Ratings and Reviews by Rovarsson

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Blighted Isle, by Eric Eve

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A True Adventure, January 13, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Adventure

A loyal seaman of His King's Fleet, thrown off his ship in a terrible storm, thrown off his ship and into an indefinite time on an indefinite island.

What comes next, for the protagonist as well as the player, is adventure at its best: an unknown island full of apparently normal characters who always have something more to say than you would expect, and many clues as to why this island is not quite what it seems to be at first glance.

First, let me point out some negatives:
-There's a bug whenever you try to take something big through a narrow passage. A simple error message would have been disconcerting enough in a game as polished as this one, but a screen-and-a-half of detailed error-analysis took me out of the game enough to take a small break and pretend it never happened.
-It's frustrating that the game not only provides the option, but actively guides the player into making promises she's unable to keep. I spent many, many turns on trying to get back to the south-side to help my favourit NPC. This was made even worse when I found an object that could supposedly cut through rock, and then it didn't. Despite my unleashing all my powers of experimentation and SAVE-retry-RESTORE on it.

With those frustrations out of the way, let me continue to the amazing game Blighted Isle really is.

I tend to pay a lot of attention to the use of space, the connection of locations,the sense of a bigger world. Blighted Isle takes place on an island, which gives it a natural boundary. It's enclosed by water (obviously...) which is then encircled by a mysterious fog. There are a good number of hilltops to look out over the rest of the land. These facts together already make for a nice mix of claustrophobic (the barriers) and wide-open (the inlands). Append to that the promise of the land beyond, and the first part of the game is masterpiece of balancing the player's need to finding out every single thing there is to know against the story's drive to get to the North.

I cannot praise Blighted Isle enough for its characters. I refuse to call them NPCs. NPC, despite its obvious technical definition, draws images of cardboard and plastic. The Personages in Blighted Isle are much more than that. To experience the game/story to its fullest, you must ask them about anything that seems relevant to their backstory. Some responses moved me to tears. Good writing, that is...

But then, this personal form of writing loveable characters can also fall to bits. A young lady asking me if I Love her, or merely Like her, while we are crossing a plateau in between an unknown and possibly dangerous mountainous landscape seems a bit out of place...

Some of the puzzles flow naturally out of the conversations with the different NPCs. There are a few fetch-quests, some of which I could not (frustratingly) finish because they are tied to certain characters.
Other puzzles are quite common-sense, which can present an extra difficulty in an adventure game. (We're not used to normal-day-physics...)

The most important impression I got from playing Blighted Isle is "Adventure".
Not as a descendant of the original ADVENT, but as an interactive version of the children's books of Astrid Lindgren and Thea Beckman.

A real adventure.

Bellclap, by Tommy Herbert

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dear God,, November 15, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Should I serve you by inquiring into Your true essence, or should I merely prostrate myself in obedience?
Should I search for deeper meaning in contemplating your Divine attributes, or should I sacrifice on Your altar before Your Likeness?
Would You intervene in my hour of need? Does it even make sense to want, ask or expect this?
Do I wait for Your supreme guidance, or do I strike out on my own, My own, to the point of denying your existence?

Would you smite me with bolts of electromagnetic energy if I did?

None of these questions are directly asked or answered in Bellclap. A lighthearted game of "find out the author's mysterious and idiosyncratic ways", it offers one terribly underclued puzzle and a bit of fantastically fun exploring.

The main strong point, and the reason why questions like the ones above could crop up in my mind, is the PC-parser-player relationship. It's slotted into a believer-angelical messenger- God dynamic template.

Even without explicitly being mentioned in the game, the fact that you, the player, are godlike to the PC brings up theological questions.

How would You treat your creation?

The Voyage of the Resplendent, by Philip Douglas

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Star Police!, November 13, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

After a long period of peace, the United Empire of Imperatrix Emera is experiencing unrest. Riots have broken out on several planets of the outer star systems and the fleet is spread thin to contain the disturbances.

The disappearance of a rare FTL communications and surveillance drone in a system rather closer to the centre of the Empire is suspicious enough to send you on an investigation to the system where it was last deployed. You take control of the newly commissioned FTL ship "Resplendent".

