Alice Falling is a Twine adaption of the falling scene from Alice in Wonderland. It's a very short piece, and can be completed in about ten minutes or less. It's not really "gamey", and there's no branching or anything, so I'd suggest you steer clear of this one if you need any of that in your interactive entertainment. But the text effects and backgrounds are really well done and clever, and I found it to be a very charming Alice adaption. If you're a fan of the books, give it a shot.
Single Dad in Space is, like the title suggests, a story about a dad trying to save his son during the destruction of a space station. It's short and getting the "best" ending shouldn't take more than an hour. It takes longer than I would like to get into the meat of the game, but there's an option to skip the intro from the game over screen, so it's not an annoyance.
Gameplay in Single Dad in Space consists mainly of a resource management puzzle; you have only a limited amount of oxygen to do everything you need to, so there will be games, especially early on, where all you can do is stay with your dying son or leave ship. The main of the puzzle is pretty well done, it's just there are a few hitches here and there, which in such a short game really add up. One such hitch might not be a bug or mistake per se, but it seemed weird and inexplicable all the same. (Spoiler - click to show)After you fix the structural damage to the ship, there's no option to fix the life support systems presented after. This would be a pretty minor problem overall, except for the fact that there is a different bug, later on: (Spoiler - click to show)when you try to fix the life support systems after realizing you need to buy more time to save your son, the game barfs out a red Twine error ("Passage not found", or something like that), and while that may still fire the code that extends your time (I got a game over due to an unrelated reason shortly after), the player still needs confirmation that it worked. As is, the game locks you into doing things in a certain order without really meaning to.
But despite these flaws, Single Dad manages to be an affecting little puzzler. Wait until the author makes some bugfixes if you must, but do give it a try some time.
The Apollo 18+20 entries are an eclectic lot: some of them adhere fairly closely to the source material, while others mainly use it as a jumping off point for, say, experiments in graphical IF, or whatnot. Most of the Fingertips games are the latter, by necessity more than anything, as it's hard to be faithful to the source when it's a five-to-ten-second-long song snippet. As such, it should probably come as no surprise that S. John Ross chose to adapt The Day That Love Came to Play as a Lovecraftian pseudo-horror game; at the very least it's a suitably punny interpretation of the song's title.
The game concerns a lounge singer on the day, the very moment, of his last performance. It seems he's pledged his allegiance to some malevolent dark lord or another, and he's getting in his last kicks before (Spoiler - click to show)the world kicks the bucket. Playtime is short; while there's one move that leads to a "true" ending, it should be obvious after a couple replays, and the other moves feel final enough, at least in aggregate, that a player could easily be satisfied without ever seeing the real ending.
It's a comical game, or at least it's meant to be; there's a couple digs at lounge music, and the main character and his audience are portrayed as mostly mockable losers. But there's an unusual poignancy about the game, which no joke about Frank Sinatra can ever really hide. Part of this comes from the subject matter, as it is a game about (Spoiler - click to show)the end of the world, but there's a darkness that pervades even the game's lighter moments, like the implied bitterness with the music industry that seems to be the lounge singer's primary motivation for following the dark lord. Even the true ending seems to feed into this deeper poignancy: (Spoiler - click to show)first a few paragraphs of dénouement, then a blank screen, then nothing, as the game suddenly quits itself.
Now, if this were the only game in the Apollo 18+20 project to feel like this, I'd probably chalk it up as the author not doing a good enough job of making the game funny, or possibly to the difficulties of rendering humor through text, or perhaps even to myself for reading too much into things. But there are other games which feel similarly. I was mainly thinking of Dig My Grave, another funny game about a gloomy subject, when I first sat down to write this review, but now that I think about it The Statue Got Me High is just as dark, and even the very silly My Evil Twin had me feeling sorry for the protagonist at times (though mostly for his stupidity). I think these games touch upon an important part of the They Might Be Giants oeuvre, in that silliness often gets mixed into the dark songs, and vice versa. After all, that blue canary in the outlet by the light switch seems bitter, almost angry about not being the only bee in your bonnet, and Gal and Lad's relationship is so fundamentally broken that only the pure destructive force represented by a crane can possibly fix their lives. They wrote a song about a man who falls desperately in love with a woman on literally the other side of the planet, whose name he probably just read up in a phone book, and another song about a radio DJ who convinces a young artist to participate in a payola scheme, that all the others who had participated had forgiven themselves for "the colossal mess they made of their lives", then runs off with the money, leaving the poor artist in the dust.
Now you're probably thinking that I'm making those songs look too dark and downbeat right now, and you'd be right! Because it's all about the balance between levity and gravity with They Might Be Giants, and their tribute album should reflect this balance. Focus too much on the light side, and you end up with an amusing but pointless oddity like Nick Montfort's I Palindrome I. Focus too much on the dark, and you get the moody adolescent angst of Joey Jones's If I Wasn't Shy (sorry, Joe). But all the best games in the Apollo 18+20 Comp, like Jenni Polodna's Dinner Bell, or both of Ryan Veeder's games, or even Andrew Schultz's I'm Having a Heart Attack, manage to get this balance just right. They may lean toward one side or another, but they're still balanced to an almost perfect degree. And so too with The Day That Love Came to Play.
