Reviews by MathBrush

Spring Thing 2016

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The Xylophoniad, by Robin Johnson

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A humorous, polished old-style IF set in ancient Greece, February 23, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

The style of this game should be familiar to those who have tried Portcullis or Draculaland by the same author. You wander around a fairly small map in the Scott Adams tradition of short descriptions, 1-2 items a room, and well-characterized NPCs with a few interesting lines.

Like those games, this game evokes the same feel of adventure and exploration as the early text adventures. However, the author has managed to remove a great deal of the frustration inherent in those games by providing well-thought-out hints and gentle guidance.

You play Xylophone (pronounced in four syllables), a Greek woman accused of various crimes and given 3 labors to perform. You travel to Minos, Hell, and Troy to complete these tasks.

The game is chock full of puns and mythology jokes. It made me chuckle.

Some of the puzzles felt a bit tedious in the middle, as you were mostly matching things (Iron door? Find an iron key. Need to get past a bear? find some honey. Not that these are real examples). This isn't necessarily bad, but some of the other puzzles were quite clever (giving some nice Eureka! moments), so it made me wish for more.

Fourdiopolis, by Andrew Schultz

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An intricate, chess/crossword-puzzle like game about hidden codes, April 9, 2016

This Andrew Schultz game builds and expands on one of my favorite Schultz games, Threediopolis. If you haven't played that game, you should try it out first, as this game contains spoilers for the basic concept of that game.

If you have played threediopolis, (Spoiler - click to show)this is the same sort of game, except some chess-like moves have been added, h,i,j,k. Each of these teleports you 2 spaces away in each direction. For instance, h teleports you n,e, and u, while i teleports you w,s, and u.

This makes the game more difficult. I found it helpful to read some of the documentation on the spring thing website, which will most likely be included on IFDB afterwards. It gives a helpful list of the results of 2- and 3- letter combinations, like hi.

My rating of this game is certainly subjective. The puzzles appeal to me as a mathematician because I love the interplay between freedom and constraint. Emotionally, it draws you into an exploratory/puzzly/celebratory mood. The game is definitely polished, and I plan on playing again (it's a long game, and I've only played through part of it. It's the kind of game I feel I could return to frequently to play around with). I though of taking off one point due to the lack of descriptive text, but I realized that more text would make the game difficult and tedious. The scarcity of text is a necessary part of the design.

Like I said, this game will only appeal to a certain group of people, so I can't recommend it to everyone. But fans of crosswords, cryptograms, and codewords will enjoy this game.

Famous Baby, by N.C. Kerklaan

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An unfinished-feeling short Twine game with randomly changing content, April 9, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

I'm giving this very short Twine work a point for being well-polished (it runs smooth as a whistle) and 1 point for its smooth writing. What the author has so far works.

Unfortunately, as of Spring Thing, it is too short. You play a baby who is famous, and performs every night. Each day you can pick between one of four baby options (sleep, eat, poop, or pee). Then you hope to have a successful career. The furthest I got was four days.each day has only a few paragraphs of content.

The author references begscape by Porpentine, and these games share many similarities. I liked where the author was going with this.

My reaction may be colored by the author's apologetic blurb on Spring Thing's website. If it had been presented to me as a whole game, I may have given it another star.

Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony, by Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A sprawling game about blurring reality and game with a 70s feel, April 9, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

This game feels like what I would imagine the 70's would feel like during summer-long drug trip. However, it is set in 2013 and based on a real manic episode one of the authors experienced, during which he thought he was in an interactive fiction game (according to the blurb).

This game belongs to the relatively rare genre of games where you explore a big city and story events have to be searched for one at a time, while the rest of the city serves as decoration. Nick Montfort has done this multiple times (Book and Volume, Winchester's Nightmare) and Adam Cadre did this 3 times over in the branches of his game Narcolepsy. But the authors of this game have managed to avoid the crushing loneliness of Montfort's world as well as the frustration of Cadre's. They do this by filling the world with wonderful, descriptive things, packing in long text sequences and even song numbers downloadable from the author's website. They also do it by keeping the game simple. The first half of the game is just following instructions on where to go, and the second half has a great hint system. Both of these facets keep the game fast-paced and interesting.

The writing is trippy. Crystals, music, sex, co-ops, all give the feel of a hippie documentary. The main idea of the game is that the character has managed to bind reality and fiction together, so that he realizes he is in a game and the two start bleeding together.

The game doesn't have actual explicit sex, but it has several very sensual metaphors of sex, and implies sex at various times. Because I don't enjoy these types of scenes, I am unlikely to replay it.

The game took me about 1500 moves to get about 819/999 points (there are many optional points). It is the longest game of 2016 that I am aware of, and most likely longer than anything in 2015 (it has more text than Scroll Thief, I believe).

Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood, by Andrew G. Schneider

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A stat-and-story heavy mobile-friendly game about Robin Hood., April 8, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

This Spring Thing entry is a preview of a big mobile friendly game about Robin Hood. Gameplay-wise, it most resembles Choice of Games, with stats and romances and branch and bottleneck gameplay. However, the finished game will have several illustrations, and the game is not constrained by CoG conventions.

Gameplay was exciting, keeping me guessing at what was important but rewarding careful planning. The game is already large, with a great deal of mythology and folklore mixed in.

I recommend this to anyone, especially Robin Hood fans. The one drawback I found was that I did not feel emotionally invested in the story, which of course may vary from player to player.

Dr. Sourpuss Is Not A Choice-Based Game, by P.B. Parjeter

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An amusing and thoughtful long game that is (not?) a multiple choice game, April 7, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

Dr. Sourpuss is an orangecat that just hates multiple choice games. He works with a man and a woman for Scandron, a multiple choice test grading company.

You have to help find two missing things: the grading machine, and a student named Mark Passingrad.

Gameplay rolls out in three main ways: you are given a series of multiple choice quizzes. Before answering each question, you can click on boxed links to get more detail. Finally, there are three different 'tests' where you have to go to a lab to create new items.

The game is purposefully confusing, and it succeeded in creating this emotion. In the end, much of it is a long discussion about people who hate multiple choice and why. I chose to interpret this as part of the debate about weblink games such as Twine or Raconteur. The game talks about marginalized individuals and those who refuse to validate them or allow them to be part of their world. The game admits many interpretations, however.

I took off one star because the game is very tedious at times, trying to sort out a path through repetitive text. Overall, an interesting and thoughtful game.

Dead Man's Hill, by Arno von Borries

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A game about the horror of war and the battle of Verdun, April 7, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

This is a short, simulation-heavy game. You carry a variety of weapons and command two other soldiers. You are a german in the battle of Verdun, fighting in a French trench. In what is perhaps a mockery of FPS's that glorify war, you can use a bayonet, a spade, a flamethrower, grenades, automatic rifle, etc. and command your followers to equip whatever you want.

I'll put what happens in the game in spoilers, but it's just what you'll discover after playing for 3 or 4 turns:
(Spoiler - click to show)You go around the trench trying to clear it out. As you encounter the french, you stab, burn, or shoot each other to death, with the dying praying in agony or weeping. You keep track of your body count. I've not been able to find any more about the game.</spolier>

Overall, I found the combat mechanics a bit clunky and the game not fun to play, but I believe this is intentional. Reading the INFO text, its clear the author wants to remind us about the truth of war. It was a sobering game, and I believe that author really has something effective here.

Ms. Lojka or: In Despair to Will to Be Oneself, by Jordan Magnuson

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A technical marvel with a disjointed story about identity, April 7, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2016

This game has obviously been worked on for a long time; it has sound effects, a hand-made typewriting visual effect, some unconventional interactions with the browser, and several background images of what appear to be hand-drawn images, all by the same artist. This makes for a very polished experience.

However, I found myself frustrated by the slow typewriter effect. I frequently wanted to skip ahead. The only time I found it effective was at the very end.

The story is disjointed and odd. At first, I didn't like it, but it began to gel together the further along it went. It was a bit over the top at times, but it succeeded in the very end of keeping me intrigued and invested.

I'm giving it a star for polish, a star for descriptive writing, and a star for emotional impact.

Foo Foo, by Buster Hudson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A blend of nursery rhymes, puns, and Ryan Veeder references with great NPCs, April 7, 2016

This game was the winner of the Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction. That contest was judged solely by Ryan Veeder, a prominent IF author.

This game takes the nursery rhyme "Little Bunny Foo Foo" and references from Veeder's games and blends them into a truly enjoyable story. The highlight of this story is the dialog, masterfully written and emotionally affecting.

You play the Good Fairy who is trying to help out Foo Foo the rabbit. There's a long street with shops and people to investigate.

It's hard to describe the game more without having you play it. Suffice it to say that this is my favorite game of 2016 (up to mid-April, when I'm rating this).

Three-Card Trick, by Chandler Groover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A shortish, story-driven parser game about dueling magicians at an exposition, April 7, 2016

Chandler Groover has put his characteristic mark on the magician genre. The game is similar to "An Act of Misdirection" in tone and concept (where the player is forced to perform magic tricks without completely knowing how, in a grim setting). However, the focus is on atmosphere over puzzles. I felt on the edge of my seat the whole time, wavering between fear and mild disgust.

The game is about dueling magicians who will go to any length to disrupt each other. This part reminded me in a good way of The Prestige, especially as the magicians use new tricks to upstage each other and try sabotage.

The game is thoroughly polished, and credits a lot of testers for a compact game, which helps explain its smooth gameplay. I encountered no bugs, and the parser was very well-stocked with synonyms. Playing this game was like watching a thriller, with the parser so slick that it essentially disappeared, leaving the player to interact directly with the story.

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