I really felt a connection to the situation. The emotions are handled pretty well, as is the internal dialogue; it felt true to life, for me.

Interestingly, (spoilers about the breakup details) (Spoiler - click to show)in my playthrough at least, it doesn't seem there was physical infidelity, or that if there was that it was the main issue. It seems instead that emotional infidelity is the problem, the idea that you were once someone's number 1 and now someone else is.. That really hit home and made this a lot more visceral, to me.

Overall, it lasts just as long as it seems it ought to; it's fairly maudlin but that's what I like. It contains some strong profanity. I think it's a great work; I personally would like no slow/timed text, since reading text naturally paces itself through spacing and paragraph size, etc., but this is of course completely up to the author.

Edit: I saw another review that had a very different take on this, and I realized that different paths must have different endings. I replayed and found a very different path that is actually the opposite of some stuff I said above. That's pretty cool to have that non-linearity.


Through the Forest with the Beast, by Star

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A very brief RPG-style game about being marked and fleeing, October 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

In this Twine game, you play as someone born as a Beast, someone who is marked with a strange symbol. You have to run away to a place where everyone else is like you or respects you.

The game seems like it will be huge, with two input fields and 4 status bars or conditions. But I played to two different endings in less than 10 minutes, both of which seem like full stories.

There are a lot of great ideas here; the overall storyline, the lush background graphics and sounds, the compelling choices and the way even the writing responded to my actions. But it all feels very unfinished and unpolished, with some typos and grammatical errors (like 'corspes' for 'corpses'). This just needed more time, I think.


The Pool, by Jacob Reux

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short Twine game about monsters in a scientific aquarium, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a short, basic Twine game about an aquarium where weird monsters are in a pool and you have to run away.

The game does give you some options; there are several situations where you have to search for items by clicking on a variety of links. There are also some big branches in the story, especially at the end. At least one final choice just lead to a blank page.

The formatting doesn't put blank lines between paragraphs, which I found pretty difficult to read. There are many typos such as no spaces after periods, it's vs its and capitalization. The dialog felt a bit unnatural, but I don't know why.

I found the overall story to be descriptive, but otherwise I think this story needed a bit more work. I think the author is capable of pretty fun stories given more time and more feedback prior to releasing.


The Staycation, by Maggie H

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short texture game about horror with some emojis and pictures, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game was listed as a 2-hour game, so I was expecting the largest Texture game ever, but it turned out to be less than 15 minutes long.

In this game, your roommates are going on a trip while you are left behind. Alone in the night, you face a few frightening encounters, and have a disturbing morning.

This is a Texture game, where you drag actions onto nouns, and here all the actions are represented by emojis.

I had trouble forming a coherent story out of this; it's mostly vibes, but it seems to contain elements of anxiety, self-harm, and something weird involving your friends?

An interesting experiment, but not one the grabbed me. It's polished and descriptive, but I didn't form an emotional connection and struggled with the interactivity.


Traveller's Log, by Null Sandez

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Minimal python game, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I teach computer science at a high school, and we use python (and, in the past, Java). At the end of last year one student really enjoyed making randomized D&D combat scenarios and weapon creation tools, and did that as his final project.

This game is very similar in nature and quality, the same as a final project for an intro python course. It has a randomized character creator that can give you magic abilities, a cat, or neither, among other things. You have the option to walk around, trade for better items, or warp to a new area.

Walking around is the main feature. Often it would describe me finding something and then something happens. The most variable was chests; having a sword and finding a chest, you slash it open, and it can kill you, give you an entity that follows you, or give you money.

Dying has no real effect; you instantly respawn and you keep all your items, so it's the same as nothing happening.

I was able to buy a sword, a shield, a map (which I think helps you pick where to warp), and some magic arrows. The game ends when you get 100 coins.

Overall, if this were a student in my class, I'd give them an A for excellent work. As an IFComp entry, though, I think it lacks polish, is not very descriptive, has somewhat unsatisfying interactivity, and doesn't lend itself to emotional impact. The game achieves, I think, its author's goals, but my personal tastes weren't aligned with them.


January, by litrouke

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful multimedia nonlinear zombie game in grim world, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is self-described as more an interactive novel than a game, and that's fairly accurate. Gameplay consists of clicking different days on a calendar and reading vignettes that happen that day. Multimedia images and animations are displayed on different days, and often the text will rearrange and morph, especially when revisiting days.

The storyline is purposely obtuse, slowly revealing more of itself, with some major shifts. I don't know if even now I'd be able to paint the broad strokes out; (major spoilers for what I think happened) (Spoiler - click to show)I feel like at the beginning some of his family turned to zombies and some didn't, so he left the ones who were still alive and tried to die? Then wandered around, found the cat, met some people, then came back to his living family? Also maybe lost an eyeball as a kid before the change?

This is a grim and unhappy world. This game contains descriptions of violent, painful and gory deaths for animals, lots of zombie-related human gore, disrespect for courses, strong profanity, and suicide references, with multiple gory images. It also features a cat companion for whom things don't always go so well, as well as several positive interactions with that cat.

Overall, the craft in this game is remarkable, and the storytelling is vivid and descriptive. The calendar was a clever innovation, and though I didn't feel a strong sense of agency, I did the best I could by reading dates out of order. The biggest drawback to me personally is the grim and unhappy nature of the game, which is a matter of personal taste.


One Way Ticket, by Vitalii Blinov

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A big surreal game about a train and a strange city, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is a large, custom-engine choice-based game that takes place in a surreal world like the Phantom Tollbooth or a Roald Dahl book.

The player is on a train that mysteriously stops in a giant field of corn. You get out and explore a town full of odd people.

It uses a custom javascript engine that relies on a map to get around; however, you can't click just anywhere on the map; you must click on an adjacent tile first.

Gameplay revolves around having a big notebook full of thoughts or ideas as well as a bag of items. Each location has some intro text, following which you can use the map or click on one of these ideas.

This is essentially quadratic in nature, then, with interactions of each item with each location. This was manageable at first but grew a bit out of hand for me. I also found the movement in the game extremely tedious as I had to click a location on the map, navigate its initial text for the dozenth time, then click on the next location, etc. especially when running back and forth to check for missed things.

After about 2 hours of gameplay I found trouble following the walkthrough, as a woman I had talked to earlier was supposed to appear in the Center-West Tram Station but never showed up.

Overall, I would be interested in seeing the rest of the game at some point, but the interactivity was pretty frustrating.


Campus Invaders, by Marco Vallarino

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A very stripped-down game about aliens invading, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Marco Vallarino is an author who has entered several complex and well-regarded games in previous IFComps, including the fun Darkiss series.

So it comes as a surprise that this game is very basic. It has a simple map; each room in the map has a sparse description and one or two items to interact with. The game is a series of fetch quests that tell you what to find next after depositing the most recent item.

I got stuck at one point because I didn't think to (late game spoiler about bypassing robot)(Spoiler - click to show)search the junk in the closet, and there was a key response that misled me: (Spoiler - click to show)Trying to unscrew the mirror when you don't have the screwdriver says 'you need to unscrew the mirror' instead of 'you don't have anything to unscrew it with' or something similar,, so I just assumed it was bugged till I looked at the walkthrough.

+Polish: The game has some missing punctuation and some misleading responses. But it works generally smoothly, with most the problems falling under the next criteria.
-Descriptiveness: The descriptions are very plain.
+Interactivity: Basic fetch quests are more or less the bread and butter of parser games, and this was short.
-Emotional response: I didn't feel a strong reaction to this game.
-Would I play again? No, it was pretty clear the first time through.

2 stars is pretty harsh, but I know this author is capable of making very fun parser games. This one was just not as fun as Darkiss to me.


Prism, by Eliot M.B. Howard

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A fantasy steampunk game about a mysterious package and strange things, October 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is very much a story, not in the sense that it's not a game, but that it has a strong central narrative, creative setting, and interesting characters.

It's an Ink game, with two main kinds of choices: role-playing ones that have temporary effects but let you get into character, and branching ones that affect big chunks of the storyline.

You play as a courier running around the rooftops of a desert city. There is a lot of worldbuilding here, between enemies, friends, and strange creatures.

The branching storylines are very different. In one, I spent a ton of time with two academics, eventually becoming one. In another, I spent much more time with my friend Karae and robots.

Overall, I found it polished and descriptive, and had some emotionally touching moments. It was interesting interactivity, but I feel satisfied with my playthroughs and don't plan on revisiting.


Lost Coastlines, by William Dooling

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A large adventure across procedurally generated seas, October 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This author's game Skybreak! is one of the most popular games from 2019, even getting nominated for a Best Game XYZZY Award. I really enjoyed the game myself; it was procedurally generated, bouncing from planet to planet trying to complete various success criteria.

This game is a fantasy version of that (kind of like how Agnieszka Trzaska first made 4x4 Galaxy then 4x4 Archipelago). You are a dreamer exploring a vast ocean of procedurally generated towns and cities. You generally pick choices by typing capitalized words or selecting from a menu by typing a number. Some choices are always available to type, like STATUS.

What this game does well is replayability and freshness. Procedural generation here has dramatic effects on the story, and includes nice chunks of unique content. The setting is compelling, and there are many approaches to the game and customization of the character.

Where it's worse for me is in difficulty and polish. The game has you start with goods and food, and it's really hard to consistently replenish these. Very few locations sell both or either, and usually you can only do one action at a port. You can do pretty well without either, though, at least for a while. Getting injured in some way is very common.

Polish-wise there are occasional typos, once there was a popup error when starting a new character (something like (Spoiler - click to show)first dreamer has been removed), and there was a reoccurring bug where exits were listed that didn't actually exist (possibly if you try a wrong direction the game includes it in the list of exits? I'm not sure).

I ended with a score of 150, mostly made from Recording my secrets (as mentioned in the manual). I died (or won?) by repeatedly ignoring directions in a cool Fallen London style (specifically by (Spoiler - click to show)returning to a tower every night when told not to). This was a satisfying ending.

I'm sure there's tons more content, but for now I've seen enough for a (positive) review.


The Alchemist, by Jim MacBrayne (as Older Timer)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Explore odd friend's big mansion filled with portals, magic and machines, October 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

There are a ton of ways to author IF. One way I've seen is to experiment with different styles in an attempt to find what players like, and respond to feedback by making big changes in future games. Another style is to keep making exactly what you like, making games that are all alike, consistent with each other. There are other ways, too, of course.

The games by this author seem to fall in the latter category. Each of these games is written in qBasic by the same system and features a large building that contains different areas containing diverse historical or other themes, often accessed through portals, minimal descriptions of areas, potions or elixirs, riddles and codes, and multicolored devices. The idiosyncrasies remain the same as well, such as objects in containers not being 'in scope', so you can't examine or take things in an open container directly, instead requiring the command TAKE ALL FROM ____. The author has a type of game he enjoys making, and I appreciate the consistency.

I played around for 10 minutes or so then went to the walkthrough, as I knew from experience that this game would be hard to finish in two hours without doing so.

I ran into some trouble with the parser. For instance, 'STAND ON LADDER' or 'STEP ON LADDER' didn't work, but 'CLIMB LADDER' did. In a room described as having many books, X BOOKS said it didn't understand, while X BOOK said 'you don't see the small book', an object I had yet to encounter.

This game is best enjoyed by enthusiasts of text adventures that prefer the pixel art/command line look, like puzzles over story, and want something long and tricky but fair to digest. An author with a similar feel is Garry Francis, for those looking for even more.


A Chinese Room, by Milo van Mesdag

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A complex meditation on war, peace, and interplayer communication, October 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

The author of this game entered the first two-player IFComp game a year ago (The Last Night of Alexisgrad) which inspired at least one other multiplayer IF game (Ma Tiger's Terrible Trip) by another author.

Those games featured a few pages or so of text interspersed by choices which were then communicated to the 'other player' via passing of codes (in the first game) or a server (in the second game mentioned).

This game is different in several ways. In the first place, it is a substantial chunk of text. Each of the two stories takes well over an hour to read through. There are only a few choices to make that get transmitted; the bulk are not.

I'll spoiler much of the rest of the discussion below to various levels of detail. Before that, I'd say that this game has a lot of disturbing content of various sorts: (Spoiler - click to show)occasional extreme profanity, slurs spoken by people presented as villains, torture, execution, and affairs. Overall, it had a gritty/depressing vibe to me.

I'm putting the story descriptions in spoilers, even though they're mostly spoiler-free, because knowledge of one story can be seen as a major spoiler for the other. Reading just one should be fine, with Caroline's suggested as first story.

Short description of Caroline's story:
(Spoiler - click to show)This is a well-written story of a woman balanced between duty and excitement. A young housewife of an arrogant politician is offered a job showing around a handsome and exciting foreign diplomat. Said diplomat has an entourage that keeps him safe and occasionally asks Caroline to carry out an essentially pointless task that seems to be about agency.

Short description of Leon's story:
(Spoiler - click to show)Leon is a military soldier specializing in interrogation. His job is to interrogate suspected war criminals and sentence them to death, torture, release, or return to their cell. However, he can only provide suggestions, which are then sent out to an ordinary civilian who then decides whether to follow the suggestions or not, allowing some plausible deniability.

Bigger spoilers for overall combination:
(Spoiler - click to show)Playing Leon's game was very surreal, at the beginning, as he was none of the characters in the first story and he seemed so disconnected. I was shocked to find that the mechanism of communication between them wasn't the words or choices of the first story but simply the trivial color choices (this would have been more apparent had I played multiplayer first).

