Ratings and Reviews by Rovarsson

View this member's profile

Show reviews only | ratings only
View this member's reviews by tag: Adventure Alaric Blackmoon Comedy Escape Fantasy Heist History Horror Mythology Puzzler SF Slice of Life Surreal Western
Showing All | Show by Page

The White Bull, by Jim Aikin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Minos' Island?, May 23, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Mythology, History

Opening up The White Bull, I was immediately drawn into the setting by a short musical score that helped set the mood. Important turning points in the story are similarly backed by an atmospheric musical piece.

A very promising intro: your girlfriend, a student of archaeology, wants to test her hypothesis that Minos' Labyrinth is not on Kreta, but on another small island in the Aegean Sea. Funded by her rich best friend, she has set up a private mini-expedition to investigate.

The White Bull is firmly divided in two parts: free exploration first, then a linear end-rush.

The first part has everything I adore in text-adventures. A large map which rewards careful exploration with wide vistas and seaviews. A diverse set of locations (beach, village, scrubby forest, rocky ridge,...) that still feel connected and natural. A few historical flashbacks/hallucinations to more clearly paint the context. And a few easy puzzles ((Spoiler - click to show)except DRINK FROM POOL to summon the Naiad; that was really underclued that give the player an early sense of accomplishment.

The objective in this part is gathering all the equipment needed for the next part. There is ample time to poke in all the nooks and crannies, get to know your fellow amateur archaeologists and enjoy bathing in the mythological atmosphere.

Having found all the requisite pieces of equipment triggers nightfall, the abduction of one of your friends and the switch to the second part (cue music).

Here you must enter the famed Labyrinth in search of your friend and rescue her. This part is mostly a linear series of one-room puzzles where you need the objects and the knowledge you gained from your previous exploration of the island. There is some truly exquisite and evocative writing here. Several rooms left a lasting visual impression with me. ((Spoiler - click to show)Ikaros Bound and Weeping.)

Despite all these great points, I found The White Bull to be disappointing. Partly, this is because my expectations were perhaps raised too high by the archaeology theme (Ancient Greek Mythology. Lemme at it...) and the game didn't quite deliver.

I also do think that there are several more objective criticisms.

The characters are underdeveloped. They remain hollow and flat. I had a hard time telling their voices apart. What depth the author tries to give them is through telling the player that they may have unseen qualities, without ever showing this in their actions or dialogue.

There is one brilliant puzzle in the Labyrinth-run ((Spoiler - click to show)The Cavern of Catwalks). The others are mostly straightforward applications of the objects you found in the first part. I felt almost as if I had been searching the island for a collection of coloured keys to unlock a series of coloured doors in the Labyrinth.

Disappointing puzzles and characters.

But also: very strong atmosphere and tension. Adventurous exploration of a great map. An interesting potpourri of Greek myths.

And some memorably vivid, evocative location descriptions.

Andromeda Apocalypse — Extended Edition, by Marco Innocenti

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Of the Puny and the Vast, May 19, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF


Alone in the deepest, most serious meaning of the word.

Before you a blackness the stars do not penetrate. Around you a galaxy collapsing under its own weight. Behind you an all-consuming, fast-expanding sphere of heat and radiation.

The remains of your exploded home are all that is following you. The supernova is gaining on you.

Andromeda: Apocalypse opens after the catastrophe on your homeworld that was the end of Andromeda: Awakening. There is a certain calm in the desperate knowledge that all is lost, there is no need to frantically try to prove your point to those who need to know. In fact, during this game's reminiscences, it is called into question if anyone even wanted to know...

The map of Apocalypse is very satisfying to explore. A giant derelict alien ship, battered by time, meteors and who knows what else provides the perfect mix of ordered hallways and corridors on the one hand, and clogged, torn, or plain ripped apart tubes and plates on the other. Chaos and recognizable structure in the right proportions.

There are puzzles, and a few of them made me stop and think and check my notes. However, the rhythm of the game thrives on thorough but speedy exploration, on getting pást the obstacles, not snagged up mulling about them.

While staying true to the "catacombs-and-puzzles"-structure of the first game, thematically this game offers more room to philosophical ruminations. In between the explore/action sequences, there are intermezzos of a dreamlike or hallucinatory quality where the protagonist discusses the meaning and importance of being human in contrast to the vastness of time and space. That sounds bloated and arrogant when I inadequately summarize it like this. In-game though, it works. Mostly because these discussions take place in a friendly and familiar setting with the protagonist and his uncle bouncing thoughts and feelings off one another.

By the halfway point of the game, you will meet an NPC whose nature and knowledge will bring this emphasis on the short and limited versus the vast and ungraspable even more to the foreground.

By the endgame, I felt a bit sad for this friendly NPC.

Many intruiging questions and themes touched upon in a setting that could not be more appropriate.

Very good.

Kobold in Search for Family, by tosxychor
Rovarsson's Rating:

Wizard's Club, by Robert Szacki
Rovarsson's Rating:

Grandma's Flying Saucer , by Kenneth Pedersen
Rovarsson's Rating:

Carpathian Vampire, by Garry Francis
Rovarsson's Rating:

Espiritu Roboto, by Ray Leandro
Rovarsson's Rating:

Dessert Island Adventure, by Nils Fagerburg
Rovarsson's Rating:

Barry Basic and the Speed Daemon, by Dee Cooke
Rovarsson's Rating:

Yes, Another Game with a Dragon!, by John Kean

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
In Defense of Scaly Monsters, May 12, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler, Comedy

In olden times, shrouded from memory by the mists of time, darkness had fallen over the Land of IF. There was bitter strife amongst the ranks of Text Adventurers. One powerful faction looked down with disdain upon the ancient traditions of Knightly Quests and Magick Incantations. One archetype above all others was the target of their loathing: the once Noble and Fearsome Dragon.

These Renewers of IF landed blow after blow on the olden ways, diverting attention and admiration towards their newfangled, even experimental games. So harsh was the barrage that Dragons and their traditions were left behind, all but cleft in twain.

One determined Author stood steadfast against this brutish barbarity that guised itself as "Modern IF". He set out on a Quest to restore the Dragons' honour and created Yes, Another Game With A Dragon.

To fend off all criticism of being a dated cliché, the game employs the gleaming blade of superb literary quality, as evidenced in this extract:

> "The shelves are well stocked with an assortment of dried herbs and pickled embryos."

Or this shining pearl of evocative conciseness:

> "The oily swamp farts wetly."

Within the confines of a compact map, the different locations are coherent yet richly varied. An open woodland with a well in the clearing, a mighty oak and an abondoned monastery, bordered by fields of grain and green pastures. A deep gorge with an impassable river, blocked by a monstrous guard.

There is a deceptive atmosphere of carefree sunny summer over these lands, for there are dangers and discombobulating obstacles in our hero's way. For most of these puzzling circumstances, he will have to sort out the workings of a convenient Magick Machine.

Our hero, by the way, is of the rather hapless sort. He is drawn away from his habituary daytime occupation as the town drunk by the promise of richess in the form of half the king's land and happiness in the form of the princess' hand in marriage. These prizes will be his, if he can be the one to rescue said princess from the cluthes of..., yes,... The Dragon!

Needless to say, many others want these prizes for themselves. Many True Heroes (tm) that is. During the game, there are many instances of "A Wild Adventurer Appears!" These lend the normally calm and silent woods the amusing and confusing air of busy playful competition.

The final confrontation in the endgame mirrors a heroic dream our protagonist had in the introductory sequence. But can he twist it round?

It is not often that I, your humble reviewer, make explicit comparisons between games, but in this case a certain family resemblance should be pointed out.
YAGWAD feels and plays like a sibling to Augmented Fourth and Wizard Sniffer, and it may well be a distant cousin to Lost Pig. It shares with these games a playful whimsicalness, while being very robustly implemented and competently crafted under the hood. There is a great attention to atmosphere, tone, the feel of the world and the details of the surroundings.

The joy and amusement of the author shine through this entire adventure.

Yes, Another Game With A Dragon shows conclusively that yes, there is still room for Dragons in the Land of IF. (At least, there was 22 years ago when this game was published.)

The Hole Man, by E.Z. Poschman
Rovarsson's Rating:

Thief of the Thousand Suns, by Dom Kaye
Rovarsson's Rating:

Orbital Decay, by Kayvan Sarikhani
Rovarsson's Rating:

Crow Quest, by rookerie
Rovarsson's Rating:

Sweetpea, by Sophia de Augustine
Rovarsson's Rating:

Another Cabin In The Woods, by Quain Holtey
Rovarsson's Rating:

Wry, by Olaf Nowacki
Rovarsson's Rating:

New Year's Eve, 2019, by Autumn Chen
Rovarsson's Rating:

Thin Walls, by Wynter
Rovarsson's Rating:

Good Grub!, by Damon L. Wakes
Buggy, April 26, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Bugs are delicious!
I’ve tried them and they are!
(mealworm burger and barbecued grasshoppers if you’re curious)

Good Grub is delicious too!
A small choicy snack with an environmental kick and a good sprinkling of peppery jokes. Nice!

Alone, by Paul Michael Winters
Fill 'er up., April 26, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

In the near future, you are a survivor of the plague. And you have just run out of gas. Fortunately there's a gas station nearby...

Alone takes place on a very compact map. A good handful of locations are accessible. After finding a hidden entrance, the game more than doubles in size, but it retains a closed and claustrophobic feel. This, and the fact that the protagonist is entirely alone make the world seem very small and threatening.

The puzzles are almost all of the lock&key variety. But it goes out of its way to show how much variety there still is in the "simple" lock&key category. Electronic doors open from a distance, opening one door closes another,... The key to one door is even too heavy to handle and must be moved mechanically.
All these are completely logical, but it may take some tinkering to understand the relations between the parts.
I absolutely loved the final puzzle. It is possible to settle for a simpler solution and still get your initial objective (fuel). However, if you are willing to think a few more logical steps further, there is a much more rewarding ending to be found.

The sense of achievement in this harder solution lies mostly in seeing some real character development in the protagonist. It's described in few words, but it is real and touching.

The writing is crisp and clear. Rooms are easily visualized to give a good view of the important bits. With the exception of one small component, it's not about finding the bits by looking under the rug, but about how the bits interact (sometimes from far away). The longer ending paragraphs are a great reward after the concentrated focus on the puzzles.

A very good game. It could have used a bit more dry humor (sorry, in-joke...)

Recommended wholeheartedly!

Fairest, by Amanda Walker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
*Achichooo!* now where's that feather blown to?, April 25, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The intro of Fairest places the player firmly in well known fairy tale territory. You're a prince with two stepbrothers. Now blow on this magic feather and do weird questy things so they don't grab your kingdom out from under your royal arse.

The world in which you are supposed to do the questy things is cleverly put together. The map I drew looks far smaller than how the lands I travelled through felt. A few cutscenes where you run and tumble behind a magically fluttering feather and a strategically well-placed but temporarily cordoned-off bridge give the feeling of a very large space. (Can you guess why the bridge is cordoned-off?)

The questy things themselves come in threes. As such things do in fairy tales...
Three times you are presented with a princely objective, and must overcome obstacles to attain it. The puzzles are not hard. Aside from flailing about a bit trying to guess a character's name (no, not (Spoiler - click to show)Rumplestiltskin, although he does play a part), I managed to get through the game without much trouble.

The mildness of the puzzles left me with more brainspace to admire the narrative itself. As you guide your high and mighty princey-wincey through the story, you encounter a veritable hodge podge of fairy tale ingredients. Sometimes these are drawn pretty reliably from the source material, other times they're just a passing shout out to a well known trope or tale. ((Spoiler - click to show)Like the town of Hamelin. I was a little sad that the piper and the children from that tale were not included....)

Regarding the source material, the author manages to simultaneously go forward and backward in time with her interpretation.
-Although there is no material unsuitable for children in the game, there are however plenty of nudges and winks to the ancient folk tales with their grim horror and cautionary content.
-At the same time, the familiar tropes (gender roles, destiny by birthright) of the genre are questioned, criticized and sometimes outright ridiculed.

The depth of implementation is astonishing, as is the immersive power of this game. Both of these are intimately connected to a very clever layer of meta-story strung through the story. Without elaborating too much, I'll say that it reminded me (almost chillingly so) of a key moment in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story.

An extraordinary feat. Fantastic game.

The Fall of Asemia, by B.J. Best
Rovarsson's Rating:

Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die, by Rob Noyes
Rovarsson's Rating:

Hinterlands: Marooned, by Cody Gaisser
Thought-provoking perspective., April 21, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

A short but insightful game that must be played several times to fully grasp and appreciate.

Marooned! gives an in-depth psycho-sociological analysis of interaction and communication with an otherworldly alien.

Worth contemplating as a poignant metaphor for interhuman relations, or as a roadmap to the delicacies of international diplomatic negotiations.

Beneath the Stones, by Kieran Green
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Prairie House, by Chris Hay (a.k.a. Eldritch Renaissance Cake)
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Legend of Horse Girl, by Bitter Karella
Rovarsson's Rating:

Filthy Aunt Mildred, by Guðni Líndal Benediktsson
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Bright Blue Ball, by Clary C.
Rovarsson's Rating:

Bigfoot Bluff, by P.B. Parjeter
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Box, by Paul Michael Winters
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Bones of Rosalinda, by Agnieszka Trzaska

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
♫---the headbone connected to the ... neck bone---♪, April 15, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Fantasy

The Bones of Rosalinda has a very compelling storyline. The minimally interactive prologue sets the mood, prepares the scene and introduces the characters. The equally minimally interactive epilogue provides very satisfying closure for the story, not only for the protagonist but for the side characters too.
Both are quite long and very well written, giving the player the opportunity to dig in to the story.
In between is, of course, the game. It's up to the player to pick up the introductory setup and carry it through to the finale, jumping through a great deal of hoops large and small while doing so.

The characters in Bones are a joy to get to know. They all have enough detail and glimpses of a backstory so that not one of them feels (or smells) like just having been pressed out of a plastic mold.
I particularly liked Piecrust, a talking mouse with a rather bleak outlook on the world and his future in it, and a distracting enthousiasm for foodstuffs of any kind. The apathetic deadpan delivery of his remarks made me laugh more than once, especially near the beginning of the game.
The elaborate conversations and cutscenes provide the player with background and insights to fully appreciate the characters.

The difficulty of the puzzles was just right for me, once I really got the central gameplay mechanic. It's PC-juggling.The player has to switch player characters with different abilities (and sometimes assemble them...) to solve the problems facing the protagonist.This mechanic is introduced gently and later expanded upon, providing a gentle learning curve.
Besides the PC-juggling there is also inventory-juggling. Lots of it. A shortcut to directly GIVE an object from one PC to the next without first dropping it would be nice. Also, (Spoiler - click to show)the ability to ATTACH limbs straight out of the backpack would come in handy.
Most of the puzzles are variations on the lock-and-key theme. The Bones of Rosalinda shows with gusto that original variations on that theme are still possible. Very satisfying.

I had a blast playing through this game. Highly recommended!

Lady Thalia and the Rose of Rocroi, by E. Joyce and N. Cormier

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Theft abroad, April 13, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

For reasons of social standing and thievery opportunities, Lady Thalia is spending the summer in Paris. And my my, what a coincidence, so is Scotland Yard investigator Margaret Williams (Melpomene/Mel for anyone foolish enough to want to annoy her... like Thalia). Mel is Thalia's nemesis (or the other way around...), in proper Holmes/Moriarty-parlance. But there seems to be something else brooding under the surface too...

These characters had fantastic chemistry between them in Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires. In Lady Thalia and the Rose of Rocroi this is continued, but the authors take it a step further. In this installment you alternate between the characters. This gives the player the opportunity to see both characters and their relationship through the eyes of the other. Mind you, although the player can guide the interactions between Mel and Thalia through the choice of clicks, she cannot shape the characters' nature. Both Mel and Thalia will stay true to themselves in how they respond to the player choices.

Lady Thalia and the Rose of Rocroi is written in the second person perspective, as is habitual in IF. Often the second person can feel as if a third party is telling the player ("You") what the PC does/sees/feels. A tad distancing.
Here however, the second person leans very much towards the intimacy of the first person point of view. It feels as if there is a very personal inner voice acting as narrator, instead of an external overseer.

The use of language is beautiful. It is unassuming, not drawing too much attention to itself. It is efficient and practical. And there are truly wonderful sentences to be found.

--After your unfortunate experience last night, you have decided to cheer yourself up with an easy theft — stealing a work by a minor painter from a minor museum.

On a larger scale, the writing is also very strong. The game has splendid pacing and rhythm. It somehow made me think of a Nirvana song, with its slow but tense verses (the preparation for the heist) alternated with a fast and frantic chorus (the escape after the heist). I must admit that the degree of franticality in my escapes could have been significantly lower if I had been more careful in the preparatory stages...

This structure does run the risk of feeling artificial and predictable, a framework that the narrative has been made to fit into. Fortunately, the final Act shakes it up somewhat. Also, this is a game, not a novel. Clear level structure helps the player see the objectives of the game.

There is no way to lose in Lady Thalia. There is a scoring system that makes fun of itself, if you care for points and statistics.
Freed from the fear of losing moves, the solutions to the puzzles are wholly a matter of player preference. Subtlety and finesse are more in-character, but violence can surely be the answer (maybe even the funnier answer...)

Go meet Mel and Thalia. You will not regret it.

Custard & Mustard's Big Adventure, by Christopher Merriner
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Great Archeological Race, by John LaBonney

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Saving your museum requires some work., April 1, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The Great Archeological Race and I got off on the wrong foot. It threw a bunch of typos at me and I responded with some harsh words shouted at the screen.

Escalation of the argument ensued. The Great Archeological Race tested my patience to no end with a 10-move-long cab drive where each Z was followed by a boring description of a city block, with nothing to do. I retaliated in a threatening manner, typing QUIT and only at the last second answering "NO" to the confirmationary question ("Do you really want to quit?" it asked in a more docile tone).

We had arrived at the airport by then. Wandering through the terminal in search of the correct departure gate, we settled into an uneasy peace. I started to realize that maybe The Great Archeological Race was really doing its best, that it simply was not made for literary greatness. Even then, the least it could do was make an effort to understand the simple English sentences I spoke to it despondently and perhaps have a synonym or two or three in its vocabulary.

But finally, when we arrived in little village called Hareda, in the middle of the Brazilian Jungle, perseverance was rewarded.

We found a strange machine to produce some necessary gear, and we promised to help out the desperate rubber manufacturer whose mailbag of post orders had been stolen. We prevailed over the bandit in a random and haphazardly sort of way.

And we found the fabled cave of treasures. There was a rather heated argument once again when I found The Great Archeological Race had not properly signalled a matchbook I needed to infiltrate the dark tunnels, resulting in our repeating the whole ordeal with the cab ride and the tedious airport corridors. But now we were focused, joined in our shared goal of finding the hidden treasures that would help us open the doors to the inner sanctum.

After cleverly putting together the clues to navigate the cave halls and their obstacles, and after mapping out an easy maze, we basked in the glory of having found the Crystal Cave.

It glittered.

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., March 31, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Horror

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 façade, 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. Then it fell down to the tarmac. As Franky made his way to the car, the scrunching and slobbering noises continued.

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.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Perfect form., March 31, 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., March 22, 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.

Kingmaker, by Isabel J. Kim
Rovarsson's Rating:

Scripting Diplomacy , by Holly Heisey
Rovarsson's Rating:

Growing Pains, by George Lockett
Rovarsson's Rating:

Fabricationist DeWit Remakes the World, by Jedediah Berry
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Eleusinian Miseries, by Mike Russo

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Russovian Triumph, March 19, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Uncle Alky has invited you along for an initiation to some religious mystery stuff. There's supposed to be free food and drink at the party after, so why not?

The longer I was playing Eleusinian Miseries, the more I got the impression that a theatrical comedic play was unfolding before me, where I got to guide the unwitting protagonist through the unexpected ordeals and shenanigans of the story. Each act has its own storylet-arc, with its own obstacles and tasks for our hero. Once these are completed, the story is moved to a new stage with new scenery for the continuation. The geography of the game fits this interpretation nicely: each act plays in a very limited number of locations (where there is lots and lots to see and do).

Right from the get-go, the game hits the tickle note. Not laughing outright, I felt that readiness to laugh in my cheek muscles, an amused and expectant smile under the surface.
The room descriptions are delightfully elaborate and detailed. Their poshly cultured and high-brow tone is finely offset by the player character's self-admitted ignorance and casual disinterest.

The tickle note, once strung, reverberates throughout. The mood of giddy curiosity is sustained by the author's obvious joy (and sweat and tears, I presume...) in spit-and-polishing the details of the game. Practically all default responses have been customized to fit with the overall tone and the specifics of the game-state. Depending on the situation the protagonist is in at the time, the same command may have different responses, , regardless of the actual importance of the command.

The room descriptions remain funny in a restrained, understated way, delighting the player with a glimmering detail here or a surprising turn of phrase there.
The frequent intermezzoes turn it up a notch or two. In between the acts, when all present objectives have been met, the results of the hero's actions are shown in topsy turvy action-comedy scenes, not infrequently involving a mob of toga-clad ancient greeks toppling over and under each other or the accidental or voluntary dismembering of holy statues.
Finally, there are the instances where author and player work together to deliver the joke. Because of the involvement of the player, these are the funniest and most satisfying moments of the game. The author sets the stage and makes sure all the props are in their rightful place. The player goes about the preparation of the audience (herself) by exploring the setting and gathering the necessary resources, all the while increasing the tension. Then, at last, comes the release, where through careful experimentation and restoring or through a sudden flash of insight, the player puts it all together and delivers the punch line... to herself.

Many puzzles in Eleusinian Miseries are quite straightforward adventure-fare. Good, engaging, sometimes surprising. And some are of the variety described above. Very, very satisfying.

To cap it off, the finale is a hilarious (and impossibly hard) optimization game. (Be sure to SAVE the moment you arrive in the Bedroom). I spent about thirty restores and I still couldn't get rid of that one last thingy! Fortunately there's a very good gradual hint-system included. (And then I palmed my forehead...)

Wodehouse in Ancient Greece. Lovingly crafted, great atmosphere, immensely funny.

Floatpoint, by Emily Short

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Extraterrestrial Diplomacy, March 19, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

(Nothing in this review gives away solutions to puzzles or tells you what choices to make. However, if you want to experience the contents with a completely open mind, skip this and play first.)

The Colonist's homeworld faces an imminent global freeze-over. The High Company back on Earth, in its benign and charitable friendliness, extends a helping hand.

For a price.

The Ambassador on the Colony has been removed from his duties. He had gotten a little too friendly with the natives to the Company's liking. You are to replace him and negotiate a satisfactory agreement about the evacuation of the Colonists and their resettlement on Earth. You have received rather precise instructions as to what kind of deal is acceptible to the High Company and how to get the message across.

Of course, you are on a planet orbiting a distant sun. Back on Earth, they might have taken you for an easily manipulated handpuppet, but there is not much the Company can do to keep you from investigating alternative options...

You start off exploring an overwhelmingly beautiful world. The natural splendor of your landing spot gradually gives way to a once magnificent city, now rapidly falling to ruins. The descriptions reflect the breathtaking surroundings without lapsing into purple prose.

During this first exploration you are nudged along to find your quarters at the embassy and perform some official duties there. Once you have done those, you can take all the time you want to wander around.

Apart from the readily accessible and very clear instructions from your superiors from the High Company, you can find out the opinions of other people about what should be done with the Colonists. Finding out these alternate opinions constitutes the only real puzzle-solving in the game.
This is necessary if you want to have a full understanding of the situation to base your decision on, but you do not need to solve any to get to an ending.

Your diplomatic decision is to be made on Gift Day, a ceremony of exchanging symbolic gifts. Because of the language barrier, the only means available to you to communicate your chosen agreement is through a combination of the clothes you choose to wear and the object you wish to present as gift.

There are notes and recordings to be found that can inform you about the meaning of the clothes and the gifts. The end-puzzle therefore is not a puzzle at all, but a well-considered choice on your part.

I followed my ideals on the first try and got a bittersweet epilogue, that I have to admit is more realistic than the happy ending I had in mind.

The same goes for the other endings you can reach through different choices of gift and apparel. This made me very aware of the ethical repercussions of my choices as ambassador to all involved, my superiors at the High Company, my fellow humans back on Earth, the Colonists in need of help whom I've gotten to know, and my own conscience and ideals. Each choice can be argued for with strong arguments, even though some may run counter to impulsive feelings of empathy or self-defense.

The ethical consequences of the game's choices could spark a night-long philosophical debate in the real world about humanity, identity, refugees, personal responsability, climate change and how to face it,...

Or one can just savor the experience of dressing up as a sci-fi diplomate and enjoy the delightful writing and surroundings.

Either way, a magnificent game.

Hoosegow, by Ben Collins-Sussman, Jack Welch

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Oklahoma outlaws., March 19, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Western

I'm normally not one for one room games, preferring to explore the wide plains and hills beyond the frontiers, but I enjoyed this game immensely.

Hoosegow is an escape-the-jailcell game set in the old West. The difficulty is just enough to keep one pleasantly engaged for an afternoon. The puzzles are original and mostly well clued. Some solutions can be found only by experimenting and examining everything. (And I mean everything.) Not only will you find some surprising and entertaining solutions, but you will also be rewarded for your thoroughness with lots and lots of funny responses. Once you get on the same wavelength as the game, start thinking in the same slightly off-kilter way as the author when writing it, the puzzles will start feeling natural.

The characters, both PC and NPCs, add a layer of comedy to the game that is its strongest point. Pastor Pete's ramblings, the deputy who'd rather spend his time with the "dancing girls" in the saloon, your idiot savant accomplice and the lazy jail dog., they all made me laugh at least once.

The characters (and the parser) talk in a heavy western hootin' tootin' accent. It stays just beneath the line. Any more would have been annoying, not to say incomprehensible. It stays funny as it is now though.

The game gives you the option of running away right after ecaping the cell, but of course you would rather stick around to clear your name with the Marshal like any upstanding citizen who happens to have been found with a bag full of silver next to a derailed train and been charged with trainrobbery just because of that. Yessir.

Near perfect in all aspects. Must play.

Swigian, by Mathbrush (as Rainbus North)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The lake is still..., March 19, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Stark, dry, rhythmic prose.

Dark, hazy, evocative art.

The whole becomes more than its parts.

Unseen others stalk you on your descent.

An otherwordly realm.

(inspired by the Adventuron-port
of the game)

Journey to Alpha Centauri (In Real Time), by Julian Fleetwood
Rovarsson's Rating:

Ürs, by Christopher Hayes, Daniel Talsky

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A rabbit fable., March 14, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The Rabbit Warren is in danger.

The THUD has been happening more frequently.

Against the reassurements of the old and wise Warrenherd, you set out to see if you can bring safety to the Rabbits for generations to come.

What follows is a beautifully illustrated dreamlike journey through a surreal but recognizable land. Although the true nature of the Warren and its location remains a mystery, there are enough worldbuilding hints for the player to piece together a background history.

Ürs is mostly about experiencing the story, wallowing in the dreamcoloured journey, letting the events carry you through burrows and landscapes.

The exploring and puzzle-solving that there is can be confusing, random trial and error. Fortunately, there is always the option to rewind until before your final mistake.

As in any self-respecting fable, there is a lesson to be learnt. It is a good lesson. It is also a lesson delivered with a powerdrill (as, again, in most every fable.)

Take a tour through the Rabbit Warren. I think you will not regret it.

Captain Cutter's Treasure, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
By golly, Jolly Roger!, March 14, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The beginning of this game has you waking up in the broom closet of the pub after a brawl. The first thing you see is some kind of nonsensical ransom note about a treasure you know nothing about.

Up to you to figure out what this means.

Captain Cutter's Treasure is a straightforward pirate-themed game which unashamedly ticks a lot of standard boxes. A hidden treasure, a coded map, a damsel in distress,...

Nothing original, but great fun to run around interrogating drunken sailors and exploring the coastal town.

The NPCs have quite a lot to say besides the requisite clues they have to offer. Spend a few minutes with each one to find out what he or she thinks about the rest of the characters.

There is a definite appeal in the portrayal of the coastal town. It feels a bit like a LEGO model of a pirate adventure. All the necessary locations are there, and it doesn't take much to build a much larger world in your imagination from the few morsels of worldbuilding you are given.

The puzzles are easy when taken alone. The harder (but not really hard) part is to figure out how to get the optimal ending. It's no trouble at all to hunt around until you reached all three endings. Once you know the town and have talked to everyone the first time, it's a matter of minutes to do the preparations before trying a new path toward victory.

And now I'm going to rebuild my son's LEGO pirate ship. Arrr!

Fort Aegea, by Francesco Bova

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Phixio the gassy dragon., March 4, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

You awaken to a wonderful day after a good night's sleep, ready to begin your duties as druid-priestess of Fort Aegea.

Alas, the day has not progressed far before life in your orderly settlement is disturbed by the arrival of the Green Dragon Phixio. He demands four thirty-year-old virgins to fulfill the conditions of an age-old pact (which you had no idea about, seeing that Fort Aegea was not yet built the last time Phixio came to eat some people from this area).

The introductory part of Fort Aegea made me want to play a longer simulationist game in this setting. As priestess, you are healer and spiritual helper to the inhabitants of a peaceful grain-processing settlement. You settle disputes between inhabitants and oversee the overall functioning of the harvest and distribution of the crops.
There are some books in your room with textdumps of background information about the history and geography of the game world. Reading these is not necessary for the game, but I enjoyed the wider view they provided very much.

This part of the game is very deeply implemented. Since your time before the arrival of the dragon is limited, I restarted several times to poke around in all corners of the town and try to see as much as possible. I encountered some trumy pleasant surprises.

The pace of the game changes radically once the Green Dragon shows up. As a wager to stall him, you must stay alive until nightfall. You are granted a small headstart to outrun the beast or hide long enough.

From a central hub location, you have immediate access to four areas. In each one, there is a straightforward/railroaded path through a few puzzles and back to the hub. The difficulty lies in finding the right sequence of moves before the dragon catches up. To accomplish this as the player, there will be a lot of try-die-repeat and even more UNDOing.

My recommendation: be sure to have a saved game at the hub and just take the deaths as they come.

Most of the puzzles are clever enough, some on the other hand are rather obscure. Aside from run-of-the-mill adventure techniques, you have a variety of spells at your disposal. The spells are based on a druids attunement with nature (water- and plantbending instead of burning the place down). They fit nicely with the puzzles without feeling too much like being custom-built solutions for one specific problem.

The writing is good. I personally found it too detailed and distanced to really pull me along emotionally, but it does a good job of painting a vivid image of the surroundings.

Similarly to The Jewel of Knowledge (which plays in the same world), a very enjoyable game in an interesting setting.

The Jewel of Knowledge, by Francesco Bova

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fire, frost and acid., February 28, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

A cave, three dragons, a maze and the magical gemstone from the title. Sounds a bit much like a well known fantasy path already trodden into the mud, no?

A classic fantasy adventure is a pleasure to play if it's well made. And The Jewel of Knowledge is well made.

The cave is easily visualized, with three main paths to explore. On the way however, you will need to find and open several secret passageways and get to some hard-to-reach corners.

The maze is subtly hinted with an original solution.

The puzzles are clever without stopping you in your progress too long.

The dragons are impressive and hard to beat.

That makes for an adventure worthy of spending my time on. But! What really lifts The Jewel of Knowledge above your average cave-crawl is the personal perspective it takes to the protagonist and to the entire business of adventuring.

The (minimally) interactive prologue casts a thoughtful light on the entire game. It caused me to feel much more sympathetic towards the protagonist and to understand his personality and motifs better.

The ending tries to rise above cave-crawl expectations too, but doesn't succeed as well. It comes off more as a finger-wagging moral lesson.

Still, very good game.

