Reviews by Steph C

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Limerick Heist, by Pace Smith

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Unique and delightful, November 17, 2019

This is a standard heist plot with a soupcon of goofiness, told entirely in limericks. The limericks all scan (thank goodness, because there is nothing worse than something in verse from someone who thinks meter is optional) and there are some thoughtful touches such as coloring each heist memberís name and dialogue in a different color to make it easier to tell whoís saying what, which, as a nice bonus, gives the project a distinctive palette. And while there arenít exactly puzzles, per se, thereís a couple of spots where you need to make a correct observation to reach a successful ending. This one is witty, fun, and doesn't take much of a time investment - give it a try!

Sugarlawn, by Mike Spivey

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A new twist on the traditional treasure hunt game, November 17, 2019

This has probably the best blurb in IFComp 2019; I read it and I just had to find out what that was all about. What itís about is a reality show in which you run through a historic Louisiana mansion in a chicken suit trying to grab historical antiques for big cash prizes. Youíve got thirty minutes to find as many as you can, and youíll get a bonus if you can not just collect them, but leave them in the appropriate locations. The unique setting and focus on history puts this several cuts about the traditional IF treasure hunt it resembles. The game doesnít just want to give you a bunch of valuable stuff to snatch Ė you actually have to engage with the purpose and background of the items to figure out where they go, and sometimes using one properly can give you hints towards another.

I made $10104 on my first runthrough Ė not that hard, as many of the treasures are in plain sight. I didnít figure out how to get any of the locked-away ones, though, and I only figured out the right location for three. This is a game that demands multiple playthroughs to figure out everything and optimize your path Ė the fact that knowledge from previous playthrough is required is cleverly justified in-game as you being offered the chance to do multiple takes. I'm not mathematically inclined enough to tackle the problem of complete optimization, but I've seen a lot of other people playing and enjoying the game on this level.

I didnít find any bugs at all, although I did mostly just run around and grab things, so Iím not sure how it holds up to playing around more with the items. Overall, a lot of fun.

Poppet, by Bitter Karella

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Medium-length puzzler with light-horror atmosphere, November 17, 2019

You are a doll, waking up in a long-abandoned house, and must solve the mystery of how you got there and why youíre awake when your child is nowhere around. This game harkens back more to Night House than the Guttersnipe games, with a similar theme of exploring a scary darkened home at night. Youíve still got to adjust to the unique qualities of Quest, with its give-you-some-of-the-options-through-clicking-but-not-all play format, but this feels a little more intuitive than in previous entries by this authorĖ most of the stuff that requires typing is Ďaskí or Ďuse x with yí and itís pretty obvious when you need to type those commands.

The puzzles require enough thought to be satisfying (researching and putting together spells is a big part of it, and itís a blast) but arenít that difficult Ė I finished the game in a single session, and only needed to check the walkthrough once, when I was on the wrong track with a solution and needed to make sure I wasnít just missing the right phrasing. The atmosphere is deliciously creepy Ė this is always one of Bitter Karellaís strengths. If you like not-too-tough puzzles and a touch of horror, donít miss this one.

Night House, by Bitter Karella

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Creepy, atmospheric late-80s period piece, October 18, 2019
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016

The author of this one is a good friend of mine and I did some playtesting for it, so I'm coming at it from the context of 1) liking the author, 2) sharing a lot of cultural frames of reference with the author, and 3) having played the game several times already and been given hints to get past places where I got stuck.

You are a child wandering around a house at night; the environment (at least at first) is the standard NPC-free house with furniture and objects, but effectively conjures up the eerieness of ordinary things in the dark when you're young. The setting was especially effective to me because it's set not just during childhood, but specifically my childhood, circa 1990-ish: late-eighties action figures, late-eighties game systems, floppy disk computer, Trapper Keepers. Someone older or younger wouldn't find this as instantly relatable, but it worked for me.

Later on you encounter more explicit horror elements, and a sense of ongoing realization that something is off, not just with the house, but with you, and your assumptions about yourself.

This one is written in Quest, a rarely-used format despite its ease of use (for simple stuff, anyway) and some of its nifty features, like the automap. It also provides you with a compass rose, a list of objects, and actions you can do with those objects. I made my first couple of games using Quest and went to some trouble to turn off the suggested actions because I wanted a plain parser game, but they're quite good at making the game accessible; you can do 90% of what you need to do in this game using only a mouse. It's a structure Detectiveland also used to excellent effect.

