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.

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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.

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Inside Woman, by Andy Phillips

5 of 5 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.

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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.

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Heist, by Andy Phillips

4 of 4 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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An Evening at the Ransom Woodingdean Museum House, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Satisfying to expectations of the unexpected., November 26, 2018

Like the other games I played by this author, it was a welcome treat for a morning off work. This game took me a couple of hours to play to the end, but a lot of it was spent making the map, listing the objects and taking notes from the descriptions. I had to laugh at myself when I reached the ending. But it was a great experience, it shook up my conception of IF and really made me feel more free about how to write and create my own games. I would recommend just sitting back and exploring the house, taking in the sensory information. DO make a map, and experiment with the objects. I played this game without the recommended soundtrack (you will be given this option on the play-in-browser website)--I may just go back and play with the soundtrack, just to get the whole experience!

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Dial C for Cupcakes, by Ryan Veeder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Funny premise and theme., July 30, 2018

I enjoyed this short game very much. I would recommend it to beginners because of the simple problem-solving in the game and the scavenger hunting that is often found in IF. I would recommend it to seasoned veterans because it offers a good hour or two of fun, and it has an original premise, a lot like the author's Taco Fiction. Like being a part of a funny movie, an idea I like. I would put two thumbs up, if they weren't stuck in cupcakes!

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Winter Storm Draco, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Frosty Treat, March 24, 2018

I rarely--if ever--give something five stars, but this vignette is a work of art. As art, as an artistic expression of IF, it gets five stars. If I qualify further, I may have to give something away, so just try it and see for yourself.

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Taco Fiction, by Ryan Veeder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A good little episode., January 29, 2018

This game reminded me a lot of some of the old Infocom games, in that there's not a lot of embellishment in the descriptions, usually just a few sentences. I didn't find it too terribly difficult, it took me only about 2-3 hours to play through, and I'm a careful examiner of EVERYTHING. I usually don't play games that I would expect to be short, because I enjoy getting involved in long games, but this one was a nice and entertaining diversion from my usual route. What I really liked about the game was how the real plot seems to evolve from one thing(which is obvious to the player, albeit with a little coyness), to something much broader. I gave it only 4 stars, because some parts of the game, especially the ending, rely on conversation, which, in this game, is choice-based, so there's not a lot of freedom in this respect. I got frustrated with this part because you have to make the right choices, not all of which are available right away. It could get confusing if you use SAVE and RESTORE a lot, and you don't remember what subjects led to what other subjects. Plus there are things that you have to actually do, before some subjects for conversation open up, and these things are not entirely obvious. Specifically, (Spoiler - click to show)with Zuleika, the cashier in the ice cream place. I could have easily not noticed the checkerboard on the table--it wasn't in the room description!--had I not examined the table. You have to engage the cashier in a checker game, and then talk about your 'day' etc etc. to open up other important subjects. However, I also see how this was not essential to winning. (Spoiler - click to show)Though it was the 'best' ending. As usual, I would advise any new players trying this game to explore everything, see what you can do. If you like short games, this is ideal. I may just start getting into playing more short games! Here, the puzzles are not hard at all, especially if you take pains to examine things and seemingly unimportant details. (Spoiler - click to show)Remember to look in your back seat! Also, you have to make sure that you have examined everything found in the cult's back office. The details there are very important. Better yet, take it all with you! A good short game! Someone suggested I try a Ryan Veeder game. I did, and will be back for another one!

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So Far, by Andrew Plotkin

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Simple and enjoyable., April 30, 2017

