Reviews by MathBrush

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T-Zero, by Dennis Cunningham

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A giant, obtuse, puzzle- and pun-filled time travel adventure, January 21, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I started going through my wishlist on IFDB, and this game has been on their longer than any other, because it was so intimidating I put it off. I ended up playing the ifarchive version, which uses local browser storage for saves.

I played for a while, using in-game hints and getting < 20 points out of 365, then used a walkthrough and maps from several different sites, including CASA. Even then, it was difficult to follow and required solving some puzzles independently.

If you had to play just one IF game for a very long time and didn't have access to any other, but could talk to other people, this would be a great game, because it's designed for long-term group play.

Many factors make it large. First, it has a giant map with many diagonal connections and cycles in the graph structure, and doesn't list exits automatically (unless I missed a command to turn that on; I just used the EXITS command), and this giant map exists in multiple time periods at once.

Second, many of the puzzles rely on pun-based commands, requiring a leap of intuition that can't be solved with just brute force.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, many actions have long-delayed consequences, and many items are used in scenarios quite different from the ones they're found in.

None of these are bad game-design wise, but they mean that you will spend a great deal of time on this game in order to experience its content, while many current IF games are designed to be completed in one or two sessions with little 'friction', due to the multitude of competing games and other reasons.

The plotline is buried at first but becomes stronger and stronger, especially once time travel is allowed. If the author created the first areas first, it would explain why the game starts with a mishmash of silly things (including a tortoise and a hare on a Moebius strip a suspension bridge that suspends you). Later areas have strong thematic consistency, especially the future world. There are a few other threads of plot that weave through the game consistently, like the use of opiates to expand the mind and a meteorite that makes several appearances.

The game isn't mean; it increases difficulty in generally fair ways. Hints are provided in most rooms, and a helpful friend gives you more and more commands over time that help out in a meta way (I loved FIND [ITEM] because it moves you to that room, enabling fast travel).

This would be a great game for a let's play or other group-based activity, since finding the right phrasing is good.

I don't think I'll play it again, because I just struggle with its style of expansiveness, but I enjoyed my time with it and think many others would as well.


The Only Possible Prom Dress, by Jim Aikin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A complex and rich puzzle game in a mall with very large map, October 8, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game is a sequel to Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, a game a couple decades old. When I first played IF in 2010, I downloaded the Frotz app and played all the main games that come with it. After I found how fun big puzzle games like Curses! are, I searched for other games that were like it and found Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina. I ended up really enjoying the game a lot.

This sequel so far lives up to the original. Per IFComp rules, I've only played 2 hours, getting 20 out of 250 points and unlocking much of the map.

You play as a parent (I think a mother?) that is trying to get a prom dress for your daughter. There is a large mall that is mostly abandoned due to a parade. It's a 3-story mall, with many stores per floor and other areas outside.

It's a puzzle-based game, with a variety of puzzles, including conversation, codes, machines, animals, etc.

Like the original game, it has a huge map and is (eventually) very nonlinear. Unlike the original, it contains extensive in-game help systems and suggestions that smooth out the player experience. In particular, the (very mild early spoiler) (Spoiler - click to show)texts from your daughter help point you to the next available puzzle. I turned to the hints once, when I felt like I had a reasonable solution to something but it just wasn't working; it turned out I had just thought of it differently than the author, and the progressive hints gave me just the hint I needed.

The first two hours have been fun, and I look forward to the rest. I was just going to power through with the walkthru, but I think this is fun enough I'd like to take it slow later.


Heaven's Vault, by Inkle

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A graphical exploration and archaeology game , June 16, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game is by Inkle, a studio that has made numerous interactive fiction games. While this game has many non-textual elements, the text is a very important part of the gameplay and the core mechanic is a large textual language puzzle. It took me 16 hours for one playthrough, according to Steam.

The main idea is that you, in an fictional futuristic setting, are an archaeologist exploring an ancient, highly-advanced civilization. They settled a nebula with 'moons' connected by jets of water that are navigable by boat. The main thread throughout the civilizations' history is the use of a language: ancient. This is presented as a series of sigils, usually ran together, that you at first guess and then eventually become certain of (through a mechanic where the game tells you if you got it right after you use it a few times in a row). No spaces are used in most words, making finding where words start and stop the hardest part later on.

