I have selected many decisions. I have met many Victory Ends and many Death Ends. Yet there are still many decisions to select and ends to meet.
With You Will Select A Decision, Brendan Patrick Hennessy has created a fun and funny romp Soviet era mortality tale for children, translated poorly into English.
I laughed, I cried… out with laughter, I felt something deep inside, when my stomach hurt from laughing. Most of that is hyperbole, but I did laugh.
You Will Select A Decision‘s first decision is to choose which story to play, “Small Child in Woods” or “Cow Farming Activities on the Former West.” The homepage does tease (taunt) you with “Other Books in This Series,” particularly “It Is Very Good To Be The World Skateboard Champion,” which sadly does not exist.
I played through “Small Child in Woods” with my very pregnant wife. I mention that she is very pregnant not as a humble brag, but to show that You Will Select A Decision is safe for all, even those in my wife’s condition, which is very pregnant. We had a very much amount of enjoyable time with playing. (These are the kinds of sentences I want to write in this review but that would surely annoy the reader and is an entirely inappropriate style for a review.)
My very pregnant wife and I reached a number of endings in our play through. The best feature of You Will Select A Decision is the way the game makes it easy to backtrack and try different paths and discover new endings.
“Cow Farming Activities on the Former West” I played through myself and more thoroughly explored the options. The large number of endings is impressive. More impressive is the quality and entertainment value of all these endings.
Often, Interactive Fiction is a solitary experience, but with You Will Select A Decision I would recommend playing with a partner or even in a group. You can all take turns selecting a decision and laughing with your very pregnant wife.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable State's review of You Will Select a Decision here.
Arthur DiBianca’s The Wand is about a wand, and that’s pretty much it. Ostensibly there is a story about a wizard, challenge from said wizard, and cash prize, but really it’s just about a wand. A magic wand, sure, but still, just a wand. Oh, and there’s a dragon, too.
At it’s heart The Wand is a puzzle fest style game, and a damn fine one at that. You are limited to moving, examining, and pointing the wand at things, and with just those three actions DiBianca has put together a crafty series of puzzles. (Of course there is a little bit more than that but we are in the spoiler-free section of the review.)
One of my favorite aspects of The Wand is the way you progress through the game. You see a problem here, can’t do anything about so go there. When there, of course, you find another problem. This problem, though, you know how to deal with. Solving that problem gets you more information to solve the previous problem so you go do that. The Wand constantly has you going back and forth to get more information to solve more puzzles to get more information to solve more puzzles. The game world is compact enough that this is not a chore. In fact an “Oh, I know what to do there, now,” is a great reward mechanism.
The Wand is a definite recommend for anyone interested in a solid puzzle game.
You can find the SPOILER-Y, and much more personal, portion of unWinnable State's review of The Wand here.
I was not looking forward to playing Stephen Granade’s Will Not Let Me Go. The description of the game is short: Dallas, Texas. 1996. Fred Strickland has Alzheimer’s.
My greatest fear is becoming afflicted with Alzheimer’s, or some other form of dementia.
Most of my life I have been prone to forgetting words, particularly nouns, and it seems to be getting worse as I get older. I am 41. I once called shampoo ‘hair detergent.’ I often have panic attacks when I can’t find a word, afraid that the word is gone forever. I do not have clear memories of much of my life. What I do remember is usually in the third person, things I know as facts but not as personal happenings. Most of my daughter’s early life just isn’t there.
None of these things indicate that I am more susceptible to dementia but they weigh heavy on me all the same.
In Will Not Let Me Go you take on the role of Fred Strickland, a man stricken Alzheimer’s, at various points in his later years dealing with his condition. These vignettes are presented out of sequence, one of the many tactics Stephen Granade uses to evoke a sense of discomfort in the reader. Passages are often halted mid sentence, sitting unfinished, forcing you to make the effort to continue the story, the same kind of effort Fred must make to stay focused and present. Sometimes words on the screen change as you make these efforts, and sometimes not, it can be hard to tell. I don’t know how many time I missed such a change before finally noticing. Realizing this, that I may have missed many of these changes, I had to put the story away for awhile. I was overwhelmed.
Will Not Let Me Go is a deeply sad work. This is quite often achieved through dramatic irony, scenes played through with you knowing what Fred has forgotten, and you can not help him. But at other times Granade drops the irony completely, putting you right there with Fred in real time as he experiences gapes in time, missed moments. Both approaches are equally effective in breaking the readers heart.
Despite this sadness, Will Not Let Me Go is a story about love, and about wanting the best for those we care about.