This was the first IF game I've played by this author. All in all, it was a good experience, and it took 6 days for me to complete.
It wasn't too terribly 'verbose' in its descriptions--but I see the advantage to that--the best images are created by the mind of the reader. For the most part, the descriptions were 'good enough'. But one reason I gave it only 4 stars was because in some places the author could have been more clear. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)no matter how hard I tried to look at it, I just could not understand how the huge gate in the 'autumn' area worked, but maybe I missed something about it. Also, I think he could have tightened up the grammar in some places, though I know programmers aren't necessarily professional writers. Plus I understand that the author was in his mid 20s(as I was) when this game came out in 1996.
Perhaps like a number of others, I thought this game was going to be a cinch when I first started playing it. Not quite. The first problems were simple, but soon after, I got stuck. One hint--it really helps to take a step back and take in WHERE you ARE. There is plenty of teleportation, and though it seems that you remain on the same planet, the many places you visit are different. The problems are varied and interesting, and I know it's a good game when I get obsessed about solving them.
Warning, however---there are also plenty of red herrings. Locked doors, paths and entrances that seem to admit you, objects that seem like they could be used for SOMETHING, but turn out to be non-essential. At one point, I thought I might be able to make out a pattern to solve what I thought was a problem, but it was like reading tea-leaves--the problem wasn't what I thought it was. Also, there are one or two loose ends, event-wise, but, as they say, that's life. At any rate, I follow the old IF rule, 'If you can take an object, keep it.'

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Varicella, by Adam Cadre

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Caution: Murder ahead, November 18, 2016

This is probably about the 'darkest' IF I have ever played--you are a 'lowly' palace minister who is seizing an opportunity to essentially become king(after the king has died) by eliminating your rivals, one by one. And you have two hours(within the game, not on the clock) to achieve this. When I say 'eliminate', I mean actually killing your rivals--albeit indirectly(get my hands dirty!? Perish the thought!). If you object to this idea, then I strongly advise against playing this game. I know it's 'only fiction' but I can see how some would be turned off by it. But being the persistent IF-er, I pressed on...
It took me about 7 days to figure this game out, and should you decide to 'press on' like I did, I suggest you do the following--
1. Lay aside any expectation of 'winning' within the first few playthroughs. You will not. This game has a very tight time schedule, instead of a turn-counter, there is a time clock that measures out time according to how long the author estimates your chosen actions would take(instead of each action taking 1 turn, a 'wait' may take 2 minutes, a move between rooms may take 10 seconds, etc, though the clock at the top will advance only in 5 minute increments--it will not visibly advance with every move, so you have to guess). Most estimates I have seen say that a successful playthrough should take about 100 moves(which would sum up to about 2 hours, game time).
2. Expect to play through to the end(a failure,(Spoiler - click to show)when the war secretary-turned-warlord takes over the city-state) many times. But see each playthrough as a means of exploring the palace(you really won't be able to go anywhere outside) further, and getting to know each NPC more, by surveillance, observation, questions, etc. Search your own room, first, figure out the machinery.
3. Probably the best perspective to take is to realize that, at the beginning of the game, you ALREADY have a plan(to eliminate your rivals)--you just need to recall what it is, and put it in motion. Your initial playthroughs will be about figuring out the component parts of the plan, then you will need to put them together timing-wise.
4. These parts will interlock, in the final game(where you actually win) in such a way that you will need to work on each of the rivals simultaneously, putting a move or two in here and there against each. The order in which you execute these moves is very important. One mistake can be costly. You have to find out the correct order in which to destroy them.
I must make a confession, here. Though I have found out how to eliminate each of the rivals(there are 5), I never got the order correct. I kept dying, because I would forget something, took too long to do another thing, etc etc. Finally, I decided that I had other things I wanted to do and put the game aside. The 'enjoyment' that I got came from the 'figuring out' process, and I was content to know that I 'could' have figured out the timing. This game is truly rigorous. If Mr Cadre's intentions were to completely vex you, then he succeeded with me.
I did enjoy the rich descriptions and full character developments. Clearly, you are meant to explore all of these before completing the details of your plan and carrying them out with the final playthrough--in which you will NOT have time to do any information gathering. Look at EVERYTHING. ASK QUESTIONS. Experiment with ALL take-able objects. USE the equipment(for example, in some of my first playthroughs,(Spoiler - click to show) I did nothing but sit in the room and watch each one of the main NPCs on the surveillance system, particularly the rivals, for the entire two hours. I did this for each NPC.).
But for all its intricacy, there are some flaws. I think that the seeming anachronisms (palace guards, albeit with rifles, the 'war' with Venice, etc) were intentional, the author is bringing the old era of city-states(the Carolingian League) into the future, with electronics, helicopters, etc. The two biggest flaws that I can recall are--
1. Indifference; apparently, none of the deaths that you will have caused will be investigated, despite the social rank of the victims(in fact,(Spoiler - click to show) in the one in which there IS a reaction,you are present and it's obvious that you supplied the weapon. And surely, the queen and/or her son would notice that her brother-in-law had been murdered by the falling toy, which she had to have seen you take...!??.
2. In case no one noticed, (Spoiler - click to show)there is a cannibalistic plant taking over the palace! Nothing is said as to what was/will be done to eliminate it! Unless I missed something.
It bears repeating that in this game, YOU WILL BE DOING A LOT OF KILLING. Which perhaps leads to a third flaw--(Spoiler - click to show)when you destroy the war minister, you will also destroy his army. There may not be many people left to rule..!!??
Therefore, I gave it three stars. With these things in mind, I hope you enjoy the game, should you choose to play it.