Deep Space Drifter, by Michael J. Roberts and Steve McAdams

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The Maze Walker-Througher, February 26, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Escape, SF

Phew! Someone heard you! When adrift in interplanetary space, chances are slim that anybody would hear your distress signal in time. You received the coordinates, you probably have just enough juice left in the fuel cell. So yeah, very fortunate to be underway to that big... distant... abandoned... space station that is now being pelted with debris... and fired upon by a giant laser from the planet's surface...

Hmmm... Maybe not that fortunate, but you either dock here or die in your broken down spacecraft.

The space station in Deep Space Drifter is a compact and effective puzzle-space. A small number of rooms to explore, each with a clear function. Enough objects lying around to get a notion of the backstory and aid in some nifty puzzles. And there's a robot! The environment is sparsely but adequately described, and every few turns the narrative voice informs you that the station is shaking around you as a result of an explosion or an impact. While these messages help with the sense of being in a larger and quite vulnerable place, they do become repetitive to the point where you just skip them.

I dropped my inventory a lot in this part of the game. And not because I typed DROP a lot. I didn't methodically investigate, so I don't really know if it's a bug, if you lose your inventory each time the station gets hit, or if there are an inordinate amount of actions that implicitly DROP ALL (SIT does this for sure), or a combination of all the above. What I do know is that I often arrived at my destination ready to tackle an obstacle only to find that I was empty-handed. That involved some backtracking.

Since the space station is abandoned and empty, just refueling your own spaceship won't work. So, in the next part, you go down to the planetary surface. The game from this point on is very uneven.
I loved zipping around the underground tunnels in the shuttlecar (yes...) There are two very satisfying puzzles. There are also two very large mazes. And that's a pity. I thought both mazes had a really good concept that was drawn out far into tedium and boredom. I frankly didn't care anymore and went with the walkthrough. The concept could have been kept intact, and the mazes shrunk down into 10 room navigational/timing puzzles that would have been more engaging.

Some good puzzles, some good fun, but ultimately not enough.

Firebird, by Bonnie Montgomery

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Hot coffee from the samovar?, February 18, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Comedy

Firebird is a loose and at times decidedly anachronistic retelling of a Russian folktale. A few (more-or-less) well-known personages from Russian culture make an appearance, there is the common recurrence of groupings of three (three gradually harder obstacles, three gradually more difficult foes,...) Despite the superficial references to Russian culture, however, the PC is basically a standard "adventure-prince". The PC actually acknowledges his own role as he yearns for a simpler life of making his own sandwiches and eating them in the forest. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to derail the game's narrative towards an alternative ending where your prince gets to do exactly that. (He could take advantage of his lone quest to just vanish and go live as a farmer...)

Depending on the player's choice in the finale, there are two proper endings. They are very black-and-white moral opposites. Much more impressive are the many ways to actually get to the finale. NPCs and puzzles can almost all be handled in multiple ways, there are several paths to a certain far-off part of the map, there is an in-game portal back to the begionning of the game should you have forgotten a necessary object. The game is so forgiving of "mistakes" that they stop being mistakes, just new opportunities to handle a problem.

The implementation is a bit on the shallow side, and the game is a bit heavy on the micro-management. Many actions require in-between steps that could have been handled automatically.

The puzzles are mostly easy and straightforward. (Just make sure you have a nice and full inventory at all times. No limits to what you can carry!) I had the most fun with the elaborate cutscenes and descriptions at crucial turning points in the narrative.

A great game for a lazy afternoon.

Trinity, by Brian Moriarty
Rovarsson's Rating:

Janitor, by Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn
Rovarsson's Rating:

Eric the Unready, by Bob Bates

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Eric the ultimately unsatisfactory, February 6, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Comedy

The Legend game Eric the Unready takes the damsel-in-distress trope and uses it as a framework for a grand tour of wacky silliness and over-the-top parody.

The "chapters" of the story are implemented as stand-alone mini-adventures. Each of these is completely self-contained. The biggest of them has eight locations, and none of the puzzles is especially challenging (except for unintentional reasons, see below...)

The strongest point of Eric the Unready is certainly the humour. The constant barrage of slapstick, parody and some of the most groanworthy puns I ever heard kept me chuckling all the way through. Be that as it may, there still is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It seems as if every joke that sounded even remotely funny upon first thinking of it was included in the game. So there are a lot of just plain bad jokes in there.
A particular example of something that didn't work for me is the almost verbatim incorporation of a Monty Python scene. A television sketch works on facial expressions, tone of voice and, most importantly, tempo and rhythm. In translating this scene to IF, so much is lost that what is left feels pathetically uninspired.

The division of the overarching story into separate stand-alone bits makes it an extremely linear game. I don't really mind this, but I would have appreciated a bit more narrative tension as you progress to the later chapters. As it stands, the final chapter is no more serious or exciting than the introduction.

Although the puzzles can be rated as easy, I found that they are sometimes harder than (I suppose) intended. The utter silliness often stands in the way of logical cause-and-effect thinking, leading to a strategy of let's-try-anything-on-everything.

A very funny game, but not a very good one.

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.

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.

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

6 of 6 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...


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

2 of 2 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.

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life, by Truthcraze

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Aquavit, August 25, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

"Aquavit" is a liqueur that my grandparents would recommend if someone was a bit weak in the knees or fatigued. It means "life-water". A small shot of it would get you back on your feet.

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life bears some similarities to that liqueur. It's short, strong and it picks you right up.

The entire game is one funny poke at Indiana Jones tropes. The deathtraps in the temple are not any more over the top than in the movies, but the descriptions (and the protagonist's reactions to them) make it obvious how improbable and inappropriate some of those movie traps are. I bet the designers of the boobytrapped temples could have made a good living designing text-adventures in the eighties.

What appears to be a funny comedy at first does reveal itself to be a clever little collection of interconnected puzzles. After dying a few times, I found myself taking the game a lot more seriously. It became a matter of pride to not let this Indie-parody mock me and my adventuring skills.

Lighthearted comedy at the expense of our beloved action-archeologist, good puzzles and a general tone of "Don't take things too seriously, and if you die, you can always undo." Fun!

Myth, by Paul Findley

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Gods of Tedium, August 25, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

As I was reading the intro-screen for Myth I became excited about playing this game. I love the set-up: an Olympian God, none other than Poseidon, Ruler of the Seas, is set a task to prove his worth to Zeus. Poseidon is temporarily bereft of his Godly Powers, to prevent him just barging through the quest while riding a tsunami I suppose...

Poseidon has to trust on his wits and smarts. I had hoped this would make him a Trickster God for the duration of this adventure, joining the ranks of Hanuman, Anansi, Coyote, Loki (please forget about Marvel's travesty of the Norse deity. The Loki from the Eddas is a much more ambiguous and mysterious character.)

I love Trickster-characters, godly or otherwise. They bend the rules, lay bare the presuppositions of individuals and society, kick against the status quo. I have often wondered why there are not more adventure games which feature a Trickster-protagonist. Perhaps it is at least partly because the Trickster's tricks often involve manipulating social conventions and human preconceptions through clever communication, and creating subtle and layered character interaction in IF is hàrd.

But I digress...

The game starts with some classic but solid text-adventuring. The action takes place in Hades, the Underworld. Even though it consists of a limited set of locations, the descriptions do a good job of evoking the desolate and barren plains and the hopelesness that pervades them. To gain access to Hades' (the god) palace, you must first cross the river Styx. Here, the adventure-groove creaks to a halt as you must solve two long and annoying puzzles to get everything you need to enter the palace.

Reading a bit more about the history of the game, I found that Myth was a freebie for new members of the "Official Secrets"-adventure club, and it was revamped for rerelease as recent as 2020. This makes me wonder if the two long and annoying puzzles I mentioned are just filler-material to make a bigger game out of what was a bite-sized gift-packet. In any case, I would have much preferred a gratuitous maze instead of these two. Apart from being less tedious, a maze would have fit the setting better than an unmotivated logic puzzle (the cardgame was okay, it just took waaay too long).

Once past the river Styx, the game resumes its classic adventuring tone with another solid series of puzzles, then ends somewhat abruptly.

There are certainly some clever and elegant sub-puzzles in Myth that gave me that "Aha!"-moment. The writing takes some funny jabs at the mythological source material without becoming silly parody. It's very evocative within the sparse constraints of the descriptions.

These good qualities however are sadly swamped down by the fact that, without looking at the walkthrough, more than half the playtime will go to a seemingly endless cardgame and a rusty get-the-objects-to-the-other-side-of-the-river-following-these-rules-I-just-made-up logic puzzle.

Winter Wonderland, by Laura Knauth

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A joyous Winter Solstice!, August 20, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

While walking home after doing an errand in town, little Gretchen is blown off the path by a sudden snowstorm. She finds herself in a wondrous snowy land under a pale wintery moon.

Winter Wonderland is a heartwarming text-adventure. The wonder and amazement at the beautiful fairytale land is played completely straight, without ironic winks or nudges. It's clear that the author has gone to great lengths to envelop the player in a sincere and heartfelt warm and joyful experience.

The immersion in the story and the game-world is achieved in a few ways.
The implementation goes deep enough that you can examine and interact with most pieces of the surroundings, many giving an extra immersive dimension to the already evocative descriptions.
You will meet many fantastic creatures, all enjoying the winter solstice in their own festive manner. All of them will smile and acknowledge you when you greet them. You can strike up a conversation with a good deal of them.
The map is easily visualized, with the dense forest where little Gretchen appeared to the south and the snow-capped mountains so far to the north that they appear as unreachable bluish shapes far to the north. Still, there are enough little sidepaths and bottlenecks to keep it interesting.

Allthough the puzzles are mostly friendly and easy, fetching an object for an NPC to exchange it for the next item. Most of these puzzles do have an intermediary step that is not so obvious, making solving them satisfying. Two puzzles jumped out as being especially nifty, requiring a bit of thinking around the corner. These raised my appreciation for the puzzles and the game as a whole.

A very smooth, warm and friendly playing-experience. Perhaps best enjoyed with a steaming mug of cocoa and a snuggle-blanket.

Guttersnipe: Carnival of Regrets, by Bitter Karella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Coulrophobia!, August 18, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler, Comedy

We join our protagonist Lil' Ragamuffin (Rags to her friends) and her pet rat/best friend Percy while they are preparing an evening feast: a leather shoe roasted to crispy goodness above their small campfire. A man approaches and offers Rags a way out from the streeturchin life: join the carnival! He gives her a free ticket to come and see it for herself. Against Percy's advice, Rags, unafraid, visits the carnival and soon finds herself confronted with some very nasty clowneries indeed.

Rags is a great character. She's small with a big mouth, keen on adventure and very curious about anything that crosses her path. I often chuckled when I read what actually came out of her mouth when I entered a simple ASK ABOUT command.
Percy the rat is her counterbalance in some ways. He's more cautious, more prone to using his common sense and more knowledgeable about the "civilized" world. To the player, Percy functions as an in-game cluegiver, comparable to Crystal from Illuminato Iniziato, though not as deeply realized. The player should treat him as an in-game convenience rather than as a last resort hint-system. Small nitpick: Percy's hints appear to be location-specific. If you forgot to ask him about the blue-striped giraffe ropeskipping on the ballroom balcony, you'll have to return to that location. (note: No blue-striped giraffes were found nor hurt during my playthrough.)

The map of Carnival of Regrets is very well done. The carnival grounds are clearly subdivided in areas like the Side Show and the Animal Pens. Parts are blocked off by an adversary, almost like a level-boss, ensuring that the map does not become overwhelming and that the player will have (probably) seen everything before crossing to the next area.

The carnival is filled with a diverse and entertaining cast of colourful characters, some helpful (but mostly powerless themselves), some outright dangerous to stray little streeturchins...

It's a true joy to read the adventures of Lil' Ragamuffin as they unfold. The writing is gleefully creepy, with evocative and adjective-rich descriptions of many things grotesque and scary. The enjoyment of the author shines through in reading these passages. In the bigger picture, the action is well-paced, there is lots of freedom to explore, well-placed bottlenecks and a growing sense of urgency as you learn more about the underlying mystery of the carnival.

Sadly, Carnival of Regrets is bogged down by a lack of smooth and trustworthy gameplay.

The world and its contents are seriously underimplemented, and what level of implementation there is is unevenly spread. Sometimes an unimportant scenery-object is vividly described and attempts to interact with it are accounted for, while there are plot-relevant objects that are hastily and too tersely described. This underimplementation means that the game misses many opportunities for funny or helpful responses to "wrong" commands. More importantly, the lack of synonyms for important verbs (for instance: SCREAM works, SHOUT does not) can lead to frustrating attempts at mindreading.

The puzzles are easy-to-medium difficulty. They are well thought out and well clued, some very clever in concept. The lack of smooth implementation hinders the player's enjoyment however. For most puzzles I had the correct solution figured out, but it was still helpful to use David Welbourn's excellent (as always!) walkthrough to get the exact commands when I got stuck.

All criticism aside, Guttersnipe: The Carnival of Regrets is funny, delightfully scary and very well written. Recommended!

Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The unreviewable game, August 15, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The first part of Spider and Web plays an intricate game with the expectations about the relations between player, protagonist, narrator, parser-voice and non-player character. It culminates in a cathartic intuition-bomb.

The second part of Spider and Web is a fast-paced, high-stakes escape-run to the end.

It is an amazing experience.

Crypt, by Steve Herring

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An inconspicuous church, somewhere in England..., August 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

In the back-chamber of this small church on the English countryside, you meet the sleepy vicar. He recounts of the crypt below that was made by a predecessor of his, and of the legends that there are catacombs below that go back to Roman ages.

He then promptly falls back asleep, leaving you to your own devices to explore the undergound passages.

The oldschool game Crypt is a thoroughly unambitious and unassuming crypt-crawl. This was a big part of its appeal to me. It basically says: "Here, some underground crawlspaces. Now leave me be and go find some treasure. Oh, and try not to die too often."

The command INFO returns a short text where the narrator/parser introduces itself and immediately apologizes for not being as sophisticated as the one from Adventure, understanding only six directions (no diagonals) and a small number of verbs. Its vocabulary is indeed quite limited. The instances where you would GIVE or SHOW {object} in another game require you to DROP {object} here. There is no EXAMINE or LOOK {object}, so you must glean all the information from the sparse room descriptions. Since I'm normally an examine-it-then-poke-it type of adventurer, this required me to adjust my style.

The descriptions are practical and short to the point of sounding cold and distant. This can be unintentionally funny, as some of the treasures would shatter all knowledge we think we have about the Middle Ages or the Roman presence in England.

Apart from figuring out where to DROP the appropriate object, the only puzzles lie in mapping out the mazes. Just as the game itself, these are unoriginal and not too complicated.

Technically, everything works smoothly. I found one typo and no bugs.

A run-of-the-mill treasure-search which I enjoyed very much for the few hours it lasted.

Jigsaw, by Graham Nelson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
20th Century Tidbits, August 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, History

I remember getting a very intimidating book as a present when I was a small child. I was amazed that it had more than a thousand pages. It seemed impossible that anyone would get through such a huge story. It turned out to be a "365 Bedtime Fairytales"-book, with a 3-page story for each night.

What was a relief in the case of the bedtime book turned out to be a disappointment in the case of Jigsaw, a game I had been looking forward to playing for a long time.

Instead of a sweeping epic story taking me past the turning points of recent history, I got 16 smallish (but hard) bedtime puzzles barely held together by an overarching plot. Just as with the bedtime-book, Jigsaw took a long time to finish. I would hardly call it a big game though. More a series of historical vignettes, to be experienced and enjoyed at the player's leisure.

As for the overarching plot, anyone's guess is as good as mine. Here's what I made of it: Black has a plan to change the past to mold the present and/or future to Black's priorities/preferences. You don't want that. (Even if some of the changes Black tries to make are really good ideas, like (Spoiler - click to show)preventing World War I...) Your task is to find and reverse the temporal disturbances Black leaves in his wake as he visits certain important times in the 20th century. Black's and your motives for all of this remain in the dark (to me, at least).

After a confusing introductory sequence (where you need to find an unmentioned exit to progress, not for the only time in this game...), you arrive in the central hub/control centre. From here you can access the different time-areas where you need to solve a puzzle.

Fortunately, the time-areas are mostly independent from each other. As you enter one, you should be able to find everything needed to fix the temporal disturbance. This makes the puzzles merely hard, instead of impossible. Allthough the number of rooms and available objects is limited in every area, you have to time your actions carefully and execute them in a particular order. SAVE and RESTORE are necessary parts of the gameplay.

Most of the historical vignettes were very enjoyable, clearly well-researched and very satisfying to solve. Some were either too hard, or were solvable but took me far into try-everything-on-everything terrain.

I missed a cohesive backstory tying this game together as a whole. However, it's well worth exploring and trying to solve the puzzles independently. As I said: very satisfying.

Acid Rain, by Garry Francis
Rovarsson's Rating:

Grooverland, by Mathbrush

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Dimension-shifting theme-park, July 27, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

Happy birthday to you!

It's your special day and your parents have gone all out and got you the Queen-package for Grooverland. It's an all-access special treatment pass for your favourite theme-park, with a coronation ball in the big castle included. You just have to enjoy the rides and find your Queen-stuff while you're at it.

A seemingly light and humorous plot, told in a funny and colourful tone. Until you get a bit farther along on your quest and start gathering the regalia you need to enter the Queen's castle. A darker dimension lies behind our own, and obtaining the symbols of your royalty causes it somehow to overlap more and more with the happy theme-park reality, subverting our familiar world into solid scary-clown territory. (Coulrophobics can rest assured, no actual scary clowns appear in the game)

The writing seems to have some trouble keeping up with the gradually changing atmosphere. The descriptions do change while the game-world devolves into a darker version of itself, and random background events now depict monstrosities selling snacks, but I never had the feeling of being dragged down into darkness with the protagonist though. I was more a curious but distant observer than an involved participant.

In part, this is because the puzzles are so darn good. They are very accessible, even on the easy side. At the same time, they are wonderfully original in the most creative way: take something that's well-established and add an unexpected twist. The laser-fight puzzle is among the best I've ever seen, while it is in essence a "push the right button"-puzzle in disguise.

Now, the accessibility and originality of the puzzles demands that the writing be crystal clear (which it is), without any ambiguities in the descriptions, so the player can clearly visualize the surroundings. This takes precedence over describing the atmosphere of the changing game-world. The clarity of the puzzle-descriptions shines a bright spotlight in the supposedly dim and gloomy alternate realm taking over our world, causing it to be not so dim and gloomy.

Grooverland's gameplay made a very solid, robust impression on me. The game-world felt like it was there, and I could try whatever I wanted without fear of breaking anything or confusing the underlying order. There are helpful NPCs, funny references to other games, a lot of tinkering and experimenting puzzles, all leading up to an exciting endgame.

The grand finale is just the way I like it. I have proved my worth during the middlegame, solving the fiddly puzzles with the many possibilities. Now it is time for a straightforward but very exciting and well-paced boss fight. Excellent way to reward the player and to leave him with a sense of accomplishment after finishing the game.

I enjoyed this very much.

The Faeries Of Haelstowne, by Christopher Merriner

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Midsummer Magicks, July 24, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

(This review is for the competition release of the game. I fully expect many of the bumps to be smoothed out in a postcomp-release.)

I spent a lot of time with The Faeries of Haelstowne, most of it enchanted by the story, the setting and the beautiful prose, some of it frustrated as hells (yes, plural) by missing objects or unresponsive parser issues. I developed a rather passionate love-hate relationship with the game. By the time I solved it though, the balance had wholly shifted to love and I wholeheartedly forgave and nearly forgot the frustration.

The vicar of an old and quaint English town has disappeared. Police detective Arthur Mapple is called upon to solve the mystery.

The setting of The Faeries of Haelstowne is wonderful. A rural English town with its old history mingled together with even more ancient folktales makes a good place for a Faery-tale. Even better: the tale takes place in the early 20th century. Belief in the spiritual realm, contacting the dead through séances and looking for nature-spirits was combined with an urge to research these phenomena from a new scientific/empirical viewpoint. The rising popularity and technical simplification (to a point) of photography made for enthusiastic amateurs seeking to capture the spiritual world on photo-negative.

It is against this background that we see the arrival of our protagonist in Haelstowne. The first chapter is a lighthearted exploration of the magic-realistic rural surroundings of an old Vicarage. Puzzles consist of multiple steps but there is good guidance. The player is mostly being primed for what to expect in later chapters.

In these later chapters, the mood grows darker and the puzzles more complicated and difficult. Partly, this is because, well, the puzzles are more complicated and difficult. However, it is also in part because there are frequent issues of guess-the-verb and of read-the-author's-mind. One puzzle in particular ((Spoiler - click to show)the antimagic object above the window) has many, many reasonable alternative solutions, all of which are ignored in favor of the one the author had in mind. To add insult to injury, that solution does not even use the object that the author has made us use in a previous and similar puzzle: (Spoiler - click to show)using the portable steps to get to high places....

The entire game is written in delightful prose. Eloquent and evocative descriptions, long-drawn-out but never boring conversations and cut-scenes. It's a joy to have such a wonderful game-world described in such beautiful prose.

The characters that Arthur meets during his investigation are interesting and lively. They all have their own personality and if they are helpful to Arthur it is because their own profession or personal choices brought them on his path, not cajoling or manipulation by Arthur.

After solving many puzzles, meeting a few helpful and not so helpful characters and finding out what indeed has happened to Vicar Peldash; in short: after navigating the complexities of the middle game, all the loose string are bound nicely together in a thrilling and expertly paced endgame. I was on the edge of my seat as I typed the last set of commands.

A truly magical experience.

Augmented Fourth, by Brian Uri!

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"But if we throw the Cat in the barrel first,..., June 28, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

...then how will the Aardvark learn to swim?"

A small taste of the sometimes absurd sense of humour that pervades Augmented Fourth

King Goosen of Papoosen did not enjoy your rendering of "Ode to a Duck". Consequently, you and your trusty trumpet are thrown down the pit, where you discover a community of sorts living at the bottom of the volcano.
Determined to make it back top-side, you must now overcome the obstacles that stand between you and the closed off ladder to the castle. You have your wits and your magically enhanced trumpet.

Instead of memorizing magic scrolls, in Augmented Fourth you must obtain and learn music sheets. Each of the melodies has its own effect on your surroundings and as such functions as a wizard's spell. This magic system is worked out in detail. If you play a particular ditty in a location that is not the intended puzzle-room, the surroundings will still react, sometimes hilariously. The actual effects of the spells are mostly natural phenomena (rain, gravity, ducks...), so it is not too difficult to judge which spell/song to play to solve a particular puzzle.

The game keeps a nice balance between magical solutions and more prosaic adventuring puzzles. Along with summoning ducks through trumpet-playing, you will also need to do the usual bit of exploring of the cave and manipulating of the objects.

The cave under the volcano has a splendid map. The adventure starts off in the center of the volcano, also the central hub of the area. All directions save one are open for exploration from the beginning, and multiple puzzles are accessible from the start. Almost without noticing though, you will have less and less options to pursue, effectively pushing you to the bottleneck in the northern quadrant. From there on out, the game shifts gears and the story gets on fast-moving railroad tracks to the hilarious finale.

A finale that is foreshadowed throughout the game in small amusing intermezzos narrating what is happening with the King up top, who is spiraling down to ever more insanely funny despotic madness.

Modern IF is often lauded for the way the puzzles are seamlessly integrated into the story. Augmented Fourth turns this on its head: the story is woven seamlessly around the puzzles, which are without a doubt the real reason of existence for this game. In many of those puzzles, well-known adventuring tropes are averted, subverted, completely avoided or twisted in a knot. Breaking down the player's expectations often leads to fantastically comic situations, when a certain build-up of tension is suddenly relieved in an unforeseen direction.

There are also a number of playthings that are just that: items to play around with. They're not even red herrings (of which there are also a fair number...), just opportunities to idly while away the time. In the same vein, there are a number of books that provide hints; they mostly provide page after page of completely unnecessary sillines.

A very silly, moderately difficult and very smoothly playing puzzle-romp.

The Shadow in the Cathedral, by Ian Finley and Jon Ingold

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
St. Newton, St. Babbage, St. Breguet (hallowed be their names)., June 24, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

Isaac Newton: Mathematical Lawmaker.
Charles Babbage: Father of the Computer.
Abraham-Louis Breguet: Master-Horologist.

These intellectual giants played front-stage roles in a cultural movement during the 17th and 18th century where natural phenomena were being pulled out of the realms of chaotic randomness or transcendental intentionality and grasped in terms of their inner mathematical and mechanical orderliness.
The passage of Time ( Abraham-Louis Breguet), the patterns of Thought ( Charles Babbage), the regularities of Motion and the intricacies of Calculation ( Isaac Newton) were captured both in logical/mathematical deductions in the mind and in mechanical contraptions of cogs and chains.

While aiding in freeing the human intellect of religious dogmatic thinking and opening up the path of naturalistic explanation and exploitation of the world, its mysteries and its resources, this mechanistical worldview carries within itself a rigidity not dissimilar to religious dogma. Once Nature is caught in Logic and Clockwork, it is unchanging and deterministic.

The world of The Shadow in the Cathedral exists as an exemplar of this rigid-mechanistic historical path. The cathedral from the title is a worshipping place for the three saints mentioned above. Worshippers make the sign of the lever when they PRAY. Priests gather around an altar and bow to the clockwork in the tower. Mechanical order replaces/equates divine order, with very similar institutions to uphold that order.

“The candles move in the space between floor and ceiling, the way the stars move between Earth and the Great Darkness of Heaven.They follow winding metal tracks that cross and recross along the length of the Great Hall, and as they move, pools of light form and then dissolve, so that some parts of the chamber are brightly lit at times whilst others are quite dark. The candles move day and night, with automatic systems to replace those that burn down to the stub.”

This paragraph might seem somewhat wordy, but it captures the atmosphere of the game-world perfectly by elaborating on something as down-to-earth as candlelight while the bigger background is never laid out this explicitly. Instead it has to be inferred from these detailed minor descriptions. To this reviewer’s preferences, a leather-bound tome on the development and history of the clock-bound civilization to LOOK UP BABBAGE would have been very welcome indeed.

Wren is a lowly clock-polishing grease monkey in the Abbey. While cleaning the Abbot’s grandfather-clock, he overhears a conspiracy between a mysterious Figure in Grey and his Abbot to mumblemumble…

When even the Archbisshop will not hear him, it is upon Wren himself to unravel the nefarious scheme.

Story takes precedence in every way in this game. The authors have gone to great lengths to eliminate annoyances for the player. When there is an important action to be taken, numerous but well-considered commands act as a trigger for that action to further the plot. There are calm exploratory and conversational parts where both Wren and the player can catch their breaths and learn more about the city. There are frantic chase sequences where it seems both Wren and the player will be out of breath a moment later but still push onward.

And of course, there are obstacles. Many, many obstacles. Not one of them breaks the flow of the story. And some of those puzzles are beautiful. Beautiful in that they combine storytelling, logic, engineering, associative reasoning and storytelling (yes, I meant to write that twice…) to engage the player and commit the Wren-and-Player team more and more to solve the mystery together.

Two puzzles are extraordinarily good. They are also great examples of the breadth of reasoning the player is asked to do . One is a completely down-to-earth physics question (). The other is an excercise in associative programming (.

During Wren’s investigation, he will meet several people on his way, both friendly (good for Wren and the player needing clues) and malignant (great for the authors and the reader needing suspense). Although the conversations are ASK/TELL, they do not descend in awkwardness. Sometimes the characters won’t answer, but they are almost always believably occupied with other worries or tasks of their own. And even while they are otherwise engaged, their dismissive answers make sense in context. Nifty programming and great attention to both the detail of the immediate surroundings and the big picture of where Wren has gone before.

The Shadow in the Cathedral is a remarkable feat of intertwined puzzle-engineering, worldbuilding and philosophy.

Of course it is sad to have the story broken off after what should be the first chapter of a series. A word of wisdom to the prospective player: let the clock’s tick-tock take you to the bell, and let your imagination take over from there…

I loved every minute, hour and day of this game.

And a small but hopefully annoying heads-up to the authors: the chapter-titles are misaligned. for example: (Spoiler - click to show)the chapter-title says “The Rooftops of St. Philip” after the chase across the rooftops. By then Wren is already safe with Covalt. This is just an example. Every chapter’s title (except 1 & 2) comes after the story it’s supposedly about. A grating flaw in such a great piece. I would find it hard to believe that you would not return to The Shadow of the Cathedral to put the titles in order. (or is this a reflection of the rebellion against the clock?).

LASH -- Local Asynchronous Satellite Hookup, by Paul O'Brian
Rovarsson's Rating:

Whom The Telling Changed, by Aaron A. Reed

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The truth of the story is in the listener..., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Whom the Telling Changed is a different kind of IF. I was enthralled by this story within a story on multiple levels.

Superficially, this piece is a retelling of the story of the Cedar Forest and the demon Humbaba from the Gilgamesj epic. An interesting tale on its own, and also of great historical worth, it being the oldest recorded epic poem known in literature.

The setting is that of a non-descript tribal shepherding and farming community somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, some 3500 years ago. A group of newcomers have arrived, and the tribe is stricken with fear. There are also those who are curious to learn, and see these newcomers as an opportunity. You play the role of one of them, standing up to your war-hungry rival Sihan.

The epic poems that survived share a great relatability, centering on the great human questions of life and how to respond to them. It is here that Whom the Telling Changed places its interactivity. While the Storyteller relates the story of Gilgamesj and his friend Enkidu, you are allowed to comment and interject, hoping that your questions and suggestions will lead the emphasis of the story in your preffered direction and so sway the people to your point of view.

I imagine this sort of discussion over the meaning of old and well-known stories during a ritual telling around the fire may have been very important in the decision-making of pre-literate peoples. We still see this in debating the "true" meaning of religious and ideological texts.

Indeed, this is the wisdom the Storyteller imparts: Stories are not true or untrue. They convey meaning to the listener who makes them so...

The game-aspect of the story lies in traversing the pre-existing (and perhaps known to the reader) story in ways that emphasise the peaceful or curious sides of our human nature, as opposed to the violent or fearful ones.

Or not. The player is free to explore all the different directions the story may take, thereby sending the attention of the tribe and the relation with the rival Sihan in different directions.

Apart from some standard parser commands which are generally not needed, the player is offered a range of topics to choose from in the form of highlighted words in the text. There is also the opportunity to PRAISE or MOCK other speakers, to get the tribe on your side. Be careful, this may backfire.

I found there was a very believable and focusing contrast between the strict ceremonial protocol of the Telling and the freedom to interject at almost any time during the story. The game refuses all commands that would take the protagonist out of the frame of the Storytelling, most times responding with a valid in-game reason. On the other hand, there is a combinatorial explosion of choices that can lead you through the main story in many different ways, evoking different reactions from the tribe along the way.

The writing is exquisite throughout. The author has adopted the style of the epic oral poem, with repetitions and formulas, but he has also adapted this into readable and playable written IF-prose.

A story to play and replay, and, for me at least, a reason to expand my knowledge of the source material.

Very interesting, very impressive.

The Duel That Spanned the Ages, by Oliver Ullmann

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Solving puzzles with a gun in your hand., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

IF has its fair share of unfinished trilogies and abandoned series.This can be disappointing (or, depending on the quality of the piece, a relief...). Anyhow, it 's a shame to plogger your way through such a work, getting to know the characters and learning the puzzle-saviness you need to end at a brick wall with a sign that says: "No closure to see here. Move along please."

I have found a sure way to avoid the sense of despair that can overwhelm a player's heart when coming across such a piece, whether they notice it during play or beforehand. The player must get into the mindset of the archeologist. He must rejoice at unearthing a rare fragment of text that has survived through the ages to at last land in their hands.

I have unearthed such a magnificent fragment with The Duel That Spanned the Ages. Others have gone before me. I knew from another review that it was an uncomplete adventure, a single chapter of a larger story. Undeterred, I pressed on and found this a true original gem.
(There is an entry in IntroComp 2010 that is set in the same storyline. Since then, all has been quiet about The Duel That Spanned the Ages as far as I know.)

