Ratings and Reviews by Rovarsson

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Lord Bellwater's Secret, by Sam Gordon

1 of 1 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.


Birmingham IV, by Peter Emery

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Someone please give that man some antihistamines!, September 20, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

He's got a bad case of the hay fevers! Can't even look at stuff without his eyes watering.

Yes, the protagonist of Birmingham IV has a chronic eye-disorder. Every single time he examines something: "Predictably, the Phil's eyes water." His other problem is that throughout the game, he is consistently called "The Phil". I have no problem with third person narrative. It establishes a different kind of player-PC relationship that helps define the feel of a game. However, here it sounds more like the protagonist is a rambling braggart with delusions of grandeur narrating his own exploits. (This is probably not the case, but I found it fun to imagine my PC going about his explorations while describing his every move.)

This rambling-about-his-own-exploits protagonist is actually perfectly in line with my biggest gripe about the game: What the FULLGRU am I doing here?!

Apparently The Phil has woken up in a fantasy-dreamland (trolls & dwarves elves & all). He starts wandering around poking everything he comes across and taking whatever he sees. Out of pure curiosity he seeks out puzzles to solve but it is never clear what his goal actually is. Halfway through the game, a proper endgoal crystallizes: clear up the mess he has caused by thoughtlessly (some might say ruthlessly) tackling obstacles for no apparent reason.

The land the Phil is roaming is nicely described. There are (on my map) five distinct regions that all lie along a long E-W road. So that's good for visualizing the geography. Unfortunately, due to an inventory limit and some less-than-practical puzzle layout (1980s oldschool style and all that...) you will travel this road until you can dream it and then some more.

The puzzles you encounter range from "Great!" ((Spoiler - click to show)laying out breadcrumbs for the puddytat...) to "Huh?" ((Spoiler - click to show)lighting the lamp...) to "Jeeves! Get-me-my-walkthrough!" ((Spoiler - click to show)a not-cool-not-clever maze that is only justified because everybody knows that Elves are obnoxious tricksters seeking to confobble people at every turn.)

The writing is good. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Elven Mound and the Plains by the River. There is a lot of humour in the responses too, and there are tons of unnecessary but funny stuff to try (including dying in many ways) (Oh, that reminds me... About those puzzles: Learn by dying. A lot.)
But despite the funny and overall good writing, the lack of an overarching goal or quest made it all feel a bit too light and unimportant to me.

So: a nice big game, lots of laughs without any (heart)strings attached.
Worth playing.


Metamorphoses, by Emily Short

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A dreamlike search for..., September 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

First off, some tech-stuff: This game is, hands-down, the most deeply implemented piece of Interactive Fiction I have ever played or heard of. Along with that, it also provides an amazing freedom of experimentation. This is no sandbox, this is dune after dune.

The puzzles are,partly because of the aforementioned freedom, not hard. They are sensible and great fun. Choose your own logical approach and try it. Many different solutions will work, and those that don't will not work for a reason. Very rewarding.

The story is very much for the player to fill in. Lady Short gives you the backbone elements of a story of personal growth and inner realization, up to you to interpret it. The many different endings also give you many possible interpretations.

The writing is crisp and clear, giving Metamorphoses that dreamlike quality. The descriptions are detailed enough to be practical, without excess decoration. Exactly because of the sparse descriptions, the imagination has ample room to dream up it's own version of your surroundings.

Maybe the biggest puzzle here is the quest for completeness.A reverse read-the-author's-mind problem. When playing (and replaying) ask yourself, "What has Emily Short NOT thought of?"

Very, very good game.


The Weight of a Soul, by Chin Kee Yong

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Dissection of a city district., September 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

A sick goblin, bleeding from his eyes, is brought into the clinic and dies on the operating table, right before the eyes of Marid, a young doctor in training.

This is how The Weight of a Soul throws you in the middle of the action from the very first scene. Although there are some resting points in the rest of the game, they are few. Most of it is fast, moving from gruesome discovery to action sequence to an impressive and morally challenging finale.

The goblin's death is only the first in a row. Marid is sent out to investigate the cause of the disease and maybe find a way to stop it from spreading. It is the beginning of a journey that will take her deep into the bowels of the Channelworks District.

Into the bowels indeed. The great waterworks installation known as the Hydra Aquifera looms over the district and dominates the gameworld, both above and below ground. Its pipes, channels and canals run everywhere. The city's descriptions conjure up images of bodily fluids, purulent boils and Galenic humours. The city has been laid open on a dissection table with its innards bare.

The writing in The Weight of a Soul is excellent. In most locations, it follows a very standard IF-structure, with a short descriptive paragraph for each location, followed by a list of exits and of notable features. The images in those descriptive paragraphs are however of a rarely seen evocativeness:

---"The suspended mansion echoes with a grandiose hollowness."---

There are tense action-scenes, something hard to pull off in IF. Here they are well guided without sacrificing all interactivity.