I'd like to split up this review a bit into different categories, starting with what was, for me, the weakest part:

3d Navigation and pacing
I bounced off this game at first because of this. One thing that a lot of commercial IF games lean into, especially ones by authors transitioning from indie to AAA-adjacent, is to bulk up the play time, is splitting up stories with long sections of travel. This is done in 80 Days, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies, and here, too. This leads to a lot of very dull moments. 80 days helped make up for it with quick transit animations and making the movement part of the overall puzzle, while in most of these other games it's just dead air.

This game splits up content in two different ways. Large chunks each take place on different worlds, split up by ship travel, which has no hazards and no decision making outside of binary choice points and occasional random treasure. The smaller chunks on each world are split up by 3d motion. This uses invisible hitboxes that don't always line up with what you can see; this is especially apparent in 'open worlds' that look easily navigable but are secretly linear. I found myself frequently running into walls and getting stuck. Amusingly, I realized that the space part and the 3d part were very similar to Kingdom Hearts 1, just without the enemies.

Conversations happen in real-time. Speed is adjustable in the menu, but there is no scroll-back and pausing is difficult. I generally like text games because they can be picked up and put down, minimized, multitasked, and easily played around others without being intrusive. For this game, I had to give complete attention at pretty much all times, and even then I missed quite a bit of dialog looking away to itch a scratch or to answer my kids' questions.

Continuing on my scale of not liking to liking are things that I liked a lot but don't really factor into my rating:
Graphics and audio

I think they did a great job here. Voiceover is really lovely, the music is heartrending and sci-fi feeling. The art looks a lot better than most 3d games, and loads well on my potato laptop. The artists and sound designers really did well.

Character and Plot
This is generally very good, with some slight caveats. Characters are very distinctive and mostly memorable. The protagonist has a rich past interconnected with many corners of the Nebula. The plot contains multiple independent strands circling the big mystery: where did these civilizations come from, why is everyone here, and what's going to happen to them?

Our main character is kind of a jerk. I know subconsciously it can be easy to perceive strong female characters as aggressive when compared to similar male protagonists, but I believe our character has attributes would be jerky for men as well, especially in regards to her interaction with the robot Six. It was actually refreshing in a lot of ways, but I think 'jerk with a heart of gold' interests me more than 'jerk with a heart of jerk'. The strong personality does lend to some fun role-playing through.

The plot threads were very intriguing, including the mysterious workings of your home city, the cryptic machinations of you employer, some kids trying to find their place in the world, etc, as well as your progressive discovery of the ancient world.

I felt like the ending in my playthrough came at a time where I had a lot of loose ends, and not a lot of choice to go back and work on them. And the final reveal, while visually stunning, left quite a bit unresolved as well, especially given how much build up there was. I know that it can be hard to simultaneously give people choice as well as a satisfying plot structure (which is one reason, I speculate, that a lot of Choice of Games with award-winning stories often don't sell as well as those with straightforward power fantasies), but I've seen a few people do a great job of this, such as the 'Truth' ambition in Sunless Skies. That game separates your quests into different categories and has clear victory conditions, so you know if you're going to leave threads unfinished. It also provides a very weighty, powerful, and conclusive finish to the final story. I feel like Sorcery! 4 also had a very satisfying ending. This game, Heaven's Vault, was not bad at all with its ending, better than average for sure, but could have been amazing.

Puzzle mechanics

I really enjoy languages. I've studied French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Greek, Latin, Japanese and a little Hebrew, some more than others. So I was definitely up for a challenge here.

As someone who has struggled with many languages, I have to say that the experience in this game is much less like learning an actual language and much more like learning a code alphabet for English. Emily Short, in her review, said "a great deal of Ancient is English in a chiffon-sheer disguise", and I have to agree.

However, this isn't necessarily a negative. Language take forever to learn. I've been studying written Japanese for 3-4 months now and still struggle with basic pronunciation. For the average English-speaking player, learning an actual non-English language would be far too difficult.

So the game simplifies it. 'Ancient' has none of those bizarre ultra-common connector words that can mean so many things (like 'zwar' in German or '就' in Mandarin). Most sentences, especially early ones, follow simple noun-verb-object patterns, with some light prepositions added in later.