In keeping with the incompleteness of the work, there is a long, mysterious and seemingly disconnected introduction. The game proper puts you in the character of a mercenary on an asteroid in the ass end of space. Soon he is sent on a mission where the rest of his squad is killed and he must fend for himself.

I have never seen an IF-piece that is so chock-full of adrenalin. The player is warned in the ABOUT-text that there are some timed sequences and that it is possible to die. A grave understatement if ever there was one...

Your mercenary finds himself in fast-paced chase scenes and brutal battles. He has to explore an abandoned underground facility while under attack from all sides. If I had tried to explain the game to a friend, they would have wrongly guessed that I had played Doom or one of its offspring.

Despite all this mayhem, the game really tries to be friendly. For example, it allows multiple UNDOs (six in my experience, but the ABOUT-text says this can vary according to interpreter).

The puzzles, while challenging, are not of the endlessly-tinkering-and-experimenting kind. That would hinder the neck-breaking tempo. Still, it takes a good eye, some thorough exploring and some working out the physics of the situation to get at the correct solution. In fact, your mind may be biased toward the wrong kinds of solutions by the action surrounding you, making the puzzles harder.

Fittingly for a fast-paced game such as this, the action takes place on several small straightforward maps. The writing conveys the danger and tension all around. I for one was deep enough into the action that I didn't relax in the knowledge that I had a saved game to fall back on. No, I had to get to that elevator before I ran out of bullets. I was worrying about the damage to my mercenary's body, wondering how long the armour would hold and how long it would take to bleed out.

There are cutscenes where unknown entities talk about our mercenary, wondering if he is up to the greater task. Unfortunately, we will probably never know what task this is or who these entities are.

But do play this piece of an incomplete story. It packs an impressive punch all on its own.

Baluthar, by Chris Molloy Wischer

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Idolizing Vengeance., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

A lonely bedridden father... His son gone down the well to seek demonic assistance in avenging his mother's death...

A statue of Baluthar, their self-erected god of Vengeance.

In a wakeful moment, the father realizes he does not want his son sacrificed in the name of revenge. He must bring him back from the underworld.

Baluthar is a well-written dark-fantasy game. The descent into the caverns under the well, infested with carrion-eating beetles gets under your skin as you explore the rooms. The introduction does a good job of describing the elderly and weakened father. This does not really play a role in the rest of the game though. The son remains a mystery until the very end of the game, and even then the player has to deduce his character from vague clues.

The map is small but very efficient. It serves as an atmospheric backdrop to the few rather easy puzzles.

I really liked the ending, simple as it was.

An hour, maybe two, of light horror cave exploring.

Medicum Veloctic, by Lawrence M Marable

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Crisis medicine., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Night after night you sit awake, waiting for your superhero-boyfriend to come home so you can patch up his injuries. It's hurting you. It's hurting him that it's hurting you. But you can't stop. You need to be there for him. With him...

Medicum Veloctic presents itself as a twist on the superhero genre. The protagonist is a doctor who has to heal Veloctic's wounds and repair the damage caused by the brutal fights.

If you are patient enough to read through the medical handbook that's available from the start of the game, you'll have an idea of the gruesome injuries you might expect. There are also notes on how to treat these injuries, and consulting the handbook does not cost you any game-time. If you could call these puzzles, they are very easy indeed.

But rather than puzzles, the wounds serve as an externalization of the fractures in Veloctic's mind, your mind, and your relationship.

Underneath the superhero-story, this game is about a destructive relationship, self-hate and guilt, biting through pain for love (and wondering/refusing to wonder whether it's worth it).

Some of the descriptive paragraphs would benefit from another round of editing. There are some overly long passages that seem to be thrown in because they sounded so good in the author's mind, but they distract from the reality, the concreteness of the story.
The short sentences that let you follow the protagonist's inner thoughts are poignant and direct. The conversations convey the love of the characters for each other, the sometimes grim humour they share, the need they have for each other.

A deep and touching read.

Budacanta, by Alianora La Canta

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Save your spoons for when it counts., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Slice of Life

I pressed play, a pleasant melody started playing in the background and an in-game version of the author of Budacanta, Alianora, started explaining her circumstances to me:

She's going on a solo-trip to Hungary for a motorsports event and she would like your help.
Oh, and she's autistic.

In the introduction, Alianora explains a number of important concepts to you, like "passing", "spoon theory" and having to use a mental emulator to run a neurotypical brainsimulation to avoid a pass-fail.
This may sound like a bunch of technical jargon, but it's explained so patiently and with so much humor that you will understand easily.

Now, the game-part of Budacanta is a spoon-management challenge. Actually: preserving energy by soothing Alionora so she has enough energy to take on the challenges that are so important to her. Like talking to strangers, taking the bus in a foreign country with a very basic knowledge of the language and eventually going to the motorsporting event.

This game was a great learning experience for me. In fact, I think it would be good learning material for anyone who interacts with neurodiverse people regularly in some way.
Heck, I don't regularly interact with anyone who's on the autism spectrum (that I know of. they could just be good at passing...) and I found it immensely interesting to get this guided tour around a foreign brain.

This is also the comparison that Alianora draws in the game: visiting a foreign country (alone) most resembles what she does daily.
There are weird rules that everyone expects you to follow as if they're self-evident, but as a stranger to this land/mental state, you cannot see what's so obvious about them at all. So you do your best to pass as "normal" and not break the rules too much.

It's very important that Alianora doesn't want to stay in spoonsaving mode all the time. She wants to live life to the fullest, take on challenges and enjoy them and learn from them. It's just that the way her brain is wired means that she has to be extra careful what to spend her energies on and when to reload her batteries.

Alianora's enthusiasm throughout the story is contagious. She tells her story in a bright and friendly way. What I found most touching was her completely straightforward honesty, the very direct and explicit way she reports changes in her emotional state or talks about her weaknesses.

The Spring Thing version I have played ends after the first big challenge. If the upcoming full game is anywhere near as good as this introductory excerpt, I'll be jumping up and down to play it.

Very impressive and funny and interesting and bright and sparkling...

The Isle of the Cult, by Rune Berg

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A walk in the park ... until it turns into a jungle., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

After lying through your teeth about your lockpicking skills (which are non-existent), you were allowed into the Thieves' Guild. However, instead off stealing old ladies handbags, you are sent to a mysterious island, a letter from the Guild Master with your objective in your pocket.

Isle of the Cult starts out very laid-back and lighthearted. So much so that when a) the letter with your goal on it turns out to be illegibly smudged by seawater, and b) the fishing boat that dropped you off sails away with your burglar's gear still in it, you decide to just wing it without any equipment.

So you set off to explore the island and you soon come across remnants of an old civilization: an abandoned village and two temples on a hill. The ex-inhabitants of the village probably said to each other: "Hey, if ever a lone adventurer comes this way, we might as well make them feel welcome!", and left a few easy obstacles in the way. "The way" being a straight north-south avenue with buildings to the sides.

Things change when you get to the southern part of the island. Here, narrow paths wind through the jungle to isolated locations, ravines and streams block your path. In the center of the jungle a great fog-tipped mountain looms. There are harder puzzles you must solve to get to locked off areas of the map. Not harder as in complicated, but cunningly deceiving, making you look one way while the solution is right under your nose. Quite exhilarating to solve these, really. A few red herrings are thrown in for good measure, and these add to the overall abandoned island-feel.

The writing in Isle of the Cult is not remarkable but it is efficient and to the point. Storywise there is hardly any story or plot to speak of. This is an oldschool puzzle adventure. But it is an excuisitely polished one. The author has thought of many unnecessary or "wrong" actions and has provided appropriate, helpful or funny responses. Your movements are described tersely, reminding you that you are crossing jungle-terrain, not just going E or N on a grid.

A smooth and sometimes misleading adventure. Nothing groundbreaking, but very well made. A joy to play.

Andromeda Awakening - The Final Cut, by Marco Innocenti

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Alpha radiation!, June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Entering into the world of Andromeda Awakening the player's freedom is purposefully overridden by the urgency of the protagonist's mission. This did not feel like railroading by the author, it genuinely felt like the commands that did not move toward the PC's goal entered into his mind as distractions and were then ignored. This was really helpful in alligning my focus with the protagonist's.

Yes, that road into the city looks inviting, but there are more pressing matters to attend to first. These secret documents must be brought to the attention of the Council first.

It's only when a literal trainwreck spoils the protagonist's goal that protagonist and player are set free in a hellish undergound area, left on the edge of a magma-filled chasm. Every few turns short bits of text remind you that the earth is still settling in the aftermath of the earthquake that demolished the train tracks.

Exploring the map is a great joy. There are not that many locations, but the many hidden passages and the sudden open halls make the game feel very spacious. There is a great balance between the rocky, rubble-filled natural caves and the human(?)-made constructions under the half-molten icy planet crust.

Yes, the half-molten ice crust. The worldbuilding in Andromeda Awakening is sketchy but very evocative. To pull you even deeper into this strange planet's geography and history you are provided with a handheld computer to LOOK UP details about many of the strange devices and constructions you encounter.

The story hints at a much greater and older world than you can experience within the boundaries of this game alone. There are ancient devices, a secret scientific research facility, hints of a thousand-year-old civilisation that came before... The writing succeeds very well at painting a big, almost overwhelming picture.

It does lack clarity in the descriptions of the immediate surroundings. I believe this is partly a conscious decision to make the player experience the same confusion as the protagonist when first seeing these otherworldly sights. Indeed, if you LOOK again, many times the room-description is more condensed and it becomes easier to select the nouns that are actually important to the game.
The other part of the unclear descriptions however is due to the fact that the author is not entirely fluent in English. There are many grating sentences that are hard to parse, and many words that seemed to be picked from a dictionary of synonyms without the necessary feel for nuances in meaning.

As a result of this, I found one of the central puzzles ((Spoiler - click to show)copying the cylinder-pattern onto the soap) very hard to visualize. Because of this, I couldn't figure out what commands to direct at which objects, even though I did feel I knew what had to be done (a look at the walkthrough confirmed this).

Despite this, Andromeda Awakening is impressive in its wide, possibly universe-spanning scope. It can be read as an open-ended story in itself, but I am very curious to see where the author takes it in the sequel.

When a science fiction story makes you think of how the movie Prometheus attempted to tie the Human/Alien mythos together, that says a lot about how ambitious it is. Andromeda Awakening fulfills enough of that ambition to be a great, if not fantastic, scifi-game.

The Wizard Sniffer, by Buster Hudson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not-princesses all around!, June 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

It all begins with a rather awkward protagonist to control: a pig (which can alledgedly sniff out wizards...) Since pigs walk on four feet and have no opposable thumbs, a lot of commands are thrown out the window by nature of the PC. And although pigs are known to be very clever animals by those who study them (pigycists?), this particular pig does seem to rise even above normal intelligence levels of other members of the species Sus scrofa. For one thing, it can read...

Seeing that this smart pig is somewhat limited in the handiness department, it must find other ways to further its goals. Cue NPCs. By virtue of an excellent grasp of human psychology, our protagonist-pig can manipulate the other characters into following it around and it nudges them to interact with objects or other characters through very deliberately SNIFFing of pieces of the surroundings. Different characters will act upon this sniffing in different ways, according to their nature.

One of the pig's major ways to solve puzzles is therefore to choose the right NPC to come along and do the hands-on work. Instead of switching between PCs with their special abilities, here our pig-protagonist has to switch between NPC accomplices. The way this is handled in-game is both elegant and hilarious.

The puzzles flow seamlessly from the story and the setting. Some of them are pig-adjusted variations on standard adventure-fare, while others are truly surprising and original.

The writing is fresh and crisp, with a truly great comedic touch. There is lots of physical slapstick comedy, but at least as much of the humour comes from the pig's observations of the humans. Our pig always keeps a certain distance and so can easily see through the notions about identity the NPCs have about themselves.

Through these observations and the development of the story, what started as a laugh-out-loud comedy evolves into a character-driven drama by the finale. The Aesop that becomes clear near the end could have been cliché and heavy-handed, but the lightness and subtlety of the writing lifts it far above a finger-waving moral-of-the-story.

Truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.

Magic Realms -- The Sword of Kasza, by James Mallette

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Heroic character put to the test..., June 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

On the surface, Magic Realms; Sword of Kasza is a nice but not too memorable oldschool quest. After being framed for the murder of the King's messenger, you escape and learn that the evil Rerex has reawakened. His first plan was to possess the magistrate of your town and let him throw you in jail to get you out of the way, for you have been foretold to be "The Chosen One".

But now you are free! After proving your worth to the king, you are sent on a quest to recover the fabled "Sword of Kasza".

The map is interesting. Five magical realms are accessible from a single convenient hub-junction. Each realm holds part of the Magical Sword or some wisdom to be gained or a foe to be vanquished in order to get closer to Rerex. The realms are self-contained puzzle areas. You do have to bring your backpack with you upon entering each one, but everything needed to advance in the game is in the realm itself. (The reason you need your backpack is to avoid the inventory limit and, more importantly, to have your beef jerky with you, should you get hungry...)

Sword of Kasza is fairly light on puzzles. Most are straight from the old build-your-own-adventure box for beginners. There is a code-breaking puzzle which left me scratching my head even after checking the walkthrough. And there is one truly fun variation on the distract-the-guards theme (although not that original).

There is a great and deceptively simple solution to getting into the king's castle. It relies on the player truly imagining what to do in the PC's place.

Instead of more intricate puzzles, the game relies more on the player finding the appropriate actions to trigger story-events. Sometimes these have a great dynamic effect (talking to the right NPC opens up a whole new set of locations), sometimes they are not so well executed (you have to SIT to advance the story...)

Nearing the endgame, there are some rather nice action-sequences. The text here is timed for dramatic effect, and although it may be too slow for some, I enjoyed this.

So far, a run-of-the-mill oldschool fantasy adventure that would not stand out among the hundreds of others of its kind.

The true strength of Magic Realms; Sword of Kasza lies in its completely new approach to player-immersion. Getting the player to forget she is playing a game was an explicitly stated goal of the Infocom Imps.

Authors have tried different ways to absorb the player in their stories. Some weave a story so breathtaking the player cannot help but be moved by the characters' fate. Some go to extreme lengths in building a detailed fictional world to mentally transport the player there. One step further, they might try to achieve a near-perfect simulation where almost every possible action the player thinks of is accounted for.

Here, the author takes a different path into the player's mind. Since interactive fiction is a textual medium, and players of interactive fiction may on average be considered to be more sensitive to language and writing than mere mortals, author James Malette decided to emulate the hardships of the questing hero in the player's experience through the cunning use of linguistic torture.

The most brutal yet least sophisticated example is the simple misspelling. "Messenger" becomes "messager". "Corridor" becomes "corrdior". These are the blunt-force weapons used to make the player feel the Hero's pain.

Of course, multiples of these can be joined together in a single sentence to act as a textual cluster-bomb. Consider this example:

> "This area has a fense inclosing a large field where horses are glazing."

A well-chosen rearrangement of letters in a single word can give new meaning, baffling the reader:

> "The village of Moon has been destoryed by the hand of Rerex!"

Far beyond mere destruction, we are facing a villain who can wipe a village from the story with a handwave!

More subtle than these are the slowly grating "mistakes" that get under the player's skin, making shouting at the screen or even throwing the computer against the nearest wall a real possibility.

> "You're" is "your". Every single time.
> Plural nouns become "noun's". Almost every time.
> The English past tense is written by gluing "-ed" to the verb. Just enough so it catches you by surprise every time.

The foulest weapon of all in this linguistic arsenal though is the dreaded "Seemingly Random Semicolon". It can show up in an innocent list of objects where, although painful, it is at least obviously out of place. It also rears its head in the middle of a descriptive paragraph, forcing the player to doubt her interpretation and reread the offensive sentence over and over, each time with a different emphasis. A truly haunting experience.

> "Beware the traps within, for amany bold knight entered; none never returned."

With this masterpiece I leave you to ponder the power of text, and text alone, to inflict harm upon the player comparable to the harm we put our protagonists through when exploring interactive fictional worlds.

The Plant, by Michael J. Roberts

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Cleaning windows..., May 30, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

Conveniently for the author of The Plant, his protagonist's car breaks down right in front of a sketchy detour leading to a mysterious plant off the main road. Equally convenient is the fact the boss of said protagonist is very eager to explore said plant...

While the circumstances leading up to the start of the game are a bit convoluted, once the story starts, I got drawn in fast and deep. The main reason for this is the excellent writing and pacing. The player's curiosity is piqued along with the PC's, and the boss's nudging adds some extra motivation to find a way into this mysterious facility.

The puzzles provide good pacing to the story, forcing the player to slow down and take note of what is happening. A good deal of actions trigger cutscenes, giving movement to the game/story, instead of being a static stage with the PC walking around it.

I did not encounter one bug, and only one puzzle that could be a bit more player-friendly in design ((Spoiler - click to show)When moving atop the glass ceiling, you have to LOOK each time you stop to see the particulars of your surroundings). Everything else is smooth, well clued (that doesn't mean easy...) and executed perfectly. The technical skill shown in the design of this game makes sure the player trusts that even though she is stuck, there is a way to win the game, and that it makes sense. (Lord of the IF-realm knows I've played games not so trustworthy...)

I'm still of two minds regarding the finale. It seemed like a profound breach of tone, but on the other hand, I did burst out laughing.

Very good original puzzles, extremely good pacing. Maybe a tad impersonal. Recommended.

Founder's Mercy, by Thomas Insel

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Alone at Lagrange 5, May 25, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Founder's Mercy is very unclear about its backstory, but there are some hints to be gleaned from a Holy Book left on an altar, some personal memories of the protagonist upon entering locations and examining the surroundings.
You're on a generation ship sent out to the Lagrange 5 parking spot trailing earth in its orbit. (For those interested: Lagrange points are fascinating. The next huge space telescope will also be parked on one of them.) Your ancestors hoped to bring a civilization to fruition on this ship according to their godly laws. It didn't turn out that way and now you're the last one left.

Food and water are getting scarce and the life support machinery is slowly breaking down. Plus, you're yearning for human contact.

Founder's Mercy takes place on a very small map. Too small perhaps to give an accurate impression of the game world. It's only when you have the opportunity to look at the entire ship from a vantage point that you get an impression of how enormous it is.

Since you're on a wheel-shaped spaceship, directions are not the default N,E,S,W, but rather SpinWard, AntiSpinWard, Starboard and Port. This doesn't lead to any confusion however. The map is small, almost straight and circular. You can find whichever location you need by going SpinWard the required number of turns.

Like the backstory, the surroundings are not given a lot of attention. It's clear that the game wants to focus your attention on the puzzles.

The obstacles are quite easy to overcome. There was one that took a little bit of thinking around the corner, but it's mostly find-object-use-object stuff.

A nice and short diversion.

Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I., by Muffy Berlyn and Michael Berlyn

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
As if particle physics wasn't weird enough on its own..., May 23, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler

As I was reading the lengthy and funny prologue to Dr. Dumont's P.A.R.T.I. I was quickly drawn into the backstory to this game. Allthough it's a fairly traditional comic/surreal puzzle romp, the fact that the weirdness is explained in-game put the entire experience in a whole other light.

Our protagonist is an accidental guinea pig trying out the newest particle accelerator in the university lab. The A.I. controlling this advanced particle detection machine needs genuine creative input from a human mind to teach it how and where to look for the elusive particle X. In order to get this input, the computer generates a metaphorical world in which the human subject must solve puzzles for the computer to learn from.

With this in the back of my mind, there were many instances where I could relate the superficial silliness of the puzzles and their solutions to my limited layman's knowledge of actual scientifically demonstrated properties of the subatomic world. ((Spoiler - click to show)the golfball, the bubble wand,...)

It's certainly a welcome change from getting lost in a magical realm as an explanation for unbridled silliness. When push comes to shove, that is exactly what this physics-themed adventure is: a stack of bizarre, weird and silly circumstances with their own internal consistence, strung together for the player to test her wits against.

After a bit of just wandering around enjoying the views, I did have some trouble to find an appropriate starting point to the game proper. The map has a spoked hub-structure with each spoke open to exploration from the moment you find the central hub. I assumed that each spoke would be its own self-contained puzzle area, independent of the others until I had gathered everything needed for the endgame. I found out this was a wrong assumption after bashing my head against a timed puzzle in the first spoke I tried. It turns out that although the spokes are freely accessible from the get go, they have to be entered and solved in a particular order to solve the game, each game area building on objects or clues you got in the previous one.

Once this was clear however, I had a very enjoyable time finding my way through the many locations. The puzzles were just right for my skill- and knowledge-level. Most are common sense physics/mechanics puzzles with enough of a twist to keep them from being overly obvious. There is also a tip of the hat to a quite common link between quantum physics and Zen meditation (nature of reality stuff...) that appears in many layman's books about particle physics. Suffice it to say that you have to MEDITATE ON some topics to get the insight needed to find the solution to a puzzle.

The writing is consistently funny, the humour ranging from slapstick to surreal, interspersed with small in-jokes for the subatomically in-the-know. A lot of the comedy comes from the descriptions, behaviour and conversations of the NPCs, who all seem to be the same guy in various transparent disguises.

Gameplay-wise, Dr. Dumont's P.A.R.T.I. is very much a classic puzzle-heavy text adventure. The quirky humour and the quantum-physics background does set it apart from others of its kind.

Not too hard, lots of laughs, lots of fun. Chucklingly recommended.

The Lost Children, by Larry Horsfield

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Duke Alaric dukes it out with the trolls., May 20, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

It had been a long time since I ventured into Hecate, the land of Alaric Blackmoon. I was immediately drawn back in. I love the high-on-questing/low-on-magic surroundings. Alaric is a down-to-earth veteran who got appointed Duke for saving Hecate in the first game, Axe of Kolt. Since then he has been roaming the lands to help his people where he can.

In The Lost Children the children of Hecate are being kidnapped by the trolls, who are normally friendly commercial partners. Might there be some magical coercion behind their changed behavior?

The story of The Lost Children is standard but great fun. Alaric goes on a straightforward, unironic quest to save the missing children, solving problems and puzzles on his way. The first area, west of the Fireheart Mountains, involves two fetch-quests. One is particularly weird/hilarious. The mother of one of the missing children has information Alaric needs, but she demands that he fix her leaking roof first. The fact that she's an Elf who knows through a psychic connection that her son is alive and well might help explain her warped priorities, but still...

The puzzles here range from the very simple find-object-use-object kind to more elaborate obstacles where our hero must obtain the right information first and go through a multi-step plan to get what he needs.

It is during one of these fetch-quests that the player encounters a magnificent puzzle where they have to take stock of their inventory, the geography of multiple locations and make a mental leap that would come natural for a playing child. The moment it clicks is fantastic. ((Spoiler - click to show)Skipping into the cave across the cove.

The area east of the mountains offers a whole other set of obstacles. Here Alaric comes face to face with the trolls and must find ways to deceive, kill or in some other way go around them. There is certainly some learn-by-dying involved in the endgame, where the player has to figure out which steps to take and then restore and execute those steps in as few moves as possible, or else be caught by trolls or pulverized by wizard-fire. In a game as proudly oldschool as this one, I had not one bit of a problem with that.

The problems with <iThe Lost Children mostly lie in a lack of gatekeeping between the two areas. It is exceedingly easy to move through the tunnels under the Fireheart Mountains to the valley of the trolls from which there is no return, and only then notice that you lack a necessary object to kill the ogre.
Indeed, there are many, many ways to get the game into walking-dead terrain. Too many. That's a shame, because the good oldschool features (I learned to like a well-thought-through try-die-repeat puzzle) of the game threaten to be buried under the frustration that comes with too many restores and lack of clues and guidance.

I enjoyed playing through this game with a massive amount of hints and explicit help. Without that, I would recommend playing another Alaric Blackmoon-game like Die Feuerfaust instead.

Time: All Things Come to an End, by Andy Phillips

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
I want to see this movie!, May 15, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Escape

Really. If there was a blockbuster version of this game starring a young Harrison Ford (or even Nicholas Cage, I've often thought the National Treasure movies were text-adventures in disguise.), I'd be standing in line to get tickets.

Run-down scientist with a time machine! A sinister femme fatale for a nemesis! Aliens mingling in human affairs! World War II!

One of those movies where you get a huge box of popcorn (I don't eat popcorn, but you get the image), set your brain to receive-only mode and just munch away. That could be a great cinematographic experience.
Unfortunately, the only way to get a tiny inkling of this experience in the game Time; All Things Come To An End is to have the walkthrough open and just hammer away at the keyboard.

It does a lot of things right though.

First, there's a ridiculously, comically easy intro-sequence. Really, you are fired when your timetraveling prototype device doesn't work, even after years and years of work. The stacks of notes are on your desk to prove it. And then, oops: (Spoiler - click to show)turns out you forgot to charge the batteries...

So after sorting that out, you decide to give your machine a spin. Whoosh! You are stranded in the future where you stumble upon some sinister conspiracy. With his dying breath, a vaguely familiar man asks for your assistance. Coincidentally, it soon turns out that gettting to the bottom of this conspiracy is also the way to get back to your own timeline.

In a big part of Time; All Things Come To An End, you are being chased by the bad guys. Even in the parts where you are not actively pursued, your nemesis (a delightfully sinister femme fatale) is around somewhere, ready to pounce if you should make a wrong move.

In keeping with this chase-theme, the game plays out on a series of small maps. Your objective is twofold: get the objects or information you need, and escape your pursuers to advance to the next map. This should aid in keeping the game tempo up. There are different modes of transportation between maps, giving a feeling of adventure and real action.

The writing in Time; All Things Come To An End is mostly good. Nice descriptions, well-written (if hardly interactive) dialogue, great cut-scenes (and death-scenes). The author does seem to be under the impression there is some sort of prize to be won for "Most uses of the word 'Evil' in a work of Interactive Fiction." I also think the author got tired near the end. The writing drops noticeably in quality, stock-phrases and clichés start popping up more.

All this could (should) make for a fast-paced chase-game where you feel your pursuers breathe down your neck while you try to figure out each area's puzzle and get to safety in the nick of time.

Alas! Time; All Things Come To An End falls flat in this respect. It fails to tie all the good things together in a fluid, fast-moving game-experience.

Some of you may remember a certain groundbreaking game from the late nineties where you had to move through a very specific sequence of moves to advance. (Spoiler - click to show)Spider and Web. If you deviated too much from this sequence, you failed. But! This particular game was framed in such a way that failing and retrying became an integral part of the experience, adding to the tension and the immersion. It also had the mechanics to back up this fail-and-retry design.

Time; All Things Come To An End is not far removed in time from this game. Here too, the player has to correctly execute a sequence of commands in the right order and , more importantly, in a limited number of turns. However, the only way to eventually get it right is to create tons and tons of save-files and restoring many, many times. These are out-of-game actions, leading to completely non-immersive learn-by-dying gameplay. It would not have been a great leap to add some sort of in-game mechanism to bring the PC back to the start of a challenge, given that the timetravel-premise is already in place.

Lack of time/turns is not the only reason why the player should have numerous save-files on hand. It is exceedingly easy to put the game in an unwinnable state without noticing it until one or more chapters later. Failing to pick up an object, or worse, leaving a seemingly unimportant object behind after a spot of inventory-juggling (yes, there's an inventory limit, at least in the first part of the game) wíll leave you at a dead end many moves later.

Now, after getting savvy to this and accepting that this is just how the game works, I managed to make quite a bit of progress on my own. Playing through a chapter to get the lay of the land and figuring out the death-points, then restoring and doing it right got me a good way into the game. But then the puzzles got in the way. And not in a good way. Many puzzles are extremely obscure, very underclued and with no obvious motivation for the necessary actions. Several times, the key to the solution lay in a location that was wholly unmentioned in any description.

Needless to say that after a few hours of this (this game is big, 2500 moves easy), my motivation waned and I started resorting to the walkthrough more and more.

And here I have to refer back to the beginning of this review: I want to see this movie! The story is great in a suspension-of-disbelief-turned-up-to-eleven kind of way. There are cool twists and turns, great locations in time and space, a real sense of mystery...

It's just not that easily playable as an adventure game.

Despite that, I had a lot of fun, and I recommend playing through it anyhow.

Augustine, by Terrence V. Koch

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Watch out what you wish for., May 15, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

An oath sworn in anger and grief leaves two men immortal, bound in their fate until one succeeds in killing the other.

One of them is Kasil, a merciless warlord who led his men on gruesome slaughter-rallies through England in the early fourteenth century. The other is you. You saw your village butchered at the hands of Kasil's men and your sister raped and murdered by the man himself. At the end of an undecided duel, you swear that you will either kill him, or die by his hand while trying. And so the curse takes hold...

First, let's get this out of the way: Yes, this setup is very reminiscent of the <Highlander-movies. It's too good a story to dismiss it as derivative or even plagiarizing though. I categorize it as "an original story in the Highlander-universe", even though the particulars of the spell/curse are somewhat different.

I was very impressed with the structure of this story. Augustine begins with an action-packed prologue where the player learns the backstory of both characters and their bond of fate.

The contrast with the start of the story proper, where you are a bored office clerk in the city of Augustine could not have been greater. Looking for a way to spend the evening, you buy a ticket for a ghost-story tour. It's during these stories that the player learns that the PC is indeed the same centuries-old warrior from the prologue. Although it could be a bit more refined, the author still makes good use of the PC knowing more than the player.

Through flashbacks brought on by the different stories, the player gradually traverses important events of the protagonist's life, coming to know and understand him better. Eventually, this leads us to the expected final showdown at the end of a second and rather more eventful story-tour.

An enthralling story to be sure, but very flawed in execution I am sad to say. When going over my notes for this review, I was reminded of my comments on Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter. A great adventure story, but not an adventure game. Apart from some fightscenes where you can THRUST and PARRY, there is hardly any exploring and no puzzle-solving whatsoever. Exploring the story would count as adventuring for me, were it not that the game is so railroaded that there might as well have been a next page-link at the bottom of the paragraph instead of a parser-prompt.

Indeed, I would have enjoyed this story more as an ink-and-paper macabre horror fiction piece as were popular in the second half of the eightteenth century.

Add to this a very annoying lack of synonyms (>THRUST AT KALIS. You would have to unsheath your sword before you do that. >UNSHEATH SWORD. I do not know the verb "unsheath". Aaargh!) and an all too generous sprinkling of misspellings.

Summary: very good story, badly executed as interactive fiction. Read it, but don't expect to play it.

Ballyhoo, by Jeff O'Neill

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A lot loafer doing some Johnny Tin Plate-cherry pie on the side., May 7, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Comedy

Yes. That's just one of the great things about Ballyhoo: you get to learn circus-lingo.

After overhearing the circus boss talking to an obviously incompetent private detective about the disappearance of his daughter, you decide to do some investigating yourself. No other motivation than your protagonist's whim. Works for me...

So you start the game and soon find that...

Ballyhoo is pure puzzle and comedy gold.

The comedy comes from many different sources.
There is the persistent atmosphere of a somewhat run-down circus. There are mislaid props and animal odours and filthy rags for banners. One of the trailers is off kilter, an old and warped attraction front serves as part of the fence, one of the lions is skinny and shaggy... This atmosphere doesn't get depressing because it's offset by detailed and colourful descriptions.

The prose is really good. The room and action descriptions are clear but also playful, and there are some hilarious cutscenes (I include deathscenes in the "hilarious cutscene"-category...) A lot of the comedy comes from the protagonist winding up in awkward situations and uncomfortable circumstances ((Spoiler - click to show)trying to navigate a tightrope 20 feet up in the air, finding your way through the crowd searching for your cotton-candy). Many times I laughed at the almost slapstick shenanigans needed to complete one or other task.

