Ratings and Reviews by Rovarsson

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Aisle, by Sam Barlow
Rovarsson's Rating:

Opening Night, by David Batterham
A rose for a star., June 27, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

A bouncer looks down his nose at you. "So sorry to inform you, sir, but we do have a dress code here. If you would be so kind to adhere to it or shove off. Please."

Opening Night starts out with a straightforward puzzle: find a way past the bouncer and into the theatre. We meet our player character, who seems to be a somewhat obsessed fan of the lead singer/actress in the play this evening. His insistence upon getting in goes two ways: it garners sympathetic feelings for his obvious and honest admiration for the show's leading lady, but it also verges on the edge of creepiness.

In later chapters however, the need to get a personal meeting with the actress falls away as the prime motivation of the game as it transforms into another story altogether.

There are puzzles, but they serve mostly as a means to get the player more deeply involved with the story.Away to elicit a deeper emotional response as the game goes through its metamorphosis.

In the end, Opening Night is a short and compressed tale centered around the eponymous pivotal night in the protagonist's life. While the game shows us only scenes from the theatre and its immediate surroundings and never elaborates on the player character's personal life, Opening Night still manages to somehow imply the protagonist's entire life story. We are given just enough hints to let the imagination take over and fill in the blank years.

Very strong storytelling.

Sunday Afternoon, by Christopher Huang (as Virgil Hilts)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Escape from death-by-boredom, June 27, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Your devout and upstanding uncle and aunt probably have nothing but the best intentions for a young boy like you, but being cooped up reading a sermon while the sun is shining and the birds are whistling is hellworthy torture.

How to get out from under your aunt's watchful eyes to enjoy what's left of this wonderful afternoon?

Sunday Afternoon is a very small game if measured by its map. Five rooms total. Two of those rooms however are so chockful of things to examine that they count double at the very least. A lot of souvenirs and books and bric-a-brac, all with a history.

This ties in to the kind of puzzles in the game. Rather than manipulating some machinery, you have to deal with the people keeping you indoors, and the objects in the rooms hold the key. Finding your uncle and aunt's weak spots, their buttons if you will, requires careful attention to their reactions in conversation and a certain knowledge of their habits and character.

While it is (in theory) entirely possible to finish the game successfully in a flawless runthrough, it's actually recommended that you do a fair amount of flailing around and trying unsuccessful actions multiple times. In a framing story flash-forward reminiscent of Spider & Web, the hapless player will discover a bitterweet justification for the unrealistical behaviour that is typical of the protagonist in a text adventure. It's worth taking a moment to let the circumstances of this framing story sink in. Think about what it means for the actual game/story you're playing/reading.

A very clever small escape game with unexpected depth.

L: A Mathemagical Adventure, by members of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics co-ordinated by Richard Phillips, and including Derek Ball, Tony Corbett, David Rooke, Heather Scott, Alan Shaw, Margaret Stevens, Ruth Townsend, Jo Waddingham, Roger Waddingham, John Warwick, Alan Wigley, John Wood, and David Wooldridge.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Perfect form., June 25, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

[I played on the BeebEm emulator]

In the early 1980s BBC Micro computers were getting widely distributed in English schools. A group of members of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (cool acronym -> ATOM) decided to use the Micro and its ability to play text games as a teaching tool.

While they were at it, they also managed to create a fantastic text-adventure.

The intro swoops you from a soothing pastoral outdoors scene (lying in the grass under a tree, your sister reading a book, birds chittering in the sun... my imagination may be filling in some details) to the halls and corridors of a puzzle-palace.

L: A Mathemagical Adventure came out in 1984. It has a two-word parser that sometimes left me scratching my head, figuring out how to phrase a command. Nothing that kept me for too long though. There is no VERBOSE option, so when you re-enter a room you need to LOOK if you've forgotten where the exits were. And forget about EXAMINE. What's in the room description is all you're going to get.

Despite these limitations, the setting and the writing do not feel sparse at all. Upon first entering a room, you are treated to a clear and sometimes elaborate description that paints an evocative atmosphere of a now-dark abandoned palace.

Abandoned? Not completely.

A Drogon Robot Guard appears! These adversaries come at you at random intervals and try to imprison you. Defeating them is one of the simpler puzzles of the game, but I urge you to at least let them take you to the cell once. Escaping is fun!

Spread across the map, there are a number of NPCs. These are of the cardboard cutout variety, but they are introduced in vivid descriptions. Some need your help, some offer to help you. Invariably, you will need to solve a math-related problem to obtain the clues or objects they have to offer.

As should be clear from the title and the creators, the puzzles are all in some way related to mathematics. There are a lot of different approaches though. There is code-breaking, geometrical puzzling, logical reasoning and some straightforward calculation. In many puzzles, your imagination is supported by colourful visual representations.
I found all the puzzles fair and solvable. I did however sneak a peek at Wikipedia for some of the mathematical terminology I did not know. (Perfect squares and cubes.)