Most words are ones that can be easily identified with pictographs. Themes of light, travel, people, fire, water, air, earth, plant and metal dominate the vocabulary. In another distinction between in-game and real-life pictographic languages, there is not a significant 'drift', where everyday words have bizarre derivations based on non-written considerations (like the fact that 'mother' in chinese is woman-horse due to homonyms). Interestingly, the pictograph for 'man' is the same in 'Ancient' and Chinese, although I don't know if that's a coincidence.

Some features are distinctly English, such as the way that past and future tense are conjugated and the use of helper verbs. The game uses symbols that directly derive from modern earth culture, like (Spoiler - click to show)question marks and x's

These features make word-solving easier. Even then, it would be impossible to just begin with a blank slate, make guesses, and hope you're right later. It'd be the worlds' hardest cryptogram and sudoku, a big pile of guesses waiting to collapse. Instead, the game gives you a huge leg up over real-life translators by giving you four options to guess from, 1 of which is always correct. Which every one you pick is indicated by a ? in future uses. Once it's used 3 or 4 times, the game confirms your translation or denies it through your robot or your own intuition. This is probably the main feature that makes the game far easier than learning a real-life language, and it is, in my opinion, what makes it actually fun.

By the end, individual pictographs are all easily identifiable, so the trick is giving you longer sentences with no spaces, so you have to identify words by their structure. The language is very systematic, and I was thrilled to puzzle out some pieces, although some I struggle with, especially (Spoiler - click to show)the difference between a period . and a colon :. It can become very difficult to find the border between words, and you can't figure out new words unless you surround them on both sides with established words. I often had to save longer texts to come back to after I learned more words.

I adored the translation. For me the highlight of the game was finding a huge (Spoiler - click to show)book that never seemed to end. I translated over 20 lines, took a break, delivered it somewhere, and translated more until it made me stop.

As mentioned earlier, the game ended kind of abruptly for me and I had some unresolved translation, but by then I felt like I was going to have to compromise anyway on what I had hoped to achieve in the game. I didn't feel compelled to do another playthrough, but I may try again some day.

Overall

Overall, it was worth the money. I got it on sale. It provided me 16 hours of content and could easily go up to 30 or more, with a large chunk of that being just reading/translating. That's much more than most free/indie interactive fiction. I didn't really like the 3d movement aspects at all, and I feel the ending could have had more narrative weight, especially (Spoiler - click to show)talking more about loops, and the repetition aspect. But the plot still pulled me forward the whole game, and for a language puzzle, it was the best I've seen out there, and the dialog, art, and sound were outstanding to me.

For my star rating system, it was polished, descriptive, had good interactivity, I felt emotionally invested, and I will likely play again some day. Just not today.


The Vaults, by Daniel Duarte

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A F2P-mobile app-style fantasy card game with a variety of quests , October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

One of the games I've put the most hours to in the last few years is a lesser-known Hearthstone clone called Plants vs Zombies Heroes. It's the only card game app I've played, but it has a lot of features in common (I've heard) with the other big ones like Hearthstone.

So that's my basis of comparison.

This is an Online unity game. The download is a webpage with a redirect to the online play. Starting play has a lot of download bars as various things load. It has an opening movie cinematic with voice acting. After that, there is something of a tutorial, and then it opens up.

The main idea is that you open packs that contain cards or gold or other things, then you assemble a deck. You then play different levels or (eventually, but not now, I think) PvP. During gameplay, you have three keepers that generate points to buy cards with or attack (but not both). Keepers that get to 0 hp are taken out of play, same as for enemies.

Overall, this game is, to me, a mismatch for the comp. The spirit of the competition has generally been that you provide a complete gaming experience which can be archived and stay free forever, with possibly a better version released later for money (like Scarlet Sails). The two hour rule is there to encourage games to be substantially completable in two hours.

Neither rule is hard or fast; there have been games in the past which could not be archived (like Paradise, a text MMO game that was like a reinvented MUD) and the winners each year tend to take over two hours. But it's a bit odd to see a game like this which has different quests which can only be played once every 28 days (!) and has a cash shop with items up to $10.99 (none of which seem to be needed for progression).

I played the first two levels of the main game, but it seemed like GUI-based combat is the main thrust of the game with little text. Compared to Jared Jackson's Tragic from last year, it has much less of a strong storyline).

