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Recluse, by Stephen Gorrell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Grashoppers, robins and squirrels, oh my!, November 25, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

While flying through the air, your nose already preparing to courteously greet the gravel waiting to catch it, you ponder the manners of the butler who just threw you off the porch. Surely he overreacted just a tad...

Since a simple knock results in a rather unpleasant scraping of your face on a less than welcoming road of little rocks, and from the looks of that butler (and the fact he effortlessly hurled you several meters far), you decide that sneakiness and subterfuge might be a better tactic for delivering this package.

Instead of a Dungeon Crawl (although we are briefly entertained in one of those later in the game...), Recluse is an Estate Romp. Its basic structure remains the same though: a big ol' puzzlefest. In the best tradition of the genre, there isn't really a plot or story to speak of. Instead, the author finds other ways to engage the player.

--A good introduction goes a long way. It sets the mood and puts a question, a magnetic objective if you will, in the player's head. Even if the game itself doesn't tell much of a story, the intro resonates throughout the playthrough and pulls the player along. In Recluse, the adressee of the package you must deliver is a once-famous homo universalis.

> "J. Daggett Winton, archeologist, explorer, inventor, mathematician, philosopher. Director, Winton Antiquities Research Foundation. Chairman of the Board, Winton International. Holder of thirty-seven patents in fields as diverse as Genetics and Game Theory. Rumored to have the largest privately-held collection of historical artifacts in the world."

Since the untimely death of his wife however, he has locked himself away and became the titular "Recluse".

This character made me think of Howard Hughes, and especially of Leonardo Dicaprio's over-the-top portrayal of him in The Aviator. The prospect of meeting such a character at the end of my travails worked as precisely such a narrative magnet as I have described.

--The game exploits brilliantly the major strength of parser IF: leading the player on a tour of exploration and discovery. Recluse boasts an immensely gratifying map. The biggest part of the game-world is a grand manorly estate, with lots of varied environments. Its central fountain and gravel paths give way to wilder and more unkempt stretches of brush and rough clifftops. There are carefully locked off areas, some of which come as a surprise when finally unlocked, others enticingly visible from a high vantage point without obvious means to get to them...

--Modern IF heavily emphasizes the integration of puzzles into the story. This isn't quite possible for a puzzlefest that sports, at most, the flimsiest of framing stories. In Recluse, the puzzles are integrated with the surroundings. They flow organically from the environment. All the puzzle elements and the obstacles are naturally present in, even expected on a lordly manor estate. The one puzzle that could be viewed as overly convoluted is justified by the personality of the owner of the estate, J. Dagget Winton the recluse... Interestingly, this most complicated of puzzles yields an anticlimactically mundane reward. This sort of thing happens regularly in this game.

--The writing joyfully (perhaps even childishly) plays with lots of IF tropes, twisting them upside down and (sometimes) setting them back right side up for an extra twist.

The narrative voice in Recluse is the most powerful immersive element in the game in my experience. Not a true character in itself, it does act as a mediator between the player and the game. First and foremost, it does its job admirably: It clearly describes the locations, the protagonist's actions within them and the consequences of those actions. On top of that, it paints an elaborate and detailed picture of the surroundings and it evokes a sense of space by recounting the travels of the protagonist.

>NORTH
"You soon realize you're in for a bit of a hike. The path passes to the east of a large greenhouse, then bends northeast toward the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The ground turns rocky and starts sloping downward. Before long you're winding down stairs cut into the face of the cliff."

I love this. It opens up the map and lets me walk alongside the protagonist with the wind in my hair. The view from the cliffs, once you get there, broadens your sense of wide-open space even more.

But these things are not so special... Other games have them too...

What made the narrative voice stand out most were the many asides, serious and playful alike. Like a storyteller around the campfire stepping outside of the story and adressing the audience, pointing out a funny detail or drawing the attention to an important feature. Most of the time this happens in a gentle, almost confidential tone. The one time it nears the border with intrusiveness, it does so to great comedic effect.

--When the outdoors adventuring options on the estate grounds are at long last exhausted, the player enters a high stakes endgame. The reward for getting through is a delightfully lengthy epilogue which finally explains the backstory of J. Dagget Winton. It also provides an obvious opening for a sequel.

Alas! Recluse was written 14 years ago, which makes the chances of ever joining our protagonist on a next adventure seem slim. Perhaps, if it is not too forward, I could urge the author, Stephen Gorrell, to follow the example of Michael J. Coyne, who wrote Illuminizmo Iniziato 15 years after its predecessor Risorgimento Represso.

