Ratings and Reviews by RadioactiveCrow

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Smart Theory, by AKheon

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short and funny game about being smart... in theory, October 21, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

In this game you play a student at a university that stumbles into some kind of seminar, revolution and/or cult. Learn all about "Smart Theory" and how it will soon take the nation by storm!

This short game, written in Ink, is pretty funny. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments. Enhancing the humor is that you can actually see something like this happening on a college campus today. That said, the whole game, which is very short, is pretty much the same joke played over and over again in different keys, and it grows old about halfway through.

The game is well-implemented, with more than two choices at most junctures and a bit of looping back to give yourself a chance to catch things you missed before if you'd like. There is even an ending that is a bit more earnest than the preceding humor seems to warrant.

Definitely worth a playthrough for the laughs. Not sure if a second playthrough would add anything though.


Enveloping Darkness, by John Muhlhauser, Helen Pluta, and Othniel Aryee

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, straight-forward fantasy game with mediocre writing, October 21, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

This game feels like exactly the game I would have written in the 7th or 8th grade. The plot careens down a path that seems to throw in whatever random idea came into the author's head that day. I can see the enthusiasm that went in to making this story thought. In my younger days of writing short stories, I too would have a fun idea pop into my head and then shoehorn it into the story I was currently working on.

I only noticed one error in the implementation, but the interface was about as simple as it gets: black text on a white background with at most two choices at each junction. Then the ending came very abruptly and without much payoff. A decent enough first effort/test game, but not quite up to the standards of IFComp.


Cyborg Arena, by John Ayliff

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Combat simulator with a slick interface and blunt political message, October 20, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

In this game you play a cyborg, forced into pugilistic slavery by dastardly conservative lawmakers and corporations. You life involves fighting other cyborgs in an arena - "To the repair!", rather than to the death - for the amusement of the populace. Half the game is backstory on how you ended up in this particular fight, and the other half is a combat simulator employing a rock-paper-scissors like rubric for deciding if you or your opponent takes damage and how much.

The interface is well implemented, with bar chart stats, life gauges a la Mortal Kombat, and colorfully highlighted dialogue for the different characters. I also enjoyed how the fight interface was pushed to the background, but not eliminated, during the flashback scenes. However, there were some issues with the text. At times both "you" and your opponents name would appear right next to each other as if the game couldn't figure out who was performing the following action. Also, there were continuity errors regarding which weapon your opponent was wielding.
Text based choose-your-own-combat scenes grow stale very quickly, and this one was no exception. You are provided with some incentive to choreograph your combat in a particular manner, but in my multiple playthroughs I couldn't determine how that made much of a difference on the ending.

The background information and flashbacks I felt had the seed of a good story in them, but they were applied like a plank of wood to the face: lacking depth and unnecessarily blunt. I had just started to care about the characters when the story came to what felt like a premature end without the payoff that I was expecting. Also, I couldn't determine much of a political message other than Conservatives Are Bad. I'm fine with political messages in my stories and games, even ones that I disagree with, but there has to be some substance to the argument, some allegory to modern life, and some solution to the problem. I didn't feel like I got any of that in this story other than a generic rise-up-against-your-oppressors vibe.

I hope the author tries again with another IFComp entry next year. I feel there is potential here, but it didn't manifest in this game.


A Papal Summons, or The Church Cat, by Bitter Karella

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short Twine game about the emptiness of medieval Catholicism... I think?, October 19, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 1 hour

This is a short Twine game in which you play a priest, apparently during the construction of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, with a summons to see the Pope. You have a cat that is given to quoting the most head-scratching, out-of-context Bible verses in a human voice when prompted.

You have to work your way through the Vatican and find the Pope to fulfill your long journey and answer the summons. Along the way a lot of dark, weird, unexplained sh-t happens. Not sure what else there is to say beyond that.

I think the author was trying to commentate on the Catholic church of the era in question, or perhaps the church in general. But I'm not sure. I'm not Catholic so perhaps I'm missing some context with which to interpret this game.

In the end I didn't get the message, if there was one, and didn't enjoy the game. Combined with a small handful of typos and this is a two-star game for me. YMMV.


How it was then and how it is now, by Pseudavid

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Weird and surreal story about two former lovers at the end of the world, October 7, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

At least I think I got the info in the title right, though honestly I might not be understanding the story correctly. You play one member of a former couple, forced to work together again (and clearly still with feelings for each other) near some kind of geometric apocalypse(?). As far as surreal stories go, this one definitely has more substance and polish than the others that I've played for IFComp 2021 so far. Still though, I didn't have much clue what was going on. I didn't have any connection to the story and only a minor connection to the characters. This is another story that I feel was written primarily so the author could write it, not so others could read it.

Just like with this author's IFComp game from last year (which I enjoyed more than this game), they try some interesting things with the mechanics/visuals. In this case it is blurring some of the text. I feel that might have been more effective when used sparingly, perhaps as an indicator that the characters mind was wandering. Instead it was used for whole sentences, and even one of the choices. Already frustrated by my inability to understand what was going on, I didn't much care for not being able to make a choice because of the blurred text.

In the end I didn't care for it. YMMV.


Universal Hologram, by Kit Riemer

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Multimedia, nonsensical story with few choices and formatting bugs, October 6, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

I really feel like there was the seed of a good story here, but I just didn't get it. Most of the time I couldn't tell what was going on. On the one hand it seems like kind of a surreal/trippy story, but on the other there was more than one NPC scream-cussing at me and it definitely took me out of the mood of the story. There were very few choices in this piece, most sections of texted ended with a single hyperlink. In those few places where multiple choices were offered, sometimes the choices were not separated by a blank line, and because other "choices" were often a whole paragraph of text it was hard to tell if this was a really choice or a paragraph of just the next part of the story. I would recommend cleaning up the formatting in that regard so that when the reader gets an authentic choice they know it at a glance. On the plus side, the story had accompanying surreal illustrations and an atmospheric soundtrack.


An Aside About Everything, by Sasha

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short surreal adventure that lacked something to tie it all together, YMMV, October 5, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

I feel like surreal pieces, perhaps always, but especially in the case of this game, are really more about the author expressing something or working through something important to them in a way that only they fully understand. These kinds of stories are like the songs you hear on the radio with a catchy tune and lyrics that you can sing along with, but when you really listen to the words you have no idea what the song is about.

This is a well enough written and implemented, short choice-based piece, but I didn't think there was enough to me to grab on to in the story for me to come away with a lasting impression. I could easily see the characters and bits of conversation having meaning for the author, but I think the average reader will not know what to do with this. Surreal pieces like this need to have very well-defined themes and/or symbolism, punctuated with moments of clarity, so that even though it seems like you've been tossed in the middle of Wonderland, you can still ascertain what the author is trying to say. Perhaps some lines of angry or poignant dialogue that pull together the last few pages of haziness into some philosophical point. For me this piece was lacking enough of those elements to give me something to get out of it.


The daughter, by Giovanni Rubino

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I never had a clue what was going on, October 5, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

I feel like if you don't read the blurb on the IFComp website, then you will never have a clue what is going on in this story. Even if you do read it, your head will likely still spin.

I'm not sure if the author's first language is something other than English, or if they were trying to be exotic/futuristic with the way some words were spelled, or if there were just several dozen typos. Whatever the case, it made it really hard to stay in the rhythm of the story.

The choices given to you are minimal, and towards the end of this short piece, there is a segment of text that goes so long in between choices that I had to scroll the screen of my tablet several times to find the next hyperlink, all the while having no clue what was being talked about.

Finally, the game ends unceremoniously and without any indication that it is the end. The text just ends without another hyperlink. Either it ended or it was a glitch.

I hate giving one-star reviews, but I just couldn't find anything to like about this piece.


Mermaids of Ganymede, by Seth Paxton

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Fun story that utilizes multimedia elements to really set the atmosphere, October 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

If you threw Europa Report, Aquaman, Abyss, The Core and maybe a touch of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets into a witch's cauldron and made it spit out a comic book, you'd have this story. Add in a Myst-like atmospheric soundtrack and you have the game "Mermaids of Ganymede".

You play the commanding officer of a research vessel that crash lands on Ganymede, or rather crashes through the ice layer and sinks to the bottom of the ocean surrounding the core of Ganymede. Soon it becomes clear that you are not alone in the icy depths, and there is a whole world down there that no one knew about. Can you repair your ship and radio for rescue? Or will getting home require a different skill set you never thought you'd need on this mission?

The game is broken up into five chapters. The odd numbered chapters play out much like a traditional choice-based game, with you selecting a story path at various junctures, and making dialogue choices along the way. The even numbered chapters play out much more like puzzle-centric games, reminiscent of "Tavern Crawler" from IFComp 2020. The interface remains the same, but rather than being pushed down the main plot line with some ability to steer, it becomes much more open world, with you able to go to a wide variety of locations, backtrack as much as you'd like and have to solve a puzzle of some kind to be able to reach the next chapter.

I liked the story chapters a lot more than the puzzle chapters. In Chapter Two it took me awhile to realize that was what was going on and it threw me off a bit. Chapter Four (Spoiler - click to show)is a maze that is hard to wrap your head around the geography of given the very brief descriptions. Additionally, you can die (which I did four times before finally figuring out the right order of actions) and have to restart the chapter. That threw me out of the rhythm of the story. I think I would have rather than whole game been like the odd chapters.

The story itself was fun, if a bit cliched and not terribly deep, but I think appropriate to a game of this length. It did feel like the author was throwing every idea they had against the wall to see what would stick. The best part of the game were the multimedia elements and the atmosphere. From the illustrations, to the color of the text, to the background music (different for each chapter), it was easy to really see myself in the world that the author had created and stay immersed in the story.

The game is very polished and well worth your time, a great improvement from the author's entry in IFComp 2020. Given that improvement and all the things that worked well in this game, I'm eager to see what the author comes up with next.


AardVarK Versus the Hype, by Truthcraze

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Funny misadventure while under the influence of a psychedelic soda, October 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This is a weird game. Not so much in that the gameplay itself is weird, more just that everything that happens is weird. These leads to a lot of laughs, but also some frustrations with the puzzles/parser. I would recommend a liberal use of the walkthrough for this game, as the enjoyment is more the story and dialogue, and less the puzzles. That said even the walkthrough itself (at least the one I used) got nonsensical towards the end, that or the author was playing one last joke on us, which is probably the case in retrospect.

Throughout the game you get to play the four members of the garage band AardVarK, sometimes forced to play one of the characters, but often being given the option to switch in between them at will. It begins with Jenni, the guitarist of the band, being exposed to a mind-altering soda being shilled at her high school campus, that seemingly turns all over her classmates into zombies. She must escape and, with the help of her bandmates, save the world! Thus the hijinks ensue.

As you can imagine this situation leads to all kind of weird encounters and interactions, many of them laugh-out-loud funny, as the band careens through this crisis on their way to saving the world with the power of rock'n'roll! The author does some fun things with the parser ((Spoiler - click to show)like replacing what you typed with a more zombie-like response at opportune moments), and some clever tricks with the interface ((Spoiler - click to show)like turning some text upside down - how was that programmed?! - with comedic timing). Also, the status bar at the top of the window was put to good use, making sure that you remember who you were playing and what your current task was, which was helpful during some confusing moments.

I can't say that I was a big fan of the puzzles though. Some of them involved kind of off-the-wall solutions that didn't make a ton of sense or follow a logical path. Some solutions were adjacent to the ones I came up with on my own, those kind you frequently find in parser games where you had the right idea, you were just typing the wrong words. Some solutions were hinted at very subtly and I missed the clues (though usually because I was enjoying the story at the point and not in detective mode), other puzzles it seemed like the solution was (Spoiler - click to show)just to wait long enough, literally typing "z" over and over again would do it, for the game to tell you exactly what to do. There were also a few minor implementation problems. All in all, the puzzle portion of the game I feel took me out of the rhythm of the story a bit, so again, use the walkthrough any time you feel yourself getting frustrated and enjoy the game more for the humor than anything else. Certainly worth your time.


Grandma Bethlinda's Remarkable Egg, by Arthur DiBianca

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Are you playing a parser game, or are you the parser?, October 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

So what can you say about this game? I'm not sure. It is the second year in a row that the author has entered IFComp with a weird game that has almost no story, but rather is filled with a handful of little word or logic puzzles. I didn't really care for last year's game either, but I thought at least there was a really clever mechanic in the "boss fight" scene. With this game though I couldn't find much to appreciate.

The scene is straight-forward, you are have handcuffed your own hands behind your back in a flubbed attempt at practicing a magic trick and now you have no way to get free. However, you borrowed a gadget from a friend recently that might help: the eponymous egg. You can give it one word voice commands and it can perform a wide variety of tasks. Imagine Alexa, but with mechanical arms, drones and robots to carry out your wishes. The catch is that it was jostled in transit recently and so not all functions are available to it.

