Reviews by Wade Clarke

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Dawn of the Mummy, by Patrick Wullaert

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The adventure game of the first mummy gore film., January 12, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, c64

Dawn of the Mummy is a treasure hunt adventure written in BASIC for the Commodore 64, and broadly based on the 1981 horror film of the same name. The film had the distinction of being the first mummy gore film; it still is the only mummy gore film as I type these words in 2022. The film sought to cash in on international love for George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, accurately conveying to the punter through its ripped-off title what to expect of it: graphic gutmunching, just perpetrated by mummies this time instead of zombies.

I first watched Dawn of the Mummy on a bootleg VHS during the 1990s. Admittedly it was pretty hard to see what was going on, but the plot has a bunch of New York fashion models swarming into a recently opened Egyptian tomb for a photo shoot. Rick, the overacting soldier-of-fortune character who blew the tomb open, gnashes his teeth as he waits for everyone to get lost so he can nab the treasures, but ultimately the lot of them fall foul of the curse of Safiraman, the mummies' leader, whom a crazy old lady prophesised would attack in the following manner: "Safiraman will rise and kill! His followers will rise and kill!" And so they do, running amok in a climactic wedding massacre.

In the game, you play Rick, and your goal is to pull as many treasures from the tomb as you can and get them to your home space, where you can type STORE TREASURES to receive a score. Dawn of the Mummy is programmed in BASIC, and while there's a thoughtful touch here and there, it's mostly a classic (for this type and level of amateur adventure) mix of guess-the-verb, instant deaths and game-wrecking incidents you can't anticipate. I was happy to keep a walkthrough handy. It's non-trivial to get all the treasures without a ton of experimentation, or cleaving to the walkthrough, so the variable score element adds some interest.

Unfortunately, the highly amusing fashion shoot component of the film doesn't make it into the game, but a few particular moments of gore do. A head-hatcheted guy is found hanging on a hook, mummies strangle people, and another menace "pulls out your stomach".

The probably-then-teenaged author dismisses his own work in an opening demo scroll, declaring: "A lot of shit programs are being released lately so why not add this junk to that already huge stockpile". I think the game's better than that, but probably only a star better. Plus FARAO is spelled wrong in the introductory text. Still, it's cool that this eighties horror movie that managed to carve out a weird little niche for itself does in fact have a computer game to go with it.


Pre-Marie, by Dee Cooke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An Introcomp taster of a non-Pre-Marie., December 1, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: introcomp 2020, adventuron

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during Introcomp 2020.)

Pre-Marie was the first Adventuron game I ever tried. The 'pre' refers to the fact that it was entered in IntroComp as a taster for a longer game.

Marie is set in contemporary London. The PC is a woman about to sneak out to investigate some unspecified mystery that she doesn't want her currently sleeping husband to know she's going to investigate. It's a compelling set-up delivered in a generally old school manner. This means: the parser is simple and doesn't understand a lot or too well. The graphics are pixellated pastels that vaguely remind me of some of the early graphic adventure games from the 1980s, and especially the propensity of those games to present different streets in a town in ways that made them seem disorientingly (or deliberately) samey. The font channels both ZX Spectrum adventuring and Sierra's various Quest games.

There's a bit of needless misdirection in the game that seems down to the parser. For instance, reaching for a wet newspaper spied on the ground prompts a 'Leave it alone, it's wet'-type rejection message. But really, the game wants you to READ the newspaper. The prose is also a little misjudged in giving overall direction. Early on it presents the heroine's internal dithering as to whether she should hasten to get on a train or keep exploring her neighbourhood, but the game is really about doing the latter. Her dithering is too dithery re: what's important to the game. And new location descriptions can scroll partly out of view, meaning you have to mouse back up the first time you enter a new area.

It took several plays for me to apprehend all of this, and the first play felt especially open ("What's going on? How does this game work? What does it want? What can it do? What should I do?"). I certainly enjoyed the intrigue of trying to make out the game's aesthetic over those plays, its suburban London setting and the mystery of its plot. I barely dented that plot. I do ultimately find the game curious. There's something non-transparent to me about how this particular story's being delivered – with this old font, with these graphics, with its mystery plot versus its simple parser. It might have become clearer to me were the game to have continued. I also confess I wasn't crazy about the graphics overall, though they have their moments. The pastel colour scheme leads to a kind of non-differentiation that I find hard to interpret at times. I also find the PC's notebook contents, presented via the graphics, visually illegible.

