Ratings and Reviews by IFonthebrain

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Minor Arcana, by Jack Sanderson Thwaite

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Vibrant with Imagery, October 3, 2020

I feel compelled to give a bit of instruction.
You need to approach this experience with seriousness, and a heap of intuition. Or just 'Play' it naturally. You advance this piece via the blue hyperlinks. Sometimes there are a number of blue links--these advance to the next page-- you make the choices that feel intuitively right to you, and I think the best approach is an honest one. Remember to try clicking on the brown links--each one is a choice between 4 different descriptive words--you pick the one that feels right for your situation; just click the brown link until the right word appears, and then read on.
The only failing of this piece is there doesn't seem to be any explanatory text--unless the piece itself is the text. Otherwise the artwork and the body of the text are very atmospheric and archaic. I felt like I was a confused wanderer in medieval times, seeking counsel from a soothsayer. The experience is full of meaning, if you are in the right mind-set--as that wanderer making his/her way through life.
Actually, not having explanatory text, I think, enhances the feeling of being a 'seeker of truth'. The curious player might return to this piece time and again, in search of meaning or understanding.

Christminster, by Gareth Rees
IFonthebrain's Rating:

Alias 'The Magpie', by J. J. Guest
IFonthebrain's Rating:

Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, by Jim Aikin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Oh, the trouble we go through to get a gift!, July 19, 2019

This has to be one of the most challenging puzzlers I have played--and I love puzzly IF games. Especially multi-level games, although NJAOB is not multi-level in the strict sense--the mall in the game actually has 4 levels, which makes it kind of resemble a multi-level IF. You will want to make a map. There are a number of fiddly map connections, where, for example, 'north' won't get you back after going 'south'. And despite there being a capacious bag, there are a number of take-able objects that will not fit into the bag, and there is an inventory limit that may bedevil some who aren't used to the old games. To be fair, this limit is quite high, and if you are not a hoarder like me, and drop items after using them for a score increase, you may never reach the limit. All the same, it's a good idea to keep an object list, next to your maps. Some objects will be needed more than once.
I think the main drawback of this game is that it is so expansive as regards play area--from the very beginning. You will want to make a map for each level. I spent perhaps my first five game sessions--and I have long sessions--mapping the play area, taking notes, and just listing the takeable objects, and only tentatively solving puzzles. At one point, (Spoiler - click to show)suddenly, I was able to unlock all the shop doors, got the lights turned on, and foiled security--MORE MAPPING! Plus, there are no less than FOUR mazes.. While I don't see this as a 'drawback' as far as enjoyment, it kept me wondering 'what objects and clues are available to me now, what things can I do, and what do I need to know now?' because I didn't want to keep struggling with a puzzle over here on the Main Level, when the object/solution/clue is fully available on the Upper Level, or somewhere else that I hadn't mapped yet. So count on spending your first several sessions just taking it all in, mapping, examining and taking notes.
Also, there are about a half-dozen red herrings, in the form of takeable objects and clues. To be fair here, some of them are parts of alternate solutions, but you still wonder if they will be useful somewhere. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, I never found a use for the angel's wings--they were an alternate solution in one of the mazes, but you would still have to find your way back through that maze. And at least one puzzle was just downright abstruse; (Spoiler - click to show)it was a code puzzle, where the clues seemed sprinkled here and there through the mall. You had to unscramble a number of words--for some, the letters of which could have just as easily spelled other words--and then take a letter from each of these words to spell one of the code words. What I didn't understand about this was, why have six words, all of whose letters were known, scramble them, only to have the player find an additional word from one each of these groups of letters? Why not have just one scrambled word? None of these six words had any other meaning or use in the game. And the clues to the scrambled words were placed on the opposite side of the mall, on a different level--those clues were so incredibly obscure and esoteric--and, I felt, were clues to something completely superfluous, as I mentioned before. It just seemed like a lot of verbiage for the sake of a code word to put into a computer in a shop in order to get a couple of things. Also, I think the author put a number of 'stubs'(situations where there might be a puzzle) into the game, but then changed his mind, and just left them in.
But on the whole, I thought the concept, the story, the characters fit together really well. I rated it 4 stars because it is a well-put-together game, the author put a lot of thought into every location--there are no less than 19 shops in the mall--each one had something useful--and that's just the shops! There are plenty of mathematical and code puzzles to keep you busy and thinking outside of the game session. I gave it only 4 because of the problems mentioned above. It took me 11 sessions, and an average of about 5 hours a session. I do agree with some other reviewers, in that the ending was a bit tepid--I think he could have added quite a bit more--maybe even make it more challenging to leave the mall--but it didn't faze me much, because I really did enjoy playing this game. There is plenty of humor, a lot of what I call 'daring ridiculousness'(particularly what the PC does vis--vis the security situation, reminds me of what I often put into my own games), and thematic situations (cultural references, you get to meet a ghost, a homeless man, plenty of toys, Christmas tree, etc). A lot of color.

