Reviews by MathBrush

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Sindrella's Potions, by Tristin Grizel Dean
A great game with magic and puzzles but some weird bugs, May 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is really a very inspiring game, but I haven't been able to complete it yet due to some weird issues.

You are sent back in time to your grandmother's life, who was Cinderella but able to make potions. You explore a large city, discovering various potion recipes and hidden secrets and memories while making money to buy things for the ball.

The puzzles are engaging. I used a lot of hints, but only because the game is so large; it's generally fair as long as you examine everything.

There are a couple of weird bugs though which the author is aware of but are really hard to fix. These bugs include items sometimes stopping working, making progress impossible. By restarting several times, I've managed to get through each individual stopping point, but never all at once.

Dessert Island Adventure, by Nils Fagerburg

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A pleasant puzzler with a complex magical language, May 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is, I believe, written in a custom parser that the author has used in other games. It works well here, with elegant javascript integration.

You play as an adventurer/junior magician gathering spell ingredients for you boss. The spell ingredients are all food items.

The map is laid out visually, making navigation simple. Areas vary in complexity from mostly-empty to containing multi-level structures with puzzles in each level.

The primary puzzle-solving technique is inspired by The Wand by Arthur DiBianca. You say a magic spell in your grimoire, and point your wand at something for that spell to take effect. The spell language follows patterns that you have to discover.

I haven't completely finished the game, finding only a little more than half of the ingredients on my own and 4 more with hints, but the game lets you stop at any point, and I've gotten up to an E for Exceeds Expectations.

The puzzles are rich and interesting and systematic, and vary from trivial to complex. I didn't connect on an emotional level, more just skimming the surface, but that's more due to personal taste. Overall, well-done and enjoyable.

The Wolf and Wheel, by Milo van Mesdag
A visual novel blended from pieces of a larger story. Dark fantasy., May 5, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a game that's essentially a demo for a longer visual novel. It takes pieces of stories of that game and mixes them into one.

This game has quite a lot of visuals, with the snow animations and wintery background being especially gorgeous, and the overall portraits being fairly high quality.

You play as a bartender who gains a mysterious ability: when someone talks to you, you gain the ability to 'replay' their story and make different choices, which can have an effect in the real world afterwards.

These stories involve dark and frightening creatures in the woods, which have become more dangerous ever since the sun disappeared.

Overall, the dark vibe here is good, the stories are detailed, there's more interactivity than most VN-type games. I did have trouble getting a feel for the 'flow' of the game, as there wasn't so much an overarching story arc with rise and fall of action. Since the full game will have an entirely different storyline, that problem may fix itself.

The Legend of Horse Girl, by Bitter Karella

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An amusing and mostly-solid western story with grotesque humor, April 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Bitter Karella has been making games for many years now, but I think this is the best one I've played so far, for my tastes.

You play as a cowgirl whose beloved horse has been stolen by a lying, murderous judge, and you have to get it back.

It's set in a wide town with quite a few locations, and even more that get unlocked over time. I say the humor is 'grotesque', but by that I mean that a lot of solutions are amusingly gross.

The characters are vivid and based on tropes and stereotypes, like a snake-oil salesman, a crazy miner/inventor, a brothel owner, etc. A few of them lean heavily into racial and cultural tropes, like an opium-smoking asian man named Lucky Strike or a hispanic saloon owner named La Muerte with a face painted like a sugar skull. I'm not really fond of relying on racial stereotypes, but all those characters are portrayed in a positive light as independent business people respected in their community.

The puzzles were pretty hard, and I had to get help on a couple, especially on finding a bezoar. I played the game over about a week on and off. Most puzzles are 'find an item in one area and use it in a creative way in another'. A lot of the humor is in finding out what item actually solves to problem.

The implementation of the game is a big improvement over all past Karella games, but still has a couple of rough edges here and there. I had trouble finding the right words to use the dynamite, or to use a rope. Fortunately, the game itself will also include the right wording to use as a hint, and has other features designed to help with implementation.

We played part of this in the Seattle IF Meetup, where it seemed well-received, and I finished it on my own later.

The Hole Man, by E.Z. Poschman
A giant game with many endings, with few rules, April 21, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a very large Twine game. I think of all structures Sam Kabo Ashwell mentioned in his 'Standard patterns in choice-based games', it most resembles the sorting hat, as there are ten or so different paths that, once you pick, is generally linear to an ending.

