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Reviews by Canalboy

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View this member's reviews by tag: Bill Lindsay Surreal Parser Based Birmingam IV - Large Old School Fantasy Puzzlefest castle Curses! Gothic Horror Infocom Jim Aikin Large Large Story Based IF Lydia's Heart Mainframe MS-DOS Mulldoon Legacy Mystery old school parser Puzzle Fest Puzzlefest Quest. Relationship Romance Sequel Treasure Hunt vampire Warp
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Mirror of Khoronz, by Derek Haslam

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
New RISC Version Of Mirror Of Khoronz, January 17, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Derek has written an updated and extended version of this game for the above mentioned platform.

He has asked me to upload the new game and it is now available here.

https://intfiction.org/t/mirror-of-khoronz-new-expanded-risc-version-of-derek-haslams-gateway-to-karos-sequel/48506

I have also uploaded a map for the latter game on to the CASA IF site.

The Kingdom of Klein, by Melvyn E. Wright and Dave M. Johnson

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Kingdom Of Klein, Sorry Mogadon, January 16, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Holy Mother of Mary this game is tedious. You may have thought watching gravy congeal was tedious but that would be a positive adrenalin rush compared to this voyage through endless terse decriptions of cliff steps and open plains. If Stock, Aitken and Waterman had produced text adventures in the eighties, they would have made them like Epic Software.

The cynic in me feels that they inserted the same endless desriptions so that they could proudly proclaim "A game with 230 locations!" The number of locations was, of course, a big selling point back in the days of Band Aid and Wham; I myself am a big fan of old style IF on an enormous scale when it is done in an interesting and necessary way, but when it is done like this it merely magnifies the sterility of the game. Over two thirds of the locations are along the lines of "You are on an endless plain" or "You are on some cliff steps." This may be a realistic depiction of a mundane world but I don't play IF for that reason and I suspect that nobody else does neither; it is meant to be a medium of entertainment and this isn't even a very small of entertainment.

Kingdom Of Klein has a very limited two word parser, like all Epic's other releases and also lacks the EXAMINE verb, so for any puzzles that there are you just end up WAVING, THROWING or READING every item in your inventory at every locked door or magic pool until you find the correct (and often illogical) solution and thrn move on the next interminable sequence of flat plain or beach.

If you want to try a sizeable old style puzzle fest that is worthy of your precious time, try Warp, Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina, Curses!, Mirror Of Khoronz etc. but avoid Epic software games.

The New Castle, by Dan Gahlinger

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Mainframe Adaptation - Very Buggy, January 6, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Dan Gahlinger is to be congratulated on his memory in recreating this long lost old VAX mainframe program. It has a lot of potential as a large, old style puzzle fest if the game is properly tested and more items available to EXAMINE.

It is unfortunately very buggy. Examining an item often gives the description of a different item you may not have found yet. EXAMINE PLANK gives you the description of a plastic card for instance, and the white candle carries the description of a bar of soap.

THROW BOTTLE caused the game to crash with a run time error. There are also numerous typos throughout the descriptions.

The best part of the game is the maze, which is described as unmappable but contains hundreds of witty sayings and gnomisms from down the ages; everything from old Jewish Jokes to Woody Allen observations.

The version is displayed as 3.5 developmental and hopefully can be redone by the author.

Castle Ralf, by Doug Clutter and Steve Vance

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Castle Ralf - Oldie But Goldie DOS Challenge, May 26, 2020
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: puzzle fest, large, old school, castle, MS-DOS
I don't know if all IF players of a certain age who witnessed the evolution and flowering of the inchoate genre from the late seventies / early eighties have a game (or games) which they return to for reasons of nostalgia or masochism, but mine is this one.

Having first cut my adventuring teeth on Scott Adams' Adventureland in 1983 on a friend's Vic-20, I played many of the early games both good and bad in the late eighties; this included Castle Ralf.

