After much consulting of the prophecies and calculating the trajectory of the new, bright star in the heavens, it is confirmed. The foretold King of Jews is born! You must travel west to the land of Judea to lay precious gifts at his feet.
The first part of Following A Star is a puzzleless preparation of the journey ahead and an introduction of the main characters.
Melchior is the wise and knowledgeable one, the natural leader.
Gaspar is a boisterous and forward military man.
That leaves you, Balthasar, as... Well, especially in the first part you're mainly there for comic relief while you try to get on your camel only to fall off again three commands later. No worries, you get to show your true potential in later parts where you are given the responsability of obtaining suitable gifts for the prophecied child.
Melchior, Gaspar and a large number of other NPCs are deeply characterized. Even in the short descriptions and the limited conversation topics, each and every one of them has a few idiosyncratic properties and independent actions to set them apart.
The game hardly ever breaks character in its reponses. Many, many nonessential actions still get a customized reaction, often very funny. (Try walking into a wall in the presence of the camels...)
After the introduction, you arrive in a small town in Judea. This is where the game proper begins. You, Balthasar are tasked with finding three gifts to present to the child who we all know is Baby Jesus. The only necessary puzzles in this part all have to do with obtaining the gifts. These are relatively easy.
However, while looking around the town you will recognize a bunch of sidequests. Part of the motivation for completing these is that you gain points. The real motivation for any adventurer is of course that they're there. They're also more challenging and more fun than the necessary puzzles. (See if you can help the instrument vendor clean out his trumpet...)
I finished a handful of these sidequests and I still only got an endscore of 25 out of 42. Room for improvement and enticement to replay.
Having acquired the gifts, you must find your way through the desert to Jerusalem. To do so, a tricky mathematics puzzle stands in your way. Here, Following A Star is brilliant in wrapping up the puzzle in the context of the journey. You are given an astrolabe and an abacus and must deduce your position by observing the bright star. An otherwise dry calculation becomes an interesting and pressing navigational question that is justified in-game.
Less successful, I found, was a language puzzle where you have to decline the English nouns in your commands to a guard into garbled Latin. I studied Latin and Greek in high school, and the utterly unfunny pseudo-Latin phrases the game wanted me to construct drove me to just copying them from the walkthrough. (Compare constructing "Spanish" words by sticking "-os" at the endos. For realos...)
Fortunately, the finale redeemed the game brilliantly in my opinion. An ever sillier chase through the desert that reminded me of some of Monty Python's finest sketches.
Genuinely funny, some challenging puzzles, very good implementation and characterization. Recommended!
I pressed play, a pleasant melody started playing in the background and an in-game version of the author of Budacanta, Alianora, started explaining her circumstances to me:
She's going on a solo-trip to Hungary for a motorsports event and she would like your help.
Oh, and she's autistic.
In the introduction, Alianora explains a number of important concepts to you, like "passing", "spoon theory" and having to use a mental emulator to run a neurotypical brainsimulation to avoid a pass-fail.
This may sound like a bunch of technical jargon, but it's explained so patiently and with so much humor that you will understand easily.
Now, the game-part of Budacanta is a spoon-management challenge. Actually: preserving energy by soothing Alionora so she has enough energy to take on the challenges that are so important to her. Like talking to strangers, taking the bus in a foreign country with a very basic knowledge of the language and eventually going to the motorsporting event.
This game was a great learning experience for me. In fact, I think it would be good learning material for anyone who interacts with neurodiverse people regularly in some way.
Heck, I don't regularly interact with anyone who's on the autism spectrum (that I know of. they could just be good at passing...) and I found it immensely interesting to get this guided tour around a foreign brain.
This is also the comparison that Alianora draws in the game: visiting a foreign country (alone) most resembles what she does daily.
There are weird rules that everyone expects you to follow as if they're self-evident, but as a stranger to this land/mental state, you cannot see what's so obvious about them at all. So you do your best to pass as "normal" and not break the rules too much.
It's very important that Alianora doesn't want to stay in spoonsaving mode all the time. She wants to live life to the fullest, take on challenges and enjoy them and learn from them. It's just that the way her brain is wired means that she has to be extra careful what to spend her energies on and when to reload her batteries.
Alianora's enthusiasm throughout the story is contagious. She tells her story in a bright and friendly way. What I found most touching was her completely straightforward honesty, the very direct and explicit way she reports changes in her emotional state or talks about her weaknesses.
The Spring Thing version I have played ends after the first big challenge. If the upcoming full game is anywhere near as good as this introductory excerpt, I'll be jumping up and down to play it.