On the excerpt of Marie given, I didn't get it, but my curiosity did prompt me to give the IntroCompish verdict of, yes, I would like to see more of this game.


Superhero Stress, by Michael Yadvish

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short and simple superhero CYOA using choice pairs., November 26, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: spring thing 2016, twine, choice-based

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during Spring Thing 2016.)

Superhero Stress is a light, traditional CYOA of mutually exclusive options that are dramatic, like (paraphrasing): "Will you save person A at the possible expense of person B, or person B at the possible expense of person A?" You can play through most of its situations in about five minutes. It's got goofy, typo-y writing and the traditional sexism of old comic books: Ladies are for rescuing, or for picking up while you're rescuing 'em. It's also got a touch of offhand gore that I found very mildly disturbing amidst the silliness, but only very mildly.

Superhero Stress does have a message that it delivers a few times; that a superhero can't be everywhere at once. The film Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, had roughly the same thing to say about the Man of Steel, but Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice took more than 150 painful minutes to say it, whereas Superhero Stress did it in about five minutes.


All I Do is Dream, by Megan Stevens

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A slice of stale life., November 26, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IFComp 2016

(This review originally appeared as a blog post of mine during IFComp 2016.)

Short, existential Twine game in which you specify the manners in which you will veg out in the house during your girlfriend's next night shift at the pickle factory. This is an experience hailing from the drab end of the slice of life cake. You can think about the bedclothes, fiddle a bit with the bedclothes, clean objects in several boring stages. Your character is clearly depressed, as the prose is insistent about the pointlessness of any activity. A few prose studs of specificity about the characters' shared life don't make up for the more macroscopic lack of specificity that prevents any insight into their plight over the short duration.

Perhaps this is the Twine equivalent of the parser world's 'My Crappy Apartment Game'. The apartment is still there, but the focus shifts to the immediate crappy existential rather than the immediate crappy physical. 'All I Do's...' observations of fiddly-stuck depression make for better writing than that of most My Crappy Apartment games, but its small catalogue of anxious domestic activity didn't interest me because I knew almost nothing about the characters, before or after.


The Xylophoniad, by Robin Johnson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fun parser mashup of Greek myths., November 25, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: spring thing 2016, versificator, comedy

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during Spring Thing 2016.)

The Xylophoniad is a joking, mashup take on numerous characters and situations from Greek mythology. It is powered by Versificator, the author's own parser engine. You play the part of veteran adventuress Xylophone, assigned by a bored king to knock over a few light tasks like ending the Trojan War, rescuing prisoners from Hades and killing the Bicyclops. I imagined the Bicyclops was going to turn out to have two eyes side-by-side, which would have had the effect of making it look like anyone else, which would in turn have resulted in comedic, illogical screaming from onlookers along the lines of: 'Argh! Two eyes! It's hideous!' But it turns out that the second eye of a Bicyclops is above the first one. And that is pretty gross.

The Xylophoniad (or THE X as I will now refer to it) reminds of the classic Scott Adams games in some of its nature and puzzles, though rarely in restrained degree. The aesthetic of those 16 kilobyte games was determined by the hard technical limit of the 16 kilobytes. There are no real limits for The X. There are design choices, and any mimicry of older games is carried out to an irreverent extent rather than a slavish one. The game delivers its humour in some particularly goofy and cartoon-like ways, elicits jokes from cute and simple NPCs who appear as caricatures of their legendary selves, or 'non-canonical versions' as the game likes to say, and keeps the player busy with a large ancient world split into separate regions. The region separation feels like both a staple of gaming in general (like levels, a way to divide up content and aesthetics) and a way to make THE X feel more manageable. Because no matter how cute the game may appear to be at the outset, when a king tells you to perform three impossible-sounding tasks before breakfast (it was the 'end the Trojan war' one that especially raised my anxiety levels) you're likely to feel at least a tad flustered about the day ahead.