L: A Mathemagical Adventure is a great game for the avid map maker that I am. Despite being a mathematics-inspired game, the map is anything but orderly or symmetrical. Upstairs, downstairs, indoors and outdoors, tunnels looping back, a small maze and an octogonal room with exits on all sides. I had a lot of fun with my coloured markers.

There is some kind of plot going on about rescuing a girl who knows the weaknesses of the Drogon Overlords. Even if you save the girl from captivity though, this plot is never quite resolved. Maybe ATOM wanted to leave room for a sequel? But the plot is not what drives this game. It's all about nifty puzzles and great atmosphere.

A real treat!

Mrs. Pepper's Nasty Secret, by Jim Aikin and Eric Eve

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Well-peppered; could use a bit more salt., June 25, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The neighborhood-crazy-lady has taken your skateboard away! Your plan is to get it back. Preferably without falling into her claws yourself.

I have a thing for this kind of setting. The one creepy house in an otherwise friendly street where the children cross when they have to go by. Where the adults secretly want to cross too, were it not for the adult-voices telling them not to be ridiculous...
(I think this goes back to my reading The Dark Tower Pt.3 at a young and impressionable age. The scenes where Jake has to go through the House/Guardian to get to Roland on the other side haunted my dreams for weeks.)

Sometimes it's a long-abandoned ruin of a house. Sometimes there were people murdered in it and it's rumoured to be haunted.

In Mrs. Pepper's Nasty Secret it's the lone inhabitant that's scary. (Shhh... People whisper she's a witch...)

The introduction and the first part of the game do a very good job at establishing Mrs. Pepper as a child-hating, basketball-stabbing, skateboard-stealing hag. I wandered around on the sidewalk for some time before timidly setting foot on her driveway.

After the first big hurdle though, the game settles down a bit and leaves you to explore the house and its surroundings at your leisure.

Despite having a small map, Mrs Pepper makes very good use of the space. there are numerous locked-off locations to discover. In fact, most of the puzzles do exactly that: blocking parts of the house until you figure out some way to remove the obstacle (or simply find the keys...)

I liked chatting to the next-door NPC a lot. In between the gossip, there are clues and help.

A nifty and completely ridiculous (in a good way!) magic system is employed in the later stages of the game. It had me laughing when I visualized what my PC looked like while performing spells...

My hunger for a bit more salt has much to do with the game's context. It was entered in the 2008 IFBeginnersComp and as such is on the easy side. The important objects are basically right in front of your eyes, and in the one instance where they're not, the text nanny-clues you to the right command. There are pushy suggestions from the parser about what to type and a somewhat overzealous auto-correct feature. (These are nags from me taking the game away from its intended context and audience, not faults of the game or the authors.)

Good for beginners as well as more experienced players: the game sports an excellent gradual hint-system.

Actually, Mrs.Pepper's Nasty Secret accomplishes its goal admirably. It welcomes new players with all possible means. It has an engaging plot and interesting NPCs that both new and seasoned players can appreciate.

I just wish there was a "Hard" setting.

Well-written, smooth-playing creepy-house adventure entertainment, good to last you an hour or two/three. Recommended.

Foo Foo, by Buster Hudson
Cheesy dealings..., June 24, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Once again, your good nature got the better of you. (You are, after all, detective Good Fairy.) You hide Foo Foo, a suspected "bopper", putting off reporting him to the proper authorities while you investigate the case to your contentment.

Something deeper is brewing here in Fieldtown, and you want to get to the bottom of it...

Foo Foo is a "Fable Noir". All the characters are animal stand-ins for humans in a tale that's ultimately a reflection on human society. The animal characters further line up (more or less...) with the classic personages from a noir detective work. The thick-skinned detective with a secret sensitive side, the heel-turn friend, the louche bar owner/mobster. (Strangely, no mysterious dame with a husky voice and one of those slim cigarette pipes in the corner of her mouth…)

The story in its broad outlines, with its recognizable tropes and familiar pacing, follows the beats of a classic noir work to create and sustain the suspense. This makes it rather predictable in oversight.
However, tropes are tools, and the specific story they are used to tell in this instance is a deeply thoughtful one. Social inequality, money trumping law and a personal romantic backstory all come together.

This game has so many positives going for it. Great backstory and worldbuilding. Nuanced story with a shady morality. No problems with implementation, good and sometimes clever puzzles.

Then why was I left with a nagging feeling of disappointment after playing?

The map.

The structure of the map let me down. Well, the structure of the map ànd the description of the outdoors.

The game takes place on one straight street (alright, there's one bend...) that feels like a cardboard theatre decor. All the houses and shops that are relevant to the investigation are on the north side of that street. During the game, I kept hearing a tv-show host yelling in my ear: "Let's see what's behind door number three!"

