Reviews by MathBrush

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AardVarK Versus the Hype, by Truthcraze
A multi-character parser game about defeating soda zombies, October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

Every IFComp brings with it some unusual coincidences. I find it fun that this comp has 2 different games (both enjoyable) where you have to assemble a rock band to stop another group from mind controlling people, and you have to use the power of music (the other game being Codex Sadistica).

This game uses a menu-based conversation system and allows you to switch freely between 3 main characters for much of the game.

You play as 4 kids who have a rock band at a school. The school and the whole town have been consumed by Hype, a new drink that turns you into a zombie!

You have to go on a series of wacky escapades to get all the stuff you need to defeat the monsters. Quests can be done in any order story-wise, but there is a definite chronology of which one happens first (which can be used to give yourself hints).

I found the game funny and well-conceived, but it had several parser hiccups I usually associate with games that haven't been tested well. My only assumption is that the game is so complex that some things slipped through. Examples include the (Spoiler - click to show)hype can in the second quests, which can get stuck in a state where most actions with it return no text at all; an uncapitalized standard response; the game telling you to look at (Spoiler - click to show)the shelf but there is no in-game object called that, etc. Besides that, I enjoyed this game a lot.

The Best Man, by Stephen Bond

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A glimpse into the mind of a 'nice guy', October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I know Stephen Bond entirely from his two earlier games:
-Rameses (from IFComp 2000), a popular and influential but controversial parser game about a young Irish teenager which was notable for not allowing the player any real agency, and
-The Cabal (from 2004) a joke game about how all of IF is run by a secret cabal that decides who's in and who's out.

I assume it's the same Stephen Bond, unless there are two Stephen Bonds writing interactive fiction stories about unappealing young Irish IF protagonists and agency.

This game combines a main storyline (from the viewpoint of Aiden, a young man) as well as numerous other snippets from the personal lives of bystanders, which kind of gave me a Spoon River Anthology vibe.

Aiden is consumed with love for for a girl named Laura, and has been for a long time as one of her friends. While they have an actual friendship, he spends most of his time imagining a happier future or a potential deeper love. Unfortunately, Laura is marrying another man. Today, in fact; and you've just been asked to be the best man at the wedding.

The gameplay feels pretty linear, although that's a bit belied by the complex web of Twine code you can see if you open it up in Twinery. There are numerous changes of viewpoint with corresponding changes in text color, a couple of images and some digital music sequenced from real songs.

This game falls in the category of 'very accurate representations of insufferable people', kind of like Savoir-Faire or the original Rameses. Aiden's mentality is that of a classic 'nice guy', and the ending suggests (Spoiler - click to show)that Aiden becomes involved in a bigger community, possibly incels or red-pilled stuff or MRAs.

I find Aiden understandable. I think Bond has done a good job of taking regular human weaknesses and amplifying them to a high level. Who hasn't had a crush in high school or on a distant celebrity that was unrealistic? But those come and go. This is a story about an enduring obsession, and that's what makes it more chilling.

I find this game polished, descriptive, and it had emotional impact for me. The level of interactivity worked for me for this specific story (with the different perspectives adding another layer of richness), but somehow the whole thing never completely gelled for me into a complete experience in a way that's hard to pin down.

BLK MTN, by Laura Paul

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A surreal exploration of history and the present, October 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I had trouble grasping this game as a whole, perhaps due to tiredness or picking unusual branches.

From what I can gather, it's a branching Twine game where you travel around the South, contemplating life in an almost dream-like way while also experiencing bits of the Civil War and the historical, experimntal university Black Mountain College.

In presentation, it is the standard blue-on-black Twine with no fancy features. It uses both text-replace links and normal, new-screen hyperlinks and doesn't distinguish between them, so it can be confusing at times. The Twine games of Hannah Powell-Smith are good examples of how to differentiate between different links effectively.

I'm always sympathetic to surreal, trippy games, like Harmonic Time Bind Ritual Symphony (recreating the author's real-life mental break) or drug trip games (like the excellent Blue Chairs), as it presents a view of life I'm not used to. This game was hard to pin down, though, and I feel like I definitly missed something important. Feel free to comment if you've found a deeper layer to the game.

Goat Game, by Kathryn Li

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Beautifully illustrated game about a goat considering a career change, October 12, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a Twine game which can be completed relatively quickly (around 30 minutes, much faster if clicking fast). It has 15 different endings depending on 3 different statistics that change throughout the game.