So is this a game where instead of commanding the egg to pick the lock of your handcuffs? Sadly, no. Instead it is a game of waiting for the egg to repair itself until the LOCKPICK function becomes available. In the meantime the egg throws verbs at you (functions that have been restored) which you can then parrot back to see egg perform a number or random, sometimes goofy, tasks. So like I said in the title, this isn't a parser game in the sense that you tell the game verb and noun combinations (all your commands are a single word), rather the egg gives you suggestions and then you are the one stepping to. It is either that or typing "z" repeatedly while waiting for the endgame. Along the way there are a few very simple puzzles to complete, but nothing challenging or enjoyable.

So I just don't get this game. I'd love to hear from someone else who has a better experience as to what you liked about it.


extraordinary_fandoms.exe, by Storysinger Presents

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Linear game about how quickly strangers can become friends online, October 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

This piece strikes me as a very personal story from the author. Nothing at all like their entry in last year's IFComp (which I very much enjoyed). Kind of a journal entry and therapy session played out in the creation of this work of Twine. I'm not sure if the author explicitly said so in the blurb or intro to the piece, but it feels like this is a slightly fictionalized re-telling of things that actually happened to them. I hope that they have been able to heal a bit by sharing their story with others.

Perhaps because I haven't shared any of the experiences in the story it was hard for me to relate to this piece. I think I'm just not the target audience. The story is extremely (maybe completely) linear, where the few choices that you are given are often just different ways to say the same thing. I've found that if you aren't given enough agency to choose the personality of the character you are playing, then if you don't relate to that character sometimes the game just misses you. That was the case here. The short sections alternate between fandom discussions of anime, programming a website, online SFW role playing and discussions of the main characters home woes. The only sections I was really interested in were the last kind, and they seemed infrequent and over quickly. Again, because I'm pretty sure these were real experiences it makes sense to switch back and forth between these scenes in this way, just not sure it makes for the best story structure.

Honestly, my enjoyment of this game was closer to the two-star level, but because I know the game was important for the author to make and will hopefully be important for some others to read, and because I do want others to play it in case it does speak to you, I gave it three stars.


Sting, by Mike Russo

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Auto-biographical parser game that should have been a choice-based game, October 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

First let me say that this game would have been much better if it had been a choice-based game. I think the author learned Inform 7 to make "The Eleusinian Miseries", his IFComp entry in 2020 (my personal favorite from that comp and one of the best first games ever), and just stuck with it for this game. Sadly, I think making this a parser game detracted from it overall. That said, it doesn't take long to play and is still worth your time.

The game is a combination of personal memoir, tribute to the author's twin sister, and diatribe against bees (preach!). It is broken up into six vignettes, all personal experiences of the author, each punctuated by a bee sting (or twenty).

The second section (and to a lesser extent the fourth section) frustrated me greatly as I couldn't find a rhythm with the parser. It seemed like I was always getting scolded for either waiting or trying to talk, and in the meantime a lot of sailing jargon was being thrown at me and it was up to me to guess which words of that mumbo jumbo (land-locked pleb here) I was supposed to parrot back to the parser to get the game to progress. My advice to future players would be to just fight through that second section in whatever way possible to get to the rest of the game, which is much better.

In the end the game becomes a story of love, both the romantic and sibling variety, where it was found and where it was missed. All the while getting stung by bees (what rotten luck!).

Halfway through the second segment this felt like a two-star game, but at the end it felt closer to four stars. I'll settle in the middle with three with the knowledge that this game will probably stick with me a lot longer than other three star games.

(Spoiler - click to show)My sincere congratulations and condolences to the author. I hope you keep making games, Mike. F--k bees and f--k cancer. Prayers and best wishes.


In the Service of Mrs. Claus, by Mathbrush

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fun game about mythology and Christmas, October 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

IFDB helpfully informed me recently that this is the only game that I've rated, but not reviewed. Time to remedy that, though apologies as, even though I've played this game three times, it has been at least a year since my last playthrough and my memory has faded a bit. This will be a shorter review than normal.

In this game you play an elf "In the Service of Mrs. Claus" who runs things at the North Pole (really another dimension populated by gods, dreams and things that go bump in the night), now that Santa himself is dead. You have a wide range of options in selecting your characters appearance and personality, and indeed a pretty wide range of options at almost every junction. I'm not familiar with the general Choice of Games style that much (though I hope to be more in the future), but I actually could have done with less choices. It seemed to me like they were coming at me pretty fast, and that the choices, especially at minor moments, where myriad and long. Thus, of all the words I read in this story perhaps a good 10% were not actually part of the story I chose.

The plot is wide ranging and deals with both magic and tech, with humans and your fellow extra-dimensional beings. There a bit each of mystery, romance, intrigue, combat, along with a heavy dose of magic. The game is very well implemented and even when choosing a wildly divergent path on the second playthrough I could see where the author had both incorporated my changes into pivotal scenes that I'd played through before, as well as providing new whole new scenes to enjoy.

In the end the plot just didn't quite grab me and I didn't feel as attached to the characters as I have in some other CYOA-type stories. It was fun with lots of variety, but didn't feel that deep to me. I hope the author tries his hand at choice-based work again though (he is better known for puzzle-centric parser games which are usually great). I think this game was a solid first effort and I'm eager to see what he comes up with next.


Stay?, by E. Jade Lomax

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A wonderful game that has it all, lots of choices, a good story and puzzles too!, October 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-4 hours

This is a truly wonderful game. I don't give out five star ratings often and when I do it means that I'll be voting for it in the next IF Top 50 list that Victor Gijsbers complies every four years. That's how much I like it.

The game is set in a fairly standard fantasy-style world. It begins with you as a student at university on the day you have to pick your "major": Magic, History or Combat. Then the rest of the game spans the next 13 years of your life as you graduate, start your career, try to find love (as the author states, the game is part dating sim) and deal with whatever else life might throw your way.

I don't want to give anything else away without warning, but I have to discuss the plot and mechanics in more detail. Relatively minor spoilers to follow, I don't think your enjoyment of the game will be lessened by reading them before playing, but maybe go play the game for 15 minutes first and then come back and finish the review. ;-)
(Spoiler - click to show)
At the end of the 13 years on your first playthrough (there will be many), one of your old classmates, Jo, shows up to tell you that the world is ending. A magical comet will impact your world later that day just outside your city, destroying everything. Jo uses a relic, a magical stone/gem, to stop the comet, but they aren't satisfied. Other bad things happened over the past 13 years that they couldn't stop, and they think you can do better. So they use another relic to send you back in time to the beginning of the game, but with the knowledge of what is to come you have to find a way to save some, or all, of the world. From there you get to live your life again, and again, making different choices, learning what you can until you are able to stop the comet too. If you do then you've reached the end, but still the time-bending relic appears and you are given one more choice: be satisfied with what you've accomplish and stay in that timeline, or put your hand on the relic and start over again. Maybe next time instead of just averting disaster you can make a better life for others too. Maybe even find someone to spend the rest of your life with, after the comet is destroyed, that part of your life you haven't lived dozens of times over. Thus begins the real game.

I imagine that time-loop/"Groundhog Day"-esque games can get very cliched. And certainly this game doesn't really deviate from the usual tropes. What makes it great are two things: the emotion/heart of it (to be discussed more after I end the spoiler section) and the way that the author worked the puzzles into the game. Each playthrough you aren't just making life choices, you are trying to find new ways to discover knowledge, to learn the secrets you need to know to save the world. Discovering something on one playthrough will open up new options to you on the next. I'm not sure, but it seems that on some playthroughs, randomly or through some mechanism I didn't figure out, there are certain options available to you that aren't on other playthroughs. When those popped up the temptation for me to explore a never before taken path was too great and led to some really sweet moments. All in all, puzzling through how to construct my ideal timeline was fabulous and there were plenty of "Aha!" moments, more common to parser puzzlers, that gave me great enjoyment upon their discovery.

This game was marvelously implemented, the text always adapting to both what had happened recently and many cycles ago. I'd love to see how it was coded. It took me 21 lifetimes to figure out how to destroy the comet and an additional 8 on top of that to reach an ending where I was happy to stay.

What really makes this game great though is the heart of it and the emotions that it evokes. Usually, a game described as a "dating sim" would not be up my alley, but in this game it feels less like a gimmick to scratch a romantic itch and more just the tale of true human connection. And beyond romance, their are plenty of options for just making a friend, or helping strangers. Chances for selfishness and self-sacrifice. Triumph and sorrow at what your friends accomplish, and in how they choose to live and die. Every character has depth if you want to know it, and as you do you feel a real connection to this world.

As far as I can tell this game was just published unceremoniously to itch.io, not entered in any comps. This day in age it feels like any game that I play that wasn't entered in a comp is at least 10 (if not 40!) years old. I think this game would have had a great chance at winning any comp it had been entered in and it wouldn't surprise me to see it on the next Top 50 list!


Turandot, by Victor Gijsbers

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Linear story, great writing, September 30, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

In this story you play Calaf, a rougish young man with rich parents whose primary leisure activity is spending time in brothels. But with a single glimpse of the legendarily beautiful and mysterious princess Turnadot (based loosely on the play/opera of the same name), he falls deeply in love with her (or does he?) and becomes willing to do anything to get her to marry him.

This is an interesting piece of IF. It is written in ChoiceScript, but does not make use of the stats features (instead replacing the stats page with a funny message), and I'm not sure any of the choices you make cause the story to branch much. But it illustrates well a different way to put interactivity into a work of IF. Each bit of writing in between choices is very small, you basically get to decide on 90% of the dialogue of Calaf. In this way I felt I embodied the character more than in many other pieces of choice-based IF, because he basically didn't do anything without my permission, I put all the words in his mouth. Now, between the subject matter and the necessarily limited choices I was given in most instances to choose the dialogue, I still didn't really connect with the character, as my personality does not fall any where near the range you allowed to pick from for Calaf's personality. Still, the quick pace of choices made me feel like I was playing the character almost as much as I would in a parser-based game.

The writing in this game is excellent as well. It is mostly dialogue between two characters and has a fun cat-and-mouse rhythm to it. It reminded me of the best scenes of dialogue from a Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino movie, and I enjoyed it very much.

In the end, I think mostly due to the subject matter, and a bit of plot dissonance towards the end ((Spoiler - click to show)I felt like the story went too quickly from Calaf discovering his friend murdered to the "happy" ending), this one didn't really grab me the way some lesser games with more agreeable plots have. Still, I think this is an important game for the quality of the writing and the lessons it can teach about the different kinds of interactivity. Certainly worth your time for that.


Grooverland, by Mathbrush

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Quintessential medium-length puzzle game, with Groover homages a nice sideshow, September 28, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

I have a vague recollection of a Twitter conversation with the esteemed Mathbrush about a year ago regarding this game that was still a work in progress at the time. I don't remember if I was talking to him about it or merely observing a thread he had going with someone else, but what I do remember (which doesn't necessarily make it true) is that he said he was working on a game that combined all of the most popular elements from IFComp winners of years past. That he was making the uber-IFComp game, designed specifically to win the competition in 2021. I'm not sure what happened along the way, but more vague memories of tweet snippets have led me to believe that IFComp needed his help, perhaps behind the scenes, but definitely as the preeminent reviewer and judge of interactive fiction, so he selflessly entered his game in the less prestigious (though still awesome) ParserComp 2021. And it won, defeating a game by another titan of IF, Robin Johnson, along the way. I don't know if it would have won IFComp 2021 (the list of games isn't out yet), but it would have had a great chance.

This is a really good game.

You play the part of Lily, a little girl on her birthday at the eponymous theme park, tasked with gathering five key items from throughout the park in order to enter the castle at the far end of the park and become queen for a day. But all is not as it seems. Strange things are happening in the park, and the longer the day goes the weirder things get.

The game is heavy on puzzles and atmosphere, light on story, but that's just fine. The puzzles are some of the best I've encountered and range from easy and obvious to tricky and hard. I liked the spectrum of puzzle difficulties as well as the variety of types. There are a few find-the-missing-item puzzles that we've all seen a million times, but there were also some truly unique geographic and mechanical puzzles, one of which I will likely nominate for a XYZZY award (see spoilers below). With one exception I thought puzzles were pretty easy to wrap your head around, even if they took a little while to solve, and the clues were ample.

The world is very modest in size and the map laid out very simply, which is great as it makes sure that navigation isn't a frustration. I did draw a small map for one of the puzzles, but moving around the park from attraction to attraction was easy and set in memory pretty quickly. Every location and just about every item was important, with some dependent on others in order to progress, so that if you got stuck somewhere you could just explore and examine some more, or in other areas and usually find something to help you out. There is also an in-game hints system. I didn't have to use it at all (first time in while that has been the case), but I tested it out after I finished the game and the hints for the hardest puzzle are good and dole out the information Invisiclues-style so you get just the push you need.

Overall the writing wasn't anything to write home about, but it usually isn't something that I look for in parser games. However, there were a couple places that had some great writing, one atmospheric (to me reminiscent of the Land of the Dead puzzle from Zork) and one just crazy weird in true Groover fashion. The story is thin, again, pretty normal for puzzle-first parser games, but it is sweet and has a good ending.