Fortunately, and as I should probably have anticipated, the explicit solutions to the major challenges are pretty wack. Don't dwell on how to end the Trojan War all by yourself (... ARGH!!!). Just get out there and be the best traditionally klepto adventuress you can be, exploring, finding ways to pass recalcitrant portals, solving puzzles that crop up using a mixture of logic and illogic, and helping NPCs with their usually not-too-obscure problems. Achilles is histrionic, the medusa is apologetic, Daedalus is MacGyver and Helen of Troy emits unusual noises.

I don't think much knowledge of Greek mythology is required to deal with THE X's puzzles. In cases where a particular piece of knowledge might help with a particular puzzle, the game either tells you about it explicitly or collapses it into a joke that has the side-effect of indicating how the situation would have been in a canonical version of the story. I found myself at an impasse a few times and got past each one using the graduated hint system that comes with the game. If I'd had more time to play, I probably would have continued to experiment with the gameworld and overcome one or two of the impasses on my own.


Navigatio, by P. James Garrett

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Medieval Introcomp intro has me keen for more., November 23, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Introcomp 2020, Inform

(This is a review of the 2020 Introcomp version of Navigatio. The review is edited from a blog post I made during the competition.)

Navigatio (The Confession of the Second Man) is a parser-driven IntroComp 2020 entry from P. James Garrett. It's the first chapter of the prospective longer adventure and took me about twenty minutes to complete.

The PC in Navigatio is a monk's assistant at a monastery in the middle ages. The prologue about his rough upbringing and how he got to where he is is catchy and confidently delivered, even if there was one element of it I didn't quite understand. Then comes the first prose of the game proper –

Frozen Northern Bank

It is the third of a series of strange mornings. Lauds was late, but time has been misbehaving. So have the monks of this community.


– which I really like. It conveys a lot, moving through levels of awareness and connecting ideas quickly.

In the vein of 'assistant' games, the PC is tasked with fetching news and objects, communicating between different NPCs and solving environmental puzzles that get in the way of his goals. The monastery environment is compelling, and apparently the product of some research, sporting religious and manuscript-making details that evoke time and place. The implementation of the physical details is light, and probably the area of the game I'd most like to see beefed up in a later release.

The puzzles in this intro are simple and well-cued. I also nabbed some items that I expect will be of use in a subsequent chapter. The transition to chapter two has several elements that are hooky, including the continuation of a mystery thread set up in the first chapter and a suggestion that the metaphysical nature of the world might change as the game continues. I'm keen to see more either way. Some typos aside, Navigatio is well-written and well-directed, with a strong sense of place (including a few random environmental elements for flavour) and effective characterisation between the PC and his mentor. I would like to see stronger implementation of the environment in an expanded version, mostly so that the game would have a means of elaborating on its world's interesting details.


Letters, by Madison Evans

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Well-judged Twine letting you explore a teen relationship through letters , November 23, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2016, Twine

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)

In Letters, you're a teenaged girl reading, tracing and clicking your way through a pile of letters from your ostensibly cool school friend Cadence after certain events have occurred.

Both main characters have solid writing chops and some wisdom beyond their years, and they communicate everything to each other by handwritten letters in the year 2008, give or take a few years. I felt this setup was a bit of a contrivance, the kind of thing that is outrageously possible in real life yet which takes a certain amount of feinting or explaining when delivered as fiction to get people to buy it. I decided to accept the premise and move on once I acknowledged I was enjoying Letters's sparky, emotional teen writing, and that I was also being prompted to think about how I was interacting with this IF. It worked for me both as emotional writing and as something with a bit of a puzzly feel, an experience I've rarely had with similarly presented IFs in the past.

I spent about twenty minutes with Letters and felt that I had satisfactorily experienced most of its content by that point, though probably not all of it. It's not easy to track which links you've previously clicked, unless perhaps you lawnmower them, or have a better memory than I do. It was a testament to the game's effectiveness that I had no interest in mowing the lawn. I was clicking particular links I wanted to click for reasons I possessed or imagined in relation to the story. Contrivances accepted, I liked Letters a lot.

More detail with spoilers below.