During your investigation, you'll meet many outlandish characters. When you (the player) stop and think about it, these NPCs are no more interactive or conversational than a cardboard cutout, but they are so well drawn that their stand-offish behavior and reluctance to answer your questions seems perfectly natural in-game. And they are marvelous just as they are. A collection of wonderful circus-artistes to gawk at.

Other funny features were the many, many instances of wordplay and punnery in the responses to "wrong" commands. My favorite was GET OUT OF LINE when exiting the line in front of a food stand ((Spoiler - click to show)the game describes your character raving and ranting and jumping up and down in anger, i.e. behaving "out of line"...)

As I said above, the puzzles in Ballyhoo are really top shelf. Beautifully hinted and clued. Very rewarding, in the searching for clues as well as in the discoveries after solving them.
When I came across a puzzle, I always could picture a vague general plan to tackle it. And it always turned out that I had missed a necessary step or forgot to bring an important object, throwing me off-balance again. Wonderful! And it always made sense in hindsight.

A small criticism: although I loved solving the puzzles for their own sake, and a joy to solve they were, I rarely had any idea why I was jumping through these hoops.
Of course I'm going to try to get in the lion's cage if I find out it's locked. Why? Because I'm playing an Infocom game. Apart from that, there is little to no motivation in-game to do the weird things that you do. Not even the occasional "You think you see a silvery glint behind the grating"...

This is in keeping with the characterization of the PC. Sure, the game-world is a late 1800s circus setting, but if you look at the bare bones of Ballyhoo, you're still a nameless cleptomaniac adventurer solving puzzles because they're there. There are a lot of instances where you find the solution before you see the puzzle. So you wind up taking everything with you "just in case". To be clear, I don't mind that. I actually like it. Just pointing out that we're not far removed from ZORK-gameplay.

There is however a bigger and more compelling story woven around the puzzle-solving hoop-jumping. This becomes evident int the finale. Excellent building of tension, beautifully tying together the narrative strands (in a hilariously off-kilter way, but hey...). The player's expectations are abruptly shaken a few times before finally solving the bigger puzzle that is the disappearance of the boss's daughter.

Really, play Ballyhoo. It's a hoot.

Eleanor, by Rob

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Orpheus revisited., April 27, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Surreal

Your love is gone. Dead. You wish to see her once more. Maybe even stay with her in the dark... Or say your goodbyes and live...

Eleanor is a very deep atmospheric game-experience. The sound effects immediately drew me into the dark immaterial realm where you are searching for Eleanor. Examining parts of your surroundings often brings up a pop-up window with an evocative drawing or a few paragraphs of text. These are meant to be associative asides, no background story will be spelled out in concrete flashbacks.

The setting is extremely sparse. I pictured myself/the protagonist floating in some intangible black void, with only a few recognizable props. Interacting with your surroundings happens on a dreamlike symbolic level. You trigger memories and sensations within you which make obstacles dissolve and doors open.

The Spring Thing competition version is sadly riddled with misspellings and linguistic errors. I trust most of these will have been corrected in an upcoming postcomp update.
Apart from that, it is clear that English is not the author's native tongue. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It often makes for an unfamiliar turn of phrase that emphasizes the distanced and estranged impression the game makes.

Eleanor is made harder than it has to be by its very idiosyncratic parser messages. The responses to certain commands often do not make clear whether an action is not appropriate in the current circumstances, or is simply not implemented.

That being said, Eleanor is also made hard (and rightly so) by being exactly what it wants to be: a dreamlike journey through an intangible underworld where touching and looking are actions of the mind or even of the soul; where normal physical interaction cannot take place.
It is up to the player to enter into this state of mind. Snippets of text and song lyrics that I had dismissed as atmospheric background are indispensable clues here. You must react to the voices you hear, the images that are formed in your mind's eye. They are not mere spooky mood-setters.

It is also very important that the player use the HELP-command as a real in-game command. It does not call up help from a distinct impersonal help-file, rather it implores Eleanor or an unseen narrator to aid the searching player/protagonist. The responses to HELP are often as evocative as those to LOOK or TOUCH.

I really hope the post-comp version does away with the unintended impenetrability, and leaves the intended opaqueness as an eerie, disconcerting puzzle for the player.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Statue seeks murderer, April 23, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

[PYG]MALION*'s intro sets up the scenes for a murder investigation among beings of the 4th and 5th dimension, gods if you will. They are the suspects and you, the murdered god/godess are the investigator, having been reanimated in a marble statue.

I found the setting refreshing. No cloudy mountains or temples from antiquity. Instead the gods have gathered in a stately mansion that would fit well in a Poirot-story. The characters too look and behave like upperclass humans (with a tad more power and influence) from that era.
You are to investigate the mansion, question the suspects and make an accusation at the end.

Unfortunately, there was not much interrogating or investigating to be done. Your efforts are mostly just dismissed by the higher beings you're trying to question, and I found no material evidence when searching the scene.
I really enjoyed the diverse scenes playing out (coins in the fountain), but I never came across something that looked like a clue or a false alibi or anything that one would expect in a fictional murder investigation.

The accusation at the end was therefore just a baseless guess. The author probably had a definite reason for making this choice, maybe something about being powerless against the whims of fate.

At any rate, I didn't get it.

Don't let this stop you from playing, it's an enjoyable read.

The Hugo Clock, by Jason McWright

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
What are those things outside?, April 23, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Hopefully, you will never know. Instead, you run indoors and slam the door behind you.

So, you made your way into Dr.Hugo's (yes, doctor hugo in a hugo game called "the hugo clock"...) research facility. Now for the final part of your assignment. Close the portal.

The way The Hugo Clock drops you in the middle of the story adds a meta-puzzle to the conventional puzzles of the game. Why are you here, who is Dr. Hugo, what were you running from at the start of the game?

Frequent intermezzos with two men, one calm and composed, one frantically pacing, enhance the mystery. The men are talking about your progress, doubting if you will be able to finish the task. (These intermezzos are printed in dark red, adding to the sinister atmosphere of these little exchanges.)

The research facility of Dr. Hugo is small but well described,with a definite creepy atmosphere. There is an exhibition of bizarre artefacts and a room full of contorted skeletons of unknown animals. The main puzzle consists of finding out how to operate a strange machine in the lab. Most of the steps needed are traditional adventure fare, finding and deciphering clues and operating the machine accordingly. There is one delightful (and sad) puzzle which requires you to manipulate a cleaner-automaton into handling part of the preparations for you.

How you execute the machine-operating sequence will determine your fate, and perhaps that of the world...

Short. Not too hard, not too easy. Great fun!

Basilica de Sangre, by Bitter Karella

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Funny Demonic Nunnery., April 21, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

The nuns of the nigh impenetrable Nunnery of Blood have taken your mother. Against all odds and the other demons' advice, you will infiltrate it and free your mother.

First off: a bit of tech stuff.
The adjustable interface is pretty nifty. You can toggle all of the player conveniences. Old-fashioned purist that I am, I chose to turn off the side panes (which show exits, inventory and interactive objects in the room), the auto-map (which is cool, by the way) and the keyword links (I find the blue highlighting distracting and hey, I'm playing a parser game!)
The room description-layout is very basic: first a dry list of exits, objects and characters, followed by the actual room description. Any special action taken is listed even before the exits-and-objects list, but the circumstances and consequences of that action are only described after the room. This basic (default Quest?) layout cuts up the flow of the narrative into discrete chunks.

The writing itself is very good though. It captures the locations efficiently (a dank cellar, a smelly cottage,...). The NPCs are very nicely characterized. As they are mostly means to be used for solving puzzles, the attention mostly goes to their relevant physical features, but there's always a hint at their deeper personalities.
Overall, a playful and mischievous tone pervades the game.

Basilica de Sangre takes place on a small, condensed map, making the most of the limited number of locations and avoiding to send the player on long unnecessary walks.

The puzzles hinge on an original main mechanism. The author has struck a good balance between using this mechanism and incorporating some more traditional text-adventure puzzles to support it.
I mustn't elaborate too much. Suffice it to say that it's always a good idea to take note of where the NPCs are, what they are carrying and to read the (short) conversations attentively.

A very pleasant little game!

Sovereign Citizens, by Laura Paul and Max Woodring

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Too luxurious to be livable., April 19, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Slice of Life

This is more an experience than a game. Sovereign Citizens lets the player look over the shoulder of a homeless woman while she's exploring an abandoned mansion.

The choices involved (in my playthrough at least) amount to nothing more than choosing which room to visit next. Once in those rooms, the only thing to do was let the text draw me along in the woman's thoughts, feelings and memories.

Fortunately, the writing is good. The loneliness and abandonement of the house is clear, as is the held-back desperation of the woman as she wanders through empty room after empty room. The relationship between the woman and her husband (I think) is one of mutual comfort, their being together might well be the real home in the story.

The experience is vivid and immersive, and in the end it lets the reader draw their own conclusions. There are political, emotional, psychological themes that are touched upon, without pushing them into the reader's face.

A good click-through read, not much of a game.

Picton Murder Whodunnit, by Sia See

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Murder most sparse., April 19, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Picton Murder Whodunnit is a short and sparse random-perpetrator murder mystery. I played through it only once, so I can't really comment on the mechanics of the random assignment of the murderer.

The setting of an upper-class mansion with its inhabitants (and a butler!) is something that inspires high expectations in me. There are many opportunities for drama and/or humour here, in the story/plot as well as in the characterization. Unfortunately, the game let me down on both counts.

Storywise, Picton Murder Whodunnit is just too sparse. There is no background on the murder or the victim. The family's affairs are given naught but the faintest of hints. Even within the constraints of the randomization, a vague account of the events leading up to the murder would have been very welcome.

An upper-class mystery-game of this kind stands or falls, in my opinion, by the pointed characterization of the people involved. There is a lot of room for either a deep psychological profile or a funny charicature of the well known rich family trope-characters.
In the game however, there is only the highly prejudiced opinion of the PC, which I found rather unprofessional for the expert-investigator the introduction claims he is.

Perhaps the randomization mechanism would blow my mind upon replay. I will not know because I will not replay. There just isn't enough there.

The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet, by Graham Nelson (as Angela M. Horns)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Cave crawling Ambassador, April 18, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

After three weeks as a guest of the Northland Empire, you've had it with these carefully guided official visits and tours designed to show you absolutely nothing of what is really going on in the land. Fortunately, due to a small mishap during an elephant tour, which you had nothing to do with of course, you get an opportunity to search around your lodgings and sniff out the secrets they do not want you to know.

And soon you find the entrance to a cave...

The Meteor, The Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet sets itself firmly in Zorkian territory. It's a classic and very well done cave-crawl with some explicit references to the caves of Zork.

As soon as you enter the cave halls, you are welcomed by an overwhelming view. Truly one of the most surprising cave-descriptions I have read so far. From here, you explore a small but exquisitely crafted map. There are many differences in level, and you have to be very resourceful to get up or down from one to the other. I prefer this over a 100-room NESW sprawler any day.

The puzzles are clever without being too hard.
A few depend on unusual object-manipulation, many need you to learn a simple magic system with spells that just happen to be tailor-made for the problems you encounter.
I had the strong impression that the author did have a particular order of traversal in mind. If you should skip one of the early locations, choosing to explore deeper first, the puzzles become a lot harder to understand.

The intro and the first part of the midgame are very relaxed, getting the player to trust the game that they can explore and experiment at their leisure. And then Zarfian cruelty strikes. I won't elaborate, but just watch you inventory, okay?

There's a nice shift in pace in the endgame, where you need to make your escape by making a mental *click* to know how to behave under the new circumstances.

A cool game that leans on the cave-crawling tropes and uses them in fun and surprising ways.

Fish & Dagger, by grave snail games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Plot twist anyone?, April 16, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Damn! Your old partner got themself in a pickle again. Of course you'll go and save them from the "Big Bad Plotting Schemer and the Henchmen". (Hey, is there a band name in there?..)

The further you get into the convoluted and twisting storyline though, the more obvious it becomes that something is off here...
As a secret spy in an arctic base surrounded by enemies, how else could this end but badly?

Fish & Dagger has a very high production-value. The stark black-and-white cover art, the cinematic backgrounds, the chilling soundtrack and the sound effects, everything works together to suck you into this dark spy story.

Or is it a spoof?

Or something else entirely, something that engages the reader in ways no other spy story has before?

Aye, there's the rub. Fish & Dagger tries to be all of the above.
When taken on their own, these narrative angles work. They work quite well actually. It's just that the framework is too small, too short to accomodate them all next to each other. If the story were longer and the shift more gradual, if each angle had the space to develop on its own pace, I think this could be a great narrative experience.

As it is now, it feels more like a proof-of-concept game, and a hurried one at that.

Still, a remarkable experience. Well worth playing.

Those Days, by George Larkwright

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dusk and dawn of a friendship., April 15, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Slice of Life

Those Days is a slow-paced and thoughtful piece about life, growing up, friendship. It's nostalgic, a bit sad and a bit uplifting. As I said: life.

The main character reminisces about those endless days of childhood, spent with his best friend.

It's quite a stretch to call this an interactive story. The interactivity is limited to clicking highlighted words now and then while the railroaded story inevitably unrolls.

The clicking does serve another purpose however: that of pacing the story and forcing the player to take in the deeper meaning of the short paragraphs. This is helped by carefully judged timed text that slows down the reading tempo just enough to aid in letting the words sink in.

I really liked the changing background colours. They came across as symbolic of the different stages in the life of the protagonist and of the state of his friendship with his best friend.

A moving story that makes excellent use of the Twine-format to enhance its impact.

Some Space, by rittermi

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A cabin in the woods...*, April 14, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

First off: Some Space is beautiful. There are background images of stars and nebulas while you play, and a soothing soundtrack.
I quite liked the lettering, but I do think it might be hard for people with certain eye-problems to notice the clickable words.

Playing the game left me with a split experience.

The main body of the game is about your PC who has moved to the Koilan planet for a new job. Unfortunately, the Koilan have a very vague and roundabout way of communicating. Everything they say is interpreted by you as one or other code, even with the universal translation goo you drink at the beginning of the game.

I thought the code puzzles were cool in the way that ten-year-olds playing spies think secret messages are cool. (This is a good thing. I liked playing spies as a ten-year-old. Still do.) I can't elaborate, just be ready to look up resources (very simple recources) out-of-game/on the net.

Throughout the game, you keep getting hints that something's wrong on the home-front. It's a vague but effective method of characterization that the PC keeps ignoring certain messages, without the player having any choice in the matter.

After happily breaking different codes and translating secret messages, the game suddenly changes tone. Very soon after, it comes to a screeching halt, leaving the player wondering about the small but intense bits of backstory that were just revealed.

I really don't know. I liked a lot about this game, but it didn't feel like an integrated whole.

*You'll get it when you play it.

Mean Mother Trucker, by Bitter Karella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I love the smell of armadillo in the mornin', April 14, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Comedy

You're a big trucker with a soft spot for the waitress in a rundown truckstop. You'll have to prove to her you can safely take her accross the mountains to take her away.

Looking for ways to accomplish this, you meet a bunch of colourful characters, each with their weaknesses you can exploit to get a step further to your goal. (I was intrigued by Ranbir the shop owner.)

This could have been a fun comedy game, were it not that it's badly executed.

There are a bunch of typos and missing spaces, not enough synonyms, and often there is a blank line missing above the parser prompt, gluing the response to the previous command onto the next command line.

The game suffers from shoddy implementation. OPEN DOOR gets a response that refers to an obstacle that you just got rid of for example.

And I cringed when I saw this:

(In Convenience Store)


"Nothing is on sale."

Not only is it an unforgivable oversight not to implement BUY in a store, the author also managed to use the wrong expression.

[Edit: the expression "on sale" has different meanings in American and British English. Only in American English does it mean "being sold at a lower than usual price". I was wrong, the author was right to use "Nothing is on sale." in this way. Since this was the most grating flaw I experienced, I upped my rating by one]

Two or three more sendbacks to the testers and a lot of attention to detail could make this game a fun little comedy. As it is now however, the lack of careful finish got in the way of my enjoyment.

I look forward to a post-comp release of Mean Mother Trucker, where I might dive right into the comedy.

Wearing the Claw, by Paul O'Brian

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
(Dis-) Illusions, April 13, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

This game was a lot better when I played it ten years ago. Or is it I who have come to expect better?

Wearing the Claw is a very traditional fantasy adventure. It's played completely straight. No tongue in cheek, no subtle (or blatant) irony.

I really like traditional fantasy played straight. A lot.

After "The Testing", you are chosen as the worthy young man to find the Pendant of MacGuffin, ahem, Elinor, to lift the curse beset upon your village by an evil wizard. You are to gain entry to the Fortress where it is held and bring it back. No objections from me here. More than half the fantasy stories and games I know start off like this.

But then the game falls short on many points.

Apart from a longish text dump-introduction and a similarly long epilogue, the actual story is hurried. There's not enough attention to tempo to let the player sink into the story or the character. Everything seems to happen one thing after another at the same just-a-bit-too-fast pace.

The view of the magical island across the sea raised expectations that weren't fulfilled. After a literally linear path (one east-west dusty road) I had hoped for the map to open up and become more complex upon entering the fortress. Instead I found one north-south path.

The first puzzle sets a good theme. It's about deception, and one hopes that this will be explored more fully in the rest of the game. The other puzzles do indeed repeat the theme, but they do not widen it. They're similar variations on the theme without becoming more difficult or complicated. As such, they also do not become more rewarding, rather the opposite.

The story itself has the same problem. If only it had broadened in scope to weigh some of the personal or moral implications of deception... Perhaps by adding alternative ways to overcome the obstacles...
Maybe your character could also have become a more three-dimensional person then.

But these are "if"s and "maybe"s that cannot be changed.

The game as it is still has its good qualities. It's competently written. It has a ton of optional responses to unnecessary actions. You can greatly add to the fun in this game by trying many things that are outside of the main quest.
There is a magical gadget that changes the way you view the world, so there's some fun in re-exploring there.

All in all, this is a fine, uncomplicated adventure. It's just that it seems to promise so much more...

Misty Hills, by Giuliano Roverato Martins Pereira

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Waiting for your ride..., April 13, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

You just missed your tram-ride and now you have half an hour before the next one. What will you do to pass the time?

Misty Hills is a pleasant visit to a quaint imaginary place. There are some people there to meet, some tasks to find and carry out or some small walks you can take.

There is absolutely no pressure here, no score to aim for or objective to reach. You're really just passing the time and letting things come over you.

Each path I took had its own little surprises. Each time I got on the tram in the end, I had a smile on my face.

So I Was Short Of Cash And Took On A Quest, by Anssi Räisänen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mmmhhhm... Chicken, April 11, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Heist

A short and breezy peek at what should be a really fun game once it's gotten a bit more substance. The author submitted it to the Back Garden of the Spring Thing to gather feedback. It's acknowledged in the ABOUT-text that it is now too short and not fleshed out enough.

However, what's there is certainly enough for a light-hearted and funny diversion. This little gamelet is playable all the way through. It has an intro, a midgame and a conclusion of sorts.

A total of four puzzles are there to challenge you. Of these, the first is a great pointer to what SIWSOCATOAQ or its sequel could become: a fun and slightly off-kilter challenge that does not take itself too seriously.

Good for half an hour of fun.

(I'm particularly interested in the north room on the second floor...)

Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires, by E. Joyce and N. Cormier

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Gracious theft., April 10, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Heist

You are quite the sophisticated art-thief, choosing to perform your particular art as stylishly as possible.

You also can't stand being talked down to by snobbish Upper Class-Ladies.

So you decide to stick it to Lady Satterthwaite, robbing her of not one but three family heirlooms without a trace of your stealthy little self.

Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires is a delightfully funny heist-game. I very much enjoyed finding out what angle to use in my conversations with the different characters to get information or favours.

In fact, these conversation-puzzles make up the most part of the obstacles. You can get quite a good feel for the kind of person you're talking to from their response to your first question, so you can tweak your approach accordingly.

I especially enjoyed talking to your Scotland Yard-nemesis. There is a real chemistry between the protagonist and the detective trying to catch her.

There is also some traditional code-breaking involved, but I believe you could circumvent that by making different choices.

The writing in Lady Thalia really sparkles. It's fast-paced, funny and engaging, with just a sprinkle of backstory involved.

As I said: Delightful!

Wintervale, by Ethan Erh

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Iterations of a snowy day., April 10, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

Wintervale starts off as a run-of-the mill story about a fantasy town. This introduction was nicely done, with a history of how the town got its name and a list of the different fantasy races living together in Wintervale, listing their strengths. Apparently, the town is special for having all these races living together, as they are mistrusting towards each other in the neighbouring lands. Unfortunately, this information is of no consequence to the rest of the story.

The innkeeper of the town goes down to his drinking hall to investigate after he was rudely awakened by riotous noises in the streets. During this first investigation he is killed, only to re-awaken on the same day.

From here, the circumstances of the innkeeper's investigations turn darker and more confusing. Through multiple re-awakenings, the player must guide him on a search for what exactly is happening.

The game is written with a lot of enthousiasm, and I felt this pull me along while playing. I was gripped by the mystery of the broken glass in the tavern and the riot outside.

I must add however that the sense of mystery was helped (?) along by the unclear writing. The game is riddled with awkward turns of phrase that present your surroundings as more obscure than the author probably intended.

There are also many misspellings ("environment" is consistently spelled "enviornment" for example). The game definitely needs another round of proofreading by players fluent in English.

I liked Wintervale a lot, but perhaps more for the promise it shows than for the story it is in this iteration...

Copper Canyon, by Tony Pisculli

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mine, April 10, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Twenty two good men died in the mine after an earthquake. To add insult to injury, some hoodlums take control of the town and deny the families their grief-benefits, robbing them of even the possibility to pay for a church-sevice or a proper burial.

As the son of one of the miners, you gather a group of young kids to stand up to the thieves.

At first, Copper Canyon reminded me of the Peter Pan-movie Hook. A bunch of kids resorting to tricks and mischief to shame the bad guys into drooping off. The story evolves into something much darker and more serious however. This transition was gradual enough to be believable, there was no sudden jerk in the story. This is mainly due to the excellent prologue reverberating through the story.

Having played through only once, I don't know how much the choices in Copper Canyon change the course of the main story. They certainly do offer the player an opportunity to flesh out the protagonist, to fill in his character by exploring what he does in certain situations.

Although I think this piece could do with some more characterization, and some more exploration of the effects of the deaths of the miners on the rest of the town's population, I really liked it.

A good read.

Baggage, by Katherine Farmar

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Stepping off the gravel road..., April 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Baggage is set in a very evocative symbolic setting. You're on an endless gravel road going nowhere. Your only chances of getting somewhere lie behind two impenetrable hedges.

You must dig deep within yourself to make for yourself the tools you need.

This vignette tries to relate to the player the hard and painful work it takes to open a path out of depression or emotional blockage. It gets a lot of things right; the need to hold some cherished beliefs to the light and see them for what they really are, to leave behind painful yet known -and therefore twistedly comfortable- convictions and memories.

The way to deal with these, to mould them into something helpful instead of restrictive is a bit easy. I would have liked to see some more of what a person need to do and what needs to happen to a person to climb out of the darkness, instead of presenting it as a "simple" decision. However, this small story does present the necessary steps one has to take, albeit somewhat on the theoretical level.

The contrast between the player character and the traveller (the only NPC) gives a bittersweet taste to the endgame.

A sincere and thoughtful piece, worth thinking and feeling about after you finish.

Take the Dog Out, by ell

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Exactly what it says on the tin., April 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Comedy

This was FUN!

There's really nothing to the "game"-part of this game, but my-oh-my the fun there is to be had by trying to do all the things you can think of in this limited setting.

Actually, this entire game is one big list of AMUSING.

Really, play it. Ten minutes of laughing, out loud or otherwise.

Finding Martin, by G.K. Wennstrom

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Phone booth to the stars, Microwave to the past, April 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

A big review for a big game.

Finding Martin is an extremely big and extremely difficult game. I would not have been able to finish it without external hints and peeking at the walkthrough.
However, it’s also a very long, complicated and well-conceived story that ties together the lives and fates of many characters. It was a great experience to see this play out over the course of many playsessions.

The intro is somewhat hurried. It pays little attention to character exposition or context, instead just telling you the bare minimum of information. A former college mate, Martin, has disappeared. His sister calls you up and persuades you to help find him. That’s it. No big emotional reminders of what close friends you were or what splendid memories you share.
In fact, this detachement in the beginning of the game is one of the first points of criticism in Adam Cadre’s and Janice Eisen’s podcast about Finding Martin. And I have to agree with them… to a point. Were one to come to Finding Martin empty-slated as it were, it would be very hard to muster the determination to wade through that much pointless puzzles without any in-game motivation. Having read reviews and forum-posts about the game though, as I expect almost any player attempting it now would do, I anticipated this. I was prepared and actually looking forward to these puzzles-for-puzzles’-sake.
And I have to say, it is very much worth it when the story starts unfolding to have bit your teeth hard into these unmotivated puzzles. They turn out to have meaning after all.

Technically, Finding Martin is a monster-achievement. The room descriptions follow the many and varied changes in game-state almost seamlessly. There are some points where a repeated description of a device in motion hints at the cogwheels of the game straining ((Spoiler - click to show)the Fuzzy Room in action), but I believe eliminating this would have been very difficult to program.
There is another point of criticism I’d like to bring up: the huge amount of micro-management. There are a few puzzles where you have to sit in front of a desk or a piano and where you have to explicitly SIT and STAND UP every time. There is also the main puzzle/clue mechanism of the game that requires you PUT X IN POCKET every time. Well, okay, I guess… But then you put on a jacket and get disambiguation prompts the whole time. (“The trouser pocket or the jacket pocket?”.) Maybe there could have been a designated pocket for this object? I’m sure I could have shaven a few hundred moves off the +5OOO I took to finish the game.
Ah well, technicalities…

The map is actually not so big. There is Martin’s house, which comprises the main game-area. This area contains a number of hidden passages that expand the map, but not by that much. Then there are quite a number of small submaps to journey to that are easily explored. Together they give a feeling of possibility, of a wider space than is actually in the game.

Part One
You begin by exploring Martin’s house. I got the impression that a mad genius had been in charge of installing the domotics technology and went all out. “Hmmm, what if I tied opening the oven to the turtle drawing its head into its shell?” (Not a real example, but close enough.)
There are hidden or unknown mechanisms and controls everywhere. An enormous number of the objects you come across come with a puzzle. This amount of puzzles also means that by the time you’ve gone through the house once, you’ve been bombarded with a veritable barrage of clues. Very hard to keep track of.

Luckily, there are some things to help the player. For one, the writing. It is clear, descriptive and detailed, with just enough flair as to not become dry.
Then, there are two in-game hint/clue systems. Unfortunately, one of them (the one that tells you how to do things) takes some intricate puzzle-solving all by itself to activate. The other one tells you what to look for next. It hangs just outside the front door.

By meticulously following these clues and experimenting with everything, the player finds more and more ways to open doors and make seemingly trivial things happen ((Spoiler - click to show)running a bath for instance…). This gradually shrinks down the pile of clues to a more manageable size, making it easier to plan ahead.
Also, I found that after a while, my brain adapted to the bizarre-yet-consistent logic of the game. I came to expect certain kinds of solutions to work.

Part Two
In the second part you find a device for travelling that is reminiscent of a certain doctor’s means of transportation. This allows you to leave the house and pick up objects necessary for solving puzzles in the house (by solving more puzzles of course).
During these travels, the backstory finally starts opening up. By listening to old cassettes and through the cunning use of your sense of smell, you learn more about Martin and his family. In the rest of the game you will get to see how their lives and yours entwine to make a possible future.

You also meet the first people. NPCs in Finding Martin are very unresponsive. But they do have a lot to say and do without you having to ask them to. In a bunch of pleasant cut-scenes you will meet half a dozen or so people that will aid you on your quest. They also provide welcome paragraphs of rest and exposition to ease your by-now-overheating brain.

The puzzles in this part are easier, most of all because you have clearer sub-goals and a clearer course of action. This is also a part where you get to experiment and train with the training wheels still on. You are gently prohibited from going on a trip if you don’t have a necessary object. Not so in the last part of the game!

And last but not least, you get to re-explore your surroundings with a cool new gadget! It will change the way you view the world.

Part Three
And now we come to the third part. A long, dense and insanely difficult buildup to the finale.

Through a series of time-travel trips you have to resolve a number of paradoxes in the desired timeline to make it reality. You will need to coöperate with your past self to set up the necessary conditions for the following time trips, plant objects for your future self to solve puzzles and eventually make the intended future a reality instead of a mere possibility.

Finding Martin’s world and logic are bizarre, unintuitive and twisted. However, there is a strong consistency throughout the game. An unseen interlocking machinery is at work underneath the surface and gives the piece its coherence in tone and style. There is method to the madness, it’s just nigh impossible to grasp it.
Therefore I was disappointed to see the coherence crumble in this part as the game descended into gratuitous zaniness (Spoiler - click to show)(Peter Pan and Captain Hook show up
It’s only one scene during one overseas trip, but it did break the atmosphere for me.

But soon the game shook off this temporary lapse and continued to a truly satisfying finale. It was a joy to see all those carefully laid out pieces come together, tying together timelines as well as the lives of the characters I had come to care about. The road was long and hard, but the reward is very much worth it.

Highly recommended game!

Only War - Warhammer 40.000: The Text Adventure, by Simon Christiansen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An impressive feat!, April 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The width of the map and the depth of implementation are awe-inspiring.
Only War relies on the strengths of the parser-IF medium to produce an experience that no other medium, no matter how strong its graphics interface or how numerous its pages of static text, could deliver.

The old-school adage holds strong with this epic work: the best graphic engine is the human imagination!

This game also has a masterful technical ace up its sleeve in the handling of containers and contents.
Revealing too much would spoil the surprise and the imaginative journey for other players. Suffice it to say that I was baffled when I found out how deep this game actually went.

[Edit: This is a 2021 April Fools' Day joke-game]

The Lost Islands of Alabaz, by Michael Gentry

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Ten Pearly Isles, March 21, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

The Lost Islands of Alabaz is a fun and energetic travel-adventure. It's aimed at children and has the feel of the "boy's adventures"-books I used to eat up by the dozens as a child. (For all I knew then, girls had books about knitting and princes. Except for my cool girlfriends, who also read the boy's books... Sign of the times...?)

At the beginning of the story, you get to choose a name for your protagonist, which was a great draw-in for my son. We decided on his own name. After that, he let me do all the hard work and asked about status-reports on his quest each evening.

There is a detailed tutorial in the game in the form of Trig, your best friend NPC. He breaks the fourth wall to tell the player directly what to TYPE. Children playing their first IF might not notice, but for a veteran with several dozen games under my belt, having read numerous threads and essays about Player-PC-Narrator-Parser-relations this made me feel unbalanced at first. I concluded that the aforementioned essays were taking things much too seriously...)

One morning, you, a young knight, are called by the king to go on a quest. The ten islands of the kingdom have been separated by a cursed mist for dozens of years now and there is no sign that it will lift of its own accord. The people are suffering under the lack of trade, food and communication with friends and relatives.
The king gives you one magic pearl to guide you through the mist to one island. From there, you're on your own. Find the cause of the curse and lift it, and find your way back home.

Not the most innovative of premises, but an engaging one. I did feel an obligation to fulfill this quest for the good of all the island-dwellers of Alabaz. (And to my son...)

The premise of the ten islands makes for a great sense of space. You're a seafaring adventurer exploring the unknown!
The islands themselves all have small maps (five locations or less, except for the mazy one...) At first, I thought the author was using a Gateway-like technique, each island a self-contained puzzle-space in the bigger whole. The first islands of The Lost Islands of Alabaz are like this. The more islands you have encountered and explored though, the more it becomes necessary to revisit previous islands, making for a web of relations between the islands that has to be kept in mind.

The puzzles themselves are easy to medium difficulty.Most of them are simple fetch-quests and/or straightforward use-appropriate-object-here obstacles. To get them right however, the player needs to pay close attention to the information he's given in conversations and in the out-of-game Almanac.

