Reviews by SarahTheEntwife

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The Empty Room, by Matthew Alger

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting idea, August 13, 2010

The central conceit for this game is an interesting one -- you're in a classic locked room puzzle, with the twist that at least at first, the room is featureless. Various actions result in features appearing that you can interact with to escape.

My enjoyment of the game was very mixed. The puzzles are not particularly difficult, which I appreciated, but examining every object to see whether it had magically changed this time got old really quickly. (Spoiler - click to show)It gave me a nice sense of accomplishment to see a screen appear when I pressed a hidden panel. It was less enjoyable when different components appeared on the screen depending on how many times I looked at it or what else I had found in the room. It left me with the feeling that either the player character was exceedingly unobservant (which could have been humorous if it had been made explicit, but it wasn't), or the room was frustratingly unstable. The instability wasn't severe enough to be really disconcerting or interesting, at least for me, so it just felt tedious. Being spoon-fed puzzles in little bits at a time made the game feel extremely linear. Despite exploration seeming the central puzzle, you have to explore in a pre-ordained order, not discovering anything new unless you have done exactly what the writer wanted beforehand.

The game felt a bit rough and unfinished...for example, if something you do causes a feature to appear on, say, the ceiling, you cannot look at the ceiling to find it. You have to remember what that feature was called and examine it by name, rather than just looking at the ceiling.

The in-game help file is odd and unhelpful. I would have minded the condescending humor less if it had actually given me more useful hints on how to solve the puzzles.

Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home, by Andrew Plotkin

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful adventure, August 8, 2010

This is just...gorgeous. The writing is incredible -- your fantastical solar-sail ship feels familiar, while the places you sail to evoke that thrill of wonder and alienness even though to the player, everything should be equally strange. Playwise, it's a bit of a "hoist sails and find out what happens" interface rather than letting you affect the plot much, but that works perfectly with the premise: you're an explorer just seeing what's out there. This is a game to play for the storytelling rather than the challenge. The puzzles are clever but not particularly difficult and the parser will accept both a wide variety of authentic nautical terms and more landlubber-friendly versions. If you sail, this will be particularly enjoyable, but if you don't you won't be lost at all.

It's mostly a story of pure exploration, but the ending is crisply wistful and satisfying. It has a bit of a Ray Bradbury feel to it -- the nostalgic stories, not the creepy ones.

The only problem I had was that in one situation, I tried multiple ways to get out of a trap, only to find myself suddenly free without doing anything different that I could see. I'm not sure if that was a bug or me doing something slightly different without realizing.

The Quest for the Lost Sheep, by Sneeze

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Great premise, some annoyances, August 8, 2010

Pros: Lost Sheep has an adorable premise that's played out in a delightful array of detail. While searching for Bo Peep's lost sheep, you encounter a wide variety of other nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters, many of whom you will help in the process of finding the sheep. There are many prompts for correct commands that will be a great help to beginners, as well as a nice though basic about page with reminders of the premise and possible commands. One minor feature that I found particularly delightful is that each sheep you find is a different accurately-described real world breed of sheep! Most of the puzzles involve either searching the landscape or getting objects from characters and giving them to other characters -- basic, but well-written. Your character is never in any real danger and as far as I can tell there is no way to lose or to render the game unwinnable.

Cons: The map is rather large and not easily hand-mappable, resulting in a lot of time spent wandering aimlessly through the world. The introduction hints that you can "listen" for sheep, but at least in my playthrough this did not appear to ever be necessary or useful. Many of the sheep can be found by looking carefully at different scenery features, but the landscape is scattered with red herrings, making the search tedious. (Spoiler - click to show) One of the red herrings is quite literal. While this is cute, just know right now that you cannot do anything with the fish if you manage to get it. This will save you much frustration.

Since I am used to games with a much larger command inventory, I spent an unhelpful amount of time trying "obvious" solutions to puzzles that the game had not anticipated, and the single error message got repetitive very quickly. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)despite the fact that you are in a large forest armed with an axe, and you pass several stacks of cut lumber and branches, there is only one "branch" you can use to make a torch out of. There is also nothing that I could find to re-unite Red Riding Hood with her grandmother, though the game seemed to be hinting that I should do so.

Despite its flaws, this is an excellent game particularly well-suited to beginners and people who have a better spatial memory than I do and so won't get lost in the forest ;-)

Passing Familiarity, by Papillon

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Victorian amnesia, July 27, 2010

"Passing Familiarity" starts out with a convenient amnesia plot device -- you come to your senses having drunk a bottle of the waters of Lethe and have no idea who you are or why you would have done such a thing. The writing is solid and has a slightly Victorian flavor. The characters are believable if somewhat melodramatic in parts of the revealed story.

There are several possible endings, which I normally like but which in this case just makes the game slightly frustrating. It is extremely easy to win the game without having learned much of your past, and that ending is so positive that it doesn't give much justification for playing again unless you really like puzzles for their own sake. The puzzles themselves are reasonably well-implemented. It's a bit of a scavenger hunt to find both your memories and various components you need, but a well-done one if you like that sort of thing. There is at least one obvious bug: (Spoiler - click to show) a spell you can cast to reveal memories formed in different rooms can be cast multiple times, revealing the same memory but giving you another 2 points each time.

The file currently here on IFDB includes a complete walkthrough for each ending, but there is almost no in-game help other than a rather long-winded description of your inventory constraints and a tip that there is more than one ending. This game is one for which an in-game hint system would have provided both assistance and teasers for other things the player might want to try out even after finding the obvious exit.