The remaining 10% is where players are likely to get stuck: there are several places where you have USE things together or GIVE objects using the parser, and the game hasn't trained you to think of that as an option. (There are some places you need to ASK, too, but you're fairly well prompted about what you need to do.) There aren't any actual bugs in the finished version (that I could find), but some of the puzzle solutions are pretty obscure. Most players will likely need to resort to the walkthrough.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: download this one and play it offline if you possibly can! Many players have reported their online sessions being ruined by the hosting site timing out.)

Eat Me, by Chandler Groover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A strange but delicious feast, October 18, 2019

An excellent game - original idea, wonderfully grotesque and evocative writing, a highly 'voiced' parser, and creative puzzles using a severely limited toolbox of verbs (you can do little but EXAMINE and EAT.) Your options are constrained enough that none of the puzzles are TOO hard to solve - I finished the game in about an hour and never needed the walkthrough - but they're complex enough to make you explore the castle thoroughly and think about what you're doing.

With a truly new and distinctive concept, and rock-solid, bug-free implementation, this is everything a modern parser game should be. The gruesome images may turn off a few players, but unless you've got a weak stomach, this is one morsel you shouldn't fail to sample.

Steam and Sacrilege, by Phil McGrail

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
An instantly compelling premise is failed by hopelessly broken implementation, November 12, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016

Let's start with the good: I LOVE the concept of taking a steampunk setting and looking forward to the present day, when all these glittering gears and robo-men are a part of history. This game suggests a steampunk haunted house, a combination of science fiction, ruin porn, and horror which would be an absolutely fantastic setting for a game. Unfortunately, this isn't what it delivers. There seems to be exactly one correct path implemented, and stepping off it snaps the game like a dry twig--and it's not at all clear what you're intended to do. I only managed to get through the opening scene through exhaustive trial and error (all the while being told I couldn't see or interact with things around me).

The present-day setting was even more decrepit. I have no information other than I have to go to work, but wandering out of the house took me into a maze of one-way passages and blank, undefined rooms. A man came to the door while I was in the kitchen. Then he came to my door again while I was wandering down main street and the same scene played out again. I went down an alley and got stuck. I bumped up against a metal door I couldn't see. A caretaker held me captive (apparently?) I have no idea what else you're supposed to do; there's probably an action you can take in the kitchen that triggers the rest of the story.

This game desperately needed to do one of two things:
1) Embrace the nature of the parser and fully implement the environments and for gods' sake have playtesters.
Players are going to be poking around, trying different things, and if the setting collapses like a souffle at the slightest touch, that's poison.
or 2) Use a format suited for telling a more linear story, like Choicescript. What little I saw of the story was compelling, and made me want to read more, but getting any of it out of the game was like pulling teeth.

If the idea hadn't been so good, I probably wouldn't care about this so much, but it was such a good idea, and I wanted this to be a good game so badly, and then it was unplayable.

Manlandia, by Rob Chateau

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A multi-stage rocket of disappointments, November 8, 2016

When I read the blurb, I thought this was going to be either a screed by some red-pill-popping MRA or else something in the vein of Ethan of Athos.

When I read the story, I was disappointed that it wasn't remotely 'interactive fiction' unless we're including multi-part blog posts and ebooks in that now. It's just a story that you click to advance the pages. But as a story, I really liked it. It did a fantastic job capturing the voice of a early 20th-C adventure novel. Really authentic sounding!

When I found out that the reason it sounded like an adventure story from a century ago is that it was plagiarized in its entirely from an actual adventure story from a century ago, I was disappointed again. Disappointed because someone took someone else's work, Rule 63'ed it, and released it under their own name, and disappointed because a pitch-perfect '1916 adventure voice' is a lot less impressive coming from an actual 1916ian.

In short, it was...disappointing.