Overall, a truly excellent and enjoyable game. This one got close to five stars from me, and I very rarely give those out.

(Spoiler - click to show)My favorite puzzle was making the Creaky House sing. I think that one should get nominated for best individual puzzle in next year's XYZZY awards.

My least favorite puzzle was the Midnight Laserfight puzzle. The explanation of the mechanics/layout of puzzle went by fast and didn't give me enough to really visualize what was happening. I had to save my game and then restart to go back to the first entrance into that room to get the explanation again and still it took me a while to figure it out. But eventually I did without hints. There were enough clues in the text after you experimented with giving the teams uneven weapons that I knew what my ultimate goal was, and I just missed it a couple times when the hidden room became an option at the controls.


A Blank Page, by Edu Sánchez

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Decent short piece about overcoming writer's block, April 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

This is a Twine piece in which you play a writer, or at least someone who aspires to be such, trying to just get something on that damn page to start your novel. I think anyone who has encountered such a problem will recognize many of the excuses to avoid writing and the honest attempts to jump-start your creativity.

The game loops a little bit more in the beginning than I would prefer (I was beginning to wonder if the game had an end or if it stayed in the loop forever to make a point), but slowly progress is made and new choices become available.

A decent effort, if nothing too special. A fun, short piece, worth a few minutes of your time.


Baggage, by Katherine Farmar

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Couldn't figure it out, April 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

This game is very abstract, with concepts implemented as objects and I suspect able to be used in that way if the conditions are right. I could not figure out how to do so though, and after puzzling with it for awhile and asking the game for help (only to be told I'd created a game condition without an associated hint), I gave up. There wasn't anything about the game up to that point that made me care enough to fight harder to get a resolution/ending.

This is a game I feel like would have been better in Twine or a similar system. Instead of me getting frustrated to the point of giving up, trying to make the parser do what the author wanted me to do, I could have been guided gently down the author's intended path.


An Amical Bet, by Eve Cabanié

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
An author's first game, April 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

This game felt like the author was just learning Quest and wanted to create a whole (though very small) world to test that she knew the ins and outs of the system. Sadly, that's all this is, a proof of concept, a prototype, a maiden voyage.

There isn't much to this game other than clicking (since it was programmed in Quest) the hyperlinks to navigate around the world and find the various objects you are supposed to find, all very obvious and none hidden behind puzzles. And there really isn't any story to it either.

I did really enjoy the implementation of the map creation system. As I moved around the game drew the map for me, which was a great help in orienting me in the world. However, when I went back down stairs and the ground floor map started to be written on top of the upper floor map I was less thrilled. That was unnecessarily confusing.

No bugs, but also not much fun.


Hunt the Wumpus, by Gregory Yob, Magnus Olsson, and David Ahl

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fun little logic puzzle, March 18, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

First of all, my thanks to Magnus Olsson for the z-code port of this game. So much easier to load up Filfre to play this rather than trying to get an ancient executable to work or what not.

I had never played this game until today, but had read about it many times. For the time in which it was created I'm sure it was a fun little game. Even in the modern era I enjoyed playing it for a bit and I'm sure I will introduce it to my kids one day as both a logic problem and computer history lesson. That said, it is just a puzzle/mapping game, no real story to it.

I recommend everyone play it for an hour or so to appreciate where IF started and where it is today. Still fun, if only for a bit.


The Feather Grange Job, by David Fletcher

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short series of puzzles that I didn't finish, March 18, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

As best as I gathered, in this story you play a series of birds, I believe all pets, stealing diamonds from your owner.

The game provides very little backstory or direction and just have to flounder around for awhile trying to figure it out. You play though a number of scenes, embodying a different bird with a specific task of the heist to carry out in each. Each scene has a single puzzle. I finished the first few, but gave up on the third (or fourth?). All the puzzles seemed very guess-the-verb with few hints from the game to clue you in to the correct solution.

Didn't find much about this game to like, except the ostrich character. The stark change from the prior few scenes did have me giggling.

Your mileage may vary.


Beagle 2, by Larry Horsfield

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Not worth your time, March 18, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

This appears to be a one-room game with a single guess-the-verb puzzle. No backstory, characterization, or reason to care about what is going on. Feels like a test game for someone trying to learn a new IF coding language. It did implement an impressive number of verbs for such a small game though.


Stuff of Legend, by Lance Campbell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Funny game with clever puzzles and only a few frustrations, December 4, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This is a parser-based game featuring several puzzles, but also some funny scenes and dialogue. You play as Ichabod Stuff, the recently fired village-idiot of Swineford, headed back to the farm where you rent a barn stall, to figure out your next career move. You have to talk to the family you live with, and their animals, get some minor "quests" to start your career as a knight, and then complete them. The game features the typical parser interface, but with a menu-based dialogue system, which I appreciated.

The game is relatively short and features a fairly small map. Early on, before I was sure just how big the map was I did feel the need, for the first time in years, to draw my own map. This was primarily because the game used ordinal directions, which I have trouble keeping straight in my head. There wasn't really a pressing need for it and if the map had been rearranged to only use cardinal directions I think it would have made the game a little better.

I think the game starts really strong, particularly in its non-puzzle parts. The first descriptions you encounter, and especially the first dialogue you have with the NPCs, can be laugh-out-loud funny. I also appreciated that early in the game as you are going through the typical examine everything routine, that the game will just go ahead and make you take the objects that will be useful later, while not letting you get anything that won't be useful. The puzzles in this game were plenty fun and challenging (more on that later) without red herrings, so I appreciate that the author didn't include any.

Before I go into what I didn't like about the puzzles, let me talk about the stuff that I really did like. The animals. Any puzzle involving direct interaction with an animal was delightful. Some of them were (Spoiler - click to show)guess-the-verb puzzles, but in the best way possible, with plenty of clues given to figure them out without too much hand holding. Any time I feel impressed with myself for figuring out a non-standard puzzle without too much frustration I enjoy it very much, and in those situations the credit really goes to the author for excellent puzzle design. I also really liked how those puzzles figured into the story arc and ending of the game, they were integrated into the whole, not just one-off puzzles. Finally, the game has a really good hint system accessible via the help menu, it is split into different sections so you don't get hints you don't want, and doled out Invisiclues-style, so if you just need a nudge you can get just that.

Regarding what I didn't like about the game: (Spoiler - click to show)the nest puzzle. Two aspects of it frustrated me greatly. The first was getting straw. Annabelle makes it very clear that you need straw and you only see it mentioned in one place, in your stall. But when you try to "get straw" or reference it in any way the games tells you that you can't see that here. I banged my head against this one for awhile. The description of your mattress and the "gaping hole" made me think the straw was spilling out, but I had to read the clues to understand that you have to "examine hole" in order to get the straw. So this was an example of an object clearly listed in the text that wasn't implemented in a way I was expecting. On the flip side, another aspect of this puzzle, the mud, was something that was implemented the way I expected, but wasn't clearly described in a way I was expecting. You can't find a mention of it in that room's description, nor when you "examine stream". Of course it is obvious that a stream is the place you would find mud, but in the midst of my frustration regarding the straw, I was wondering if the stall and stream were red herrings and I should be looking elsewhere for my straw and mud. After reading the hints and just typing in blindly "get mud" I was able to complete the puzzle. Later I realized that if you "examine bank" the mud is mentioned. I feel like here the mud should probably be in the room description, but at the very least examining either the stream or the bank should mention mud (or they could just be implemented as the same object). One other small problem with a puzzle I had, but got past quickly, was finding the cat after you get it out of the tree. After you fall from the tree there is no indication which way the cat went, but given the small map only two directions make sense. However, when you head NW to the clearing, the game seems to indicate that you hear the cat from that direction before you reach the location. It took me a second to realize I had to go NW again from the clearing. Unlisted exit puzzles are tricky, I think this could have easily been avoided by 1) put the text indicating that you heard the cat in the room description after you reach the clearing rather than on the way there and 2) making the direction you have to take out of the clearing not the same direction that you took to get to the clearing, as that makes it more confusing. The issues with these puzzles and the frustration they caused is pretty much the only reason I gave this game three stars. If they are fixed in a post-IFComp release I will happily bump my rating up to four stars.

Overall, a fun game with some clever puzzles that is well worth your time.


Lore Distance Relationship, by Naomi "Bez" Norbez

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tore my heart in two and then put it back together, December 3, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

In this choice-based work you play as a kid who, in order to escape a bad situation at home, goes to a Neopets-like website called Ruffians and makes a friend named BusyAsABee. The game plays out over the course of 11 chapters and 11 years (you start as an eight-year-old and get one year older each chapter). The game primarily plays out through the chat function on the Ruffians website, though in the interludes there is some conversation with your sister (including voice-overs). Over the years you have the choice of how to develop your friendship (or romance) with Bee and how much to reveal about your troubled home life.

The middle part of this game is rough, with the player-character experiencing (Spoiler - click to show)maternal abuse and ridicule at school. Some of the scenes and conversations are heart-breaking. But thankfully, in the end there is still hope and things are looking up. Depending on how warm you've been in your conversations with Bee, the ending scenes can be beautiful in how much trust and love has grown between the two of you. I played through the game twice to try some of the other options. It is possible to get an aborted game if you don't want to open up to Bee at all in the beginning, and some of the best stuff is cut if you are more aloof towards the end. So in this game, as in life, it seems best to open yourself up to those that love you to get the best experience.

I thought this game did many things well, including a realistic portrayal of a now decades-old messaging system, and the speech patterns, cadence and abbreviations of kids chatting with each other online from elementary school age through college. The images of the Ruffians website were also great to help set the mood. I also thought the voice acting was very strong and really added something to the game. I loved the character of Rachel and her relationship with the player character. Finally, I had a huge smile break out across my face when the game ended with some music, a la the credits scene in a movie. It was a great song for the occasion and I let it play to the end.

The few things that I didn't like were the parts of the game where the audio looped until a part of a scene finished. Purposefully, the audio is intrusive to match what is happening in the scene. But the more it repeated the harder it became to focus on the text. I'd recommend the audio fading out or stopping after 2-3 loops. Also, sometimes the text and graphics were so big that I had to scroll to find the right place to click to continue the story, and I think that could be polished a bit to make it more compact.

Well worth your time!


The Impossible Bottle, by Linus Åkesson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A most unique puzzle design and a heart-warming ending, December 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This game is a parser-based puzzlefest and it has one of the most clever and unique mechanics I've seen in a game. You play as a six-year-old girl, trying to help her father get ready for dinner, while her mom is on the phone and her brother is hiding in his bedroom. At the beginning it seems like a normal (even somewhat boring) situation, with you doing a couple fetch quests in what is an extremely normal environment. But early on you figure out that all is not what it seems and your options are a lot more open than you realize. To say much more would be be spoiling it, so the rest of my review will be hidden behind spoiler tags below. But I will say this, even as the environment and puzzles aren't what they seem at first, neither is the story. The author's ending to the game really ties everything together nicely and brings some warmth to it. It is a fun story/game, especially for this time in the world.

Mid-Game: (Spoiler - click to show)The mechanic of being able to change things in the dollhouse and see them change in the normal house is great and I'm very curious what kind of coding it took to implement that. I did not figure that mechanic out by myself, but rather asked for a hint for another puzzle and got a hint that clued me in to being able to not just rearrange things in the house via the dollhouse, but to filter things through the dollhouse. I think it is a fair puzzle though, it is obvious looking at the dollhouse that it is a recreation of the actual house so I think it is only a matter of time and experimenting before you realize you can grow things.

As delightful of a turn as it was to have a dinosaur suddenly appear in the house (I loved the dialogue between father and daughter when that occurred), I wasn't as big a fan of the stegosaurus and hamster puzzles. Those steps didn't really follow upon one another and I had to rely heavily on the walkthrough. Also, for me the stegosaurus appeared before I'd gotten the brother out of his room, so I had to figure that puzzle out while this crushing sense of urgency to deal with the dinosaur is hanging over my head and it threw me off.


Late-Game: (Spoiler - click to show)So I figured out that you could take a page out of Inception and walk south from the dining room and into a much larger version of your room by accident. I was trying to navigate quickly and accidently typed south when I meant north. The next time I was in the dining room the description showing that you could go south was there and I wondered if I just missed it earlier. But the walkthrough talks about an exit that isn't listed (this must be the one time the instructions say you will have to type something in, rather than point and click). That said, if I hadn't discovered it on accident I think I would have become extremely frustrated by my inability to make progress shortly thereafter. And I think the problem is compounded by the point-and-click interface the author implemented (which I loved) that clearly let you know what was possible in most circumstances so that you wouldn't really consider stepping out of the house in that way. Though, now I see that perhaps that might have been the author's intention, to get you to think outside of the bottle, so to speak. Still, I think a better solution would be to have that exit appear when you'd progressed to a certain point in the game.