You play as a person whose identity is stolen, leaving you as a gaping hole in an alternate world.

That world is one where anything can happen. A shop that has a closet can take you to another world, and so can biting a sucker.

Each path allows you the choice to become a 'man', like the Drake Man or the Darin' Man, giving you an awesome and alternate life.

I found the prose to be overall well done, and there were interesting ideas. But after 3 or so paths, I began to feel like there were, if it's even possible, too many good ideas!

Brandon Sanderson has said before that good magic systems are more interesting the more restrictions they have. This isn't a high fantasy novel about complex magic, but I think something similar applies here: if anything is possible, it's almost the same as if nothing is possible. After a while, it all kind of blended together.

I opened up the game in Twinery to see how much I missed, and realized that after an hour or so I had only seen about 20-30% of the game. I used the code to read the 'ultimate' ending, which I thought was roughly as fulfilling as the other endings, but had some cool descriptions of things.

Taste is subjective, but for me personally, I think I would have enjoyed it more if there were more structure in terms of themes or some other kind of rhythm to the game. Outside of that, the game is coded in a smooth and complex fashion and the writing is vivid and descriptive.

The Bones of Rosalinda, by Agnieszka Trzaska
Clever and challenging twine puzzle game about a protagonist in pieces, April 14, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This author has a history of making highly-polished twine games with complex and robust systems.

This game is no exception. You play as a recently-reanimated skeleton in pieces, and have the capability of moving each piece independently.

The map is constrained at first but then slowly opens up in manageable pieces.

The complexity is quite high; you can play as your self, detach your parts and play as them, and command another character as well. There is an inventory which allows you to both use items on things in the room and to combine items together.

The story is light comedic fantasy with dramatic elements (maybe Polonius would call it tragical-comical-fantastical-dramatic). The light-heartedness is connected to gameplay as well, which lets you face certain scenes over and over if needed to give you time to think of a solution.

The complex nature of the inventory and pc-changing system proved pretty hard for me. A couple of times, I had the right idea for the solution, but didn't know how to implement it. As an example (major spoilers for kitchen puzzle), I knew that (Spoiler - click to show)the peppers were bad for the dog, so I tried to pick up my arm and the peppers and combine them to rub them on it. Then I tried dropping the arm while holding the peppers. I tried talking to the cook, but didn't realize I could switch characters while talking, and there is a later similar puzzle which doesn't allow character switching during a short scripted scene. These kinds of issues with playing are normal for me with parser games, but Twine games rarely reach such a level of complexity. Overall, I found it challenging in a good way, and can heartily recommend it (and need to remember to nominate it for some XYZZY awards next year).

Half-Alive, by Bellamy Briks

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fantasy story about two kids in the underworld, April 11, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a long Twine game about a young woman who's had a very difficult life finding her younger brother being sucked into a mysterious portal by a dark creature.

Following her brother, she enters a mysterious world filled with destruction and many malevolent entities. Her brother's life is at stake, and there's not much time left.

As the author puts it, this is a narrative-focused game and eschews large-scale branching, but manages to find numerous ways to test the player.

Puzzles come in two varieties: riddles, which are either type-in or choice-based from a huge list of options; and using a color-based system where some colors in the game always signify the same thing (kind of like (Spoiler - click to show)circles in Sorcery 2).

Overall, the writing is earnest and deals with a lot of childhood trauma. Emotions are plainly spelled out, and overall it reminds me a bit of Steven Universe (crying breakfast friends) or She-ra in terms of the emotional notes it reaches for. The emotions didn't land quite as effectively for me as in those two examples, though.

There were some unusual word choices in the game that were jarring, like using the phrase 'he was made into a room' instead of 'he went into a room'. It could be cleaned up a little bit grammar-wise; I would give it 4 stars if that happened.

Overall, I felt like it was a worthwhile investment of time, and I was glad to play it. I've enjoyed the author's other games and hope that they continue the trend of releasing fun and meaningful games.

Hypercubic Time-Warp All-go-rhythmic Synchrony, by Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw
An ultra-surreal game about hypercubes, Berkeley, and set theory, April 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is the third game by this duo, the other two in the past having been very long, surreal games, one of which reflected a psychotic break and really felt like what such a thing would be to experience.