Inside Woman, by Andy Phillips

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Another great Andy Phillips game., June 14, 2019

Like in all of Andy's games, you have to do your homework. Make your maps, make your lists, write important remarks and information down. Fortunately for me, this is what I look for in challenging and engrossing IF. And Phillips never seems to run out of puzzles; this game pushes the limit of the number of different kinds of puzzles, from mental and metaphorical challenges to whether to duck or jump.
It took me 16 days to complete this work. To be fair, I spend a lot of my spare time on my computer, and I consulted online hints for a few of the more difficult challenges. (Spoiler - click to show)One of them was where you are in a virtual video game, where, in order to make progress in the story, you have to score at least 2000 points. I thought that once you reach that goal, you were done with the video game, on to the rest of the story. No way. I didn't realize until near the end of Inside Woman, that I would need to make the maximum score in the video game in order to win an important object, which was necessary to complete the story. I knew what the object was, but I had searched the entire game area for it, and had no idea where it was. Another was a wooden footbridge/walkway--it was supported by steel cables, with one of the main cables broken, so you could not cross the bridge holding a large and necessary item. I kept thinking that I had to find something stable and strong to connect the cable to, in order to bring the bridge fully up out of the water. The solution, which I found out by accident when I reached 'try anything mode', turned out to be to have someone hold it up--that worked, but I came away from that puzzle feeling incredulous. But, you know, all great games have head-slappers like this.
One thing Andy's games all seem to have in common--which may be more of a good thing than bad--is that he has a very unassuming approach in writing. Very vernacular, which can put some off, but it's also 'comfortable', especially if you are used to his games (I've very recently played his Heist, and Enemies, both of which I thought were very good). However, his spelling and usage still needs some attention--even some words were left out. But given a game with such a broad scope (though a z-machine format!), he probably didn't have much time for testing and/or editing. The implementation was very good, though not perfect. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)There is a very necessary container in the game that you should keep with you to store some important items. But you wouldn't think that just by taking something out of it, you could make the other contents fall out, as well--which was annoying. Also, when you are to place certain items onto certain designated places, make sure you consistently use the full terminology suggested by any nearby sign, such as 'put Y on position 2'--the story might understand 'put Y on 2', but you will run into an annoying bug if you continue in that format.

In a word, expect to be challenged. I came to this game much like the way I approach what I hope to be a good novel--and was quite satisfied. Clearly, much of the story is puzzle-driven, and there are time-sensitive parts--you will need to save and restore generously, which for me is not a bad thing. I think the author gives the PC plenty of time to do what is necessary.

I thought this was great science-fiction. I even emailed the author to compliment him on his games; he told me that he was glad I enjoyed them and remarked at the good reviews they were getting lately, but also that his work left him with little time to write more. Still, I told him if he had the time to write another great game like this one, he would find some eager players. I would be one.

