Reviews by Rovarsson

Fantasy

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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 Bones of Rosalinda, by Agnieszka Trzaska

2 of 2 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!


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.


Firebird, by Bonnie Montgomery

3 of 3 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.


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.


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.


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.


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

7 of 7 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.



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