Reviews by Rovarsson

Fantasy

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very, very good game.


The Weight of a Soul, by Chin Kee Yong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dragon Adventure, by William Stott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, a few hours of non-assuming fun.


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 hŗrd.

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

2 of 2 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.


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.


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 sťances 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.



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