I thought adding this extra layer to the puzzles, being able to filter yourself through the dollhouse in addition to objects, was genius and was a lot of fun to use to solve the last puzzles, which I thought were clever and fair. The one thing I didn't like however, was climbing out of the house and down the ladder and realizing I'd messed something up and having to navigate my way all the way back to my room in the normal house to fix it.


Ending: (Spoiler - click to show)When it finally dawned on me that there was no one coming over to dinner a big grin spread across my face. I had noted the date on the calendar earlier and thought about the implications of having another family over to dinner during a pandemic, but then put them out of my head because games don't have to match reality. I wonder when the author conceived this game, if it was since the pandemic struck then that is a truly amazing amount of work to put in to a game of this complexity in about six months or less. The ending scenes and speeches were great and just what I needed to hear at the end of this year. Bravo!


Tavern Crawler, by Josh Labelle

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The most RPG like text adventure I've had the pleasure to play, November 30, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This game has the feel and structure of a parser game, but in an extremely user-friendly choice-based, hyperlink format. A marvelous fusion between the two styles and something I hope to see more of in the future.

In this game you play as a member of a three-person team of mercenaries, given a quest to slay a dragon in exchange for more money than you know what to do with. As the game progresses you have to manage a few different aspects of the game including your personal stats, your loot and your relationship with your companions. Along the way to your ultimate goal, you will have the opportunity to explore the town you find yourself in, talk to many different people and even take on side quests to help boost your stats or acquire some loot.

The interface for this game is incredibly smooth and polished. The game gives you very clear directions, both on the instructions screen and weaved in to the text throughout. If I understand correctly this game was written in Twine and I think it really showcases just what Twine is capable of (and it is capable of a lot more than I thought before playing this game). Even though every choice you make might not have a huge impact on the game they all have a subtle impact that can be seen and appreciated in meaningful ways. You really do feel like you are living the story and that you have much more agency then is actually possible in a choice-based game. It really does feel like an old-school RPG or a D&D session, in the best way possible. There are a plethora of choices, the characters feel well-developed and the atmosphere is great.

My only complaint is that it seemed some of the tasks you can attempt to complete have very high stat thresholds for success. While all the major or necessary tasks seemed to have a reasonable bars to get over, some I felt like I would truly have to grind through the story, finding all the hidden ways that I could increase my stats, to be able to succeed at them. That was slightly disappointing. Also, I think there was at least one time that a certain choice was locked to me because I didn't have a certain relationship status with one of my companions, but looking at my stats page I did have that relationship. It might be a minor bug. Neither of these issues really got in the way of my enjoyment of the piece though.

Finally, I thought the epilogue was great. The author did a great job of making all those little side quests mean something in the end and I really appreciated that.

Well worth your time.


Vampire Ltd, by Alex Harby

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
This appears to be the author's first game and it feels like it, November 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

According to IFDB as best as I can tell this is the author's first game, and it definitely feels like the game you'd write based off of half an idea just to see if you can make a functional game. That said, it is a pretty good first effort, lacking depth and in need of polish, but showing potential.

You play as a vampire businessman, bent on getting revenge on your chief rival, another vampire businessman. You have to infiltrate his headquarters and destroy the latest project he is working on to ruin his reputation and his company. The parser was pretty well implemented and I only had to fight it a little, but there were a few hiccups that threw me off. The game bills itself as a comedy, but I think the hardest I laughed was reading the introductory blurb. That line was genuinely funny, but much of the rest of the game is only barely grin-worthy. The puzzles are lacking too, feeling either nonsensical, or telegraphed (again, like this game is a test run). However, I did enjoy the climatic scene and thought the solution to that, once I figured it out, was very clever.

The map is mercifully small and depending on how much time you spend reading the extra content (i.e. all the possible dialogue choices) can easily be completed in under an hour. A good first effort and I hope to see more from the author in the future.


Equal-librium, by Ima

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short and buggy, but does interesting things with text effects/timing, November 28, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

This is a very short choice-based game where you play the CEO of an investment firm facing moral choices about the company's action as well as how you treat your employees. With a game this short I don't think it is worth it to talk about the plot that much as just about anything I say would be spoilers. I will say that it is fairly heavy-handed in its messaging regarding the choices you have to make and what the author thinks the right ones are. I tend to prefer games that weave the message in with interesting plot or mechanics. Also, this game had several typos and one obvious bug, so it could stand a bit more polishing.

I did enjoy the way the author made visual effects out of the text, with flickering or timed text, among other things. I felt that really added a sense of being under stress and/or scatter-brained to the story. I love seeing text and the IF creation engines stretched and used in interesting ways to help convey something that might be hard with plain text alone.


Passages, by Jared W Cooper

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting idea, but falls flat, November 25, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

This is ostensibly a choice-based game, but as best as I recall only had a single page that offered up so much as two links, and one of those only changed the present text a bit, rather than send you down a new path. Considering that this is supposed to be interactive fiction, I have to mark it down for having only a modicum of interactivity.

The story takes the form of a journal in a strange version of the world where wormholes sometimes open up in the basements of houses and can theoretically be fixed by plumbers. The wormholes, if unsealed, can cause issues with the flow of time, and so consequently the journal entries don't seem to follow upon each other linearly and sometimes something happening in one entry can be explained by something in a later entry. An interesting idea, but the story just didn't grab me.

It is mercifully short though, if you want to give it a quick spin.


The Place, by Ima

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Not sure why the author choose IF as the form for this story, November 20, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

I mean, I guess I kind of understand why. They wanted to make a point about not having any real agency in life by writing a piece of IF where the choices don't matter. However, in this piece of IF, there are hardly any choices to make any way so I'm not sure what the point was. Instead of having any branching choices (even fake ones) the only really choices in the game were fill-in-the-blank interruptions with questions like "What is your favorite color?" But even those answers were just used to fill in text on future sentences, not in any way to try to show you how your choices were subverted or impotent. Top it all off with many spelling and grammatical errors, and a story that goes nowhere, and this one just is not worth your time.


A Calling of Dogs, by Arabella Collins

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Didn't like it at first, then got into the suspense, but the ending disappointed, November 20, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 30 minutes

So I think I'm coming to learn something about myself: I don't like IF that starts in media res if, whether through flashbacks or clues in the writing, you are never given enough context to help anchor you to the story. I don't need long, detailed backstories, but I need something to help ground me. I don't feel like I got that in this piece. Eventually, the pure atmosphere of it did hook me a bit, but I feel it could have been much better.

You play a girl, kidnapped and imprisoned in a large dog cage. Your choices are largely how you decide to interact with your kidnapper as you attempt to plan an escape. This isn't my favorite kind of environment to be thrown in to, so the lack of any information about who these people were really left me confused and disconnected to the story. Eventually, just the sheer tension of the situations did grab me and made me eager to see what the next turn would be. However, the ending (at least the one I got) was (Spoiler - click to show)so abrupt and out-of-the-blue, with no denouement, that I felt cheated out of a satisfying resolution to all that tension. I needed more.

Your mileage may vary.


The Pinecone, by Joseph Pentangelo

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Another absurdist game from the author, November 19, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

This game is the author's second entry into IFComp 2020, along with an equally absurd game, "The Turnip". You play a student waiting for a bus when a herd of goats come walking down the street. From there things get really weird.

I played through it twice and got two of the four endings. This piece is better than "The Turnip" for sure, but still not great. Perhaps this style of writing just isn't my cup of tea, but I just didn't get it. Everything is weird without reason, which is fine if something interesting happens in the world. But nothing really does. The ending is kind of funny, but seems disjointed with some of the penultimate scenes along some of the possible paths.

I'd like to see more from this author, but I think it would have to be a longer piece with more interesting character development and interactions. Not just weirdness for its own sake.


Big Trouble in Little Dino Park, by Seth Paxton, Rachel Aubertin

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Keep your dinosaur manual handy, November 19, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

Bottom line on this game is I did not enjoy it and don't think it is worth even the 15 minutes it took for me to die twice. You play an employee of a dinosaur park (a Jurassic Park knock-off which is ubiquitous in the game world) on the day when another employee goes crazy and opens all the cages. You have to escape from the park somehow.

I just didn't care about any of it, not the characters, not the "puzzles", not the writing. If you die (no real way to tell that's what your choices will lead to) the game will let you restore from the point where it all went wrong. I died twice and restored, trying a new path, but before I even got to my third death (or perhaps victory) I got bored and quit playing.


Minor Arcana, by Jack Sanderson Thwaite

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Play as a deck of Tarot cards, November 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 30 minutes

Yes, that's right, in this game you are a deck of sentient Tarot cards, crafted millennia ago, lost, found and passed down through the ages. But rather than only being a tool in the hands of humans you are beginning to realize your power to shape events, not just foretell them.

This is a pretty short and straight-forward game. Make some character choices at the beginning, that may influence the story options available to you or maybe just be filler text for certain scenes. I played through the game twice and it seems more likely to be the latter. Then just pick your path through some fortune-tellings and ownership changes. Read about the fates of the humans you come in contact with. And that's about it. Not sure if there are different endings or the same ending showing up regardless of which path you choose.

My favorite thing about the game was being able to choose certain adjectives along the way. Instead of the normal blue text of a choice link, some words displayed in yellow and would change when clicked on to a different word that also fit that part of the sentence. As an example, you might click on "short" to change it to "tall" before making your next branching choice in the story. Not sure if what you picked affected anything later or not though.


The Cave, by Neil Aitken

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A game where you wander around aimlessly until you stop, October 31, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

So, this game makes more sense to me now than it did when I played it (more on that later). But I have to base this review and rating on my experience playing the game in the way it was presented to me.

In this game you wake up in a cave that may or may not be pitch dark. Some of the writing certainly makes it seem like you are just feeling your way around, but then you see things in the room with you so I'm not sure which to believe. Many room descriptions start with the line "You are swallowed in an even deeper darkness." Then many of those follow with the line "It is dark." Then again, many of those rooms continue with a description of some items in the room. I think a lot of the text was generated by a poorly tuned algorithm. The writing just felt really awkward at times.

Anyway, you just wander around trying different things, not really sure if you are making progress and then at some point you stumble across the exit. Then you are told what your final stats are (even though you never realized you were collecting or generating stats), along with a few achievements. Not very satisfying.

I highly recommend you read the review that deathbytroggles wrote. It contains info that the author put into the walkthrough, but that I strongly believe needs to be on the front page of the game. Apparently the author intended this game to be a unique way to generate stats for a character you are creating for D&D or a similar game. You play the game for 15 minutes, make whichever choices seem appropriate to you and are awarded stats based on your personality in the game. That's a genius idea! I love the idea of creating your D&D character not by rolling dice, but by making choices in this somewhat abstract environment. It seems the game is designed to make you wander around until you have used up all the points at your disposal for character creation and then generate an exit. Which is fine as long as everyone knows what they are getting into.

So as a character creation tool for D&D, two thumbs up. But as a piece of IF, it leaves a lot to be desired.


Quintessence, by Andrea M. Pawley

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Weird game about life, the universe, and a cosmic cat, October 30, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

This is a fairly short, choice-based work where you play a quantum particle in our universe, which is hidden away from the multiverse by the Forever Cat, forced to endure the collapse and recreation of spacetime over and over again when all you want is to rest.

Yes, this game is weird.

I was right on the edge of giving it two stars, but it was just interesting enough at the end to bump it up to three. Halfway through I was very frustrated as it seemed that the game was primarily about picking your way through the branches of the story to find the end. I suppose being forced to repeat the collapse and rebirth of the universe several times is kind of the point, but it got tedious after awhile. Once I finally figured out how to get to the semi-interesting part of the story, with meaningful choices that didn't trigger the collapse of the universe so often, it got better.

The writing is weird, but pretty solid. There isn't much of a story in the traditional sense, as much as ruminations on meaning, from quantum to multiverse in scale. Honestly, in the end what bumped it up from two to three stars for me was that after I finally achieved an ending (one of five possible endings), I had about 10 minutes left on the exercise bike, and rather than move on to something else immediately I was interested enough to go back and find another ending. Also, it helped that in the end (Spoiler - click to show)dogs were the heroes.

For those who want to find the path to the interesting part of the story, here it is: (Spoiler - click to show)This has happened to me before. - Our gravity ruptures. - Our expansion is steady. - Too far from our gravity, our awareness fractures. - This has happened to me before. - I wonder if being alone has any purpose. - I'm captured by a rogue planet. ...


Electric word, "life", by Lance Nathan

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Wonderfully written story about two friends, a Halloween party, and life, October 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

This is a fairly short, mostly linear, choice-based work. You play Perry, the quiet, somewhat nerdy, roommate of a party animal. He is throwing a Halloween party tonight at your apartment and you agreed to help, but you don't really want to be there. The night becomes much more bearable when some of your friends show up and you all take refuge on the porch, just talking and hanging out.

