Reviews by Rovarsson

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Birmingham IV, by Peter Emery

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Someone please give that man some antihistamines!, September 20, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

He's got a bad case of the hay fevers! Can't even look at stuff without his eyes watering.

Yes, the protagonist of Birmingham IV has a chronic eye-disorder. Every single time he examines something: "Predictably, the Phil's eyes water." His other problem is that throughout the game, he is consistently called "The Phil". I have no problem with third person narrative. It establishes a different kind of player-PC relationship that helps define the feel of a game. However, here it sounds more like the protagonist is a rambling braggart with delusions of grandeur narrating his own exploits. (This is probably not the case, but I found it fun to imagine my PC going about his explorations while describing his every move.)

This rambling-about-his-own-exploits protagonist is actually perfectly in line with my biggest gripe about the game: What the FULLGRU am I doing here?!

Apparently The Phil has woken up in a fantasy-dreamland (trolls & dwarves elves & all). He starts wandering around poking everything he comes across and taking whatever he sees. Out of pure curiosity he seeks out puzzles to solve but it is never clear what his goal actually is. Halfway through the game, a proper endgoal crystallizes: clear up the mess he has caused by thoughtlessly (some might say ruthlessly) tackling obstacles for no apparent reason.

The land the Phil is roaming is nicely described. There are (on my map) five distinct regions that all lie along a long E-W road. So that's good for visualizing the geography. Unfortunately, due to an inventory limit and some less-than-practical puzzle layout (1980s oldschool style and all that...) you will travel this road until you can dream it and then some more.

The puzzles you encounter range from "Great!" ((Spoiler - click to show)laying out breadcrumbs for the puddytat...) to "Huh?" ((Spoiler - click to show)lighting the lamp...) to "Jeeves! Get-me-my-walkthrough!" ((Spoiler - click to show)a not-cool-not-clever maze that is only justified because everybody knows that Elves are obnoxious tricksters seeking to confobble people at every turn.)

The writing is good. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Elven Mound and the Plains by the River. There is a lot of humour in the responses too, and there are tons of unnecessary but funny stuff to try (including dying in many ways) (Oh, that reminds me... About those puzzles: Learn by dying. A lot.)
But despite the funny and overall good writing, the lack of an overarching goal or quest made it all feel a bit too light and unimportant to me.

So: a nice big game, lots of laughs without any (heart)strings attached.
Worth playing.


Metamorphoses, by Emily Short

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very, very good game.


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

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A joyous Winter Solstice!, August 20, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

While walking home after doing an errand in town, little Gretchen is blown off the path by a sudden snowstorm. She finds herself in a wondrous snowy land under a pale wintery moon.

Winter Wonderland is a heartwarming text-adventure. The wonder and amazement at the beautiful fairytale land is played completely straight, without ironic winks or nudges. It's clear that the author has gone to great lengths to envelop the player in a sincere and heartfelt warm and joyful experience.

The immersion in the story and the game-world is achieved in a few ways.
The implementation goes deep enough that you can examine and interact with most pieces of the surroundings, many giving an extra immersive dimension to the already evocative descriptions.
You will meet many fantastic creatures, all enjoying the winter solstice in their own festive manner. All of them will smile and acknowledge you when you greet them. You can strike up a conversation with a good deal of them.
The map is easily visualized, with the dense forest where little Gretchen appeared to the south and the snow-capped mountains so far to the north that they appear as unreachable bluish shapes far to the north. Still, there are enough little sidepaths and bottlenecks to keep it interesting.

Allthough the puzzles are mostly friendly and easy, fetching an object for an NPC to exchange it for the next item. Most of these puzzles do have an intermediary step that is not so obvious, making solving them satisfying. Two puzzles jumped out as being especially nifty, requiring a bit of thinking around the corner. These raised my appreciation for the puzzles and the game as a whole.

A very smooth, warm and friendly playing-experience. Perhaps best enjoyed with a steaming mug of cocoa and a snuggle-blanket.


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

3 of 3 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.


Grooverland, by Mathbrush

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Dimension-shifting theme-park, July 27, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

Happy birthday to you!