Like many authors of the time, Doug Clutter and Steve Vance had completed Zork I and wanted to try and outrun the boys from Infocom by forming their own company, Douglas Associates. While this was a predictably futile task, they undoubtedly did come up with a very well coded and interesting puzzle fest with precious few bugs present. Aside from the odd typo there are no glaring ones that I have ever came across in many hours of playing.

The "explore/escape from a wacky building full of contraptions" genre was of course already somewhat anachronistic by 1987 when this game was first published but it remains one of the best examples of its kind.

The robust parser rather oddly doesn't understand "take all" but does understand "drop all." On the whole however it is more than adequate and unlike many games of its type recognises most synomyms and objects in the many rooms of the eponymous castle. It also (rather atypically for its time) has a list of verbs on screen that you can access via highlighting and pressing the enter key so there is no hunting around for obscure verb / noun combinations. You can also use the COGITATE verb at many places to give you an abstract hint and boy will you need it as this game surpasses all but the Topologika games in terms of toughness but fairness in my opinion. The authors seemed to realise this and produced a hint booklet a la Topologika which is available online on this page. It runs to many many questions and answers and is designed to discourage straight through reading.

The game also features an auto mapper which can be switched on and off if you prefer not to use modern software like Trizbort and you will need it as the castle spans a basement and three floors over many more than a hundred locations. Initially the routes around the more far flung reaches of the building are time consuming to access, but as with games like Mulldoon Legacy and Curses short cuts appear to the various areas of the castle as puzzles are solved.

There are a number of complex machines scattered around the place, designed by the devious owner Dr. Bellefleur Q. Izgotcha III. One multi puzzle in particular involving a customised Skeet Shooter and a French Horn cum Crossbow spans multiple rooms filled with Heath Robinson like contraptions and more than rivals the Babel Fish puzzle from HHG in its complexity.

Many of the imaginative puzzles are more convoluted than "Do X with Y to get Z" but logically solvable with a bit (or a lot) of lateral thinking.

A dryly sparkling humour pervades the whole thing which stays just the right side of irritating. Try and COGITATE in the Long Dark Hallway for example! And apparently the Great Hall was designed by Nancy Reagan.

The game is mercifully free of mazes, hunger, thirst and light daemons and although it is possible to make the thing unwinnable in a couple of places this becomes apparent pretty quickly. Just save often. There is an inventory limit but it rarely becomes much of a problem as a chosen central silo to store all objects in is accessible from most parts of the game as it opens up.

The game runs very smoothly in my version of DosBox (0.74) and the colours are customisable.

I have to admit at this point that I have still not beaten the game after returning to it several times in the last thirty odd years, although I have recently pushed my score up to 190 points out of a possible maximum of 300. There is no walkthrough available anywhere online (something I never resort to anyway).

There are few NPCs in the game aside from an exhibitionistic Hamster, an avariciously psychotic Chihuahua and a useful ghost that I have ever come across.

There is also a strange obsession with hats which will gradually unravel as you play.

Castle Ralf was originally a competition game where the person to solve it in the least number of moves by a given date would pocket 10% of the royalties. I have no idea if this was ever claimed.

Now where is the combination to that safe...

Warp, by Rob Lucke and Bill Frolik

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Warp - Enormous Game And Enormous Fun, November 28, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Warp, Mainframe, Large, Parser, Treasure Hunt
Infocom's Zork Trilogy cast a long shadow over IF for many years, but one of its more obscure spin-offs was another extremely large mainframe game begun soon after the authors (Rob Lucke and Bill Frolic) had completed the original mainframe Zork in 1979. They decided they would write an even larger game, with a more sophisticated parser. They certainly succeeded in the former as Warp is more than double the size of the original mainframe Zork, but the latter (the game was written in Pascal on an HP3000) is miles behind Infocom's ZIL even after its 4 year and 38 version development.