That's right! With your download, you get an Almanac about the islands and how they were before the mist. It's a nice 15-minute read, almost like an historical tourist-brochure. Embedded of course are many clues on how to solve the problems in the game.
Actually, the Almanac is just one of three hint-systems for the game. You also carry a journal, in which your progress is recorded along with reminders of puzzles you have yet to solve. And there is Trig. You can ask Trig about all the puzzles, repeatedly. He will start with giving you a nudge toward the first step of the solution, and give more explicit guidance after that.

There are a whole bunch of NPCs to whom you can talk. I found them to be well-characterized with a few strokes of the pen. They talk about many things, and to avoid confusion the author puts suggested topics that pertain directly to the puzzles between parentheses. All conversations use the syntax TALK ABOUT, although you can use ASK ABOUT too. I didn't find any differences.

The Lost Islands of Alabaz plays very smoothly. There are many synonyms for nouns and verbs. The descriptions change in tune with the actions you perform on other islands, there are nice responses to "failed" attempts. The player can feel at ease that the game will not misbehave.

This game turned out to be a lot longer than I expected from the first play-session where I breezed through the first two islands. I spent a few evenings on this quest for the hidden magic pearls. Very enjoyable evenings.

Light adventurous fun. Go play.

Oh, as an extra incentive: You can compete in the Zeppelipede-racing Derby on the Island of RazzMaTazz! Yes, you can. In fact, you must!

The Adventurers' Museum, by Lee Chapel

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Our favourite generic hero saves cultural heritage!, March 18, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

When I entered the first room in The Adventurers' Museum, I almost breathed a sigh of relief. It was a breath of fresh air to learn that the quest at hand was to retrieve all the exhibits that were stolen from the museum by a thievish imp. Through the actions of my anonymous adventurer, I was going to help restore the historical artefacts of the Necromancer-wars to their rightful place, for the good of future generations of schoolchildren and curious adults. My sociopathic and cleptomaniac tendencies would serve a greater cause.
I'm only half joking here. Although the gameplay of The Adventurers' Museum is the same as any old puzzle-&-looting romp, the task given to me by the old and wize curator of the museum had more importance, more weight than just treasure-taking to kill the Big Bad Bully at the end.

In his review for Baf's Guide, David Welbourn says: "Want to play Zork I again for the nostalgia value, but you've already played that one so many times that it's no longer a challenge? Try The Adventurers' Museum."
I haven't played Zork yet, but I have read enough to know that if you are eaten by a Growl in the dark and if your treasure gets randomly stolen by a thieving imp, I might as well view this game as a rehearsal for when I do tackle Zork.

The technical side of this adventure is more than adequate. There are many synonyms for verbs and nouns. Trying "wrong" things usually gives a response either why you can't do that or just lets you do them and see the funny consequences of your actions (plus it moves the game into unwinnable territory, but hey, save/restore right?)

There are several really oldschool features to this game, but it's as if the author put them in out of respect for past tradition rather than to make gameplay harder.
There's a limited lantern, but there's also an unlimited light source lying right on your path. Your hero gets thirsty, but a river runs right through the cave. You feel hungry, but the curator gave you elvish waybread on your third turn into the game. The imp keeps stealing your stuff, but you can get him off your scent quite easily.
The only thing left that can be annoying to (modern) players is the inventory-juggling, but all that does is make you take a trip back to the museum now and then.
It's probably best to put any frustrations aside and do a few exploratory runthroughs of the cave without worrying about unwinnability or the order of puzzles, just until you get a feel for the place.

Coming back to the Zork-comparison: I have also read enough that I think The Adventurers' Museum really has a special mood of its own. There is a very consistent, almost friendly fairytale-fantasy atmosphere throughout the entire game (except that one room...).

I found the layout and the feel of the map to be brilliant. The cramped cave-crawling of the cave entrance soon gives way to grand vistas of splendid underground halls, a fluorescent flower garden and subterranean pools. A nice big part of the map is accessible from the start, and already in this part the gamespace is layered in three dimensions, with sidepaths leading up and over other areas. Sometimes you get treated to an eagle-eye view of a lower area.

Puzzlewise, there is a wide variety. There's attentive exploring and spelunking, some references to pop-culture, clever time/turn counting,... And yes, sometimes violence is the answer.
Some solutions do require a completely (to me) unmotivated action, and at least one object has a use that was completely unhinted. A bit of let's-try-every-verb and see what happens. That was less fun...

The pacing of the game can be a bit tedious at first. Once you have explored the accessible map though, a nice interaction between puzzles solved, museum-objects in your inventory and bottlenecks opening sets a cascade in motion where you find tunnel after cavern after hall with treasure in rapid succession. Very rewarding.

Conversations are not implemented at all, so you only get to know the few NPCs by their actions and what they choose to say to you. I did find the old curator endearing. (And a bit intimidating. How can he get from his office to the top of the museum stairs to block your way so fast!?)

The Adventurers' Museum may not be innovative or especially creative, but I had a great time playing it.

Return to Ditch Day, by M.J. Roberts

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Power Animals and Quantum Chickens!, March 14, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

Return to Ditch Day is a puzzling experience par excellence. Challenging brainteasers/-breakers with an engaging storyline.

It starts with a great introduction. An easy puzzle in an atmosphere-rich environment. It's completely linear (apart from some amusing things when you try to resist the railroading), but it's the perfect way to get acquainted with the mood of the game, the sort of puzzles to expect, your own character and, last but not least, your nemesis. (I swear, you'll wish you had a phaser set to "burn to a crisp" after a few turns in his company.)

Some time later, you are sent to CalTech, your alma mater, as a headhunter trying to get a brilliant student to work with your tech-company. And who shows up with exactly the same purpose? You got it. The need for payback on this character in your PC is great enough to spill out of the computer and into your mind. You want to beat this guy as much as your character does. Excellent motivation to tackle this puzzle-romp of a game.

It turns out this brilliant student has turned the tables on you: instead of a normal interview where you ask the questions and set the conditions, you are invited to solve his Ditch Day-stack. He will sign with the man who solves it first. This task will lead you to hilarious situations, complicated puzzles, and a good amount of science and engineering.

Ditch Day is a CalTech tradition where the seniors leave campus and block their rooms with clever puzzles. The challenge is to solve the puzzles and get in the room (where there are treats as a bribe not to trash said room). This means that the gamespace, CalTech Campus, is bustling with activity. There are stacks (i.e. puzzles) everywhere in the dorms, the students are gathering in the hallways and in front of doors trying to solve them. This lively atmosphere gives the game a lot of energy, making you keep wanting to engage with it.

The campus is a big and complicated place so mapping it thoroughly is necessary. (I read in her review that Emily Short did not and made her way through anyway. I'm not Emily Short.) There are no mazes as such, but especially the dorm-area is twisty enough to lose your bearings. I actually started this game about ten years ago, but I quit halfway through because I didn't know where I was half the time. (That bend through the dorm-library is a cruel inside joke of the author, I'm sure of it.)

There are many NPCs. You can only talk to a few of them, but all the others seem like real persons too, concentrating on the stack of their choice or exchanging hints and clues with each other. The ones you can speak to are mostly limited to the problem at hand, giving you objects or clues. The way they act and talk to you is very personal though, giving them each their own identity. (I really liked Erin.) And although your nemesis doesn't answer any questions, he does have a snide comment ready to everything you do around him.

The writing is practical. It focuses on clarity, describing where you are and who/what is there. There is a lot of situational and action-comedy in the game, but this never becomes the main focus.
The writing is also very, very good at controlling the pace and steering the player in the right direction through clues. The size of the map and the sheer amount of puzzles you encounter on your first exploration can be overwhelming. It's important to know and remember that this is actually a very friendly game. It doesn't want to frustrate you (too much) or deliberately mislead you. If you take it slow and do things in the order the clues show you, you'll discover that there is a completely logical sequence of puzzles that build on each other towards the endgame.
But! Beware! There is a storyline that diverges from this main puzzle-sequence. It is not necessary to win the game, but it is for getting full points. It's also a lot of fun. And you get to search the steam tunnels under the university!

And now for the meat and bones of Return to Ditch Day: the puzzles. I surprised myself by not needing to look at the hints except one time, when it was (to me) underclued how to get a student to help me with an object. And I am not a great puzzler. However, I did what I wrote before: slowly going from clue to clue, without letting myself be overwhelmed by sidetracks. (I did save at a certain point, went on an exploration and experimentation rampage through campus and found tons of fun stuff and fruitflies and a solvable computer-code puzzle. After that I just restored and went on my methodical way.)
Many different puzzles, many different strategies. Some require reading and learning. Sometimes you need help from others in a tit-for-tat way. There's a puzzle where you have to manipulate NPCs by learning a bit more about them. There are gadgets and machinery to be played with. And ultimately, there is codecracking. Glorious, in-your-face-nemesis codecracking...

I spent three evenings captivated by Return to Ditch Day. Hours of reading, thinking, laughing. This game is great.

A Bear's Night Out, by David Dyte

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fluffy adventure., March 12, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Slice of Life, Fantasy

A Bear's Night Out is a delightful little adventure!

After dark, while your owner is asleep, you climb (or rather bounce) out of bed. You have to make sure everything is ready for the big day tomorrow, and knowing your owner, he'll have forgotten a bunch of stuff.

The map is very small, eleven rooms in total. While exploring these rooms, there are tons of fun stuff to discover and experiment with.(Pssst, the cat is a great playmate...)

Once you have seen all the rooms, experimented to your hearts content with all the funny stuff and start dealing with the puzzles in earnest, you'll see that not everything in this game is fluffy and soft and easygoing. None of the puzzles are fiendish, but they all require thorough examining of the game-space, a good deal of planning and some real-life puzzlesolving strategies. Of course, all of this is made both harder and more fun by the fact that you're about a foot tall...

A warm and fuzzy adventure.

T-Zero, by Dennis Cunningham

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"Stop the presses! Hold everything!", March 11, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler, Fantasy

[A short bespectacled man runs into the printing press hall. He's frantically waving a crumpled piece of yellowish paper above his head, the static electricity making his hair stand on end.]

-"Where's the boss? Where is the one responsible for reviews? Or better, where is the one who writes all those "Top 100"-lists and those "Best 50"-articles and the Recommended-pages? I need to talk to the one in charge!"

[The boy at the huge black press-machine, his hand still on the big red STOP-button, lifts his cap and scratches his head.]

-"Well sir, I don't know of any boss of the top-lists. I doubt there is such a person. It's all rather more the work of the IF-community as a whole."

-"Now, now, youngun! No need for such foul language! So, I.F. Community, eh? Never heard of him. Or her, for that matter. Strange name, if you ask me.
I suspect Mr. or Mrs. Community is not here? Of course not. Well, you'll have to do. Get your leadtype out, boy, I'll dictate the article. And you make sure this gets on the front page of this Text-Game-gazette or whatever it is you're running here!"

[The boy opens his mouth, trying to clear up the misunderstanding, but the bespectacled man already charges ahead, reading loudly from his crumpled paper.]

T-Zero; A text-adventure for the ages!

A young man wakes up in the dry leaves of the forest floor. Former Librarian and Custodian of the Museum, Count Zero has dismissed him of his duties. He had been snooping around in the vicinity of the restricted areas a little too much lately.
Our protagonist is certain he is on to something however, and he will not give up before he has got to the bottom of it. That his curiosity will lead him through the boundaries of time, he did not expect. Still, courageously he presses onward, determined to set things right.

--"They tirelessly twirl in a circular swirl."--

The writing in T-Zero is exquisite. Poetic, evocative, engaging, the descriptions of locations and actions give the game a rhythm that takes the player from the real and concrete to the dream-like and back without breaking the continuity of the story.
Good writing is indeed of the utmost importance to do justice to this quite intricate story. After the initial exploration of the Museum and its surroundings in the Present, the protagonist gains the means and the knowledge to travel to Past and Future to tweak the outcome of events just so to gain victory over Count Zero's plan to enslave humanity. This involves fiddling with the state of the Past to gain access to puzzle solutions in the Present, which in turn set up the Future for your chance of besting Count Zero, the Time Smith.

To keep up the flow of this excellent writing, the author has opted to leave the exits out of the room description. Instead there is an EXITS-command that will drily list available directions. This command does not take a turn, and I did not mind reflexively typing it as I was mapping the game-area.

The map plays a huge part in the enjoyment of the atmosphere of this game. It is big and readily accessible, except for some well-planned bottlenecks with puzzle-locks to help with the story's pacing and to prevent the story from becoming incomprehensibly befuddling.
Many locations will seem inert at first, having no apparent interactive content or even purpose apart form being an expendable room. Most of these will come into play in the other ages you will visit, becoming an influence that moves through time.

It is a joy to re-explore the map in each era, comparing the different times. The locations and their relations will be subtly different each time, giving a fresh and surprising look at known ground.

While the story and writing of T-Zero are mindboggling in the best sense of the word, some of the puzzles are the opposite.
First: many of the puzzles are standard adventure-fare. They can be obvious or more original, but they stay within the comfortable zone of puzzle-design: the commands necessary to influence the game, the mental picture of possibilities and options to tackle an obstacle.
But then there are the perplexing puzzles. Not because they are difficult in a normal adventuring context, but because they draw on a set of knowledge and inspiration that most IF-players will not access in this context. Some of these puzzles are of the satisfying think-outside-the-box variety. bringing great joy to the player. All of them depend on the player's knowledge of a very English language and popular culture. Joyful as they may be to the player who is in-the-know, in general these are just plain unfair.

Many, if not all, default responses are personalized, most times in a beautifully literate one-sentence gem. In case of an ambiguity between nouns in a command, the game lists all the options in a menu, allowing you to choose the one you meant. Practical, but also evidence of how user-friendly the game desires to be, despite the mindblowing puzzles.
Also very practical are the location-specific hints. They helped me on many occassions with a gentle nudge. On the other hand, there were times when the hints just confirmed I had the right idea, but I still needed a walkthrough to find the proper syntax.

As is to be expected; time plays a very big role in T-Zero. It pervades the entire game. Since time is elapsing and day is followed by night, you can expect some solutions to puzzles also being time-dependent. While most of the time this adds to the anticipation, it can also mean a boring few minutes typing WAIT over and over if you were a few moves late to a specific location and you have to wait an entire day without anything else to do. (This happened to me once, but it was all a result of my own bad timing/planning.)
Tricky: you have to revisit some rooms after your first exploration. Some objects just pop up after a while without there being a reason or an obvious notification from the game about this.

Lastly, I would like to point your attention to the rag man. While he doesn't have much to say, he is a pretty nifty NPC. Without wanting to give too much away, this character teeters constantly on the edge of the game-world and our own. I spent a lot of time musing about the kind of reality he goes to after I type QUIT.

T-Zero is a mindbogglingly good game. Best enjoyed with a walkthrough on the side.

[The short bespectacled man crumples the now sweaty paper in his hands into a ball and throws it in the nearest bin.]

-"You got all that, boy? Make sure it's on this issue's front page, you hear me!? Or else..."

[Before the boy can say anything more, the man leaves the printing hall, contentedly rubbing his hands together. He even hops a little out of joy over a job well done.]

Muggle Studies, by M. Flourish Klink

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Unmagical Wizardry, March 3, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

After your worldview has been shaken when the Wizard Dumbledore appeared in your flat and offered you a job, you wake up the next day with a hangover and a signed contract to teach "Muggle Studies" at Hogwarts Academy. When you arrive there, the halls and corridors are abandoned because of a spell gone wrong. You must set things straight without resort to magic.

Muggle Studies is set in Hogwarts Academy, that grand fantasy-medieval castle in a hidden part of England. You start off in Dumbledore's office and must make your way down a tower and back up again after gathering what you need.
Although a tower with its limited room for branching hallways and side-rooms makes for a good setting for a straightforward text-adventure, it is also very narrow and linear. The gamespace feels cramped because of this. It is easy to forget that you are supposedly in this great building with all sorts of corridors , halls and other towers, let alone that it stands in a wide landscape with dark forests. A few windows with lush descriptions of the shingled roofs and the towering walls outside the tower would have pulled the space more open. Maybe even a view of Hagrid's cabin or the living tree in the distance to remind players of the universe they're in. The one window I could look through gave a very generic description of green woods and a glimpse of water outside.

The puzzles in Muggle Studies are good, but nothing too imaginative. This is beginner-level IF, where exploring and TAKE x WITH y suffices for the most part. The puzzles are very well hinted, without too much handholding. The game has one room where you have to figure out the answer to four riddles, a puzzle device rarely seen in modern IF, but which fit very well in this setting. A puzzle that does not work so well is a coded magic book (Spoiler - click to show)where the cipher is a simple ROT13. I decided to decode it manually to get some sense of achievement out of it, but I would have preferred if the author had invented a simple code him/herself (? I can't tell from the name.) and put a deciphering book somewhere hidden in the tower.
There are a good number of books and notes around that give clues and entertainment. I especially liked the Book of Herbs, where you can LOOK UP a large number of magical plants from the index, most of which are of no importance to the game.
Another nice touch like this is the file of misbehaviors and punishments in Mr. Filch's room, where you can read about some of the misschievous plans of Hogwarts students.

The game handles conversations through TALK TO menus, which fits perfectly with the difficulty. There are always some fun options to talk about next to the important topics.

In keeping with the beginner difficulty level, there is a tutorial voice that gives advice on proper syntax for commands. Unfortunately, it sounds very pedantic to anyone who has played IF before.

The best part of the game to me is the slowly unfolding backstory involving your grandmother and your ex-girlfriend. It gives an emotional dimension to your character in this otherwise standard gathering-magical-objects quest.

A nice diversion for a few hours.

Glowgrass, by Nate Cull

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nice immersive sci-fi bit., March 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

One of the first IFs I ever played. I then thought it was fantastic. Upon replay, with many more games to compare it to, it can still hold its own.

Spatially, it's a small game. A house, a garage and a garden (where the eponymous Glowgrass grows. Beautiful image.) The feel of the game is larger though, thanks to a sort of VR-device you find in the house. The heart of the story, the backstory of the people who once lived in the house is to be found there.

Not much puzzlewise, nothing that a curious mind can't handle without hints. (and one small how-do-I-phrase-this-so-the-game-understands puzzle).

Good moving story, well recommended.

Border Reivers, by Vivienne Dunstan

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Medieval murder mystery., March 1, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Murder most foul! Archie Elliot has been slain, his throat cut in the night. The Warden, the highest authority of law in these parts is called to snuff out the guilty party and apprehend the murderer. He asks you, his clerk and youngest son to do the sniffing.

Members of all the clans involved are gathered in the great hall of the castle. You must ask the right questions to the right people to find out who did the deed and tell your father about it.

During the interrogation section of the game, you can ask each person about several keywords, notably the four clans of the region. From their responses you are able to gather clues as to who is holding something back, who might have a motive and what that motive might be.
This process quickly became a bit mechanical to me. I imagined my character to be a quite young, somewhat timid man, kept under father's thumb while my older brothers are free to build their own life. It was hard to get in charachter though, as I could not greet people, nor could I offer my condolences to the widow and daughter. I had no choice but to barge in with the limited set of questions I had. The fact that "Archie", "murder" and "body" are treated as synonyms was a disappointment, as these topics could elicit very different responses in my imagination. (The living person Archie, the circumstances of the murder and specifics about the wounds respectively.)

However, I found it more engaging as I played on and I got to see the discrepancies between different people's answers and I began to form a hypotheses. A hypotheses that was confirmed by a clue I got about halfway through the game.

After a set number of moves, you are forced to make a decision (or make a wild guess) as to who the murderer was. Depending on your answer, the loose threads are nicely taken care of in an ending of a few paragraphs. (I got a "good" ending. I didn't replay to get a "bad" one.)

I enjoyed this game as a quick diversion, but I enjoyed it even more as a springboard to dive into the history of the feuding clans along the Anglo-Scottish border in the 13th-16th century.

This game provides a good illustration of something I find immensely interesting in human culture and behaviour: the fact that among these antagonistic, often warring clans, there was still a law (Border or March Law) that they mostly respected. (Apparently, if you were raided, it was within your legal right to raid the other party within a period of a few days. But only if you made a lot of noise and were carrying a turf-torch to announce yourself as legal raiders, instead of the sneaky illegal kind...)

Border Reivers could be expanded to make the interrogations more diverse, and maybe to include a bit more clue-finding in the castle. As it is, it's a fun and interesting experience. It got me interested in its subject matter, that's for sure.

Everybody Loves a Parade, by Cody Sandifer

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Rock Float, February 28, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

The intro to Everybody Loves a Parade sets you up for a fast and funny ride. The game itself does not disappoint. It picks up the joke ball where it landed and runs with it. Fast.

You are a female engineer (the female part becomes important near the end of the game) hauling all your stuff coast to coast through the U.S. of A in a moving van on your way to a new job in New York. Although you had written a warning against driving through Arizona all over your roadmap, this is exactly where you end up: in a small town in the middle of the Arizona desert. Where they are having a parade. And one of the floats, a pickup truck full of pebbles, broke down. Up to you to get the parade and yourself moving again.
(About those pebbles, the people of this town seem to have a very peculiar and unexplained obsession with rocks. All kinds of rocks...)

Fast and funny, I said. The game has only twelve locations, so exploring the entire map does not take a lot of time. All those locations are packed full of action. Lots and lots of NPCs, most of whom brush you off in funny ways, are going about their personal business. The author has put in the effort to write many different events for each NPC, so the whole town seems bustling with activity. The writing keeps you on your toes, trying to keep up with the next thing that's going to happen. You need to pay attention to separate the important stuff from the background ambiance of the parade.

To keep this fast and witty atmosphere going, Everybody Loves a Parade is very thoroughly implemented. The game recognizes all nouns and synonyms. I even found two nouns that were only implied by the room description. Many, many actions that do not have anything to do with winning the game are implemented, so if you're stuck on a puzzle, you can go have fun trying to poke the outer reaches of what commands you can type. Add to this that many default responses have been personalized and adapted to the locations, and you will find that the atmosphere is almost unbreakable.

The puzzles are good. In such a small map, there is at least one, sometimes more puzzles in each room. They are all in plain sight from the start of the game. I did find it hard to find the first loose thread, since all the puzzles are arranged as a chain. Solving one gives you access to the next.
The puzzles are diverse. Some just require good old adventuring skills to get the missing parts, so you'll want to X the heck out of everything. Others require multiple steps to manipulate an NPC into doing what you need. So talk to everyone.

I finished this game in two afternoons and I had a lot of fun from start to finish. I advise everyone to do the same. Enjoy

The Darkest Road, by Clive Wilson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"It was lucky that you had the statuette.", February 26, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

...says the narrator voice in The Darkest Road at a certain point. Lucky indeed, given that there was no clue whatsoever that I would find anything, let alone a magic statuette, in the place the walkthrough eventually told me to look!

What would one do if one were a simple farmhand in a fantasy setting and one saw a prophecy coming over the horizon? Run like hell, of course, because prophecies tend to lead to gruesome death and other inconveniences in these circumstances...
But not you. You have elvenblood trickling somewhere in your bloodline, so you heed the call. You take in the old prophecy-bearing wizard who stumbled into your care, nurse him back to health and let him teach you of the "Silent Song", a rare magic talent that lurks in you because of said elvenblood.

So off you go on an oldschool quest to vanquish the Dark Lord.

The Darkest Road has very good atmosphere. On your quest, you move from your familiar homestead to the wide grasslands, then through the dark forest, then sharp and windy mountainpeaks until finally you arrive in Evil's Lair. With each new area you explore, the surroundings feel more hostile and oppressive. Here and there is a resting point, a beautiful location that breaks the gloom and dread for a moment.
The descriptions are very good. Even though you encounter standard dark fantasy stuff, there are many details that lighten up the clichés.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is not so good. There are many non-interactive locations. Well-described as they may be, they don't offer enough reward to the player for the effort she has made to reach them.

And quite an effort it is! The game is full of unintuitive and underclued puzzles.
Many solutions are dependent on whether you are carrying or wearing a sparsely described and unhinted object, not on the player figuring out what she could do with said object.
When you do have to manipulate objects, often you get into try-everything-on-everything-else territory, like in a bad point'n'click escape game.
Also, there are quite a few one-use-only commands that only work in one situation. Try the same verb in any other situation and you get a default dismissive response. Not strong motivation to keep trying.
Add to the list that obvious synonyms or alternative verbs are not implemented (I could MOVE but not PUSH some heavy object), and I believe I am to be forgiven for playing this one largely by walkthrough. I gave it a fair chance, really I did.

To end on a more positive note, the unforeseeable sudden gruesome deaths are quite amusing, as the narrator offers to resurrect you. Which translates as "Would you like to restart?"

She's Got a Thing for a Spring, by Brent VanFossen

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Flip flop. Flip flop. Flip flop., February 24, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Slice of Life

What an atmosphere...

I've spent the last few hours finishing this story and I feel like I'm slowly waking up from a dream.

She's Got a Thing for a Spring is a beautiful, beautiful game.

You're on a camping trip in a nature park with your husband. You wake up in the tent and find a note telling you to go find the hot spring by evening and wait there for him.

I pay a lot of attention to the handling of space, the feel of the map in IF. Often, that means I prefer big, sprawling games. She's Got a Thing for a Spring does something else entirely.
It has got a small map, about 25 locations. These are described so lovingly that you can almost smell the herbs in the midday sun, or hear the gurgling of the rapids in the stream. Birds flutter by unexpectedly, or sing unseen in a nearby tree. Other wildlife crosses your path, and when out of sight, their proximity is hinted at through sounds or smells.
Not all exits from a location are explicitly described. This gives a sense of freedom and accomplishment when you find another path or a gap in the bushes, and it adds to the spaciousness of the story-world.
In response to a directional command, the game describes the terrain you walk across, giving a sense of real distance travelled. The "flip flop" in the title of this review is what you read when you are walking with your flipflops on. Take them off and it changes to "splish splash" when walking in water. Not out-loud-funny, but one of the amusing details that pulled me smiling deep into this game.

To enjoy She's Got a Thing for a Spring to its fullest, do not think like an adventurer. Get in character and play your surroundings. The puzzles are fantastic example of the common sense type. No intricate, improbable machinery, no spells to try out on every part of the scenery. Just do what you would do in these circumstances. This type of puzzle is actually harder than you might think for text adventurers. We're conditioned to look for complicated solutions.

Your biggest help and source of amusement in the game is Bob. Bob is an amazingly well characterized NPC who can give you practical help with some puzzles. Much more than that though, he's a delightful old man to hang around with and talk to (and maybe haver some lunch with...)

Not all puzzles are mandatory for finishing the game. Do try and find them and solve them though, just for the fun experience.

And do try to remember to stop and enjoy nature frequently. Maybe look up that species of bird you just saw in the "Hiker's Guidebook" you're carrying, or those aromatic herbs...

She's Got a Thing for a Spring is a beautiful, beautiful game.

Aunts and Butlers, by Robin Johnson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Not quite, your lordship., February 23, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

The opening paragraph of Aunts and Butlers immediately sets the tone for this game: silly, jolly punniness played off of British stiff-upper-lipness.
The first part of the game succeeds in keeping up this atmosphere. You play an impoverished young man from a wealthy family. Your filthy rich aunt is coming to visit and you will have to jump through hoops to have a chance to get some money from her so you can pay your debts.

The puzzles are not difficult. The game pretty much tells you what to do, in a polite and British way. The implementation might give some troubles: when trying to interact with something, the game does not differentiate between an unimportant object or an object that is simply not there.

Up until here, I had great fun trying stuff out and breathing in the fresh British air.

Unfortunately, after solving the bottleneck-opening puzzle at the end of this first part, the game loses its ambiance and slides off into oldschool incoherent silliness (the bad kind). A medieval knight and a starship are involved, among other things.

In the hints for one of these rooms, the author writes that this room was coded at 11pm the night before IF Comp's deadline. I suspect that he turned to unfunny random madness as a last resort, pushing himself to get something finished to enter in the competition. Pity. I would have loved to see what this game could have been if it stuck to its first-paragraph principles.


Trading Punches, by Mike Snyder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Intercivilizational SF, February 21, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

You can usually tell the level of my engagement with a game by looking at my notebook. With all the side notes, colored maps, interjections about the story and hypotheses about puzzles and characters, you could say I dove pretty deep into this one.

Trading Punches is a story about two brothers on a turning point of their civilization's history. The protagonist represents humanity (without other reference points, I default to "human" in SF, especially if they're the "good" guys), his brother ends up representing the Sheeear through marriage with the daughter of their ambassador. The relationship between the brothers is reflected in the course of the story on multiple levels: family, society/civilization, even in the creation myth you learn about during the game.

This game is very much a story-centered, narrative one. The puzzles are rather easy, forming no hindrance to the pace of the story.
The structure of the game is also a narrative one: It is divided into chapters.
Each chapter starts with a short dialogue between the protagonist and ... well, that's one of the mysteries of the game. This dialogue serves as a recap for what has come before and as a frame for the upcoming chapter.
Then the chapter proper begins. It is presented as an account of a memory of the protagonist of a turning point in his life, and as such, also a turning point in the relation between the two civilizations.

Now, IF is a tough medium to handle flashbacks elegantly, and Trading Punches only partly succeeds. The general problem with flashbacks in IF is player freedom. How does the author handle the fact that what the PC is doing has already happened, and has a definite outcome? There has to be a way to reign in the player when she deviates too far from the predetermined path. Here, the author does that by confining the action to a tight and focused map per chapter, containing one big puzzle. (This reminds me of Gateway: small map and one puzzle per planet.)
A bigger problem arises when the flashbacks do not take place in the PC's mind, but in a conversation. Whenever I paused mid-chapter and thought about the bigger picture, I felt sorry for my dialogue-partner. What a tedious story it must be to hear an endless list of detailed micro-actions. "And then I looked at the cabinet, and then I looked at the drawer, and then I opened the drawer, and then I found a comb, and then I took the comb, and then I tried combing my hair but it wouldn't work,...)
This is more a recognition of the limits of the IF-medium than a criticism of the game. I think the problem is handled quite well here.
On the other hand, there is a great advantage to using flashbacks. It keeps the attention of the reader on the bigger picture. There is an arc of tension that goes over the flashbacks and grows in the present time of the story. The reader anticipates the story-threads and the consequences of the past actions to come together in the here and now. The game's epilogue does this very well, as well as leaving ample room for the-sequel-that-never-came.

The puzzles are very well clued, even guided. This keeps the focus on the story and keeps it moving forward. However, I do feel that there might be two great logic puzzles lying at the hearts of chapters 1 and 2 that were sacrificed to pacing. It is of course a difficult balancing act.

The writing is no example of efficient IF terseness, rather the opposite.
Long, relaxed and rich paragraphs invite the reader to slow down and enter into the story-world. Together with the background music, this makes for a very immersive experience.
It's also a joy to see the evolution of the characters through the decades that this story describes.

From a technical point of view, I have but a few small nitpicks. A fair number of nouns are unimplemented, something that does break the mood a bit in a game such as this. Some actions could have a wider range of commands to trigger them and some unsuccessful commands could yield a more helpful response instead of a default message. Nothing too serious though.
Overall, Trading Punches is a very fluid playing experience. There is also a very good in-game hint-system on the off chance that you get really stuck.

Recommended for all!

Tryst of Fate, by G. M. Zagurski

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Cowboys and gumball factories!, February 16, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Western

Tryst of Fate is a great game. I would have happily given it full marks but there were a few things that detracted from the greatness. I'll spit them out first so I can let the game shine in the rest of the review.

The scenery is underimplemented. Now, this is not such a big problem, after a while your brain just notices a default message and decides not to pay attention. In this game though, there is a mix of responses to unimportant objects. More than half the time you get "You can't see that here." Annoying, because i'm staring right at it, right. Then, as you start ignoring these messages, there are objects which "are not important to the game". Equally annoying, because they remind you that you're in a game. Having both in the same game is weird to me. Either just don't implement it, or have a not-important-message for all of them.
Actually, the same is true for actions: some get " You can't do that," even when you're on the right track, and some get a jokey response like "That won't help you with your score."

