Ratings and Reviews by Rovarsson

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The Gift of What You Notice More, by Xavid and Zan
Rovarsson's Rating:

Assembly, by Ben Kirwin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Dark Worship through DIY-furniture., December 6, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

It’s been a long day, but you might as well assemble this last little table. Even though you don’t remember picking it from the racks of a certain furniture store that will not be mentioned by name…

All this DIY furniture has funny names, and this particular table is called “Dölmen”. Hmmm… It looks a bit like a one too. Upon looking a bit closer, you’re sucked in and transported to…

The protagonist has no idea yet, but the player has read the intro. The Old Norse Gods want to return, and they found the ritualistic nature of kneeling down in the living room, slavishly following instructions from a poorly printed booklet to map quite organically onto religious service to Them. In short, each desk or cabinet strengthens them and widens the archway into our universe.

Fortunately, in a way that reminds me of Pratchett’s Colour of Magic, the universe has a strong sense of self-preservation. Why that means exactly you must be the saviour of reality, no one knows. Maybe you’re an offshoot of an ancient royal bloodline or something. Anyway, save the world!

By assembling and disassembling furniture.

Apart from a few problems finding the appropriate verb caused by the fact that for much of the time you’re reading the instruction booklets backwards, meaning that you need the antonyms of the verbs used in the instructions, the (dis)assembly work went smoothly. (Not even one missing screw. Assembly does not follow the realistic simulationist path here.)

Actually, the booklets almost serve as a magic tome would in a fantasy game. A series of incantations that, when properly intoned, change the physical reality around you.
The real puzzles therefore are where to find the booklets, and where to practice the magic contained therein. One of these had me perplexed for a good time ((Spoiler - click to show)bringing the wardrobe to the lamp, instead of the other way round.)
The map is small but very effective. I loved the (Spoiler - click to show)"twisty little passages" in the description of the showroom.

After a spectacular large-scale endgame puzzle, it was unclear to me how to actually WIN the game. There are two options (I stumbled into one before I had a chance to try the other, which was a good/bad thing, depending on personal priorities.) One of them wins by (Spoiler - click to show)getting the hell out of there and letting the store burn. The other loses by (Spoiler - click to show)trying to do the heroic thing and confronting the Old Gods in their Cairn. Being a hero isn’t always the right thing, ask Susan Sto-Lat.

I was hungry for some backstory on the Old God’s cultists, maybe in a sort of “Meanwhile…” non-interactive intermezzos?

Good fun game, some tricky puzzles. Big show piece of a final disassembly!

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LUNIUM, by Ben Jackson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Keys and cuffs., December 4, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

(Review based on the IFComp version of the game.)

Without reading the blurb, I had expectations of a SF or fantasy work in which Lunium could be the setting’s rare unobtainium used for magical potions or as fuel for FTL-travel. Perhaps it would be mined on a distant moon of an uninhabited planet, or it could only be activated when mixed with dewdrops under the light of the moon.

Not so. Lunium is a combination detective mystery/escape room game. You wake up in a securely locked room, chained to the wall. Your memories are vague and confused, your vision blurred. You must have been drugged…
No points for originality, but it is a solid opening, a staple of IF.

You do remember, aided by the first few objects you find, that you are a detective on the verge of solving a series of horrible murders. Now you must get out and stop the murderer.

Searching the surroundings yields keys and combinations. Unlocking drawers and safes yields clues. Investigating, analysing, combining those clues yields information about witnesses and suspects. This information can then be used to start the cycle anew.

As with a lot of escape games, the puzzles felt forced. It strains the suspension of disbelief that everything you need to escape the room and solve the crime just happens to be lying around (more or less hidden/locked away) in the very location where you’re imprisoned. In this case though, this is justified in the (rather transparent) twist ending. Still, the ending cannot negate the impression of “Oh! How convenient. I’m finding keys all around.” that I had during the game.

Many puzzles do share a common theme (hinted at in the title) that ties them together and gives a nice sense of consistency. (Except (Spoiler - click to show)the colours on the back of the painting associated with the coins in your pocket. Come on, really?)

