Reviews by Rovarsson

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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.


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., October 26, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler

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.

DR. HORROR'S HOUSE OF TERROR

->Franky:
So, what'd you think?

->Johnny:
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.

->Franky:
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.

->Johnny:
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.

->Franky:
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...

->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...


->Johnny:
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.

->Franky:
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...


->Johnny:
Well if he's so smart, why did he lose the end-battle huh?

->Franky:
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.

->Johnny:
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.

->Franky:
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.


CRuNCH! GLooP! GRoK!


Johnny's headless body stayed upright for a few more seconds. The it fell down to the tarmac. As Franky made his way to the car, the scrunching and slobbering noises continued.


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.)


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.


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.


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!


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.



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