For the rest, a few typos and some unclear clues. Also, what's up with bird's nests in text adventures?

Now for the great game that Tryst of Fate really is.

The introductory chapter is marvellous. A small escape game with a few easy puzzles that draws you right into the game. After bumping your head and passing out, a pair of outlaws come into your house and steal your McGuffin...I mean watch. They steal your watch. Once you can get back on your feet and go after them, you cannot go downstairs, because you have just cleaned the rugs and they are still wet... Really...

After getting a good feeling about your puzzle-solving abilities from this intro, you wind up in the Wild West, canyons and tumbleweeds and all.
On your first round exploring the area, things are pretty straightforward. As you draw the map and look around, there's a long SW to NE trail and a typical western town to the west. And oh, that train track crossing you just passed. And that swamp... And herein lies the genius of the game. When you look back after exploring this smallish, comfortable map, you see a daunting trail of unsolved puzzles and promising blocked off sidetrails. Combine this with the laidback confident feeling you got from the intro, and you suddenly realise you've walked straight into a trap.

The puzzles here are a lot harder. Most are logical but require multiple steps and a bit of thought. Despite the smallish map, it's sometimes confusing where the next step is again. Some puzzles have vaguer hints that only made sense to me in hindsight.
And then there's that puzzle. A number/codebreaking puzzle. It's completely logical. It's a substitution code solved by simple addition. And it's hard. I tried to brute-force it with the information I got from the clue, but I got stuck after a promising start. And then I got stuck again. And again. I asked someone on the IF Forum who is way better at math to show me how he would solve it and I got back two pages of calculations. Unfair puzzle? Not really, seeing that it is completely logical. It does expect more mathematic knowledge than many people have at the ready, however.

The descriptions are good. They really evoke the typical western feel. All the cliché elements are there, but they're not overdone. Just enough to make you feel at home, as if you have walked into a western movie, instead of the actual scary unknown wilderness.

I loved the NPCs. The conversations are very well written, although a bit limited. The characters get a lot of personality through their descriptions and their independent actions. (Check out the bartender.)

The story as a whole seemed a bit surreal to me. Timejumping to the Wild West from the comfort of your home to get back your watch? Gumchewing cowboys? But you did just fall and hit your head. That might have something to do with it.

I absolutely loved playing this game. It was tense and exciting when it had to be, and it got me laughing in more relaxed spots. Very sincerely recommended.

The Guild of Thieves, by Rob Steggles

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Ace of Spades *, February 11, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Heist

Magnetic Scrolls' The Guild of Thieves was high on my to play-list for a long time. Not anymore! See, it was abandonware for a long time, but none of the DOS-downloads I tried would work in DOSBox. Then the game was reworked for play on smartphones so it wasn't abandoned anymore. Now you have to pay for it. But... the nice people over at the Magnetic Scrolls Memorial website have put up the reworked version for free play in-browser. Thank you, nice people at Magnetic Scrolls Memorial!

In this online version, the gameplay of the original has not been changed as far as I could tell (comparing to older reviews and to other games of the same period). UNDO doesn't work, so RESTORE is your friend (trust me, when you've locked yourself up in a tight cramped space with no exits, it's your best friend in the whole wide world...) X object doesn't work either, but you can use L object instead. Lastly, you can make an account to get access to your saved games from different devices.

The Guild of Thieves starts out on a wide stretch of woodland and wheatfields. To earn your membership of the Guild, you must find all the valuables in the surrounding region and steal them. There are three big areas of interest you need to gain access to, and each of these has its own locked doors and other bottlenecks to get through. I loved this map. The feeling of a wide world to discover with enticing puzzles to get around that next corner. Also a lot of fun for the mapmakers among us. (I color-coded my map...)

At first, the different parts of the map seem disconnected, not only literally but also in atmosphere. There's a temple, a castle (not the medieval type but the later, overgrown lordly manor type), an udergound section,... that don't seem to have to do much with each other. As you solve puzzles and the map slowly opens up, the different areas are brought together nicely by the solutions of the puzzles. Information you need for a tunnel is found in the temple for example.

The puzzles are great... They are all understandable in hindsight...

No, seriously. The first few puzzles you'll encounter are well hinted and logical. The further you progress in the game though, the more difficult it becomes to deduce the logical steps of a solution from the clues. Add to that that some puzzles require you to make preparations on the other side of the map before attempting to solve them and you will understand why, yes, RESTORE is your best friend. This does mean that when you finally understand how the different pieces work together and the solution *clicks*, it's very satisfying. Also, the nice people at Magnetic Scrolls Memorial have provided a very good narrative walkthrough should you become overly frustrated. Thank you, nice people at Magnetic Scrolls Memorial!

The writing is what it needs to be in this type of adventure. Good descriptions, the occasional joke and a more verbose passage here and there in an important location. The Guild of Thieves is a rather serious game. Stealing the treasures and becoming a Guild member is important to you, so there's not too much goofing around. Fortunately, the Master Thief who's following up on your progress brings some comic relief to the story now and then.
The game's responses to failed attempts are mostly unhelpful, but don't let that keep you from trying to solve the puzzle. You may well be on the right track. Rewording commands can do wonders for a parser who doesn't know that much English.

When I started playing, I was pleasantly surprised that there were beautiful pixel pictures of the locations. It later became apparent that these are not very well adjusted to the flow of the game. It can be distracting to read about the field of golden grain you're supposedly in while you're seeing a dank cave above the text.

The story is just the barest excuse for a puzzle romp, but an engaging and entertaining romp it is. Highly recommended!

*You'll get it when you play it.

Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High Level Gorilla, by Gil Williamson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Suicide by vitamin C, February 7, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

Wow! This game sure doesn't beat around the bush. You, as Sir Ramic Hobbs, an out-of-shape and severely hung-over knight, are dropped in a bear cave. An agreement which you do not remember signing says you swear to save the damsel from the High Level Gorilla. Now on your way, start adventuring!

Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High Level Gorilla is a text-adventure from the old ages. Within the first few turns, a ton of anachronisms and wildly differing rooms have flown by. Each on its own, these are pretty funny. As a whole however ... uhm, they don't make a whole.

The gameworld is totally off its rockers. The locations and the mood are wildly inconsistent. The only thing holding this game together is whatever the author's impulses thought was funny at the time. This incoherent setting and atmosphere may get a few laughs, but it sure is not engaging or immersive.

Fortunately, this setting is home to some good puzzles. Apart from getting the right objects to use in the right spot, you also have to watch out that you move from room to room at the right time. If not, some invincible adversary will stop you from progressing further or just kill you on the spot. There are lots of opportunities to forget an object or an action in a room that you cannot get back to later. This means that the metacommands SAVE, RESTORE and UNDO are completely legitimate adventuring commands. Go explore the neighboring rooms and restore when you are confident that you have the lay of the land memorized.

There are two in-game help-resources: an overly humble "Bloodcurdling Owl", whose responses are so selfdeprecating they sound insulting to you, and the disembodied voice of Wizard Prang, your narrator (who doesn't seem to think very highly of your knightly skills... Up to you to decide whether to trust the advice this odd pair gives.

The absolute zaniness of this game amused me enough to keep looking just a bit further, and I'm glad I did. About three quarters into the game I encountered a Great Puzzle. The kind of puzzle that would be so obvious in real life, but that somehow manages to keep evading your wits in an adventure game. When I finally found the solution, I smiled. Nay, I grinned. Ear to ear. You know what I mean...

The High Level Gorilla is an uneven mix of dumb jokes, funny juxtapositions and non-sequiturs, frustrating deaths and at least one glorious puzzle moment.
Worth playing.

The Battle of Philip against the Forces of Creation, by Peter Arnold and Anne Ungar

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
In other news: Demons have overrun the Vatican., February 5, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Fantasy

But first:

Completely out of the blue, your D&D-game has cracked through the ceiling of your living room and spat out Tark, a confused sorceress. It has also incinerated your roleplaying band of friends and kidnapped your girlfriend.

The Battle of Philip Against the Forces of Creation is easily the most super-awesomest title for an adventure game I have ever heard. I wish I could write here that the game itself is as awesome...

Don't get me wrong, it's a fun game, but it does not live up to the radical-mayhem-supercoolness of its title.

After the intrusion of the D&D-world upon our own, you have to go on a castle-crawl to free Cindy. The puzzles are standard adventuring fare. Find a key, use a spell, get rid of a murderous demon-queen, stuff like that...
However, you have to die several times to know where the puzzles actually are, and a few times more to get the solution. That's obviously a part of the game. The death scenes are quite amusing.

The writing overall is quite good. The dark fantasy atmosphere when you finally get out of your house (past a Fire Elemental in the garage) is great. Once in the castle, the grim and oppressive feeling goes up a notch or two. In here, some descriptions, while well written, are downright horrifying and obscene. (So over the top to my tastes that it became laughable. But maybe not to all players. Be warned.)
Unfortunately, the scenery in those descriptions is disappointingly underimplemented. You are limited to examining and manipulating the objects in the list below the room description, everything else is met by a default "You can't do that"-response.

The castle is big and diverse. Many rooms are lusciously/revoltingly described. There are also bottlenecks in predictable but enticing places (getting in the cellar, climbing to the top of the tower,...), which makes for good pacing.

From background info on the Internet Archive and from an in-game object (the "Reference Book for People who are not Philip") I gather that this was a joke/gift game to Philip Kegelmeyer, the author of Tark Simmons, Priestess of the First Church. Because of this, there are a number of inside jokes and references that any other player will not get (hence the reference book). Nonetheless, the game is often funny and the grim & gore is well done (if you can stomach stuff like that).

Good game for a few hours of fun/gore.

Cana According To Micah, by Christopher Huang (as Rev. Stephen Dawson)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Mmmhh, honeyed locusts., February 3, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Cana According To Micah is a very nice retelling of one of Jesus' miracles from the viewpoint of a servant at the wedding in Cana.

In search of the last jug of wine that has gone missing, you encounter several characters from Jesus' time and entourage, trying to get their help in understanding where the wine has gone. The puzzles almost all consist of talking to the right people at the right time.

I found the fact that there is no real theological depth to the conversations refreshing. After all, you're a servant trying to solve a practical problem. Discussions about the deeper meaning of the dis- and re-appearance of the wine are for scolars in later centuries.

I really liked the setting. In spite of a really small map, I got the impression of a spacious house with a large number of wedding guests. There were some hints to the Jewish wedding customs at the time, but as you play a character from that time, most are only mentioned in passing.

After accomplishing one important task, a quote from the poet Coleridge pops up. Not only did this take me out of the time of the story, it also hid the game-text right after my last command. Annoying.

There are a few decision points where the story can branch. I did not replay to look at them as I was content with the one playthrough and the ending I got.

Nice historical/religious vignette.

The Light: Shelby's Addendum, by Colm McCarthy

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Saving the world with a single lightbulb.*, January 31, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

The intro of The Light; Shelby's Addendum pulled me into the game immediately.
In a rather long passage the protagonist, a certain Shelby is hurrying to get to the scientists in the lighthouse when he is engulfed by an almost tangibly dense fog. Forced to take shelter, he falls asleep in a shed and awakens in the middle of the night. Although frightened, he takes his chances with the dark and the mist, only to find the lighthouse complex abandoned. Or so it seems...

Something went very wrong with the experiment. Up to you to find out what and how to fix it.

There are more long non-interactive passages of text like the intro in the game, like cutscenes and a fighting scene between two NPCs. They are well written and do not slow down the pace of the game. The opposite actually, in my experience. They felt more like rewards after a sequence of tasks done correctly, showing you the fruits of your labour quite eloquently.
The room descriptions are also lengthy and detailed, helping to sustain the dim and gloomy mood in the fog-surrounded lighthouse.

The map is seemingly wide open from the start of the game, with just enough locked doors and hints to other areas to keep it interesting. You can explore every nook and cranny to your hearts content at first. However, as you solve puzzles, you trigger some events that speed up the story significantly and take you to other locations completely, where the pressure to act becomes much higher. (I don't think there is an actual timer, but it sure feels like it. Good writing!)

The obstacles are never too hard. Most are lock and key-puzzles, opening up new and/or hidden rooms in the complex. Some are mechanical puzzles, figuring out what button does what and getting a machine to work. It's one of these that pushes up the tempo towards the fast and action-packed endgame.

The story is great if you are willing to let yourself be swept along. In hindsight, there are some gaping holes and improbable situations (No failsafes in a project of this magnitude? Really?). Turn your willing suspension of disbelief up a notch and you'll be fine.

The NPCs were a tad too distant to my liking. I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of the scientist-gone-mad bad guy. As it was, he was a bit of a caricature.

The Light; Shelby's Addendum shines through its fast-moving plot and its consistently gloomy atmosphere. Great game!

* The title of my review is a tip of the hat to the excellent walkthrough by David Welbourn. Use it sparingly, the game is not that difficult, but go over the whole thing after you've finished the game. The work of a true craftsman.

Gateway 2: Homeworld, by Mike Verdu and Glen Dahlgren

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
TransWarp Adventuring., January 26, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

In your previous Gateway adventure, you saved Earth from the Assassins out of pure altruism. That you also got a gazillion space-dollars for it means that you can now afford comfortably lounging in one of your penthouses on the 300th floor of a San Francisco skyscraper, living the easy life.
But what's this? Suddenly you get a call from the chief of the Corporation. A starship has been sighted on the far edges of the solar system. Because of your previous alien experiences, they want you to train the ambassador for a diplomatic mission.
And what's this? You get a second call warning you that a religious sect has sent a squad to kill you, hoping to sabotage the diplomatic mission and travel to the Artifact (as the alien starship is known) themselves.
From this moment on, you are sucked into a fast and thrilling adventure to save Earth once more, from multiple enemies at the same time.

Gateway 2 - Homeworld is extremely well paced. The first chapter is a race against time and against the terrorists who want to claim the FTL-ship. You have to get your sequence of actions just right while you hear the sect members closing in on your radio. Very gripping.

In the next chapters, the tempo goes down a bit, leaving more breathing space for exploration and wonderment. The driving force of the story remains strong though. I found myself solving puzzles not just "to read/ find out what will happen next", but to genuinely solve a problem and help the NPCs in-game. The motivation came less from being an interested reader and more from being involved in the events in the game-world.

On the surface, the story is an action and adventure-packed SciFi romp. You fly different spacecraft to various alien worlds, solving the problems at hand with a variety of futuristic tech-gadgets.
Somewhat deeper in the game though, through dialogues with and lectures to Heechee NPCs, thoughtprovoking themes come up. There is a philosophical/theological debate about death, resurrection and personhood with a learned alien priest. At a certain point, you are asked to give lectures about Earth to the aliens, and these go into ecological issues like overpopulation and depletion of resources. In another lecture, your character talks about human tribe mentality and nationalism as an obstacle to solving societal problems. All pretty deep.

Don't let this spook you though. The dialogues are all menu-based and the different options mostly don't matter much, making room for some comic relief in your choice of responses. The lectures are cutscenes, so if you get bored, just spacebar them away. Still, I liked the depth of themes and it had me pondering the issues after the play-session.

The core of the game still consists of the "simple" task of exploring strange new worlds and defeating the bad guys by overcoming the obstacles.

Gateway 2 goes even further than the first game in putting you in many different settings: a huge spaceship/zoo (yes, i said "zoo"), an ice world and the Heechee homeworld. While the settings are very diverse, each one of them has a rather small map. This is a great design choice. It helps keep the fast pace of the story going, and it makes for straightforward and tight puzzle spaces.

The puzzles and obstacles all fall on the easier side. They are more entertaining and involving than frustrating. They don't take you out of the story while you're thinking and reasoning about possible solutions. They are all well clued, or as I like to put it: because of the limited number of available objects and the smallish settings, the possibillity-tree is well trimmed.

As in part 1, the pixel art is great and adds a lot to the playing experience. In this part, gameplay does depend a bit more on using the mouse to interact with different keypads, locks, and menus. (Or, if you want, you can busy yourself moving a mouse-cursor with the arrow-buttons on your keyboard. Just saying, the option is there...)

Gateway 2 - Homeworld had me really involved in its SF story for a week. A magnificent otherworldly adventure.

Avon, by Jon Thackray and Jonathan Partington

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
"Once more into the breach, dear friend?", January 17, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

That is the tempting question the game asks you after you've typed QUIT. Many times I responded YES to just try and avoid that last nasty trap one more time.

Avon was originally written in 1982 in Cambridge University as a mainframe game. It was later released by the Topologika company. After reading some background information, I get the impression that the good folks at Topologika have shaved and polished off a lot of the splinters and rough edges of the original.

While it is still possible to die, you only do so when you have actually made a wrong move or choice. There are lots of unhinted traps where you die on entry. In these instances you are asked "Now you probably wish you didn't do that, don't you?", giving you the chance to continue the game from that location. You do lose the opportunity to "solve" the trap and get the points this way.

I put "solve" between quotation marks because there are very few actual puzzles in Avon. There are many unannounced death-traps, a lot of riddles where you get only one chance and you must have found a clue beforehand (no lucky guesses!) and a few easy mazes. A few playthroughs are needed to locate the traps and the clues and passwords, and only then can one hope to put them in the right order and solve the game.

I know that if I were to read a game described as above, I'd probably run away. Fortunately I had almost no information on it when going in. Avon is actually a really fun game. The generous helping of Shakespeare quotes (often in inappropriate contexts) are funny, the parser and narrator are friendly and polite, descriptions are over the top in a good way...
Two more things to persuade you to play: a) at one point you get an ass's head on your neck, and b) this game contains one of the dumbest and funniest puns in any IF I have ever played.

Unfair, sure, but fun!

Rimworld, by Russel A. Duderstadt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Desolate planet, episode umpteen. Prepare dropship crash in 3...2..., January 12, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF


Rimworld is a thoroughly enjoyable though standard SF-adventure.

So, threehundred years ago, during the intergalactic war, the people of Rimworld closed off their planet from the rest of humanity with an impenetrable forcefield to avoid getting involved in the devastating fight. They were never heard from again.

Now, a diplomatic ship has been sent to Rimworld to re-establish communications. Only a one-man dropship can penetrate the atmospheric barrier: your dropship, which crashes upon entry. No help seems to be nearby.

Here we have one of my most beloved SF-tropes: stranded on a desolate planet. The initial game-area is small, simple and orderly. A bit boring even. But once you explore the outer rooms, the game-world quickly expands. Teleportation portals and different types of vehicles bring you to new submaps, some bigger and certainly more challenging than the initial map. Very good use of space and bottlenecks.

The puzzles you encounter are the usual adventuring fare, for the most part. Certainly not bad, but nothing very original either. There are two "action-puzzles", one which involves climbing and one which involves evading and killing enemies. Although there is some logic to them, they are ultimately try-die-repeat puzzles. The final endgame puzzle depends on using an object whose workings are underclued, which is a shame. Aha-moments are not so exhilarating when they are the consequence of "let's just throw the entire inventory at it and see what happens." There has to be some planning and expectation involved to give the player a sense of accomplishment.

I would have happily given this game four stars for entertaining me for a week with its puzzles, the great scenery, the alone-on-the-planet feel, but the outro bummed me out. One, there could have been at least two more playable scenes after the "boss-puzzle". Two, it left me feeling like I had just watched a no-brainer action-flick from the eighties ("The hero has put everything in place, nothing left to see here. Move along folks.") while there was certainly room for some introspection or a hint at a wider meaning. Bummer.

Still, a good adventure. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Hound of Shadow, by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Incomplete download, I suspect., January 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The first half of the manual for The Hound of Shadow which I found online is about a rather complex-looking character-creating process, where you can choose your character's main occupation (occult researcher, anthropologist, ...) and also distribute points over different skills (fencing, climbing, linguistics,...)

In the DOS version I downloaded from IFDB there was no sign of this process. I was dumped in medias res as Edward the anthropologist. Now, this didn't matter to me all that much, I just accepted the character as it was like I would in another adventure.

Starting to play The Hound of Shadow took some getting used to. It is certainly no text-adventure as I know it. There were no object puzzles or locked door puzzles. Rather than searching the map for treasure while overcoming obstacles, you are here to solve a mystery. Actually, the game is not so much an adventure-game as it is a guided semi-interactive horror story.

Following the clues from the story and the nudges from your friend John, you have to talk to the right people and ask the right questions, look up important topics in the British Museum library and write letters to people who might help you. The limited or guided interactivity helps with the immersion in the story. If you read/play the game on these terms, it's a very good story with a suspenseful, slowly unfolding Lovecraftian horror plot.

Unfortunately, the game does not deliver on one of its promises in the manual. It prides itself on a sophisticated natural language conversation system. No need to ASK or TELL JOHN ABOUT xxx, nor SAY TO JOHN, xxx. The game should understand simple statements and questions in plain English. It does not. It seems that its conversation system works by keyword recognition, meaning that over half of what I typed was not understood and a big number of questions got irrelevant responses. ASK/TELL would have been better. Menu-based conversations would have been even better.
The game recognizes a very welcome GO TO-command, and you can WAIT UNTIL NOON if you have an appointment with someone. This helps with the flow of the story.

In the endgame there is an actual IF-puzzle to solve, and a rather good one at that ((Spoiler - click to show)making a homunculus). (I later learned that there are 2 possible endgames. I did not play the other one.)

As an immersive guided horror story, The Hound of Shadow is well worth reading. I do suggest relying heavily on a walkthrough, or at least have the manual with the list of necessary verbs nearby. The top notch writing and slow opening-up of the plot do not go well with search-the-word frustration.

The raw material is definitely there for a great game/story, but it takes some effort on the reader's part to get to it.

World, by J. D. McDonald

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A Grandiose World, January 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

After a few false starts I have finished the most-impressive World.
Before we turn our attention to the awesomeness of the game, there are a few negatives I should get off my chest:

(I played the DOS version 107)

- It is extremely easy to cut off certain paths of exploration, which means losing points, or to put the game in an unwinnable "walking dead"-state altogether. (On the plus side, you can literally walk around while dead in this game. The game tells you that although you cannot act on your surroundings anymore, you are welcome to keep on exploring if you choose to do so. No practical reason, just... fun?)

-The parser is very picky about what commands it accepts. There are no synonyms for objects, so you are condemned to type "knapsack" over and over. Luckily, "knapsack" is a funny word. The parser does not understand X, so you must LOOK AT or EXAMINE.

-I found four game-crashing bugs, all when pushing buttons. For those who do not enjoy this and would like to know which buttons not to press, open the spoiler: (Spoiler - click to show) Do not push the round button in the control room. (Well, I later learned from the walkthrough that this button makes a nearby star go nova, obliterating everything around it, including you. So maybe it obliterates your gamefile too...) Also do not push any of the buttons in the metal room except the white one.
All the important buttons work though, so this does not stop you from completing the game. (It might make some points unattainable though, but I didn't really care.)

-The version I played has only one save-slot. Once saved, you cannot go back to an earlier point in your playthrough. (DOS version 106 has multiple slots, but they behaved funny. Plus that version was in ugly bright blue instead of the soothing white on matte-black of version 107.)

There. Now that we have that out of the way, let's dive into the sheer awesomeness of World!

This is a huge and diverse and immersive piece of interactive fiction.

After noticing that surface scanners were hindered by a strange forcefield, a landing party was sent down to a mysterious planet and crashed. While the engineers work on getting the dropship operational again, you are appointed planet-explorer on a search for resources that might help them get the job done. After walking some distance from the crash site, you notice that you are caught behind a forcefield not unlike the one the mothership detected from orbit. No way back, so you press on forward. Looking down from the top of a ridge, you see a breathtaking view of various terraformed areas, all with their own vegetation and, perhaps, other life-forms. Just the job for your inner adventurer!

There are multiple locations such as this ridge in the game: on a hilltop or a rocky spire you can see the landscape around and below you. I love this in games. It gives you an exhilarating sense of spaciousness, and it hints at where to go and what you might find there.

From this view it is immediately obvious that this is a large and sprawling game-world. The geographical zones are neatly separated from each other, suggesting that the puzzles will also be contained within their own zones (they are, for the most part). In such a big game, there is no need to camouflage the boundaries of the map. For one, it is large enough as it is without giving the impression that it goes on even further. Secondly, the boundaries flow naturally from the whole concept of having terraformed areas. Anything beyond it is obviously inaccessible because it won't support life.
While the different areas have rather complicated maps with many paths and roads crossing and going over and under each other, the geographical zones are only connected by a few access points, providing clear limits to the puzzle-area you are in.

Puzzlewise, there are two sorts of puzzles in the game that serve different purposes.
-Maybe a bit disrespectfully, I would call the first variety "looting-puzzles". You have to locate important objects, be it for the repairs of the dropship or for the scientific mission your ship was on in the first place. Or because they are worth a lot of money...
These tasks consist of visiting locations, finding and getting objects, using objects in sometimes surprising ways and taking pictures of interesting things you come across. These are mostly limited to the geographical zone you happen to be in.
-The second kind of puzzles revolve around understanding the bigger picture. You'll want to figure out who the builders of this place are, what their intentions are. Also, you need to explore this entire map to find a way to get off this planet.
These puzzles require more technical/engineering skills, finding and combining objects from all over the map. You will also need some leaps of knowledge and insight to reason a few moves ahead and see why you are doing what you are doing. (Solving puzzle X will hopefully get me the information I need to overcome obstacle Y which in turn will tell me what the *snorf* I should do with object Z I've been carrying around since move 9.)

A little reminder: any objects (except one) you use for the puzzles are one-use-only. No take-backsies, no stash somewhere, no market, no helpful NPCs. If you give the peanuts to the elephant, you will have none for the monkey. (There are no elephants, monkeys or peanuts mentioned in this game btw...)

The majority of puzzles is fair and logical. Once you know the properties of the objects and machines and plants and... you encounter, the solutions are difficult but straightforward. (No magical thinking or huge lateral leaps.)
But... To understand the properties of the aformentioned objects, machines, plants,... you will have to experiment. And carelessly experimenting with single-use-only objects leads to...? Walking-dead-syndrome, that's right. So save everytime you think there might possibly be a slim chance of losing an object and only then carry out your experiment. Frustrating? I wouldn't call it that. I'd say it's rather suspenseful.

Since this is a game from 1988, of course there have to be some objects hidden in the most arbitrary places, far from the puzzle they help solve. Are you an explorer or what?

With all these puzzles, it is helpful to keep in mind that this whole world must have been terraformed and built by some intelligent beings. This implies intentionality in how your surroundings work. Things are so-and-so for a reason. (I really like how the author has brought in an extra layer of purposefulness this way, by incorporating in-game creators of your surroundings.)

Now, on to the characters:
-You are an essentialy traitless adventurer. I like that in this sort of game because I can feel directly connected to the adventure. It's me who is exploring this strange world, without having to think about the psychological backstory of my character.
-The NPCs, if you can even call them that, are completely unresponsive (except they kill you when you disturb their hockey game, in one case...). They do have a lot of character though. They clearly have their own objectives and priorities (like hockey, in one case).
-And then there's the robot. The endearing, helpful and a bit sad robot. Pity I couldn't do anything with him except boss him around. I like the robot.
(quick clarification on the syntax of how to boss the robot around: TELL ROBOT, GO NORTH)

The writing overall is good. It serves its purpose without drawing too much attention to itself. Some of the more elaborate descriptions (when you encounter a particularly important species or event) might be a little overdone, but I didn't mind.
The tone of the parser's responses is weirdly mixed: Most of the time it's neutral, as in "You can't go there." Sometimes it's snarky: "Ridiculous." And sometimes it just has to insist it's just a line of computer-generated text in a computer-game: "That word is utterly beyond my limited vocabulary."
Once you have an inkling of what this world you're exploring really is and what steps you have to take to move forward, the suspense takes over and the game drives itself forward, carrying you along with it. That is good writing.

My strongest feeling of this game is one of wonderment. Like watching a long drawn out fireworks show in slow motion: a series of ooh's and aah's with each new discovery. You should really play it.

Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, by Bob Bates

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"Where have you been, Watson? We have work to do.", December 25, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

That's how the great Sherlock Holmes impatiently welcomes you back to London when you restore a saved game. This and other dry or witty remarks make sure that you never forget Holmes' presence, even though it is you, Watson, who is in the driving seat in this investigation.

Sherlock - The Riddle of the Crown Jewels is a fantastic Infocom mystery. In the beginning of the game Holmes senses that his adversary is very cunning and has studied his, Holmes', methods. Therefore, he puts you, Watson, in the lead. With the great detective breathing down your neck and occasionally making snarky remarks, the two of you explore London in search of clues as to whom might have stolen the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The setting, London in the late 19th century, is magnificently rendered. Foggy streets, dim sunshine if there is any, grand and imposing buildings,... But also a busy market square, avenues full of tourists,... The author uses the fog and the busy streets to make the game world seem much larger than the part of the city that is actually accessible, giving a great sense of freedom to the player. You can roam the streets and go sightseeing as you please...

Were it not for the fact that you are on the clock. You have but two days to solve the theft, or the disappearance of the Crown Jewels will become known to the public and all faith in the monarchy will crumble (yaay!). Being on a timer, together with some well-placed twists in the story gives the story its drive. It creates the tension that makes this a good mystery. However, the trade-off between telling a straightforward story with its natural tension-arc on the one hand, and allowing the player lots of freedom to explore the map and solve the puzzles in his own order on the other hand does get in the way sometimes. If you misunderstand a clue (as I did), then the tension falls flat until you stumble upon the answer. Felt kinda like pushing the motorcar until the engine fired again.

For the most part, the puzzles are fair. Do remember that you are Holmes' assistant in this game, so don't just gather clues but think about them and put them together. In the words of that other famed detective: "You must excercise zee grey cells." I thought one puzzle was underclued, and it being dependent on the time of day, it took me a lot of time to complete.

The NPCs are very well characterized, even though they do not have all that much to say. In a few strokes and a few remarks, the character is there with you.

The descriptions are very strong, bringing the locations to life when you first enter them. The city of London's atmosphere in the fog permeates the game, adding to the tension of your search. The suspense of the overarching story suffers somewhat from the trade-off I mentioned before, but once you get near the endgame and the pieces fall together, the game picks up speed again.

A truly great adventure, a joy to play.

Spaceship!, by The Guardian's Gamesblog Community

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Desperate and alone in outer space, ... cracking jokes., December 19, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

What a fun and engaging game to spend an afternoon with!

The aptly named Spaceship features you as the captain of said spaceship. Your entire crew is on leave and you are enjoying a nice nap when suddenly disaster strikes. A meteor impact!
Now you're all alone on a depressurized and oxygenless spacecraft, left to your wits and some mighty fine McGyvering-skills to get yourself and your ship out of this pickle.

Despite the lifethreatening situation and the oxygen in your hastily donned spacesuit slowly decreasing (the oxygen-meter serves as a very effective timer), Spaceship is consistently funny. Consider this response when you examine your quarters: "Above [the desk] is a porthole, with a stunning view of bugger all." The tension created by this contrast between the emergency of the situation and the humorous narration is just right.

The ship is littered with objects, so you'll quickly have a heap of stuff in your inventory, most of which you will never need. Luckily, the puzzles are well clued and there are some alternative solutions, so juggling the inventory items never becomes a real problem. Actually, I found that some puzzles were overclued, diminishing the whole "alone and left to your wits"-feel of the empty spaceship. The obstacles all have logical solutions, some with a lot of intermediate steps. However, if you cram your inventory with everything you can take on your first exploratory tour of the ship, you should always have everything needed for the puzzle at hand.

A few of the obvious paths to rescue turn out to be red herrings, but they are great puzzles in themselves and they add to your score. So instead of being frustrating or disappointing, they just mean more fun!

I encountered a few unobtrusive bugs (and a huge one that was actually meant to be in the game...), but overall Spaceship played very smoothly, no small feat when you take into account that this game was written by a large group of authors. Kudos for keeping the atmosphere and quality so consistent throughout the game!

