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Reviews by MathBrush

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Drag Star!, by Evan J. Peterson

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An exceptional mystery story mixed with zany reality show, February 27, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
I don't know much about drag culture, although I have friends and family members who are or have been drag performers. This game was a real eye opener for me, and I ended up learning a lot more about things like Drag Race, drag queens, faux queens, etc.

I went back and forth a lot on the rating here. I really don't like the first chapter. It's a huge bombardment of concepts, people, very stylized writing, that just felt like so much. I'm sure it'd be less overwhelming to someone already familiar with drag culture, but for me it felt like I was reading some fantasy book where the author spends the first chapter introducing all the kingdoms and using new words they made up ('and the hrothgus, or town constable, rode forth on his vytnrewr, an insect-like steed). Take that, and make it a sassy drag queen version.

It also ran into Poe's law a bit in that chapter, where I couldn't tell if was portraying drag accurately or mocking it/parodying it, it was just so over the top.

Fortunately, it calms down a lot in the later chapters, and becomes a story about people and what was for me an excellent, compelling mystery, one where, even having solved it, I'd love to go back around and dig in to find out more motives, more background, more viewpoints. The drag queen aspects themselves became more thoughtful, funny, and pointed. The characters were complex and rich.

Another reason I thought of knocking it down a peg is the humor. Not because it isn't funny; it has plenty of lines. But in this fictional world, these are top-tier meme makers, comedians and dramatists putting out their best efforts, and while the author is genuinely funny or dramatic, sometimes seeing the writing and having the audience (or the narrator) say 'this is the funniest thing I've ever had' just kind of falls flat.

But a point in its favor is that the game manages stats well. I always knew what each stat did, had plenty of chances at the beginning to increase them, and basically didn't fail any stat checks till near the end where my particular mix didn't hold up (smart, funny, confident).

Now, I know that makes it sound like the game is 'too easy', but the real game is in strategizing between cooperating vs going solo, investigating the mystery vs preparing for the competition, sabotaging people or helping them when they are potential rivals and potential future judges, and deciding what to do with the seemingly cult-like abbey.

At the end, I felt somewhat uncomfortable recommending this game to general audiences as it has some raunchy and sexual material (almost all in jokes and skits), as well as frequent opportunities for drug use or binge drinking (you are a recovering addict). But I can't deny the overall quality of the game, and I'm putting the mention of those things here so that you can get an idea before you play.

Edit: having played through it now, I can see why it doesn't have a ton of ratings on the omnibus app but has one of the highest ratings. The offputting first chapter may have kept people away, but the solid remaining portion of the game probably led to higher scores. Also, people went out of their way to rate it highly in opposition to a campaign by trolls against the game.

Weyrwood, by Isabella Shaw

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A story of manners, magic and daemons, February 25, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This is an engaging and well-written game where you play a somewhat-wealthy member of the gentry returning to your childhood estate upon the death of your guardian.

Your city has bargained with daemons and weyrds (treefolk) to survive. Everyone lives on the edge with the daemons. Do well, be scandalous, attract attention, and you'll get more magic currency. Do poorly and lose it all, and the daemons come to suck out your soul and make you their slave.

There is a lot of variety in terms of romantic partners and factions to side with. I intend on replaying as I saw tons of material about the daemons but almost nothing about the weyrds (my choice).

I would heartily recommend this game, but I really didn't like the narrative direction regarding one of the possible romances.

Your childhood friend is recently married, but they hit on you, and the game encourages you to have at least an implied affair with them to generate more scandal. If you press, she hints that her partner is okay with it. Later, even when I was engaged to someone else, it pushed for us to be together, saying that your partner would understand.

I get that they're going for polyamory representation. I'm not completely opposed to a certain form of polyamory: my ancestors in the 1800s were polygamous, and I think that was fine. But this is offputting, even with 'modern' polyamory, which is completely about trust. I met the husband later, and he seemed 'chill', but she could have plied him with a fake story about you; and later, you are encouraged to be with her without your spouse knowing (you have a 'feeling' they'll be okay with it). If you look up anything about polyamory, it only works with everyone's explicit consent. What's in the game is just cheating, and it's pushed on you multiple times.