It seems clear then that this is the connection to the philosophical experiment in the title of the game, 'The Chinese Room'. In this thought experiment, a person is placed in a room and receives instructions with no understanding of what they are, processes them according to prescribed rules, and then outputs another message which they don't understand. Theoretically, with sophisticated enough rules, the output could seem truly intelligent, the work of a genius (such as chess moves or even conversation), but the person running the room actually has no clue what is going on.

So in this game, you make many many choices that are deeply meaningful and clearly informed by knowledge, but your communication between players is limited to laughably ineffectual systems. An especially amusing/sad point is when the Leon player, after having innocents murdered or hardened criminals released by the opposing player, can send feedback on their performance; however, this feedback only shows up as the color of a handkerchief in a pocket in an incidental sentence I hadn't even noticed in single player mode.


Overall, the two stories together are much stronger than either individually. In a very specific way, this game is a comment on multiplayer systems and communication itself, and is an interesting experiment.


U.S. Route 160, by Sangita V Nuli

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A piercing twine story about a woman torn from her love, October 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a somewhat brief Twine game with at least 3 endings.

In it, you are a woman who is set to be married to a man you barely know, wearing a wedding dress you don't even like. You actually are deeply in love with a woman, but in your small, religious town everyone is violently opposed to lesbian relationships.

You are driving away from it all, but feel like you never get anywhere.

There are at least 3 endings I saw; most of the game is linear, with a couple of branch-and-return points and two major choice points that I found.

Here are my thoughts:
-Polish: The game's formatting was a bit all over. It often switches from a prose-mode to a more poetical-mode by putting a line break after each line, but it was little cluttered and might look better with more spacing.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is vivid and imaginative, often visceral, like when describing the death of an animal or the horrific aftereffects of (Spoiler - click to show)a car crash. The vivid writing is the main selling point.
+Interactivity: While its mostly linear, the choices available do allow for you to characterize yourself and it feels like your choices have understandable and clear consequences.
+Emotional impact: I felt a lot of sympathy for the protagonist.
+Would I play again? Yeah, I enjoyed this game personally and replayed it a few times.


Inside, by Ira Vlasenko

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief Ink game exploring a 'mind cave' of a dying witch, October 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

In this Ink game, you are a spirit or something similar in the physically manifested version of a witch's mind. Or rather, the witch is in the 'mind cave' and you give her directions while she describes them.

There are several puzzly elements. I never died or got locked out, so its possible that you can't lost, but I'm not sure. I found things like a maze, a giant that attacks you, and then a wide, branching area with different doors, where one 'ultimate door' was unlocked by all the others, as well as alchemy puzzles, a whole city street, etc.

Sometimes things seemed like they had to be done exactly 1 way, but I got by anyway (for instance, I used one ingredient wrong in a potion). A lot of the game seems more about roleplaying than about getting things right, and I'm okay with that).

Overall:
-Polish: The game could be more polished. There were a few occasional but noticeable grammar problems, and the storyline feels a bit incoherent.
-Descriptiveness: Things are often assigned interesting names, but few details are given about them. We know nothing about a 'window with a yellow frame' except it's a window with a yellow frame. We know nothing about a giant except that he's giant; a cat is just a cat. Minimalism can work, but for me here it didn't.
-Interactivity: I just forged forward because I've seen this type of game before and figured almost any choices could work, but I wished there was more feedback.
+Emotional impact: I found the game actually fun; surreal stuff like this is one of my favorite types of writing.
+Would I play again? Yes, it would be fun to explore.


Star Tripper, by Sam Ursu

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A choicescript space trading game with custom UI and some bugs, October 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I played this game for a couple of hours, but didn't find the ending. I ended up poking around in the code, though.

This is a choicescript game with some neat css styling. In it, your sibling has been abducted and you have to find them.

Gameplay consists of moving around quadrants. There are 100 quadrants, and it costs fuel to move between them, a small amount for adjacent quadrants and a large amount for distant quadrants. Each quadrant has 4 sectors, which costs battery power to move around.

The game is procedurally generated in a minimal sense; each planet has a randomly selected 'level', which determines how many shops and things there are. Then text in each shop is pre-determined with blank slots that have words chosen from a random list.

I quickly realized that almost everything on a planet was pointless except for the trading and refueling. You can buy info, but it's rarely helpful, usually talking about planets so far away that fuel costs eat into your rewards. Travel guides don't seem to do much.

So I just bought and sold and moved around. I found an asteroid and claimed it, and started improving it.

But there were significant bugs: for instance, mining never has anything in it. Peeking in the code, it's hard coded, line by line, for 350 lines, for there to be nothing in the mines.

More severely, there are separate variables for available cargo spaces and total cargo, and only one is updated when upgrading your asteroid, so every time you upgrade your asteroid you permanently lower your cargo capacity.

I saw in the code that you can find a cheeky companion (didn't see how), possibly get married, and that there is an ending coded, but I'm not sure I'll be able to find it.

Dialogue-wise, in the main story bit, the game has character, but it likes to play tricks on the player in the sense that the guy you're talking to will treat almost anything you say as something wrong. I wasn't used to that, but it worked overall.

I think this game needed a lot more playtesting, including by the author; it doesn't 'feel' like the author played through a complete game by himself, and I'd heartily recommend doing that a couple of times, tweaking the game to make it easier or harder as needed. I would definitely raise my star rating if that polishing happened!


Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey, by Andrew Schultz

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Double rhyming through a manageable surreal landscape, October 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a wordplay game by Andrew Schultz, the third in a series involving double rhymes (like the name of the game itself).

I found it more appealing than the other two. Like the other games, this is a surreal setting, with names and locations picked more for their rhyme possibilities than anything else. But somehow it felt more coherent than the others. Also, the map is more manageable in this game.

Gameplay mostly consists of taking locations or items and typing two words that rhyme with two words in the location or item. There is a help system that is carefully explained, except for its main feature consisting of two dials. I got about halfway through before I realized that it (Spoiler - click to show)was telling you how many letters to add or subtract to your first and last words, although I'm still not sure what the last two decimal places mean.

I had to go to the hints increasingly more as time went on, and there was one word that I honestly had no clue ever existed (heavy spoiler for later game) (Spoiler - click to show)FLAIN.

The main boss had what felt like consistent character development, and the storyline felt taut and trimmed of fat. Overall, I found this to be above average for a wordplay game.


Thanatophobia, by Robert Goodwin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A chatbot game where you help a woman deal with a troubling figure, October 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game has a fairly unusual format. Like parser games, you type in text and get a text response. Unlike parser games, it's not necessarily deterministic; instead, with a chatbot structure, it reacts to keywords. I tried to see if it was using GPT-3 or something similar, but it was hard to tell; it knew a bit about Harry Potter but not so much about Chemistry. Overall, it felt somewhat more like a hand-rolled chatbot and less like a standard AI bot.

There are several things to discover in this game, but it can be hard to know what to do first. Just messing around will eventually lead the game to guide you towards a solution. I was able to finish without hints, and it took me about an hour.

For content warnings, the game does contain a fairly gruesome realistic image later on (a (Spoiler - click to show)blue-lipped overdose victim).

Overall, the chatbot system was a bit hard to use but I felt like it guided me to where I wanted to go. The text has a fairly descript 'voice' and nice little details, although necessarily due to the technology it didn't respond directly to my questions, leading to some bland messages.

I like 'dream games' and surreal stuff. Overall, I think this worked fairly well, but I don't really see a ton of replay value and I think the chatbot structure could be refined over time (although I imagine that it's a real challenge to work on something like this).


The Only Possible Prom Dress, by Jim Aikin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A complex and rich puzzle game in a mall with very large map, October 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game is a sequel to Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, a game a couple decades old. When I first played IF in 2010, I downloaded the Frotz app and played all the main games that come with it. After I found how fun big puzzle games like Curses! are, I searched for other games that were like it and found Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina. I ended up really enjoying the game a lot.

This sequel so far lives up to the original. Per IFComp rules, I've only played 2 hours, getting 20 out of 250 points and unlocking much of the map.

You play as a parent (I think a mother?) that is trying to get a prom dress for your daughter. There is a large mall that is mostly abandoned due to a parade. It's a 3-story mall, with many stores per floor and other areas outside.

It's a puzzle-based game, with a variety of puzzles, including conversation, codes, machines, animals, etc.

Like the original game, it has a huge map and is (eventually) very nonlinear. Unlike the original, it contains extensive in-game help systems and suggestions that smooth out the player experience. In particular, the (very mild early spoiler) (Spoiler - click to show)texts from your daughter help point you to the next available puzzle. I turned to the hints once, when I felt like I had a reasonable solution to something but it just wasn't working; it turned out I had just thought of it differently than the author, and the progressive hints gave me just the hint I needed.

The first two hours have been fun, and I look forward to the rest. I was just going to power through with the walkthru, but I think this is fun enough I'd like to take it slow later.


Improv: Origins, by Neil deMause

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A silly-superhero origin story, part of series, September 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I remember playing the Frenetic Five games a few years ago. They date back a few decades, and were a funny take on superheroes with characters that had pretty under-powered powers, always taking on villains with similarly silly ideas.

I never beat any of those games without hints, but I appreciated the vibes and felt they were internally consistent.

Although I've forgotten a lot about those games, I was happy to see a sequel/prequel released. This is a pretty fun game about trying to open up a vault.

It's a game that requires leaps of intuition for almost every step, which is a style that is both frustrating and rewarding. Given enough time, I probably would have wanted to play this off and on for a week or more, but instead I played an hour or so before using some hints that Dan Fabulich wrote on Intfiction.

I think the author succeeded in their goal, if their goal was to please fans of the former games and create a difficult one-room game centered on exploration and experimentation. I do like easier games myself, or ones centered on learning complex systems with easy individual parts, but I appreciate the vision of this game and hope the author keeps their intention to make more.

When this first came out in Parsercomp, I heard people talking about bugs, but the author seems to have patched them.


Uncle Mortimer's Secret, by Jim MacBrayne

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An internally-consistent and pretty big Basic time-travel adventure, September 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game placed well in the 2022 Parsercomp competition. It's in Basic, with a custom parser; most games written in Basic with a custom parser are pretty bad, but this one is good. It's only as I write this review that I realize I've played another game by this author, from last year, so it seems this parser has had plenty of time for polishing.

This is a time-travel adventure. Descriptions are sparse and leave a lot up to the imagination. Puzzles are often riddle-based or combination-based; individually, they are often obscure, but as a whole they have consistent internal logic.

The parser generally works well; it has a few oddities that I noted in my review of Somewhere, Somewhen, and which others have noted as well; since the author has been aware of them for some time, I doubt they will change, so won't note them here.

I found it all generally pleasing. I almost never played text adventures as a kid, but there were two I played a lot in 5th grade in the 90s. I remember one of them being a Wonderland-like game that had gardens and interesting areas, and most puzzles were riddles. This game has very similar vibes to that era of game, and I found it charming.

Overall, this is a big game (I played about 4 hours and used a walkthrough about 11 times), and fun. I'm glad it was entered.


Alchemist's Gold, by Garry Francis
A smallish, polished heist game using traditional puzzles, September 7, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game has you explore a forest and a small house to rob an alchemist of his gold.

The motivations and storyline are lightly sketched, as is much of the scenery. The focus is on the core parser experience: taking items, using them, a maze (with a map), keys and doors. There's no real surprises here: the goal is to recreate the feeling of games past, not to innovate.

Overall, it succeeds at its intended goal, and is polished and functionally descriptive. I enjoyed the time I spent with it.


Gent Stickman vs Evil Meat Hand, by AZ / ParserCommander

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Text input, graphics output: a short stickman adventure, August 29, 2022

One thing I've learned from writing IF is that it's impossible to please everyone; you can make something that some people love and some people hate, or you can make something that most people feel moderately positive about, but that's about it.

I think this game is well-done, and the author is a nice person I've seen on the forums. For me, though, I had a primarily negative response to this game for reasons not at all related to the quality.

This is a graphics-based game, where you enter text and get stick figure responses. It defaults to full-screen and has background noise and some slight pause between player input and response. You are a knight/stick figure man trying to rescue a stick figure woman rescued by a dragon.

My reasons for playing IF aren't due to nostalgia (I didn't even get into it until I had a toddler, in 2015); I love IF primarily because of its quick response times, its flexible and un-intrusive nature (as text in a resizable window that can be multi-tasked with), and, as text, its ability to be skimmed quickly and typed in quickly.

So this game has almost none of the features that I enjoy about IF, and I found myself honestly irritated while playing.

Grading it on my scale:
+Polish: The game is quite smooth and polished.
+Interactivity: On one hand, I was surprised that the game expected and acknowledged compass directions while telling the player not to use them; on the other hand, the parser was fairly robust and allowed for a lot of surprising interactions. I was baffled by the puzzles (I used a lot of hints) but given the minimalism and internal logic I feel they were fair.
+Descriptiveness: The art was pretty informative
-Emotional impact: As described above, my primary emotion was irritation.
-Would I play again? I would not.


Of Their Shadows Deep, by Amanda Walker

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A touching and descriptive riddle game with beautiful text art, August 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game was entered in the 2022 Parsercomp, and I helped beta test it. It came in second, but only by a fraction of some points, and is an excellent game.

This is a metaphorical story which, as told in the authors notes, is somewhat autobiographical, and touches on dementia. You are exploring some woods and a ravine to try to get firewood for your home while also recovering your mother's lost words. The writing and tone feels a lot like the 1800s gothic novels, like The Mystery of Udolpho.

The lost words take the form of riddle-poems. When solved (and playing in a graphics-compatible mode), they take the form of the solution to the puzzle.

The riddles are less of a purposely-frustrating-and-obfuscated description of something, and more of a description of something using highly figurative language. That doesn't necessarily make it easier, as I struggled with a couple of the notes for a few minutes, but in a good kind of struggle that made the game more engaging.