The overall story arc was mostly satisfying. It's a great adventure story; I was happy to let myself be swept along. As a mystery however, it did not work so well for me. I was surprised at the scale of the villain's evil plan, but the basic plot, the nature of the disease and the identity of the villain were all clear very soon.

Fast-paced as it is, the game eschews traditional puzzles in favour of story-bound obstacles, conversations and examinations (of the city and of bodies alike).
It rewards the exploration with pieces of character backstory, long and well-written cutscenes and insightful dreams.

During the story, there are many conversations. These are handled with choice-menus. The choices of what you say do not alter the path of the story for the most part, but they do serve as an excellent device for the player to colour in the character of the protagonist in her own mind. The NPCs are many, and they have much to talk about. (I personally found Webster the bouncer a fascinating man.)

Throughout the game, I kept noticing the ambiguous player perspective. Although the story is written in the traditional second tense, I experienced it as somewhere between second and third tense. Whereas I normally use "I" or sometimes "you" to refer to my player character in my notes, here I used "Marid" and "she" almost every time. This testifies to how much I read this game as a book. I must note that this didn't take away from my involvement with the story.

The Weight of a Soul is a great technical achievement. The depth and smoothness of implementation are astonishing in places, so well done that they become almost invisible to the player. In one scene, there are multiple dead bodies in the same room while Marid examines them one by one. The game effortlessly tracks which body she is working on, avoiding many, many disambiguation issues with a graceful ease that must have been a pain in the unmentionables to program.

The polish on the player-help features is so bright it's almost blinding. A beautiful map, a nudge-to-explicit hint menu, a list of the characters Marid has met and the locations she has visited. On top of that there's a journal that keeps track of Marid's discoveries and her current objectives. More than enough reasons to feel safe as a player and trust the game.

When I started playing IF, I always had a strong feeling of excitement when opening a new game. The experience of being there, embodying a character in a strange world and determining her actions was my main attraction to IF. In The Weight of a Soul it is exactly this feeling that serves as the basis of the interactivity of the game. Rather than levering up the sofa to find a bolt to screw into a machine, the interactivity here comes from being a collaborator of the protagonist, looking through her eyes and helping her decide. I found this extremely engaging and immersive.

In the finale, you, the player, must really decide which path Marid will take in a grey moral area. Very satisfying.

This all takes place in a beautifully crafted grimy and gritty fictional world. The phrase alchemy-punk came to mind...

The Weight of a Soul is an extraordinary IF-story.


Toonesia, by Jacob Weinstein

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
[...no title...*scrunchscronch*...busy munching carrots...], September 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

It's impossible to translate the experience of watching a Looney Tunes-cartoon into text. Of course it is. All the visual slapstick, the funny voices, the wacky sound-effects, the physically impossible effects of the 'toons' actions on their surroundings...

Wait...

We just may have something there. One aspect that translates gloriously into the IF-medium is the twisted logic and the bending of physical laws that are so typical of cartoons from the Golden Age.

Toonesia takes the toon-logic from a typical Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd Cartoon. Then, first of all, it carefully changes just enough letters in the names to stay on the legal side of things (and berates you for breaking copyright law if you should dare to assume in typing your commands that this game is about Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd).

With copyright infringement now out of the way, the game charges ahead into a series of puzzles based on either full-blown cartoon logic, or on the typical behaviour of some of the protagonists of the Looney Tunes this game is most definitely not based on. (It is assumed that you have at least some passing familiarity with the cartoons this game is not based on...)

There's only one path through the game, the puzzles must be solved in a predetermined order. The map is very small, and the locations are rather sparse so there's not much room for in-depth exploration.

Actually, Toonesia does only one thing, and it does that thing very well: it takes one gimmick from the Looney Tunes-cartoons and squeezes it just to the point that it stays fresh and funny. It's a small game, allthough your actual playing time may vary depending on how quickly your brain catches on.

For the hour it took me to solve it, I found it very funny (I mean actually laughing at the screen) and very satisfying to feel the *click* when the "logic" snaps into gear.


Father Leofwine is Dead, by Pugpup

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Murder at the Royal Court, September 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Father Leofwine, the King's councillor and Queen's confessor, has been brutally murdered! Somewhat unexpectedly, the King chooses Cynehelm, his Tax Collector, to surreptitiously investigate the matter.

Cynehelm in his turn recruits an accomplice, Wulf, to do the stealthy legwork while he talks to the eoldarmen himself.

I love historical detectives. The (static fiction) books about Gordianus the Finder (Steven Saylor) and Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peeters) have brought me many hours of joy. From the first paragraph, I knew this game was right up my alley.

