With no memory of who you are or what you are doing there, you have found yourself in a bleak stone chamber with only one exit. Clambering out and up a staircase, the breath catches in your throat as you realize where you are - a dreamhold, the private home and study of an immortal wizard. Your only goal would appear to be escape - but why are you drawn to collecting strange masks? Either way, you must explore this place, and all of the magical mystery within.
The Dreamhold was designed as an introductory story to parser IF, and as a result you are guided by the Voice, who uses italicized brackets to give advice, hints, and occasionally self-deprecating commentary:
[Amnesia. Yes, it's a cliché, but it'll do for a tutorial.]
There is an expert mode for those readers that enjoy fiendish puzzles (I'm not quite prepared for that yet!), and I like the idea that once-IF newbies, after playing through it the first time and then many other IF games, tackling that challenge as a final exam of sorts. I did enjoy solving the mystery on normal, and the dreamhold was brilliantly designed and well-crafted.
However, the reason why I've not given it a full score is that I did not quite understand the story or the couple of endings that I managed to find, and perhaps there could have been a clearer backstory or some sort of helpful coda or explainer at the end. Perhaps I was just being particularly obtuse, and perhaps one day I'll amend it if I do complete expert mode and that illuminates things.
Nonetheless this game does exactly what it sets out to do, which is provide a great introduction to parsers. Four multicoloured masks - in any order, I'm not picky (unlike some!).
A man has been murdered, and Sherlock Holmes is on the case. The police have been summoned, the suspects have been assembled, and Watson is taking notes. All that's left is for the dog to bark at the culprit. Wait, what?
As a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fan, I was immediately drawn to the premise, and once I got my hands on it I was not disappointed. Toby's Nose is an absolutely gorgeous game, and the writing is as authentic and enthralling as possible.
You are Toby, the dog with the famous nose, and it's your job to smell out the killer - there's a treat in it for you. Indeed, that's quite literally how you do it - but as a dog, your sense of smell transcends time and space, one smell opening up avenues and possibilities and other smells. The descriptions are marvelously deep and often entertaining - I was blown away by how immersive it all was, and how the breadcrumbs were laid to draw you into a final conclusion about what happened.
I read Toby's Nose directly after Lime Ergot, and as the author mentions in his note, the non-traditional method of exploration and the concept of layered descriptions is very similar, but cleverly implemented and explained so as to be unique enough. I love the concept of a dog's smelling ability - or maybe just Toby's - being so acute that it can detect smells within smells and therefore describe times and places and events without having to actually go there.
Toby's Nose is a true gem, and as a fan of Holmes and murder mysteries it really impressed me. Five cheese crumpets.
The colony is in ruins, the fleet is gone, and only you and your general are left. She wants a cocktail, and it's up to you to find the ingredients to make it. The problem is, you can't actually move. Or can you?
Lime Ergot has a fascinating approach to the idea of movement in parser fiction, in that you don't move at all but rather look, and look deeper, and look deeper still. Descriptions are layered on top of one another, drawing you ever forward into the bizarre and decaying world that you are trapped in.
Even though this is a fairly short game, the world-building and atmosphere within is extraordinary, and reminded me a little of the New Weird authors like China Miéville or Jeff VanderMeer. I have managed to find only two endings, and I do hope there are more - though try as I might I have been unable to confirm that. Perhaps there's another layer deeper still that I have been unable to get to, which just shows how complex it is.
Overall I enjoyed Lime Ergot, and it inspired me to check out other games that have similar non-traditional methods of exploration. Four St. Stellio limes.