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Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Not for the squeamish--but a little more romance, please! , July 25, 2016

When I downloaded this game last month, I kept putting off playing it because I thought it would be JUST an interactive novel, with very few puzzles--even the author in his opening notes suggested that the puzzles 'weren't very hard'--so I had it sized up to be a very easy game. In fact, I kept it on my computer while I went along playing one or two other games--as I tend to prefer games with lots of hard puzzles. Finally, I threw up my hands and said that this game wasn't going to play itself, I might as well get it over with.
I was so wrong about this game.
First of all, the game area is SPRAWLING. If you are a 'puzzle-ey' guy like me, you might not be used to starting out being able to explore large areas(many 'rooms'). My instinct when I begin a game or new area in a game, I map all available rooms. In Anchorhead, just about the whole town is free to explore from the start(except a number of not-yet-available places). This almost overwhelmed my compartmentalized male mind. But then I reminded myself that this game is not so puzzle-driven as it is plot-driven. Let the story guide you, I said. Nevertheless, I continued to map the entire city, before even meeting with Michael.
And yes, it did kind of startle me to find out that I was playing a female protagonist, especially as I was (Spoiler - click to show)having fun envisioning myself as Inspector Clouseau, with my trenchcoat and umbrella, climbing through the window of my real-estate agent's office. I don't recall any mention of the protagonist being female. So to me, this promised to make for an interesting experience for me.
It was encouraging to be more or less guided by the events in the story as to what area to address--ie. 'what to do' next--however, it's very important to explore all available areas, examine EVERYTHING, read everything, look behind and under--and in--all things, and know your inventory. There were a couple of things in this game that I missed, that I thought were easy to miss. The author was very descriptive in this game, but there were a couple of spots I thought needed more description. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)I had no idea that there was a book of matches in the kitchen, because the description of the kitchen was so spare, I didn't think to look in the cabinets. The other major thing that I think could have used more attention was (Spoiler - click to show) the study--this was the whole key to the wine bottle problem--apparently you have to be able, at the right time, to follow Michael's movements through the house, and if you do not know to be in the study immediately after you wake up on the third day, and how to get into the secret passageway there, you will be unwinnably stuck--I found this out the hard way. I talked to Michael too long and I made him storm out of the house, and ended up beating my head against meaningless wine bottles. I finally gave in and looked at a walk-through, and got that betrayed feeling like this was something I could have solved had I noticed these little things, capped off with the thought that I just cheated. But more description could have been used there. It would have saved me from (Spoiler - click to show)constantly hitting my head on the wall in the dark area of the asylum, because I didn't find the matches in the kitchen cabinet with which to light the lantern, after I escaped from the rubber room. I was constantly being chased--and eaten--by the madman, because I thought I had to somehow manipulate the light in the stairwell to get light into the rooms downstairs, only to find out from a walkthrough that there were matches in the kitchen that could have been found on Day 2. But then, this is all a part of the territory of IF adventure--part of the challenge. These games have things like SAVE and RESTORE; real life does not. So as IF adventurers, we are actually having it easy.
Otherwise, the game is RICH in description. The atmosphere is excellent, you really get the feeling that you are there. The characters are full of life, even the 'bum' near the wharf. There is even a subplot that is touching. Were I actually a female, I might have wanted a more romantic tone, and I kind of expected the train to play more of a role in the game, at least as a puzzle or the solution to one. I even hoped that (Spoiler - click to show)at the end of the game, while the town was being sucked into the vortex, Michael and I would run with careless abandon, and with perfect timing, the train would speed through and we would jump and perfectly land on a flat car and ride our asses out of town. But such was not to be.
However, the horror angle was NOT underemphasized. This game is not for the faint-of-heart. Scenes of violence and gore--including violence done to the protagonist--are incredibly graphic. One must wonder at the imagination of the author. I did feel a certain vindication at the (Spoiler - click to show)lifelessly prone body of the asylum orderly, though I wish somehow (Spoiler - click to show)the bum, and even William, could somehow have been spared. But then, this is horror. It's the reverse of fantasy land.
In reading some of the reviews for this game, I frequently came across comments that the puzzles on Day 3 had time constraints. Well, yes they do, but I think the author was kind in that he makes the story advance only after you complete each puzzle. In the final sequence, you do have a limited number of moves, but it's logical and intuitive. Be encouraged that (Spoiler - click to show)once you get handcuffed to the rock on the island of flesh, there is NOTHING you can do, so you can pretty much figure that solving this puzzle has to do with what you do with the mirrors BEFORE you are taken captive. I thought that this was the perhaps the best of the puzzles. The epilogue was a bona fide horror ending--(Spoiler - click to show)when the protagonist(s) survive, there is the promise of MORE horror!
In a word, I thought it was fantastic. Would I recommend it to a beginner? Some of these puzzles are tough, and at the beginning of the game, one might be misled by the number of locked doors/hatches, especially if you are puzzle guy like me who sees every locked door as an immediate challenge. I would recommend it with a little guidance--don't be discouraged by having to go back to (much) earlier saved positions, save often, examine everything to the hilt, make an accurate map, and let the story guide you, especially in such story-driven games as this. But then, the author provides this advice in his opening notes.
Four stars--but then I am a romantic, I wanted a (Spoiler - click to show)train-ride ending! And more description in certain places!