You play as a goat who works at a laboratory doing research on a mysterious substance. There is an accident, and you have to decide how you feel about work and what you want to do with your life.

I played through to all 15 endings, though the text of the middle game doesn't change much from playthrough to playthrough (there are about 2-3 variations for each section, so you'll see them all multiple times by the end).

The art is really lovely, it was the high point of the game for me.

Where Goat Game succeeds the most, to me, is in making a high-quality, smooth and bug free experience for the player where they can get absorbed into a story about an alternate world.

Where Goat Game falls short, to me, is in agency and plotting. The player character never really acts; everything is a reaction, except the final choice. Questions are all about how we feel, or how we respond to the actions of others. I would have wanted more chances to act independently of others.

Plotwise, there are many Checkhov's guns that never fire. There is a lot of worldbuilding here that just never goes anywhere. Like another reviewer said, the fact that these are goats is essentially immaterial; you could change a few details in the game and it would be the same. Similarly, you could change the dangerous magical substance to any kind of workplace safety issue and get the same feeling.

Finding all endings can be tough. I stalled out after 8, and ended up looking at the source for tips. The system is actually really clean and nice; if you want to see all endings and are really stuck, here is a complete breakdown (major spoilers:)(Spoiler - click to show) there are only 3 real choices in the midgame, each one raising one of the 3 main stats. The choices are the 'i like working/living/don't like living here', 'don't acquire secrets/sign petition/don't sign petition', and 'defend/criticize/decline'. Your final stats fall into one of 7 categories: tied stats, a value of 3 in a single stat, and any combination of 2 stats>0 and 1 stat=0. Each of these 7 cases has 2 endings depending on whether you leave or stay.

Recon, by Carlos

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A science fiction twine game with unique puzzles, October 7, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a game originally written Spanish and translated for the competition.

You play as a kind of rebel against an all-powerful corporation called Faro.

Gameplay proceeds through several puzzles, including interrogation, reasoning puzzles, and at least one that I've never seen before (entering Hack's house, a puzzle that required me to (Spoiler - click to show)adjust my computer settings).

The puzzles are pretty tricky; I frequently looked at the answers in the code. One puzzle require clicking on a moving link; I ended up (Spoiler - click to show) highlighting with tab and then hitting enter.

The translation is not idiomatic. In addition, some words are not translated at all (Continuar for continue, for instanc, or the 3 meters for the Mind scan). The story has interesting characters, but I don't believe it has the backstory and/or continuity for us to care a lot about them. All of these are normal problems for writers that usually get easier with more and more practice, so I look forward to any future games.

Programming-wise the game is very sophisticated.

-Polish: The game text could be polished more.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is very descriptive
-Interactivity: I felt like some of the puzzles were unfair.
-Emotional Impact: I think if some of the other problems were fixed I would have a better connection with the game emotionally.
+Would I play it again? Yes, if it was updated!

Starbreakers, by E. Joyce and N. Cormier

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A bunch of logic-type puzzles in one big Twine game, October 6, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This, like Retrocon 2021, another entry in this year's IFComp, is a collection of puzzles thrown into one big story.

However, this game has much more story, including a large overarching mystery in the 'wrapper' story around this game.

The puzzles are mostly traditional ones (like having 3 different-sized measuring cups and trying to get a specific value, or a slightly faster than usual Rings of Hanoi, a crossword, a wordsearch, etc.).

Each puzzle has a story associated to it. If you die by making wrong choices or running out of time (in Normal mode, there is sometimes a timer, while in Easy mode there is not), then you get the same puzzle but with a different story.

The very first puzzle is a bit weird (it is logical, but not a 'classic puzzle') like the others. Once you get past it the rest should be more familiar.

I thought that was pretty cool. I never became super invested in the ever-changing characters and the puzzles were mostly ones where the solutions are known, but I had fun doing it.

+Polish: Very polished.
+Descriptive: Yes, especially the changing settings
+Interactivity: At least there were no cryptograms or (at least for me) real Towers of Hanoi. What was there was frequently fun.
-Emotional Impact: Didn't get invested.
-Would I play again? It was fun, but I'm not sure how much replay value there is.

I really think this game is a 3.5, and would round up to 4 to be nice, but E. Joyce has already made many incredible games, so I'll point to those instead. Check out "Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires" (also co-written by N. Cormier) or "Social Lycanthropy Disorder", especially, because those are really fun!