A Trick-or-Treat Adventure is a simple CYOA that was made by an eight-year-old with some help from her father. Like most works written by children there's a kind of messiness about the plot and writing; sometimes it feels like there are too many ideas being deployed at once. But having too many ideas isn't the worst flaw a CYOA could have, and for the most part the game is clear and easy to understand. And there are some lovely observational bits scattered throughout the game that offer up a child's eye view of the rituals and etiquette of Halloween. Overall A Trick-or-Treat Adventure is a short, charming, and funny game. If you don't mind some chaotic bits in your CYOAs I would highly recommend giving it a shot.
Wisp is basically a maze-that-is-not-a-maze game; the story is you're a traveler very late in getting home and must now deal with a Will-o'-the-wisp on the way back. The solution to this pseudo-maze is logical in the abstract, I suppose, but the actions required for it seem awfully arbitrary to me; if someone hadn't posted the solution on the intfiction.org boards I never would have finished it. As such, it may be considered of a piece with +=3, another game with an "illogical" logical solution.
Still, the game has plenty of atmosphere, and it was made as part of a group activity, in which everyone worked on and entered about one game each to Ectocomp. The author of Wisp didn't finish up in time to polish it, but entered it anyway because she promised she would, and such dedication merits an extra star, at least.
There is not a whole lot to 100,000 Years. It is basically a hypertext adaption of the hoary old SF premise suggested by the title. No, not that one, the other one, with the (Spoiler - click to show)space aliens and (Spoiler - click to show)repeating timelines and junk. It's competently implemented within its very small limits, but unfortunately it shares a problem with lazy SF in that it barely uses its premise, either as a metaphor to tell us something about ourselves or just to entertain. Even a bit of randomness in the text might make 100,000 Years a bit more meaty. Still, it's probably worth a look. Just don't expect too much.
The first thing I noticed about this game was that the description was written in a foreign language that I thought might be Spanish, but I wasn't sure without checking. So I pasted the description into Google Translate, and in addition to discovering that it was actually written in Portuguese, I found the machine translation surprisingly lucid, if still a bit Babelfish-y:
"Based on the philosophy Mokiti Okada enter the adventure of the Book of Truth which will enable learning how to get the balance of the human being, to create for yourself and everyone around you a better world to live."
I figured if I could understand the description enough to get the gist, I could probably play at least a good ways into the game. And sure enough, about twenty minutes later I had won the game. Quest's keyword based interface was a big help, of course; without it, I would have never been able to figure out the verbs. With it the game was so easy I could beat it without actually understanding the language it was written in.
The game is based on the teachings of Mokichi Okada, the founder of the Church of World Messianity. Or at least, so it claims; I'm not familiar with World Messianity so I couldn't tell you how much of the game is accurate to the source, but apart from a scarily large infodump at the end, I couldn't detect much philosophy that wasn't generic New Age "materialism bad, spiritual truth good". (And I mean that "scarily large" about the end; it feels rather paranoid!) You come across a creek (or possibly a river) of gemstones, and if you pick any up you get dinged for your focus on material wealth. Later you come across three doors, one of which promises wealth and prosperity, and if you go through it you get an instant game over. This would seem very unfair were the general point not drummed into your head over and over. And though it's impossible for me to say for certain, the writing feels a little slapdash. There are a couple typos scattered across the game that I had to fix in Google Translate, and examining the titular book gets you the response I used for the title of my review.
Even so, I found this game charming almost in spite of myself. There's an earnestness about the game that helped me ride it through the preachy bits. For example, each gemstone in the creek has a description that details their spiritual use and general history. Some care was put into the presentation of the game as well; nearly every room has an accompanying photo, and there's even a pretty background as well. It's still a pretty bad game, mind, but it verges into self parody so often I can't help but love it. If you like bad games, can speak reasonably good Portuguese or enjoy fiddling with machine translations, and don't mind being preached at, you might want to give this game a try.
Jaws: The Text Adventure is a short game that corresponds roughly to the events of the movie, from the point-of-view of the shark, of course. Most of the game's humor relies on having seen the movie (which is totally awesome and if you haven't seen it before why not?); there's even a last lousy point that's easier to get, both literally and metaphorically, if you're familiar with the scene being parodied. I certainly wouldn't recommend this game if you haven't seen Jaws, the movie, but the game is so short you might as well give it a shot anyway if you're really curious. Gameplay is very simple, with one main verb (EAT), no mapping required, and mostly easy puzzles. It's not hard to get the ending that occurs in the movie, and while I stopped there, I can't imagine getting even the best ending takes much longer. If you're a Jaws fan you'll probably enjoy the fifteen minutes it takes to play; if you're not I'd steer clear.
