Reviews by Wade Clarke

View this member's profile

Show ratings only | both reviews and ratings
View this member's reviews by tag: ADRIFT ADRIFT 3.8 ADRIFT 3.9 ADRIFT 4 adventuron ALAN Apple II BASIC browser-based c64 choice-based Choicescript comedy commercial Commodore 64 CRPG Eamon educational fantasy Halloween horror Hugo IFComp 2010 IFComp 2011 IFComp 2012 IFComp 2013 IFComp 2014 IFComp 2015 IFComp 2016 ifcomp 2020 ifcomp 2021 incomplete Inform Introcomp 2020 Lovecraft mystery Python Quest RPG science fiction Scott Adams spring thing 2016 spring thing 2020 spring thing 2022 StoryNexus TADS thriller Twine Undum Unity versificator
Previous | 11-20 of 185 | Next | Show All


Alone, by Paul Michael Winters

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A zombies and survival game that's quiet., August 6, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, Inform, ifcomp 2020

(A version of this review first appeared in my blog during IFComp 2020.)

Alone is an adventure of survival set in a sparsely populated post-apocalyptic world. The initial situation of having your car break down out on the road leads gradually (but not too gradually) into a series of dense and satisfyingly overlapping puzzles, especially of the mechanical variety. With its keys, locks, recalcitrant security doors, fuseboxes, circuits and deserted environments, Alone's puzzlebox reminded me most of the Resident Evil games. Alone also steps into the equivalent IF tradition of the Resident-Evil-type game, though pointedly without gunplay, shooting or much violence at all. I'm now finding it harder to think of other similar parser IF games than I expected; there's Divis Mortis, and, with a supernatural spin added, One Eye Open. Calm has deliberately very fiddly mechanics in a post-apocalyptic world, but not any bogeymen if I recall correctly. Alone has The Infected. Zombies if you prefer.

Alone's puzzles are broadly familiar in the adventure game aesthetic, but that doesn't matter when their execution and interweaving are as solidly performed as they are here. The game isn't perfect; a couple of the most difficult actions only accept one very specific phrasing, and I had to use the walkthrough to get through those parts. But otherwise, there's consistent logic to all the mechanics. Alternate solutions to problems are considered by the game and well-excused. Nearly successful attempts on puzzles give feedback to point the player in the right direction. Irrelevant objects fob the player off to avoid time-wasting. These standards are maintained for the game's duration and that is very good work.

A few spoilers if you read on:

Alone has an interesting quality that was apparent to me only after completing it. I noticed all the things that hadn't happened in it. I mean things that I might have expected from a game like this if it had not veered from the centre of this genre's road. The threat of infection is always present and its zombifying consequences are apparent (the one time I did turn into a zombie, I found the description pretty creepy) but there is ultimately only one active zombie encountered in the game. The PC isn't disrespectful of the dead and the player doesn't have to fight or kill to survive. There's almost no violence. And though there are a few endings, the game's ABOUT encourages the player to get the most obviously good one, which it turns out is tied to the most moral and hopeful outcome in the game. So Alone reminded me what my expectations for this genre are, and was uncharacteristically optimistic or entropy-averse in relation to them. In this way it stands out from what you might call the current glut of material in this genre in other media. Though as I say, I think the genre is not as strongly represented in IF as I thought it might be.


Necron's Keep, by Dan Welch

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Hardcore CRPG with neat spellcasting system – and bugs – for hardcore players, July 30, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, CRPG, RPG, fantasy

Version five of Necron's Keep is a great advance on the buggy original I tried many years ago. I played this hardcore CRPG to completion over four hours and found it to be very entertaining, in spite of the continued presence of many bugs of inconvenience (mostly involving the automatic inventory management). In a nutshell, Necron's Keep is a challenging, detailed and unforgiving single-character fantasy CRPG. There's no UNDO, and you'll need to keep and label many a save file to make it through. What you get in return is an interesting spellcasting system, transparent die-rolled combat and a satisfying gaming challenge with plenty of danger. The story style is probably most like that of a 1980s Fighting Fantasy gamebook, complete with nasty surprises, while the combat adds some AD&D-like detail.

You wouldn't expect someone called Necron to be a nice guy, but the truth of this game's background story is that you don't know. He's an archmage who went off to live with his people in an enchanted castle and fell out of contact with the world. The king has sent you, a mage, to Necron's place to find out what's going on.