The Voyage of the Resplendent stands out with its picture of a far-future interstellar empire. This is in itself not very original, but there are many details that make it noticeable.
There are hints of a forgotten past civilization of which only the poorly understood FTL technology and an even more foggy religion are remnants.
The political structure is reminiscent of ancient Rome, with the central Imperial star system dictating the overall order and monopolizing economics, while guaranteeing some measure of political sovereignty to the planets under its control.
A medieval nobility hierarchy ensures further complication of the relations of power in the Empire.

In my personal life, I would not agree with the loyal, dutybound servant of the Imperial monarchy that is the protagonist. The story does not provide many options to push against the adherence to hierarchy and orders apart from paying lip service to "trying to understand the disgruntled mobs", and choosing diplomacy over lethal force on a handful of occasions.
However, it speaks volumes to the quality of writing that I could get under the skin of my character quite easily. Once I had understood and accepted the priorities of the protagonist, I was on board to fulfill the mission to the best of my abilities.

The quality of characterization extends to the other characters as well. One important choice early in the game lets you assemble your team of officers. Throughout the game, you talk to them separately on several occasions in different circumstances. Without agreeing with them on every turn, I did feel I could relate to them as realistic people.

On the whole, I got the impression that most of the links where there primarily to give more exposition to the characters' backgrounds during the space-voyage than to have a defining impact on the narrative. Toward the endgame the choices gave the impression of having greater consequences to the outcome. I must say that is the impression I got after a grand total of one playthrough, so I may have missed substantial branching. I don't really believe so though, given that you are returned to the same choice menu after picking an option. For example: if you choose to talk to the Head of Investigations, after the conversation you are returned to the screen where you can still choose to talk to all three other Officers. The story does not continue with your first choice to the exclusion of the other possibilities.

However well-written the story is, it could use a last and thorough once-over. There are quite a few misspelling remaining. Worse, I encountered one dead end where there simply was no link back to the story, forcing me to go back to a saved game and avoid that path on my playthrough.

There are many open questions and loose threads remaining after the game's finale, leading me to suspect that this was meant to be the first installment of a series that didn't make it past the pilot. I would gladly read any sequels, and even without them, this story is well worth the time on its own.

John's Fire Witch, by John Baker

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A dream of ice and fire., November 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

It's been too long since you and John got together for some heavy liquor sampling. For some reason however, he didn't show up. When you go to his house, you find that John has disappeared and that a mysterious hole in his basement has appeared. Hmmm... What to do?

John's Fire Witch takes the basic structure of an old-fashioned cavecrawl and ditches a lot of ballast, resulting in a small and focused adventure.

Instead of having a sprawling map with many connecting junctions, confusing layout and mazes, John's Fire Witch is confined to about 35 rooms. A few clever twists in the layout do provide a limited sense of exploration though.

The simplistic scenario functions as the backdrop for a small number of really good puzzles. You'll have to use some basic real-world physics and pay close attention to the wording of object descriptions. The final puzzle requires an intuitive leap to use one of your objects in a new way.

The writing is very good on the level of individual descriptions of rooms and objects. However, I found that the old-school approach to the overall atmosphere didn't work so well. The game wavered between lighthearted and self-deprecating humour on the one hand while never quite succeeding in evoking a scary-underground-tunnel feeling on the other.

The game misses a lot of opportunities to flesh out its atmosphere. Many plausible actions are not supported, background scenery is mostly unimplemented... On the whole, I felt that there should be more stuff there to look at (even if it was just the cave ceiling). This is perhaps justified by the theme of the final room, which is just full of stuff (presumably hoarded there by the antagonist). Here, the overabundance of stuff serves to make the endgame hard and confusing by giving you so many options that you could never hope to try them all within the limited time allotted to you. SAVE-RESTORE is your friend...

Good fun.

Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, by Jim Aikin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Doll? What doll? Oh right!, November 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

Just saying, it's pretty easy to lose sight of your ultimate objective in this game.

Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina is a beast, a mountain, a leviathan of a game. There is nothing that would resemble a plot, no matter how vanishingly vague your definition would be. There is naught but the flimsiest of framing story to get you going, but I frequently had to remind myself that my end-goal had something to do with that short intro from way back in the beginning.