Letters is not outwardly gamey, but part of the blurb is a challenge – "Can you find her?" (your friend, figuratively) – and there's a certain labyrinthine quality to the link structuring. The 'Start Over' end nodes often occur after emotional climaxes or relatively drastic events. Something about them makes you want to avoid them, or just nervous about encountering them. This sensation probably emerges from a basic desire to avoid premature closure of the story. And there's a feeling that if you choose wisely, maybe you can in turn eke out wiser decisions for the characters. For instance, an ending that's not too deep in the structure and which occurs immediately after you tell Cadence to piss off, suggests that maybe by doing so you harmed the friendship so early in the piece as to preclude its development. In light of moments like this, I don't interpret the pile of letters to be a bunch of static found objects that you're going through. They feel more like your interface to a story that has an unchanging core but which you can get into more deeply if you're persistent, or sometimes deflect off if you're unlucky.

The key things I liked about Letters are that I wanted to find more ways into the story, that it wasn't entirely elementary to do so, and that there was a good balance between links that made me feel narratively rewarded for picking them and links that capriciously made the story crumble and sent me back to the (not too far away) start.

There's some tension, while reading a letter, between wanting to click particular links as soon as you encounter them, and holding off and reading the whole letter first. Sometimes reading to the bottom of the letter reveals more links that were initially out of range. Maybe they'll be more interesting? Or maybe you're effectively changing events in the story by disregarding later parts of a letter to move laterally earlier? I also like that I never entirely resolved all this stuff, and the answers probably aren't set in concrete anyway.


Snake's Game, by Nahian Nasir

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Weird imagery attacks repeatedly across mulitple short plays that are encouraged, November 22, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: browser-based, IFComp 2016, choice-based

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)

Snake's Game is an exotic, pretty inscrutable prose'n'clickable choices piece in which a man walks into an eatery when some manifestation of existential evil – Snake, aka The Vermin – visits his brain and starts having a natter with him about a not-forecasting-the-future game they could play. If they do, the resulting conversations lead to the 'several psychedelic experiences… with demons, monsters, and some more!' promised by the blurb.

The inklewriter engine presents Snake's prose handsomely, and aesthetically it's very good prose, sometimes ripe, only wavering in a bit of proofreading and a rare mistake of the kind that makes me think English is not the author's first language. For other reasons, it is not easy or transparent writing. Not just because of its poetic leanings, but because I don't claim to really know what it was going on about half the time.

The game actively requests replays, encouraging you to build up a bigger picture of something, plus it thanks you every time you reach an ending. (I was thanked five times. That's a fair bit of thanking.) I almost quit after my first play because that first path I happened down was short and, in retrospect, still one of the least scrutable I ever read within the game, and not even in an abstract way. It was just like reading the middle few pages of a wacky book. So I was unlucky in that sense. I tried again, grew more interested, tried again, tried again. Ultimately I played one more time than I thought I would (and for about twenty minutes overall) feeling that I was building up some enjoyment, but there still seemed to be a cap on things making much sense, which is why I didn't continue on to try all the endings.

If you like, or think you might like, any of these things – existential psychedelia, flying into the sky suddenly with a cat, vivid visions of gore, celestial types chatting like they're in the pub, religious-leaning imagery – you might like Snake's Game. I can as easily imagine people hating it pretty quickly. I admired it but in the end I like written fiction to make more coherent sense. I can say that Snake's Game shifted my perception of it significantly on each iteration, and that's something of a feat in a pretty abstract work.


Night House, by Bitter Karella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Spooky and mildly confusing, with a lot of old Quest stickiness, November 22, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, Quest, IFComp 2016

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)

Night House is a mystery-horror parser adventure of some spookiness. It mobilises a combination of vintage object-based puzzling (use A on B, B on C, C on D) and methods of backstory revelation popular in both horror films and games of the last couple of decades. The protagonist is an eight year-old child who wakes to a mysteriously empty version of their home and unseen menaces.

If you love amassing a huge inventory of doodads and using them to hurdle hurdles in all kinds of laterally conceived practical ways, Night House will whet that appetite, though the old Quest interface gets in the way A LOT. (In old Quest, when in doubt about verbs, use the phrase USE (A) WITH (B). If still in doubt, right-click any lit objects to see if the action you've been agonisingly trying to phrase correctly happens to be a contextual choice that then shows up.) If you don’t have enough horror tastebuds on your tongue, you mightn't find Night House sufficiently distinguished from things you’ve experienced before. Overall it's a dense puzzler with a pretty good, mildly choppy story that I basically followed but didn't completely follow; I will express some of my ignorances below.