The character sketches of the suspects/witnesses were intruiging, but too fragmentary to hold my interest in the end. I would have liked more exposition on the relationships between them, and of the circumstances in which my PC came to interrogate or investigate them. Perhaps in some more elaborate flashbacks?

Lunium is aesthetically pleasing, with beautiful and detailed pictures of the room and the details within it. The option to view and enlarge the items in the inventory is well handled and very player-friendly.

A pretty and puzzly Twine to keep your grey cells pleasantly occupied for about an hour.

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Detective Osiris, by Adam Burt

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Murder-solving amongs the Gods, December 4, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

(Review based on the IFComp version of the game.)

This title interested me because it brings together two elements that I would not have expected to see connected so closely. An ancient Egyptian god as a Detective.

Since I was a child, I have been fond of mythology. The story of Osiris and Isis always struck me as particularly dark. The victim, murdered for power, brought back to life through love, has lost something in the process and chooses to not return to the light but rule the underworld instead.

In Detective Osiris, you awaken from death in the glade of Thoth. Previously King of Egypt, the ritual performed by your wife Isis has brought you back as a god.

With my expectations formed by my memories of the source material, I was in for a big surprise when I started reading Detective Osiris. The playful tone of the story clashed hard with the sombre atmosphere I had imagined beforehand. A pleasant surprise, I must stress, as the first conversation with Thoth, god of writing and judgement, brought a big smile to my face.

The lightheartedness continues in the meetings with the other gods. Maat, goddess of justice and cosmic order, comes across as an ever-enthusiastic fangirl; Ges, creator of earth and humanity is a stoner who can’t stop bingewatching his favourite show: life on earth.

The investigation becomes a bit more serious once you start interrogating people down on earth, where at least some of them can empathise with the fact that being murdered isn’t fun.

Although the lighthearted tone and the detective-story twist held my attention for a while, the game ultimately couldn’t live up to the quality of its playful tone.
The most impactful choices the player can make are where to go first, the order in which to interrogate witnesses. This would juggle the sequence of the conversations around, and maybe give a different impression depending on the order.
While the witnesses, like the gods, are fun to talk to, the conversations basically become a chore of link-hoovering. There’s a riddle (can’t have an Egyptian story without a riddle now, can we?) and a number-puzzle thrown in, but nothing resembling a real obstacle, be it a puzzle or a difficult choice.

The author did surprise me again with the ending, twisting the source material around once more in a way that I did not see coming. I’m still not sure if I like the direction in which the original story was changed, but points at least for shaking it up.

A fun read to begin, but loses its freshness.

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Death on the Stormrider, by Daniel M. Stelzer

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Hide-and-seek for your brother's life!, December 3, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

I had a dream: The Doors were performing a sweaty, breathtaking drawn-out version of Riders on the Storm when David Suchet’s finely mustachioed Poirot appeared onstage and pointed accusingly at Jim Morrison. Jim jumped off the stage, right into the arms of the waiting Hastings.
It’s safe to say this title intrigued me, while at the same time expert-fingeredly tickling my funny-bone.

In reality, Death on the Stormrider has more in common with Poirot than with The Doors.

Your brother has found passage on the cargo-airship “Stormrider” for the both of you, provided that you make yourself useful onboard. The ship’s cook is found murdered and your brother is the only one who had the keys to the mess at the time. He’s locked in the brig until the ship boards at the next harbour.
It’s up to you to find evidence of your brother’s innocence.

Since your brother’s locked up for murder, you yourself are eyed with some suspicion. Nevertheless, you remain free to roam most parts of the ship. A number of passageways and rooms are off-limits, and you are severely limited in what you are allowed to carry around with you. (Or so the game keeps insisting. You are limited to items small enough that they could conceivably be concealed in your hand or clothing. However, given the amount of small stuff I was carrying by the end of the game, I suspect there’s a limitless hammerspace somewhere under your character’s suspenders of disbelief…)

The ship left the harbour in a hurry , running on a skeleton crew (which was also the reason for your hasty recruitment). Even then, with the cramped spaces between the cargo and the crew all having their own rounds and routines, having to do several duties at once, it’s hard to conduct a thorough investigation.
You do need to get into the off-limits spaces and carry around pieces of evidence, so you have to find ways to get past and around blocked off entrances and working crewmembers unnoticed.