The author has what I think is a rare talent as a writer: to be able to convey the essence of a friendship primarily through dialogue. Reading this story made me think of Dante and Randall from "Clerks" or Parzival and Aech from "Ready Player One". I was drawn in to the camaraderie and it gave the story both warmth and impact. In the end I had goosebumps on my skin and tears in my eyes.

The story is primarily linear. You can wander around a bit at the beginning, before the story is pretty much put on rails for the second half. I do recommend reading everything, as there are some flashback scenes triggered amongst the chaos of party that give the second half added depth. Normally the lack of meaningful choices would have me lowering the rating, but this story really got to me in a special way so I had to give it four stars. I think it compares well with "Will Not Let Me Go" by Stephen Granade, even though it doesn't quite rise to that level.

Well worth your time.


Amazing Quest, by Nick Montfort

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Story, game, interactive or fiction? None of the above., October 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

I'm giving this game one-star even though it appears to be working as intended (usually I reserve one-star ratings for games with serious bugs). This "game" isn't a game, there isn't any story and it has only the veneer of interactivity. Literally none of the choices you make have any impact on the output. The outputs don't provide any sort of narrative. Best case this game might be considered some sort of critique of the interactive fiction, but I don't understand it (perhaps the author will enlighten us one day). Worst case it is just trolling. Not even worth the 10 minutes it takes to play.


Doppeljobs, by Lei

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Strange, well-written story with multiple endings, October 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 1 hour

This piece is choice-based and fairly short. You play as a doppelganger, a being from the Reverse Kingdom (I'm interested) living in the human world who has the ability to take on the physical appearance of anyone. You use your skill to complete mundane or uncomfortable tasks for your clients for a fee. But each transformation doesn't quite fade in the way that you advertise, something lingers. And ancient mysteries lurk below your city.

The game is pretty straight-forward, allowing simple choices after a few short paragraphs of text. Some choices simply allow you to gather more details about the world or your task at hand, and others allow you to steer the story. Your stated goal over the course of the game is to earn enough money to pay back a debt you owe to the bank. Your decisions affect how happy your clients are after you complete each task and thus how much you are paid. After one playthrough the game will tell you which of four possible endings you achieved. On my trip through the story, nothing particularly crazy happened, but I was focused on the goal of pleasing my clients in order to pay back my debt. I feel that more interesting outcomes are hiding behind some of the paths not taken. So even though the route I took was not particularly interesting, I think I will eventually come back to this game for another play or two to see if I can uncover those mysteries. Additionally, I felt the game was well-written and just off-normal enough to really help you embody the outsider nature of the main character. Worth your time.


Flattened London, by Carter Gwertzman

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Maybe come back to this game later, the IFComp 2020 version seems buggy, October 28, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

So I think this game had a couple things going against it for me. Primarily, I think the game is still very much not polished. Playing through it there were objects that I feel should have been implemented that weren't, as well as a lot of objects with very similar names so I had trouble getting the game to do what I wanted it to do (like reading this piece of paper instead of that one). Even the walkthrough provided with the IFComp 2020 version I think had an error in it: (Spoiler - click to show)You are supposed to attach a sharp rock (flint) to a device you get to turn it into a lighter, but I never found sharp rock and I can't see the walkthrough telling me where it is either. If any other players out there found it or if I missed it in the walkthrough let me know so I can correct this.

Also, and this might be a bigger deal than I realize, while I've played Fallen London a little I never really got into it the way others did, so it is possible parts of this game are lost on me.

I think this game has a lot of potential, having it play out in two dimensions is a neat idea and that could lead to some clever mechanics, and the atmosphere is interesting. It just needs a little more work.


You Couldn't Have Done That, by Ann Hugo

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Short game about an autistic girl's first day at a new job, October 21, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

Please know that I mean this with the utmost respect, and in the best way possible, when I call this piece an "autism simulator". I say it not at all to diminish the autistic experience, but rather to praise the game. I am not autistic myself, but I have a young son who is autistic, as well as several adult friends who are autistic. From observing their behavior and listening to them talk about what it is like, I think that this game does the best job I've ever seen at helping a non-autistic person experience what it is like to be autistic. The writing is properly terse and excellent at getting the player into the mindset of the main character and what she is dealing with in her first day at a new job; the things she likes about the job and the things that make her uncomfortable. The game features very limited choices that at first didn't seem to have a big impact on the game, a feature that I don't usually like. However, eventually you will make a choice that (Spoiler - click to show)is rejected by the game as something you can't do (hence the title) because of your brain just doesn't work that way. It is in these moments that you really feel the pain and discomfort of the character. When every interaction gets dialed up to 11, normal situations can be uncomfortable and bad situations can be hell.

I'd recommend everyone give this a playthrough to help you better understand some of your fellow humans. Well worth the little time it will take.


Academic Pursuits (As Opposed To Regular Pursuits), by ruqiyah

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
One-room game that works its puzzle(s) into its storytelling, October 20, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

This is a short, one-room, parser-based game where you play someone moving into an office at a university. The game is basically one complex spatial puzzle where you have to take items out of your moving boxes and put them in various places around your office until they all fit. Well, actually (Spoiler - click to show)they don't all fit, and so a second layer to the puzzle is to figure out which items are important and which items can be thrown away or sent back to storage. Despite the basic nature of the puzzle, the game uses the objects in it and your actions with them to tell your backstory and reveal why you are at the university in the first place. Part of the story, who you are, is pretty obvious from the get-go. The rest becomes clear as you work through all the puzzle pieces. I thought it was a fun and unique way to tell a story.

My biggest complaints would be that the game was heavy-handed in some things, like (Spoiler - click to show)revealing your true nature, and not clear enough in others, like (Spoiler - click to show)how to know when you were done or even if you were headed in the right direction. Still, well worth the time!


Limerick Quest, by Pace Smith

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Amazing commitment to the limerick, fun puzzles, October 17, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

First off, kudos to Nomad for writing his review as a limerick. I wrote a quick tweet in limerick form about this game during IFComp 2020 and that drained all the poetry I had in me for quite some time.

So this game is written entirely in limericks, and I mean entirely. The options menu, the credits screen, your inventory, all of it. And while that is cool by itself, the game would still fall a little flat if writing the limericks took all of the author's efforts and the story/gameplay itself was shallow. But that is not the case in this game. The story isn't particularly deep, but it is about the level of story you would expect in a short, parser/puzzle game of this length. However, the puzzles themselves are very interesting and easily on par with parser games of similar scope. And what really makes this game great is that, once again, the limericks aren't just a gimmick but are actively worked into the puzzles in very clever ways. Think of this game as the limerick equivalent of Counterfeit Monkey. Saying too much more would spoil it and I want you to discover the treasures this game has to offer on your own.


How The Elephant's Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings, by Peter Eastman

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Well-written homage to Kipling's "Just So Stories", limited interactivity, October 17, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

This is a choice-based work (more on the choices later) that takes the form of a paternal figure (I imagine the grandfather-grandson scenes from "A Princess Bride") telling several anthropomorphized-animal origin stories to a child, in the mold of off Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories". Comparatively long sections of text are broken up with the chance to offer the child's response to what he or she has just heard. Sometimes this takes the form of a binary choice, sometimes it is just a piece of hypertext, the choice made for you, to get to the next page. The prose is quite excellent (while the poetry at the end is appropriately bad) and the stories are well-paced and engaging.

If this were the Short Story Database I would rate this four or five stars. But as the I in IF stands for interactive I have to rate it only three. I feel the very few choices offered in this piece mostly serve as a story selector or only end up altering a few paragraphs worth of prose, and so the interactive portion feels a little thin. However, in praise of the work I can offer the following: 1) I will very likely read this to my kids soon as a series of bedtime stories, and 2) it has inspired me to order a copy of Kipling's stories for the same purpose.

Well worth your time as a reader.


The Eleusinian Miseries, by Mike Russo

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
One of the funniest parser games I've played, October 15, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

"The Eleusinian Miseries" is a puzzle-filled parser-based game set during the annual Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiation rites into the cult of Demeter and Persephone. Most of that last sentence I had to google to make sure I was getting it right, I know very little about Ancient Greek cultural history, and if you are like me then don't let that deter you. Just think of it all as taking place during your final initiation into a fraternity that is very dedicated to authenticity. You play one of the current pledges with only a few tasks left to complete before you can be fully accepted into the group.

The game is a series of puzzles incorporated into a small map played out over several acts. If you aren't familiar with Greek terminology then keep a dictionary handy to look up some words. The game does a pretty good job of kind of cluing you in on what some objects are in modern English, but I still had to look up several and knowing the function of many of the objects is key to solving some of the puzzles. For the most part the puzzles are fun and fair. With a limited number of locations and objects you can usually brute force your way to a lot of the solutions. Most of them just needed a bit of common sense applied, and the parser seemed pretty forgiving with phrasing. That said, there were a few puzzles that I had to look at the walkthrough to get past. After seeing some of the solutions I'm glad I didn't wait longer as I don't think I would have ever figured it out. On a couple of the puzzles though, the way I solved it is not the way listed in the walkthrough, so I think many of the puzzles have multiple solutions.

While many of the puzzles were very enjoyable, it is really the humor that makes this game great. Don't forgot to stop and read the prose in between completing tasks as there are more than just funny lines, but hilarious whole scenes. It is unusual to me to see humor mixed into a parser game this well and at this level. My compliments to the author.


The Moon wed Saturn, by Pseudavid

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Experimental narrative structure that I hope to see more of in the future, October 15, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is fairly short, choice-based game that takes place over the course of about a week... all at the same time! The core mechanic of this game is that frequently a choice you make will cause the story to jump from Monday to Wednesday to Saturday and back. Think of it more as remembering the week rather than living it. At some of the pivotal moments in remembering events on Monday or Wednesday, you jump to seeing how the consequences of those choices played out on Wednesday or Saturday, respectively. Then occasionally, you will fall back down the time ladder to an earlier day, usually to remember a scene that informs why the main character is feeling the way she does now. I know my last couple sentences make it sound like Primer, but it is much easier to follow than that, and the weaving in and out of the various days helps you appreciate the developments of the story in a unique way.

However, because of the weaving timeline, and the fact that the story jumps right into it without a lot of context, understanding what is going on, especially early, is one of the weaker points of this game. That said, I think I was fully up to speed by the end and it helped me to appreciate the earlier parts better. Plus, I think the point of this game is more the experimentation than telling a clean story, and I love this concept. Hope to see more narratives like this in the future.


Stoned Ape Hypothesis, by James Heaton

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Simple, short choice-based game with a few puzzles, October 14, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

There isn't a lot to this game. You play as some version of a primitive human, who finds some mushrooms, eats them and has a giant leap forward in consciousness, enough to eventually (Spoiler - click to show)join a human town. Even though this is a choice-based game the story line is very minimal and the game is mostly about solving some simple puzzles. That's really it, give it a whirl, it won't take long.

Two things I really liked about it:
1) How the prose got more verbose/detailed the more mushrooms were consumed. I thought it was a nice illustration of the increasing intelligence of the player character.
2) How the author was able to program a Tic-Tac-Toe and Mancala AI in Ink for the game.


Choice of Broadsides, by Adam Strong-Morse, Heather Albano, and Dan Fabulich

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fun introduction to Choice Of Games, October 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

This is the first Choice of Games game that I played and I really enjoyed it. You play a member of the navy of a fictional country, roughly equivalent to 19th century Great Britain. It isn't particularly deep or long, but it was fun to guide the main character through not just a single battle or campaign, but really his whole career. You make a high-level choice for how to proceed with the next step in a battle or your career, and then watch the result play out in front of you, with your choices having lasting consequences throughout the game. While I usually go for more characterization and detail, this game is a nice change of pace. An excellent introduction to the Choice Of Games model/style as well.


Fallen London, by Failbetter Games

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Very interesting concept that just doesn't really deliver, October 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 10+ hours

I really wanted to like this game. The idea of playing a large, long and ever-changing text adventure via the web, along with some ability to interact with the other players, is a great one. However, the execution just hasn't grabbed me. I know there are a lot of players that love this game, and I've heard great things about the more traditional video game sequels from this studio (Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies), but I just can't get in to it. The stories just feel shallow, that there isn't a lot to them, nothing to really sink your teeth into, nothing to keep you coming back to see what happens next.

Plus, there is the limited actions mechanic. This is a free-to-play game, but it is the primary source of income for the studio. So one way that they've monetized the game is to limit you to 20 actions before you have to stop and let your action bank recharge, or you can pay a small monthly fee to get unlimited actions. The fee is very reasonable and if I was into this game more I would have no problem paying it to support the studio. Also, you can really accomplish quite a bit without paying. The 20 actions will let you play for about 20 minutes or so, then you can leave the game for a few hours to go about your normal routine or play other games and when you come back to it you will have recharged to 15-20 actions. Really it isn't the limited actions in and of themselves that I don't like, but that it seems like so many of your actions are spent grinding for a myriad of different resources to advance your character. It has a very MMORPG feel to it. And that would be right up my alley if the stories and payoffs for the grinding were better, but I just haven't found that to be the case yet.