I don't generally include UI in reviewing, but it's an important part of this game. This UI could use a lot of tweaking; it popped up for me far too large for the screen. I think it told me to use CTRL+'-' and CTRL+'+' to adjust it, but I couldn't tell because I couldn't see. When I did get it to fit, it was usually too small to see, in a small rectangle with a blank white border around it. When opening packs, you had to slide a key from left to right. The interaction felt off; I think it was missing some kind of subtle highlighting when hovering over the key or inertia when sliding it. And you had to repeat it 30+ times in a row, making it kind of slow. The tutorial explains stats, but in-combat it's hard to remember; having hovering tool tips would be better.

Overall, this feels like an open beta for a commercial F2P/IAP game, which is why I provided the feedback above.

For my IF ratings:
-Polish: The game could use some tinkering with, as described above. I saw a couple typos, too, in the main story text, but I can't remember where.
-Descriptiveness: Most of the 'flavor' is communicated through images rather than text.
-Interactivity: It was difficult to figure out combat; all the mechanics were thrown at once instead of introduced one at a time, and complex opening and deck-creating had to be done before fighting. I prefer the tutorial of PVZ heroes, which has ultra-simplified combat happening first with a pre-made deck, then slightly more complex battle, then adding just a few cards to your pre-made deck.
-Emotional impact: I was too lost to get deeply involved in the story.
-Would I play again? Not without significant changes.

The scale I use doesn't really apply to this game; as a card game I'd probably give it 3/5. But I'll use my IF scale on this website for consistency.

Note that this was just my personal experience; others may have wildly different reactions to the game!


Fallen London, by Failbetter Games

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A gigantic Victorian fantasy text game with a dark atmosphere, September 13, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I've been playing Fallen London for at least 5 years now, with a few different characters. I never wanted to review it before because I was worried it would be transitory, and that once the company went under no one would ever be able to play the game I had written about.

But it has been doing better than ever, and has in the last few years added a ton of new content which has significantly improved it.

In form, it is similar to old facebook text games like Mafia, where you have a bunch of numbers for resources and items that change around as you click. The difference is that this has really nice backgrounds, a ton of well-written text (I think a couple million words?) and a card-based system for storylets.

The game is set in a version of London that was sold to dark Masters by queen Victoria. It was taken underground, where the laws of physics no longer apply and death isn't permanent. Hell is a neighbor, and fungus and candles replace plants and sunlight.

It really is two games in one: the first is a time-gated system of customizable stories, with sixty or so actions spread throughout a day (or 80 if you pay a monthly fee). These stories include sweeping epics of revenge or battle against extradimensional beings that changes entire countries or the world, as well as smaller stories like fighting a spider in the sewers.

The other game is a carefully-balanced resources game. Each 'click' has an optimum number of resources available, growing larger until the endgame, and some powerful items take months to save up for. Some hardcore players compete to buy extravagant items like a hellworm or a cask of immortality-inducing cider.

Many storylets are re-used; so, you can bust a 'tomb colonist' (kind of a decayed sentient zombie) out of prison over and over again. Some are only done once, like deciding whether to support a local mob boss or his cop daughter. The re-used ones tend to occur in 'grinds' which are pretty common in this game, although much less than they once were in the early game.

To me, the best stories are:

-Making Your Name, early storylines that help you progress the four stats: Watchful (used for detective work with a Sherlock Holmes substitute, archaeology or university work studying bizarre magical languages), Persuasive (used for romantic and creative work, including writing operas and engaging in courtly romances), Dangerous (used for fighting duels and capturing monsters), and Shadowy (used for pickpocketing and elaborate heists)
-Ambitions. These are stories that span the entire length of the game, starting from something simple (usually tracking down an old friend or lead) and ending up dealing with godlike beings. They include a horror story, a revenge story, an adventure story and a sort of legend or fantasy about wish fulfillment.
-The final stat-capping storylines. These include the railway, an end-game segment where you become a railroad baron, building a railway to hell that gets stranger and stranger the further from London you get; the University Lab, where you discover the dark secrets of the Masters; a series of wars that you lead as a general in a bizarre place; and elaborate thefts that make you a legendary thief.

The game can be 'completed' without paying, but the monthly fee makes grinding a lot easier and provides access to some amazingly good short stories called 'exceptional stories'. Older exceptional stories are available for a fairly hefty sum, but they are generally worth it (especially ones by Chandler Groover and Emily Short).