Ariadne in Aeaea, by Victor Ojuel

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Adventures of a hungover wannabe priestess, November 8, 2016

This is a relatively short and simple puzzle game taking place in ancient Greece; there were a few times where I struggled to figure out what I was supposed to do next, but I never had to look at the the walkthrough. I really like games that give you a well-defined protagonist with strong motivations and flaws, rather than making you a faceless "you"-entity, and this game provides an excellent one in Ariadne, a lecherous lush who mostly wants to become a priestess so she can show up her obnoxious kid sister. In order to do that, she's got to solve a mystery related to a mysterious lion brooch and... honestly, I actually found the mystery itself a little hard to follow, but it may be easier if you're more familiar with the time period. Fortunately the next actions you need to take are usually hinted at fairly strongly, and the world model is robust enough to stand up to some poking around.

A few things could stand to be improved. You have to advance conversations by 'talking to' people repeatedly, clunkier than just pushing space to advance--since the conversations are linear anyway, why make us advance them with the parser? The hint system has some strengths--it's neatly integrated into the story, with Ariadne talking to herself in order to straighten out what she needs to do next--but a few glaring weaknesses too. Sometimes when TALKing TO ME I got Ariadne musing that she needed to do things she'd already done, or things she shouldn't know to do yet. (Most egregiously, she wanted to interrogate 'the boy', but the only evident boy couldn't be interrogated--as it turned out, 'the boy' was another boy she hadn't even met yet.)

Overall, the game is a solidly implemented and fairly quick play that runs to the easier end of the puzzle spectrum, with an appealingly debauched heroine and an original setting. Contrast this one with 2015's One Night Stand--both feature a young woman protagonist who begins the game by waking up with a hangover after a night of casual sex, but there's a big difference in how they're treated. Ariadne is judged by some of the other characters, but not by the game, or by herself--you don't get the impression she's going to lose any sleep over not knowing these random goatherds' names. She's got shit to do.

You are standing in a cave..., by Caroline Berg

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Shakey implementation, but this is an author to watch, October 2, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016

You play an undefined protagonist (as good looking as ever!) who wakes up in a cave. I think this may be a first effort and while it leans a little heavily on puzzle-game cliches, there's plenty of attention given to the writing and making sure the environments are interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it was playtested at all. You start out in a room with three passages leading out of it, but no indication of what direction anything is in or how the passages are different. Okay, let's pick...west? Ah, apparently I just went through a secret door I wasn't supposed to know about until much later, and the game assumes I've solved all the puzzles to get to this point. Oops.

You also can't 'look passages'--but you can 'look passage', and it'll ask you which one, and finally you get a list of the differences and can look at them individually. The game, as far as I got, is full of this kind of thing--which is a shame because the writing is fine and the world has the rich flavor of mid-90s Mystiness, full of gears and symbols and mysterious whimsical machinery. I found pieces of a lot of puzzles, complete with alternate solutions (some suboptimal)--there's a lot here and I can tell a lot of work and thought went into it. It would probably look fantastic if you read a complete transcript of play from someone who knew all the right commands in the right order, but if you deviate from what it expects, stuff gets weird quick.

The author has a lot of potential, and my rating reflects in part what this game could be as much as what it is. In its current form it needs a little more technical experience (and playtesters!) to get it into a shape where it's not a struggle to play, at least for me.

Detectiveland, by Robin Johnson

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
It doesn't take a gumshoe to figure out this one's a gem, October 2, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016

A great cover tells you just what sort of noirish period piece to expect, and the gameplay presentation is absolutely top notch, with a deliciously atmospheric typewriter setup that fits the theme perfectly without being distracting. There are even vintage character portraits. This is one of the slickest and most professional looking presentations I've seen for an IFComp game so far.

Play-wise, it's a puzzle adventure, but rather than typing into a parser, you're given a few options to click on depending on context. I've seen Quest games do this sort of thing before, and it makes the game feel a little like one of the 90s' era adventures like Day of the Tentacle or the Monkey Island series. The positive of this approach is that you don't have to worry about syntax; the negative is that it's harder to come up with a surprising solution to a puzzle, since all the options are presented to you right off (the 'just try everything with everything' problem.) Detectiveland manages to pull off some neat tricks here, though--in particular, the last puzzle of the case I played, "The Big Pickle", hit right in the sweet spot for me, not too baffling but clever enough that I felt smart when I realized the solution.

Witty, stylish, and lots of fun--highly recommended!

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