The objective of the game is finding evidence. The core of the gameplay is hide-and-seek. Get to know the crew’s routines, find hiding spots on their routes or hidden passages around their locations. Time your actions so you can slip through the gaps between the other crew members. It gets even more complicated and exciting once you try to manipulate the others’ circulations through the ship to create your own opportunities for espionage and investigation…

The many independently moving NPCs, the different consequences of open/closed containers, the machinery of the ship having sometimes far-off effects,… These things are dependent on a great number of moving cogs and chains and toggles under the hood. I found some hiccups, but mostly the gears interlocked as needed and turned smoothly. The bugs I did encounter were minor, and the suspense of the game was good enough that I could overlook them.

This gameplay of hide-and-seek had the effect that the considerable suspense I felt was aimed at my own (the player’s) success, rather than being directed at the protagonist’s troubles or the fate of his brother. While sneaking around, I felt tension about finding a hiding place in time. I wasn’t very concerned about or emotionally engaged with the characters though.

The mechanics of the gameplay have their consequences for the writing too. It’s important that the player has a good idea where the NPCs are relative to the PC’s location at all times to be able to avoid them or hide in time. In the desfriptions, the bottom few lines are reserved for a list of distinctive footsteps the PC can hear. A single line of text has information about which character’s steps they are, how far that character is away, and which direction the character is going.

“Just forward, you can hear sharp, measured footsteps approaching.”

These lines are actually very well-written, condensing a lot of information into smooth prose. They are repetitive though, and when there are several characters within earshot, there are also several lines of this in the location descriptions. For a while, this can be a bit annoying. Soon however, my brain just started glancing over this text while filtering out the necessary information.
For an unavoidable trade-off between pleasant prose and indispensable game information, I think this solution found a good balance.

I absolutely loved finding my way around Death on the Stormrider's map. The (beautifully drawn) map in the feelies already gives an impression of how much rooms have to be crammed in a small space on an airship. It was only by exploring the decks myself during play, drawing the map room by room, with all the barriers and hindrances in full effect, that I became aware of the whole complexity of the game world.

The author employs a simple yet effective tactic for avoiding conversations with the other people on the ship: they speak another language and can’t understand you. Also, they’re busy working and wave you away if you interrupt them. Talking to them is not necessary to get a good impression of their character though. Everyone has distinct mannerisms (evident in the way they walk), their attitude toward you is quite obvious through a mixture of body-language and unintelligible-but-clear-in-context speech.
For each character, the X command also prints a beautiful drawing, which together with the text-description gives a good picture of their personality.

All these drawings, with the accompanying text, can be reviewed at leisure in the wonderful tablet you find in the very first room of the game. It serves as a notebook for clues, a reminder of tasks to do and places to visit, and a recapitulation of your investigation so far and the people you encountered.
Great addition, and well worth taking a number of turns near the end of the game to look back over all you’ve learned.

The endings (yes, there’s more than one!) felt a bit luck-of-the-draw to me. It’s not clear (ar least not to me) what the consequences were of showing this or that piece of evidence to one of the various crew members. Their behaviour toward the PC, dismissive, neutral, or halfway friendly, didn’t offer enough (any) clues as to how they would react to my revealing of the evidence.

An exciting investigation, with some unexpected complications and a bunch of different endings, depending on how meticulous your search is. Good game!

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Tricks of light in the forest, by Pseudavid

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Woodland Wonder, December 3, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

A very intruiging title. I didn’t know what to expect. The “tricks” part made me think of magicians or wizards at first. The game certainly has a magical air, albeit of a more realistic nature.

My parents’ house is surrounded by farmlands in all directions. A mile or so down the narrow road is a small forest. There were no children my age in the street where I grew up. My favourite passtime after school was exploring nature around my house, catching (and releasing) spiders, crane flies (we call them horse mosquitos), grasshoppers, etc… And no, my best friend is not a tiger…

Lara wakes up before sunrise and heads into the woods near the village with her sample box. She’s looking for stuff she might take to school for show-and-tell, and also just out of curiosity and wonder.