Father Leofwine is Dead begins with an intruiging "locked room" murder mystery and spreads out through the Castle, even the City. The story has two protagonists, and you alternate making choices for them. The different characters and social stations of the protagonists lets you see the the investigation through two different viewpoints, as Cynehelm is a member of the King's closest entourage, and Wulf is more at home in the backstreets and dark alleys.

I found it very well written and truly engaging. I'm not a completist in story-games, I will not go back and see all the different branches of what-could-have-happened. (I'll go back a page if I die unexpectedly, but I won't replay to see all the text.) This approach immersed me deeply in the story, laying a weight on each choice so it had to be seriously considered. To aid the player in choosing, there are many clues laid out in this story's pages. The mystery of course demands that the player differentiates between important clues and dead-end paths, a tricky but doable task in this game.

The writing is very good. There's a nice rhythm to the sentences and the historical atmosphere comes through without laying it on too thick. The suspense is sustained (even turned up) throughout the story, maybe even a bit too much. Perhaps one or two resting spots would have allowed me to catch my breath before diving in again.

The layout is great, the pages are the right length to draw the reader in while still presenting important choices to signal a new beat.

Some small nitpicks:
-I found it disorienting that the story is told from the 3rd person perspective of one of the protagonists, but that some of the choices inconsistently refer to a 2nd person "you". Either this is a remnant of the 2nd person IF-convention that slipped through, or it is a deliberate breaking of the fourth wall, acknowledging the player as the real decision maker. If the latter, it did not succeed as a style choice for me. If anyhting, it felt jarring to be adressed as player in a story I had been reading "from above".
-The writing is very good. Therefore, the typos are all the more grating. I reckon one per page. Pity.

Very, very intruiging historical mystery.


Endure, by Emily Short
Rovarsson's Rating:

Distress, by Mike Snyder

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Sirius Dream, September 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Your rescue-pod crashed. The Ensign is dead. Your Lieutenant is wounded, near comatose. Survive.

The urgency of the situation is pressed upon you immediately. There are no McGuffins, there is no time for distractions and herrings of any colour would not survive in this atmospher.

Your pod has crashed on an unknown planet. Your crewmates are incapacitated. Survive.

This is the immediate urgency Distress puts you in. No promises, no McGuffins. Survive, without even any herrings to eat.

There's a very cramped, dark atmosphere to this game. the contrast between the wide open yet inaccessible desert landscape around your tiny circle of light makes it truly unnerving to leave the initial crash site.

You have a wounded crewmate who needs care and protection, but you know that you have to leave to search rescue.
I was torn by this situation, truly feeling the dilemma as the player. I scuttled around the crash site for many turns and tried to leave everything as safe as I could before venturing out toward...?

All the way along this grim adventure, things keep happening that are outside of your control. When played according to the game's standards (instead of following a walkthrough), this means losing (dying) more than once. I very strongly recommend doing it this way. Each playthrough will give you new information, be it on the background of the mission, or just on the timing of events. It's worth at least one or two playthroughs to get the details on your spacecraft's unexpected detour into this planetary system.

While on this topic: it's also worth taking your time out-of-game to search for the names of your crewmates in an encyclopaedia of your choosing, and then running to the nearest library...

The biggest difficulty with the puzzles is that the entire game is timed. SAVE on important breakthroughs and expect to run through a few times. RESTORE or (preferably) RESTART gives you the peace of mind to experience the story to the fullest. I still recommend that you play the game straight through a few times, regardless of the outcome.

A very immersive scifi thriller.


Dragon Adventure, by William Stott

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
*Whoomph* (fire breath)!, September 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

While passing through a nondescript village on your travels, you find yourself mixed up in a town meeting. You involuntarily volunteer to get rid of the dragon threatening the lands. (All the other volunteers unvolunteered by the cunning use of the take-one-step-backwards-while-he's-not-looking tactic.)

Skimming the introductory text of Dragon Adventure, you'd conclude that this is as classic a fantasy text-adventure as its title suggests. When reading more carefully, there are some minor but notable subversions though: the dragon isn't particularly malicious, having never killed any person or livestock. Apparently it's been around for ages without causing any trouble. It's just that, well, somehow word has got out about the presence of the dragon and now people know there's a dragon. And that's bad for business.

The game plays as a pretty straightforward example of the hero-defeats-dragon trope. But, as in the intro, some little things don't quite line up with expectations. The two adversaries in the game can both be dealt with in two ways, one being the gung-ho hero-solution, the other... not so much.

The puzzles are not too difficult. Most require you to find the right object and use it in the right spot, without much further manipulation. The right object, however, is often completely unrelated to a medieval-fantasy setting, lending a bit of anachronistic oldschool charm to the solutions no vending machines though...).