--A wonderful parser puzzler. Beautiful game-world and a friendly, welcoming narrator. Strongly recommended.


Escape from Hell, by Nils Fagerburg

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Belphegor didn't want to play., November 8, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

Blegh! You came so close last time! So close, but then Satan caught you escaping and threw you back. Stuffed in the body of a lowly counting clerk no less! Fortunately, you feel your powers of possession growing...

You are Zgarblurg (how's that for a malevolent-sounding name...), a demon spirit intent on escaping from Hell. To accomplish this, you must use your power to possess other entities.Fortunately, this particular version of Hell houses just the right creatures whose powers might aid you with your cunning plan (which you will make up as you go along...)

This Hell is a peculiar place, consisting of several regions. You start off in Accounting, move on to a large section loosely inspired by Dante's Inferno and Greek mythology (remember that one time where Orpheus got tangled up in brocolli stalks...), and confront the Princes of Darkness in their palace (which kinda made me think of a college frat house...)

The map is large but not sprawling. It's completely geometric (rectangular) in shape. Many areas are cleverly gated off so your exploration will require some inventive puzzle-solving skills.

I should mention here that the game was developed in a custom engine of the author's own making that closely resembles Gruescript and Versificator, as it is important for the following discussion of puzzles, pacing and map-traversal. These game engines present you with fine-grain options for which actions to take, along with accessible compass directions,resulting in a very parser-like gameplay experience. The available actions have been pre-selected by the author depending on the creature you are possessing and the location you're in.

The game provides an adaptive map grid that grows with the locations you've discovered. Along with the buttons for compass directions, you can click on any location on the map repeatedly to move your player to that square turn by turn. At first this felt like a great feature for player comfort. However, since almost all puzzles depend on bringing the right creature to the appropriate puzzle-location, the map-clicking feature soon felt very mechanical and gnawed away at my engagement. I quickly reverted to clicking the compass buttons as they gave me more of a sense of active navigation. Still, there's a lot of going back-and-forth across the map to switch creatures and positioning them, even if you have a clear objective in mind. When you're stuck and aimlessly wandering, the clicking interface pushed me out of the immersion faster than typing in directions in a parser would have done. (But this is probably just me bringing my parser-bias into a click game.)

The puzzles are fair once you get to know your creature's abilities. Some are decidedly elegant, providing a flash of insight or the satisfaction of a well-prepared plan working out just as you imagined. A nice variety too, with turn/timed sequences, unlocking gates with a twist, some surprising uses of objects. A few obstacles require a bit of background knowledge of Hades or the Inferno, but nothing that a bit of determined trial-and-error couldn't take care of.
There was only one puzzle that has me stumped even after I asked for hints:
-(Spoiler - click to show)The sacrifices to the Moirae. The fact that they want food offerings is well-clued. The colour-coding I understand. But how to deduce the order in which to give Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos their snacks completely eludes me even now.

Although I do think the puzzles are fair, many of them felt ever so slightly underclued. This is another instance where I missed the freedom of the parser to poke around, hoping that fail-responses to PULL, MOVE, LICK or KICK would nudge me in the right direction. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, a simple DRINK WATER on the banks of the Lethe or even SWIM IN LETHE would eliminate any need for background mythological knowledge. (Again, probably just me and my parser sensibilities.)

Once you have penetrated the Palace of the Dark Princes after a fair amount of puzzling, the pace picks up as you confront each of the six Devils (originally seven, but Belphegor couldn't be bothered...). It'sa lot of fun to figure ut their respective weak points and concoct a plan for their undoing.

An engaging and challenging puzzler with some hilarious moments. My main source of enjoyment was how the game invited me to dream up creative (if far-fetched) solutions to the problems it poses. I felt my brain engaging with the obstacles in the background even when away from the screen.


A Long Way to the Nearest Star, by SV Linwood

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Space Thievery 2022, October 27, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler

When I saw Space Oddysey 2001 for the first time (and the times after that, now I come to think of it...) HAL scared the brains out of me. The calm, collected voice-pattern, the ruthless efficiency, the cold determination...

Nah, I like his sister a lot more. Ok, she sounds at least as disturbing as her big brother, but at least I can picture myself having a fun night on the town with her.