Very impressive and funny and interesting and bright and sparkling...
This is more an experience than a game. Sovereign Citizens lets the player look over the shoulder of a homeless woman while she's exploring an abandoned mansion.
The choices involved (in my playthrough at least) amount to nothing more than choosing which room to visit next. Once in those rooms, the only thing to do was let the text draw me along in the woman's thoughts, feelings and memories.
Fortunately, the writing is good. The loneliness and abandonement of the house is clear, as is the held-back desperation of the woman as she wanders through empty room after empty room. The relationship between the woman and her husband (I think) is one of mutual comfort, their being together might well be the real home in the story.
The experience is vivid and immersive, and in the end it lets the reader draw their own conclusions. There are political, emotional, psychological themes that are touched upon, without pushing them into the reader's face.
A good click-through read, not much of a game.
Those Days is a slow-paced and thoughtful piece about life, growing up, friendship. It's nostalgic, a bit sad and a bit uplifting. As I said: life.
The main character reminisces about those endless days of childhood, spent with his best friend.
It's quite a stretch to call this an interactive story. The interactivity is limited to clicking highlighted words now and then while the railroaded story inevitably unrolls.
The clicking does serve another purpose however: that of pacing the story and forcing the player to take in the deeper meaning of the short paragraphs. This is helped by carefully judged timed text that slows down the reading tempo just enough to aid in letting the words sink in.
I really liked the changing background colours. They came across as symbolic of the different stages in the life of the protagonist and of the state of his friendship with his best friend.
A moving story that makes excellent use of the Twine-format to enhance its impact.
A Bear's Night Out is a delightful little adventure!
After dark, while your owner is asleep, you climb (or rather bounce) out of bed. You have to make sure everything is ready for the big day tomorrow, and knowing your owner, he'll have forgotten a bunch of stuff.
The map is very small, eleven rooms in total. While exploring these rooms, there are tons of fun stuff to discover and experiment with.(Pssst, the cat is a great playmate...)
Once you have seen all the rooms, experimented to your hearts content with all the funny stuff and start dealing with the puzzles in earnest, you'll see that not everything in this game is fluffy and soft and easygoing. None of the puzzles are fiendish, but they all require thorough examining of the game-space, a good deal of planning and some real-life puzzlesolving strategies. Of course, all of this is made both harder and more fun by the fact that you're about a foot tall...
A warm and fuzzy adventure.
What an atmosphere...
I've spent the last few hours finishing this story and I feel like I'm slowly waking up from a dream.
She's Got a Thing for a Spring is a beautiful, beautiful game.
You're on a camping trip in a nature park with your husband. You wake up in the tent and find a note telling you to go find the hot spring by evening and wait there for him.
I pay a lot of attention to the handling of space, the feel of the map in IF. Often, that means I prefer big, sprawling games. She's Got a Thing for a Spring does something else entirely.
It has got a small map, about 25 locations. These are described so lovingly that you can almost smell the herbs in the midday sun, or hear the gurgling of the rapids in the stream. Birds flutter by unexpectedly, or sing unseen in a nearby tree. Other wildlife crosses your path, and when out of sight, their proximity is hinted at through sounds or smells.
Not all exits from a location are explicitly described. This gives a sense of freedom and accomplishment when you find another path or a gap in the bushes, and it adds to the spaciousness of the story-world.
In response to a directional command, the game describes the terrain you walk across, giving a sense of real distance travelled. The "flip flop" in the title of this review is what you read when you are walking with your flipflops on. Take them off and it changes to "splish splash" when walking in water. Not out-loud-funny, but one of the amusing details that pulled me smiling deep into this game.
To enjoy She's Got a Thing for a Spring to its fullest, do not think like an adventurer. Get in character and play your surroundings. The puzzles are fantastic example of the common sense type. No intricate, improbable machinery, no spells to try out on every part of the scenery. Just do what you would do in these circumstances. This type of puzzle is actually harder than you might think for text adventurers. We're conditioned to look for complicated solutions.
Your biggest help and source of amusement in the game is Bob. Bob is an amazingly well characterized NPC who can give you practical help with some puzzles. Much more than that though, he's a delightful old man to hang around with and talk to (and maybe haver some lunch with...)
Not all puzzles are mandatory for finishing the game. Do try and find them and solve them though, just for the fun experience.
And do try to remember to stop and enjoy nature frequently. Maybe look up that species of bird you just saw in the "Hiker's Guidebook" you're carrying, or those aromatic herbs...
She's Got a Thing for a Spring is a beautiful, beautiful game.