The writing is descriptive and evocative, similar to this author's other works. The real-life connection shines through, making it clear that the author cares about this subject and about the people in her life.

Overall, a satisfying game and one not to miss.


Midnight at Al's Self Storage, Truck Rentals, and Discount Psychic Readings, by Thomas Insel
A supernatural experience at a menial job, August 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This was an interesting game, with a mix of features that I'm not really used to seeing.

It's an inform game, and it's written fairly matter-of-factly, spitting out objective descriptions without commenting on them, which serves as an intentionally amusing contrast when things start to go weird.

You play as a young woman at a storage facility all alone, and you have to find and fetch three boxes. Your boss is kind of weird and has a lot of psychic stuff laying around.

It has three main puzzles, one of which is very easy, one of which took me a few days to solve, and one which has multiple solutions (I found one, club floyd found another, decompiling shows maybe 1 or 2 more).

The middle puzzle I almost gave up on. It involves the elevator, and the main issue I had was that its special feature (Spoiler - click to show)having all items fall out when the elevator goes up felt like a bug, since there are a lot of buggy games in parsercomp and elevator implementation is rough. I was especially inclined to think it a bug since riding in the elevator makes you permanently stuck (something I think may get fixed in a later version, as the author has mentioned doing so after the comp). But once I was reassured it was solvable, it was actually a lot of fun to wrestle with, and was, for me, the main highlight of the game.

The ending was interesting, and overall I think the concept worked well. The author used special inline images for the checklist, which looked nice.


You Won't Get Her Back, by Andrew Schultz
A single challenging chess puzzle, August 19, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is the latest in Schultz's series of chess puzzles, some of which have a series of increasingly difficult simple puzzles, some of which focus on one or two challenging problems.

This focuses on a single endgame position. I struggled with it a bit; not being a chess person myself, some of the rules involved were a bit arcane to me (like the stalemate rules). And perhaps my biggest problem with the game is that the author assumes familiarity with how endgames run, making seemingly useful moves end instantly without much explanation (most were generally well explained, I'm just salty because I don't see how pc7 kc5 where the rook goes to d1 is a stalemate; I wish that particular one was either better explained or if it let the player make the move and try for a turn or two more before shutting it down). So I just had to rely on random guessing for the first few moves.

I thought about searching for help, and I did look on the forums, which reminded me to read the documentation, which helped me grasp things. In the end, it was satisfying. And I think that this was the most emotionally poignant of the chess games; while my main attraction to this game was the puzzle, the emotional aspects were a nice touch and well-integrated.

I do think there is a mistake in the verbs section (correct me if I'm wrong):
It says (Spoiler - click to show)"You can also say N to set (or re-set) the default piece to promote to, say, the knight. In this case, although K is usually the king in algebraic notation, K is referred to as the knight, since you can't have two kings on the board," but typing N just moves the king up a square. To actually change the promotion you have to type the letter of the piece you want to promote to after the move, like c8b for bishop. As written, the text implies that typing N lets you select what you promote into.


October 31st, by Finn Rosenløv
Monster hunter extraordinaire in haunted house, August 19, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a detailed Adrift game set in a haunted house.

You encounter many classic monsters (werewolf, ghost, vampire, mummy, etc.) and have to find ways to defeat them all.

The game is really quite detailed, with changing room descriptions and independent NPCS.

Playing it made me think a lot about Graham Nelson's Bill of Player Rights and how most of the games I play follow it while this one does not. And it provides a different feel that's fun but also one I struggle with. This one includes a lot of randomness (I never actually finished because one of the wandering monsters I just couldn't run into), some required guesswork, some learning by death. But that also provides a different kind of challenge.

So, overall, it was fun, not what I'm used to but overall enjoyable. I did have trouble with one puzzle since it requires you to (Spoiler - click to show)look at a door's hinge, but the door is visible from two rooms and the hinge is only implemented in one and I looked from the wrong side initially.


The Euripides Enigma, by Larry Horsfield

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An epic-sized space adventure with a complex path to victory, August 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is the 14th game by Larry Horsfield, counting all the ones listed in the credits, and is so think the fourth or so I’ve played. For years IFdB’s old recommendation algorithm would suggest Die Feuerfaust to me as the next game to play but I never got around to it.

One thing I’ve learned about his games s that they are written almost like movies. It’s like he sits down and thinks “what would be an awesome scene here? What would be a cool move?” and then fleshes the game around that and adds obfuscation. Not necessarily classical puzzles, in the sense that you use logic to figure out what to do, but obfuscation in the sense that things are hidden behind some layer of searching. For instance, this game has right almost identical rooms called Living Quarters, half of which the game has you leave automatically and the other half of which contain an important item hidden behind some combination of “search”+preposition+room object. I had fun trying this part without the walkthrough and felt proud that I found tons of stuff in the base after an hour or so.

But I had missed several key items and actions (like loosening the straps on the rucksack) and was only 10% of the way through the game. So I typed in the walkthrough and enjoyed the movie, which was actually entertaining.

I think it would be possible to eat this game without hints. For me, playing an hour or so a day, it would probably take a month and need the help of people online who were playing with me. However, I found ore satisfaction in this way of playing. Thanks for the game!


Radio Tower, by brojman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Slick-looking custom parser in Godot with sci-fi and monsters, August 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was entered in Parsercomp, and I'll admit I didn't finish it (though I got pretty far!)

You play as someone in a fairly secluded area that sees lightning hit a radiotower, and then strange things happening. I ended up exploring a very large house filled with bizarre tech.

The game is written in Godot, which I think is an open-source alternative to Unity (maybe I'm wrong?). The game loaded quickly and looked nice, with several animations and a map that updated frequently, and also some visual puzzles.

I struggled mightily at first to even see the game, as it was taller and wider than my laptop screen and didn't seem to have dynamic resizing. I tried fullscreening the browser, then I tried shrinking and fullsizing, and only then did I realize there was a 'fullscreen' button at the bottom. One itch option actually lets you make the game fullscreen from the beginning, I think.

Instead of having the player guess the commands or remember a commonly used set, like most traditional parsers, this game has a specific list of commands which can be used, about 6 on average. These commands don't admit any abbreviations, and while there are clickable links for each command, the links don't enter the commands for you; instead they tell you how to use them.

Text is split in three areas: the room description, the outcome of non-important action below that, and your input even further below, similar to Scott Adams games.

The game branches into several endings, some early, some later, and includes a lot of weapons of various efficacy and different monsters that randomly pop out to get you.

I encountered a game crashing bug early on (don't inspect the truck seat!) but I got around it. I got much further, until I found (Spoiler - click to show)a still figure watching the wall in a basement that took 3 weapons.. After I defeated it, with just a sliver of health left, the game said I needed to type NEXT to continue, but NEXT didn't work. Having encountered at least two game-locking bugs, and having heard that it ends on a cliffhanger, and having seem much of the game, I decided not to continue.

I get the impression that the author isn't heavily involved in a lot of current interactive fiction, and so just went with their own direction and imagination on what a parser game should look like, based on old memories (this is all wild assumptions). I find it nice to see what directions people would go in if not constrained by a wider society or community, and this seems pretty neat, kind of reminiscent of Adventuron, which seems to have had a similar development pipeline.

I give the game 2 stars for descriptiveness and emotional impact but bugs make it harder to give more. If fixed (along with typos and quality of life improvements), this would be a 4 or 5 star game.


Cost of Living, by Anonymous

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A game allowing you to reflect on a static short story, August 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was entered in Parsercomp, then taken out, then put back in.

I had a hard time engaging with this game. It's written for an online format that forces the focus onto text boxes. You are supposed to type words into the box that the game recognizes.

At first, I tried to put whatever words I thought fit good, but then I tried the boundaries. It recognized 'felicitation' but not 'felications', for instance. Eventually, I started typing 'fart' in every box and the game was just fine with that. It was a little dumb of me, but I wondered how it would respond.

And it didn't really do much. The main part of the story is a sci-fi story, which I felt was oddly watered down and non-descriptive. I tried to copy a paragraph of the text to pick at it and analyze it, but that's when I realized the game forced the focus so you couldn't highlight anything. In any case, I was trying to figure out what I didn't like about it, and I realized it reminded me of the overly wordy and empty-of-meaning style of writing popular in certain older books. I was surprised to find later that this story wasn't new to the author, but borrowed from a 1950's publication, which I seemed to have not noticed when it was mentioned.

Between snippets of this text, there are two characters having a conversation about the text, with blank boxes for you to fill in like mad-libs. These conversations are mostly analyzing the text.

Overall, the game was polished and very complex, but I bounced off of the main story and the side story. I think it has an appeal, definitely to other people, but for me the whole thing felt a little bloodless.

From a technical standpoint it seems very impressive, overall!


Anita's Goodbye, by IlDiavoloVesteRosa

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A promising time travel game with some rough edges, August 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was written in four days, which is very impressive given how complex it is.

This is a time travel game with 3 different periods you can hop back and forth between. You can also send items to different time periods as well.

Your goal is to go back and say goodbye to a girl you love who died, but in a different timeline.

There are about 6 or 7 different puzzles, and it's engaging, but there are a lot of rough edges. Especially in the graveyard, where I tried tons and tons of words, none of which were implemented. There are typos as well

I think this would be an amazing game if it was tested and polished. As it is, though, it is merely a promise of a future good game.


Desrosier's Discovery, by Ben Ehrlich and Isabel Stewart

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An amusing adventure with a custom engine about a lodge, August 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I've been playing Parsercomp games in the reverse order of their placement. This one is pretty low on the list, but I actually had fun with it.

It's a custom parser engine, and it could use a lot of work when compared with engines that have decades behind them, but I liked the look, the browser-readiness, and the quick response time, so I definitely think it has promise, better than many custom parsers I've seen.

The game is silly fun and somewhat reminiscent of Zork. You are asked to visit an old professor friend (I think?) and end up at a lodge with several mysterious objects and items around.

A lot of text is non-interactive in this story, with lots of items described followed by 'PRESS ENTER TO CONTINUE', which could lead to some disambiguation problems, but if you LOOK at the prompt it lists items in a big list, making it easier to know what you can interact with.

The structure branches a lot, which is a bit of a bummer as there is no save feature and replaying the beginning quickly gets repetitive. Replaying is more enjoyable if you can shake things up a little every time right from the get go.

I saw one typo, which is not that bad. I had some struggles at the end (this was my attempt at a happy ending after my bad ending revealed a surprising truth):
(Spoiler - click to show)
What will you do?


> hug beast


Undefined response.


> drop gun


Undefined response.


> say hello


What would you like to say?


> hi


What would you like to hi?


> x beast


A terrifying beast standing 12 feet tall. Its teeth and claws look razor sharp.


> give gun to beast


Undefined response.


> drop gun


Undefined response.


> l


I didn't understand that.


> look


There's a terrifying beast, and a bat swarmed exit.


> wait


I didn't understand that.


> stay


I didn't understand that.


> scream


I didn't understand that.


> x gun


It looks like an old service revolver. The wooden handle has been polished with sweat from decades of use.


> give gun


Undefined response.


> talk to yeti


What would you like to talk?


> x yeti


What would you like to examine?


> x beast


A terrifying beast standing 12 feet tall. Its teeth and claws look razor sharp.


> beast hello


The beast pauses.


PRESS ENTER TO CONTINUE




Despite some typos, I'm impressed with the polish for a game made by hand. I found it amusing, and played a couple of times.


Kondiac, by Picarly

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A demo for a game about searching a database for visual images, August 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game seems a lot like Her Story (a popular game where you search tons of short video clips interviewing a woman about a crime, and you have to find and use keywords to search; I think, I haven't played it) but it uses static images instead of videos.

There are only about 8 images and it's difficult to know what to type. I got most of the images from this intfiction thread:
https://intfiction.org/t/anyone-having-any-luck-with-kondiac/56651/3

Overall, this is just the beginning of the game, so it's really hard to evaluate how enjoyable it would be if finished. Right now, I'm assigning it a low score on my scale (which measure polish, interactivity, descriptiveness, emotional impact, and the desire to play again), but I could see an improved version being really fun.


ConText NightSky, by XxTheSpaceManxX

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A unity game with text-completion parser set in Antarctic base, August 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was originally written in Godot and ported to Unity.

You play as a researcher in an Antarctic base. You need to get up, shower, eat, and check out some samples.

Unlike most parser games, there's not much freedom in what you can type. It lists the commands you can use (usually 2-4), and when you type one in, it lists the possible objects/directions. It's highly constrained, so there are usually < 5 possible options at any point.

This kind of takes away the best part of a parser game (freedom) and the best part of a choice game (speed), leaving a bit of frustration.

This game has several typos and is unfinished. I think the core idea is great and fun (I like Antarctic base games) but it just needs more work and more time.


python game, by theernis

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A basic sketch of an adventuring system written in Python, August 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game was entered into the recent 2022 Parsercomp.

This is a python game. When it begins, it has a neat little loading animation, then gives you a list of commands.

Gameplay consists of fighting, where you can attack or run away, plus eating to regain health and trading.

There are only a few simple encounters and locations, so it seems like most of the work went into the system. These kind of things are pretty hard to program, so I imagine that the author found it enjoyable to wrestle out how to program all the different activities.

Unfortunately, most of the work recreated things which were done before in other languages, and so from a player standpoint there's not a lot here that's new or exciting.
-Polish: The game is a bit buggy and could use more disambiguation and error messages.
-Descriptiveness: The game is fairly sparse
-Interactivity: It was a bit hard to figure out what to do
-Emotional impact: It doesn't seem designed for that.
-Would I play again? Probably not.