Enemies, by Andy Phillips
Quite a graphic mystery., May 15, 2019

This is probably the most macabre IF I've ever played, and I say this because a number of gruesomely slaughtered and posed bodies are involved--also there are plenty of graphic 'insta-deaths'(doing the wrong thing in a number of situations can lead to PC death) although I thought most of them could be avoided with a reasonable modicum of common sense. You can count on these things being present in an Andy Phillips game. Which oddly doesn't bother me, because I am a detective brat and I am a fan of psycho-thrillers. And I think this game is a very good one.

This game is full of puzzles, which I think fits in really well with the theme of being taunted--controlled?--by a sadistic psychopath, who has a predilection for torture before slaughter. Some of the puzzles are quite difficult, and require special knowledge. One I know I would have never gotten through without being familiar with Roman mythology and the solar system. Another, which I thought was the most difficult to understand was one that involved electricity--I had to do a little research for that one. However, another puzzle, which involved song lyrics and algebra, was brilliant. I thought all of the puzzles were well thought-out, with reasonable solutions, (Spoiler - click to show)with perhaps one exception--at the very end, you are in a supply room, with a remote-controlled crane and a stack of crates at the southern(back) wall. I don't think the author gave any indication in the room description that the player could get behind the crates using the usual compass direction commands--I had to find this out by accident--plus I had to look at the walkthrough to find out that I could 'throw (something) over (something else)'--though I might have found this out by typing just any command out of sheer frustration. Both of these things were essential to the final puzzle. And, having worked with large machinery for many years, I know how forklifts move and how noisy they are--A human being can easily outrun a forklift, especially given how screwed-up the one in the game is described as being, and it would be very difficult to NOT hear it moving. Therefore I found it hard to believe that such a skilled assassin, with excellent reflexes, could not just jump out of the way. So, needless to say, I didn't realize that the crane was supposed to be the solution. But all this makes sense when you realize that the author was only 21 when he wrote this game, and probably just out of college--which really actually impressed me when I found out from the 'About the Author' section in the help info. Lots of puzzles requiring high intelligence, but perhaps a few dodgy parts--which was the reason I gave it 4 stars, as opposed to 5.

I have to say that I like games that include a 'hunt' for objects that have something in common--in 'Jigsaw', it was the puzzle pieces(clever), in 'Curses', it was the ebony rods, etc. Like the 'score', that kind of gives me a feeling of 'progress'. 'Enemies' has that element indeed.

The theme of the game really kind of 'spoke' to me. There were really two--about bullying, but kind of a minor one involving relationships. The game spoke to a question in my mind--how does one address school-age bullying as an adult? Being essentially a pacifist, in deed if not in word, I don't believe in using force to intimidate, belittle, or cause another individual to do something. Yet in school, I was often the victim of such behavior. And I look back on those situations often with resentment, and wonder if I could have done something to 'set things straight' with the bullies, or somehow wanting to 'get even'. I sometimes wonder if there is yet another solution. This game spoke to that in me. Also, there is a relationship in the story that was never resolved and never would be--that also spoke to me. I think both were addressed satisfactorily, to the extent that they can be.

This is really one of those games where I wonder what the author is 'up to' now, especially since this game was published in 1999--20 years ago. His latest effort, as far as I can tell, came out in 2009. I think this game was well-written--an improvement on 'Heist', as far as writing, grammar, etc, are concerned. Also, I think I agree with other reviewers that it communicated a sense of suspense and 'spooky-ness' very well.

To sum up, if you are a die-hard puzzle-lover who also likes 'story' with your puzzles, 'Enemies' hits the spot.