You can find the SPOILER-Y, and much more personal, portion of unWinnable State's review of Will Not Let Me Go here.
All Things Devours is, in essence, one single puzzle. A crunchy, well constructed puzzle. I mean, I had to create a spreadsheet to solve the puzzle. Or rather, I got to create a spread sheet.
You play as a researcher who’s had their lab commandeered by the military. Afraid of the repercussions of future use of the prototype, you’ve decided to sneak back in to destroy your creation.
The puzzle of All Things Devours is exciting and tense. There is a real joy in discovering how the mechanisms of the puzzle work, and there are multiple paths to victory.
All Things Devours is not going to be for everyone. It is extremely light on story, and its puzzle, while fair, is difficult. You are likely to fail repeatedly before you find victory, but in the end the victory feels earned and is very rewarding.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable State's review of All Things Devours here.
Big ol’ disclaimer: This is my first Twine game. I am very skeptical of the system. I do not think it is for me. I am very much partial to parser based interactive fiction.
I have been putting off writing this review because I do not like Horse Master. There are a lot of great things to say about the it, Tom McHenry’s writing first among them, but ultimately the work does not resonate with me. This being a work in Twine has a lot to do with my feelings. Twine as a medium doesn’t grab me. But my problems with Horse Master goes beyond the medium.
Ultimately, it did not feel like any choice I made really mattered. I understand that there are at least three different endings to Horse Master and, as such, the choices during play do have some sort of mechanical effects, but as will be discussed in the spoiler-y section, the differences in the ending seem superficial.
A few positives, though. As mentioned, Tom McHenry’s writing is great, the world he created is stark and strange, the revelations revealed throughout satisfyingly bizarre. From a purely story point of view, Horse Master is worth a read. But as a work of Interactive Fictions, it falls a bit short on the interactivity.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable State's review of Horse Master here.
One of my favorite sub-genres is the accidental spy movie, films like The Man Who Knew Too Little, Gotcha!, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and the more recent The Spy Who Dumped Me. To my great delight, Emily Short’s City of Secrets is an accidental spy IF.
While on your way south to attend a friends wedding your train breaks down so the railway puts you up in an elegant hotel. Soon you find yourself possibly poisoned, nearly kidnapped, roped into a scheme to infiltrate a rebel faction for the mayor, and set loose in The City where you can trust everyone.
Initially, this accidental spy scenario is exciting. Your method of discovering information is almost exclusively through speaking to NPCs, with a dialogue system that is deep, wide, smooth, and easy to use. Suggested talking point/questions are available for you to follow or you can always steer the conversation to a topic of your choosing. When first trying to track down leads, I wanted to be coy in my interactions with the locals, slowly pushing the conversations I was having toward the subject my quarry. This approach really made me feel like the spy I was supposed to be. But it did not take long before I realized straight up asking everyone about the person I was looking for was quicker with no noticeable negative consequences for my bluntness.
Once sleuthing took this form City of Secrets no longer felt like an espionage game but instead became a series of invisible dialogue trees that needed to be navigated. At least most of the branches on these trees hint at story and lore in the world of City of Secrets and there is plenty of story and lore to discover. The worldbuilding here is superb.
The most disappointing thing about City of Secrets is its name. With Emily Short you often get fun or interesting title; Alabaster for a game about Snow White, Counterfeit Monkey for a game with a letter removing device, and Banana Apocalypse and the Rocket Pants of Destiny for a game about… who cares, that’s a great title. With City of Secrets we have a game about a city with secrets. It’s just so bland.
The second most disappointing thing about City of Secrets is its end sequence. The entire thing plays out like and interactive cut scene with limited choices, and a rather long cut scene at that. In an attempt at creating a climax that feels cinematic, the game lost what makes Interactive Fiction enjoyable; interaction with meaningful choice.
Still, there are many reasons I will encourage you to play City of Secrets. It is a well implemented, immersive world, its spaces designed to yield nuggets of story to those willing to explore. There is an incredible dialogue system with plenty of NPCs to speak with. And it has a deep lore that is interesting to uncover.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable State's review of City of Secrets here.
Grunk must retrieve a lost pig for his employer, and in doing so helps a gnome deal with his past and his place in the world today.
Grunk is one of the most charming PCs you are likely to come across, and the little gnome man, a fun NPC with a delightful story of his own. The writing is sharp and funny, in both its general descriptions and its handling of commands from the player.