This is not a story-oriented game. It is an unapologetically hard and big barrage of puzzles.
There is a large variety of puzzles, and they are all logical/common-sense in hindsight. There are no solutions randomly pulled out of the author's hat that would make you say "No way!" even after finding the solution (or looking it up). This changes nothing about the fact that this game is hard.
There are different reasons for this:
-The pure huge scale of the game-map and the amount of objects, puzzles and clues in it. The sheer amount of information that gets thrown at you is mindboggling. It's a real challenge to keep a list of puzzles and their clues in your mind while playing, even with a notebook. Add to that the objects that are not always used straightforwardly, and the heap of information is very big.
-The author has no scruples about throwing out-of-game anagrammatical and mathematical puzzles at the player. I could almost hear his whispers: "You signed up for this out of your own free will. Now let's see you cope with this."
-Four mazes. In two of them I could use my inventory objects and some real world problem-solving to make sense of the order, the other two bamboozled me into cheating (David Welbourn's walkthrough is excellent).
-There are a good number of more traditional adventure game puzzles. The solutions howeverdepend on non-traditional use of objects, timing/turn-counting and meticulous attention and analysis of the descriptions of locations and their relations to each other.

Without a plot to keep the interest piqued, Ballerina must rely on the internal motivation and curiosity of the player. For me, this worked all through the game (3000+ moves). There is just so much there, and so much just around the corner that I had to tear myself away from the screen on many evenings. Luckily, this often meant that I had found new ways to tackle an obstacle the next day.

Another thing that holds this game together is the excellent descriptions of the setting and the pervasive atmosphere of the abandoned shopping-mall.
Never truly scary, but always consistently creepy.

An excellent classic game. Take your time when you engage this. I spent three weeks on it, with occasional hints. Three weeks of fun.

Dr Horror's House of Terror, by Ade McT

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Fright or Folly? Why not have both., October 26, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler

Franky and Johnny are strolling across the dark parking lot of the movie-theater. Some distance behind them, bright lightbulbs are flickering above the theater entrance.


So, what'd you think?

I don't know, man. I thought we were going to watch a Horror movie. But half the time this guy was joking around and I could plainly see the trees were plywood.

That's the point, J.
Think of it like this: you've got scary horror on the one side and laughable camp on the other. The director's hung a tightrope between the two and the whole movie is a balancing act, never leaning too far to one extreme. He reinforces this with how he shows the locations: sometimes like real places where something gruesome happened, sometimes like a fake plastic set, just as unscary and laughable as King Kong's zipper showing.

Yeah, I guess... What was up with the dialogue though? People don't talk like that, neatly listing their questions and getting them answered one by one.

Well, J., you gotta remember: not everyone going to the movies is as smart as you are... Some people need a bit more handholding to pull them along through the story. The neat question-by-question dialogues give a bit more exposition to those poor sods that can't quite follow as lightning-fast as you, Johnny...

Heh, yeah... I suppose some o'them would need some more explanation than brainy ol' me.

The flickering lightbulbs above the theater entrance blinked out one by one until only two remained. These two seemed to tear themselves free from the fašade, blinked as well and then squinted, two shiny yellow eyes were focusing on a prey...

Hey, something else bothered me about this movie. What was up with all those weird obstacles? It was like the main guy was jumping through all sorts of hoops.

Those diverse obstacles are there to show to the audience how smart and versatile the protagonist really is, man. And since we're there on the front row watching him, we get to experience his cunning solutions as if we thought of them ourselves.

The shiny yellow eyes had now closed the distance to the two young men. They were following quietly in their footsteps...

Well if he's so smart, why did he lose the end-battle huh?

I dunno, I kinda liked the ending. Even if he did lose at the end, it was all nicely wrapped up in the epilogue. By the way, my cousin saw this movie last week, and he says the main guy won the final battle. So there must be different versions around. Maybe you could go and see it tomorrow and it would end differently.

Really? Wow, that'd be so cool. One more thing: I really didn't care for how the guy just killed all those innocent people. Seems he should've tried to just knock 'em out or something.

Well, maybe the director wanted to show that normal moral principles don't hold up when you're trying to avert the end of the world as we know it.
Or maybe it was just some gratuitous gruesome killing, just for the heck of it.

At this point, Franky glanced over his shoulder at the beast following them. He sighed and gave an almost imperceptible nod.


Johnny's headless body stayed upright for a few more seconds. The it fell down to the tarmac. As Franky made his way to the car, the scrunching and slobbering noises continued.

The Song of the Mockingbird, by Mike Carletta

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
If only I had my six-shooter..., October 17, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Western

Well, then this game would not have a reason to exist, which would be a shame.