Honestly, I find that pretty gross, and for that reason I'm not recommending this game in general. The rest of it is pretty great.

Edit: Narratively, I have no problem with games allowing you to bad things, as it makes your choices more real. I don't like it telling you in your own voice that this is okay and that you kind of want to do it.

Sword of the Slayer, by S. Andrew Swann

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Classic fantasy with monster slaying, encounters, dungeon, February 23, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
Honestly, I got into "text-based games" with paper-based Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks and fantasy CYOA books. Even years later, that stuff really appeals to me (like the Sorcery series, the parser game Heroes, the twine game Tavern Crawler, etc.).

So when I say I love this game, that's the background I'm coming from. This reminds me so much of the 'intelligent weapon' rules from AD&D 1E, where you'd have a legendary weapon with intelligence that has a benefit and a drawback, etc.

You find an intelligent magic sword and swear an oath to train in swordsmanship. You find a mentor and start attacking monsters, eventually coming to the attention of Demorgon (with a name very similar to the AD&D 1E demon Demogorgon), as well as several others.

The stats are generally easy to understand, although each fight seemed to have an option to attack quickly, hide, or defend, and that didn't seem directly connected to any visible stat.

The characters are admittedly not too fleshed out. There are about five or six factions, and each needed to have like 50% more text included to be more interesting. I've worked in the last year on expanding my own choicescript game, and I think S. Andrew Swann would benefit a lot from that (even 10K more), although I think he's got a different contract he's working on. I was personally okay with this, as the AD&D modules I compared it too have similar levels of detail for side characters.

I was definitely looking forward to playing this. I'm familiar with Swann as author of one of the most popular pages on the SCP wiki (with his name on it, 'S. Andrew Swann's Proposal'), and I'm so glad this wasn't disappointing.

Finally, a lot of steam reviews suggest the ending is fixed for you to win. I wish! I had to replay the final chapter 4 times to actually survive. I'm so glad he added a save feature, which works beautifully. Very happy with this game, and I plan on replaying it.

At 180K words and with a lot of branches, it does feel shorter than some other choicescript games, but satisfying.

I received a review copy of this game.

Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts, by Alana Joli Abbott

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A magical school game which could use a little more oomph , February 21, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
In this choicescript game, you play as a new student at a high school for magical kid. Kind of like Harry Potter, which the game lampshades with a character who constantly compares things to Harry Potter.

You attend classes and prepare for a sky sailing competition while dealing with periodic magical disturbances. There are also magical non-human creatures who are fighting for rights. You can decide to help them or help the government agency which tries to hide magic from the world.

This game has a lot of good elements, and it was quite a few ratings on the omnnibus app (though it has some negative reviews on Steam). Overall, I feel like everything would be great in it if things had a little more weight.

Magic itself is probably the biggest culprit here. The first chapter has almost no magic in it except for some feelings and a throwaway line or two. Essentially, what happens is:
-You cross a causeway to the school, noticing nature is in balance,
-You get a room and a roommate
-You get told what your classes are
-You get told about an athletic competition
and that's about it. Magical things start happening later on, but it never really feels like a vibrant part of your life. Your class discussions are mostly about mortal philosophy and folklore, your dates are mostly non-magical things.

And it felt like the game was controlling the character for me a lot, almost like unskippable cutscenes in video games. This happens throughout the game, even for a crucial scene near the end where it could put you in a ton of legal trouble.

Overall, though, I think other people enjoy high school slice of life games more than me (like The Fog Knows Your Name), so I would recommend trying out the demo, as it's a very accurate representation of the game itself.