(For no reason other than my own imagination, I perceived SOLIS as female.)

SOLIS welcomes you as you stumble onto her decks, on the run for the space police because... Well, you're a thief. Plain and simple. And your FTL-jump thingamajig had a small hiccup so you ended up here with a lonely AI in an abandoned spaceship.

Contrary to HAL, SOLIS does have a distinctly, erm... outgoing personality. In fact, sometimes she sounds like her personality is a bit too much for her to handle. Like it's growing out of her circuits, fizzing and crackling...

The more I engaged with SOLIS, the more it became clear that there were hidden depths underneath her humorous façade. As if she was using robotic indifference, AI-superiority and sarcasm as a shield from the utter desolation of her situation and from traumatic aspects within herself.
SOLIS is easily one of my dearest NPCs ever. Conversing with her, getting to know her was a great joy.

In comparison, the PC comes close to an empty shell at first. Sure, we get a bit of background to establish we're a thief but not a nasty one, but for the rest, the protagonist is a mask for the player. During the course of the game however, and especially through communicating with SOLIS, the player has ample choice to characterize the PC. I personally went for friendly pitbull (be nice if possible but bite down on any questions the NPC seems reluctant to talk about).

In fact, the entire game is well suited to this sort of featureless protagonist. At its core,A Long Way to the Nearest Star is a very old school adventure. Find codes and tools to solve clever puzzles and unlock previously inaccessible regions of the spaceship. While the obstacles are mostly engaging enough to make this fun in its own right, the gradually unveiling of the backstory is the real reward.

Pretty standard for an old school text adventure. But it's implemented in Twine. The biggest consequence of this is that the level of interaction with the game-world is slightly higher order, less hands-on. Compared to a parser, the player has not nearly as much freedom to juggle the inventory and throw every imaginable verb at the poor objects. Instead of a compass, there are room-connections in unspecified directions. This didn't keep me from drawing a map.

Still, even though the player is clicking to advance through the game, the focus is very much on which actions to undertake, as opposed to navigating a branching narrative space. The choice format makes the conversations flow naturally. Many options differ only in tone, serving to characterize the protagonist. There are choices that can significantly influence SOLIS attitude and behaviour too. These, together with some PC actions during the game can lead to diverse endings.

I liked how the UI, with its boxed and highlighted options, mirrored my mental image of the screens and terminals the protagonist is confronted with throughout the game. For those who might find this too intrusive, the style is customizable in the gear-menu.

A polished and exciting science fiction game. Recommended.


Arborea, by richard develyn

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Puzzle Tree, October 7, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

The aptly named Arborea starts off as you enter a simulation of a Vast Forest. Setting a game in a simulation is a great IF trick that immediately circumvents certain common hurdles in text adventures.
It easily explains away the immediate proximity of the fjords to the desert and other geographical oddities for one.
Placing the protagonist in an obstacle-filled simulated world unknown to them mirrors the player's motivation in solving the problems in an oldschoolish puzzle romp such as this game. Just tackling the puzzles you encounter because they're there gets an extra layer of explanation (or a slightly more believable handwave) as "This is what the simulation throws at you. Now deal with it."
And of course, a sim offers a great opportunity for a short but nice (Spoiler - click to show)XYZZY joke.

The simulated geography is convenient for the in-game traversal of the terrain as well as for the player's out-of-game map making.
It's a compass-based hub-and-spokes design, where the spokes are subdivided in a limited number of locations (usually no more than three or four).
The different areas are not self-contained. Puzzles in one area often need wisdom and objects obtained in another. This necessitates several traversals of the map. At least one exploratory round to find and research all available obstacles, pick up anything that is not nailed down, and take notes about how to approach the different puzzles and in what order. A lot of associations and ideas for a strategy will pop up in the players head during this stage.
Solving the game will require a few more rounds of going back and forth as new locations open up. I never felt completely lost, as repeated exploration gave me new ideas, and there were always a few spokes I could try these ideas in.
Although many of the puzzles are tightly interconnected, the game is not completely linear. Several of the spokes contain loose objects, with nothing restricting the player from taking them. These can all serve as that first loose thread to start pulling and get the ball rolling.