(Actually, there is a back alley that becomes relevant later, but by then the tv host had taken up permanent residence in my forebrain.)

Small changes would have made a world of difference to my experience of the game surroundings. A fence and a construction site to block off the south side of the map for instance. Maybe a few streetmice peeping around a corner and a forgotten newspaper on the ground.

Great story, told in a very engaging style. A tad too quiet on the street.

The Bible Retold: Following a Star, by Justin Morgan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Pomegranate jam, for heaven's sake..., June 20, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Slice of Life

After much consulting of the prophecies and calculating the trajectory of the new, bright star in the heavens, it is confirmed. The foretold King of Jews is born! You must travel west to the land of Judea to lay precious gifts at his feet.

The first part of Following A Star is a puzzleless preparation of the journey ahead and an introduction of the main characters.

Melchior is the wise and knowledgeable one, the natural leader.
Gaspar is a boisterous and forward military man.
That leaves you, Balthasar, as... Well, especially in the first part you're mainly there for comic relief while you try to get on your camel only to fall off again three commands later. No worries, you get to show your true potential in later parts where you are given the responsability of obtaining suitable gifts for the prophecied child.

Melchior, Gaspar and a large number of other NPCs are deeply characterized. Even in the short descriptions and the limited conversation topics, each and every one of them has a few idiosyncratic properties and independent actions to set them apart.

The game hardly ever breaks character in its reponses. Many, many nonessential actions still get a customized reaction, often very funny. (Try walking into a wall in the presence of the camels...)

After the introduction, you arrive in a small town in Judea. This is where the game proper begins. You, Balthasar are tasked with finding three gifts to present to the child who we all know is Baby Jesus. The only necessary puzzles in this part all have to do with obtaining the gifts. These are relatively easy.
However, while looking around the town you will recognize a bunch of sidequests. Part of the motivation for completing these is that you gain points. The real motivation for any adventurer is of course that they're there. They're also more challenging and more fun than the necessary puzzles. (See if you can help the instrument vendor clean out his trumpet...)
I finished a handful of these sidequests and I still only got an endscore of 25 out of 42. Room for improvement and enticement to replay.

Having acquired the gifts, you must find your way through the desert to Jerusalem. To do so, a tricky mathematics puzzle stands in your way. Here, Following A Star is brilliant in wrapping up the puzzle in the context of the journey. You are given an astrolabe and an abacus and must deduce your position by observing the bright star. An otherwise dry calculation becomes an interesting and pressing navigational question that is justified in-game.

Less successful, I found, was a language puzzle where you have to decline the English nouns in your commands to a guard into garbled Latin. I studied Latin and Greek in high school, and the utterly unfunny pseudo-Latin phrases the game wanted me to construct drove me to just copying them from the walkthrough. (Compare constructing "Spanish" words by sticking "-os" at the endos. For realos...)

Fortunately, the finale redeemed the game brilliantly in my opinion. An ever sillier chase through the desert that reminded me of some of Monty Python's finest sketches.

Genuinely funny, some challenging puzzles, very good implementation and characterization. Recommended!

The Darkness of Raven Wood, by John Blythe

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Darn Werewolf!, June 15, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler

A disturbing letter has come from your old friend Raynard, the blacksmith in the town of Raven Wood. A new lord has come to inhabit the Manor, and sinister events have been happening since. Alarmed, you travel by carriage to meet him...

The Darkness of Raven Wood is an oldschool horror adventure. The two word parser can cause some guess-the-verb problems. Worse however is that the necessary verbs are used somewhat inconsistently. Case in point: the "Instructions" explicitly give the example of UNLOCK DOOR, which can even be abbreviated to UNLO DOOR, since the parser only takes the first four letters into consideration. However, when I found a locked door, I had to USE KEY instead. When at another point in the game I wanted to USE AXE when ATTACK [x] or CUT [x] or HIT [x] didn't work, it turns out I needed to SWING AXE. I feel this is a much more ambiguous situation than UNLOCK door, where USE would actually have been appropriate.
(EDIT: apparently the instructions on the rucksackgames website do specify SWING AXE and USE KEY. Just not in-game.)

These bits of parser wrangling are the only real criticism I can bring up as negatives.

The introduction sets a dark and oppressive mood which the sparse but efficient writing underscores. The frightening atmosphere is further enhanced by beautifully gloomy pixel art, among the best I have seen.

The game demands careful exploration of the map and thorough examining of the contents of the locations (no X, but you can abbreviate to EXAM). Most of the puzzles consist of simple application of objects in the right place. Some however require a good memory of locations previously explored, to make the associative leap that what you have just done here will have changed something there.