Questions of which character you're playing amongst those presented, and by extension, which sex, come up early in Night House. This element of the game was probably experienced as the mystery element it was probably intended to be by some players (see other reviews) but I fixed on it so hard I began to perceive implementation flaws through it and got bogged down. For instance, controlling how objects are described is one of the best methods for characterisation in IF. And Night House wasn't consistent about this. Some objects were described with typical IF snark. Others were character-specific ("Your sister would kill you if you touched this!" (her Trapper Keeper)). This just made it even harder to decide who I was.

So I didn't get off on the best foot with this adventure, but once I found the flashlight (TORCH) and descended from the top floor, things began to pick up. Progress was well gated by various means. I found things to do now and portals and devices to open later.

The house contents show the game is set in the 1980s-1990s. If this doubles as nostalgia for folks of that vintage (e.g. me. I mean this house has an Apple II in it) the game is still wise enough to stay properly in the child narrator's character and make nothing anachronistic out of the situation.

The practical-going-on-impractical puzzle solutions are probably no weirder than some old Infocom, but eventually I had trouble identifying puzzles because there were all these seemingly unrelated story threads floating about. A father worried about his son. A moral panic involving dinosaur cartoons and toys, complete with a spoonerist joke description of the dinosaur who's similar to Raphael of the Ninja Turtles ("Raphael is cool but crude."). Old newspaper articles about yokel weirdos and Halloween. Collectively, these things didn't offer me much direction about what I should be trying to do in Night House other than solving anything that looked like a puzzle. I don't think the threads integrated fabulously at game's end, but at least I knew what my own character's situation was. And in retrospect, the game's story was denser than first appeared.


Tentaculon, by Ned Vole

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Impressive squid simulation, somewhat annoyingly delivered., November 21, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IFComp 2016, science fiction

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)

This review is entirely spoilery.

Tentaculon is a link-driven Twine game that initially appears to be an eat-or-be-eaten squid simulator. Its prose is keen, a bit gooey and very slightly uncomfortable-making as one cruises around trying to kill and eat stuff while not being subject to sudden spasmodic jerking motions at the same time. I admit I feared some kind of cheap game-ending blow to the back of my head was imminent, for instance a message saying 'HA! You killed to live! You lose!' – but this was unfair misapprehension on my part based on past negative experiences.

Instead, the game cut to a Philip K Dickensian scenario in the present day. I was really a human. The squid I'd been brainjacking was safely across the room in its tank.

Placing what could stand as a whole Twine game in its own right (the short history of this design tool mostly being about short works) within a larger one which turns out to be about neurobiological research and realities within realities is conceptually a very attractive design move, and one I also felt aesthetically. In retrospect of the whole of Tentaculon, I really liked its sci-fi story and its idiosyncratic humour. But actually playing it I found to be a curiously disorienting slog. It brandishes a large variety of interface and delivery approaches that kept me in a place between irritation and aggravation.

There's no consistent way to move between sections. Sometimes it's by clicking the specifically crafted back button, which I'm used to reading as an UNDO button in Twine. Sometimes it's by clicking an acknowledgement ('OK'). Sometimes it's by clicking a particular option amongst several others which are only asides. The variation which bothered me the most, because I didn't realise it was happening for awhile, was when it was necessary to simply wait for the viable link to appear amongst additional text further down the screen after a fixed amount of time. I have complained about the use of text delay timers in Twine games before and will do so again now in light of having discovered a new way in which they can hamper your experience.

I'd say Tentaculon's interface inconsistencies stand out because considerably more Twine games prior to this one have been broadly abstract or linear than have not. Tentaculon features locations connected by stable geography, exits, gettable items and conversations with NPCs. In other words, it's got a light world model, currently a minority mode in Twine, and players need to be able to have some kind of reliable relationship with that model in order to grasp or visualise the results. I struggled with all the chopping and changing of the presentation, links being all over the place and in different styles, and I often felt I didn't have much of a hold on things.

In spite of my troubles, I made it through Tentaculon, relieved that the keycard puzzles were easy, that I was able to link-mash my way through some other bits when I'd lost the plot, and really glad that I'd encountered the fictional work Life Chutney.



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