To the authors, I'd recommend one last round of editing and testing (cranking the handholding down just a notch in some places, (Spoiler - click to show)Particularly in the Infirmary.).

To anyone else, I heartily recommend playing this game!

Wishbringer, by Brian Moriarty

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Boot patrol!, December 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Comedy

I have officially finished my first Infocom game!

And I liked it a lot. Wishbringer brought me a lot of moments of joy and laughter. Once you complete the introductory task, it seems the game-world turns dark and sinister. Once the boot patrol turns up though, it turns out to be whimsical and funny. The little town of Festeron (Witchville in the dark) is full of surprises, secret passages and absurd characters. When I found my way to Misty Island I laughed out loud. Phineas and Ferb is one of my favorite cartoons, and here I saw an island full of Agent Ps...

The puzzles are fun and on the easy side. I would recommend that you look at the official feelies and the original game-booklet before playing though. (Widespread on the web.)

Then why only three stars? Because it's possible to make the game unwinnable when you are at the doorstep of victory by not reading a certain note before it becomes forever inaccesible to you. And because the Magick Stone that this game is supposedly about is hidden without clues, like an inside joke from the makers. And because things like that are extra frustrating in an easy-going whimsical adventure such as this one.

But do play it. It's fun.

Delusions, by C. E. Forman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"Morrodox" joins "Skeletor" and "Mumm-Ra" in best-villain-names top three., December 14, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Delusions was one of the very first IF-games I played when I first discovered the medium. The puzzles were way over my head back then, but I found the setting and the slowly unfolding plot fascinating. Except exploring rooms and examining objects, I used a walkthrough for the entire game, knowing I would once try again.

And now I have come back to it. Where before I would have given Delusions five stars for its story alone, now I have more experience with IF and I might offer a more nuanced opinion. I will have to be quite vague in this review to not spoil the overall story.

The story remains fantastic. It is a reworking of a tried-and-true science fiction trope, very well told and paced. Each of the three parts of the game sees the plot of self-discovery open up some more to its inevitable conclusion. Story-wise, there are many similarities to Babel. The way the player discovers the story through puzzles is different however.

The puzzles are very reminiscent of some mini-games in Gateway. You have to build a good understanding of your surroundings and the available objects to figure out a sequence of actions that brings about the desired effect. This will undoubtedly take some experimenting, failing and retrying. You can of course rely on saved games for this, but the game always brings you back to a fixed starting point to begin anew. (In the middle game at least. The endgame is not so friendly.) It is vital to play through the introductory puzzle attentively, because it is an easier version of the puzzle in the middlegame.

For the map-drawers and world-explorers there is not so much here. However, the setting is exquisitely suited to the plot, it adds to the trapped feeling and the big puzzle is designed to fit snugly in these few rooms.

Unfortunately, being more experienced I could also recognize more flaws. The unfolding of the plot relies on examining the same objects multiple times over the course of the game, to see how they change, or, more accurately, how your perception of them changes. Sometimes an object gives a default "not interesting"-response while you should still examine it later. One crucial action demands a non-intuitive (to me) command, making it a very frustrating guess-the-verb problem: (Spoiler - click to show)TAKE object WITH TONGS does not work, you have to PUT object IN TONGS. I also found a game-breaking bug: (Spoiler - click to show)do not SET WATCH TO [time]. It breaks of the playing session immediately. Just SET WATCH wil do nicely.

So, I am not so awestruck as the first time I played through Delusions, but it is still a very clever and well-written game. Highly recommended.

A Beauty Cold and Austere, by Mike Spivey

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Non Cogito ergo Non Sum?, December 4, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

First of all: A Beauty Cold and Austere is extremely well coded and implemented. Every action I tried that had even the slightest relevance to the problem at hand was understood. The parser understands tons of synonyms and guesses accurately what you want to do from differently formulated commands. This is a joy in every adventure, but it is doubly so in a game like this. There is a lot of precise fiddling of switches and turning of dials here, and any less near-perfect implementation would have made this a hell of frustration.

The puzzles here are logic and fair (duh). The author has put in a lot of effort to guide the player to understanding why the solutions work. I daresay that I have learned a (vague) thing or two about calculus.

The game truly shines in its visualization of abstract mathematical concepts and problems. An algebra problem made concrete with balancing scales is something one could find in an oldschool text adventure. Making an infinite converging series tangible or visible is harder. And programming, nay, creating a working machine in the game that lets you manipulate such series at will is just a heavenly present to any IF-tinkerer.

The writing is very good. Well-described locations, the occasional joke (well, a bit more than occasional, but it stays within bounds...), good NPCs. On the larger scale, it's harder to say:

Like The Chinese Room, a game that explores some basic concepts of philosophy, A Beauty Cold and Austere explores many mathematical concepts. And, like The Chinese Room, A Beauty Cold and Austere does not have much of a story beyond that.

It makes up for this though. Instead of a story-structure, we get an ever-widening understanding of mathematical concepts and how they are linked to eachother. And this widening understanding is beautifully reflected in the way the gamespace evolves. The map itself expands and deepens with your mathematical discoveries (or inventions, depending on your philosophical standpoint). You also have the backbone of math's history and many of the great minds in it to give the game a recognizable structure.

I like this game a lot.

Catapole, by Adrien Saurat

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Chim-chimmenee chim-chimmenee chim-chim-cheroo..., December 1, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

My first IF in French. (I'm not counting Les Heures du Vent because it was unfinished and I quit.) I can read French quite well, but it took some time (and some help from online dictionaries) to figure out the commands.

Catapole is very, very well written. You play as a chimneysweep in a huge underground complex, where workers live and work their entire lives to support the wealthy who still live on the surface. This underground atmosphere, the stillness of the air, the soot,... is made tangible by the writing. It is also reflected by the PC, with his mood, his views on life underground. Not really unhappy, but aware that there is much of the world that lies beyond his grasp.

Because of this surrender to the status quo, he becomes the target of a murder attempt by revolutionaries who want to shake the public into a revolt against their living conditions. Up to you, the player, to find the way to survive this attempt and choose a way of life for your PC.

These are deep themes, thought-provoking and worth contemplating. Unfortunately, the game does not do them justice.
However well-written, Catapole is too short to get in-charachter, too on-rails to understand the life underground, too confined to get a grasp of the relation of your PC to his world and to the people he lives with.
The same is true for the motives and the actions of the revolutionaries.

There's just not enough immersion in the grand overarching story to understand the main character and to make a valid choice at the end.

Still, Catapole is well worth a playthrough for the exquisite writing, and to let yourself wonder about the options.

Les Heures du vent, by Eric Forgeot

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Half an hour of wind, November 30, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

I really liked the premise of this game: a young Storyteller asked by the local mage to find an especially evocative children's storybook.

I had wandered around the entire accessible map, enjoying the superb location descriptions. Maybe French is a better language for poetic ways of saying how a town square surrounded with linden-trees looks like? (Yes, the game is in French.) After a while though, I started noticing a particularly large amount of objects where the response to X was "You see nothing special about..." (translated of course.)

A better look at the title page and info showed that this is "un aventure en devenir." "An adventure in progress" that is. So I stopped. This version is from 2007, so I doubt the finished story will ever be published. Too bad, the descriptions are really good.

(I do keep wondering how this piece got 1st place in FrenchComp. Maybe because it's probably possible to play to the end, just very underimplemented?)

Gateway, by Mike Verdu, Michael Lindner, and Glen Dahlgren

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
I like saying "Heechee" over and over., November 28, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

The past ten days I have been playing Gateway. The moment I heard the electronic music and saw the first screen of the introduction, I was whisked back to the early '90s. I felt the same anticipation as when I had just put a new cartridge in my Nintendo-console and watched the pictures with the background story. Good stuff. Of course, Gateway is a text adventure, and I don't remember playing any of those on my SNES.

This is the first graphic/text game I have completed. The intro-pictures were great. Very beautiful pixel art. But this wouldn't be the first piece of art/craft/entertainment to blow the player/spectator/beholder's mind with an intense blast to the senses and emotions to cover up mediocre content. I was still apprehensive about if and how both inputs, picture and text, would work together in my mind.

Pretty good, it turns out. The default setting is an impossibly cluttered screen with a little picture in the top right, a little text window bottom right, and a list of every possible verb and every possible noun on the left half of the screen. Apparently, you could play this game like a point'n'clickety robot by mindlessly clicking every possible verb-noun combination.
But,...you have options. There is also the hardcore text-only option, for those who dislike pretty pictures and still think Bob Dylan should never have picked up an electric guitar.
Me, I settled on the half'n'half option: pictures and windrose on top, screenwide text below. Very handy. The pictures really add to the sparse descriptions, the compass shows exits at a single glance. What I especially liked was that clicking the pictures doubles as an X-command. So I could enter a new location and just click around instead of typing X everything. I noticed a few objects this way that I had overlooked in the text. Also, when thoroughly exploring a location or when trying out my entire inventory on a puzzle, I find myself hitting L or I every five or six turns. Here, I could just replace the picture with the room description or my inventory list. I used this a lot.

As I said, the pictures add a lot to the sparse descriptions. And the help is more than welcome. The writing isn't bad, but I wouldn't say it's got any real literary qualities, like some other games that excel in two-sentence gems to grasp the feel of a room (Metamorphoses comes to mind...). But this criticism is about the small-scale writing. Gateway does excel at the big-picture writing: plot, pacing, overall structure...

In Chapter One, you have won the lottery and go to an enormous space station built by an ancient alien civilization, the Heechee. There, you will be trained as a pilot and get the chance to go find alien artefacts all over the galaxy. You will be payed a handsome sum for everything you bring back. The puzzles here are good, nothing too hard. They are important in setting you up for some harder puzzles in the later portions of the game. You can actually solve all of the puzzles on the space station on your very first evening there. Should you not do so, then know that at some point in the game you will have to re-explore the entire station. My biggest gripe about this first chapter is that it feels too small. You are supposedly on a huge alien satellite, but the writing does not succeed in bringing across that feeling. This is not about the number of accessible rooms, but about the very confined boundaries of the playing area. It would have helped to hint at other areas of this great space station while prohibiting the PC from ever entering there. (Turbolifts that go higher than the accessible three decks to regions where the PC does not have clearance come to mind.)
The boundaries of the storyworld on the other hand are very wide. There are some devices in the game that give you the news from earth, tell you about the history of the station, and even show personal messages from other prospectors (looking for a drinking companion or a date...). This makes you feel in touch with a much bigger society.
Also in this chapter you go on the first few missions to other planets. Nothing noteworthy though, just a teeny tiny taste of what's to come.

What does come next in Chapter Two is amazing. You visit four alien worlds to carry out a very specific mission. Each of these worlds is one single puzzle, contained within a handful of locations. Two puzzles in particular ((Spoiler - click to show)the spider-anemones-octopus-snake sequence on planet 2 and the Sasquatch on planet 3) were beautiful in their logic and simplicity.
Each of these worlds is also a magnificent new ecosystem, making one wonder about what the rest of the planet would look like. Here, the small size of the map does not impinge on the feeling of a bigger world at all.

Of course, just when you think you have completed your four-part mission, it turns out there is a fifth obstacle to be overcome. The three related problems in Chapter Three hearken back to your trainee days when you had just arrived at the space station. If you payed attention at the beginning of the game, you should grasp the principles of the solutions immediately, if not the practical execution. The idea behind these final puzzles is a classic and very well played SciFi trope. Unfortunately, one of the puzzles also involves "Paradise as seen through the eyes of a hormone-overdosed, raised-on-misogynistic-movies fifteen-year-old boy". No matter how good you may find the puzzle, this part is bad. Really bad.

That's really a shame, and the fact that it comes right before the end of the game doesn't help. For me at least, it tainted the final WIN-sensation.

If I excise that bit from my memories with my imaginary memory-scalpel though, I'm left with the experience of an overwhelmingly good game. Very entertaining, very emotionally engaging at times ((Spoiler - click to show)the Sasquatch again). It may be linear, "on rails" as they say, but it's one heck of a rollercoaster ride.

Must play, if you can stomach that bit-that-will-not-be-mentioned-again.

Finally, I'd like to come back to my favorite puzzle of Gateway.
I have read several reviews and interviews where Emily Short talks about the complicity of the player in commanding the PC, especially when immoral actions are needed to advance the game. She comments that through the years, it has become more of an emotional burden for her to just do whatever it takes as an adventurer to get the proverbial Magic Crystal.
In my years as an adventurer, I have happily stolen stuff, sedated and drugged NPCs, broken all kinds of furniture or laws. I have even killed a good number of guards that happened to be in my way. All without a moral hiccup.
When I first came across (Spoiler - click to show)the Sasquatch however, I found myself very emotionally involved. From the start, I hoped I wouldn't have to harm it. In the end, I did have to treat it in a way that I wasn't comfortable with (although it was not unbearable), and it was a very powerful experience to find myself caring so much about what would happen to this creature. This is where IF done right can truly shine, through shared responsibility between the player and the character.
(Actually, come to think of it, something similar happened when I played LASH, but that game had a twisted player/PC relation at its core that was aimed at just this strange complicity. Gateway is a more traditional adventure in this respect.)

A classic well worth playing (again).

Inevitable, by Kathleen M. Fischer as Timothy Lawrence Heinrich

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Blue Flash!, November 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

I stand in awe. This game is so good...

Top fighter pilot during the past war, you now find yourself accompanying the Ambassador on a tourist trip to a place he slashed into submission from orbit just twenty years ago, while you were down there on a mission of your own. A heavy storm forces you to push him into his spaceship to take him to safety, leaving you alone and stranded on the surface with your storm-damaged plane. You might be able to fix it should you find your multi-purpose tool that you lent to the Ambassador. Maybe he dropped it somewhere during his escape?

As you search the area, you get re-acquanted with the strange towers that stand on the points of a great triangular field, and the massive Ziggurat that stands in the middle. Soon, driven by memories and an only half-understood inner urge, you find yourself unraveling the mysteries of these perplexing structures.

Inevitable takes place on a smallish map, readily memorized and easily accesible. You can oversee much of the area from several locations, making it feel bigger while at the same time tying it together into one big site. The descriptions are evocative while not overloading your brain with too much information.

Actually, the writing overall is extremely good. When exploring the different towers and examining scenery and objects, the text is efficient and to the point, almost cold in places. However, entering certain locations or finding certain objects brings back memories of your last time here, memories you would have rather forgotten. When remembering these, the writing becomes softer, even hesitant.

At its core, Inevitable is a puzzle game. It is actually one big puzzle with tightly interconnected sub-puzzles. Once you understand the overarching problem, the nature of the towers and the Ziggurat, the function of the sub-puzzles becomes clear. (Not their solutions however...) In this way, instead of other IF-games, Inevitable reminded me most of two point-and-click games I bashed my head against in the early 2000s: Chasm and Archipelago. (Ring a bell, anyone?)
The solutions to the obstacles are all logical, which does not make them any easier. I certainly needed some nudges along the way. (Thanks!)

The coding and implementation is top notch. Wrong attempts get helpful replies. You can GO TO locations if you don't want to traverse the entire map. The game starts in Default mode, but you can type EASIER or HARDER at the start of the game, depending on how masochistic you are.

What lifts Inevitable head-and-shoulders above other hard and smart and clever puzzlers is the dramatic backstory revealed in the memories. I felt strongly sympathetic towards the protagonist (I imagine it to be a woman, although the game doesn't say either way.) when she was reliving the final moments of the war through short but heartwrenching flashes of memory.

Extremely good game.

The Abbey, by Art LaFrana

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Holy Relics!, November 11, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Wow! That was really really really cool!

The year is 1347 AD. You, a renowned scholar and theologian, have been summoned by King and Pope. There has been a tragic fire in the library of the great abbey at Montglane. The fleeing monks have rescued as much of the treasures as they could, but the location of certain ancient relics has been forgotten through the centuries. You are to retrieve them for the greater glory of King and Church.

The Abbey of Montglane is a 1988 DOS text-adventure. It is by far the oldest IF I have finished. (Edit: I see that the date on the IFDB page is 1993. I could have sworn I saw 1988 somewhere.)

Because of the limited implementation of objects and scenery, I had to switch my adventuring style from obsessively examining everything named in the descriptions to a more general exploring of the game-space. On my first evening, I spent more than two hours drawing a map of the abbey, and I hadn't even found the passage into the catacombs by then.

This game is awe-inspiring in its handling of space. The map is very large, and a huge chunk of it is open to exploration from the get-go. However, it is structured according to the layout of a historical abbey, a large rectangle contained within the outer walls. Most of the locations are next to one of the main paths, with enough of them to the side or in between to break the symmetry and give the map a more natural feel.
A medieval abbey was for the most part a self-sustaining entity, so the locations are very diverse. Next to the church and the monk's dormitories, there is a herb and vegetable garden, a bakery, a pigsty (with barrels for collecting the blood of a butchered pig!), a meditative fountain grove,... An impressive bell-tower looks out over it all.
The orderly structure of this above-ground map contrasts with the nooks and crannies and twisty passages of the underground catacombs. (No maze.) Mapping fun guaranteed!

The intro I have summarized above promises good writing, and the game delivers... for the most part. The descriptions are sparse, efficient and more verbose when needed. But: the juvenile 1980s text-adventure humour that pops up here and there broke the atmosphere enough for me to take away a star from my rating.

Solving the puzzles is mostly a matter of exploring thoroughly, taking the (surprisingly few) objects you find with you and remembering written clues until you need them. The best puzzle of the game is wildly unfair to modern standards, but it works and it is great and funny. Well worth solving without cheating.. (Spoiler - click to show)Learn by dying... A lot.

The Abbey of Montglane is a tremendous work of interactive fiction.
Highly recommended.

Wolfsmoon, by Marco Innocenti

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Under a pale moon..., November 8, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror

Wolfsmoon is a chilling text adventure with graphics that unquestionably add to the pleasure of playing.

You play as an unnamed explorer who takes it upon him/herself to investigate a series of gruesome killings around a small farmtown. While looking around the town I found it honestly scary, thanks to small details like a family sitting safely inside their home while I was alone on the dark town square, a crooked scarecrow on the outskirts of the village and the ever-present pale moon hanging in the sky.
There are a few great puzzles here. All of them involve but two or three steps, but they are very clever, giving me a real "Aha"-feeling when I solved them.
The map of the town is altogether small, but it feels very naturally diverse, with wheat fields and hills surrounding the town. The graphics here do a lot to make the area feel bigger, more open than its number of locations. White, gray, black and blue, with a hint of red here and there, they add immensely to the oppressive atmosphere. The moonlit clouds almost take on a physical weight pressing down upon you.

After solving the cleverly bottlenecked puzzles outside, you gain entrance to the lone mansion in the fields. Here, for me at least, the feel of the game shifted from a creepy suspense-thriller to a more brainy escape-quest. You must examine all the rooms closely to gradually find your way into the master bedroom. This involves an obscurely clued combination lock puzzle that would have made me give up, were it not for an explicit solution I asked and received. (Thanks!) (btw: if you get stuck on the same puzzle -you'll know it when you see it- you can ask on intfiction.org, or just PM me.)

The final confrontation wraps things up nicely with a not-so-twisty twist.

It is clear from the writing that the author is not a native english speaker. Most of the time this is not a problem. In some places it's actually beneficial, with an uncommon twist of words that helps the game's atmosphere. In one place it was confusing, but a closer look at the graphics soon solved that. (Spoiler - click to show)The author uses "alcove", which I envision as a recess or crawlspace in a wall. It was used in the game to mean a smaller indentation or hollow in a surface. To be fair to the author, in several online dictionaries "alcove" is indeed listed as a synonym for "indentation".

The word that pops into my head when describing Wolfsmoon is "tight". The map is small yet full of atmosphere and things to explore. The number of verbs needed is limited but doesn't feel restrictive. The descriptions are efficiently terse and they are beautifully supported by wonderful pixel art.

Play this in a dark room on a moonlit night. Shivers!

The WadeWars Book III: Askin, by Jim Fisher

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Wade misses the spot., November 4, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

The WadeWars III: Askin was published as a DOS game in 1993. The author dug it up in 2000 and transferred it to Inform. Verbatim, as far as I can tell. What a missed opportunity to give it a thorough work-over.

Your weird science minded recluse of an uncle has gone missing so you go and search his appartment. There you find a mysterious machine with a big red button. Now, what do you do when you encounter Big Red Buttons on mysterious machines? Push them, right! I'd probably push the button even in real life... (People have warned me against this though...)

Pushing the button transports you to a mirrored, dungeonlike version of your uncle's apartment. After a few turns, you are transported back to the normal world. When you are standing in a particular room when this switchback happens, you end up in an altogether strange land, where the search for your uncle continues.

Now, the author has set us up in a quite well written (if you can stand the grating sensation of typos) fantasy land with an intriguing and promising puzzle-mechanism: a parallel mirror-map where East and West are switched and altered for a few turns. (Heck, it could make for an interesting maze-puzzle, where you alternate between realities to navigate.) Unfortunately, instead of being the basis for different puzzles, this mechanism is hardly used in the game.

Implementation is very shallow, there are lots of empty locations, the writing is of differing quality (plus typos).

One part of the game does shine: the way to the Cloud Palace where you encounter the Laws. Quite a vivid impression.


Worlds Apart, by Suzanne Britton

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
My First Love., November 2, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, SF

Some fifteen years ago, I came across this strange gameplaying/storytelling -medium. They called it Interactive Fiction. I thought it sounded interesting, but it turned out to be confusing, frustrating. I did not feel welcome in this world.

Then I came across "Worlds Apart". Thank you, Lady Britton, for "Worlds Apart".

For days on end I lost myself in this game, this story. Outer and inner worlds entwine. Exploration demands diving into ocean and mind alike.

Since that experience, I've played a lot of good, even great IF, but...

"Worlds Apart" will always be my first love.

The Windhall Chronicles, Volume 1: The Path to Fortune, by Jeff Cassidy and C. E. Forman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An Ogre, a Chameleon, a Werewolf and a Squirrel fail to walk into the inn..., November 1, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

Because, strangely, there is no inn in this otherwise standard Fantasy adventure.

I say standard, but it's actually a very good game.

After a lengthy but very funny introductory scene where you, the smith's apprentice, are appointed "volunteer" by the villagers to kill the dragon and get its treasures (the town has a bit of a tax-problem), you find yourself in a traditional Fantasy land. After talking to all the villagers and starting to explore a bit, you remember that aside from funny narrators, hidden treasure and a wizard in his tower, old-school Fantasy adventures also tend to be Big and Difficult.

-Setting: The entire map (minus a handful of hidden locations) is accessible from the get-go. The game thus has a great sense of spaciousness. The boundaries of the playable area are also very naturally worked into the narrative. There are mountain ranges with their peaks stretching out as far as you can see, grassplains too big to cross where you see the next town shimmering against the horizon, the ocean shore where you can just see the barbaric islands through the mist...
There are many, many locations. It helps a lot that they are geographically ordered. From the central village, you can choose to go to the river/swamp region, the forest or the rocky hills. The wizard's tower lies on its own mountain peak.
Some of these locations are truly beautiful: a hidden lake seen from a cliff above, a lone giant tree in the forest, the tower seen from a hill top far away...
The openness of the game world does mean that it can be hard to find that next loose thread while puzzle-solving, meaning that you will see some of the locations so many times that you don't care about that wonderfully described scenery anymore.

-Puzzles: The puzzles in The Windhall Chronicles are a mixed batch.
The three parts of the Wizardry-test are great. They are followed by a logic puzzle that I took out my chess pawns for and had a lot of fun solving. Most puzzle fans will probably have seen it in some form before though. There's a fetch-quest for the wood-elf that I found very enjoyable, and then there's the Mire Cat's riddle.
Then there are some puzzles that make sense,...in hindsight. The kind where you couldn't possibly tell what other function an object might have. Or where the sequence of actions is underclued.
One or two puzzles just make you go "Huh?" after finally checking the walkthrough.
It's a shame that the final puzzle, the dragon-fight, is completely clear and obvious (which I find a good thing for a final puzzle),but not described clearly enough to solve it while staying in the flow and thrill of the endgame.

-NPCs: To solve the puzzles, there are many characters that will help you. That is, if you help them first of course... This leads to some interesting fetch-quests and some funny conversations. It also adds to the feel of the game that all the characters have different opinions of one another, giving you a glimpse of the town's social dynamics.
Very important here is that all the characters (you/the protagonist included) have sleep cycles. Wildly differing sleep cycles... Your dwarven master gets up at 5:30 while the lazy alchemist doesn't wake up before 10:30 am. Some crucial information has to be got from an insomniac knight who doesn't show himself until after dark... Sometimes you can be forced to WAIT twenty turns because the character you have business with is still asleep. (Knocking on their door doesn't help...)
On the other hand, it is very rewarding to plan out your actions so that you can solve a puzzle and give the result to a character just as they get up. Therefore, I strongly recommend copying the sleep times from the walkthrough. They are all listed at the top of the page.

-Writing: The writing is good, sometimes very good. I only found a handful of typos, which is not a lot in a game this size. Some location descriptions are simply beautiful, but the prose does turn a bit purple after you solve some key puzzles. Also, both the intro and the epilogue are very wordy. Well written, but wordy.
The writing is also truly funny at times. Can't say much without giving the away the jokes but: (Spoiler - click to show)the shed falling apart when you turn the long-sought-after key...

-The sense of space, Fantasy feel, natural borders and wonderful surroundings make this gameworld a joy to explore.
-The lack of pacing/bottlenecks, the sleep cycles and the undercluedness of some puzzles can lead to pointless wandering.

All in all, I was absorbed in this game for a week, often pondering puzzles in bed and coming up with new things to try.

Strongly recommended.

(If you enjoy this kind of text adventure, be sure to check out Larry Horsfield's Alaric Blackmoon-series)

Hibernated 1 - This place is death, by Stefan Vogt

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
"It is what it is.", October 27, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Edit: It has been brought to my attention that what I called "retro-gameplay feel" is actual sparsity due to the limitations of the Commodore 64 on which Hibernated 1 was originally written. I therefore added a star for "tight programming in small nooks and crannies".
More in the comments.

"Hibernated 1" is a pretty straightforward sci-fi game with cool electronic engineering puzzles and an abandoned alien ship to spend a few cool hours as a space heroine.

That is, it could be, were it not that the game overdoes its retro-gameplay feel by quite a lot of notches for my tastes.

Although the basic descriptions are good, sometimes even great, implementation of scenery is almost non-existent, making it hard to get a feel for the spaceship you're investigating. Even more frustrating, implementation for needed objects is also very minimalist, leading to exchanges such as this:

It is what it is. A closer examination does not reveal any new insights.

Is the glass slab lying on the floor or standing upright? Is it the size of my head or taller than me? Is it clear and transparent or milky and opaque? These "new insights" might give an inkling as to how to use this thing.

Oh, talking about that verb: due to the two-word parser, you need to USE objects. In the right place, and , very importantly, at the right time. If you do not, the response is unforgiving.

That is not an option.

Even though you really do need to use those parts in that location, only there is something else that has to be done elsewhere in the ship first. So, no helpful responses to tell you you're on the right track.

Well, since you're carrying around IO, a semi-sentient robotic tamagotchi to assist you, you'd think that helpful feedback would be provided by simply:


but unfortunately, 99% of the time you get:

That is not an option.

Because of all this, it is clear at every moment that you are not a female spacecaptain uncovering the secret of a lost alien spacecraft. You are you, sitting at your computer taking a stab at the right sequence of commands to type to make something happen to the gamestate.

That being said, once you've come to that agreement with the game and with yourself, "Hibernated 1" is a fine "logic-in-the-dark" puzzle. Just don't expect too much back from it, like feedback and stuff...

Nightfall, by Eric Eve

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Stubbornly going back into an evacuated city to find "her", October 26, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Well, this was straight up my alley. Squarely in my comfortzone. Apparently I feel comfortable exploring the dimly lit streets of a gloomy abandoned city... (huh, what does this say about me, I guess...)

And exploring you must do. Since Nightfall is basically puzzleless, it's all about looking around and solving the Big Puzzle: Who is She?

While you search around the big, big map, some locations will trigger memories, which can be RECAPped to get a picture of this mysterious person you've actually half-known most of your life. Glimpses into her inner life, helping to make sense of what's happening this night.

The author has included some helpful commands to help navigate and keep your place in the story. (GO TO, REMEMBER, THINK). These are a great help, especially since the PC has a lot more knowledge of the geography than the player, and because it's easy to be unsure about what to do next in such a big city full of possibilities.

Writing and implementation are very good, good enough to have you wandering around Xing everything and forget about the time.

Yes, time matters in this game. You have to find her in a certain amount of time or ... Actually I don't know. I found her by 01.37am. I have no idea how much more time the game goes on for. (You can check the time limit in the help menu at the beginning of the game if you want.)

Depending on the route you took through the city, the locations and objects you examined, you get a different ending. (I got a "losing" one I think, but I liked it nonetheless.)

A game with great atmosphere, it deserves to be played/read attentively, best of all in one or two long stretches.

Sunset Over Savannah, by Ivan Cockrum

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A shining pearl., October 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Playing Sunset over Savannah is a marvelous experience.

It is a story about personal growth and difficult emotional decisions in a magic-realist setting. The protagonist goes through a sequence of changing emotions about his life and himself that reverberated strongly with me. The setting reflects that. It is an everyday beach location, a pavilion by the seashore, that is suffused with wonderment about small beauties. At defining points in the story, the magic breaks through in illusions or visions whose reality is up to the reader to interpret.

Hard as it may be, the writing succeeds flawlessly in capturing that feeling of wonder in the real. There are carefully crafted short descriptions of the beauty of beach, sun, sea... Responses to actions are clear and to the point.
Following important emotional breakthroughs the author goes all out in dreamlike prose, that fits with the moment in the story.
All through the game there is a fun, friendly humor, making the player feel at home in this world.

Of course, a bug at the wrong moment would kill the fragile atmosphere of a game like this quite swiftly. Fortunately, Sunset over Savannah is very much up to the challenge of sustaining this wondrous experience. I found one tiny bug and less than a handfull of typos. Things like sand, water and ropetying are well handled, as are swimming and diving. The little details like a small crab scuttling around in the sand or the pressure of a wave crashing above while diving add immensely to the immersion. There are also tons of meaningful responses to completely unnecessary commands, which makes it a joy to just play in the sand.

The puzzles our protagonist has to solve to get a grip on his own emotions and resolve are hard. Really hard. (To me, that is. I'm not that proficient in that department.) It was particularly difficult to find that first loose thread to get the ball rolling, and even then, the ball got stuck more than a few times. This is no punishment however, having such a beautiful place to wander around in. It pays to think about all the properties of the inventory-objects, all the possible functions they could have.
There is a good help system with vague-to-explicit hints per puzzle, but once you've explored all locations thoroughly, all you should maybe need are one or two nudges.

A lesser game would have a serious problem with integrating so many hard puzzles into a story that depends on depth of emotion and fragile wonderment. It would be hard to maintain the willing suspension of disbelief on the player's part.
Not Sunset over Savannah. The characterization of the protagonist and his mental state are strong enough to maintain the illusion and the immersion.

A beautiful, beautiful game.

Fragile Shells, by Stephen Granade

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Space Station Escape, October 19, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Escape

This, ladies and gentlemen, is good work!

"Fragile Shells" is an excellently made text escape game. It consists of a series of interconnected puzzles, all of them solvable by using logic, common sense and a ready knowledge of basic physics.

Maybe too easy for some, but I found that the layering of one puzzle onto another, linking their solutions together into one clear chain from the givens to the conclusion was very satisfying indeed.

Just about every command I tried had a meaningful response, a very friendly game indeed.

Add to this an exciting backstory remembered in bits and pieces by the protagonist to frame it, and you get a short and delightful IF-gem.