Vampire: The Masquerade — Sins of the Sires, by Natalia Theodoridou

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Vampire:The Masquerade game focused on motivation and emotion, August 7, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

To be up front, this is probably the VtM Choicescript game I’d be least likely to recommend to the general public.

This game is very high quality, but it doesn’t focus on the mechanical aspects of the VtM nearly as much as the others. For me, and I expect many people, the draw of these games is to try out the systems.

Furthermore, choicescript games in general are often easiest to enjoy when the effects of your choices are clear and obvious. This game has a lot of branching text, but much of the variation is in the emotional aspects of your character’s thoughts rather than major events (compared to similar games; there is still major event branching in this game, just not as much). Also, there’s some more strong profanity on this game than I prefer.

With those caveats aside, this is an excellent psychological introspection game. More than the other vampire games, this dives into the inner mind of a vampire. I think the game was describing itself in this quote (only available in certain paths):

“Alex had a knack for putting together campaigns that would test your morality more than your STR and DEX, and they would frictionlessly lead you to dilemmas that forced your group to ask: So, who are we? What do we stand for? What do we play for?”

Another, later quote takes a rare wink in the fourth wall:

“ For a moment, the idea that you might be a made-up character yourself takes root in your mind and seduces you with the possibility. What would it be like to be a fictional character—just another collection of ink and paper in a book with its own backstory and motivations? You're full of so much mundane detail that when the plot needs you to do something, they can pull you out and have you do it without any messy internal conflicts dragging you down—that's the fantasy, anyway.”

The game is about you as a vampire who was abandoned by your vampire-sire, and later taken in by a man named Markos. You live in Athens, which is gripped by a conflict between those who want vampires to continue the Masquerade, hiding from humanity, while others, radicals, want to tear it down and reveal all.

This author is a previous Nebula nomineee, and it shows. The story is tight and excellent. However, it is somewhat dark and can be depressing; failure at the end is not only possible but likely.

Some have described the game as rushed, and I think that’s because of the focus on the inner mind. The typical events of a game, like fights, betrayals, etc. are given less focus while your own doubts and hopes are played out over a longer time.

I had thought of giving this 4 stars, but I honestly enjoyed the storyline quite a bit, especially some parts about sunrises.


Heaven's Vault, by Inkle

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A graphical exploration and archaeology game , June 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game is by Inkle, a studio that has made numerous interactive fiction games. While this game has many non-textual elements, the text is a very important part of the gameplay and the core mechanic is a large textual language puzzle. It took me 16 hours for one playthrough, according to Steam.

The main idea is that you, in an fictional futuristic setting, are an archaeologist exploring an ancient, highly-advanced civilization. They settled a nebula with 'moons' connected by jets of water that are navigable by boat. The main thread throughout the civilizations' history is the use of a language: ancient. This is presented as a series of sigils, usually ran together, that you at first guess and then eventually become certain of (through a mechanic where the game tells you if you got it right after you use it a few times in a row). No spaces are used in most words, making finding where words start and stop the hardest part later on.

I'd like to split up this review a bit into different categories, starting with what was, for me, the weakest part:

3d Navigation and pacing
I bounced off this game at first because of this. One thing that a lot of commercial IF games lean into, especially ones by authors transitioning from indie to AAA-adjacent, is to bulk up the play time, is splitting up stories with long sections of travel. This is done in 80 Days, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies, and here, too. This leads to a lot of very dull moments. 80 days helped make up for it with quick transit animations and making the movement part of the overall puzzle, while in most of these other games it's just dead air.

This game splits up content in two different ways. Large chunks each take place on different worlds, split up by ship travel, which has no hazards and no decision making outside of binary choice points and occasional random treasure. The smaller chunks on each world are split up by 3d motion. This uses invisible hitboxes that don't always line up with what you can see; this is especially apparent in 'open worlds' that look easily navigable but are secretly linear. I found myself frequently running into walls and getting stuck. Amusingly, I realized that the space part and the 3d part were very similar to Kingdom Hearts 1, just without the enemies.

Conversations happen in real-time. Speed is adjustable in the menu, but there is no scroll-back and pausing is difficult. I generally like text games because they can be picked up and put down, minimized, multitasked, and easily played around others without being intrusive. For this game, I had to give complete attention at pretty much all times, and even then I missed quite a bit of dialog looking away to itch a scratch or to answer my kids' questions.

Continuing on my scale of not liking to liking are things that I liked a lot but don't really factor into my rating:
Graphics and audio

I think they did a great job here. Voiceover is really lovely, the music is heartrending and sci-fi feeling. The art looks a lot better than most 3d games, and loads well on my potato laptop. The artists and sound designers really did well.

Character and Plot
This is generally very good, with some slight caveats. Characters are very distinctive and mostly memorable. The protagonist has a rich past interconnected with many corners of the Nebula. The plot contains multiple independent strands circling the big mystery: where did these civilizations come from, why is everyone here, and what's going to happen to them?

Our main character is kind of a jerk. I know subconsciously it can be easy to perceive strong female characters as aggressive when compared to similar male protagonists, but I believe our character has attributes would be jerky for men as well, especially in regards to her interaction with the robot Six. It was actually refreshing in a lot of ways, but I think 'jerk with a heart of gold' interests me more than 'jerk with a heart of jerk'. The strong personality does lend to some fun role-playing through.

The plot threads were very intriguing, including the mysterious workings of your home city, the cryptic machinations of you employer, some kids trying to find their place in the world, etc, as well as your progressive discovery of the ancient world.

I felt like the ending in my playthrough came at a time where I had a lot of loose ends, and not a lot of choice to go back and work on them. And the final reveal, while visually stunning, left quite a bit unresolved as well, especially given how much build up there was. I know that it can be hard to simultaneously give people choice as well as a satisfying plot structure (which is one reason, I speculate, that a lot of Choice of Games with award-winning stories often don't sell as well as those with straightforward power fantasies), but I've seen a few people do a great job of this, such as the 'Truth' ambition in Sunless Skies. That game separates your quests into different categories and has clear victory conditions, so you know if you're going to leave threads unfinished. It also provides a very weighty, powerful, and conclusive finish to the final story. I feel like Sorcery! 4 also had a very satisfying ending. This game, Heaven's Vault, was not bad at all with its ending, better than average for sure, but could have been amazing.

Puzzle mechanics

I really enjoy languages. I've studied French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Greek, Latin, Japanese and a little Hebrew, some more than others. So I was definitely up for a challenge here.

As someone who has struggled with many languages, I have to say that the experience in this game is much less like learning an actual language and much more like learning a code alphabet for English. Emily Short, in her review, said "a great deal of Ancient is English in a chiffon-sheer disguise", and I have to agree.

However, this isn't necessarily a negative. Language take forever to learn. I've been studying written Japanese for 3-4 months now and still struggle with basic pronunciation. For the average English-speaking player, learning an actual non-English language would be far too difficult.

So the game simplifies it. 'Ancient' has none of those bizarre ultra-common connector words that can mean so many things (like 'zwar' in German or '就' in Mandarin). Most sentences, especially early ones, follow simple noun-verb-object patterns, with some light prepositions added in later.

Most words are ones that can be easily identified with pictographs. Themes of light, travel, people, fire, water, air, earth, plant and metal dominate the vocabulary. In another distinction between in-game and real-life pictographic languages, there is not a significant 'drift', where everyday words have bizarre derivations based on non-written considerations (like the fact that 'mother' in chinese is woman-horse due to homonyms). Interestingly, the pictograph for 'man' is the same in 'Ancient' and Chinese, although I don't know if that's a coincidence.

Some features are distinctly English, such as the way that past and future tense are conjugated and the use of helper verbs. The game uses symbols that directly derive from modern earth culture, like (Spoiler - click to show)question marks and x's

These features make word-solving easier. Even then, it would be impossible to just begin with a blank slate, make guesses, and hope you're right later. It'd be the worlds' hardest cryptogram and sudoku, a big pile of guesses waiting to collapse. Instead, the game gives you a huge leg up over real-life translators by giving you four options to guess from, 1 of which is always correct. Which every one you pick is indicated by a ? in future uses. Once it's used 3 or 4 times, the game confirms your translation or denies it through your robot or your own intuition. This is probably the main feature that makes the game far easier than learning a real-life language, and it is, in my opinion, what makes it actually fun.

By the end, individual pictographs are all easily identifiable, so the trick is giving you longer sentences with no spaces, so you have to identify words by their structure. The language is very systematic, and I was thrilled to puzzle out some pieces, although some I struggle with, especially (Spoiler - click to show)the difference between a period . and a colon :. It can become very difficult to find the border between words, and you can't figure out new words unless you surround them on both sides with established words. I often had to save longer texts to come back to after I learned more words.

I adored the translation. For me the highlight of the game was finding a huge (Spoiler - click to show)book that never seemed to end. I translated over 20 lines, took a break, delivered it somewhere, and translated more until it made me stop.

As mentioned earlier, the game ended kind of abruptly for me and I had some unresolved translation, but by then I felt like I was going to have to compromise anyway on what I had hoped to achieve in the game. I didn't feel compelled to do another playthrough, but I may try again some day.

Overall

Overall, it was worth the money. I got it on sale. It provided me 16 hours of content and could easily go up to 30 or more, with a large chunk of that being just reading/translating. That's much more than most free/indie interactive fiction. I didn't really like the 3d movement aspects at all, and I feel the ending could have had more narrative weight, especially (Spoiler - click to show)talking more about loops, and the repetition aspect. But the plot still pulled me forward the whole game, and for a language puzzle, it was the best I've seen out there, and the dialog, art, and sound were outstanding to me.

For my star rating system, it was polished, descriptive, had good interactivity, I felt emotionally invested, and I will likely play again some day. Just not today.


Older, Not Wiser, by Olivia Wood, Failbetter Games
A meditation on mortality; also, older women steal things, June 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story, a part of Fallen London that is available to subscribers or purchasable separately at a higher price.

In this story, you are robbed by two unusual thieves: a pair of sisters of advanced age. You are quickly drawn into their shenanigans, and plot a heist with them.

The main focus of this story is the relationship between the two sisters, and their individual meditations on mortality and age, as well as the loss of ones dear to them.

The heist itself, and your group, is relatively straightforward, leaving more focus to go into immortality. The groups you encounter here are the urchins and the Gracious Widow, with this story giving some chunks of info regarding her that are otherwise difficult to obtain. I'd primarily recommend this story to people interested in the Gracious Widow specifically, or who have considered what it would be like to get a new lease on life in their old age.


Fading to a Coda, by Nigel Evans, Failbetter Games
Help a revolutionary attack the sitting powers, June 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story, an additional piece of content for Fallen London that is available to subscribers, or for purchase for an additional amount.

This story centers around a revolutionary (called the Growling Radical) who was essentially exiled from London for a time. He wants to come back and put on a performance that will shock the powers-that-be.

And that's all that really happens. There aren't too many twists in this story; he asks you to help his song, he puts on the performance, and you can influence a bit how things go.

In a recent survey, out of the 100 stories that require money, this story ranked 90th, one of the least popular. But the author has also written a story in 6th place, The Brass Grail, so it seems less like a skill issue and more like just an idea that didn't work out as well as hoped.


Codename: Sugarplum, by Chandler Groover and Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A supernatural spy thriller, June 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story for Fallen London, an extra piece of content that subscribers receive and which can also be purchased separately for additional costs.

In this story, you, a detective (as most characters in Fallen London become early on), are asked to track down a missing Dachshund. Your client is a newspaper reporter that covers the Bazaar (a Bazaarine Correspondent).

But soon you discover that you are entangled in a web of espionage. A lot of the story revolves around decrypting messages with seeds you find (this decryption is carried out automatically, rather than solving a cryptogram by hand). You find several people out to get you, and you soon get embroiled into a massive conspiracy with supernatural terrorism and several Masters.

I'm a fan of mysteries, and this game does a great job of setting up several curious and mysterious things that later get pulled back in satisfyingly and surprisingly by the story; kind of like Checkhov's machine gun instead of Chekhov's gun.

Descriptions are vivid, especially of people. The masters are painted vividly, the clay men are humorous, the new assailants and missing people are unusual and diverse, and the locations are creative (especially the sugar factory).

I think one thing that I enjoy about this story (and Chandler's others) is that the player is at the center. Many of the other stories, including recent ones, have you at the edges of some great conflict, where you observe for a while and then make some monumental choice at the end. It's like you're in someone else's novel, but you play the side character who gives good advice at the end and changes the tide.

But in this and other Groover stories, you yourself are the main story. You are the problem for other people, the main driving force of the plot, the center around which other things resolve. Your actions feel weighty. Some other stories by other authors do this, too, like the Icaran Cup or Flint.

Overall, I enjoyed this one.


The Queen of the Elephants, by Harry Tuffs and Failbetter Games
Solve a bizarre string of robberies , June 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story for Fallen London. Exceptional stories are chunks of additional content for subscribers which can also be purchased separately.

This story takes a lot of strange terms, some of them very dark. One warning for a kind of content that might trouble a lot of people (even people who usually don't need warnings): (Spoiler - click to show)possible animal abuse. More specifically: (Spoiler - click to show)you can voluntarily choose to murder a sentient elephant and watch it die and get harvested for ivory. This is only a small side part of the story and not the main thrust.

In this story, there is a mysterious band of thieves that seems to be making enormous amounts of money, but without any apparent victims. Your job is to figure out who their victims are.

This ends up being tied to some of the deeper lore of Fallen London, specifically (names of factions it ties into): (Spoiler - click to show)Parabola, the chessboard, and the Red Handed Queen. It has some significant choices that gave me pause, and features a lot of duality, which is a favorite topic of mine to play in IF.