The puzzles themselves are varied. Some use of machinery, some manipulation of NPCs, plenty of variations on the classic lock-and-key theme.
The difficulty will probably depend a lot on how the player's brain is wired and their experience with oldschool games. The hardness of the problems mostly relates to the level of associative thinking is needed to intuit the solution. Many times straightforward application of real world knowledge will prove successful, other times the player might let their mind drift and use a certain kind of "moon logic" to make the necessary leap of imagination.
I found that there were plenty of clues available in the text. However, recognizing them does need the player to tune in to the game's style. As the pointers appear in the natural flow of the descriptions, the evocative writing can sometimes obscure a clue hidden in the middle of a descriptive paragraph.

The descriptions produced some very vivid images of the surroundings. I was impressed with how well each spoke's central theme (Serengeti Plains, Caribbean Island,...) was brought to life in just a few locations, implying a much broader world than was accessible to the protagonist. Very strong writing in this regard.
Arborea's writing is less successful in maintaining a consistent atmosphere. There are several voices present in the game's text, and the discrepancy between their respective tones felt somewhat jarring at times.
There is the simulation speaking. It welcomes you as you enter the sim and consequently introduces each new area as you discover it. I imagined this as a pleasing, soft-spoken and caring voice, even poetic.
There is the somewhat more distanced game narration, which provides the colourful, evocative and immersive descriptions of the landscape.
And there is the fourth-wall-breaking voice of the author. Sometimes this is a justified interruption to clarify game mechanics, but often it jumps in unannounced (in the same font as the narration) with a "funny" aside to the player (or is it to the PC?). This broke the atmosphere of the game on several occasions for me. Perhaps a nod to the snarky comments to the player in old Infocom games, but not so well placed here.

Overall, Arborea carries a gentle ecological message about the beauty of nature. In particular, it tells of the wonder of trees, and of mankind's varied attitudes towards them in different time periods and different cultures. There are depictions of careful, even reverent co-existence with trees, practical use of them for our daily commodities and also the destructive use of them in a mass-production way of life.
This loving attitude toward trees is frequently at odds with the oldschool adventurer's amorality toward the NPCs. It's impossible to solve Arborea without behaving questionably toward the other people you meet. Sometimes in a mostly innocent and funny trickster manner, other times actively misleading them and abusing their trust, or even drugging them to get what you want. I couldn't bring myself to comfortably reconcile this behaviour with a peaceful problemsolving exploration.
All I could do was think: "Hey, it's a simulation." And this got me questioning what this simulation was actually for. Is it a educational program about our planet's history? Or just a game people in the future play for their amusement?

The game characters are basically beautifully painted cardboard cutouts. They're great to meet in their intended role, but once you start interacting with them, there is not much substance to them. I would have liked for them to bit more talkative or even gossipy. It would make them feel like more rounded characters in their own right, and it would be an opportunity to add to the sometimes hard-to-pick-up clues in the text.

The endgame feels like the game does one last loving nod back to its precursors. It's essentially a condensed old school puzzle romp; an almost carnivalesque obstacle course with all kinds of puzzles strung together in the final straight line to the exit. A great way to bring such a broad and sprawling game to a close.

I spent about six hours in Arborea, and I loved the ride.


Crash, by Phil Riley

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Just another day on the job..., October 3, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler

"♫♪♫...tum te dum te dum... ♪♫♪"

While you're waiting for this airlock to cycle open, you take a look at your task-list. "Repair microwave oven. Fix cabinet door." Should be an easy job, getting this crew's living quarters in order before going home. The crew are all in the space station, so you can take all the time you want, you've got this starship all to yourself.

For no reason but my own imagination I thought of the PC in Crash as a middle-aged guy with a two-day stubble and a cigar butt stuck behind his ear, doing this one last job before going home for the night and watching a far-future version of Jeopardy.

Of course, before you've set more than a few steps inside the SS Ugati, all hell breaks loose. The space station explodes behind you, propelling the ship you're on into open space. Darn! Looks like your task-list just got a bit bigger.

A few questions to the ship's computer quickly reveal a backstory of a system-wide rebellion, rivalling factions and opposing planets/moons. I really like this plot dynamic, a normal guy unwillingly thrust into circumstances with far-reaching consequences and no choice but to rise to the challenge.

The protagonist is weakly characterized, making it easy for the player to project herself onto the role or to invent a character of her own liking (the stubbled cigarsmoking guy I mentioned above...)

The build-up of tension is very well-paced, several times raising the stakes and increasing the urgency of the situation. The puzzles follow this arc of tension nicely, with a few simple preliminary obstacles leading up to two more complicated and challenging endgame problems.