Unfortunate, by Jess Elizabeth Reed

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A complex and vivid parser game with active NPCs but parser hangups, October 6, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a game with solid writing and design but shaky implementation, what one would expect from someone with a good writing background that is just now breaking into Inform 7. On Twitter I see that the author is an MFA student in game design, and the game's ABOUT text says it's a demonstration game, so that would all check out.

You play as a young would-be fortune teller in the house of a professional fortune teller. They dare you to tell the fortune of everyone in the house correctly.

There are 7 people in the house, and you can assign each of them 3 different fortunes.

Once you've done so, after a certain amount of time, they start interacting with each other, and after a certain time limit is reached, the game automatically ends and you are evaluated on how accurate your fortunes are.

Conversation works well in this game. But the complex scene-changing machinery is problematic. At one point I was in the closet and saw dramatic happenings in the room, with somebody storming out. Then I left the closet and the room, and saw the exact same scene, this time from outside the room.

More egregiously, on multiple playthroughs, after the first cutscene, I tried talking to Lux and then became stuck in the kitchen, with no way to leave. Any attempt to exit resulted in no text at all.

I wasn't able to determine if any actions you take besides fortune telling matter. It seems like it might; there are a few random objects scattered about. But with the bugs it's kind of hard to tell.

This game is far better than most projects made for MFA or BA degrees in game design (although there was a really nice Choicescript one recently). No testers are credited, and I think that having several more testers would have really pushed this to 'excellent' territory.

Codex Sadistica: A Heavy-Metal Minigame, by grave snail games

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A heavy metal parser puzzler with colors and a couple rough patches, October 5, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This was a genuinely fun game. You are part of a heavy metal band whose set is being taken over by a glamrock band. You have to assemble your band together, but each is distracted and can't come help you.

After some initial exploration, you gain the power to JAM with the other members of your band, which lets you cause interesting effects. Jamming with 2 people at a time provides more effects, leading to about 10 jam powers all together.

The writing is snappy and fun, the colors are cool, and the mechanics are interesting.

The only real downsides are (for me), a lot of profanity (in line with metal fans, though) and a lot of missing synonyms and alternate solutions. I kept trying things like RIP SHIRT or SURF CROWD or UNPLUG SWITCH or TAKE SWITCH and getting error messages, when it seems like these things ought to have been implemented. The game is very smooth in other areas and had testers, so I guess I'd just recommend in the future piling on even more testers and implementing everything they try in a transcript. I think this game is already great, but I think it could be pushed to 'completely awesome' territory by such efforts. I definitely hope to see more games by this author in the future, because they have a real talent for writing and mechanics.

RetroCON 2021, by Sir Slice

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A bunch of mini games wrapped up in Twine, October 5, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is unapologetically just a bunch of mini games wrapped up in Twine with an ultrathin story applied.

The minigames include:

-A slot machine with fruit graphics and some animation
-A poker draw game
-Horse Racing
-A football game
-A zombie-shooting card game
-A short custom-parser text adventure.

Each of the games worked pretty well, and some of them were pretty fun. All are based on RNG except the text adventure. The text adventure has a pretty basic parser (which has a tendency to insult you) and is of the classic 'my dead male relative's house' style, with each room lovingly recreated.

+Polish: Very smooth. The parser isn't awesome compared to dedicated parser languages but impressive for Twine
+Descriptiveness: It was easy to see what was going on usually
+Interactiviy: Most games worked well for me.
-Emotional impact: I felt distanced emotionally from my character and the games
-Would I play again? It was interesting, but I don't think I'll be revisiting.

Finding Light, by Abigail Jazwiec

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A parser game about a magical fox-human, October 5, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a fantasy parser game where you play as a human/fox creature that can switch between forms at will. You are a guardian to a young human who has been captured and you have to rescue him.

Gameplay is centered on switching between forms to your advantage. This is done very well: your animal form can speak with other animals, has heightened senses and can fit into tight places, while your human form is stronger and can use tools.

The parser could use some work, and the opening scene is where it struggles the most. Going up or down gives a blank message, and trying to apply the bandages is really rough when it comes to guessing synonyms (things like PUT BANDAGES ON ____ don't work).

The cast of characters is described well, although the raiders stick out as weird (they use strong profanity, where the rest of the game is more at a YA level, and they seem fairly dumb). The animal characters are great.

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