In the fashion of many an old-school (or old-school-styled) RPG, the beginning of this game can be the roughest time. It's when random die rolls and traps can kill you off quickly. Traps and monsters will eat your hp (there are both fixed and random encounters), and the spells you cast to try to protect yourself also cost hp. The multi-page tome you're given to read at the game's start is semi-overwhelming, but it combines lore on how the spell system works with hints that will help you later in the game. You start off with a good number of spells; they show up in your inventory. More spells can be learned from scrolls you find (doing that also costs hp!) and some require material components that you need to find on your journey. This is quite a cool aspect of the game, though it takes a lot of observation to work out which components get eaten by the casting of spells. In bad but amusing news, the game is prepared to incinerate your only held wooden weapon to cast a spell requiring wood if you don't have any other wood in your inventory. You can detect traps, mend broken items, divine the nature of things, cast offensive spells in combat. There's a good range of stuff and a lot of it works on a lot of the game's contents.

The thing that might drive some players spare is the inventory. You've got an unlimited holdall, but only finite hand space. So the game autoswaps items in and out of your holdall as required. This constantly results in situations like you putting away one of two things you need simultaneously when you take the first one out, or accidentally forgetting to get the wood out and burning your weapon as a spell component. This is the main site of bugs in the game that still needs fixing.

The early game is about battling through and finding healing items to sustain you. Once you have the power to create your own healing sphere (this is a cool effect, where you ENTER SPHERE, then sleep or meditate to recover), you enter the midgame, roaming around fighting monsters, collecting xp, healing, learning new spells. The late game could be considered tackling the bigger puzzles and challenges of the keep directly. I was stuck for ages in the midgame because one room exit wasn't mentioned, but I'm not sure if this was semi-intentional – there's a magic item you can acquire that gives you an exit lister, and it was the exit lister that showed me the new way to go.

Once you've worked everything out in Necron's Keep, there's a degree of optimisation in stringing all your knowledge together, and probably revisiting older saves where you were in a better position. I felt really satisfied when I completed it.

This is definitely one for people who like this kind of game, and in spite of its inconveniences, I think it's a good example of the CRPG in parser game form. I wouldn't normally give a game with this many bugs remaining a four, but I can't go below four for a game that kept me this involved.


Ka, by Dan Efran

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Afterlife adventure with exotic machinery and puzzles, June 3, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: fantasy, Inform

Like a lot of the most high-faluting mummies, you used to be a pharoah. Now you're a Ka, an ex-mummy spirit about to quest for the afterlife. And as the game's blurb reveals, the first problem you face is that you're inside a coffin inside a coffin inside a coffin inside a coffin... etc.

In spite of Ka being on my To Play list for a long time, I procrastinated because of the impression I'd obtained from reviews that it was a hard-leaning puzzler with an emphasis on machinery puzzles; I don't consider interpreting detailed descriptions of arcane equipment to be one of my strong suits in parser gaming. Ka definitely has a good amount of arcane equipment in it, but it's also considerably more varied, and the way it's mostly delivered as one self-contained room after another reduces stress. The player doesn't have to worry that the thing they might need to make a machine work is elsewhere. I was thoroughly engrossed in it and completed it in eighty minutes, only checking a walkthrough once. It is a little strange, though, that so much is implemented in this game, and yet so much that seems obvious has not been implemented. I suppose this backhandedly amounts to direction on the puzzles (you can't muck around with things that aren't implemented) but it does suppress Ka in the polish stakes.

The ABOUT text mentions the amount of research on Egyptian afterlife rituals that went into Ka. The game has a convincing and exotic (to non-ancient-Egyptian me) aesthetic that's lived-in for its PC. I don't think I'd call its procession of puzzles a narrative-narrative, but it does develop a story, attitude and a history through the PC's narration, including flashbacks to his life as a pharoah. Battling through the puzzles amounts to a microcosm of the struggles of the living during life, and the prose doesn't forget to keep pressing this note. Success in the end does bring a kind of spiritual relief. There is an emphasis on time, memory, circles and loops in both Ka's bejewelled imagery and in the physical constructions of its puzzles.

The game's ultimate puzzle, a riddle, is the only one for which I needed to consult a walkthrough. Once I'd read the answer, I couldn't actually reverse engineer the sense out of it, so I wasn't hurt by my failure to come up with it. Fortunately David Welbourn, via his walkthrough, went the extra step of explaining its meaning to me.

Ka is a dense but not overwhelming puzzle game with a rich Egyptian aesthetic, plenty of exotic mechanical puzzles and a good number of other types of puzzles as well.