Bigger Than You Think, a riff on both Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and XKCD's Click and Drag comic, is a new CYOA/parser-based IF hybrid by Andrew Plotkin. It was created for a fanfic gift exchange at Archive of Our Own. BTYT uses keywords that the player can type in or click on to use, and even an inventory that is always displayed at the top of the screen, along with the word "start", which is the keyword that begins a new playthrough of the game.
BTYT is about exploration, not just of the cavern the game starts in, but of different worlds, other lives, potential futures, alternate realities. This is highlighted by the way the inventory works: instead of limiting the player to things and ideas that they have picked up in one playthrough, the inventory is designed to work across multiple playthroughs, so that something you picked up in one is available to use in another. Contrariwise, once something is used properly in a playthrough, it stays that way for all playthroughs afterward (to pull this off, the game makes use of an autosave function, I think through Glulx's ability to write to an outside file). It is literally impossible to beat the game in a single playthrough; too many objects, too many ideas are in dead ends, and BTYT smartly makes use of this fact to call attention to what this might suggest: Perhaps merging realities, or reincarnation, or maybe just different stories that got smooshed together in the telling.
Stories, after all, are a part of BTYT's makeup, as the game is framed as a tale told by Marco Polo to Kubla Khan, a device inspired directly by Invisible Cities. There's references to stories throughout as well, mostly through the traditional CYOA intonations along the lines of "Your story must end here," but also through at least one case of recursive storytelling (I am thinking here of (Spoiler - click to show)the monk, and the tales of the lost cities you can access through him). What I found most compelling, though, was the ending: (Spoiler - click to show)at the end, Marco Polo stops his tale just short of revealing one last mystery to the Khan, telling him to get off his duff instead, although not in so many words. The player, who is heavily identified with Khan ("I did not undertake this journey, these discoveries! You did, o Khan. Always, it was you."), is too the recipient of this message to do something real now that the story is done. The fact that Marco essentially leaves the story to Khan to complete is, in a fan-work, a perfect detail, almost an invitation to create. I'm not lying when I say it was a big motivation for the writing of this review.
Bigger Than You Think is not a perfect game. There are too many times when figuring out which item to use in which situation can be a frustrating exercise in finding something you haven't done yet. And it's not always clear whether there is something you can try (though to its credit, BTYT mostly gets this right). But the worlds are dazzling, and the prose is pure Zarfian beauty. It's definitely worth your time to give this a look.
This game is sort of like a Speed IF game (although a pretty well implemented one) in its simplicity and commitment to its gimmick. Playtime is short when measured in the minimum amount of turns it takes to win, but winning for me took a lot longer, mostly because I'm not a good puzzle solver and the game didn't have a walkthrough, but also because certain parts of the game feel underclued.
The game starts out as a quest to foil the schemes of your evil twin brother. It sounds simple enough, although people familiar with the song will be conditioned to see something's fishy, and even the players who haven't heard of They Might Be Giants before will probably suspect something is up even before they reach (Spoiler - click to show)the Magical Realism tunnel. But to the game's credit, it never comes straight out and tells you what's going on, preferring to let you put the pieces together yourself. For most part that works out fine, although the ending may leave you, as it did me, scratching your head a bit.
The puzzles (what little there were of them, anyway) were fine... up to a point. I'm not too good a judge of puzzles, since I'm so lousy at them, but most of them seemed to be fair and made sense within the logic of the world. And I think the solution for getting into your evil twin's house should be commended for being both super dumb and logical. But on the other hand (warning, spoilers for the final puzzle follow): (Spoiler - click to show)how you find out the code to the evil twin's secret lair is unfair. It involves knowing the old number to They Might Be Giants' Dial-a-Song. This in-and-of-itself isn't what I object to (after all, in the age of the Wiki this isn't a very frustrating puzzle element); it's more that the fact that the code is the old Dial-a-Song number is heavily underclued, especially if you're not up on your They Might Be Giants lore (I wasn't). The problem was, I didn't know that the code was something I would have to look up, and since I didn't know that, I kept looking for the rest of the code in the game itself. If the game had signaled better that the solution was outside the game-world, if there was a bigger hint that the code was connected to Dial-a-Song somehow, then the puzzle would have seemed much more fair.
While we're on the subject on stuff that flew over my head, I'm still not sure how to interpret the ending. (Spoiler - click to show)For most of the game, I assumed that most, if not all, of the damage around town had been done by the player character during his ridiculous charades of "stopping" his evil twin. I also assumed that there was no evil twin, that what we were seeing was just the delusions of a weird, weird man. But in the end scene at the jail, our evil twin really does show up. Or is he really our "evil" twin? And if he was, what was up with the rest of the game, then? Was it real? Quasi-real? Am I over-thinking this?
But really, for me, the joy of My Evil Twin wasn't in its puzzles or its destination. It was just hanging out and exploring in an off-kilter world, one that lies just slightly askance to ours, but also one that operates by its own rules. It's an old-school type of setting, one you don't get to see too often. And if the experience sometimes frustrated me, well, that's part of the old-school feel as well.