This game starts with the first author confessing that he/she (both pronouns are used) made sexual advances to their trans step son whom they've lived with for 9 years, and that it has ruined the partnership of the two authors, after most of this game had been written, and that the author is trying to make up for it.

Much of this game isn't real, so it's hard to know if this is, but it certainly seems so, which is sobering and disturbing.

The rest of the game focuses mostly on a few recurring themes:
-The idea of very large cardinal sets and non-principal ultrafilters on them. This is an area of math that is extremely abstract, especially since (as mentioned by the author) most of these things are non-constructible and cannot be proven to exist in any meaningful way under normal mathematical assumptions.
-The author's life at the Lothlorien coop in Berkeley, which still exists and houses people today.
-The idea of using psychic energy to communicate with Hong Kong singer Deng Ziqi telepathically.
-The author's relationship with Staci (who I believe is also Maev?)

The game is laid out on a six-dimensional hypercube, corresponding to 6 binary digits, corresponding to the 6 cardinal directions N,E,S,W,U, and D. Unlike most games and real life, N and S are not opposites and have no relation to each other. Instead, going North cancels itself out, so going N twice will bring you back to where you started.

Not all 64 options are filled; about 20 or so are empty 'unfinished' rooms. One room had its connections backwards (so that going U and D changed the N and S bits), which may or may not be intentional. The room names are based on the binary numbers.

In the rooms are found items, one at a time or zero. There are lots of scenery objects described in the text but none are implemented.

I received around 432 points (I think) out of 530 or so. There is no overarching goal outside of 'binding' some items together in a chain, which just gives more points. One room contains a complete walkthrough for the bindings.

Overall, as a game it continues the glimpse into a surreal world offered by the previous games, but the confession at the beginning overshadows everything else and renders it all heartbreaking.

Lady Thalia and the Rose of Rocroi, by E. Joyce and N. Cormier

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
High quality twine puzzler about French art heists, April 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I had some trepidation approaching this game, as, based on the last Lady Thalia game, I assumed it would be:
-requiring a great deal of thought,

and thus require some special time set aside. And I was right! If anything, this game exceeds the last one in all those categories.

You play two different women this time: one, the infamous lady thief Lady Thalia; the other, a policewoman named Margaret Williams, somewhat stodgy but dependable. Together, you are teaming up to stop a rival art thief who is obsessed with royal privilege and the trappings of aristocracy.

Play alternates between playing as Margaret, who investigates and prepares, and Lady Thalia, who follows up on Margaret's leads. There's a point system (which is humorously lampshaded in-game), and sub-systems including a relationship tracker between the two leads.

There are a variety of puzzles, with the most consistent one being a conversational system where you can choose between being flattering, direct, and leading someone one; most conversations give you 3 chances to find the 'right one', with a bonus if you get all 3 right.

The other puzzles for the most part involve retaining information from earlier and using contextual clues. There is a complex save system which allows for easy restoration (I did this quite a bit), but some choices have significant delays, so a perfect playthrough is quite difficult.

The characters are bold and well-written, and I'd consider this among the best crime/heist Twine games.

The Light in the Forest, by Emily Worm
A trans lesbian coffeeshop post-apocalyptic portal story, April 9, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is a lot of things all at once.

Perhaps the majority of it is wish-fulfillment, of a sorts. Your character is a nervous, self-doubting trans woman with major executive processing issues, and the biggest storyline is about a girl you've had a crush on for years turning out to have a crush on you too and the two of you flirting, with her being deeply accepting of everything about you including your transness and disability. This is contrasted with your family and society (represented by an institution) who accepts neither of these things.

Overlayed on this is another storyline, that of the world having already ended and a messenger of light from Hell (I think?) having become entangled in your dreams.

Overall, the game does a good job of sketching distinct characters and their personalities. There were enough small typos here and there to be noticeable (wish I had written them down, but forgot). There are some bursts of strong profanity, mostly used to express anxiety (including the first screen). The game has a lot of references to attraction and making out but is generally non-explicit except for a segment describing the character's own body, from the lens of their satisfaction (or lack of) with her appearance.

Overall, I think this game appeals most to one's sense of longing for acceptance and belonging, which is fairly universal. And in that sense, I would say it's a successful story.

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