There's a lot of interesting material up front in the 'making your name' segments, so it's worth checking it out just to see the overall style and feel.

Edit: Looking at the other reviews, I'd say their criticisms are absolutely true (stories can be shallow, clues and hints are items instead of actual stories). I just can't give 4 stars after having played this game for hundreds of hours and honestly investing over $100 or $200 in bits or pieces after years.


Eternal, by Endmaster

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
An extremely long fanfic-style dark fantasy story , February 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

Edit: There are several alternative takes on this game available in the comments.

This story is one of the main games displayed on the front page of ChooseYourStory.com and has been upheld by some in the community as some of their best work.

ChooseYourStory's corpus was downloaded and used to fuel the original AI Dungeon (although the new version, I think, uses other material), and quite a few on IFDB and intfiction were very interested in AI Dungeon, so I thought it would be interesting to see the source of it.

From the outside, the CYS community is very different from the other writing communities I've been in. For instance, the SCP wiki mods, Choice of Games editors and IFComp voters are obsessed with games being free from typos and errors. So in that sense, it's more like the Wesnoth campaigns and creepypasta sites, where the focus is more on just size of writing and worldbuilding.

Edit: several comments about CYS as whole were removed.

This game is an example of all of these things. In content, it reminds me of nothing more than when I started browsing some fanfiction. The worldbuilding is very detailed, and the content is huge. Reading every branch would easily take over 10 hours.

Structure-wise, it's more like a long chapter-based novel where the next chapter is determined by your choices at the end of each section. Choices are usually binary, unless they are 'reference' choices that give you optional backstory. Out of the binary options, one is usually a death. The graph of this game's choice structure would generally be a tree.

In fact, it's almost like three games in one, since one of the earliest (maybe the very first?) choice lets you pick one of three branches that offer different perspectives on the same story.

Content-wise, this is a dark power fantasy. You are essentially like Darth Vader but in a fantasy world, in the sense that you are a ruthless murderer and assassin in the service of an emperor.

The content is labeled as 'grimdark'. There is content in it that I found offensive, especially (Spoiler - click to show)the main character's penchant for violently raping women before killing them, or the way many women want to be raped, the way that the character helps run a concentration camp to eliminate another race, the character's joy in sexually humiliating or physically defacing others, or acting like King David by sleeping with a married woman then killing her husband discreetly. Interestingly, the only thing that the player regrets is accidentally sleeping with an enemy by mistake when she was disguised as his true love, with him later realizing that it was rape and he feels upset.

I generally just stop playing games in these situations, but in this one, the game was oddly distant from the graphic situations, generally because there wasn't a lot of lead-up. I've been deeply affected by traumatic scenes in stories before, but usually because there was a previous investment in character development to make me care for the people involved and an expectation of normalcy established that made the later broken barriers seem shocking. Like Ethan Frome, for instance, which I hated. Or Vespers, the game, which led me to try actions with awful results with no one else to blame but me for typing them in. In this game, it was more like 'you walk into a room and slit someone's throat to establish dominance'. In any case, I only finished so that I could give an accurate report for my first CYS review (although I did review Briar Rose before).

The author himself seemed to eventually tire of the rape-murder fantasies, leaving much of the second half of the game devoted to political intrigue.

My grading scale is not designed for this type of game, but I'll give it a go anyway:

-Polish: There were numerous typos and other errors.
+Descriptiveness: The worldbuilding was detailed and vivid.
+Interactivity: The game had a lot of real choices, with even dead ends having thousands of words poured into them.
+Emotional impact: Not always ones I wanted, but it was there.
-Would I play again? No, and in the future I'll heed the warnings available on the site for various games.

Edit: It should be added that this game has over 8000 ratings and over 400,000 plays on their website, far outstripping any IFComp game.

EditEdit: I should also say that Champion of the Gods is a game I loved that has a fairly similar concept but without any non-consensual encounters. In that game, it was fun playing a wild barbarian, but the justification for it was much stronger. Also, I played this game with a profanity filter in the browser.


Luminous Underground, by Phoebe Barton

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A very long Choicescript game about shooting ghosts in an alternate timeline, January 9, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This is a very long game. At 600,000 words, it's only half as long as Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale, but has much less branching, I believe, as my total playtime was over 10 hours, a first for a Choicescript game for me.