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Make It Good, by Jon Ingold

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Another gem from Jon., June 21, 2016

A very well- and carefully written game, one of the most intricate I've played. You are a not-so-perfect private eye who is called to investigate a murder, and (Spoiler - click to show)finds himself involved in more ways than one! I say carefully written, because this is one game where the NPCs are not only aware of each other when in the same room, they are also aware of some of the items that you are holding, so you have to be careful! Their actions are strongly influenced by these facts. Veteran IFers may be put off by this, if they are habituated to games where the NPCs are rather discreet with respect to each other(=confined to certain areas of play), and indifferent to what the player is holding, unless the IFer has played Infocom's The Witness, or Deadline. I would recommend this game to a beginner, because the beginner would play with beginner's eyes--EXPECTING the NPCs to interact with each other and to be curious or observant of what you are holding. Also, I would recommend it to them because the game is brief compared to many others--I would call it an appetizer. If you are focused on finding the evidence, analyzing it and interviewing characters, you should quickly uncover (possible) motives and get a rough idea of who did it(or COULD have)--but this is just part of the game! Another part is how to manage the investigation--and keep pertinent details to yourself, what to analyze and what to divulge--and when to divulge it. This is why you may need a number of replays to 'get it right'(which may have you tearing your hair out). One character suggests that it's like a chess match((Spoiler - click to show)and I thought the chessboard was another little touch of genius--see if you can liken the characters to the pieces on the board) Then there is the endgame, which I felt was a masterstroke.
I really have nothing but the usual complaints regarding Ingold's games--the Britishisms(not a real complaint from me, but others may be put off--for example, in the US, we don't call 'em 'vicar', we make coffee, not tea, a car has a hood, not a 'bonnet'), the-one-thing-I-could-do-but-didn't-realize-I-could-do(found this out from a walkthrough--and yes, I did consult a walkthrough, after hours of beating my head against the wall trying to accuse someone who I was sure did it), and there are at least a couple of places where you play 'guess the verb', or you get a different result using two very similar verbs(look at vs examine). These are also the reason why I gave only 4 stars(instead of 5), but again wanted to give an additional 1/2 star, for 4 1/2.
I want to also stress that this game is excellent. You'll get laughs talking to Joe(the officer on duty who assists you with the analyses and questioning). He does not trust you, wants you fired(he knows you're a (Spoiler - click to show)shady alcoholic, and (Spoiler - click to show)possibly even suspects you from the start. If you give him just any object to analyze(that isn't direct evidence), sometimes, without even looking at it, he'll call you a cretin and walk away. But sometimes he's nice and will let you look at the crossword in his newspaper(which I may go back to the game and try to work completely--it's a neat little puzzle on its own, and even has an allusion to the one in The Mulldoon Legacy, another Ingold game I enjoyed).
I found only one bug in the release I played(#13), but even that gave me a laugh--(Spoiler - click to show)you aren't supposed to be able to take Emilia's ceramic water jug without breaking it, but when you go to the Kitchen sink, where the jug is, and say 'FILL JUG'--and the game usually would automatically say (first taking the ---)at any object you choose--the game will then say 'You filched her jug, BUG BUG BUG--I think the author put this in as a joke, once the bug was pointed out to him, and of course, you are not allowed to have the jug, you will have to use the whiskey bottle as a container. If you can hack the aforementioned gripes, then you will thoroughly enjoy the game and appreciate the conclusion. One tip without spoiling anything--when playing a game like this, always search the house and collect evidence, before interviewing. Like a lawyer in court, know the answers before you ask the questions.
Great game.