At first, Tricks of Light in the Forest comes across as a slice-of-life walk in the forest. Your sense of touch, smell, taste, are as much part of the experience of your surroundings as sight. Nature in all its forms is described in loving detail. Trees and flowers and moss in terms of their fragrance, colour, soft leaves or hard and brittle bark. Bugs up close with shiny beetle shields, dew-glistening spiderwebs, larger animals mostly heard instead of seen.

During the long walk, more and more images and memories and stories about Lara, her parents, the village’s history are triggered by the surrounding forest. These are personal to Lara, showing just a small part of her life here. Put together however, they lead to a fragmented realisation in the player of the broader setting. ((Spoiler - click to show)Twenty, maybe fifty years into the future. Global warming is in full effect, though not in a dramatic post-apocalyptic way. Trees are dying in the drought and uprooted by sudden rainfalls. Species have disappeared and others have migrated into the area. The cities are partly abandoned, skyscrapers are crumbling down.)

The subtle and gradual introduction of these elements into the story has an unsettling effect on the player, but for Lara they are part of her life in this place. She is aware of the changes through stories her parents tell her, and through events during her lifetime, but these things are simply part of the natural flow of things in her experience.

We get to share her view on the woods through an intimate first person viewpoint, with her fears and delights intertwined with her observations of nature.

Later in the game, some puzzles are introduced in a spontaneous manner, blockades and obstacles one might reasonably expect in a forest that has been returning to its wild state for many years now. Their solutions are not that hard, they serve more to force Lara off the beaten track and penetrate deeper into the forest where she witnesses more of the changes to the environment.

Tricks of Light in the Forest is beautifully illustrated, with drawings reminiscent of images out of old natural history books. When Lara reaches notable landmarks, a handdrawn map pops up and shows her progress on the forest path.
Most impressive and impactful are the subtly changing colours and intensity of the background, depending on the lighting of the location (bright sunlight, overshadowed by the canopy,…), or reflecting the time of day (early morning fog, noon sun,…).

A deep, slow, thoughtful piece. Beautiful and detailed descriptions of nature. Themes of loss and wonder and inevitable change. Nature in all its flowing resilience.

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Shanidar, Safe Return, by Cecilia Dougherty

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Ancestral Haven, November 29, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

A band of Cro-Magnons has raided the camp and killed most of the group. The Neanderthals must run and find a safe haven elsewhere.

Shanidar shows an impressive amount of research into the time period of its setting: western Europe around 40.000 years ago. It’s clear that the author is invested in learning about this age, whether as a student, professional, or an interested layman.
A lot of information gleamed from archaeological evidence about the people living then is included. Travel routes, boat/raft building, burial habits, cave shrines,… Different species of homo walked the same region of earth in that time, and must have interacted.
Atop these mostly verifiable facts, the author builds and expands the inner world of the characters through plausible, believable speculation about religious rituals, a shared mythology and oral history, the nature of relationships between individuals, tribes and across the homo-species of the time.

Although the amount of research is impressive, it’s also a bit overwhelming, and it doesn’t always serve the story the author is trying to tell. The insistence on giving every bit of present-day knowledge about the then-living humans a place in the spotlight hinders a clear focus for the story, and for the reader to latch onto.
The pace and focus of the story would be sharper if some details were left vague, mentioned in passing, implied instead of explicitated, left to the imagination.
Less intrusive details help in building a convincing world through an engaging narrative. In Shanidar, I sometimes felt as if the author was giving a lecture, a recapitulation of our present knowledge of humans around 40.000 BC, superficially disguised as an adventure story to hold the attention of those students in the back row.

I liked the overarching structure of the narrative. It’s divided in three chapters.
The first has a tight focus on a small group of people during a short period of time. The survivors of the hostile raid, frantically trying to save their lives and at the same time regroup, to reconnect with other survivors.
The next chapter opens up, with the main group having found each other and taking time to get their bearings. This chapter covers months, with meandering and branching storylines for different individuals, encounters with other groups of people, and boats/rafts (+1 boatiness).
In the final chapter, a newly formed tribe has found its balance, and the story becomes more focused again, with the destination, Shanidar, in sight.