While Warp understands clever commands like BACKTRACK X, where X is a number of moves and also interprets whole sentences it will often fail to understand many synonyms and objects in the location you are in. Many times I found myself banging my head against the wall looking for a verb / noun combination the game would understand. It also allows for the creation of macros, but this feels more like unnecessary frippery than a clever construct to help the player.

Not until the endgame (yes there is one and it's even more difficult then the main game) is the macro function useful as SAVE GAME is disabled here and I found myself nesting ten macros inside another one to get me back to a point deep in the aforementioned endgame. I would probably have given up otherwise as it would have necessitated several hundred turns to get me back to the position I was in.

The game is set on a contemporary island resort and involves the collection of 46 treasures and 1216 points which are to be stored somewhere, although where is for you to find out. It encompasses many areas, including desert, a massive ocean that needs thorough mapping as it is studded with reefs and atolls as well as a less than friendly galleon, rainforest, mountain, city centre, shopping mall, underground areas and even a nudist beach and French café. That's not including neighbouring islands which you can swim or sail to, although the former option may well see you added to a Great White's dinner menu.

The player will soon recognise the many Zorkian influences as the game has its own versions of Zork's troll and thief as well as several other NPCs who seem rather static compared to many modern games. One in particular would not pass muster at a Labour Party Momentum meeting, but I suppose you have to allow for the rather less politically correct times in which the game was written. A rather racy magazine would get the thumbs down on campus nowadays too.

The game includes the DIAGNOSE command so you can check your health during a fight or the effects of certain toxic substances, both animal and mineral.

A skein of Lewis Carroll style surrealism pervades the whole thing, both grammatically and physically; the title lends itself to a large wonk in the game.

As in much IF of this vintage there is a large and rather difficult maze complete with Beatle's song reference, a lamp timer (although there is a way around this) and an inventory limit. The endgame even includes an homage to Zork III's Royal Puzzle.

It is very easy to put the game in an unwinnable position and unfortunately one of these comes very near the start of the game. Just make sure you map very carefully and keep lots of saved games in reserve. Spoiler below.

(Spoiler - click to show)You need to visit the bank early on the first day to procure a treasure - a clue lies in the President's Office .

The game also includes a large amount of ASCII art, far more than mainframe Zork does and this adds to the immersive feel of the game; circa six thousand lines of ASCII art if you please.

The whole experience took me two months to fully complete, playing along with Jason Dyer and Russell Karlberg via Jason's excellent Renga In Blue blog. We all experienced a few bugs and crashes but nothing a reload didn't seem to cure. There are numerous typos sprinkled amongst the fairly lengthy location descriptions too.

One innovative and enjoyable feature is God mode, which you only achieve upon completion of the end game. This provides you with the ability to take items from anywhere, GOTO any location in the game, check your map using SHOW LINKS, LIST all the puzzles and even walk on water!

Many thanks to Dan Hallock, guru of the HP3000 who has made the game easy to play for a whole new generation of players via the links above.

All we have to do now is find FisK somewhere.






Gone Out For Gruyere, by B F Lindsay

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Bill Lindsay's Surreal Cheese Dream, October 16, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Bill Lindsay Surreal Parser Based
For those of you have played Bill's two large old school offerings - "Bullhockey!" and "Bullhockey2: The Return Of The Leather Whip" "Gone Out For Gruyere" will come as a surprise.

In this game your girlfriend from the previous offerings sends you out on a mission to buy the eponymous fermented curd (you'd think after rescuing her more than once in the two previous games she would have gone out to get it herself!)

I helped to beta test this one and I really liked the surreal nature of the game (a manoeuvrable hole plays a large part) as does manipulation of a Heath Robinson type of machine.

There are nods towards a more conventional style of film noir narration (the dude with the cigarette could have come from Make It Good) and a red herring or two along the way. There are other NPCs with whom you will also have to interact to complete the game and they are all well delineated.

I have not come across any bugs in the corrected version and the game is blissfully free of inventory limits and misspellings.

There is also an interesting twist at the end of the game when you have acquired the cheese.

