Reviews by MathBrush

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Frustration, by Jim MacBrayne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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