Overall, I would give this 4 stars, except it features a couple of concepts I personally enjoy quite a bit.


Totentanz, by Matt Diaz and Failbetter Games
Hold a dance to kill the dead , June 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story from Fallen London, a piece of additional content for subscribers that can also be purchased separately.

In this story, a group of the Tomb Colonists (older people who have pushed Fallen London's immortality too far) desire to experience true death through the ancient Totentanz, a mystical dance that releases the dead into a dream world.

The dance is connected with the Third City, a predecessor to Fallen London from pre-Columbian America that ended in a horrible tragedy. It's also connected to moonlight, which in Fallen London shows things how they would be, not how they are.

Most of the story revolves around assembling the various parts of the dance. This includes visiting a mad scientist, hunting down a mysterious woman all across London, and attending a high stakes auction.

The concepts are interesting, but some of the interactions feel a little like filler. Definitely a good one for fans of the tomb colonists, though, or Mr Wines.


A Stretch in the Sky, by Olivia Wood and Failbetter Games
A jailhouse drama with three odd characters, June 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story for Fallen London, a kind of additional content that subscribers get.

This story features a prison with three inmates. The prison, a fixture in many Fallen London stories, is a giant stalagmite that has been hollowed out. There is an infestation of sorts in a higher level, so prisoners are getting moved lower down where there is, unfortunately, less room.

So you are sent in undercover to determine who should be released. The characters are a notorious pirate captain who may actually be a decoy, a retired spy, and a sentient tiger (a not uncommon kind of character in Fallen London).

The writing is excellent overall, but the storyline, I feel, tries to be too many things at once. It's a character study, it's a mystery, it's survival horror, it's political drama, it's romance, and I feel that there's just not enough room in the story for all these threads to be pulled together, especially since the interactivity means that some plotlines won't be followed up on.


Mistress of the Skies, by Mary Goodden and Failbetter Games
Class warfare through magic makeup, June 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a Fallen London exceptional story, a chunk of additional story-focused content available to subscribers (or on its own, for a heftier sum).

This story focuses on a new brand of makeup being sold door-to-door in an MLM format, with people recruiting others and getting bonuses for it. The makeup is based on the Neathbow, colors in Fallen London that have magical effects (like forgetfulness, remembrance, dreams, emptiness, etc.).

The collective is trying to disrupt Victorian London society by giving greater power to the lower classes. The establishment is not happy about this.

You become one of the recruits, but you become embroiled in a dispute from the far past. Features cats, royalty, Egypt, a striking main NPC, and the other side of mirrors.

This is an excellent character piece, but that is its only distinguishing quality, unless you are especially interested in social reform.


Haudrauf-Battleboo, by Dennis Schwender

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A german game book about combat and economy, June 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is the final German IF Grand Prix 2022 game I played. It's a static pdf that's a gamebook.

You keep track of an inventory, health, money, and time. The main gameplay revolves around rolling dice for combat with slimes and kobolds, as well as, later on, some human combatants.

There are several 'grind zones' where you can fight with enemies and gain wealth as long as you like.

I found the game fairly tough to play as intended the first time through, with only 5 health and a lot of enemies that have a 33% chance to beat them per roll, and losing 1 health per loss. But it was fun.

I felt like the setting was often a bit generic, kind of like a random JRPG (you have villages with inns for recovery, slimes are the main enemy, etc.)

Overall, not life-changing but fun for a short time.


Die Polarstation, by Jürgen Popp

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short german Commodore 64 game about crashing in antarctic, June 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

In this game, you crash-land near an abandoned arctic station and have to find your way to civilization.

I was worried at first, as playing a commodore 64 game in a foreign language seemed daunting. But the game actually has a great layout emphasizing important items and directions, and had many simple shortcuts to make the game easier.

There could be some improvements overall; the game is fairly short, not a lot is explained, and there's at least one typo I noticed. But I definitely appreciate the simplicity and it had a cute animal NPC.


The House of Silk and Flame, by James Chew, Failbetter Games
A spider-centered Exceptional Story, June 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story, a bonus piece of content for subscribers which can also be purchased by itself at a premium.

This story centers on spiders. There are a variety of spiders in Fallen London, from the sorrow-spiders that hatch in eyeballs to their larger cousins like spider councils or senates, huge beings formed from conglomerates of smaller ones.

This features the spiders of Vesture, a kingdom on the Elder Continent. Fallen London takes place in a giant cavern called the Neath, which has a variety of locales (such as Hell). The Elder Continent often seems to intentionally evoke North Africa as well as Eden, and is connected with immortality and life.

Vesture is a kingdom made of an alliance between spiders and humans. This story examines that connection, entangling you in a royal family's dispute about how to handle the death of a great, vast spider and the fallout that will bring. Family loyalty and tradition vs progress are the main themes.

I enjoyed the story, but felt a little constrained. There are some very meaningful choices (including a permanent companion and very different endings), but I didn't feel like I really shaped the story, mostly witnessing someone else's story and stepping in at the last moment. I prefer the exceptional stories where you take a more prominent role, even if it's all still scripted.


Adornment, by Harry Tuffs, Failbetter Games
Trapped in an elevator with a smuggler, a golem, and the God of bling, June 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story for Fallen London, a kind of content that comes out once a month to people with a subscription, or can be purchased later for a significantly heavier cost.

This story has a quite charming premise. The city of Fallen London is ruled by Masters, hooded, alien figures that each have a different 'domain'. Much of the progress in Fallen London's main storylines centers on the Masters and how much you know about them, so info on them is generally considered rare and precious.

This story focuses on Mr Stones, whose domain is all things beautiful, especially diamonds.

A smuggler needs help with a diamond and Mr Stones. But instead of robbing him of a diamond, he wants you to 'plant' a diamond from the surface. Why? Because (Spoiler - click to show)it's a cursed diamond, one that brought empires to downfall. Specifically, it's the Hope Diamond. Things go wrong, though, and you end up trapped with the smuggler, a furious Mr Stones, and a clay golem-turned-Quaker, kind of like a bottle episode of a sitcom.

You can end up learning quite a bit about Mr Stones himself, probably the biggest backstory reveal we've ever had on him and just about the deepest possible level of lore.

Mechanically, there were options to try to save certain people and whether to trust or betray. It was generally satisfying, and I think this one is worth playing, but overall it didn't exceptionally stick out. This may be due to the overall high quality recently.


Fenrir 13, by Marc Biegota

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A custom-parser German space game about fixing a station, June 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is custom-written in C++, and has you wake up on a ship that is malfunctioning. You have to figure out what's wrong with the ship and repair it.

Pros: The game has lush and vivid descriptions, and has an interesting environment with generally logical and often physics-based puzzles.

Drawbacks: The implementation of some synonyms and nouns is lacking somewhat. As a non-native speaker, I often just put the wrong words in, but I frequently found commands that worked in other German games didn't work here (like 'hinab'). Furthermore, when I was super lost, I discovered the code was public, including some test walkthroughs, and in those test playthroughs the testers tried the exact same things I did, which means the author was aware of the problems and either could not or chose to fix them, leaving the implementation a bit choppy.

A problem for non-native speakers like me (not factored into the score) is that there are a ton of non-useful items cluttering up each room, with a single useful item in most rooms. So you might have an exercise room with a cardio machine, stationary bike, weights, etc. each with a long paragraph worth of description, but only one of them has anything useful on it. So I found this quite difficult to play, whereas a native speaker would have a much easier time. It made me think about how my English games could be improved for non-native speakers.


Die erste Nacht, by Hannes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A german parser game full of hidden implications, June 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game takes place in a small apartment after you have moved in with your wife Laura. Most of the house is filled with packed boxes.

This game is remarkable for what it doesn't tell you, kind of like 9:05 in several ways. I've played several games by this author before that I felt like were rich and vivid. In contrast, this game is stark and minimalistic.

Essentially, you're trying to fall asleep but you feel a bit agitated. You need to find ways to calm yourself. There's a timer before you have to wake up at 7.

In the middle of the night, things change. You're awoken by a disturbance and need to investigate it.

I imagined that this would open up new areas to explore, but it didn't, really. Instead, careful exploration is required and you need to think about what kind of things would work logically for you in this situation.

In the end, the game was very polished, purposely non-descriptive, had interesting interactivity but didn't really connect with me emotionally. I could see myself playing again.

Note: I had to decompile to figure out some actions.


Schief, by Olaf Nowacki

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A short, one-room german comedy game about disasters, June 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This German game has an English version, Wry, which was entered into Spring Thing and which was well-received.

I actually enjoyed this version a bit more, which I guess, for me, lends credence to the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. I really appreciated how the game led you on on what to do, and how responsive it was, in general. In addition, I saw less of the ribald fantasies in this version, as I knew less commands to try out lol.

There were a couple of minor issues; looking at the wall gave a response in English ("On the wall above the sofa hang several pictures"), and X BILDER still lists a young lady being among the pictures even when the canvas has slipped out. But overall, I found this enjoyable and fresh.


Phoney Island, by Stefan Hoffmann

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A complex UI for a complex German game about a Trump-ruled island, June 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I played this game for quite a long time. This is a German Grand Prix competition game from 2022.

It's a downloadable executable that requires an up-to-date version of .NET. It's written in German, and is a custom parser game that contains 6 different windows, each with clickable links (one is the main story, one is constant links and directions, another is all objects in the room, another is inventory, another is a static room description).

The idea is that the whole game can be done either through typing or through link choices. Each object has its own set of links. Overall, it made play simpler, but frequently this led to an overabundance of links. For instance, most rooms had 7 or more furniture objects that did not matter in the gameplay. And many links were redundant. For instance, 'climb on top of' and 'get down' and 'go to' links were always there but never seemed to be used.

The story is that you are hunting Phoney, a 'hamberder' loving man who leaves behind bankruptcy claims and red hats to go through a portal where he rules an island through 'Phoneyvision'. Phoneyvision makes everything seem better than it really is. For instance, his wife is reality is a sticky blow-up doll, but in Phoneyvision she's a model.

Unfortunately, Phoneyvision only seems to work in two locations for most of the game. I had to restart once because I used phoneyvision in the wrong place and entered a void containing nothing but a rotten hamburger. I feel like it's a bit of a missed opportunity.

Gameplay mostly revolves around surviving a grim and darkly humorous world populated by parodies of Trump's associates, such as the cannibal ghoul that is also Trump's lawyer, or the poisoner/tax-collector named Middlefinger (not sure who this one's a reference to). Rotten food, mean-spirited pranks, and general filth and decay abound.

The UI has a replay option to allow you to go back to any time in your story, but every time I used it it got stuck in the first room of the replay. I tried saving, but when I closed the program and re-opened it my save wasn't there.

Overall, I think the engine is impressive but could be improved. This is part 1 of a four part story. I don't really enjoy mean-spirited humor, and felt frustrated with both my bad German and trying to understand the game's puzzles, but this game stuck in my brain so I played it for several days, getting help from the author. I'm rating it as '2-10 hours long' in my classification system, but a native speaker might finish it sooner.


CC's Road to Stardom, by OK Feather

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Gorgeous graphics mixed with classic puzzles but confusing systems, May 18, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This Adventuron game takes full advantage of the system's graphical capabilities. It has excellent pixel art for a multitude of characters and mini-games.

You play as a young sentient animal on a spaceship. You want to be a star, so you go around the ship talking to others and getting advice.

Most interactivity is in the form of riddles or puzzles. There is a language-to-language duolingo-like game for learning languages, a graph theory problem, a logic puzzle, a cryptogram, math problems, etc.

An immense effort has been put into this game. Unfortunately for me, most of it was put into the areas that I am not quite as interested in. As for the main play, there are some frustrations. For instance, typing LOOK won't bring up the room description again, so you have to leave and come back to find out who's there. There is a chicken wing tree, but after you pluck one off and try to eat it it acts like you don't have it. There are occasional typos that distract. Overall, I had fun, but I think the very high production quality of the rest of the game gave me higher expectations for the text-based part.

The art is the best part of the game, with good shading and 3d perspectives.


The Spooky Mansion, by Tim Jacobs

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Pleasant little illustrated Adventuron game intended for younger audiences, May 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was entered into the 2022 Text Adventure Literacy Jam. It has some lovely illustrations and uses the Adventuron engine.

You've lost your pet dog and have to explore a spooky mansion. A tutorial helps you out to get started. Most puzzles revolve around EXAMINing things and TALKing to people. There are a lot of cute characters, like philosophical skeletons and silly pumpkins.

It's not too long, but some of the puzzles were moderately challenging. One lasted a little bit longer than I would have wished, but overall this is one of the strongest games in the competition.


Kenny Koala's Bushfire Survival Plan, by Garry Francis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A kid's parser game for protecting Australian wildlife from a forest fire, May 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Garry Francis is a prolific author, specializing in text adventures with a focus on puzzles and core parser gameplay (like GET/DROP/etc.). This game and the other one he released in the same competition (The Carpathian Vampire) show a lot of growth in implementation and puzzle design.

This is one of the smoothest games of the comp. You play as a koala who is also a bushfire warden for the surrounding wildlife. You have to provide for yourself and all those around you.

The main charm in this game is the vivid descriptions of australian wildlife and plants, with background action happening (like skinks crossing your path), a garden area with tons of plants, and puzzles revolving around Australian wildlife.

I think this is pretty great, and was glad to play it. My one desire might be for a couple of additional things to implement for consistency. One puzzle, for instance, was only solved by (Spoiler - click to show)the verb ASK [person] ABOUT [something], while a later puzzle had a character (the owl) who didn't respond to ASK OWL ABOUT [topic] for most topics that mattered; instead, this was a TALK TO puzzle, which was somewhat inconsistent with the earlier puzzles.