You've fallen head over heels in love with the sensuous dancer Rosa. A gang of hoodlums stole her away from your embrace.

They took your pistol for good measure. This leaves you no choice but to rescue your damsel in distress with nothing but your brain and whatever you find lying around.

This setup clears the way for a collection of great puzzles. All of them require a good deal of common sense, and when you notice that your sense might be too common, the ability to think around the corner. Many times the use of the objects is not straightforward, leading to some very nice "Aha!"-moments.

This uncommon-sense feeling is reinforced by the map. It's quite small and contained. There are a bunch of locations to explore and a few cleverly placed bottlenecks. At almost every point in the game, you can be sure that you have seen every accessible inch of your surroundings and found every object there is to find. The challenge then becomes straightforward and deceptively simple: "Here is your inventory. What to do with it?"

I liked the writing a lot. The style of puzzles requires a clear visualization of the locations, but the author manages to throw in enough small surprises and unexpected details to keep the descriptions from becoming a list of notable features.

The overall tone of the piece caught me off-guard. From the intro and the characterization of the protagonist as a singing cowboy, I expected a lighthearted parody of western-tropes. In many places, this is true. Until you get to the more serious and sometimes downright brutal bits. It's not easy to blend these together, but The Song of the Mockingbird doesn't feel disjointed because of it. It serves rather well to highlight different aspects of the protagonist's character.

The song-lyrics throughout the story and especially the historical notes at the end tied this game together and showed just how much this game was lovingly polished.

Very good game.

Finding Light, by Abigail Jazwiec

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Foxy... *Jimi Hendrix distortion solo* ...Familiar, October 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

A band of raiders kidnapped your human! As his familiar, you are bound to rescue him. Find your way into the enemy base to do so.

Finding Light's premise is simple and straightforward, as indeed the game as a whole is. This makes sure that the player can enjoy the forward momentum and the quick succession of discoveries instead of banging her head against a puzzle-wall.

The obstacles are all pretty standard text-adventure fare. Lock&key, color-code, maze, fetch&trade... The twist here that you, as a familiar (a magic human's spirit guide) can CHANGE between animal and human form. This gives an entirely new dimension to exploring the surroundings, searching for clues and solving the puzzles.

To succesfully infiltrate the raiders' fort, you will need help. Quite a few animal NPCs are willing to offer that help, and while interacting with them you might learn something about their personalities. I found this the most satisfying part of the game. Through conversing with the animals, you learn bits and pieces of their backstories. This makes them much, much more than cardboard characters whose only role is to "give player object x if and only if player gives object y to NPC". I'm confident that a full IF-piece could be made about the backstory of each animal NPC (especially the horses.)

In contrast, one raider is a dumb brute. Another is a mute psychopath. (Hmm, the mute psychopath's backstory may have a horror-game buried in it somewhere...)

I liked the clean writing. The rooms were clearly described and easily imagined. Likewise, the map is simple and easily memorized, a bonus for people who don't like drawing maps.

In the IFComp version I played (v1), I found the implementation wanting in some places. To mention one instance: the verb TRADE might come in handy. Another example is given by Mathbrush in his review: many more synonyms for the solution to the first puzzle should be implemented. You really don't want to get players bashing their computers against the wall because they can't guess the syntax of your "easy and obvious" introductory puzzle.

The main mechanism in the game is a joy to explore. Switching between shapes brings new abilities to experience the game-world and interact with it. I'd like to see it expanded even more, perhaps applying the different senses to every concrete object instead of some objects and the rooms.

A very enjoyable classic text-adventure with a clever twist.

The House on Highfield Lane, by Andy Joel

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
I can see my house from up here., October 6, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

On Highfield Lane stands a creepy house. Its windows seem to watch Mandy everyday as she walks past on her way home from school. As creepy houses' windows tend to do...
One day Mandy finds a letter on the pavement outside the creepy house's door. She decides to deliver it to whoever lives in the creepy house. As she enters the hall, the door slams shut behind her. As creepy houses' doors tend to do...