Grooverland, by Mathbrush

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Major fantasy'n'puzzling adventure in an ever-weirdening theme park, May 23, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, fantasy

Disclaimer: I cameo (name-wise, anyway) in this game as an NPC. This was a prize the author gave me for IFComp reviewing.

Grooverland is a big, modern day fantasy'n'puzzling adventure set in the eponymous theme park. The player is eleven-year-old Lily, and for her family birthday outing she's granted the run of Grooverland for a day, as well as the personal party role of Queen. The park is outwardly wondrous but increasingly sinister as the game progresses, putting the game into what I broadly think of as the Wishbringer tradition, with a touch of Willy Wonka to boot. Indeed, both Grooverland and Wishbringer open with a dragon attack scene, and in both cases the scene quickly turns in an unexpected direction.

Grooverland is named for IF author Chandler Groover, from whose games it's inspired in imagery and themes, though in a more G or PG-rated way than the source. I continue in the embarrassing (but majority) tradition of reviewers of Grooverland who haven't played most of Groover's games. Nevertheless, I recognised more of them than I thought I would during Grooverland. Plus, like the game says, knowledge of them is not essential for play.

The puzzles are excellent, exploiting all of geography, mathematical logic, permutational experimentation, and intuition both fantastic and emotional. They involve such tasks as feeding icky foods to weird animals, charming creatures into service, eating giant cakes and working sideshow magic. Some interlock, some stand alone, some require the player to reach back to prior ideas or knowledge at the appropriate moment – and they're great at building that knowledge in the first place – and they all feed each other's logic.

It's this consistency and cumulative development that makes Grooverland feel so vivid. This is a big game (close to three hours for me, without hints) but arranged so that it never feels overwhelming. I'm not used to puzzling at such length these days, nor with puzzles that are so cleanly and sharply presented in concept and in their elements. I almost felt they might be easier than they seem, but I think it's the access to them that is the site of increased ease, a reflection of contemporary possibilities in IF and the author's abilities.

The prose delivers visual clarity, and is especially good at doling out the game's highly dynamic world in a comprehensible way. While the various wacky NPCs demonstrate clear personalities in prose, I felt the heroine perhaps demonstrated the least, or at least the least specific. The game has an impressive catalogue of anti-stock responses and jokes, but I got the feeling too many of them were from the school of parser humour rather than what Lily might be likely to think. (Though who can prove that she doesn't think like a parser game author? She's certainly likely to become one if she survives the experience of Grooverland.) Lily's family, too, are a bit functional in delivery. That didn't bother me. There's so much puzzling to be getting on with, I was glad to not have to ASK/TELL my family into the ground as well. Amongst them, they have enough strokes to conjure the needed familial emotions.

The prospect of tackling the game's finale was almost too much for me when I reached and apprehended it. However, it turns out not to be some brutally punishing boss fight puzzle, but rather a way to reward the player with access to the powers they've spent the game acquiring.

Grooverland is a great puzzle game that's fun and highly involving, and a fine feat of fantasy imagination as well. It is also technically rounded well beyond what any one player might see, which I consider to be one of the hallmarks of the best IF.


Carpathian Vampire, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Solid parser tutorial game tapping Dracula, May 20, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: horror, Inform

Carpathian Vampire, part of the 2022 Text Adventure Literacy Jam, puts the player through one strand of the classic Dracula story – the finding and staking the vampire part – via a clean and fundament-focused presentation suitable for the teaching of playing parser IF. There are few flourishes, but the implementation is very solid and the classic styling of the castle taps the eternal gaming Dracula. The thoroughness of the playalong tutorial is about equal best I've seen, only tripping once with a bit of contrary advice regarding a notebook.

Dracula might be my favourite story. I don't know that it's my favourite novel, because in spite of my indulgent nature where horror is concerned, I do think some bits of the book are particularly poorly or strangely written. In each new take on Dracula in gaming or film, Dracula's castle can be reconfigured in one of an infinite number of ways, drawing on a library of elements that are now sourced from more than a century of books, films and other media. A lot of these ways may not be too different to each other as they target the key tropes, but I still have time for all of them. This was the aspect of Carpathian Vampire that most interested me as an old Dracula head: the familiarity of its setting. I could almost swear I'd walked this configuration before, kitchen on the left, dining room on the right, etc. But I feel that way in many Dracula castles, and it's a good feeling.


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

2 of 2 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.



Previous | 11-20 of 185 | Next | Show All