The Moonlit Tower, by Yoon Ha Lee

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful writing, July 26, 2010

The Moonlit Tower gets an enthusiastic 5/5 from me on writing, setting, and character, but only a 3/5 on puzzle implementation.

The writing, as other reviews have said, is stunning. Even the error messages ("you can't go that way", etc.) are beautifully in-world and you have to examine every element of the setting to piece together the back story. I really wish this had been the final chapter of a longer game -- it felt like getting a glimpse into a wonderful elaborate world that I desperately wanted to see more of.

The puzzles are where this game breaks down a little. It's possible to win without solving one of the central challenges, yet the end-text assumes the puzzle was completed, making me wonder if I did something in an order that the game hadn't expected. The puzzles themselves vary from interesting but not at all challenging to combining elements in ways that I never would have figured out without the hint system. This would have been a more effective game in my opinion if the writer had played more to her strength in writing and left the more complicated puzzles for a second run.

A Day for Fresh Sushi, by Emily Short

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Delicious bite-sized sushi, July 9, 2010

In A Day for Fresh Sushi, instead of trying to cobble together a whole game under the time limit, Short has written one perfectly constructed little scene. It's a few steps away from a one-move game; if you get even slightly lucky you'll win right away, but want to come back to see what happens when you try other things. As other reviews have said, the fish's commentary is hilarious and is really what makes the game. Most of this game is silly with touches of playful romance, but there are deeper elements suggesting a more complex backstory. (Hint: (Spoiler - click to show)look at the painting.)

Babel, by Ian Finley

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Well-crafted fear, July 8, 2010

Babel gets high marks from me in every way -- the story is compelling, the prose is beautiful, and the puzzles are well woven into the stoy. You are thrown almost violently into the world of the Babel Project station from the first sentence; while it's only a short-to-mid-length game, the sensory details will linger disconcertingly in the back of your mind for days afterward. It may be cliched, but the amnesia/flashback device is played here masterfully.

Every detail and every puzzle in this game is there for a reason; the player isn't made to jump through hoops just for the sake of mental exercise. Why are the keys to routine parts of the station so hard to obtain? By the end of the game you will know and it will make sense. The writing also gives an overwhelming sense of urgency while not, as far as I could tell, actually having a time-limit coded into the game (other than in one puzzle, which you can do over if you mess up). This makes it very playable for relatively new players apt to go over and over things like me.

No character in this game is morally unambiguous. They are human, fallible, and very believable. Some scenes do stray just over the line into melodramatic or preachy, and the romantic subplot seemed a bit unnecessary to me. But that's only a tiny quibble in what is otherwise a seamless and chilling story.

Words Get Twisted Round and Tumble Down, by Gunther Schmidl

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Pretty little toy, July 7, 2010

Words Get Twisted, etc. is very pretty but neither a game nor really a story, hence the lack of star rating. It is a set of 9 whimsical little concrete poems in different styles. All nine will take you less than 5 minutes to read through, so if you're feeling in a poetical mood it's well worth a look :-)

Freedom, by Anonymous

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Message distressingly off-base, July 7, 2010

As a game, this is well-executed by not particularly interesting. It's not very interactive and the environment can be a bit confusing. After reading the "About" file, it made a great deal more sense. Most of the plot captures the writer's intention beautifully, but my big one-star-worthy problem was in the ending. Idealistically, sure, it's really sweet. But if someone actually did anything like that it would be self-defeating and creepy.

(Spoiler - click to show)In order to fully win the game you need to hug the other shy person at the meeting. Given that she isn't named or otherwise described in familiar terms, you don't seem to know her. I also have some social anxiety issues, not even nearly as bad as depicted in the game, and if someone I didn't know walked up and hugged me, instead of being all happy and comforted, I would panic and never attend the meeting again. It's slightly less creepy if we assume "you" are female, but how about making the winning conditions something a little less harassing, like greeting her with a smile, or even shaking her hand? I know this is probably me reading more into it than is actually there, but seriously, don't touch the anxious people unless they've explicitly said it's ok. *twitch*

Whom The Telling Changed, by Aaron A. Reed

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Very good, small flaws in setup, July 7, 2010

Overall, this game is excellent. The storytelling mechanic is effective and's far more subtle than a hackneyed chose-your-own-adventure story; you simply affect which points are emphasized and give commentary to the tale. The choice of a real-world epic and collaboration by the author with a storyteller give a very authentic feel to the telling. It's about 10-15 minutes long (though I read fast!) -- short enough to play as a quick break, but long enough to get a good feel for the setting and establish some rapport with the story and characters.

I did, however, have some quibbles with the setup and mechanics. It isn't clear when you select the tools of your trade and the identity of your lover that this will affect your character; a few words of explanation would have cleared it up entirely. I do like the gender-neutrality of your character and choice of gender in your lover. Sometimes turning the story or audience to your side was effectively challenging, but other times it was just cryptic and frustrating. It isn't always clear when you pick a word what exactly you are going to have to say about it, and there were many moments of "Wait, that wasn't what I wanted my character to say at all!", and only repeated playthroughs will help that. In some playthroughs I was scolded for not participating despite having commented on many words; again, just a little more introduction or assistance would give you a better motivation to participate more rather than just sitting in silent agreement when other characters make comments you like and there isn't anything obvious you want to comment on.

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