The game is very well done though, the interface is clean and easy to use. The atmosphere of the game, from the graphics to the word choice, is incredible as well. This game has a lot of potential, but seeing as how it is already ten years old I don't know if it will ever get there.


80 DAYS, by inkle, Meg Jayanth

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
One of my favorite video games (of any type) of all time, October 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

This is a truly amazing game. I didn't think it was possible to create a game so gripping out of these simple mechanics. At the same time it is truly amazing the amount of free will you have in this game, and all the amazing discoveries you can make with it. (I just said "amazing" a lot didn't I? Well, there's a reason for that!)

The basic mechanics of the game are a little bit of resource management underneath a choice-based text adventure. The game includes some very fun and simple graphics to aid in the visualization of the story, without getting in the way of your imagination too much. Also, there is some nice music to accompany you on your journey.

The story is taken from "Around the World in Eighty Days" by Jules Verne, but set in a steampunk/futuristic past. You play the role of Passepartout, the valet to the main character of the novel, Phileas Fogg. However, unlike how I think the novel goes (apologies for never having read it), you as the valet are making all the decisions on this journey, Fogg is just along for the ride and is frequently more trouble than the baggage. Rather than having to fit yourself into the role of Passepartout, think of it instead as you being given a starting set of stats/personality, but after that you are free to mold the character in any number of interesting ways.

The mechanics are simple, you are given a small bit of the story, usually small enough to fit on the screen of a smart phone without needing to scroll, then you get to make a choice. The choices are presented as what the next line of the story or dialogue will be. When you pick one the game smoothly places in line with the previous writing as if it had been there all along and then shows you the result of your choice. It is through these cumulative choices (plus making sure your luggage is full of useful or valuable items and managing your funds) that you plot your journey and move around the map. At every turn there are interesting characters to meet and subplots to discover, some of which will follow you around the globe. The writing is superb and keeps you enthralled longer than I would have thought possible in a game that gives you so much agency. It seems there would have to be some boring branches to the story, but there really aren't and even the few places where I wasn't as in to the story didn't seem to last long before something else intriguing came along. Among the things that you can discover are (Spoiler - click to show)Captain Nemo and the Nautilus, a rocket to take you to the moon, a murder mystery that you can solve and a planet-wide conspiracy by the shadowy Artificer's Guild.

The game is also very replayable. There are eight seeds to the story, with some locations or subplots only showing up in certain seeds, and you rotate through them with every playthrough. Additionally, with so many locations on the map you can always just choose to go a different route from your previous playthroughs to see what other parts of the world have to offer. A single playthrough takes about two hours, give or take how fast of a reader you are and if you encounter any material you've already read before and can skip through quickly (but still, there is always the chance to make a different choice from before and see what happens). I've played through this game at least 20 times and know that I'll be back for more again soon. Give it a try, you won't regret it.


A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A surprisingly deep and evocative resource management game, October 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-4 hours

How can you describe A Dark Room? It is truly unlike anything I've played before. The style is simple: black and white screens, all lowercase letters, just text and ASCII maps to move around. But the game designer was able to accomplish so much with those elements and you are drawn into the game so deeply that you feel like you are living it out. The game only takes 2-4 hours to playthrough, depending on the choices that you make, and I remember during my first playthrough being so immersed in the game that I pretty much finished it in one session, all the while my family went about their Saturday morning around me.

You play the main character, who at the beginning of the game wakes up not really remembering how they got there. A friend helps take care of you for a little bit, but shortly you are working together with her, collecting resources, crafting equipment and stepping out of your little camp to explore the world. You can recruit others to help you and you can also find resources out on the map, but you will have to fight your way through monsters and men to get them. The combat is RPG style, with you selecting an attack, then having a cool down period before you can pick another one. There are consequences to dying, but not so severe as to set you back much, rather you will just want to get out there and try again.

I'm struggling with what to write about this game without spoiling portions of it. Also, it is hard to compare it to anything because there is nothing quite like it. I would just recommend playing it for 10-15 minutes and I'm pretty sure you will be hooked after that.

There is some replayability to this game as well, after it is over the game suggests that you try again with a new strategy, one that I didn't even consider on my first run. Doing it this other way yields a very different experience and a different ending as well. Finally, after you beat the game you can read the designers' notes, which provide a lot of insight into what just happened.

This is one I might come back and give 5-stars to at some point, depending on how it grows on me and what it feels like playing it again after awhile.


#VanLife, by Victoria

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Prototype for an educational game, no real story, October 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This seems more like a proof-of-concept for an educational game. As far as I got there wasn't really a story. Your choices consisted of whether or not to use electricity (a precious commodity living in a van with solar panels) to do things like make coffee, or wash dishes with hot water. Then you had to answer math questions regarding how much power it would take to run the selected appliance.

Again, this seems like it was specifically built for an electrical engineering class. Since I'm not an engineer I didn't really have any clue what I was doing and the game didn't educate you at all that I saw. This would be more like the final test after the lessons.

Could be a lot of fun if you are in to the subject matter, but didn't really do it for me.


Babyface, by Mark Sample

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Perhaps the most evocative piece I've played to date, October 9, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

I struggled with how to rate this game. It is note perfect in so many aspects, from the prose, to the sound, to the pictures, to the interactive elements, and yes, to even the timed text, which I usually hate. My biggest complaint was that (Spoiler - click to show)the plot didn't have enough payoff. But then I decided that wasn't the goal of this piece, that it was mostly about mood and feel, and it absolutely nailed those aspects. So 4-stars instead of three. Bravo!

This is a choice-based piece, with very limited choice. It is pretty much a short story presented with a modicum of interactivity, but it makes the absolute most of those interactive elements. Text changes after you click on it (similar to Will Not Let Me Go). A few pictures and a creepy soundtrack. Even timed text, as I mentioned before, that was timed so well as to leave me in a legitimate state of suspense, but only for a second or two before the story spilled its next secret.

And the writing! Each word is measured to fit its part in the story. Again, other than my one minor complaint above, which is a bit unfair for a story of this length, this is a master class in writing and production.

I don't want to say more as I don't want to spoil anything. I will just say go play this game, it is well worth your time.


A Rope of Chalk, by Ryan Veeder

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Now I know what it's like to... well, best you experience this one for yourself, October 9, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

While I've never taken hallucinogens, I was drinking whiskey while I played this game. Not sure if that made me like it more or less.

Re-live the infamous sidewalk chalk tournament of 2011 as you take control of various people who were there, playing out your part in its sordid conclusion. I can't say too much about this game without spoiling the best parts of it. I will just say this: go into it with an open mind and if you get stuck don't be afraid to scroll slowly down the walkthrough, just to get the trick you need to move forward. I used the walkthrough a few times and it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the piece at all. Rather, while this game does feature a few things that I would consider puzzles, it is mostly about experiencing the moment. So take your time with this game, look around, talk to people... and when it gets weird, enjoy that too. I promise it will make sense (at least as much sense as possible) by the end. And don't forget to explore the bonus content after the end of the main game. Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this game once you get the bit.

The only very minor, slightly spoiler, but essential thing that I would advise players of going into this game is (Spoiler - click to show)that in the first scene, playing as Lane, as you move through the map, make sure you stop and "x art" in each artist's square. It will help the rest of the game make more sense. Trust me.


Counterfeit Monkey, by Emily Short

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A truly amazing feat in modern IF, October 8, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 8-10 hours

First, let me begin by saying that this has to be the pinnacle of IF programming. This game is large and deep, and amazingly robust with its responses to player input. I can't even imagine how much time Emily Short put into writing and testing it. Bravo!

As far as the user experience is concerned, this is a great game. It has a well-built environment/world, with backstory for both the setting and the characters. The characters aren't particularly deep, but much more fleshed out than your typical IF game, complete with memories that pop up to reveal more about you (the player character) and the NPCs.

The map is quite large and mostly revealed from the beginning of the game (I highly recommend playing with the built-in map on), but you aren't overwhelmed with possibilities. As you complete the main tasks in an area and clear roadblocks to advance to a new area, you rarely (if ever) have to go back to get an object that you didn't know was important the first time you came across it. I loved that, it both made the puzzles easier to wrap your head around and gave me a real sense of progress as you moved around the map.

The puzzles are revolutionary, using a mechanic that I don't think had been explored before (or since?) this game. It is a nice change of pace from the more mechanical or character-stimulus puzzles of other games. The only downside was that because the puzzles were all word/letter based, it got to be a bit repetitive and a few times a little too easy as it was obvious what you needed to progress and you just had to find an object one letter off from your solution.

I enjoyed this game a lot and appreciate it even more. A must play for any IF enthusiast.


You Will Thank Me as Fast as You Thank a Werewolf, by B.J. Best

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Computer generated surrealist meandering, October 8, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

So I had some thoughts that I was going to write here when I was about 60% of the way through the piece, but when I finished I read the About section and now I'm not sure any of it applies. The author notes that the majority of the text for this game was written by an algorithm that was seeded with some of the author's writing from the past 20 years. The result isn't so much surrealist as it is non-sensical and the choices you are offered don't steer the story, but rather just pick the next random piece of text for you to read. There isn't any story that I could discover in it. It is just a Jackson Pollock painting of words.

Clean execution. It is also accompanied by some nice music to further deepen the acid trip feeling.


Mother Tongue, by Nell Raban

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short game about a mother teaching her child the language of their ancestors, October 8, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

My childhood best friend was Filipino; born in the Philippines, but moved to the US at a very young age. I would hang out at his house a lot and heard his mom speaking Tagalog quite a bit. I picked up a handful of words, including the curse words, along the way. All that to say that I think this story reached me in a way in might not reach others.

The game is very short and takes places completely over text messages. A mother tries to teach her child her native language, something she regrets not having done sooner. A choice-based game about the decisions immigrants have to make in the name of helping their children fit in to a new country, and children deciding if it is too late or not to connect to their heritage. A simple and heartwarming conversation.


Trusting My Mortal Enemy?! What a Disaster!, by Storysinger Presents

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Heartwarming story about two adversaries learning to view each other differently, October 6, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This one is right on the edge of being a 4-star game for me. So very close, but I just couldn't quite pull the trigger on it. Consider it the best of all the 3-star games that I've played as of IFComp 2020.

This story seems very linear, though I've only played it once, with choice really only allowed at the most pivotal moments. It would work really well as a visual novel as it seems to fit that genre: comic book-style hero vs. villain. You get to see the story play out from both of their perspectives as they stop fighting and start trusting each other.

The writing is above average, but could use a little more polish. The presentation of the text I think also needs so work, as several times during rapid-fire dialogue I would get confused as to which character was speaking. Perhaps more indentation and a few "said" tags at times would alleviate this. Also, despite not having much choice, there was a lot of clicking involved. You don't get much of the story before you have to click some of the text to flip the page. I started to replay it right after finishing it, but all the clicking to just get to the first choice made me decide to save a second playthrough for another time. Perhaps the text is kept short so as to not obscure the backgrounds (what appear to be stock images used to represent the various locations). While I did appreciate the backgrounds to help aid in establishing the setting, perhaps after the opening line of a scene the text could then be displayed in larger chunks. I also think it would be wonderful if the studio was able to get custom art of each of the settings, though I realize that is expensive.

I think the story was just a bit too long, it probably could have had one less (Spoiler - click to show)coffee shop -> house -> lair -> battle cycle and still had the same impact. Also, the ending I got, one of the "good" ones, I think just barely didn't stick the landing. It was satisfying, but I had the feeling it could have been a bit more.

Sorry if this review seems overly negative, I don't mean it to be. Most of my criticisms are small and perhaps picking at nits too much. I really liked this story and the characters especially. I felt the mood change between them (especially from Promethium's perspective) and my heart warmed with theirs. I also felt the tension at the moments it felt like it all might unravel. The lesson to be learned from the characters is also an important one for this day and age.

Well done! I look forward to playing this again one day and to the next project to come out of the Storysinger studio.


Move On, by Serhii Mozhaiskyi

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A unique, but ultimately frustrating, mechanic in a boiler plate chase scene, October 6, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

As deathbytroggles stated, to really give any details on how this game works would spoil it, so look below for spoilers. My advice: play it through the first time until you die, then play it again as many times as possible for 5-10 minutes (or until you achieve victory). Personally, I found it frustrating and gave up before reaching the end. While the mechanic is very unique, I just don't see any way this could get worked into a longer, more traditional piece of IF without driving everyone crazy.

(Spoiler - click to show)I believe this IF game is only about timing. There are no choices to make other than when you hit the next button. While I got enough different outcomes to confirm that hitting the button too fast or too slow changes the story (usually by killing you), the story wasn't sufficiently interesting for me to fine tune it enough to reach the end. Your mileage may vary.