It's your special day and your parents have gone all out and got you the Queen-package for Grooverland. It's an all-access special treatment pass for your favourite theme-park, with a coronation ball in the big castle included. You just have to enjoy the rides and find your Queen-stuff while you're at it.

A seemingly light and humorous plot, told in a funny and colourful tone. Until you get a bit farther along on your quest and start gathering the regalia you need to enter the Queen's castle. A darker dimension lies behind our own, and obtaining the symbols of your royalty causes it somehow to overlap more and more with the happy theme-park reality, subverting our familiar world into solid scary-clown territory. (Coulrophobics can rest assured, no actual scary clowns appear in the game)

The writing seems to have some trouble keeping up with the gradually changing atmosphere. The descriptions do change while the game-world devolves into a darker version of itself, and random background events now depict monstrosities selling snacks, but I never had the feeling of being dragged down into darkness with the protagonist though. I was more a curious but distant observer than an involved participant.

In part, this is because the puzzles are so darn good. They are very accessible, even on the easy side. At the same time, they are wonderfully original in the most creative way: take something that's well-established and add an unexpected twist. The laser-fight puzzle is among the best I've ever seen, while it is in essence a "push the right button"-puzzle in disguise.

Now, the accessibility and originality of the puzzles demands that the writing be crystal clear (which it is), without any ambiguities in the descriptions, so the player can clearly visualize the surroundings. This takes precedence over describing the atmosphere of the changing game-world. The clarity of the puzzle-descriptions shines a bright spotlight in the supposedly dim and gloomy alternate realm taking over our world, causing it to be not so dim and gloomy.

Grooverland's gameplay made a very solid, robust impression on me. The game-world felt like it was there, and I could try whatever I wanted without fear of breaking anything or confusing the underlying order. There are helpful NPCs, funny references to other games, a lot of tinkering and experimenting puzzles, all leading up to an exciting endgame.

The grand finale is just the way I like it. I have proved my worth during the middlegame, solving the fiddly puzzles with the many possibilities. Now it is time for a straightforward but very exciting and well-paced boss fight. Excellent way to reward the player and to leave him with a sense of accomplishment after finishing the game.

I enjoyed this very much.


Augmented Fourth, by Brian Uri!

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"But if we throw the Cat in the barrel first,..., June 28, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

...then how will the Aardvark learn to swim?"

A small taste of the sometimes absurd sense of humour that pervades Augmented Fourth

King Goosen of Papoosen did not enjoy your rendering of "Ode to a Duck". Consequently, you and your trusty trumpet are thrown down the pit, where you discover a community of sorts living at the bottom of the volcano.
Determined to make it back top-side, you must now overcome the obstacles that stand between you and the closed off ladder to the castle. You have your wits and your magically enhanced trumpet.

Instead of memorizing magic scrolls, in Augmented Fourth you must obtain and learn music sheets. Each of the melodies has its own effect on your surroundings and as such functions as a wizard's spell. This magic system is worked out in detail. If you play a particular ditty in a location that is not the intended puzzle-room, the surroundings will still react, sometimes hilariously. The actual effects of the spells are mostly natural phenomena (rain, gravity, ducks...), so it is not too difficult to judge which spell/song to play to solve a particular puzzle.

The game keeps a nice balance between magical solutions and more prosaic adventuring puzzles. Along with summoning ducks through trumpet-playing, you will also need to do the usual bit of exploring of the cave and manipulating of the objects.

The cave under the volcano has a splendid map. The adventure starts off in the center of the volcano, also the central hub of the area. All directions save one are open for exploration from the beginning, and multiple puzzles are accessible from the start. Almost without noticing though, you will have less and less options to pursue, effectively pushing you to the bottleneck in the northern quadrant. From there on out, the game shifts gears and the story gets on fast-moving railroad tracks to the hilarious finale.

A finale that is foreshadowed throughout the game in small amusing intermezzos narrating what is happening with the King up top, who is spiraling down to ever more insanely funny despotic madness.

Modern IF is often lauded for the way the puzzles are seamlessly integrated into the story. Augmented Fourth turns this on its head: the story is woven seamlessly around the puzzles, which are without a doubt the real reason of existence for this game. In many of those puzzles, well-known adventuring tropes are averted, subverted, completely avoided or twisted in a knot. Breaking down the player's expectations often leads to fantastically comic situations, when a certain build-up of tension is suddenly relieved in an unforeseen direction.