Mermaid Adventure, by Leaflet Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Explore an underwater area with magic, May 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is an Adventuron game written for the Text Adventure Literacy Jam. It's parser based and has you diving into the ocean, exploring for treasure.

Here's my rating:

-Polish: I feel like the game could be brushed up a bit. The tutorial isn't reactive; instead you have to type RUN TUTORIAL separately in two rooms, and in one of those rooms it just lists several turns' worth of info, whereas other tutorials in this comp reacted to your actions. Similarly, more synonyms could be added.
-Descriptive: Many objects weren't described. The descriptions in the game are easy to picture, though.
-Interactivity: This game involves guessing the verb a lot. For instance, opening the chest: (Spoiler - click to show)OPEN CHEST and UNLOCK CHEST don't have meaningful responses, but PLACE GEM does. And after you open it, (Spoiler - click to show)TAKE LIGHT, ENTER LIGHT, LOOK IN LIGHT, SEARCH LIGHT, ENTER CHEST, none of it works, except for TOUCH LIGHT.
-Emotional impact: It was hard to connect with the game, because I was frustrated.
-Would I play again? Same as above.

The game isn't that bad overall, but I wish that more people had tested it and that things the testers tried were implemented. If that had happened, I would definitely give this game a higher score, because it has a lot of good ideas; it's only bug-fixing and adding more responses that I think it could use.


Barry Basic and the Speed Daemon, by Dee Cooke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Three puzzle games of varying difficulty blended into one, May 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game has the same storyline shown from multiple points of view. As you complete an easy one, a harder one unlocks. In an amusing twist, the 'help' system for each difficulty level is the PC of the next difficulty level. It's an adventuron game, and comes with a built-in map.

Each difficulty level is linear, solving one room at a time before unlocking the next room.

I found the puzzles pretty hard as the game went on. The first difficulty level wasn't too hard, but I couldn't figure out the wordplay puzzle in the second difficulty without the walkthrough (I had tried (Spoiler - click to show)GLASS and 4-letter words without success). I also had deep trouble with the wire problem, especially since the solution relied on a word not in the verb list, and the cake puzzle, well, I'm not sure how it worked even after the solution. This isn't bad, necessarily, since being stuck is a feature of puzzles, but I definitely did get stuck; other reviews say they had no problems in this game so it's probably just me.

Overall, the game was entertaining. I would have preferred some simultaneous puzzles so I could work on one while being stuck on another. I found the writing was clear and set the scene well in most problems.


Raspberry Jam, by Sylfir

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A combo parser/link .exe game about collecting raspberries, May 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has a pretty unusual format. It's a .exe file entered into the Text Adventure Literacy Jam, and it features a bar for typing in parser commands as well as hyperlinks to make play easier.

I used just the hyperlinks, as typing was unusual. It may have been just me, but it seemed like I couldn't hit enter and get a response unless it was an acceptable command, which was weird because I couldn't tell if the game was lagging or if I just didn't have the right command.

The links operate by single-clicking for directions, double-clicking to use items or pick them up, and clicking once on one item and once on another to use them together.

The puzzles are fairly simple, mostly exploring and grabbing whatever you command. Finishing one puzzle generally unlocks the next.

I had a couple of frustrations. The text color was similar to the background image, making it hard to read. Text scrolling with a mouse was required, but the mouse wheel doesn't scroll. And there are some text mistakes that make things confusing.


Forgotten Island, by Josh Goebel

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A magic pirate puzzle adventure with sound, May 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is an adventuron game with a two-word parser and tutorial designed for beginners.

While many games in this comp seem to lean towards younger children's interests, I feel like the pirate story is not really childish. Instead, the author provides an interesting backstory for an island with magical creatures and enemies.

Most of the gameplay, though, is centered around solo exploration. Some puzzles have multiple solutions, which is neat.

A lot of work went into worldbuilding and into a tutorial that is helpful at suggesting verbs and giving expectations for the parser.

Overall, I wonder if it could have been a bit more fleshed out. It's actually more substantial than many games in the comp, and being shorter is better for beginners, but it felt pulled in multiple directions by seeking to be simple and short but also to do epic storytelling, which would have benefited from a bigger buildup. I had fun, though!


Wizard's Club, by Robert Szacki

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short ADL game about picking up and dropping items to get points, May 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This feels kind of like a game for the author to experiment with and/or learn ADL.

It's a .exe file that leads to a simple game with < 10 rooms. Most rooms have 1 item. There are several characters you interact with using TALK CHARACTER. Instead of GIVING items, you PUT items in different places. The game ends right when you get the final point, closing down instantly without waiting to display the end text.

The writing is minimal, there isn't a strong connecting narrative. The puzzles are logical, though. If this was a trial run for the author to check out the language, it succeeded. I'm very glad there was a tutorial, as most games written in .exe parser are hard to navigate, so that's a definite plus here!


The Lonely Troll, by Amanda Walker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A cute smallish game about a troll helping magical creatures, May 13, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I think this game does exactly what its creator seems to have wanted to do: make a light parser game with intuitive commands in a fun environment with lovely ascii art pictures.

You play as a troll who is lonely. All around you are magical creatures (one per region, each depicted with ASCII art). They all have desires found in a book, and essentially give you a bunch of fetch quests you have to accomplish.

Overall:
+Polish: The game is very smooth and polished.
+Descriptiveness: The characters are vibrant and unique.
+Interactivity: The game is simple, but has enough resistance (through multiple sources of info and several possible targets) to make it fun.
+Emotional impact: I enjoyed the game and art.
+Would I play again?: Yes, and may recommend it to others.


Carpathian Vampire, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A solid, compact game with fair puzzles and a light difficulty, May 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a vampire game designed for the Text Adventure Literacy Jam. It's aimed towards beginners, and I think serves its purpose fairly well.

You begin outside a dark castle and have to find a way in. The tutorial will take you all the way through this part, about 1/10-1/5 of the game.

Inside, you have to explore the small castle and figure out a way to stop the vampire. There are quite a few items including red herrings, but everything is logical. I got stuck because I didn't notice one room exit at first.

There's not a ton of tension here. As a tutorial game, that's fine, and I've done the same in my own tutorial games, but I would wish for more in a bigger game. There's some nice atmospheric messages, though.


Sindrella's Potions, by Tristin Grizel Dean
A great game with magic and puzzles but some weird bugs, May 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is really a very inspiring game, but I haven't been able to complete it yet due to some weird issues.

You are sent back in time to your grandmother's life, who was Cinderella but able to make potions. You explore a large city, discovering various potion recipes and hidden secrets and memories while making money to buy things for the ball.

The puzzles are engaging. I used a lot of hints, but only because the game is so large; it's generally fair as long as you examine everything.

There are a couple of weird bugs though which the author is aware of but are really hard to fix. These bugs include items sometimes stopping working, making progress impossible. By restarting several times, I've managed to get through each individual stopping point, but never all at once.


Grandma's Flying Saucer, by Kenneth Pedersen

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Pleasant Adrift game set in space with economic system, May 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game seems to be set in the universe of Grandpa's Ranch, another game by this author, but with a very different execution. In this game, you go to space!

Your grandma is not dead, as you thought, but rather was captured by interstellar smugglers. She just got free, and needs you to retrieve a diamond. This contrasts with the first game, which was mostly about exploring a small house and doing mundane tasks.

The city in this game is actually pretty sizable, enough that I was glad to have a directions-giving alien hologram (which came in useful in many ways). There's even an economy on the planet, with several steps for gaining money from getting a bank card all the way to buying an enormous treasure.

The biggest place I got stuck was with delivering packages. I kept trying ENTER BUILDING and DELIVER PACKAGE and KNOCK DOOR and OPEN DOOR before discovering what to really do (Spoiler - click to show)(which was touching the sign). Other than that, the game is generous and helpful in guiding the player towards verbs that work.

I played on the web runner, and sometimes you had to TALK TO someone repeatedly. I tried hitting the 'up' key to repeat the last verb, and tried typing G, but neither of those worked. If anyone knows a nice way to repeat the last command in adrift, let me know in the comments!


Kobold in Search for Family, by tosxychor

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short, linear adventuron game about a kobold looking for home, May 7, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a brief adventuron game entered into the Text Adventure Literacy Jam.

In it, you play as a little kobold thrown off a cart in a medieval town, and have to go find your way home.

It is a 'gauntlet'-style game, meaning that you face one challenge at a time and either pass it or die. The game has an instant-rewind feature, but there are numerous ways to die and some are better-signaled than others.

Some of the puzzles require a bit of cleverness to solve, while others require finding the right combination of words. Emily Short once said that once you know mentally how to solve a puzzle, a game should make it easy to get that to happen (without struggling with the right wording). As a converse to that, I'd like to say that a good game should also make it clear when you're on the right track. A lot of puzzles in this game ignore alternate solutions or don't provide helpful feedback (I'm looking at the door puzzle here the most).

Overall, I would have preferred less learning-by-dying and more simultaneous puzzles and more striking text descriptions. The best part for me was the sense of being stealthy.


Espiritu Roboto, by Ray Leandro

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Robot has to escape a hotel/house. Adventuron with graphics, May 7, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is an interesting game. It seems to mix 8-bit sci-fi with spiritual overtones and possibly a trans metaphor.

You are a robot about to be decommissioned. You were created female but pose as male. You have to escape a large building.

It feels a bit like a Scott Adams adventure, and its minimalism itself is not a detriment. However, some of the puzzles were kind of obscure to me, even with the hints (which require praying to access, actually a neat trick). So a lot of the time I felt like I was fumbling around.

The graphics added to the game, and when I struggled with verbs a little examination or exploration quickly resolved it, which was nice. I think Adventuron was a good choice of engine here, since the graphics added more than in-depth implementation would have to this minimalistic game.


Dessert Island Adventure, by Nils Fagerburg

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A pleasant puzzler with a complex magical language, May 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is, I believe, written in a custom parser that the author has used in other games. It works well here, with elegant javascript integration.

You play as an adventurer/junior magician gathering spell ingredients for you boss. The spell ingredients are all food items.

The map is laid out visually, making navigation simple. Areas vary in complexity from mostly-empty to containing multi-level structures with puzzles in each level.

The primary puzzle-solving technique is inspired by The Wand by Arthur DiBianca. You say a magic spell in your grimoire, and point your wand at something for that spell to take effect. The spell language follows patterns that you have to discover.

I haven't completely finished the game, finding only a little more than half of the ingredients on my own and 4 more with hints, but the game lets you stop at any point, and I've gotten up to an E for Exceeds Expectations.

The puzzles are rich and interesting and systematic, and vary from trivial to complex. I didn't connect on an emotional level, more just skimming the surface, but that's more due to personal taste. Overall, well-done and enjoyable.


The Wolf and Wheel, by Milo van Mesdag

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A visual novel blended from pieces of a larger story. Dark fantasy., May 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a game that's essentially a demo for a longer visual novel. It takes pieces of stories of that game and mixes them into one.

This game has quite a lot of visuals, with the snow animations and wintery background being especially gorgeous, and the overall portraits being fairly high quality.

You play as a bartender who gains a mysterious ability: when someone talks to you, you gain the ability to 'replay' their story and make different choices, which can have an effect in the real world afterwards.

These stories involve dark and frightening creatures in the woods, which have become more dangerous ever since the sun disappeared.

Overall, the dark vibe here is good, the stories are detailed, there's more interactivity than most VN-type games. I did have trouble getting a feel for the 'flow' of the game, as there wasn't so much an overarching story arc with rise and fall of action. Since the full game will have an entirely different storyline, that problem may fix itself.


Phenomena, by Dawn Sueoka

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
UFO cycling twine poetry, May 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a short anthology of 7 poems.

Each poem consists of a few lines, each of which has cycling text.

You can either read the poem straight through and then cycle each line, or cycle through one line at a time. Or anything else you like! So it essentially is a collection of two-dimensional poems, which I like.

The poems are all about aliens, and saucers, and changes, and doubt. With its combination of obscure meanings and occasional goofy lines it reminded me a bit of Subterranean Homesick Alien or Decks Dark by Radiohead.

I appreciated this anthology intellectually, especially its polish and design, but didn't feel emotionally engaged for some reason or another.


A D R I F T, by Pinkunz

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An unfinished space parser game with graphics, May 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a short parser game set in space. It has neat little pixelart graphics at the top.

Like another reviewer, I had a bit of trouble realizing I had to hit enter to start the game (might be worth adding a 'hit enter to continue' text on the title screen).

The game has you floating in space. There's not much to do besides cry, it seems at first, but fortunately the game has implemented a lot of little actions to add character. But then the real puzzles start (for me, I started by (Spoiler - click to show)examining my suit, if anyone's stuck).

Besides being longer, the best thing the game could do is get more transcripts from players and responding to even more actions than are in the game (for instance, I think TURN ME should give a different response).

It also might be worth splitting up some of the complex actions into more parts; I typed in one command and the game had a big, complex scenario where I tried things over and over again until I figured it out. It might have been more fun to do that myself instead of having it described to me.


Confessing to a Witch, by HeckinRobin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A lovely but incomplete demo for a romantic magical game, May 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game has plenty of potential but is still in the early stages.

Right now, it's a completely linear intro with some nice music and some placeholder images with a charming feel. You are a young witch ready to profess your love, but when you arrive at your sweetheart's door, she's gone, and only a fragment of a spell is left to give evidence.

And that's it. Would play the full thing, when it comes out.