Each screen has the text overlaid on top of a line drawing (white on black) of a subject or character from the description above it. These are beautiful and resonating in their simplicity, capturing the flowing lines of a lion’s shoulders, a woman’s hair falling over her shoulders, or the expression on the face of a shaman with only a few precise lines.

The evolution from a core group of characters, meeting others, joining with, intermingling, and splitting from other tribes means a lot of personalities play a part in the story. All of them have their own background, often sketched in but a few lines that succeed in giving a clear picture. All of them have a definite role in the narrative as it unfolds.

Among all these individuals is Haizea, the “You”-character. But the reader doesn’t need to follow her closely, and in the overall story she doesn’t get more attention than many of the others. Maybe the author felt the need to include some sort of PC, to make the person interacting with the story an engaged player more than a distanced reader.

In fact, there is no, can be no true player character. The position of the player with respect to the events in the story, the kind of choices presented preclude the player from entering the world.
Shanidar; Safe Return consists of a fully pre-existing story, a narrative set in stone. No choices the player makes can change anything about the occurrences, nor give the illusion they do. This is because there are no in-game character-driven options. All choices are instead directed at the player, commanding the bird’s eye narrator to zoom in on certain events or characters.
Within the pre-existing set of events, the player chooses which character to focus on for the next story-bit. She can opt to follow one character for a long sequence of links, or hop around and check in on the circumstances of separate individuals.
Time moves forward with each choice, meaning that the exploits of the others will go unseen in this playthrough, and can only be inferred later from descriptions after the fact. (If the player chose not to follow a certain character on the hunt, she will see the kill being dragged into camp at a later time.)

This is a brilliant idea, allowing the player to direct the narrator to recount events that she thinks are most interesting at the time, while the rest of the characters go about their business, have their own adventures outside of the immediate narrative.
The execution of this idea in Shanidar lacks precision though. There are often gaps where storylines don’t meet up, or assumptions of player knowledge about occurences the reader didn’t see.

Nevertheless, a very interesting experiment in interactive storytelling at the reader level, allowing exploration or the narrative lines themselves, instead of finer grained control of a PC’s choices and actions.

Flawed, but very interesting.

I used the term “story-bits” above. I might as well have said “story-bullets”. Indeed, the text is divided in very short, compact paragraphs, two or three per link. A summing-up of bullet-points in distanced descriptive sentences.

This works well a lot of the time, as it reflects the narrator’s bird’s eye view, giving a dispassionate account of the goings-on in this place or that. In some places however, when especially emotional or violent events are happening, I would have liked for the author to unpack the compact paragraphs a bit further and give the content of the text more breathing room.

The story as a whole is a traditional yet engaging travel account. A hurried start, a time of preparation and exposition, the final trek to the promised destination. It’s an archetypal narrative structure, one that echoes and vibrates within humans.

A captivating work, a great gameplay idea. Full of potential and possibilities for greatness that didn’t fully come to fruition in this case. Shanidar; Safe Return is part of a series, so I’ll be sure to follow up on it and see how the author develops this vision.

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Hand Me Down, by Brett Witty

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A new perspective on Grandad's mansion, November 29, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Ruby’s riding the bus, on her way to the hospital. Her father’s not well at all, and Ruby’s struggling, wanting to see and hug him as fast as possible but at the same time reluctant to see him sick, postponing the confrontation with her dad in a bed in a too-white room.

There’s been a rise lately of a new genre or side-branch within IF: Works where the main game is embedded within a frame-story which opens a perspective on the protagonist and the (fictional) writer, which colours the player’s interpretation of the events. In Repeat the Ending and LAKE Adventure, what would have been a rather standard text-adventure on its own gains a more complex meaning and narrative depth by the player’s experience being informed by the frame-story.

Hand Me Down's prologue introduces Ruby and her father, Miles Walker, in a slice-of-life choice-based manner. The choices have no immediate consequences for the rest of the game, the player can choose to rush to the hospital room, or go with Ruby’s reluctance and opt for a number of delaying activities without special punishment or reward. The simple presence of the choices as a depiction of Ruby’s worries is enough to put the player in the right mindset for what follows.
Once Ruby is with her father, he is quickly wheeled off for medical tests. Before that, however, he offers her a much-belated present: a game he has written in TADS3 for her sixteenth birthday.