Grunk is the reason to play Admiral Jota’s Lost Pig. Look, the first three paragraphs of this review begin with his name, that’s just how great Grunk is. I would say don’t let him hear it or it might go to his head, but the truth is not much actually goes to Grunk’s head. And here’s the thing: You don’t actually play as Grunk. Lost Pig is not written in the second person. Grunk is telling the story. Everything from Grunk point of view… Excuse me, everything is from Grunk’s point of view. The commands you the player type in are more like suggestions for Grunk, which he usually follows.
The puzzles in Lost Pig are quit good, and the difficulty ramp up is smooth, with nothing diabolical A pause and a think will get you through most. There is one puzzle I found frustrating, its solution not entirely fair, but we’ll get to that in the spoiler-y section.
There is an extensive, topic driven, conversation system implemented for the one character Grunk runs into during the game. Through this conversation system you can find bits of guidance on how to complete the tasks laid before Grunk, but more importantly these conversations are what give you the lore of the game. (Lore is definitely overselling it, but hey, I like the word.) What you learn about the world and the character fill out a game that would be little more than a series of tasks otherwise.
While I doubt Lost Pig is going to make my Top 10 list, it is a definite must play. The game is especially great for newer players of parser based IF.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable States review of Lost Pig here.
Adam Cadre’s 9:05s most notable quality is its shortness. If it were much longer players may be unwilling to engage in what makes this work so fascinating, the fact that a replay of the game is thoroughly satisfying. When following the game through its logical progressions you reach an ending that re-contextualizes everything, enticing you to start again and interact with the world in a different way.
There is not much more to say about such a short game. If you haven’t yet played 9:05 by Adam Cadre, give it a go. It will surprise you.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable States review of 9:05 here.
There is a reason Planetfall is considered a classic. The puzzles are intuitive, the slowly unfolding narrative is mesmerizing, and Floyd. The only thing that marred my enjoyment of the game is what I believe to be a bug with the version I played, but more on that later.
Now admittedly, this is my first foray into Infocom’s catalogue, and, quite frankly, the first work of interactive fiction I have played to the end, aside from some rather small works here and there over the years, so my frame of reference for the sake of reviewing is a rather small and crooked frame. That aside, I know I had plenty of fun while playing, which is perhaps all the reference I need.
The world design, both in structure and aesthetics, is clear. As a player my goals were almost always clear, if at certain points perhaps too many at once. And while I am personally obsessive about mapping, navigating the world could largely be done without a map.
The puzzles of Planetfall are straight forward and intuitive. That’s not to say they are all easy, but they all make sense and can be reasoned out. (I did need one hint… I mean solution, you can read about that in the Spoiler-y Review.) There are no, “Why did that work?” moments in the game or, “How was I supposed to think of that?” solutions. This is perhaps the most winning aspect of Planetfall, the ease of interacting with its puzzles. I was lead to believe that Infocom games all had wildly difficult puzzles, often to the point of absurdity. Not so here. Everything feels doable and is a joy to play.
Planetfall tells you a story, and it tells it well. The story is presented in pieces through the environment and player discovery, though there is one info-dump in the form of a library computer. It can be a grim story with certain dark implications for those letting their minds wander, but a compelling story.
And Floyd. Floyd is great. But I do not want to ruin anything for those who have not given Planetfall a play yet so that’s all Floyd gets in the Spoiler Free Review.
Let me just get my biggest negative out of the way. Due to what I believe to be a bug, there were two objects in the game that are not listed in their starting locations. It got to the point where I had only one problem left to solve before finishing the game and I could not do it because I was missing two objects. I knew what needed to be done I just did not have the means. After becoming exceedingly frustrated, I went to the Invisiclues, which told me what I already new. So I went to a walkthrough, which told be the bobbit was in the dry-cleaners and the swend-o-fenn was in the linen closet (names and locations have been changed for the protection of the innocent). Sure enough, when in the linen closet, issuing the command >take swend-o-fenn resulted in taken. I almost rage quit then and there, never to return. For the record I was playing the file planetfall-r39-s880501. A test of two other versions resulted with the bobbit being listed in the dry-cleaners room description.
The rest of what I have say here is really just quibbles. Having to eat is an artificial obstacle, but common of games from the era. Inventory management is a pain, especially since if you drop an item in a room you better remember where you left it, because the game does not tell you about objects moved from their starting position. You cannot use the command >x to examine, you have to type out examine or look at over and over again. There are also a few long commands that you have to type a number of time throughout the game that get annoying.
Planetfall is a delight. From its depths of story telling to the approachable puzzles to Floyd, there are many things to enjoy. Gaining accessing a new area of the game world or discovering new information is rewarding and fun. If you have not, do yourself the favor of getting this to your interpreter, you won’t regret it.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable States review of Planetfall here.