Reviews by MathBrush

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The Kuolema, by Ben Jackson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Dark secrets on a ship in Google forms, May 9, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This was a nice, mostly-grounded thriller on a ship. A lot of games like this with a dark, abandoned ship at night devolve into Lovcraftian horror (which I love), but it was nice to have a change of pace this time.

This game is written in google forms and relies entirely on passwords and, occasionally, branching for state tracking. This means that if you right everything down, you can come back to the game much later and speed through everything. It reminded me a bit of playing NES/SNES games like Mike Tyson's Punchout and Willow; we had a wooden beam near our living room we'd write down passwords on.

Overall, the speed and responsiveness was pretty good; the system doesn't work all that bad, except when I tried to open the walkthrough in another tab and everything got reset. Fortunately I had my notes, so it was very easy to catch back up. I ended up opening the walkthrough in another tab.

I'd say that writing and storytelling is very strong for my likes, with crisp and clear imagery and a slow-burn thriller plotline. Some parts didn't make too much sense, mostly serving as excuses to find more passwords, but there were a lot of dramatic moments.

The final parts really felt like an action movie. I lost momentum at one point trying to figure out how to activate the next portion of the narrative, but overall it worked well.

Love to see experimentation work out.

Les saisons de Pippa, by HEGEMONOS

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Complex worldbuilding about a world of insects and men, February 16, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has some pretty awesome worldbuilding. It's a French hypertext game with three main stories and a few incomplete ones.

It has very lovely art and some background music. The idea is that there is this ancient, ruined world filled with gigantic walls and large trees. There are no living creatures except for insects. It reminds me a bit of Nausicaa of the Winds, especially the trees that suck up poisonous metals and excrete them.

Overall, the worldbuilding was fun. You see this world of wild druids and ancient technology through the eyes of a young girl. There are horse-like insects, monstrous ones, insect gods, and insect food.

It's very big even as is. The one thing that I found a bit odd (besides it being released unfinished) is that the structure is kind of like a text maze. There is one main storyline you can usually just click through, with occasional side paths that can be very long before coming back to the original.

Overall, I love this world and art and think it's fun.

DOL-OS, by manonamora

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A complex office/historical/sci-fi twine game with colorful UI, February 8, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a long game in the 2023 French IF Comp, and one with an innovative take on interactivity and on the themes of 'treason' and 'archives'.

My opinion of the game changed around a lot because there are so many types of interactivity. Basically, you have access to a machine depicted as green-on-black, and you can dig through folders of files and applications.

I was in big trouble at first because my French is mediocre and there are parts of the game that are just reading page after page of fairly complex and technical French.

But then I realized that this is just a big game. Interspersed with the documents are images, codes, and minigames. They were well-done and all worked perfectly (except sudoku, which always quit when I put a 1 in).

The story really developed. At first I had no idea at all what was going on, some kind of obscure tale of political protest and treason, but then it became more of a work diary and finally unfolded into a pretty cool ending.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the outcome. It reminded me a bit of Kafka at parts, in a good way, but ended with its own style. Very fun, one of the better games I've played this year over all.

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.

According to Cain, by Jim Nelson

4 of 4 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 K Paulo

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.

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.

[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 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.

-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.

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.

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