The Mysteries of Baroque, by William Brown

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A pastiche of older dark fiction with a revenge plot, February 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This game is essentially a love story to all things old and creepy, mainly gothic horror but also the Barsoom series of books, mythology, urban legends, weird horror, and other such things.

You play as a Frankestein's monster-like character, brought to life by the power of science and lightning. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, you realize that you had been betrayed by someone you once respected and swear vengeance.

The game has a lighter side. As an example of the game's tongue-in-cheek nomenclature, you live in a city called Baroque whose principal enemy is the city Rococo. Other cities and people are torn from famous (and less famous) works of fiction, including speculative fiction from the Bronte sisters.

There is a chapter similar to the Phantom of the Opera, a chapter like the Red Death, a detective chapter, etc.

I found this all to be great. Near the end, it turns to weird horror, as many dark books in an older setting do, but it does it well.

One drawback is that there are very few opportunities for stat increases (you will likely end the game with most skills never having changed). Another is that many threads are brought up and then lost again. For instance, I received a modification that allowed me to have perfect photographic recall. But it never seemed to come up again, even in situations where it might be useful (searching through a pile of artifacts, trying to learn a secret name from a page, etc.)

Overall, I found the story fun and interesting.

The Empress' Shadow, by Emily Short and Failbetter Games

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Education, political intrigue and strange romance, February 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
Surface stories generally aren't my favorite in Fallen London. To me, it feels like being in a dark room telling ghost stories at a sleepover, then going out into the brightly-lit kitchen to say hi to your parents and grab some snacks before going back in.

That said, the player agency in this story is impressive, and mechanically it is one of the best stories, and has poignant moments of writing, especially the drawn-out ending. Reading this made me feel that Failbetter made an excellent choice hiring Short as their creative director; the grasp of the world of Fallen London as a whole and the creative mechanics are exactly what I'd hope a creative director would bring.

In this game, the oldest daughter of Queen Victoria, called the Empress's Shadow, is the only normal child she has left, and is coming down to the Neath to visit for unknown reasons. She is the empress dowager of Prussia, just like in real history.

You want to get close to her. It turns out that she desires a revolving suite of new servants to keep from getting too close to anyone or revealing too many secrets. So, for you to get her secrets, you become a teacher at Sinning Jenny's finishing school, training your own set of spies (chosen from 6-8 of the factions already in Fallen London), and using them to find out more about her.

Her motives include both romance and power, which is interesting, and the game gives you a permanent carousel that can result in a favor (although I failed the 50% luck check all 3-4 times I tried, which is just what luck is).

The only drawbacks to me personally are the lack of engagement I felt with the surface-based story. Otherwise, it is very well-done and was interesting to play.

Sorcery Is for Saps, by Hilari Bell and Anna-Maria Crum

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A silly and fun court intrigue story with constrained choices, February 18, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
I have to admit, I didn't have high hopes for this game coming in. My own game is usually near the bottom of the barrel sales-wise (according to the 'bestselling' section of the iOS omnibus app), but Sorcery for Saps is usually right around there, too.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the involved and intriguing mystery story that played out over the couple of hours the game lasted. You have to impersonate your master sorcerer at the king's court, where he has been cursed by an unknown person at a critical time in negotiations.

There are many suspects and many side-intrigues going on, and it all ties together nicely. Even if you guess some of the secrets, it's still fun to see the others.

But this game had a few things going against it.

For me personally, I disliked that many choices were forced on you. So instead of 'Would you like to talk to the servant or do one of these other options?' the game would say, 'You've decided you like the servant, feel sorry for her, and go out of your way to cast a specific elaborate spell to fix her problems and gain her confidence. Why did you do that player?'

Imagine someone doing that when making dinner plans or game mastering. Instead of, 'Where are you thinking of eating tonight? We could go to Taco Bell or Mcdonalds since they're close,' it's more like, 'Well, I can tell already you're going to tell us to go to Taco Bell and get supreme burritos because you love their beans. What made you think of it?'