Despite the easy puzzles, you are likely to get stuck or trapped or dead(ish) a few times while exploring. The game is designed in a way that actually encourages this. Two nonstandard verbs are provided to deal with such situations: you can RUN from imminent danger and you can RESCUE yourself or a lost object from a dead end. You are returned to a safe place but your inventory is scattered around the map. Should you really, actually die, the game tells you: "You have done something slightly fatal." You are resurrected and, as before, you need to go searching for your lost inventory. I played along with this a few times, but I soon reverted to plain old UNDO.

Dragon Adventure's game-world feels really small. This is partly due to the limited number of rooms (15 or so outdoor locations), but more than that it is a result of a lack of a grand picture in the writing. The way the locations and your movements between them are described, it feels as if the Mountains are right nextdoor to the Beach, only a small hop away.

The implementation of locations and objects is surprisingly deep for a game of this limited size and ambition: (almost) all nouns have descriptions of their own, and well-written evocative ones at that. It's nice to read about a beautiful location and find you're able to examine all the details mentioned in it separately.

To pull off an unoriginal story such as this hero-dragon tale in a text-adventure, the gameplay has to be spot on. This is where Dragon Adventure drops the ball.
It seriously lacks alternative verbs for necessary actions and some very intuitive actions are not implemented at all (You cannot LOOK IN a container which obviously has something rattling around in it for instance.)
I also encountered a number of bugs: the dragon killed me with a fireball when it was already dead for three or four turns, and I was able to have a piece of parchment simultaneously in and out of its container.

Nonetheless, a few hours of non-assuming fun.


Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus, by Dan Shiovitz and Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
*Squawk!*, August 31, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Comedy, Puzzler

A man swoops down onto a flying pirate ship. He fights off the entire crew singlehandedly, retrieves the stolen briefcase and is off to his next mission.

A woman infiltrates a high-security underground bunker. Through the cunning use of a coffeemaid's uniform, she thwarts the entire assembly of scheming supervillains. She is called in for a briefing on her next mission.

In two short railroaded scenes, we meet our heroes:
-Max Blaster: An action hero, larger than life, with hairdo and ego as big as his muscles.
-Doris deLightning: A stealthy spy, relying on brains over brawn.

Meanwhile,The Venusian Parrot Overlord prepares to conquer Earth. Max and Doris will have to join forces to stop him.

Max Blaster and Doris deLightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus is a hilariously over the top action-comedy. It parodies 1950s scifi clichés and any other clichés that may cross its path. The (anti)chemistry between the protagonists is one of these. If they were bottles in a highschool science classroom, they would be labeled "Do Not Mix" in big red letters. Needless to say, snappy conversations full of funny one-liners are the result of them working together, as well as a growing affection for each other...

After the introduction, the player is asked to choose Doris or Max as the player character. Since they have different styles of approaching obstacles and a different set of equipment that fits their styles, and since they will be separated a few times during the mission, the player will experience a different path through the game depending on this choice.
I played as Doris, so this review will be necessarily incomplete and biased towards Doris' skills. (And against that blastery blowhard who just wants to rush every obstacle head-on!)
When Doris and Max are together in the same room, the player can SWITCH TO the other character to tackle a puzzle from a different angle. However, I believe it is possible to complete the game without ever doing so. I encountered one timed puzzle where I switched, but in hindsight I realize that I probably had enough turns to do it in-character.

There's no leisurely exploring the map in the first half of this game. It starts of at a fast pace and doesn't slow down until the very end. Many times, you will be automatically moved to a new area after a scene. Only once you've penetrated the headquarters are you granted a small bit of freedom to look around. Even then, your space is limited to the few rooms immediately connected to the next obstacle.
Small, simple but clever puzzles help to heighten the tension and emphasize the urgency of the mission. Often, the solution relies on noticing a small detail in your surroundings and realizing its importance.

Just before the endgame, Doris and Max need to split up and tackle a different obstacle. The player needs to choose which problem to solve. On the path I chose, I encountered a glorious multi-step problem with a variety of machines to fiddle with. Anyone who has played Metamorphoses or Savoir Faire will recognize the vintage Emily Short-style devices.

Throughout the entire game, I had the impression of a very "full" game-world. Partly, this is because there are so many objects to examine (and take with you) and devices to experiment with. Another reason is that there are constantly things happening around you: the status of the evil plan is announced through speakers, guards are flying up and down and you get updates when Max (or Doris) has achieved a sub-goal when you are separated.

In such a well-written and smoothly playing game, it was very odd to encounter a very weird bug: on two occasions (once when I switched to Max and once at the very end), the parser prompt simply disappeared. I could still type and enter commands, but they showed up right at the end of the previous paragraph and in the same font as the descriptive text. Not a problem for continuing the game, but very disconcerting at first. I was surprised at how much the standard layout of bold commands followed by smaller descriptions was a visual handhold for me.

A hilarious action-packed parody game with an impressively intricate puzzle-engine under the hood.



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