-A Very Important Date-
The main game, considered outside of the frame-story, is a straightforward treasure hunt. There’s a party going on in the back garden of the manor, but no one, not even you, the birthday girl, is allowed without an invitation, a costume, and something to share with the other guests.

The manor has an expansive map which is almost completely open for exploration from the start. There are outdoor and indoor regions, some rooms with unexpected functions, and loads of stuff to examine and investigate.
Simple (but thorough) exploration will yield a great harvest of objects, some necessary to gain entrance to the party, some apparently just stuff lying around, either on its own or as left-overs from finding another object in or under them. The inventory can become quite unwieldy if you should choose to hang on to everything. Leaving items behind might mean that you lack a crucial object for a puzzle you have yet to encounter… I picked a convenient central stash-spot to dump everything I didn’t regard as useful at the time.

Puzzles range from simple lock-and-key to clever physics to fiendishly difficult multi-step decoding, and even dating. (In the historical sense, that is.) This latter variety absolutely requires the use of outside sources to solve, something generally frowned upon in IF. In A Very Important Date however, with its game-within-game setup, it’s not only justified but could even be leveraged to deepen the player’s engagement. (More on that below.)
The “fiendishly difficult” puzzles could be brought down to simply “perplexing at first” by a scrupulous pruning and streamlining of the gameplay relating to those puzzles. More gentle nudges toward a solution when the player is flailing around aimlessly, cleaning up some of the clutter in rooms with such a puzzle so the pertinent parts are more readily visible.

In fact, the implementation as a whole is rather uneven. For most of the game, it’s more than adequate, splendidly surprising even in some instances where examining bits of scenery returns a beautiful reverie about the sun’s rays, or in one memorable instance, a not entirely shabby freestyle rap. In other parts though it seems the author fell victim to a heavy bout of implementation fatigue, leaving all but the most immediate objects undescribed and thus dropping much of the moodsetting scenery descriptions aside. At one point I joked with the author in a PM that I could read his state of mind through the depth of implementation, whether he was in the creative flow or stressing against time, playful and free or distracted and worried.

The same criticism holds for the writing. Here and there the descriptions feel cluttered, grating sentences and elegance lost. This actively works against clear visualisation of the surroundings by the player. It makes me suspect that the author too did not have as coherent an image of the room as he wished, or that more time was needed to sort the important and unimportant bits.
This said, there are true flashes of brilliance too. The Vegetable Garden with its compost heap, or (my personal favourite) the Statue Garden with its intricately carved figures are a beauty to imagine, and made a lasting visual impression on me.

For any other game, I could close the review here, concluding that I had fun with this challenging and satisfying treasure-hunt puzzler, and that it might benefit from another run through the testing mill. With Hand Me Down however, I have only laid bare the superficially obvious. The game-within-game approach deepens the emotional response I had, widens the range of interpretation considerably.


Throughout A Very Important Date, there are reminders of the “real world” of the prologue. The author, Miles Walker, Ruby’s father (!), has left pictures, notes, letters, all kinds of information about his own life and that of his father, Ruby’s grandfather, around the manor. Perhaps these started as little Easter eggs for his daughter to find, little tidbits about her family’s history to discover in her birthday present. Along the way, however, Miles has begun using his writing of A Very Important Date as a way to capture intimate lost moments, ventilate anger and grief, remember or break down turning points in his own life.

The PC-Ruby in A Very Important Date remains a typical underdescribed player character in an old school adventure game, frozen in excited exploration and casually conversing with funny animals. Miles Walker understandably wrote her like this, expecting his real-life daughter to project her personal feelings of joy and discovery onto this digital placeholder. This PC-Ruby shows no emotional response to her father’s sadness and frustration evident in the notes he hid in the game. But, with the Ruby from the prologue still echoing in our minds, we can only imagine the effect this all has on that girl sitting in the too-white hospital room with the laptop on her lap…

This is where the intense emotional impact of Hand Me Down lies for me: In keeping in mind that I am not playing A Very Important Date, I am playing Ruby who is playing as herself in this text adventure her father made for her as a deeply personal gift. I’m channeling this girl in the too-white hospital room, shaken by worry about her sick father, learning intimate details of her father’s life she didn’t know or realise. My mind’s eye kept flashing back and forth between the manor, where my PC was doing all this fun and frustrating stuff, jumping through the hoops as we make our adventure PCs do, and the too-white hospital room where Ruby is typing commands onto the keyboard, worried about her father, maybe crying…