It makes for stronger storytelling, because you (the author) have complete control of what happens, and perhaps that's one reason I found the story so engaging. But I found it less engaging as a game.

The second issue that a lot of games lower on the bestselling list have (and mine does this too, though I've updated it a bit to work on it) is 'bad stat disease', where you can end the game with pretty much all of your stats between 50% and 60%, and your opposed stats at essentially 50-50, due to a combination of infrequent, low stat boosts, confusion about what tests opposed stats vs setting it, and difficulty figuring out what skill is used in each test.

The last thing is that the game has zany, silly humor, especially in the first chapter, with spells like 'CTRL-Z' or 'Thingius stoppius' (not a real spell, but similar to ones in the game). I've noticed that games with silly humor tend not to do well, even if they're actually pretty fun (like For Sale:Haunted House, Yeti's Parole Officer). The same goes for anything that seems targeted towards children (like my own game or Demon Mark).

So, if the authors read this, I really liked your game, and I think there are some things that can be improved, but overall your mystery was great and I'm going to be thinking about it for a long time. Loved the characterization of the ferret.

The Gift, by Chris Gardiner, Failbetter Games

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The gruesome details behind the royal family, February 18, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This game was ranked highly on the 'best exceptional story' poll on the fallen london reddit recently, and I wanted to check it out.

Turns out that it gives out huge chunks of backstory and lore regarding the royal family. This one story helped clear up the plots of Ambition:Nemesis, Sunless Sea, and Sunless Skies more than any other single story I've read on there.

You are given a strange doll, and it eventually leads you into the depths of the Shuttered Palace. There you encounter the royal family as they now are, after the transformations of the fall.

It's not as long as some of the other fate stories (most of CMG's are longer), but it has a hefty chunk of content, especially if you slow down and read everything. In terms of impact of the lore revealed, it is very high overall.

The writing on this piece was well-done, exactly the kind of thing you want in Fallen London (where you're left wanting more, but then more is offered...at a cost).

La Faille, by Chester

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent and moving French sci-fi visual novel about a summer trip, February 16, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
I am absolutely not a fan of visual novels usually, as they're harder to pick up and put down due to timed text and the graphics usually take up most of the screen making it harder to multitask.

Despite that, I found this game great. It's an entry in the French comp for 2021. The gameplay is spread over 4 days and several locations, each with their own theme music.

While art isn't usually part of my review criteria, they really nailed it here, and the art is very responsive, with parallalax movement following your mouse, different animations at key points, etc.

The characters are all unique and I definitely had favorites early on.

There's not many choices compared to a typical Twine or Choicescript game, but they seemed to have some kind of longer-term effect. There is one huge choice at the end. I translated it for my son who was walking by, and we cried a little at our ending.

Great game. I thought of giving it a 4 right after playing it, but after several hours I definitely think this is a 5 game.

Mecha Ace, by Paul Wang

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fly a giant robot to blow up other giant robots, February 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This game is just straight-up a 'you are piloting a giant robot, go out there and fight' choicescript game. And it does really well.

The plotline is exciting. You are one of the best ace pilots in a resistance movement, and there is a hotshot pilot on the other side who keeps challenging you while both sides work on superweapons. The game is set at the culmination of a 5-year war.

Characters are varied, each with a couple of strong traits. I didn't romance anyone in my playthrough, but that's because I played a completely aggressive jerk.

The stats are simple and easy to understand. Difficulty comes not from guessing which stat to use, but about weighing your decisions, with some decisions and plotlines better motivated by different stats. So, for instance, you might have to choose between being cautious and saving civilians or being bold and striking the enemy while they strike you, with different stats helping different strategies.

I ended up with what I'd consider a 'bad' ending, but the game is smooth and varied enough that replay wouldn't be bad. I wouldn't say the game is short at at all, but it went by faster for me than most games of its size due to my interest in the plot and the lack of obstacles in terms of stat confusion.

I believe this one was very popular in past years and probably popular now. It makes sense; it's fun.

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