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AardVarK Versus the Hype, by Truthcraze

4 of 4 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

4 of 4 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.

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.

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