All the puzzles are of a mechanical/physical/chemical nature, requiring obtaining and studying information (the ship's computer), and implementing cause-and-effect relations, all the while taking into account the fact that you are in a spaceship.

There is a lot of optional material for those with completionist/optimalizationist tendencies, although doing menial chores while your damaged vessel is hurtling through space does strain the suspenders of disbelief somewhat...

About midgame two NPCs come into play (albeit never personally, you can only talk to them on the comms.) Both are well-defined, they have a definite personal voice. The transition to the endgame requires you to put your trust in one of them. A frustrating dilemma with limited background information, adding to the tension of an already distressing situation.

There is much satisfaction to be found in figuring out the two main puzzles by yourself, perhaps with a nudge from the step-by-step hint system. Do give them a chance before running to the walkthrough.

Great puzzles against a strong but elegantly downplayed backstory.

This is very good.


L: A Mathemagical Adventure, by members of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics co-ordinated by Richard Phillips, and including Derek Ball, Tony Corbett, David Rooke, Heather Scott, Alan Shaw, Margaret Stevens, Ruth Townsend, Jo Waddingham, Roger Waddingham, John Warwick, Alan Wigley, John Wood, and David Wooldridge.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Perfect form., June 25, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

[I played on the BeebEm emulator]

In the early 1980s BBC Micro computers were getting widely distributed in English schools. A group of members of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (cool acronym -> ATOM) decided to use the Micro and its ability to play text games as a teaching tool.

While they were at it, they also managed to create a fantastic text-adventure.

The intro swoops you from a soothing pastoral outdoors scene (lying in the grass under a tree, your sister reading a book, birds chittering in the sun... my imagination may be filling in some details) to the halls and corridors of a puzzle-palace.

L: A Mathemagical Adventure came out in 1984. It has a two-word parser that sometimes left me scratching my head, figuring out how to phrase a command. Nothing that kept me for too long though. There is no VERBOSE option, so when you re-enter a room you need to LOOK if you've forgotten where the exits were. And forget about EXAMINE. What's in the room description is all you're going to get.

Despite these limitations, the setting and the writing do not feel sparse at all. Upon first entering a room, you are treated to a clear and sometimes elaborate description that paints an evocative atmosphere of a now-dark abandoned palace.

Abandoned? Not completely.

A Drogon Robot Guard appears! These adversaries come at you at random intervals and try to imprison you. Defeating them is one of the simpler puzzles of the game, but I urge you to at least let them take you to the cell once. Escaping is fun!

Spread across the map, there are a number of NPCs. These are of the cardboard cutout variety, but they are introduced in vivid descriptions. Some need your help, some offer to help you. Invariably, you will need to solve a math-related problem to obtain the clues or objects they have to offer.

As should be clear from the title and the creators, the puzzles are all in some way related to mathematics. There are a lot of different approaches though. There is code-breaking, geometrical puzzling, logical reasoning and some straightforward calculation. In many puzzles, your imagination is supported by colourful visual representations.
I found all the puzzles fair and solvable. I did however sneak a peek at Wikipedia for some of the mathematical terminology I did not know. (Perfect squares and cubes.)

L: A Mathemagical Adventure is a great game for the avid map maker that I am. Despite being a mathematics-inspired game, the map is anything but orderly or symmetrical. Upstairs, downstairs, indoors and outdoors, tunnels looping back, a small maze and an octogonal room with exits on all sides. I had a lot of fun with my coloured markers.

There is some kind of plot going on about rescuing a girl who knows the weaknesses of the Drogon Overlords. Even if you save the girl from captivity though, this plot is never quite resolved. Maybe ATOM wanted to leave room for a sequel? But the plot is not what drives this game. It's all about nifty puzzles and great atmosphere.

A real treat!


The Darkness of Raven Wood, by John Blythe

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Darn Werewolf!, June 15, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Horror, Puzzler

A disturbing letter has come from your old friend Raynard, the blacksmith in the town of Raven Wood. A new lord has come to inhabit the Manor, and sinister events have been happening since. Alarmed, you travel by carriage to meet him...