Mandy is a very engaging character, the polar opposite of a generic adventure hero. She has definite opinions and feelings and the player will know it. The author accomplishes this in various ways.
The game is written in the third person. I found that in some games this can be distancing, putting the player in the role of a mere observer. Here however, this perspective offers another road to immersion. Instead of forcing the player to roleplay, getting inside the head of the protagonist while being addressed as "You", The House on Highfield Lane gets the player to be a close companion of the PC, looking over her shoulder and guiding her while being complicit in Mandy's actions and decisions.
Mandy's movements and actions and the creepy house's rooms are described from her own very subjective viewpoint, giving us a more and more clear view into her personality. The descriptions are interspersed with bits of Mandy's interior monologue, showing us her unfiltered thoughts, swearwords and all.
This view we get of the protagonist's personality also evolves throughout the game, something seldom seen in puzzle-oriented IF. At first somewhat timid, intimidated by finding herself locked inside the creepy house, she becomes more brazen and unafraid as the game progresses. This is very nicely reflected in her interior monologue. Later in the game, her thoughts amount to: "What the hell, I've already come this far in some stranger's house, why not do this completely unappropriate thing and see what happens." (This is where the swearwords are very effective.)

Upon first entering the creepy house, there is indeed much to be intimidated by. What seemed to be an ordinary house in a row of equally uninteresting houses from the street turns out to be a grand historical mansion on the inside. Lifesize portraits look down on Mandy from the walls of high and spacious rooms.
Even more intimidating, and effectively disorienting to the player is the author's cunning use of space/geography. Once in the house, there are doors in directions impossible from the outside and upper storeys that should not exist. I for one had a lot of fun mapping the place.
What's very interesting here is that the player's growing familiarity with the map through further exploration closely mirrors Mandy's growing confidence as she wanders around the creepy house.

The House on Highfield Lane is very much a puzzle-game. The seemingly simple objective of delivering a lost letter leads to an increasingly complicated and improbable series of obstacles The flimsy plotline is naught but a pretense for presenting the player with a collection of puzzles. These are mostly intuitive but always have a clever twist. I had my fair share of "Aha"-moments while brainstorming about how to tackle this or that problem. Despite the sometimes surreal nature of the puzzles, they are held tightly together by the game's mood and atmosphere.

This brings me to a highpoint of the entire game: the splendid writing that binds it all together. The descriptions are clear yet evocative, there is more than one location with very memorable imagery, the author manages to provide poignant details without cluttering the mental image of the player. Mandy's subjective viewpoint adds the pepper and salt to the text.

I imagine that the game's finale might go two ways for any player. There's a convoluted revelatory backstory that seems thrown together after the fact rather than being the result of integrated worldbuilding, and the final problem is silly, to say the least. For me, it was a surprising, almost cathartis moment of hilariousness. Others may be disappointed by it.

You'll have to see for yourself. I very much recommend that you do.

(Yes, there are some small nitpicks. Some obvious verbs were not implemented {EDIT: I have been informed that this has been fixed} and at least one puzzle needed better clueing. Nitpicks that are inconsequential in light of the overall quality of this game.)

Lord Bellwater's Secret, by Sam Gordon

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A room investigation., September 25, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Being trapped ina single room with a bunch of puzzles is not normally my preferred cup of IF-tea. Lord Bellwater's Secret however managed to draw me in by the exquisite writing and the intruiging backstory.

The old Lord Bellwater has died and his estate has been taken over by his only son. Soon after your beloved Elsie took a suspicious fall out of a window while she was cleaning the study. You, an aspiring groom of the household, sneak in at night to investigate and clear up the muddy circumstances of your sweetheart's death.

The gameplay consists mostly of thoroughly examining everything in the room, gathering clues and piecing together the true happenstances surrounding Elsie's death, and the peculiarities of the young master's take-over.

I was amazed at the depth of implementation of the library, with more than a thousand books you can supposedly read, and the detailed backstory that is revealed in a large number of letters, texts and diaries there are to be found in the room. There are three code-cracking puzzles that require thoughtful handling of the written clues. The solutions should become obvious to the player who does the work and carefully investigates the entire room.

The game very believably breathes the atmosphere of the time-period it is set in, the middle of the nineteenth century. There are hints all over the place to the relationship between the privileged upper class and the "downstairs people".

Coincidentally, just a week before I played Lord Bellwater's Secret I had read the novel The Quincunx by Charles Paliser. I don't know if or in how much the author was inspired by this book, or if he even read it. It did seem to me that I had found a secret door into one of the most suspenseful scenes from that book, where I could place myself in the place of the protagonist. This gave an extra dimension of immersion to the game.

An exciting investigation that is sure to keep the grey cells working overtime for a few hours. Recommended.

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