There are some areas where you will invariably lose your bearings. While it is necessary to search these thoroughly too, once you have done so there is a simple sequence of directional commands to get you out of the woods.
The cryptic hint list on the game's homepage is very helpful with this and other obstacles.

What started as an inquisitive exploration around the town at the beginning of Chapter I, becomes gradually darker and more frightening, especially when you enter the grounds of the Manor and then the house itself in Chapter II.

A good suspenseful and atmospheric horror game, somewhat hampered by the limited parser. Recommended.

Bane of the Builders, by Bogdan Baliuc
Rescue the professor!, June 10, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Some SF short stories can leave you numb and exhilarated at the same time as the repercussions of the twenty- or thirty-something pages you just read reverberate in your head. I'll just namedrop the first three that pop into my reverberating head to show off a bit: Hawksbill Station by Robert Silverberg, Nightfall by Isaac Asimoc, Second Variety by Philip K. Dick.

Now stop to think for a moment. I can't be sure about anyone else, but I must have read hundreds of SF short stories that were less awe-inspiring, brain-shaking or mind-shattering. Less memorable each on its own perhaps, but all of them added up to a pile of more vague or diluted memories of enjoyable evenings and chilling nights and exciting afternoons spent with my nose in this or that SF-collection. Taken together, those less memorable stories have undeniably given me many more pleasant hours than the aforementioned three and their likes.

Bane of the Builders falls squarely in that second category.

It's a competently written and coded adventure. An engaging, if not very original, storyline.

It has a very cool trick where the surroundings shimmer and then things change all around you. (Reminiscent of a glitch in that movie that couldn't decide if it wanted to do magical kung-fu or just shoot everything to smithereens and then proceeded to do both... Not that anything like that happens in Bane of the Builders after the shimmer effect, but... I just got carried a way a bit there, okay.)

I had fun finding my way through the maze. The map is easily visualized, the impression of the alien base hanging in an underground cavern still lingers in my imagination.

The puzzles are not clued well enough, but persistence pays off (or the walkthrough, if you just want to experience the story.)

The end game is challenging but also a bit underclued. I had to fill in some blanks with my own imagination to get a coherent picture of why things did or didn't work.

But, all in all, a well crafted game and a well told story. One to put on the slowly growing pile of enjoyable afternoons playing a SF game while it rained outside.

Gerbil Riot of '67, by Simon Avery
Crazy people as puzzle fodder, June 9, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

A title like The Gerbil Riot of '67 makes my imagination run wild and almost overflow. Scenarios of little mammals running the streets, scaring good citizens into their houses and locking the doors flash before my eyes.
But the title isn't used in that way. I'd like to say it's more akin to the great Calvin & Hobbes' "The Noodle Incident", or "The Llama Incident" from Milo Murphy's Law, that is, an event of great import to the protagonists' life that is never explained but often referenced, and obviously casts a shadow over their ongoing existence.
This game tries halfheartedly to make "The Gerbil Riot" an incident of the second kind, but after a short reference in the introduction the whole little-mammalian-uprising is forgotten and left by the roadside.

Disappointing. (I'm not apologizing for ruining this because of all of the things below. The game's just not worth hushing about to keep people's expectations up.)

What follows instead is silliness. I like silliness. But I also like some substance with or underneath my silliness. I didn't get it here.

You're being held in an asylum for the incurably insane, and you want to escape. You have to play into all the other patients' needs or weaknesses to find the means for your escape, and eventually you must get past the guard to walk out the front door.

First off, to enjoy this game even a little, turn off all sensitivities regarding stereotypes of mentally ill or unstable fellow humans. They're funny 'cause they're kraayzzieie, didn't you know? Those crackpots do the darndest things, haha. And if you have to do the darndest things to them to get your mcguffin, then that's all the funnier!

Apart from stereotyping (and that's put mildly...) psychologically vulnerable people, Gerbil Riot seems to get most of its humorous kicks out of self-referential "ironic" jokes (get it? get it?) and insulting the player (in the older DOS version) or at least making fun of the player (in the z8 file I switched to when I entered the Copy Protection Room and found out there was a registration fee of 3 £ for the password.) I actually found the insulting version marginally funnier.

The puzzles would be straightforward but entertaining if the parser would have been a bit more robust ("I would if I could, but I can't!" may seem a nice variation on a default command-rejection message. Until you've read it eleventyfour times in response to completely justified commands...)

The NPCs are cardboard, only good as one-trick obstacles. The map has some redeeming features in the second half of the game, but is ultimately unsatisfying to draw/visualize. There are a few honestly good and clever clues and associated puzzles sprinkled around the game, but not enough to redeem the game as a whole.

But I don't consider the few hours I spent with Gerbil Riot lost or wasted. I had fun insulting it back and imagining that if I had paid for a physical disc version, I would use it as a frisbee aiming at high-voltage electric cables.

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