Congee, by Becci

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The IF equivalent of comfort food, October 6, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

This short choice-based work is about being both sick and homesick, and the comfort that certain foods can bring to both kinds of illness. While primarily text, the game is accompanied by soft music and occasional illustrations that perfectly compliment the mood of the story. I don't want to say much more as the game is very short and I wish for everyone to experience it for themselves. But I will say this: I've only played this game once, and for the best reason. The path that I took and the ultimate outcome of the game felt so perfect and brought me such joy that I can't imagine finding a better one and I want to preserve this one playthrough in my memory, undiluted.


Zork I, by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A classic!, October 5, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 10+ hours

I really enjoyed playing through this game again this year (after having played, but not beaten it back in the 1980s). Yes, I understand how the phrase "Zork hates its player" came about, but at least because the tasks are compartmentalized and getting back to where you last were doesn't take more than a few minutes that it doesn't feel like a major setback to blow yourself up when you weren't expecting it. I had fun puzzling through everything (or at least most things, I had to cheat to figure out (Spoiler - click to show)the secrets of the egg) and even making the maps on my own, though I can see how those can become tedious as well.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed myself and look forward to picking up Zork 2 and 3 for the first time ever, soon.


Photopia, by Adam Cadre

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A must-play for anyone into IF, October 5, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

First off, is this the greatest piece of IF of all time as it was ranked so a few years ago? I don't know about that. Currently I'm only giving it 4 stars (though that may change with another play-through), and since I have at least one other game already rated as 5 stars I guess I don't consider it the best of all time. That said this is a truly great work and something that everyone should play-through at least once. There really aren't any game aspects to it, you are just walking yourself through a story. But the story is so immersive and the way the interactivity is used really draws you in. And there are a few magical moments that just wouldn't have been the same without the interactive part, that wouldn't have felt the same just reading it. It really did open up new possibilities in IF and really lives out its own classic line: "Let's tell a story together."

I'd recommend playing the Glulx version to allow the author's use of color to enhance the story.


Eat Me, by Chandler Groover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Truly bizarre, but strangely beautiful, October 5, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

When I first started plaything this game I didn't really like it. It seemed confusing and I wasn't sure what my purpose was. The writing seemed thick and I had trouble getting going. There was also a shade of the grotesque to it all that I wasn't into at first. But as I stuck with it I eventually came to appreciate it more and more until I was hooked. Groover's writing is wonderful, even operatic at times. The puzzle components were kind of hard to pick out from the flowery prose, but the solutions made sense in the internal logic of the game and every time you completed a "course" the reward was great. I'll definitely play through it again sometime to see how my opinion of it has grown.

ADDENDUM: I did indeed play this game again more than a year after my initial playthrough and my appreciation for it has grown. I imagine it will be on my ballot for the Top 50 IF Games Of All Time for a very long time.


Will Not Let Me Go, by Stephen Granade

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Great story, clever use of the mechanics, October 5, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This isn't really a game, but a short story (or medium-length story, I think it might have taken me 2 hours to play through) that is very engaging and makes clever use of the mechanics of Twine to make you feel what the main character is feeling (like when (Spoiler - click to show)you click on a word to choose your path and the word changes in the updated text). The ending was both great and heart-breaking.

ADDENDUM: The more I get into IF and also away from the idea that all IF should have "gameplay" elements the more I appreciate this piece. It is primarily a linear story, but one that makes use of the interactive aspects of IF very well. Will be on my Top 50 ballot for a long time.


Quest for the Sword of Justice, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Parody of the traditional RPG, October 4, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

This isn't your traditional IF. It was made with RPGMaker and looks like a top-down RPG from the 16-bit era. It is very short with limited choices. The whole game basically exists to make fun of old-school RPGs and it does have a few very funny lines. That said there isn't much to it. Worth a playthrough if you loved FF4 and FF6 as much as I did.


Stand Up / Stay Silent, by Y Ceffyl Gwyn

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A modern day protest song, in IF form, October 4, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I've always thought that politics transmits better through art than through screaming or Twitter fights. I believe that is what the author is trying to do here. As I'm writing this review "Fortunate Son" by CCR is playing in the back of my brain.

This is a game where you are given the same choice (mostly) several times during the story: Stand Up or Stay Silent. You play someone thrust into the middle of a revolution, whether you like it or not, and the time has come to make your choice.

One of my complaints about the game is that you are given no context or information about the cultural pivot point that your society is in at the beginning of the game, so that you really have no idea how to make that first choice. Rather, it starts out feeling like a completely different type of story. I recommend playing through it several times, since after your first playthrough you have more context to better explore your options. There are multiple endings so you can try to navigate your way to each one.

Also, the sci-fi setting sometimes gets in the way. I understand why the author made that choice, but I think given the purpose of this piece that some of the details could be left on the cutting room floor so as not to distract from the ultimate point.


SOUND, by CynthiaP

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Never had any idea what was going on, October 4, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

So I don't think I really know what this one is about, except that the PC is bad at customer service or something. You are thrown into the story and basically never given any details or context about the plot or world. It is just a conversation between you and an NPC counselor, with very limited choices. Then it ends (Spoiler - click to show) in what appears to be an endless loop, with you clicking on the same thing over and over again before it resets. I never made it off that screen.

The only reason it doesn't get one star is that it was clean execution, no apparent bugs. A smooth playthrough.


Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House, by Mark Marino

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Played the fourth installment for IFComp 2020, October 3, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)

Moved my review to the fourth installment's page, search for "The Land Down Under" by the Marino Family


The Land Down Under, by The Marino Family

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The fourth installment in a series, excellent system geared for kids, October 3, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 1 hour

I've only played this installment (the fourth I believe) in the Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House series, for IFComp 2020. I didn't get into the story too much and I think it needs a bit more polish and action to appeal to kids, but I really like the system and interface they used. I could easily see my kids getting into IF that had these little bonuses (like achievements on a console or Steam) for finding poems or exploring the tangents of the story. I also really liked the instant feedback on the choices you made, safe or bold in this case. Still a work in progress, but one I will follow eagerly as my kids get closer to the age where I hope they will come to enjoy IF as much as me.


Sage Sanctum Scramble, by Arthur DiBianca

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A game of assorted word puzzles and a unique boss fight, October 3, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This isn't really a work of fiction as much as it is a grab bag of riddles, at least 30, mostly built on wordplay. You type a number to go to that riddle and try to solve it, if you do you get that keyword (the answer to the riddle) in your magic book. When you decide to fight the final boss you use the words in your book to attack and defend. Sometimes your companion will prompt you to use a certain kind of word (repeated letters, alternating consonants and vowels, pronounced two different ways). Once a word is used it disappears from your book and you can't use it again.

The boss fight was the fun part, the individual riddles were the hard part. Perhaps that is an indictment of me and my poor wordplay skills, but I think I only got about 15 or so on my own, then used the walkthrough to get 5 more before getting tired and frustrated and skipping to the boss fight. Some of the solutions to the riddles seem unfair to me, as in I can't imagine how I would have ever gotten there without the hints. Others are fairly easy, but fun, and some are clever and satisfying. In the end though, it didn't really grab me and hold my attention. Your mileage may vary.


Deus Ex Ceviche, by Tom Lento, Chandler Groover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Absurdist game about a computer made of fish... I think..., October 2, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 1 hour

Oh man. I almost held off reviewing this one because I wanted to see what others had to say about it first, in hopes other reviews would help me understand it better. But this isn't the first Chandler Groover game I've played and so my guess is that I'm not meant to understand it fully, so here we go.

This game is really more a statistically based puzzle game than interactive fiction. There are plenty of words to read, but I'm pretty sure they would only make sense if you lived in the absurd world of the story. The puzzle itself involves accumulating fish or tech related stats, like brine and bytes, by putting religious-themed "disks" into processing slots, sometimes accompanied by what I think is an AI, and clicking submit to see what kind of stats you get. After hitting submit each time you get a few lines of text adding color, but a really weird color like Smaragdine, to the world. The rules of the game are barely explained to you, so it is just up to trial and error to figure out how to accumulate the necessary stats fast enough to win the game. I was starting to notice the pattern towards the end of the game, but I wasn't into it enough to keep playing and fine tune it.

Because all the text was so weird and I wasn't able to pick a story out of it, it quickly devolved in to me just clicking as quick as I could to try different combinations of disks and slots to reach the end of the game. I love Groover's game "Eat Me" and it was the first of his I played. Since then I've always played his games early in each IFComp, hoping for more greatness, but mostly finding weird mood pieces. I'd love to hear from someone that really enjoyed this game to help me understand it better.


The Turnip, by Joseph Pentangelo

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Very weird, short and linear, October 2, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

I didn't care for this piece much. As the author notes, it is a short story he wrote some time ago turned into a very linear Twine piece, where the only interactivity is clicking on a few words to get some extra details. There are no branches in the narrative and there is only one ending. On top of that the story is really weird, like Upstream Color weird, and I didn't get it. Sorry.

It was clean execution though, and I appreciated the author's "About" page at the end.


Captain Graybeard's Plunder, by Julian Mortimer Smith

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Short game that beautifully illustrates the magic of fiction, October 2, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

Honestly, at first I wasn't into this piece (which was partly due to playing it on a phone rather than a computer and having the status sidebar cut off). It didn't seem particularly deep or all that interactive. But once I understood how it worked, the mechanics that would influence the rest of the game, I really got into it.

I don't want to spoil anything at all since the game is so short, I would just recommend giving it a whirl. I will just say that I thought it does a great job capturing the magic that great fiction can have on the imagination, and by extension on mood and mental health as well. The author also did a nice job of making use of the hyperlink controls to illustrate the magic at work, both with changing text and fonts.

Well worth the time for any lover of fiction!

This game is part of IFComp 2020, so if you are reading this in October or November of 2020 head over to ifcomp.org and sign up to be a judge. You can play this and other wonderful games and vote on which authors should win cash prizes!


Sense of Harmony, by Scenario World

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Exciting start to what I hope to be more Elizabeth Boldan stories, October 2, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

This is a primarily a straightforward choice-based piece, but there are lots of visual bells and whistles to accompany the text. Pop-up panels (not pop-up windows, don't worry) to add details, changing choices depending on which details you decide to examine, and other visual/text effects. And I've never seen them put to better use. Usually visual effects in text games don't add a lot to the story, they are mostly distractions or an author/programmer showing off. But in this story they are on point.

You play a cybernetically enhanced woman, making her living in a high-tech brothel. But your enhancements are not for use in your sex work, as you might expect in a story like this, but rather the result of experiments on you as a child, and you prefer to keep them hidden from the world. One of the benefits to this tech is a hyper-awareness of the world around you, implemented by flashing or stylized words in the text that you can click on to examine that aspect of the story in superb detail. At times these additional observations will alter the choices available to you, with new choices delivered in a corresponding color and typed out quickly, one letter at a time, the perfect choice to strengthen the mood. To me, it felt like some of the opening scenes of Terminator 2, with your electronic components giving you micro-reports on the environment and people around you, directly to your HUD/consciousness. It really helped me embody the character.

I'm looking forward to playing through it again when I have time, hopefully when the next installment comes out, as this is meant to be the first in a series of stories.

My only compliant would be that the pivotal scene, at least in my playthrough, when you are (Spoiler - click to show)fighting with the mysterious woman in your massage room, drags a little bit for what should be a fast-paced and tense scene, and that some parts of it are vague/confusing as to what Elizabeth is perceiving to be happening (I'm sure more will be explained in future installments though). A very minor downside to an otherwise entertaining experience.

This game is part of IFComp 2020, so if you are reading this in October or November of 2020 head over to ifcomp.org and sign up to be a judge. You can play this and other wonderful games and vote on which authors should win cash prizes!


The Magpie Takes the Train, by Mathbrush

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Clever and fun one-room game, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

"The Magpie Takes the Train" is the authorized sequel to "Alias 'the Magpie'" by J.J. Guest. You once again assume the role of the eponymous gentleman thief, this time riding a train in hopes of stealing a priceless jewel right off the lapel of an aging steel magnate. Pretty much the entire game takes place in a single train car, which had me confused at first as this was the first one-room game I've played. But once you realize that (or after reading this) you will get into the groove of the game's mechanics, which I found very clever and made the puzzles a joy to work out. I feel like there are enough hints along the way, plus a limited number of choices, that if you read carefully and try messing with everything in the usual IF style then you will have the satisfaction of solving the game without hints. However, the author has provided a walkthrough if you need it.

This game also has some features that make it extremely user-friendly and cut out some of the tediousness of other games that require (Spoiler - click to show)waiting for certain conditions to be right before a puzzle can be solved. I also thought the conversation system was good and fit with this size of game perfectly, no playing "guess the topic" that will advance the gameplay.

The prose is excellent and laugh-out-loud funny at times (particularly when you try the amusing things suggested after you beat the game for the first time). Mathbrush is a long time IF author and one of the most passionate and dedicated advocates for IF that I've encountered. So far I've only had the chance to play one of his other games ("In the Service of Mrs. Claus", available from Choice of Games, which will certainly give you a lot of bang for your buck), but I look forward to playing more.