Just the first two chapters alone felt longer than most Choicescript games.

You play as the leader of a two-person team of ghostbusters. It's an alternate world where the year is about 1100, there are different gods, different timeline, etc.

There's a lot to admire in this game. The last few chapters are exciting, and some people on reddit and the CoG forums seem very happy with it. Overall, it's a polished experience.

But I feel like it suffers from several structural issues.

One of the biggest for me personally is that the first 2/3 is relentlessly negative. The game starts with you failing something, and you fail over an over again. Frequently the choices are between 3 ways you messed up. Your character is pretty negative too, with a different choice being 3 ways to express you are hopeless, or 3 ways to express that you think other people are jerks. This game also has a lot more choices where you have to pick which of your stats go down, more than any other Choicescript game I've seen. Some people like this; someone said on reddit that they're glad it's not just another Chosen One story like most others.

I'm naturally optimistic, so I found the negativity grating. The last 1/3 is definitely more cheerful.

Another issue is repetitiveness. The first 6 or 8 chapters have the exact same pattern repeated a dozen times:

You're called into the subways to deal with a threat. But, this time, it's going to be just ordinary. Ah, but you get a sinking feeling that something's wrong. You experience a minor ghostly threat and finish it off. Then you encounter something magic-related that no human has ever encountered. Then you go home.

Some relationship choices are forced. You'll always feel sorry for Alice, you'll always decide Junker is a jerk (for most of the game, at least).

I think Choicescript games thrive when the author uses external forces on the player instead of internal. That's why school, war, and high society games work out so well: if your principal says you have to do something, you have to do it. If your rich uncle says you have to do something, you have to do it. If your enemy blows up the bridge, you have to find another way around.

But this game will frequently just decide for you what your player will do in situations where it would be natural to let you choose for yourself.

Overall, I think this game will appeal most to people who love to sink into an alternate world. Its length is enormous and there are definitely different paths I'd do in a replay. I was negative about a few things, but I definitely feel like this game is worth its cost. But I definitely think that the author should write another. Nothing helps as much as experience, and the later chapters with more action tell me that they learned as they went, and the length of the game shows they can make content.

Edit: Some other positives that came to mind are the large cast of characters. And it's true there is a crewmate that takes over the show, but I kind of liked there plotline, which was bizarre and seems like a very specific but fun fantasy. I felt like I had real choices in the final chapter, and sweated over a few in a good way. Finally, the blend of fantasy and sci-fi was done masterfully.


Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale, by Kreg Segall

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A million-word Wodehousian comedy, December 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I'm fairly certain this is the largest commissioned single-author interactive fiction game ever released.

80 Days has 750K words, and Fallen London (with over 30 authors) has 2.5 million.

The Hosted Game (another label from Choice of Games that essentially helps authors self-publish) called Tin Star has 1.4 million words, making it a little bigger.

This game is 100% in the Wodehousian vein. You are a rich and fairly lazy young man (or woman) who is, unknown to themselves, about to join one of London's prestigious clubs, the Noble Gases.

The story is told with a framing device where you are in the club, explaining to others how you arrived at your present situation. You have the option to retell each of the eight chapters, essentially giving you free save points.

One playthrough of this game took me over 4 hours, and seeing even half the content would take more than 10 hours.

The content branches quite a bit. In each chapter you generally have 4 or more options on how to spend your time, each of them conflicting with each other. In fact, the main mechanic of the game is constantly sacrificing one of your interest for another.

I found it overwhelming at times. I strove to be a subservient and friendly person who constantly tried to please his family, yet ended up with only middling relations with them and everyone else more or less displeased at me. The game allows for that, though, with very interesting writing happening when you fail. I intend to play through in the future.

I spent a great deal of one chapter at the opera (at the expense of other parts). In real life, I love the opera, so it was a little sad seeing my character found it boring. The references in the game are very funny and thrown in everywhere (I even saw a reference to Shakespeare's Cymbeline, which I didn't expect).

To me, this felt like 4 or 5 games in one. By focusing on all the family events and good moral character, I skipped out on all the chances to be a thief, much of the romance, and much of the club activity, but ended up having fun with my aunt's foster orphan and my lovelorn cousin.

