Reviews by MathBrush

15-30 minutes

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How the monsters appeared in the Wasteland, by V Dobranov

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A post-apocalyptic road chase in Twine, October 9, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a pretty fancy-looking Twine game with options for play in Russian or English.

It features custom CSS styling with changing background colors and a cool mechanic where you can click on an item and then on any earlier highlighted link to use the item there, giving it more robust puzzles.

You play as one of two people in a vehicle speeding down a highway carrying precious cargo. It has kind of a Star Wars feel but on land instead of space. Some people start chasing you and you have to take control of the guns.

This is a fast-paced game and I felt nervous for my character a lot, thinking I'd mess up, but I got through okay. The storytelling and writing is good, and I enjoyed it.

+Polish: Very good looking game
+Descriptiveness: Vivid world building
+Interactivity: I liked the two-layer puzzles and the good hints the game gives you
+Emotional impact: I felt nervous for my characters
-Would I play again? This is a very good game, but it's a bit overwhelming at time, because there are just so many options.

Funicular Simulator 2021, by Tom Leather and Mary Goodden

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Meet 4 characters on a supernatural mountain, October 8, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a game about riding a Funicular (basically a tram that is rope-powered instead of track-powered) up a mountain that has several special properties. It has unusual crystals all over, it emits strange radiation, and every 20 years it puts off a beautiful aurora.

On the funicular with you are 4 strangers. Each has their own joys and desires and secrets, and most of them (maybe all??) are romantic options.

The game isn't too long, but it has a major twist and then another twist in the ending.

The game explores some serious issues (drug use, infidelity, pseudo-science) and offers a lot of romance for its size.

Here's my breakdown:
+Polish: The game felt very smooth
+Descriptiveness: Getting 4 perspectives was nice
+Interactivity: I felt like I could make real choices in my conversations.
Emotional impact: It was good but I wasn't really drawn into the characters. Each contact felt a bit rushed; a 2-minute romance doesn't feel as real as a longer exposure would have.
+Would I play again? Yeah, it was interesting.

Enveloping Darkness, by John Muhlhauser, Helen Pluta, and Othniel Aryee

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A somewhat linear fantasy story about helping your family, October 7, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a Squiffy game in a generic fantasy setting. Your town is raided by orcs that are mind controlled by white worms, and your brother and father are taken.

The rest of the story is mostly a bunch of standard fantasy sequences glued together and hurried over. For instance, you can go request aid from a king, visit an enemy city, make friends with a half-orc.

You generally have two choices at a time, sometimes more, but the branches converge again quickly. Sometimes the author forgot important information in one branch (like not telling you a beggar is following you).

There are major plot holes near the end. Overall, this story seems like if a very talented teenager spent a few weeks making a game in Squiffy, or someone older getting into writing IF for the first time. Either way, getting more practice will help and I expect future games would be significant improvements.

For now, though, my rating is:
-Emotional impact
-Would I play again?

Fourbyfourian Quarryin', by Andrew Schultz

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
More chess puzzles with more complexity, October 6, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Andrew Schultz recently release Fivebyfiveia Delenda Est, a fun small game with chess puzzles that was one of his higher-rated games.

This is a larger game with chess puzzles that have a bit more complexity. There are a bunch of mini-kingdoms to invade and each has two 'tiers' to conquer. The game itself has 2 difficulty settings. I beat it on the first, and started the second, only to realize that it was very similar.

The puzzles involve setting up 2-3 pieces on the chessboard to trap the enemy king. Interestingly, sometimes you have to set up enemy pieces as well.

The storyline is fairly thin but understandable. The game sometimes holds your hand a bit more than I would have wanted. Specifically, beating one area sometimes automatically beats neighboring areas, even before you know what they do. If I had more idea before I left what each area was like, or was given the option to grey out such areas, I'd prefer that.

Walking Into It, by Andrew Schultz

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A wholesome game about tic-tac-toe with kids, October 4, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I was playing through all the IFComp games that are in inaccessible formats, and I thought I got them all. But then I saw this game and was surprised. This is a raw python file, and games like that almost never get reviews in the comps and tend to place lower down. As one of IFComp's most successful long term participants, Schultz would know it, which was my surprise.

But it's not always about crushing the competition, which is exactly the point of this game. You play as an adult who sees a kid playing tic tac toe. As a kid, you always had a 'draw' with other kids, and if they let you win, you got mad. But once, you won a game because the other player missed something, and you want to recreate that experience for the child.

I'll admit, I was mystified at first, and just played regular old tic tac toe games. It reminded me of Infinite Adventure in this comp, just repeating the same old interactions over and over (in this case, endless games of tic-tac-toe). But then I finally got it, and the game became a lot of fun. I first solved it the easiest way, and then I solved it the hardest way. I wasn't sure I had gotten everything, so I checked the walkthrough and saw I had done what was intended. I didn't go through and do all the other variations, because I felt satisfied.

This is a pretty small game, but:
+Polish: It was very polished
-Descriptive: There's some meaningful text trappings, but it's mostly a puzzle with some bare-bones story
+Interactivity: The puzzle was intriguing and thoughtful
+Emotional impact: I loved the motivation for the puzzle and enjoyed putting myself in the protagonist's shoes
+Would I play again? This was a very smooth experience.

The Last Night of Alexisgrad, by Milo van Mesdag

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Play-by-mail co-op twine game with the death of the revolution, October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a 2-player Twine game. Every time you make a decision, you are given a code, and asked for the code of your partner. This means you could play side by side or (as I did) messaging back and forth with people. I played once as each faction and am playing again with another person.