A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Immersion extreme!, October 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Not quite IF as I imagine it, but hey, it's text, it's a game (of sorts) and I can assure you it does not take long to get fully immersed in this simulation of a society developing.

It is amazing what sparse text and a few action buttons (with reload-timer) combined with human imagination and empathy will do to suck you into this world, how little of a nudge a brain needs to be there in that other world.

The Dreamhold, by Andrew Plotkin

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Snippets of a mage's life, October 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

I played The Dreamhold in tutorial-mode. The tutorial voice was really well done, providing not only a basic introduction to IF but also guidance to certain puzzles and avenues of possibilities deep into the game proper. It never gets too intrusive.

There is an immense castle/dungeon to explore, with quite a complex layout. I like making my own maps, so this was a fun excercise on its own. You start off in a recognizable, habitable few rooms, and the further you venture from that center, the more varied and fantastic the locations get. There are a few vantage points up above. The wide sunlit vistas from these are a nice contrast to the dark feeling in the rest of the castle.

The puzzles in tutorial-mode are well-clued and solvable without hints, provided that you are well and truly engaged in solving this game. Especially near the end it is neccesary to understand what you have learned during your journey, instead of just having gone through the motions.

The sunlit vistas I mentioned are welcome sources of light and space in this game. I would have welcomed just a sprinkling of comic relief or self-deprecating humor from the PC to break the sad-and-gloom atmosphere a bit more. After some time searching the halls and domes the air in the castle starts weighing on the player's mind.

The implementation goes very deep, for scenery-objects as well as for "wrong" commands. Most things the player tries are recognized and their impossibility or impracticality explained, instead of getting a standard sarcastic snarl.

Fun, big, entertaining. Three stars for now, maybe more when I replay in expert-mode.

Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
(mostly) Logical Magic, October 11, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, History

I had been putting of playing Savoir Faire because it is a) an old school puzzle hunt which b) depends on magic. Two things I do not particularly enjoy when playing IF.
However, after succesfully completing the puzzly Theatre with very few hints, I decided to take on Emily Short's challenge. It was great!

The reason I dislike most magic is that it feels superficial. A bunch of floaty blabla about "words of power" that somehow control the essence of things doesn't appeal to me.
In Savoir Faire, most of the puzzles depend on the Lavori d'Aracne, a magic system that lets the practitioner LINK objects. That way there is at least a hint of a physical connection between the objects and the practitioner of magic. These links also depend on a material likeness of the objects, so the magic system feels more like the use of an extra property of nature than a violation of it.

At the start of the game, your PC is almost too obnoxious to even be an anti-hero. Coming to the house you grew up in to ask for money to help with gambling debts, finding that your adoptive father and sister are not there while you expected them to be, and then going on to loot the place? Not very nice, to put it mildly. Through the snippets of backstory you find through memory and exploration though, he is somewhat redeemed (somewhat, that is.)

The setting, the mansion of the count who took in the PC, makes quite an impression through the near-perfect prose of Emily Short. Descriptions are terse, only the bare necessities there, with an ever so delicate sprinkling of detail. Examining further however opens up layers of feeling and meaning about the rooms and furniture, so that the player is drawn into this world. Extremely well done!

Because of the use of magic, I tagged this game "fantasy", but it's actually more an alternate history, where the old France is precisely the same as it was, with the addition of this extra set of natural laws, i.e. the Lavori d'Aracne.

Hard puzzles, but all of them logical; many alternative solutions (except one I found so obvious that I was disappointed not to have it work: (Spoiler - click to show)To uncork a bottle you link the cork to your sword and then draw the sword. To my mind it made much more sense within the magic system to put the sponge in the drain, then link the cork to the sponge and pull out the sponge.)
And even when you're stuck you can relax while playing with the mechanical cooking contraption (which is very reminiscent of the contraptions in Metamorphoses)

Great game!

The Chinese Room, by Harry Giles and Joey Jones

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The dream of a brain in a vat full of liquor., October 8, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

"The Chinese Room" posed a hard problem to my consciousness: three stars or four?

First off: nits to pick.
-Very annoying typos and misspellings ("er" instead of "her"), the consistent use of quotation marks instead of apostrophes (plover"s eggs).
-Many nouns or synonyms not recognized.
-Shoddy implementation of a cool device (the qualiascope)

-A rather big nit: there is an unmentioned path northwest from the beach.

My consciousness decided on four stars however.

-Although the game has no real story, the diverse puzzles are tightly held together by a very cool and engaging framework, the land of philosophical thought experiments.
-The puzzles are very well thought out, and more often than not very funny.
-Extensive background information, a crash course in the history of philosophy that makes an interested mind look up more on Wikipedia, or, in my case, open up my old copy of Bertrand Russel's "The History of Philosophy."
-The varied locations, landscapes and scenes are very nicely described, painting a picture in the player's head with a few well-chosen sentences.
-Playing illegal logic games with Willard Van Orman Quine (the philosopher with the coolest name ever.)
-An actual intuition pump!

A joy to play.

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!, by Steph Cherrywell

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Good Golly Miss Molly!, September 27, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Comedy

A good story-driven game with easy puzzles and a menu-based conversation system, so nothing gets in the way of defeating the Brainguzzlers and saving your 1950s American Smalltown.

I really liked the game for the first half hour of play. After that the caricature of 1950s scifi horror, and of 1950s American society began to wear me down. I began half expecting The Jetsons coming down in a UFO of their own to drop off the Fonz who would then save the day.
I also doubt that "Jeepers!" would last long as the swearword of choice during an alien attack.

Technically, the game is very well put together. The scripted conversations are perfect for an uptempo story like this. Intro, middle and endgame are well paced. I would have liked some more implementation of scenery, but that would have slowed the game down, so it's understandable. What did bug me, and slowed the game down is the lack of synonyms available. A fast-paced story-game like this would have benefited from a wide choice of different names for your items so you didn't have to stop to remember how something was called in the description. I hated that in a scifi setting such as this, "blaster" was not recognized.

Probably best played in one go, straight through to the (slimy) ending.

City of Secrets, by Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Large, engrossing,... and somewhat lacking., September 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Adventure

Emily Short is one of my favourite IF-writers, and when I found this big story-game with her name under the title, I pounced on it!

And it is good. Apart from being an immersive adventure and a detailed exploration of a fine city, deeper themes also shine through.

Truth above obscurity, even if truth also means complete transparency?

Creativity above strict order, even if creativity also means chaos?

The writing is top-notch, the NPC interactions feel real, the city and its history hold the interest, but in the end, the game misses something.

Is it because the game is so good that I raised the bar impossibly high?

Finding an outdoor café where there were no interactive NPCs and where nothing story-moving happened disappointed me.
Finding out that a little nook in the gameworld, about which I dreamed up many possibilities, didn't play a role in the story didn't feel like a red herring, it felt like a let-down.
Finding out that certain information I found about my character didn't matter to the game was a pity.

But those are nitpicks, and very personal nitpicks at that.

This game is very very good. Just not as amazing as I really really wanted it to be. And that's on me.

So play it.

Theatre, by Brendon Wyber

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Break a leg!, September 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Horror

"You have discovered the secret of the Theatre and have completed the game with a score of fifty out of a possible fifty in one thousand, one hundred and fifty-eight turns."

Yes, and I enjoyed every single one of those turns!

I'm not normally one to test my wits against what is described as a puzzlefest, most of the time enjoying more story-oriented IF. Once in a while though, I like to crack my noggin on some oldschool puzzles. I've given up on "Curses!" thrice already and "Christminster"'s opening scene sent me screaming to my walkthrough.

Theatre was different though. I never got completely lost, always having at least one clear goal. The solutions to the puzzles were always fair, also the ones that I didn't get. The very vague in-game hints were enough for me until very late in the game, and even then the problem was adventurer's fatigue on my part, not having explored thoroughly enough.

The setting and descriptions are creepy enough, but I never felt fear or horror. Instead I was excited and curious the whole time about what would be around the next corner of this sprawling run-down Theatre.

"Theatre" does show its oldschool heritage: a key gratuitously hidden on the opposite side of the map from the door it's supposed to open, picking up everything that's not cemented to the floor to use it in a puzzle far down the road. Apparently ghosts have made a hobby of tearing up diaries and spreading the pages all over the place for no apparent reason...

The backstory was just good enough to be interesting in its own right, but it's not much more than a fragmented Lovecraftian template that supports the dark and damp atmosphere.

The great puzzles mostly revolve around getting to the next part of the map, getting "around the corner" as it were, in varying original ways.

There are glimpses of true genius here, especially one "puzzle that isn't": (Spoiler - click to show)"Tunnels go out in all directions." is not limited to the compass directions. This one had me stumped for a long while, and it was an exhilarating feeling when it finally *clicked*.

A fantastic experience, well recommended!

The Orion Agenda, by Ryan Weisenberger

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Prime Directive, anyone?, September 18, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

The overarching theme of "The Orion Agenda" is an exploration of the implications of the Star Trek prime directive (not interfering with the natural evolution of technologically lesser developed cultures). Aah, many an hour have I spent waxing philosophically about this question after a Trek-marathon with friends...

The game is nicely structured: a light and funny bureaucratic puzzle to begin with, a somewhat harder midgame (that makes excellent use of the flashback), and a slight twist in the finale, where you also need to use the insights from the midgame.

NPCs mostly do what they have to, no more, except Rebecca, your partner, whom you can order around a bit. (REBECCA, JUMP)

I know it's not for everyone, but I like me some text dumps. Here, you get a SciCorps manual with your equipment and some screenfulls at the end of the game to summarize the moral dilemma.

A good game worth mulling over a bit after you're done.

Napier's Cache, by Vivienne Dunstan

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Historical scenes from a treasure hunt., September 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Well, this was a very short but very welcome historical experience.

Each scene puts you in a different situation as the servant of mathematician/alchemist Napier. You are his hands and eyes in this easy treasure quest.

The scenes are very well written, letting you feel the atmosphere of the castle, the cave,... The NPCs have distinct characters, adding to the immersion in the story.

All in all, more a series of historical impressions than a full-fledged game, but very enjoyable.

Great side-effect of this game: it sent me on my own treasure hunt to find out more about this John Napier, an intruiging personality in the history of mathematics.

Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter, by Mike Gentry and David Cornelson

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Good fiction, not so interactive, September 16, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Adventure

This is a great adventure story for 10- to 14-year olds. Heck, it's a great adventure story for all ages. If it were a board game, I'd label it 8-99.

"Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter" is not, however, great IF.

I've seen reviewers that would recommend this game as a good introduction to the medium for newcomers to interactive fiction. I would not. "Jack Toresal" does not give the player that sense of engagement, immersion, agency that is so important in interactive fiction. Even though it is an exciting adventure story, the player does not get to do any adventuring. Examining and searching locations and objects yield well-written descriptions but no discoveries. There are no puzzles to be solved, not even the kind of bigger-picture-understanding that goes with most puzzleless IF.

Starting a new IF-game, I always enjoy that exhilarating feeling of controlling my character in this new world. Here, that feeling quickly wears off to the point that entering commands actually lessens the immersion in the story. It becomes a chore to make Jack do the glaringly obvious when I would have rather just flipped the page of a novel and read on.

That said, the story really is good, and the characters in it are lively, well-written (to the point of caricature, but I don't mind that in this kind of tale) and they have lots to say.

Since the story is the first part of an intended series, it stops with a cliffhanger. If anyone hears the call of the IF-gods to write a sequel, I'd love to read/play it. With a bit more adventuring, that is.

-The first chapter does not suffer from any of the criticism above. It's a good and funny self-contained exploration puzzle.
-I found an extremely annoying bug that would have made me QUIT if this weren't such an easy game:(Spoiler - click to show)The game won't let you out of the library without the secret letter. The letter is in the chandelier. So if you enter the library without having lowered the chandelier from the room above, you're stuck.

Anyways: good story, bad IF.

Bronze, by Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Points for best NPC: The Castle, April 30, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

In this retelling of the classic, wellknown fairy-tale, you play Beauty. However, you (the player) are not Beauty. Through memories triggered by various rooms, objects, pieces of furniture, it's clear that she has lived a life of her own, in this castle with its Lord, and outside it in her village.

She does not find Beast after coming home from a visit to her family, so she has to search the entire Castle.

And this is where the game shines. This Castle is so detailed, so well implemented and so vividly described, I felt like I was looking over Beauty's shoulder every step of her search. Your discovery of the different wings and rooms of this Castle is paced to perfection. The various puzzles hold you long enough to get accustomed to a certain part of the setting, until you find the solution and another part opens up. This has the effect that in the end, I felt like I had experienced much more space than is actually in the map.

For other of the many qualities of this game, I direct you to other reviews. The Castle was what I wanted to highlight most.

The King of Shreds and Patches, by Jimmy Maher

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A stroll through Shakespeare's London. (oh, and unspeakable horror), April 24, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror

It had been a long time since I seriously played IF. The King of Shreds and Patches pulled me back in.

Right from the back cover description, I got a tingling feeling in my brain about this game. A Lovecraftian horror set in the historical London of Shakespeare. Uhm,... Yes please.

The player is invited to empathize with the protagonist in a simple but very effective way: neither has the abilities needed to bring the story to a good end. So they have to be learned and practiced. The first few times you try a certain action, you have a rather high chance of failure. The more you perform it, the more proficient you get at it. Nice.

This learning curve also shows in the guidance of the player in solving puzzles: use a certain simple way to get an object in the intro, then complicate things in the middle game.
Two other puzzles are long but completely logical mechanical puzzles. These were great, as puzzles. I loved tinkering and fiddling with the objects needed. However, one of them in particular completely breaks the immersion in the character. (Spoiler - click to show)You are a printer of pamphlets, yet you somehow have to learn how to operate your own press...
One puzzle is frustrating as heck. I could not get my visual cortex to envisage the situation. I even thought it might have been better to implement this puzzle or sequence as a graphic mini-game. ((Spoiler - click to show)yes, the rowing boat)

Storywise, TKoSaP is very engaging. It's long and sprawling, with a good division into chapters that have to be handled in order. Two seemingly separate story-arcs meet eventually. Allthough you can see this coming, it is still very satisfying. That means good writing.
The adventure takes place in historical London, and the author has gone all out with this. There is an illustrated map of the city, the descriptions of background noise and activity puts you right in that time, and of course there are the characters you meet.

All of the NPCs that are of any importance are extremely well fleshed out, with many topics to discuss. Some have different opinions or viewpoints on one topic, filling in the backstory tremendously.

One of the non-player-characters is William Shakespeare. Nuff said.

The suspense leading up to the finale is long drawn out, as it should in a Lovecraftian tale. Books of lore, tales of myth, whispers and rumours,... it's all there, getting you to the very edge of your chair.

And then there is a very good and also very Lovecraftian finale.
(Spoiler - click to show)Of course, the story ends up shooting itself in the foot with a classic Lovecraftian backfire. Showing the tentacled monstrosity from the deep makes it laughable. But that's also part of the genre.

Lydia's Heart, by Jim Aikin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Immersive slow horror., April 20, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler

"Let's get out of this cabin and go to the shack. No wait! What have I got in my hands? Put that in the sack so no one will see it. Phew, lucky I thought of that."

While playing Lydia's Heart I was well and truly immersed in the story, caring enough about my PC to not go "adventuring " all over the place. I left rooms as I found them, put books back on the shelves after reading them, closed cupboards after searching them,... Most of the time this was unnecesary, but this game made it feel natural.

The writing is great. Clear descriptions that also give you the feel of the place. Some of the puzzles I needed a nudge with, but they were all well integrated in the story.

And what a good story it is! Or better, how well is this story told! Those who like a bit of Lovecraft now and then will not read anything new, but they, and hopefully all others will read a thrilling, frightening adventure.

Die Feuerfaust, by Larry Horsfield

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Rags to Riches... a second time., April 20, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Adventure, Alaric Blackmoon

Die Feuerfaust is the third installment in the Alaric Blackmoon-series by Larry Horsfield. Having played and tested the previous two, I knew pretty much what I was in for, and looking forward to it.

I was not disappointed. Unapologetic (have I used this word in an Alaric-review before? I just might have...) oldschool adventuring, big and varied settings, some use of magic, some killing of foes, and at least one very elaborate, well thought out puzzle (Have you ever tried any horseriding? Wait til you try riding a wild Zampf).

Also: some lack in depth of implementation and interactivity in the large and sprawling settings, as is to be expected in the oldschool tradition.

A classic storyline drives the game forward: Whereas Alaric was a run-down mercenary going on a quest that lead him to glory in Axe of Kolt, in this game Alaric is stranded after a shipwreck and has lost all his belongings. He must work his way through various obstacles and tasks toward his final goal, recovering the famed Fist of Fire.
Nothing new, but tried and trusted adventure fare.

Many NPCs, most still smelling of the cardboard they were cut out of, some more fleshed out. All do what they're supposed to do in a text-adventure such as this: drive the action forward with clues and gifts.

Many, many puzzles, most quite straightforward and not too big. And as mentioned, a great Zampftaming sequence to sink your Hero-teeth into.

All in all, the best of the three I have played so far. The evolution begun in Spectre of Castle Coris continues: tighter gameplay, clearer subgoals so less wandering about, more engaging story.

Not must, but certainly should-play.

A new version of the game will be appearing soon.

Christminster, by Gareth Rees

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The university of puzzles great and small., April 12, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

I must confess to a serious character flaw, a deeply rooted chasm that runs through the heart of my being. It is a source of frustration and temptation, it leads me to reach above my abilities and cheat to grasp above my reach. It is the following:

I suck at puzzles and I love puzzle-games.

I had previously banged my head against the front door of Christminster University. I gave up each time. This time I gave in to temptation and sinned. I consulted a walkthrough. And I have no remorse.

I loved this game. The puzzles after that fiendish first one were milder to me (I cheated a few times more though), and stubborn exploring got me further and further in the game, and also in the story.

The progression of the story is great. You get the chance to get to know your character and one NPC in particular, a marvellous professor with whom you get to spend a good amount of time. The clock on the tower announces your progression through the puzzles as you get nearer to the endgame. That detail works as a brilliant way to heighten the tension, it lets you know each time you've gotten closer to... what?

The puzzles are hard, but the reward you get is great. You can explore more and more hidden parts of the old building, and the atmosphere is gripping.

A really really good game.

The Spectre of Castle Coris, by Larry Horsfield

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Classic Fantasy meets Ghost Mystery, March 25, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Alaric Blackmoon, Adventure

The second Alaric Blackmoon game. It's a large oldschool quest to save a village from a spectre that's killing and abducting people.
Right from the start it got my attention because of the mystery aspect. Who or what is this Spectre? Finding this out is essential to vanquishing it in the end.

I like my fantasy oldschool, straightforward and unapologetic. Here the mystery adds to the fun. Good puzzles, a great sense of space once you enter the castle grounds. Linear, but I don't mind that in this sort of game. Some great, vividly written scenes.

The author made a design choice that may be offputting to some: until you enter the castle, you must send the ghost away with a prayer every 20 turns or so. To me, this added to the presence of the Spectre, to others, this will get dull.

This game's good for a week, maybe two of ghosthunting and castlesearching fun. Well worth playing.

The Axe of Kolt, by Larry Horsfield

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
It's only oldschool fantasy but I like it., February 28, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Alaric Blackmoon, Fantasy, Adventure

This is cliché fantasy galore and it's great!
Step one: set expectations to sorcerers, dwarves, a magic axe and all that.
Step two: don your Hero-attire and rush in!
Step three: be stopped in your tracks by this or that puzzle that is cleverer than you thought, wander through a forest searching for poultry, witness a demonic sacrifice...

It's good fun and the Hero of the day should count his blessings that you're the one guiding him because there's a few hard and complex puzzles. (Heroes aren't all that bright in the noggin, you know).
It's also fantastically long. This is one to sink your teeth into. Clear an hour a day in your schedule for a month to play this. You might get to the end by then.

AoK does show its age: some non-interactive forest-locations all alike, lots of death, some learn by trial-and-death, timed sequences. I didn't mind any of that because: fun!

In the end, it's a great straightforward fantasy romp that had me tied to the screen for some weeks.

A Should-Play!

The Fortress of Fear, by Larry Horsfield
Rovarsson's Rating:

Divis Mortis, by Lynnea Dally

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Do Zombies go to heaven when they, uhm...?, January 2, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror

A zombie game in a closed building where you wake up all alone with no memory of how you got there; all while the living dead could break through the door any minute. Yeah, I know...
Play this one though. It's very polished and well implemented. There's lots to explore, and examine. And you learn a lot about barricades: how to erect them properly if the creatures mustn't get through, how to get through them if you yourself must. Also: chemistry, yaay!

The game has a twist at the end, but you must be blind and deaf not to have felt it coming. Still nice though.

I particularly liked the epilogue. It gives Divis Mortis some gravitas, albeit after the fact. (Well, it is an epilogue...)

The Lost Labyrinth of Lazaitch, by Larry Horsfield

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Strawmen, trolls and unicorns. Oh My!, December 25, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Alaric Blackmoon, Fantasy, Adventure

"The Lost Labyrinth of Lazaitch" is a type of game I miss in newer IF. It's an oldschool fantasy text adventure. Period.

No deep metaphors for our pressing modern times, no personal symbolism about overcoming your deepest fear, no soul-searching tale about spiritual enlightenment.

You are Alaric, a Hero. Somewhere to the East is a Magic Book of great importance. Obstacles and enemies are between you and said book. Overcome them and get the Book. Period.

Aaah, good times!

Be sure to bring your brain, because we all know Heroes need all the help they can get in that department, especially with puzzles like in LLL. Not too hard, but enough to get you scratching your head.
This way, they are both funny and engaging, not frustrating. Just remember the 3 IF commandments: Read, Explore, Examine.

Also bring your imagination, because on your way you will see beautiful and horrifying sights. May you be the first to live and tell the world about the troll-bowl or the Red Tower.

Full disclosure: I playtested this game.

Aotearoa, by Matt Wigdahl

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
I befriended a Dinosaur. His name is Hopper., December 12, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

Aotearoa has an extremely cool premise: An excursion to a Maori island where Dinos still live. Two things that are smack-dab in the middle of my interest zone.

Unfortunately, my piping hot enthusiasm soon went to lukewarm appreciation. Yes, it's fun to name your dino-friends. The puzzles are good. The game has a great children's adventure story on an unknown island. The confrontation with the poachers is exciting.
A good game, a nice diversion for an hour or so, but not so memorable.

That being said, a ten-year-old me would have given this game a raving review, replayed it to give the dinos all different names, pulled out the books to look up Maori culture (which the now-me should do too!), and would have had dreams about this adventure for at least a week.

Given the target audience, I think ten-year-old me's opinion has more weight, so I'll push my rating up a star.

Play it with a kid, if one of those is available.

Risorgimento Represso, by Michael J. Coyne

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Urbanly Fun Fantastic Romp, December 10, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

(Well, it actually plays out as much around the city as in it, but I have my reasons...)

First things first: It has a cannon! -Hmm?.. Yes, I'll wait...

Now, Risorgimento Represso is a very good puzzler. Because the main puzzles center around the same theme, completing the first (silly) task before you is one big trial run to prepare you for what's to come. It gets you comfortable with the feel and humorous tone of the game. It also teaches you what details to look for and trains you in the specific puzzle-solving mindset you need for the game.

All the puzzles are well thought-out and in-game logical; on top of that, you might pop an eyeball or two laughing while solving them.

Storywise, Risorgimento makes fantastic use of the Wizard's Apprentice-trope. The whole concept gets the player and the PC on a shared learning curve, facing the same obstacles, and scratching their heads at the same times. I found this really heightened my involvement with my character and with the story.

There's a great build-up of tension, from playful exploration and experimentation to seriously hard thinking about how to save your Master. That's a good learning curve ànd a good immersion curve for you!

So, go shoot that cannon, those of you who haven't done so already; and don't smell the paint thinner, it's bad for you.

Babel, by Ian Finley

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Classic Second Era., December 8, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Horror

Babel. What a game. During my first tentative journeys into IF-land, I stumbled across this deep, dark psychological horrorstory. I recently replayed it and it's still as haunting as it was then.

Do not riff on Babel for using the amnesia-trope. I have seldom seen it used so effectively as a source of suspense in IF. No lazy author here, but a tried and true storytelling technique that takes the reader down into the deep with it. Think Dr. Jeckyl.

Early modern IF that it is, Babel sometimes relies heavily on non-interactive scenes to make sure the player sees the whole story. I don't mind this one bit, I am as much a reader as a player, but I know this bothers some people.

The story is great, albeit not very original in this genre. Well told, well paced. The surroundings are fantastic, I thought. Varied enough to avoid feeling buried in a tunnel, without losing the thrill of the dungeon-feel.

The puzzles are not so hard, as long as you are patient enough to stick to The Adventurers Code: Read! Explore! Examine!

All in all, a true classic of the modern age.

Earth and Sky, by Paul O'Brian

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Don your supersuit and try it out!, December 7, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

This is a very short but enjoyable game.

The first part is mostly an introduction to the characters. You talk to your brother via a choice-menu, which gives the author the chance to put a lot of the brother-sister dynamics into the conversations. Downside is the almost mechanical ticking off of options.

In this part you can also experiment to your hearts content with the powersuit you found. Very much fun!

The second part switches quite abruptly to a big boss-fight. Use the skills you've learned to subdue the monster.

That's it. Short, easy, fun. That's all you need sometimes.

Sub Rosa, by Joey Jones, Melvin Rangasamy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Sshh. It's a secret., December 6, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

First location: Leathery Cliff. I was hooked.

The concept of the game is intriguing: Political espionage to undermine the position of someone of high societal standing.

You break in to a marvelously described and well-implemented mansion to find evidence that the owner of said house has unacceptable secrets. Some of these secrets are hidden in plain sight, others take quite a bit of examining, searching, and doing rather improbable things.

The puzzles range from "Just X and search and you'll find something" to using inconspicuous objects to unusual ends.

Getting out of the house without compromising your own trustworthiness is as important as getting in in the first place. (And both are hard.)

Very good and rewarding game. Very replayable too, if you left some loose ends the first time (or didn't understand where the loose ends came from.)

Suveh Nux, by David Fisher

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Very good, but not my cuppa..., December 6, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

When browsing recommended lists and best of lists, Suveh Nux springs up frequently, so I decided to play it.

I can only agree with other reviewers that this is an excellent puzzle-game. Everything works, there's more than one "Aha!"-moment, and there are almost limitless possibilities to experiment, combine stuff and spells and stand in wonder at the results of the latest whim you acted upon.

I loved the brain excercise of solving the logic/language puzzle. The game is a great cerebral A-implies-B problemsolving excercise, with a very big sandbox.

Personally, I like a bit more involvement, the feeling that there's something bigger at stake, but that's just me.

Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost (expanded 2019 version), by Briar Rose

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Good Gladiator story, but too short., December 4, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

I'm rather new at Choice-games, but this one, with its ancient Rome theme appealed to me.

I very much liked the customizing of my character at the beginning. You can choose male or female, which doesn't seem to have any effect on further gameplay. The way you assign further strengths and talents was very rewarding to me. You get stat-points based on your choice of family background, and on the choice of the mythological character you're named after. (Diana, goddes of woods, wildlife and hunting, gives you a headstart in Stealth, for example.)

It's well written, apart from a typo here and there. It's also well structured. A coherent story of development as a fledgling gladiator, with attention to development of fighting skills (of course) but also of various personal relations. Do you choose sibling loyalty above a strong training ally? Do you choose friendship above a good rapport with your trainer or master?

These decisions play a clear role in how well you fare in your first battle in the arena. Just before and during that fight, you also make difficult but influential decisions (weapons choice, tactics, who you help and who you leave to fend for themselves). Deep involvement with your character here.

And then it's over...

This game feels like a very good introductory chapter to a longer, fully fleshed out novella about the life of a roman gladiator/slave. Will she earn or buy her freedom? Will he become trainer of gladiators that follow? Will she escape with her brother and confront their father? How about his friends, enemies, allies, trainers?

I, for one, would very much welcome a continuation.

I felt hungry for more.

Photopia, by Adam Cadre
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Rocket Man From The Sea, by Janos Honkonen
Rovarsson's Rating:

Heretic's Hope, by G. C. Baccaris
Rovarsson's Rating:

Galatea, by Emily Short
Rovarsson's Rating:

An Evening at the Ransom Woodingdean Museum House, by Ryan Veeder
Rovarsson's Rating:

Molly and the Butter Thieves, by Alice Grove (as Cosmic Hamster)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
This game puts a smile on my face!, December 2, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

"Molly and the Butter Thieves" is truly a joy to play.

Vividly described, well-implemented. Some easy, fun puzzles to get you more involved in the story, what's more to want?

What? Oh, yes. Beautiful, beautiful imagery. Plenty of that too.

This game is fun!

And it's called "Molly and the Butter Thieves"!

Ether, by MathBrush
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Gostak, by Carl Muckenhoupt

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Language, meet Logic, December 2, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

It is very tempting to try to translate The Gostak. I've found different versions of the, no, more accurately I should say a story on the internet. I too have created a story based on my understanding of what things and what actions the strange words in this game refer to.
But as Chase Entwistle put it so well in his review: "Distimming the doshes could be the most evil thing imaginable."

I really started appreciating this game once I let go of the assumption that the "words" had to have external referents, and instead viewed them as symbols in a logic system that could be manipulated through their interactions with other such symbols.

This brings this game very close to mathematics or symbolic logic. "Distim", "Gostak", and "Dosh", like any other "word" in this game are defined solely by their relations with other "words". Putting "words" next to other "words" makes them act in a certain way, and gives output from which the player can infer what role they have in a logical system.

But yes, of course I have my own version of the story. And my, how my doshes are distimmed by that gostak!

Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry
Rovarsson's Rating:

All Roads, by Jon Ingold
Rovarsson's Rating:

Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota
Rovarsson's Rating:

Dragon Flies Like Labradorite, by Troy Jones III
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Elysium Enigma, by Eric Eve
Rovarsson's Rating:

Illuminismo Iniziato, by Michael J. Coyne

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fantastically Fun City Romp, November 29, 2019
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

I would have rated this game 6 stars if it would have let me fly the Pterosaur!

There. That should be enough incentive to stop reading this and go play it.

Or not. I absolutely loved this game.Here's why:

-The world. The two cities Illuminismo Iniziato takes place in are big, detailed and deeply implemented. When I began playing, I spent a lengthy and thoroughly enjoyable time just sightseeing, examining stuff, thinking about what I would buy later on and in what shop. I also read the newspaper, and was pleased to see it provided me with hot-off-the-presses news about what happened in the world. And of course, in a city like this, I talked to the people.

-NPC-interactions. The cities are populated with lots of characters, most of whom you might remember from the game's prequel, Risorgimento Represso (also highly recommended). They each have their own personalities, and you can talk to them about quite a bit more than needed for the task at hand.

One NPC who undoubtedly deserves a paragraph to herself is Crystal, your NPC-tag-along slash hint-system. A wonderful character. Helpful but not too helpful when you need a nudge (or a shove). A knowledgeable guide to the game-world when you want background-info. And a tireless chatterbox for your entertainment only.

-Puzzles. Against this background, there are puzzles. Many puzzles. They are mostly well-clued (and if they are not, yaay, another excuse to talk to Crystal!), some are quite difficult, and all are so well integrated that you hardly feel like you're solving a puzzle. Also, some are laugh-so-hard-you-might-break-a-rib funny.

This is a fantastic game.

Earth And Sky 3: Luminous Horizon, by Paul O'Brian
Rovarsson's Rating:

Earth and Sky 2: Another Earth, Another Sky, by Paul O'Brian
Rovarsson's Rating:

Vespers, by Jason Devlin
Rovarsson's Rating:

The Beetmonger's Journal, by Scott Starkey
Rovarsson's Rating:

Rogue of the Multiverse, by C.E.J. Pacian
Rovarsson's Rating:

Kaged, by Ian Finley
Rovarsson's Rating:

Showing All | Show by Page