This invites further speculation about this tangled web of of relations. If the player is channeling Ruby playing PC-Ruby, then what of the fictional author? Miles Walker, Ruby’s father, is a character in Hand Me Down. He’s the in-game writer of A Very Important Date. While he was struggling with TADS3’s containers, was Brett Witty channeling Miles Walker as he is seen by the player?

The continued tension between levels of reality, the juxtaposition of the girl exploring the manor and the girl crying in the too-white hospital room, lift Hand Me Down to a degree of sophistication, a height of complexity above and beyond the qualities of the surface adventure. The characterisation and emotional weight set by the prologue reverberate throughout the game-within-game, the father’s intimate intrusions serve as a bridge, feeding “real-world” feelings into the imaginary adventure, regularly jolting the player’s realisation of the wider story in which she is taking part.

It is here that I think there is a great opportunity for the puzzles requiring out-of-game resources to play a significant role in leveraging the identification of the player with Ruby, and in more closely entangling the text-adventure with the frame-story. The father, aware of the fact that his daughter is an adventure-novice, could break the in-game fourth wall to leave little encouraging remarks, explaining to her that she might need to look up some information in an encyclopaedia. (“Hey Ruby-doo! I’m glad you’ve already made this much progress. If you found this note in the skull, you might want to open up Wikipedia.”) This would strengthen the in-game father-daughter bond, and it would also alert the player to do what Ruby’s father says: prepare to do some out-of-game research.

Bugs and momentary lapses in implementation aside, Hand Me Down had me deeply engaged for more than five hours (fortunately I remembered to enter my rating at the 2h-mark).

Remember: The player is not you. The player is Ruby, the girl in the too-white hospital room, worried sick about her dad, crying over the “treasures” of her father’s intimate revelations her adventure-counterpart discovers in the family manor.

Very moving.
----wipes dust speck from left eye----

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How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title, by John Ziegler
Rovarsson's Rating:

Hallowmoor, by Mike Snyder

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Infiltrate the Witches' Castle, September 29, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Mwoohahaa! The time and tide of the blood moon is there. A moon of power, the only time when a disembodied spirit becomes strong enough to perform the art of Spectral Shifting and reclaim the physical body you need to have some real impact on the world.

Hallowmoor's opening screen with a red-on-black drawing of a medieval stronghold immediately sets the tone. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a puzzle to get from there into the game proper. The player has to take a detour via the "Load/Save" button to find the "Play" option.

It took some getting used to the gameplay. There are a lot of links in the short descriptive paragraphs, many of which lead to exposition text or more detailed descriptions of scenery. At times, I got the feeling I was in an unintentional labyrinth of links, especially with the various words leading to the same passages (justified by the need to maintain the flow of the prose.)

After stumbling through the first handful of screens though, I developed a nose for navigating these connections and play began to feel more fluent.

Hallowmoor is very much an old-school game focused on exploration, experimentation and object-manipulation. To accomodate this in a choice-engine, the majority of fine-grained actions like TAKE or USE are automated. The parser-like hands-on touch is preserved by requiring the player to be in the exact passage of text before succesfully using an object. (For example, opening the cupboard with the crowbar won't work in the kitchen. The player first has to click the link to the cupboard description for it to work. Note: there are no cuboards or crowbars in the game.)

The most notable feature of the game is the aforementioned Spectral Shift magic mechanic. It allows the player to switch PCs with different skills and sensitivities. To complicate matters, the two characters come from opposing sides in a battle between their peoples, meaning they must never be in the same location together lest they kill each other. This adds a layer of spatial puzzle-solving to the basic text-adventure obstacles, forcing the player to consider where and when to move which character with some planning and consideration.

A surprising addition is the incorporation of a game-within-the-game. In a certain location, the player can play through a mini-text-game. I strongly suspect that this is where that lousy last point is hidden. (I never found it...)

An engaging and challenging puzzle-choice game.

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