The Darkness of Raven Wood is an oldschool horror adventure. The two word parser can cause some guess-the-verb problems. Worse however is that the necessary verbs are used somewhat inconsistently. Case in point: the "Instructions" explicitly give the example of UNLOCK DOOR, which can even be abbreviated to UNLO DOOR, since the parser only takes the first four letters into consideration. However, when I found a locked door, I had to USE KEY instead. When at another point in the game I wanted to USE AXE when ATTACK [x] or CUT [x] or HIT [x] didn't work, it turns out I needed to SWING AXE. I feel this is a much more ambiguous situation than UNLOCK door, where USE would actually have been appropriate.
(EDIT: apparently the instructions on the rucksackgames website do specify SWING AXE and USE KEY. Just not in-game.)

These bits of parser wrangling are the only real criticism I can bring up as negatives.

The introduction sets a dark and oppressive mood which the sparse but efficient writing underscores. The frightening atmosphere is further enhanced by beautifully gloomy pixel art, among the best I have seen.

The game demands careful exploration of the map and thorough examining of the contents of the locations (no X, but you can abbreviate to EXAM). Most of the puzzles consist of simple application of objects in the right place. Some however require a good memory of locations previously explored, to make the associative leap that what you have just done here will have changed something there.

There are some areas where you will invariably lose your bearings. While it is necessary to search these thoroughly too, once you have done so there is a simple sequence of directional commands to get you out of the woods.
The cryptic hint list on the game's homepage is very helpful with this and other obstacles.

What started as an inquisitive exploration around the town at the beginning of Chapter I, becomes gradually darker and more frightening, especially when you enter the grounds of the Manor and then the house itself in Chapter II.

A good suspenseful and atmospheric horror game, somewhat hampered by the limited parser. Recommended.


Transfer, by Tod Levi

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A dog called Kafka, May 28, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler

This morning's groundbreaking transfer-experiment has failed. Maybe the Machine was miscalibrated, despite all the checks and double-checks. It worked on mice and reptiles, why did it fail with the first human subject?

Transfer is a mystery/detective game that plays in the aftermath of this failed experiment. Instead of providing a clear objective, the game relies on a few more subtle clues to grasp the player's curiosity. Two NPCs act a bit strange. It's left to the player to unravel the thread and find out what's behind all this.

A secret experiment needs a secret location. In this instance, a mostly underground scientific research base on a far-off island. This makes for a small and compact utilitarian map. Labs, sleeping quarters, common eating hall.

However, it's remarkable how much adventurous exploration can be crammed in such a restricted space.

Partly this is due to a few blocked-off passages that draw the player toward opening up these undiscovered spaces. When they do open up, they don't disappoint...

Another big part of the richness of the game comes from the behaviour of the NPCs. They all have their own agendas, and their walking to-and-fro helps bring the research base to life. You need to learn about their work and their routines to figure out how they might be involved in the greater mystery.
Giving the NPCs a measure of personal agency may enhance the lifelike feeling of the facility, but it also creates expectations the game cannot fulfill. It feels grating to break into off-limits areas while someone is standing right there, or showing someone their stolen stuff without it provoking any reaction. Playing Transfer with a straight face sometimes requires wearing quite stretchy suspenders of disbelief.

During the game, there is a lot of plain old exploring and searching and puzzling going on, but all the main plot advances rely on using the Machine. This main puzzle/solution mechanic is implemented in surprising ways. In the first parts of the game, this makes for original and well-thought-through puzzles. By the end however, there is a series of Machine-manipulations that inadvertently lean towards the comical rather than the suspenseful. It's still a good puzzle sequence, but its tone would perhaps fit better with a fantasy-comedy than a science-mystery.

Solving puzzles and finding secrets advances the plot point by point. At the beginning of the new “chapter”, as well as in the introductory sequence, the writing shines. The room descriptions are clear and effective at conveying everythin the player needs while still adding to the atmosphere. It’s in the intermezzos however, in the overheard whispers and in the sudden actions of the NPCs in between acts that the narrative tension and tempo are best brought forward. The quality of the writing was certainly good enough to let me glance over some of the more improbable bits of the story.

The ending may feel disappointingly unrealistic to some. I for one really enjoyed the Poirotesque dénouement where the mystery's solution is summarized and elaborated upon by the villain with all the characters in the room. A fitting moment of closure for a puzzling game.

Heartily recommended whodunwhat and whoiswho against a scientific backdrop.


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.)


Dr Horror's House of Terror, by Ade McT

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Fright or Folly? Why not have both., March 31, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Horror

Franky and Johnny are strolling across the dark parking lot of the movie-theater. Some distance behind them, bright lightbulbs are flickering above the theater entrance.

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



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