Heist, by Andy Phillips

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent and satisfying IF., May 8, 2019

This game is everything that I look for in a long and involving game--the kind that I always seek, I guess because I am an old-style IF veteran. It makes use of all of my IF habits--map-making, object list, puzzle list--and it's full of puzzles. And I just had to find those last few points!
It's impossible for me to give a detailed review of this game, because it's just so sprawling and there is a number of self-contained chapters. Yes, there are many puzzles. Yes, the puzzles are real stumpers. But you see, I take that as par for the course--for me, a game is satisfying if it is challenging, and I can make it through on my own steam.
If you are looking only for a good story, that you can complete in a weekend, I'd say look elsewhere. But if you are looking for both a good story AND a challenging game, that will keep you occupied for days, maybe weeks, 'Heist' may be your choice.
I gave this game 4 stars, if only because I could not give it 4 1/2, and I wanted to somehow communicate that the writing needs some serious editing in terms of punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Obviously, the author is British, and his phraseology reflects it. Though overall, I thought his language and story-telling was very atmospheric and carried a lot of the ambience that I think he was trying to convey.
I think the best thing that I can say here is that I came away from this game wanting to play another Andy Phillips game.

Curse of the Garden Isle, by Ryan Veeder

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I'll take two chickens., April 1, 2019

Nice, short, atmospheric game. At first, you don't know what you are there to do, but this got me to explore around, do some mapping, look at things--but you find out soon enough what your goal is--[spoiler]I was immediately able to place 3 or 4 of the rocks, based on what I had learned about the island prior to going into the museum[/spoiler]. Just looking around was a big part of the puzzles. The subordinate goal gave me a laugh--I'm still looking for them.

A Beauty Cold and Austere, by Mike Spivey

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
True Fun with Math., December 9, 2018

When I finished this game, in 3 not-long-enough sittings, I had the feeling that I had once again put yet another great IF game under my hat. And it's one of those of which I can truly say that I learned some very interesting things. I may be biased, because I have a background in mathematics and enjoy solving problems in math and physics, but I think this game also entertains--and enlightens--the math lay-person.
The game takes the player through mathematics in history, beginning with the ancient world, and the player advances by solving puzzles pertaining to the major discoveries. The player actually meets some of the historical personalities involved and learns something of their work.
I'm going to leave off discussing many of the particulars, because I feel like I would be spoiling it for the reader, but I really enjoyed how the game seemed to show, symbolically, how mathematics lies at the very root of existence, as a fundamental part of the universe. Also, if you have a keen eye for math humor, you'll find plenty of such references in ABCA.(Spoiler - click to show)Some examples--the log table, which is an actual table made of logs (if have used logarithms in math, you'll spot this one); the square root, which actually is a square made from a root; one puzzle involved Descartes's famous saying 'I think, therefore I am.'--reminding me of a puzzle in my own game 'Bullhockey!'; an 'empty set'--your holdall; even the game's initials seem to allude to a triangle in trigonometry, made by segments ABCA etc, etc.
I really don't have any real complaints about this game. The closest I can come to one is--(Spoiler - click to show)this game has a number of levels, each of which has a central room, from which there are a number of exits--not all of which may be obvious or usable at first. The more you advance on a level, the more 'clear' this central room becomes, and the more exits open up, plus at one point, an exit to the next level opens. I didn't realize this at first, I felt a bit dogged when the room seemed to change on subsequent visits. But this isn't really a complaint--there is a logical reason why this would happen and the player will figure it out.
I think that ABCA is well-suited for being part of a course in the history of mathematics, and I wouldn't be surprised if it indeed is. I honestly think that if a student who balks at taking a math course played this game, s/he would want to learn more about math as a result.

The Origin of Madame Time, by Mathbrush

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fun bit of IF adventure., November 27, 2018

If you are/were a kid who likes comic books, this is the game for you. Also if you are an IF novice--the game has a little of everything that goes into IF puzzles, including doing interesting things with strange objects. I would recommend it heartily to beginners who want to get into short IF games. I thought the game was fun--my one problem was that I read a little too much into the mission--(Spoiler - click to show)at first, I thought I had to get the heroes into a state where they could defeat the villains the instant I released them--but when you get your mind on the right track, it should be quite easy to figure out. I rationalized it this way, in a nutshell--(Spoiler - click to show)All heroes need their nemeses, their opposites, so you cannot save one without also saving the other, perhaps the best possible ending! Still, I wished that the game were a little longer, or somehow involved more of the heroes'/nemeses' personalities more (although obviously they were frozen), so I gave it 4 stars.

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