I'm normally not one for one room games, preferring to explore the wide plains and hills beyond the frontiers, but I enjoyed this game immensely.
Hoosegow is an escape-the-jailcell game set in the old West. The difficulty is just enough to keep one pleasantly engaged for an afternoon. The puzzles are original and mostly well clued. Some solutions can be found only by experimenting and examining everything. (And I mean everything.) Not only will you find some surprising and entertaining solutions, but you will also be rewarded for your thoroughness with lots and lots of funny responses. Once you get on the same wavelength as the game, start thinking in the same slightly off-kilter way as the author when writing it, the puzzles will start feeling natural.
The characters, both PC and NPCs, add a layer of comedy to the game that is its strongest point. Pastor Pete's ramblings, the deputy who'd rather spend his time with the "dancing girls" in the saloon, your idiot savant accomplice and the lazy jail dog., they all made me laugh at least once.
The characters (and the parser) talk in a heavy western hootin' tootin' accent. It stays just beneath the line. Any more would have been annoying, not to say incomprehensible. It stays funny as it is now though.
The game gives you the option of running away right after ecaping the cell, but of course you would rather stick around to clear your name with the Marshal like any upstanding citizen who happens to have been found with a bag full of silver next to a derailed train and been charged with trainrobbery just because of that. Yessir.
Near perfect in all aspects. Must play.
Well, then this game would not have a reason to exist, which would be a shame.
You've fallen head over heels in love with the sensuous dancer Rosa. A gang of hoodlums stole her away from your embrace.
They took your pistol for good measure. This leaves you no choice but to rescue your damsel in distress with nothing but your brain and whatever you find lying around.
This setup clears the way for a collection of great puzzles. All of them require a good deal of common sense, and when you notice that your sense might be too common, the ability to think around the corner. Many times the use of the objects is not straightforward, leading to some very nice "Aha!"-moments.
This uncommon-sense feeling is reinforced by the map. It's quite small and contained. There are a bunch of locations to explore and a few cleverly placed bottlenecks. At almost every point in the game, you can be sure that you have seen every accessible inch of your surroundings and found every object there is to find. The challenge then becomes straightforward and deceptively simple: "Here is your inventory. What to do with it?"
I liked the writing a lot. The style of puzzles requires a clear visualization of the locations, but the author manages to throw in enough small surprises and unexpected details to keep the descriptions from becoming a list of notable features.
The overall tone of the piece caught me off-guard. From the intro and the characterization of the protagonist as a singing cowboy, I expected a lighthearted parody of western-tropes. In many places, this is true. Until you get to the more serious and sometimes downright brutal bits. It's not easy to blend these together, but The Song of the Mockingbird doesn't feel disjointed because of it. It serves rather well to highlight different aspects of the protagonist's character.
The song-lyrics throughout the story and especially the historical notes at the end tied this game together and showed just how much this game was lovingly polished.
Very good game.
Tryst of Fate is a great game. I would have happily given it full marks but there were a few things that detracted from the greatness. I'll spit them out first so I can let the game shine in the rest of the review.
The scenery is underimplemented. Now, this is not such a big problem, after a while your brain just notices a default message and decides not to pay attention. In this game though, there is a mix of responses to unimportant objects. More than half the time you get "You can't see that here." Annoying, because i'm staring right at it, right. Then, as you start ignoring these messages, there are objects which "are not important to the game". Equally annoying, because they remind you that you're in a game. Having both in the same game is weird to me. Either just don't implement it, or have a not-important-message for all of them.
Actually, the same is true for actions: some get " You can't do that," even when you're on the right track, and some get a jokey response like "That won't help you with your score."
For the rest, a few typos and some unclear clues. Also, what's up with bird's nests in text adventures?
Now for the great game that Tryst of Fate really is.
The introductory chapter is marvellous. A small escape game with a few easy puzzles that draws you right into the game. After bumping your head and passing out, a pair of outlaws come into your house and steal your McGuffin...I mean watch. They steal your watch. Once you can get back on your feet and go after them, you cannot go downstairs, because you have just cleaned the rugs and they are still wet... Really...
After getting a good feeling about your puzzle-solving abilities from this intro, you wind up in the Wild West, canyons and tumbleweeds and all.
On your first round exploring the area, things are pretty straightforward. As you draw the map and look around, there's a long SW to NE trail and a typical western town to the west. And oh, that train track crossing you just passed. And that swamp... And herein lies the genius of the game. When you look back after exploring this smallish, comfortable map, you see a daunting trail of unsolved puzzles and promising blocked off sidetrails. Combine this with the laidback confident feeling you got from the intro, and you suddenly realise you've walked straight into a trap.
The puzzles here are a lot harder. Most are logical but require multiple steps and a bit of thought. Despite the smallish map, it's sometimes confusing where the next step is again. Some puzzles have vaguer hints that only made sense to me in hindsight.
And then there's that puzzle. A number/codebreaking puzzle. It's completely logical. It's a substitution code solved by simple addition. And it's hard. I tried to brute-force it with the information I got from the clue, but I got stuck after a promising start. And then I got stuck again. And again. I asked someone on the IF Forum who is way better at math to show me how he would solve it and I got back two pages of calculations. Unfair puzzle? Not really, seeing that it is completely logical. It does expect more mathematic knowledge than many people have at the ready, however.
The descriptions are good. They really evoke the typical western feel. All the cliché elements are there, but they're not overdone. Just enough to make you feel at home, as if you have walked into a western movie, instead of the actual scary unknown wilderness.
I loved the NPCs. The conversations are very well written, although a bit limited. The characters get a lot of personality through their descriptions and their independent actions. (Check out the bartender.)
The story as a whole seemed a bit surreal to me. Timejumping to the Wild West from the comfort of your home to get back your watch? Gumchewing cowboys? But you did just fall and hit your head. That might have something to do with it.
I absolutely loved playing this game. It was tense and exciting when it had to be, and it got me laughing in more relaxed spots. Very sincerely recommended.