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Jigsaw, by Graham Nelson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Jigsaw completely lives up to its name., June 9, 2016

After a years-long hiatus from IF, I went into this game, thinking that it would be namby-pamby, and when I started playing it, I still thought it would be thread-bare, with its initially spare descriptions. I was SO wrong. It turned out to be one of the most complicated games I have ever played(and I am an Infocom veteran, having played such hard nuts as Spellbreaker). I had to look at a walkthrough, by golly. This game has many areas, which correspond to certain events in world history. One plus that I appreciated was that I came out of this game feeling more educated, I had learned from it, or was inspired to do so. A minus was that it was not obvious to me what order in which I could solve each area. There is at least one instance where you definitely have to solve one area before approaching another, and you do not get another opportunity in that area unless you start over or go back to a previously saved position(and this is where I felt compelled to consult the walk-through--only to find out that I had no such position I could go back to, and had to start over). But most other areas can be solved in any order. I would recommend being especially watchful, by EXAMINE-ing and SEARCH-ing everything within reason. As with Curses!(Graham Nelson's other big game) and Jon Ingold's games, I would not recommend this game for a beginner, mainly because of the frequent shifts in setting and the sheer perspective of the plot. And there are certain actions that you will need to take that are not entirely obvious--or even obvious at all--that may stall out a beginner early in the game. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)it took me a long time to figure out what to do with the pyramid in the initial sequence(how was I to know that I could climb it!? I can see how some might have given up.).
This game is as full of nutcrackers as it is full of personality and color. Mr. Nelson made it just as intricate and at least as challenging as his other game Curses!(which I also recommend to experienced players). Be sure to exploit every object that you find, use it even if its purpose is not entirely clear, and look under and search every place and object possible. And please, (Spoiler - click to show)remember to sketch the animals! if you want a satisfying ending!

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The Mulldoon Legacy, by Jon Ingold

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Puzzle intensive and absorbing, June 9, 2016

This game is huge and took me 24 days to solve. For the beginner? Definitely not. Admittedly, I had to consult a walkthrough, and on at least one occasion, I had to start over--but as I always say, that's par for the course in games worth playing. As with another game I reviewed, Curses!, this game is full of puzzles and conundrums on many fronts, and I would recommend it to any seasoned veteran who is looking for such challenges. I would recommend a thorough and accurate map, objects list, and list of problems/obstacles--which you will definitely need, because this game is so sprawling and hither-and-yon, that while working in one area, it's easy to forget what obstacles you found in another a while back. There are also a number of games-within-a-game 'vignettes'--one consolation here is that some are well self-contained(=with solutions near-to-hand), and even give you chances to 'try again'.
I think I do need to mention that even if you are very observant, some things in this game are easy to miss. You will need to move some things or do some actions that you might not think you would be allowed to move or do. Plus, remember that EVERY object that you find in this game is crucial to your completing it. And there is at least one object that will totally stump you as to its use--but when you realize what its use is, you will be very amused--which I thought was a stroke of genuine genius by the author.
I did not give this game 5 stars, but I would give it an additional 1/2 star if this were possible. I say not 5 stars, because of the above mentioned situations where things are not made obvious or details not made clear, also because in some places, the grammar and syntax in the descriptions are somewhat 'off'(at least in the release that I played). Words are unnecessarily repeated, there are typos, high school mistakes(of the type 'where is he at?' or 'an object which you don't know where it is', etc). And what are called 'Britishisms'--which can put off the already awkward-feeling beginner. However, I am a frequent watcher of British television, and am thoroughly amused by Monty Python, so this did not put me off, in fact I felt entertained by it, but others may not. But when you consider that Mr. Ingold wrote this game while also burdened by student work, he still did an excellent job. An A- from me.