I would thouroughly recommend it although prepare to set aside at least a couple of hours as it isn't easy!

Recluse, by Stephen Gorrell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Recluse - Excellent Medium Sized Puzzler In Tads, June 20, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Infocom, Puzzle Fest, Parser, Quest.
As a navel gazing IF puzzler of a certain age, I feel that Stephen Gorrell's neat medium sized TADS debut Recluse from 2008 deserves more trumpeting that it has hitherto received. That is, any trumpeting at all judging by a quick search. One review in over a decade doesn't suggest that it has become contemptible through familiarity.

Recluse bucks the modern IF trend, being a set of cleverly choreographed, sequenced puzzles leading to a surprisingly tangential conclusion. Surprising as the hitherto tenebrous plot suddenly takes on solid end game substance via several large screen dumps when you access the mansion. One NPC also displays chameleon like qualities late in the game.

The initial premise involves your efforts to deliver a package to a reclusive billionaire inside his mansion; after being summarily ejected using traditional methods of egress you explore the Infocom like grounds, finding various items to take and manipulate, including one early problem that had me stuck for days (Spoiler - click to show)taking the caterpillar requires a lot of repetition....

I liked the user friendly nature of play; no time or inventory limits, a warning if you have put the game into an unwinnable position (a rare occurrence thanks to its cleverly constructed nature) and built-in hints.

There are a sprinkling of misspellings and a few grammatical errors (again why these things aren't spell checked is beyond me when so much effort is put into other facets of the game) but nothing to really dilute the enjoyment of the game.

The ending of the game suggests a sequel, but as eleven years have now passed without one I imagine that the author has moved on to pastures new, although I can find no more examples of his IF creativity anywhere.

Rather like the only guy still wearing flared jeans on the bus, Recluse may be old fashioned but the denim is of fine quality.

Dracula - Prince of Darkness (formerly "House of the Midnight Sun"), by Paul T. Johnson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dracula - Prince Of Darkness formerly House Of The Midnight Sun, June 12, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: parser, puzzlefest, Gothic, Curses!, Mulldoon Legacy, vampire
This is a rather good, rather large slice of old skool gothic puzzlefest by Paul Johnson. There are nods a plenty towards Curses! and Mulldoon Legacy here (obstinate cat, formal garden, pirate ship, battlements and assorted hidden passages, steps and chambers) but it stops short of outright plagiarism.

Your goal to begin with is unknown, but there is the traditional castle to break into and the story slowly unravels, although the real reason for your determination to enter the castle will not become apparent until near the climax of the game.

You have to collect four items during the course of the game, rather like the rods in Curses! before you can begin to think about your final showdown with the eponymous baddie.

The descriptions of decay, death and ubiquitous grand guignol grate after a while and are sometimes a little too florid and a little too repetitive to prevent the shock value being diluted.

Many of the problems are totally logical and not too difficult, although the final scenes see the difficulty level take a sharp uphill turn; there is one action in particular you need to perform in an area that you have no real reason to visit.

The author has an obvious love of antique furniture and art as a plethora of these objects are lovingly described throughout the game, juxtaposed effectively against the pervading atmosphere of decay. Indeed, the decay of these priceless paintings and other objets d'art is described with far more plangency than the discovery of the dead or dying.

The whole is mercifully free of any inventory or time limit (just as well as you will end up with a considerable variety of items to port around) and contains only a handful of typos and other grammatical errors, none of which really downgrade the game play value.

It is possible to put the game into an unwinnable position but not easily, and where this is the case there is usually a warning hidden away in one of the many inscriptions and messages you will find in charts, above doorways etc. In this game more than most, examine and search everything.

The ending certainly surprised me but that is for the player to discover.

All in all, an excellent parser based distraction which will keep you occupied for some time.