There are also a number of playthings that are just that: items to play around with. They're not even red herrings (of which there are also a fair number...), just opportunities to idly while away the time. In the same vein, there are a number of books that provide hints; they mostly provide page after page of completely unnecessary sillines.

A very silly, moderately difficult and very smoothly playing puzzle-romp.


The Isle of the Cult, by Rune Berg

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A walk in the park ... until it turns into a jungle., June 8, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

After lying through your teeth about your lockpicking skills (which are non-existent), you were allowed into the Thieves' Guild. However, instead off stealing old ladies handbags, you are sent to a mysterious island, a letter from the Guild Master with your objective in your pocket.

Isle of the Cult starts out very laid-back and lighthearted. So much so that when a) the letter with your goal on it turns out to be illegibly smudged by seawater, and b) the fishing boat that dropped you off sails away with your burglar's gear still in it, you decide to just wing it without any equipment.

So you set off to explore the island and you soon come across remnants of an old civilization: an abandoned village and two temples on a hill. The ex-inhabitants of the village probably said to each other: "Hey, if ever a lone adventurer comes this way, we might as well make them feel welcome!", and left a few easy obstacles in the way. "The way" being a straight north-south avenue with buildings to the sides.

Things change when you get to the southern part of the island. Here, narrow paths wind through the jungle to isolated locations, ravines and streams block your path. In the center of the jungle a great fog-tipped mountain looms. There are harder puzzles you must solve to get to locked off areas of the map. Not harder as in complicated, but cunningly deceiving, making you look one way while the solution is right under your nose. Quite exhilarating to solve these, really. A few red herrings are thrown in for good measure, and these add to the overall abandoned island-feel.

The writing in Isle of the Cult is not remarkable but it is efficient and to the point. Storywise there is hardly any story or plot to speak of. This is an oldschool puzzle adventure. But it is an excuisitely polished one. The author has thought of many unnecessary or "wrong" actions and has provided appropriate, helpful or funny responses. Your movements are described tersely, reminding you that you are crossing jungle-terrain, not just going E or N on a grid.

A smooth and sometimes misleading adventure. Nothing groundbreaking, but very well made. A joy to play.


The Wizard Sniffer, by Buster Hudson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not-princesses all around!, June 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Puzzler

It all begins with a rather awkward protagonist to control: a pig (which can alledgedly sniff out wizards...) Since pigs walk on four feet and have no opposable thumbs, a lot of commands are thrown out the window by nature of the PC. And although pigs are known to be very clever animals by those who study them (pigycists?), this particular pig does seem to rise even above normal intelligence levels of other members of the species Sus scrofa. For one thing, it can read...

Seeing that this smart pig is somewhat limited in the handiness department, it must find other ways to further its goals. Cue NPCs. By virtue of an excellent grasp of human psychology, our protagonist-pig can manipulate the other characters into following it around and it nudges them to interact with objects or other characters through very deliberately SNIFFing of pieces of the surroundings. Different characters will act upon this sniffing in different ways, according to their nature.

One of the pig's major ways to solve puzzles is therefore to choose the right NPC to come along and do the hands-on work. Instead of switching between PCs with their special abilities, here our pig-protagonist has to switch between NPC accomplices. The way this is handled in-game is both elegant and hilarious.

The puzzles flow seamlessly from the story and the setting. Some of them are pig-adjusted variations on standard adventure-fare, while others are truly surprising and original.

The writing is fresh and crisp, with a truly great comedic touch. There is lots of physical slapstick comedy, but at least as much of the humour comes from the pig's observations of the humans. Our pig always keeps a certain distance and so can easily see through the notions about identity the NPCs have about themselves.

Through these observations and the development of the story, what started as a laugh-out-loud comedy evolves into a character-driven drama by the finale. The Aesop that becomes clear near the end could have been cliché and heavy-handed, but the lightness and subtlety of the writing lifts it far above a finger-waving moral-of-the-story.

Truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.



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