Manifest No, by Kaemi Velatet

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An epic fantasy feverdream, May 1, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

There is a genre of game in Twine which is massive, sprawling, and focuses on stream-of-consciousness style text. Furkle's early games were the trendsetter, especially SPY INTRIGUE, and other games like Charlie the Robot and Dr Sourpuss have branched the genre out into many areas.

This game is unusual in that it employs the fever-dream word-flood format but is also an epic fantasy story.

It is difficult to piece together storyline in this genre of writing. In this specific story, sentences can sound like this:

"Azalea ersatz lunars crackled glowing over semitranslucent ambient films this headache brutally pounds out in stechschritt to a buzzing id blockage"

One sentence I measured was almost 600 words long.

Attempted plot summary:
(Spoiler - click to show)Other sentences have more coherence. As far as I can tell, the main thrust of the storyline (told over 27 chapters, some much shorter than others) is that you are a person in a water world who has made a theft or bad business deal, and ends up killing someone over it. You enlist at sea on a quest to visit the submergence. On the way, you fight a sea monster. Then you must ascend a type of tower, which wasn't an original stop. As you do so, you seek out the Vedas, who are either Gods or nobles or something else. You request to become a Veda, or something else more than you are, which comes with a name change. Your mother was a Veda. As part of the transformation you cut off your finger? Then you visit the submergence, and someone activates a world-breaking device.

At times it seems you are someone else, or maybe it just focuses on two members of the crew, but there are two people or gods or something with very similar names (like imimnemo and emimnemo), but this is also confusing because the main character of the main story has two names (like Leinur Emimnu) and different characters use different names.

Overall, there is an emphasis on pain or emptiness of life or the quest to escape existence. It ties into Eastern traditions with statements like:

"There is one question to which I do know the answer: who we are when they wish we were not:"

but also Western ideas like sin.

Overall, it's wearying to get through; the game says so itself and describes itself like a migraine. I had to rest several times while reading it, even though I was speedreading after the first 4-5 chapters. But I'm trying to build up tolerance for Finnegan's Wake some day (I made it through 30 pages once before giving up), so I felt like this was a good practice run.

Edit: At some point, characters are making up monsters and fights like a D&D game, narrating them to each other. It's possible this is the entire story, and it's possible it was just a side diversion among the crew.


5e Arena, by Seth Jones

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A smoothly-integrated tool for playing D&D solo, April 30, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I've seen a few interactive fiction adaptations of RPG systems before (such as the Choicescript Vampire: the Masquerade games). The ones I usually see let you use your stats but generally have pre-written scenes and a constrained set of options to choose from.

This game, instead, provides you a framework to guide you while you set everything up on your own character-wise. For instance, in combat, you are provided with a little map to move your character around, and a way to take turns, and a monster manual entry for the monsters, but instead of rolling dice for you or giving you a set of options, it just asks you to keep track of your actions and the enemies and just let it know when someone is incapacitated, ending the fight.

So this is less a self-contained game than a tool for someone who wishes to try out the DnD experience and is willing to invest the time into making a character. Due to this framework nature, it fits with any kind of expansion or adaptation to the game, any character class.

In a way, it makes it like a virus, not that it's bad or infectious, but in that it can't live on its own and needs other substance to help it grow. Because of that, while I thought it was cool, it felt lacking in the criteria I generally use on this website. The next time I get on a D&D kick, though, and can't find a group, I could definitely see myself pulling this out.


Ma Tiger's Terrible Trip, by Travis Moy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Co-op sci-fi game about family in a slightly futuristic setting, April 30, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was inspired by The Last Night of Alexisgrad, an IFComp multiplayer twine game where the participants passed codes back and forth to each other.

The author of this game goes further by connecting players through a session ID that allows simultaneous communication in-game through choices. There is even a time portion, although it seems designed in a way that many playthroughs of the timed portion would not need collaboration, which is helpful.

The game is set in a somewhat futuristic setting where genetically engineered animals and cybernetically modified humans exist but are uncommon.

The two players take the role of two adopted/foster children of Ma Tiger, a rich woman entangled in shady business who has asked them to meet together with her after many years.

The MCs are a study in contrasts, one a man who is relatively happy and at peace, and a woman who is dangerous and has much to hide.

The game is fairly brief, which is good for a multiplayer game. The roughly 30 minutes play time advertised is generally accurate.

I played through twice, and your fellow player's choices definitely affect the game. That drew me into the storyline more. The plot arc is necessarily contracted; if anything, this feels like a setup to a longer game in the same universe, not in the sense that it leaves a sequel hook, but just that many plot elements seem like they could be developed much further and there doesn't seem to be a significant emotional resolution for either character.

Overall, a solid concept. It was a bit hard to find people to match up with; perhaps one day there will be a massive online server of people just waiting to sign up to play co-op twines, but it hasn't happened yet!


Abate: Hide Behind the Curtains, by Rohan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A time-travel loop game about a school and potatoes, April 30, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has a great deal of potential but unfortunately doesn't pan out yet in many areas. From reading about the game, I wonder if a lot of time was spent trying out different interactive fiction engines.

You play as a young high school student who goes to school and gets stuck in a time loop. You have to replay over and over to progress.

I had a bit of trouble with figuring out how the game worked. A lot of options seem to send you to a fake-death the first time you go to them, but then they are important later.

The formatting uses centered text and no paragraph breaks. I think it would have been a bit easier to read with left-aligned text and paragraph breaks, and using a serif font and colors with less contrast than pure black and pure white.

The writing has grammar that sounds off, especially with comma use or punctuation around quotations.

Overall, I think the underlying idea is solid and there are some funny moments, but I felt unsatisfied.


Another Cabin In The Woods, by Quain Holtey

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A voice-acted story of memory and music, April 29, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a story about cleaning out your mother's house after she died. As you explore the house, you discover little secrets and memories here and there, piecing together a larger puzzle.

It's a melancholy game, and has some nice voice acting. The pacing of the voice acting is interesting; only the text in quotes is read out loud, but if there is narrative text between quotes then there is a space in the audio, which I can only presume is to give people a time to catch up. So it kind of presupposes the reader's reading speed, but it worked generally well for me.

The story is sad, overall, but in some ways bittersweet. One of the scenes hints at the MC being trans, but I don't believe that's related to the overall sadness.

I don't use headphones and play IF around others, usually, so I had to schedule special times to play this, but I do feel the audio effects were positive and contributed to the story.

It includes a puzzly element at the end that provided some good interaction, and exploring worked well earlier on.


Baby on Board, by Eric Zinda

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Voice-activated interactive fiction game about taking a baby to daycare, April 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I helped beta-test this game.

This game uses a custom parser first developed in Kidney Kwest, but with a twist: it's intended to be played entirely vocally.

The parser encourages you to use full sentences (so 'open door' might throw a warning that it's better to say 'open the door'). It also is designed from the ground up and seems to involve a lot of built-in systems. So, for instance, asking about the location of a thing will usually tell you what room it's in, what region it's in, etc. Due to this systematic nature, sometimes the game will omit capitalization or punctuation, but this usually not detectable in the voice version. A final issue is saying 'put Time on [anything]' (a phrase I said a lot because in my accent Time sounds like Tom to the computer), the parser says 'a bottom is not on a time'.

The game itself is simple, and gives you a lovely tutorial that shows you how the whole system works. The tutorial is, itself, a small game. The larger game is mostly interacting with things: doors, keys, containers.

When I beta tested, I completed the game, although it seems to have been expanded since then. This time I believe I got locked in an unwinnable state since I (Spoiler - click to show)left the baby in the car and went inside, and the car took off without me. Overall, I think this technology is interesting and must have been very complex to program.


Beneath the Stones, by Kieran Green

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A woman falls into a strange complex under standing stones, April 28, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a mid-length Twine game where you play as a visitor to some standing stones who is sucked into the ground and deposited in a strange room.

Gameplay is mostly based on exploration, inventory and examination. There is a bizarre, alien world to explore.

Overall, the concept was interesting, but I had friction in random places. There was a ton of profanity for no real reason (the game starts with a few screens of just the F-word over and over again), each page had an animation before the next page which was cool at first but slowly wore out its welcome, and a lot of choices were hard to strategize with (like choosing left or right in a featureless corridor, or only having one option)).

I definitely felt some atmosphere from the writing, and that was to me the biggest success in this story. It gave me Brian David Gilbert vibes so I start listening to some of his songs while playing.


Bigfoot Bluff, by P.B. Parjeter

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A sort of cryptid sandbox game where you try to photograph bigfoot, April 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

P.B. Parjeter is an author best known for complex twine works, usually long and intricate. This seems to be the first parser game by this author.

You play as Bigfoot's kid, a sasquatch on a mission to expose your father to the world by photographing him and other cryptids. You explore a park while working on your master plan.

It's quite a bit more solid than most first parser games by authors who already know twine. I didn't see many, if any, capitalization or punctuation errors. There were a couple of things I think could be polished (like using custom appearance text for items and a smoother introduction of some items in the initial scene).

What goes write is the creative and inventive puzzles, and the forgiving point system where you only have to get 60 points to win. That means that if you're beating your head against a particularly tricky puzzle or having trouble getting the parser to listen in one section, you can just skip it. So I skipped all the light puzzles and the ants.

The game lists several parser authors as beta testers, which may help explain why the game is so well put together for a first author. I can only expect that the remaining rough edges would be fixed up in a subsequent game as the author gained more experience. Overall, I had fun with this game.


The Long Nap, by Paul Michael Winters

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short and clever escape game, April 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I think it would be fair to describe this as an escape room game. You wake up in the dark and have to navigate from there until you exit the room.

This is exactly the kind of game that works well with La Petite Mort (the four hour competition): has a concept that wouldn't work as well in a longer game, has a constrained setting to allow for more detail.

I didn't encounter any implementation problems at all, which is pretty impressive. Definitely had a fun time with this little puzzler.


The Box, by Paul Michael Winters

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A literal puzzlebox written in a custom engine, April 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I beta tested this game.

The Box is written in a new parser engine designed by Winters, which includes a hybrid form (like Dialog or Gruescript) allowing most of the game to be played by clicking links.

This is a literal puzzlebox. After a brief intro, you wake up in a cell with a mysterious box in front of you with 5 different puzzles or sets of puzzles belonging to each of the visible sides. Clues and aides are hidden throughout the rest of the room.

I found the puzzles generally fair and engaging. It includes a cryptogram which I generally find less engaging in IF, since they have standard solution algorithms that aren't directly integrated into game play, but I appreciated the smoothness of this one. I enjoyed the light-based puzzles and the numeric one the most, and perhaps the final puzzle.

The framing story is brief but well done. As a demonstration of language capabilities, it certainly seems like a strong parser engine, which is very difficult to do. It didn't capture my emotional fancy, but other than that it is a solid and well-done game.


Computerfriend, by Kit Riemer

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Bad therapy from a computer 'friend' in a dystopia, April 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I have a bit of trouble writing a review for this game, as the first couple of times I started it I realized I hadn't retained any information after several screens worth of material. I kept retrying it to help it sink in but it was like water in a sieve.

Eventually, though, the game began to have a pseudo-computer interface in an older style (the year 1999 is mentioned). You have been assigned a computer therapist called 'Computerfriend' whose job is to analyse your mental state and help you make better choices.

I tended to go along with what the computer said, and ended up with ending 2/6.

This game is one for which trigger warnings are especially beneficial. It contains (Spoiler - click to show)messages urging you to suicide.

Overall, the game was polished and effective in communicating emotion. However, like I said, I had difficulty retaining anything I read; having played it is more like trying to remember a dream after waking up.


The Bright Blue Ball, by Clary C.
A cute but dramatic story about a dog and his ball , April 27, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a story intended for beginners, and I believe may be the author's first published game.

It's a brief parser game with a dog protagonist. You have been hurried away from your regular home and, in the tussle lost the ball.

There is a larger overarching plot, where (very early spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)the reason you are shuttered away is because bombs are dropping in Ukraine. This makes for a dramatic storyline, and what started as a personal search for a ball becomes something more selfless, urgent and important.

The game uses a fun mechanic where 'smell' is as important as 'look'.

There are some errors, mostly things that are difficult to deal with in Inform (like extra punctuation and capitalization). Other than that, this is a surprisingly smooth game with a story that ended up feeling nice.


Crow Quest, by rookerie
A short, amusing story of a crow with nice graphics, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a visually very nice game, and funny, too.

It's a short twine game where you play as a crow with an attitude and intentionally bad spelling (basically 'no u' times 100). Your attitude, is, in fact, measured, and you 'win' by getting the highest attitude.

We played this in the Seattle If Meetup and I played it after, as well.

It's fairly brief, and amusing. It seems to have some kind of randomization or procedural generation, as you can get different events on different playthroughs.

There's some mild profanity. Overall, it's not too long so if the above sounds appealing, try it out.


externoon, by nune
Thoughtful musings on life and running away, with game-breaking bug, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a game written in Squiffy, which is based on the engine that Quest uses but is choice-based.

You play as someone who walked away from a relationship and is going cross country on late-night/early-morning busses.

It does a good feel of evoking that wistful travel feeling when you've left something behind and are passing by other people's lives, people you'll never see again but feel important in the moment.

Unfortunately, there is one passage that contains no links to any other passages (in a section on a movie), and this makes the game no longer possible to play. It's possible to fix this by opening the game up in a text editor and adding a link to the next passage. I didn't do so, but read ahead.

Overall, thoughtful and musing. I wish there were a way to tell which links were exploratory and which links moved the story forward.


The Fall of Asemia, by B.J. Best
Archaeology and translation game with audio and glyphs, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is an interesting experiment, reminicscent of Heaven's Vault or Short's First Draft of the Revolution, but I think it falls a bit short from both.