This game is part of IFComp 2020, so if you are reading this in October or November of 2020 head over to ifcomp.org and sign up to be a judge. You can play this and other wonderful games and vote on which authors should win cash prizes!


The Wizard Sniffer, by Buster Hudson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A true joy to play!, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

One of the best games I've ever played. It was fun, a good length without overstaying its welcome, light-hearted and humorous while still being challenging. Loved how it seemed like a goofy game at first, but then you discovered there was more to the story than it first appeared. The interaction between the characters, and how you could switch which one you were "controlling" was clever and I loved how the limited verb set didn't feel too easy.

One of the few IF games that I know I'll play-through again for the shear enjoyment of it.

ADDENDUM: As of the 10/01/20 this is still my favorite IF piece of all time.


The Surprise, by Candy Meldromon

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An order-of-operations game about a critical moment in life, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

This game took me by surprise in that it is a hypertext choice-based game that is basically one big puzzle that involves clicking the choices in the right order. It takes place during a critical moment in a woman's life that is pretty much spoiled from the beginning ((Spoiler - click to show)she finds out she's pregnant, presumably for the first time). There isn't a lot of dwelling on the emotions or impact of the moment, each screen is only 2-3 sentences long until you get to the end. It is mostly the mechanics of moving around performing the actions in the right order and in the right place to get to the ending. It just struck me as weird.

It also involves the dreaded timed-text several times.


Eye Contact, by Thomas McMullan

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
More of an experiment than a game, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

This is really just a short limited choice conversation, with a picture of very expressive eyes that change based on where the conversation goes. Very small, but I like the idea. If having responsive eyes or a face popped up in longer game as part of the conversation mechanic, I think that would add a lot to it.

So great experiment and I want to see more, but not really a game in and of itself.


Break Stuff, by Amy Clare Fontaine

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Entertaining choice-based game with one particularly beautiful scene, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

Forgive me, Amy, for getting to this review so late. I played the game for last year's IFComp and tweeted about how much I liked it, but totally forgot to review it here.

Thinking back on this game I think I like it more now than I did when I first played it (and I liked it then!), might go back and play it again too. There's a lot of content to discover for such a short game. The game takes place after a break-up and follows the ex-girlfriend driving out with one of her friends to break some of the ex-boyfriend's stuff. There are lots of things to break, with each scene being a reflection on different aspects of relationships.

Play through this game at least twice and make different choices at the critical junctures each time. I want you to discover my favorite scene on your own, but you can check below to see how to get there if you want.

My Favorite Scene:
(Spoiler - click to show)
After breaking stuff you get to "the following night". Choose "Call Libby" when it comes up, then "Call Libby. NOW!". This scene got me all misty-eyed when I first read it. The love and desperation in this scene really hits you in the chest. Bravo!


Alias 'The Magpie', by J. J. Guest

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Very fun and (mostly) fair game in the classic style, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

I very much enjoyed playing this game. It is a parser-based, puzzle-filled game in the classic style of Infocom's "Deadline".

You play a gentleman thief (think Danny Ocean) and master of disguise, on a mission to steal a priceless jewel (and anything else you might find of value along the way). You roam about a two-story manor and the surrounding grounds, trying to find a way to get at the prize, while also having to solve a few minor mysteries along the way.

The size and length of the game are easily digestible. I was navigating without a map an hour into the game and it took me a little over three hours to complete (and I was definitely barking up the wrong tree a couple times). The puzzles were very fair (with one notable exception). I felt like there were plenty of clues to guide you along the way, and also a few red herrings to keep it from being too easy. The game is also very funny, with some off-the-wall characters, hilarious situations and always polished and clever prose.

The game, I think, pays homage to Deadline in a number of fun ways that I found enjoyable, including a (Spoiler - click to show) somewhat hidden room between two bedrooms, balconies that you had to access via ladder, and a curmudgeonly groundskeeper.

For my one problem with the game, I thought there was one puzzle that I never would have solved on my own without the walkthrough. Even the in game hints didn't do enough to get me to the solution. So if you are stuck and you've been over everything twice and you still don't know what to do next, see below for my own Invisiclues to help you get through it. But don't let that scare you, you should definitely play this game!

1)(Spoiler - click to show)
Are you trying to get your hands on the giant cucumber? If not, then I would just recommend examining everything and trying to "get" everything again, because these clues are cucumber-centric.

2)(Spoiler - click to show)
What if I told you there was a way to get the cucumber without finding the key to the padlock?

3)(Spoiler - click to show)
Good, because there is no key to that padlock. So what else can we try? In case of cucumber emergency...

4)(Spoiler - click to show)
...break glass. But wait, if the under-gardener hears us then the jig will be up. How can we break the glass quietly?

5)(Spoiler - click to show)
Maybe if we put something soft over the glass before we break it to muffle the sound. But we haven't been able to procure anything soft for the job, so what else do we have? Maybe the newspaper?

6)(Spoiler - click to show)
Okay, but plain newspaper won't really muffle it at all. What if the newspaper were wet?

7)(Spoiler - click to show)
If you are an American like me, you probably have no idea what treacle is. Apparently you can eat it, but mainly, if you put newspaper in it then it will turn the newspaper into a silencer for your clandestine glass breaking operations. Give it a try and good luck with the rest of the game!


Out, by Viktor Sobol

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
I wanted to like this game, October 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

I really wanted to like this game. The other reviews were so glowing that I thought I'd just missed something, but after a couple playthroughs I just think it doesn't click with me.

My problems with are that it really isn't a game, or a story, or interactive. It can be "solved" by (Spoiler - click to show) typing the key verb once and then typing "g" over and over again . There really isn't a story per se either. And while you can do a few things other than following the main path, you can't do much and it generally isn't rewarding. It is almost more a mediation on an idea that IF.

I did, however, very much appreciate the author's dedication to getting the names of the last several "rooms" right and in the correct sequence rather than calling them something more generic.


9:05, by Adam Cadre

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fun little game to get you acclimated to IF, September 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

This game only takes 10-15 to playthrough once, and I recommend you play through it multiple times. It is useful in getting a new player acclimated to the mechanics of IF, including the frustrating parts like being told you can't do something because of a minor detail you forgot (Spoiler - click to show) like having to specify to take your watch off before getting in the shower.

My first playthrough was over unexpectedly and anticlimactically, but I got to have some fun on subsequent playthroughs. After playing it by yourself a couple times I recommend reading a walkthrough to learn all its secrets. This will help give you an idea of what to look for in future parser-based IF games you might play.


Ballyhoo, by Jeff O'Neill

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Didn't enjoy it, September 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 10+ hours

I'm surprised this has gotten the good reviews that it has. I didn't enjoy this one at all. In fairness to the game I think that I'm still a little rusty on thinking (and using verbs) the way Infocom thought when designing these games. However, I managed to get through most of Zork and Deadline alright. In those games I think I figured out 80% of the puzzles without hints, but with Ballyhoo I think I only got 20% without hints. Even finishing it with a walkthrough as I did, I still don't understand some of what was going on or how I would have ever figured it out on my own. The ending in particular is crazy.

So having to use a walkthrough for 80% of the game is a big strike against it, but even beyond that I didn't care much for the story or characters. Most of the characters are unlikable and the story feels thin. I think I finished the last 30% of the game by strictly following a walkthrough because I just wanted it to be over.

Oh well, they can't all be winners.

ADDENDUM: I bumped up my rating on this one star after listening to the Eaten By A Grue podcast episode about the game. I wrote the above review right after finishing the game and while I still hold to it, I think my frustration at the ending in particular made me forget about all the humor earlier in the game. This game is legitimately funny at points, in ways that not many pieces of IF are, and so I think that is worth an extra star.


Deadline, by Marc Blank

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fun, groundbreaking game (but you will need a few hints), August 14, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 10+ hours

I had heard and read about this game a lot before I played it, so I was expecting the worst as far as unfair puzzles go. In the end I thought that with a few notable exceptions, the game wasn't that hard, though I say that having played Zork and accepted my fate that any Infocom game would likely take a dozen playthroughs before you got close to beating it.

I loved the NPCs and their interactions with you and the environment. I loved that you couldn't just guess the right person as the murderer, that you had to gather evidence as well or you couldn't reach the ultimate ending. This game is ground breaking in introducing mysteries as an IF genre, and for a maiden voyage I think I did a pretty good job. You will need a few hints, but I think you will enjoy it.

(Spoiler - click to show)
It probably goes without saying, but digging around the holes in the rose garden for evidence, and the timing of catching George with an open safe in the hidden closet are the two puzzles that it would have been extremely difficult to solve without hints. Additionally, I think the final collection of evidence you obtain to "win" the game is a little thin when judged by the standards of modern murder mysteries.


I-0, by Anonymous

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting, but frustrating game, June 27, 2019
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

After all I'd heard about this game it ended up not being anything like I was expecting. It is true that you play a 17-year-old girl who can take her clothes off any time she wants, but that doesn't affect game play nearly as much as I expected. In fact, if you completely ignored this option (which I would recommend on your first several playthroughs) then the game hardly plays any differently and only a few of the branches are closed off to you.

This game isn't really a story-based game (there's almost no plot arch) and it isn't really a puzzle game (unless trying to figure out how to accomplish certain task with the parser is considered a puzzle). It is just a trying-a-bunch-of-stuff game, but that can be fun too.

I did have a few frustrations with it, however:
(Spoiler - click to show)
I think the parser's response to certain phrases could have been more robust. There were at least two instances when I typed something (for example: "get out from under car") and the game responded by telling me I had to do what I had just asked to do first (the response was literally "You have to get out from under the car first"). Also, I asked the server to use the phone, got a reply of "sure, whatever" but then couldn't use a phone.

I also hated how much waiting the game required at certain points. Typing "wait" over and over again doesn't make for fun game play.


Overall, fun for 3-4 playthroughs (each only takes 15 minutes or so) to try to figure out how to get home, but not much depth past that.


En Garde, by Jack Welch

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Funny story with clever interface, November 9, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I enjoyed playing through this one. It is mostly story with only a very small amount of puzzle to it. I thought the interface was very clever (you basically play a parser-based game with a limited verb set by clicking on buttons, no keyboard needed), especially how it evolves over the course of the game. Most of the enjoyment comes from the dialogue that continues as you move around the map. There were a few moments I didn't like, such as (Spoiler - click to show) the info dump when you first meet the doctor and the way the game ends so abruptly (at least that's what it felt like to me) . Overall a fun game with a clever interface that only takes 30-45 minutes to play through, but nothing spectacular.


Haywire, by Peregrine Wade

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Well written, fun story that isn't too deep, November 3, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

Good writing and several different branches that make it worth playing through at least three times. However, you are just thrown into the story without much context and the characters aren't very deep. I think the author wanted to have a lot of different branches, but in this case it means that they were all fairly shallow.


Earth and Sky, by Paul O'Brian

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Solid beginning effort in a superhero series, October 22, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Very solid, if short, opening chapter to a series in which you play the sister in a brother and sister superhero team. This game is mostly about introducing the story and getting used to the mechanics. I found it all very easy to grasp despite using some new verbs relating to the super powers that I hadn't used in other games. Looking forward to playing the other games in the series.


The Owl Consults, by Thomas Mack, Nick Mathewson, and Cidney Hamilton

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A game in the classic style, but frustrating, October 19, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

Forgive me, it has been several months between playing this game and writing this review so I can't remember all the details, but what has stuck with me is that I didn't care for it much. The fact that (Spoiler - click to show)the game starts in one place and then you never go back there, and instead are playing somewhere completely different threw me for a loop. I didn't think that the puzzles were set up well (I had to cheat several times and when I found out the answer to several problems I knew that I was unlikely to have ever figured those out on my own because they didn't really make sense). I also think that some of the characters' abilities should have worked in ways that the game didn't allow only because that wasn't the right answer. My favorite part was the ability to switch between phone lines to control the different characters. Clever and decent effort in the classic style, but in the end just not for me.


Careless Talk, by Diana Rider

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Not really a game, more a short story with minor interactivity, October 19, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

A somewhat interesting, if fairly cliched, short story in a barely interactive shell. Many of the choices aren't really choices, just ways to expand the text. Also, the setting is totally unnecessary. It doesn't need to have a magical setting, seeing words like MagiCorp (or whatever it was) thrown in there to explain away things that don't need explaining away was just distracting.


Dreamland, by Tatiana Statsenko (as eejitlikeme)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, weird, not that entertaining, October 19, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

Feels like someone programmed a weird dream they once had into a short game. It was just odd and I didn't find any meaning in it. I think there was a glitch in it if you don't go in a certain order, or maybe it was caused by playing through a second time without restarting the game, but it felt like the game assumed you would go through it from A to B and only explained the first part of B in part A, so starting with B as you are allowed to do is confusing.


+ = x, by Chandler Groover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short and weird, October 19, 2018
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

Kind of an interesting premise, but in the end it is just a quick 15 minute game where nothing really happens. Your choices don't feel like they make any difference. Certainly not as good as "Eat Me".



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