As a final note, this is part 1 of a 3 part series, and so most threads are loose by the end of the game.

+Polish: I can't imagine the awful process involved in proofreading and editing a million-world novel with adjustable pronouns. I found no errors, I don't know how.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is lush and filled with snappy dialogue, clever allusions, and funny asides.
+Interactivity: This game takes the same approach as Animalia when it comes to branching: branch a ton and just write a ton of words for every choice, so every playthrough is different but long. It's the hardest approach, but I really respect it.
+Emotional impact: Several choices made me very nervous, and several pieces of dialog made me laugh.
+Would I play again? Definitely. It's like a whole new game, I might as well. I could be a crazy jerk lady-thief if I wanted to.


Little Girl In Monsterland, by Mike Stallone

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A very big comedy game about little girls solving clever puzzles, October 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

So I'll admit, I was skeptical before playing this game. Many claims about game length in interactive fiction are wildly exaggerated, and custom engines are typically done poorly. So hearing about a custom engine game with 15 hours of gameplay, I was skeptical that it would be that long and expected it to be quite bad.

In fact, though, this is a very funny game and the mechanics, though hard to get used to at first, end up making sense. I've played about 5 hours so far, using a ton of hints but also taking breaks, and I have explored only about half of the map and still have several puzzles left on that part, so the 15 hour claim is accurate. I definitely intend on finishing it.

You play as a young girl who is asked to chop wood by her mother. You decide it would be more fun to make a friend, though, and that is your first quest. After that, you and your friend have a big open world with many simultaneous puzzles to solve.

The game is translated from Italian, and is generally pretty good (I've sent some possible corrections to the author where I thought it sounded a bit off). The girls' attitude to horrifying or shocking things is pretty funny. The art is also great, especially the background art of the final version that has been shared in a different thread.

The weakest part is the opening. This is a weird system, and most people have trouble adapting to a weird system. That's why many people don't play parser games: you open it up and what do you do? Knowing it's VERB+NOUN and that examining and taking and talking takes some training.

Similarly, this game opens up with a pretty small area (good) but also a ton of menu options from the very beginning. It might be better to give an incredibly easy puzzle right at the very beginning, so easy the game basically solves it for you, with no menu buttons but the one that solves it, just for people to get used to the game, the map, etc.

I found the puzzles engaging and interesting, and it made me happy. They are also hard, and I used all the hints. Sometimes the trigger for events didn't make sense. I had a small period in the game where all the hints said 'you can't do this yet' and I kept talking to people, and eventually a random scene triggered. Several times in the game random scenes trigger that advance the plot and I don't know why (usually 'Let's go talk to so and so').

How does this system compare to others? I think this system is like the programming language C++. C++ is very powerful and lets you do amazing things but it is a pain in the butt to learn, a little scary, and sometimes you feel helpless. I saw that in the graphical version the buttons are replace with pictures, and I think that could help a lot.

Overall, this is a game I would pay money for, especially the art version. Again, I know not everyone agrees. I've realized during this comp that my enjoyment of things is not a reliable indicator of whether other people will enjoy it, and my score isn't always a good indicator of how much I enjoyed things. But I like this game and will score it well, whatever that means to you!

+Polish: Very polished graphically, with some small language problems when I played.
+Descriptiveness: Very funny and easy to imagine.
+Interactivity: Interface was hard to get used to but puzzles were really fun.
+Would I play again? Definitely going to finish it.
+Emotional impact: Very funny.


Hadean Lands, by Andrew Plotkin

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A very long, complex alchemy game. Polished, and set in a fantasy world, July 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game combines an intricate alchemy system with technology aboard a sort of magical spacecraft. This isn't a rocket engine; it's a complex environment that uses magic to translocate in space.

Something has gone horribly wrong on your magical ship, leading to major disruptions in time and space.

You collect what may be hundreds of items in this game, perform dozens of rituals, and visit quite a few locations. In this sense, it ranks with other ultra big games like Mulldoon Legacy or Spellbreaker. However, this game has an advantage in that it simplifies things for you. Any ritual, once performed, can be done again with a single command. There are database type commands that allow you to recall all rooms, all items, all rituals, etc.

The setting is barren and mysterious, with the outside world leading to a variety of mysterious lands.

I couldn't put this game down. Very well done.



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