Uninvited, by Craig Erickson, Jay Zipnick, Billy Wolfe, David Griffith

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Uninvited - Burn Your Invitation If It Arrives, May 31, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
The above is an old MAC game purportedly having new life breathed into it and available as an enhanced z code game.

Unfortunately it has all the old frustrations of pre "Bill Of Rights" days.

Limited Inventory Limit? Check. You can carry approximately seven items despite there being over twenty five portable objects in the first fifteen locations that I visited.

Sudden Death? Check. You may never see Gone With The Wind in the same light again. Lordy lordy Miss Scarlett.

Time Limit? Check. This is obviously a large game but all ended after 334 moves.

It's a shame as this could have been a good game with the above issues addressed and a thorough proof reading. Why oh why is it so difficult to spell check a document?

But frankly as it is my dear, I just don't give a damn.

Bullhockey 2 - The Return of the Leather Whip, by B F Lindsay

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Bullhockey 2 - The Return Of The Leather Whip - Excellent Old School IF, April 30, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Romance, Puzzlefest, Large, Relationship, Sequel
There is an old saying by George Santayana which goes something like "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There can be little condemnation when new authors produce old style work as entertaining and skilful as this, regardless of whether you consider puzzlefests part of the past or still worthy of current consideration as I certainly do.

The game runs via a Glulx interpreter and can also be played online; just check out this year's Spring Thing page.

It is a sequel to the author's Bullhockey game which was released last year but needs no prior knowledge of that game to enjoy, although it shares some locations and protagonists. I would recommend that game as well.

As in the previous game, the hero(?) of our story wakes to discover that his beloved girlfriend Natalie has been abducted from the apartment which they share in the run down town of Bunco Springs and sets out to find her, convinced she has been kidnapped by the evil sorceress of the first game who, he discovers, has just busted out of prison.

I felt a strong empathy with Tom, who is in every way a believably decent, flawed everyman. Try and steal something and you will see what I mean.

The picaresque story moves along at an enjoyable lick in three distinct acts, never rushing the plot and allowing for a real sense of "world immersion." Seldom these days do you have any kind of large canvas to paint detail on and to enhance the realism, the modern trend being to produce pretty cameos. Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip achieves the Old Master effect very well, buildings being realistically depicted in their scope. There are large areas of the game that need careful exploring and mapping, and therein lies much of the game's old school charm. Corridors are just that; long and often prosaic, but all part of the elaborate weave of the plot.

Those of an impatient, I want my dinner now! mindset may learn a thing or two. The rest of us will enjoy a throwback to the days of wrestling with the likes of Mulldoon Legacy, Curses! and Trinity. I have no hesitation in praising this game as highly as that holy trinity (no pun intended). It is also of a similar size to those games, being over 120 locations in all and the descriptions informative and entertaining without being unnecessarily prolix. It even features some "stepping out of the present" dream sequences which reminded me of Curses! in particular.

There are a number of interesting and well delineated NPCs, both friends and foes, my favourite being the pulchritudinous Judith; I wish I had a neighbour like that.

Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip is not an easy game, although the puzzles are generally logical and feel like part of the story rather than stand alone scenarios. There is a point near the start of the game however, (Spoiler - click to show) involving purchasing a newspaper that had me stuck for a while and that I know stumped some other people too.

The coding of the game is excellent, with the odd typo and left over bug now corrected by the author (I helped here a bit I must admit!) and no problems with inventory limits or hunger / sleep / thirst / lamp light daemons the likes of which so often plagued games of this type in days gone by. And no mazes!

One interesting option the author has included is the THINK ABOUT command. This enables our modern day Quixote to momentarily pause his windmill tilting and consider objects, locations and characters he has met. Some of the responses are important to the progression of the story.

The denouement really surprised me as it goes against all that I had been expecting. Suffice to say that the fourth wall is breached and I feel confident in saying you will never guess the outcome.

Load it up and if you're like me, get out the A3 sketch pad and pen and prepare to immerse yourself in Bunco Springs. Just never stay the night in the local hotel.


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