You plays as a translator, given glyphs in the ancient language of Asemia. Clicking on glyphs gives you other glyphs. After you go to the next page or two, a translation appears.

Asemia was a place of hard things, where people died and soldiers destroyed. The music and the extra-translatory dialogue also deals with this.

To me, the biggest difficulty I had was in the obfuscatory interactivity. What does clicking do? The same glyphs and stories came up multiple times, sometimes with different translations, and sometimes with the same. Do my actions, cycling through glyphs, change the output, or do you automatically get different results each time?

And it just doesn't make sense from a translation viewpoint. The glyphs you cycle through are very distinct from each other, so it's not like you are trying to guess what different words are in the language. It would make more sense to cycle through the translation of a fixed glyph, like Heaven's Vault does.

I'm sure there could be a deeper meaning to everything, but I didn't find it. Lovely visuals and graphics, though, and the writing is solid.


Filthy Aunt Mildred, by Guðni Líndal Benediktsson
A tale of a dark and twisted family, told through twine, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a Twine game with few options, more of a kinetic fiction than a game per se. It's also one of the most effective uses of such a structure I've read (another effective one I could recommend is Polish the Glass).

The story is about the Bladesmith family, a twister group of individuals that read like villains from An Unfortunate Series of Events if it was aimed at a slightly older demographic. Abuse, fraud, deceit and murder follow the family and everyone in it.

It includes amusingly absurd elements (like the multitude of Mildreds) and provocatively vulgar elements (like the opening scene of a man smearing faeces on the glass).

Overall, here's my assessment:
+Polish: The game feels quite smooth overall. There were at least two typos (squeeking vs squeaking and some other typo near the end), but they were minor in the grand scheme of things.
+Descriptiveness: Very vivid and detailed writing.
+Interactivity: While mostly linear, the story does allow little sidebars and choice of navigation that lent interest to the story.
+Emotional impact: I found it both amusing and morbid.
-Would I play again? While I found it very well-done, it has a edge to it that's not my personal preference. I only enjoy darkness in media if it sets off an inner light.


fix it, by Lily Boughton
OCD/anxiety/sensory processing simulator, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a compact twine game where you attempt to go about your day despite a minor annoyance.

The bulk of the game is a long loop about dealing with the annoyance.

Quite a bit of it reminds me of my friends with sensory processing disorders including certain forms of autism, where they have to go to other rooms to avoid noise or where head-cancelling headphones.

Some of it, though, seems more directly tied to OCD, like repetitive hand-washing behaviors.

Its overall message about how to deal with these things isn't something I can personally vouch for; however, the techniques described do seem related to those I've used to manage depression, so I could see them being valid in this situation.

Overall, I think the structure is interesting, but I feel like it could have been developed a bit more, hit home more.


George and the Dragon, by Pete Chown

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fantasy game with some 3d graphics and required login, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game requires you to create an account with an email and name and to accept cookies, which felt like a lot. I used a burner email and fake other things.

The idea is that you are a young man named George who is the son of a blacksmith and knows the royal family. Every year, a young maiden gets sacrificed to a dragon, but this year, you hope to help stop that.

Here's my overall rating:

+Polish: The images look a bit strange, like the princess wearing some kind of autumnal leaf pajamas. Otherwise, I didn't run into errors.
-Descriptiveness: A lot of details are just skimmed over or assumed. Plot twists happen in quick succession without a lot of forewarning or explanation.
-Interactivity: It was a bit confusing figuring out what to do, or what did what. At one point you're given a ton of gold, but then it doesn't really come up again. I grabbed a fire crystal, but it said I needed a sword; later I was given a sword, but it never came up whether I used the crystal. Exploring a royal camp ended up showing me part of a villain's base, but it just seemed out of nowhere.
-Emotional impact: I had difficulty becoming emotionally invested in the story.
+Would I play again? I'd probably like to see other endings.

To be fair to the author, a significant amount of work went into this game. I may have been prejudiced from the start, as I enjoy the quick, anonymous, pick-up-and-put-down nature of more text IF, so having a full-screen graphics-based game with mandatory account creation likely put me off from the actual content.


Good Grub!, by Damon L. Wakes
Smugness simulator: Edutainment about eating bugs, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game's tone reads like a game parody of Neil deGrasse Tyson's 'well, actually' twitter posts (like when he pointed out that leap day isn't the earth actually leaping). The tone is very heavy-handed and smug, with the game literally telling you 'you made a wrong choice, make better choices in the future'.

I'm sure it's a parody, but a well-made simulation of an annoying thing is still an annoying thing.

Otherwise the writing is sharp and word choices and images are clever.

Message-wise, I think the concept of humanity eating bugs is just fine; I love shrimp, and shrimp is more revolting-looking than other insects. But it helps that I was fed shrimp at an early age; I got used to it, and I'm not used to bugs.

Overall interesting, but, to me, too successful at imitating an annoying person.


Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel, by Seb Pines

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Six horror stories told through real-time mechanisms, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is an interesting experiment in involving real-time in text games.

Basically, there are several storylines going one in different motel rooms as well as outside. You have peepholes into 5 motel rooms. Every minute or so of real time, a counter updates the in-game time and you see new things in the different rooms. Occasionally, you can affect things by being in the right place at the right time (the vast majority of these being deaths).

It's an interesting concept, but it was hard to puzzle out in-game, and I only heard it from others and saw it in the code. Without knowing how it works, the game seems oddly repetitive as you see the same scenes over and over, since they don't change until the next 'tick'.

The writing and plot is similar to B-movies, with some strong profanity, a voyeuristic but not explicit sex scene, and violence. Plots are mostly tributes to classic horror movies, although at least one seems non-magical.

Overall, I'm not sure this timed method worked for me, but I'm glad someone did it so I could see how it works. A couple of the stories were effectively creepy for me.


The Legend of Horse Girl, by Bitter Karella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An amusing and mostly-solid western story with grotesque humor, April 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Bitter Karella has been making games for many years now, but I think this is the best one I've played so far, for my tastes.

You play as a cowgirl whose beloved horse has been stolen by a lying, murderous judge, and you have to get it back.

It's set in a wide town with quite a few locations, and even more that get unlocked over time. I say the humor is 'grotesque', but by that I mean that a lot of solutions are amusingly gross.

The characters are vivid and based on tropes and stereotypes, like a snake-oil salesman, a crazy miner/inventor, a brothel owner, etc. A few of them lean heavily into racial and cultural tropes, like an opium-smoking asian man named Lucky Strike or a hispanic saloon owner named La Muerte with a face painted like a sugar skull. I'm not really fond of relying on racial stereotypes, but all those characters are portrayed in a positive light as independent business people respected in their community.

The puzzles were pretty hard, and I had to get help on a couple, especially on finding a bezoar. I played the game over about a week on and off. Most puzzles are 'find an item in one area and use it in a creative way in another'. A lot of the humor is in finding out what item actually solves to problem.

The implementation of the game is a big improvement over all past Karella games, but still has a couple of rough edges here and there. I had trouble finding the right words to use the dynamite, or to use a rope. Fortunately, the game itself will also include the right wording to use as a hint, and has other features designed to help with implementation.

We played part of this in the Seattle IF Meetup, where it seemed well-received, and I finished it on my own later.


Hinterlands: Marooned!, by Cody Gaisser
One-move game about you, an island, and a monster, April 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a short, one-move game from the author of the iterative Locked Door series.

You are alone with a hideous monster on a planet, alone and marooned. Most actions end the game immediately, with some kind of effect, while others give you more info.

A lot of work went into this. Decompiling this, there are a ton of verbs being implemented here.

Many of the results are similar to each other, but at least they're coherent. I got a Sisyphan vibe from the game (maybe projecting; I like Sisyphan things).

I can say I found it pretty funny when I realized what the general theme was. Worth trying out due to its short, easy-to-try length.


The Hole Man, by E.Z. Poschman
A giant game with many endings, with few rules, April 21, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a very large Twine game. I think of all structures Sam Kabo Ashwell mentioned in his 'Standard patterns in choice-based games', it most resembles the sorting hat, as there are ten or so different paths that, once you pick, is generally linear to an ending.

You play as a person whose identity is stolen, leaving you as a gaping hole in an alternate world.

That world is one where anything can happen. A shop that has a closet can take you to another world, and so can biting a sucker.

Each path allows you the choice to become a 'man', like the Drake Man or the Darin' Man, giving you an awesome and alternate life.

I found the prose to be overall well done, and there were interesting ideas. But after 3 or so paths, I began to feel like there were, if it's even possible, too many good ideas!

Brandon Sanderson has said before that good magic systems are more interesting the more restrictions they have. This isn't a high fantasy novel about complex magic, but I think something similar applies here: if anything is possible, it's almost the same as if nothing is possible. After a while, it all kind of blended together.

I opened up the game in Twinery to see how much I missed, and realized that after an hour or so I had only seen about 20-30% of the game. I used the code to read the 'ultimate' ending, which I thought was roughly as fulfilling as the other endings, but had some cool descriptions of things.

Taste is subjective, but for me personally, I think I would have enjoyed it more if there were more structure in terms of themes or some other kind of rhythm to the game. Outside of that, the game is coded in a smooth and complex fashion and the writing is vivid and descriptive.


New Year's Eve, 2019, by Autumn Chen

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Awkward party simulator with meta-commentary, April 19, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is an intricate Dendry game where you spend New Year's Eve at a party with your parents, friends and acquaintances. You've burned a lot of bridges in the past, and it's all coming back to get you know.

I was surprised at the end to see that Depression Quest was not on the list of inspirations, as it has a lot of similarity with this game. Options that are selected are denied due to your bad feelings, or greyed out in the first place. Things you'd like to say can't be said, etc.

The New Year's Eve setting provides a good backdrop for the time limit, which is until 12:00. Just like a real party, it first feels like there's too much to do and then too little. This game directly reminded me of all the reasons I don't enjoy big parties with people outside my own family, especially parties where romance is possible but unlikely.

Romance is a theme in the game, but not in a positive way; there are numerous former crushes running around. Edit: (there actually are some positive romantic elements, but I found more negative options due to my choices)

The game has excellent attention to detail, especially in Chinese-heritage culture. Characters are provided, usually with translation, and the game describes food, drinks, Mah Jong, etc., together with westernized/globalized additions like Marvel movies and pumpkin pie.

Overall, this is a strong game. I appreciated its meta-commentary at one point about how it feels like interaction with human beings is an optimization puzzle, and I've felt like that before. The only thing for me that I didn't click with was the waiting around aimlessly that happened a little more than I would have preferred. Perhaps it was due to my own actions, though.

I played this as part of the Seattle IF meetup, and then played on my own later.


Let's Talk Alex, by Stephanie Smith
An accurate depiction of a controlling/abusive relationship, April 19, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

Whew! This game brought back a lot of memories.

It's a game that doesn't take too long to play. You are a person with an abusive significant other, Alex (I read the protagonist as coded female and the antagonist as coded male, but the game is purposely ambiguous and uses they/them pronouns for Alex).

Alex does things that are expressed as being for your best interest, but really they are for their own selfish interest. Keeping your away from your friends and family on social media , moving to be closer to their family but away from your friends and family, constantly worried that you will cheat (yep), shaming you for interests they're not into. All of which I've experienced in real life.

Actually, contemplating this game made me zone out for about an hour, thinking about things, and I wrote a big personal essay about it and realized I never finished this review. I guess I'll have to give this game points for emotional impact, that's sure. I found the choice structure not as compelling, but I can't think of any recommendations for it. It has real interactivity and limited options, but I feel it could be somehow pushed a little more. Overall, a game that has unsettled me to my core.


Orbital Decay, by Kayvan Sarikhani

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Space-based twine game with some realistic images and procedures , April 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

There is a long tradition in IF of space games where you start alone in or near a damaged space station and have to make it out alive or at least figure out what's happened. It's a genre I enjoy.

This one goes out of its way to focus on realistic aspects, something I haven't seen much before. A lot of images directly from NASA are used, as well as a variety of free images online that have been modified, with accompanying music.

Using airlocks requires a variety of processes, including exercising! Hadn't known that was a thing with pressure changes before.

I ran into a couple of issues with lists not lining up (numbers and text was mismatched) but I think that might just be my Chrome browser, as the same thing happened with a website my son was working on, so I don't think it's the author's fault.

The only thing I felt really lacking here was emotional engagement. The processes were interesting and clinical, and there were definitely places I could have hooked in emotionally (a picture of family, the loss of Commander Rico), but for whatever reason I just didn't feel that connection. Overall, well done scientific space adventure.


A Single Ouroboros Scale, by Naomi Norbez

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A complex meta-story about the struggle to exist and be seen in the IF world , April 17, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game/narrative is one that references the IF world directly, something I'm always interested to see. I've played Bez's games since 2015 and been listening a lot on Twitter, so I was interested to see how things coalesce.

The result is a complex narrative similar in structure to last year's The Dead Account, but with very different content. Both games put you in the role of a moderator closing down the account of someone who's passed on, a kind of in-memoriam/Citizen Kane/Spoon River anthology review of someone's life and whether they are of worth.

What makes this game unusual is in its complex rewriting of reality and the IF world. It's a difficult feat to call out an entire community without calling out the individual people in it; to do so, Bez has created an entire false community replete with echoes of shadows of real people but which is so entirely different as to render it impossible to point fingers. This is a real feat; I feel like I've been embedded in the community under question here and played a role in many of these events but I couldn't point a finger at any person and say 'I know who that is!

For instance, the Jot Archive Volunteer Project is strongly reminiscent of both IFDB, the intfiction forums, twitter, and the old rec.arts.int-fiction forums and