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The Mulldoon Murders, by Jon Ingold

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Science versus magic illustrated here, June 9, 2016

I think Jon Ingold did a fantastic job writing this game, and filling it with puzzles--again following the puzzle-in-every-room formula, which kept me occupied. But what prompted me to give only 3 stars to this work was how the game seemed to repudiate or disavow the story in The Mulldoon Legacy, of which MM is a sequel or epilogue. If you have played TML, I would invite you to play this game, much of the territory is the same, and there is little here to surprise or confuse you--for example, you know what the sundial and mosaic were for in TML. Call me sentimental, but there is no teleportation, no time travel or any kind of magic in this game(until the end), which may disappoint TML vets. However, I do think that the author was clever about how he dealt with the differences between the two games, and those who have played TML will notice this as they play this game.
A beginner in IF may find this game hard to swallow, not having familiarity with TML, and there are some allusions to chemistry that might confuse the average player(I had to consult Wikipedia on a few things). Thus, I would feel awkward recommending it to a beginner. However, all of the puzzles are clever and engaging. Also, the game is comparatively short--if you are looking to immerse yourself in a long game over a couple of weeks' vacation from work, this game would not be it--it took me 4 days to complete(without a walkthrough)--I'd send you to The Mulldoon Legacy, though you'd probably still be on TML long after the vacation was over. This game is great as an epilogue, and I think it should be played as such, just don't expect much of a mystical or magical theme--remember, here, you are a cynical private eye, not an adventurer looking for magic, treasure and wonder. But then again, science and chemistry are full of wonders, and they are well represented here, even if implemented rather awkwardly.

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Curses, by Graham Nelson

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Not for the beginner..., June 9, 2016

I am a seasoned veteran, having played most of the old Infocom games during my teenage and into my 20s(I am now 46). So, I went into this game thinking that it would be an easy one, thinking that I would 'whip' it in only a matter of days. It took me almost 3 weeks. The game is incredibly intricate, covers a lot of territory. I would not recommend it to a beginner, the Zork series is difficult enough--in Zork, you have only ONE wand(which is not even yours), in Curses!, there are more than TEN! This game also has teleportation, time travel to various places, the obligatory maze, plenty of NPCs. There were a couple of places where I had to start over, because I had missed an object irrevocably---I was in the kind of space that most IFers dread, where you flounder about, wondering what to do next and get this strange feeling that you had missed something, then finally give in and consult the walkthrough, only to find out that you were really to supposed to take X or do Y while you were in Z location and time(in addition to doing what you DID do), when you thought you were done with that area(and, of course, there's no way of going back). Yes, there were a couple of places in this game where I thought it wasn't being 'fair' in its description of the place or clear as to what was to be accomplished in this or that area, and if you are not accustomed to examining EVERY object, or searching EVERY possible place, and mapping EVERY accessible passage and room, you might get stuck. There were a few objects that were hidden in places that were not prominently or directly referred to in the room descriptions. Also, I think something must be said about the sequence in which the various areas(and there are many) in this game are played and solved--some must be solved before others and there is at least one that must be completed during your first--and only--visit. With all that said, I had fun with this game. I am a veteran, so while I was a little frustrated with the inconveniences mentioned, I must admit that they are par for the course in games like this and the author, if asked about them, would probably just say, 'That's life! It's part of the challenge!' I had fun with the hint system built into the game(and the reader will understand what I mean when s/he encounters it). In fact, I would advise any player, new or experienced, to save the game very often, at every new discovery, and use the hint system to 'the max', by saving his/her position near where the hints are being offered(which is easily worked out). Again, this is a big game, with many fronts, puzzles at every turn, especially at the house. A tour-de-force for the experienced IFer.

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