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Muggle Studies, by M. Flourish Klink

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Unmagical Wizardry, March 2, 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 riddle, 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.

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?"

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.

Avon, by Jon Thackray and Jonathan Partington

3 of 3 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!

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.

Birmingham IV, by Peter Emery

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Someone please give that man some antihistamines!, December 11, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy
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 (1988 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.

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 3 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)

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