I never play IF with others, except at the Seattle IF Meetup, but I was able to find some great people on intfiction to message back and forth. It took a while to nail down transmitting codes but then proceeded pretty well. There are only about 10 or so choices so the game is pretty fast, although there is a lot of text per each early choice.

Story wise, it reminded me of the faux-historical games from Choice of Games (like The Eagle's Heir). You play either as the first (and last) newly-made dictator of an idealistic socialist republic or as the king's general who is coming to crush the rebellious city.

Choices definitely matter here, with different branches by one character giving different branches for another. They tend to share many features in common (so it's not a Time Cave wildly branching structure) but it includes different locations, choices for death and violence or peace, etc.

I found it fun and effective, and I didn't expect that to happen. There was one or two typos, but overall it's fairly polished.

I rate games on the following scale, which can give a high score even to relatively short games like this one:
+Emotional Impact (I didn't get completely drawn in, but I did roleplay as my character and was able to be drawn into how they would react)
+Would I play again? I already have several times

What remains of me, by Jovial Ron

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A retro-parser-aesthetic choice-based game about helping others, October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game defied many of the categories I tried to put it in. It looked like a parser game, Adventuron specifically, but appears to be custom written.

You walk around with on-screen arrow keys and a menu of verbs you can apply to your inventory or things around you, kind of like old Lucasarts games.

There are a variety of items, and a variety of people you can help.

On one hand, the programming is very impressive and the game looks well-done. On the other hand, it often contradicts itself. It will say 'there is a flier here you can take' but if you click TAKE nothing happens. It will say 'the frog leaves' but then the frog is still there. I was able to complete the game, and found it humorous, but I think that this could have received even more testing. For me, I like to spend 50% or more of my development time for parser games in testing alone, and for choice maybe 10-20% at least.

This game had heart to me, and it was polished and I might play again, so I'm giving it 3 stars. If the bugs were fixed I'd make it 4.

Kidney Kwest, by Eric Zinda, and Luka Marceta

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Assemble a Halloween costume while learning about phosphate binders, October 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is an educational game about kidneys made for kids using a custom engine that reads full sentences.

The game itself has multiple endings; I finished after only examining 3 rooms out of 5 in the main hub.

A magical fairy is helping you get a Halloween costume by transforming whatever you pick up into costume parts. Meanwhile, you get hungry, and eating requires you to take phosphate binders due to your kidney problems. This opens up a minigame where you have to hunt for phosphate crystals.

Throughout IF history there have been at least two different threads: one using text to provide a realistic simulation of the world (including Emily Short and her physics games), and those pushing for abstraction and ease of use (including Ryan Veeder who provides a lot of subtle affordances to make gameplay smoother). Most people authors use a mix of the two.

Abstraction and ease pushed to its extreme leads to dynamic fiction, where there are few choices besides 'next page'. And realistic simulation pushed too far leads to hunger timers, inventory limits, and an insistence on proper grammar, all of which this game has. It's a stylistic choice that some are fond of, but I don't really enjoy my character getting more and more hungry as I go back and forth between rooms because my character can only hold two objects. The engine is also slow between responses, so it can be a bit frustrating.

I found the educational part fascinating and didn't know the kidneys had anything to do with phosphate. Also, this game is specifically designed for kids unfamiliar with IF tropes, so I'm specifically not the target audience. And a lot of the things I found off putting could be fun for kids; discovering the game character actually responds like a real person with needs and limited capacity is something fun about text adventures when you're new (at least it was for me).

+Polish: It worked smoothly.
-Descriptiveness: The game felt kind of bare at times.
-Interactivity: The game felt a bit too fiddly for me at time.
+Emotional impact: I love the idea of making a game for kids and the phosphate thing was cool.
+Would I play again? I don't really feel like it, but I only found one costume and there were many rooms I missed, and I'd like to support this idea of making games for health purpose (kind of like Gavin Inglis's game about self-abuse).

BOAT PROM, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A story-focused multi-scene LGBTQ romance/disaster on a boat, September 13, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

The author of this game has made several other very successful twine games, including Birdland and its related works and Known Unknowns. Many of them are smooth and enjoyable LGBTQ YA stories and this is in a similar category.

You play as a young woman whos prom date gets publicly ruined as embarrassingly as possible. Unfortunately, this prom is also on a boat.

There are many characters, and all choices are dialogue options. This author tends to have a ton of little options hidden in the code, but each path you can take in this game feels like the 'intended' one.

There's nothing to see here in the way of puzzles or major decisions; the real draw is the witty dialogue, teen-relatable situations and, for those interested, LGBTQ representation.

For me, what it keeps it from being 5 stars is its lack of the extraordinary. I enjoy this author's games the best when they become bizarre and absurd, like weird dream birds or raccoons speaking in emoji. For me, this was like very good cake without frosting: delicious, but leaving you wishing it had that extra ingredient.

The Time Machine, by Bill Maya

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short adaptation of H. G. Wells Time Machine, September 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I beta tested this game.

This game is an adaptation of a static fiction story. This is something very hard to do well in a parser game; I've tried it myself and more or less failed, and so have many others. This game runs into a lot of the same problems: a faithful adaptation assumes a linear plot, while a parser game is centered around freedom of expression.

This game implements a house with many mentioned details but few which are usable. There are bugs, such as when one attempts to break a window (not needed in the game).

Plot wise, it doesn't follow the book directly, but instead starts after the action of the first one, allowing you to prove to the world that the time machine is real. The whole setup makes it seem like it will be very complex, but in reality there are only 2-3 puzzles and the whole game can be completed in very few steps.

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