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About the Story
A ruthless outlaw.
3rd place overall; 2nd Place - tie, Miss Congeniality - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
IFComp 2021: The Song of the Mockingbird
The Song of the Mockingbird is an enmeshing parser game with a sense of drama as well as a sense of humor. It avoids the corn pone and the usual tropes of the Western genre. Iím sold.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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This game is a nice entry in a very under-represented niche of parser games: Westerns. While there have been some entries in this genre before (a Scott Adams Game, the puzzle game Hoosegow, etc.), it hasn't really attracted a lot of attention.
In this game, you play as a sort of singing cowboy, but your gun has been taken. You're on a quest to save a woman named Rosa from a band of bandits. All you have is your wits and your trusty guitar.
Along the way, you'll solve a lot of tricky puzzles. This game had some of the harder puzzles in the comp (from my point of view). There are complex mechanisms whose purpose you have to unravel as well as many physics-based puzzles involving (mild spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)heat, leverage, etc.
The story was pretty good. Like others have noted, it lacks the sense of urgency a drawn-out gun standoff tends to have in films once you start tooling around for the hundredth time. I'd prefer that over a turn limit, though! Second, there are some reasonable solutions that weren't implemented, particular when facing Whitey (I particularly would have appreciated responses saying I was on the right track for (Spoiler - click to show)putting hay in the barn and setting it on fire.).
The game has a lot of ties to real-life history with detailed notes at the end. The songs in-game include a lot of old classics that remind me of my grandfather who recently passed, and who loved singing cowboy songs. I think the game in general reminded me of him.
While the game did have minor flaws in the puzzles and story, I was overall impressed with it. Definitely would rank it at a higher difficulty rating than most games in the comp. I ended up using hints on only one of the puzzles, but the other two took me several days of on-and-off playing.
Well, then this game would not have a reason to exist, which would be a shame.
You've fallen head over heels in love with the sensuous dancer Rosa. A gang of hoodlums stole her away from your embrace.
They took your pistol for good measure. This leaves you no choice but to rescue your damsel in distress with nothing but your brain and whatever you find lying around.
This setup clears the way for a collection of great puzzles. All of them require a good deal of common sense, and when you notice that your sense might be too common, the ability to think around the corner. Many times the use of the objects is not straightforward, leading to some very nice "Aha!"-moments.
This uncommon-sense feeling is reinforced by the map. It's quite small and contained. There are a bunch of locations to explore and a few cleverly placed bottlenecks. At almost every point in the game, you can be sure that you have seen every accessible inch of your surroundings and found every object there is to find. The challenge then becomes straightforward and deceptively simple: "Here is your inventory. What to do with it?"
I liked the writing a lot. The style of puzzles requires a clear visualization of the locations, but the author manages to throw in enough small surprises and unexpected details to keep the descriptions from becoming a list of notable features.
The overall tone of the piece caught me off-guard. From the intro and the characterization of the protagonist as a singing cowboy, I expected a lighthearted parody of western-tropes. In many places, this is true. Until you get to the more serious and sometimes downright brutal bits. It's not easy to blend these together, but The Song of the Mockingbird doesn't feel disjointed because of it. It serves rather well to highlight different aspects of the protagonist's character.
The song-lyrics throughout the story and especially the historical notes at the end tied this game together and showed just how much this game was lovingly polished.
Very good game.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
A tightly-designed and well-researched period-piece puzzler about a singing cowboy rescuing his sweetheart from a band of outlaws, The Song of the Mockingbird has a lot going for it: it nails a consistent voice that fits the setting, it boasts complex but fair puzzles that can be tackled in nonlinear order, and there are really robust post-game notes laying out the historical context. This of course did really well in the Comp, and deservedly so Ė but for a few mostly-idiosyncratic reasons it didnít fully resonate with me, so I didn't wind up enjoying Mockingbird as much as I admired it.
First, I struggled with the puzzles. Some of this is due to my new-father brain, Iím sure (I played the game over a couple of late-night sessions), and all of them make sense once theyíre solved. But I wound up using the hint system more than I was expecting to, largely because I had a hard time getting my bearings. Many of the puzzles hinge on using historically-appropriate equipment, like (Spoiler - click to show) making the lighter work and fixing the wagon-wheel, but the way objects were described often made it hard for me to picture what was going on. Location descriptions were also often really verbose, with a lot of detail on the environment and relevant objects, as well as usually having a couple of additional paragraphs laying out what a nearby bad guy was up to. Again, this is probably a strength, since it helps get the player grounded in a complicated, unfamiliar environment Ė but something about the writing sometimes left me feeling a bit at sea.
Another reason I found the puzzles hard is that the vibe of Mockingbird is much more serious than I was expecting. While the blurb and cover art arenít zany by any means, the presentation of the disarmed singing-cowboy protagonist whose wits and guitar are going to save the day led me to expect something reasonably lighthearted. Deviating from parser-comedy conventions is no bad thing, but in this case, one way the difference plays out is that the puzzles are ruthless than I was expecting. They're all about getting rid of various outlaws who are keeping you from the ranch house where your sweetheart is being held, but while I was mostly trying to disarm them or knock them out, the actual solutions were way more bloodthirsty. Donít get me wrong, I enjoyed how the game takes its premise seriously Ė but seriously doesnít have to mean violent, and personally this choice didnít work well for me.
Finally, while the game is technically solid and I didnít run into any bugs, I found it was missing a number of conveniences that Iíve come to expect from modern IF. The biggest offender is a door locked with three different keys Ė once Iíd solved all the puzzles needed to collect them, I tried just typing S or OPEN DOOR, but nope, I had to manually unlock each different lock, with lots of disambiguation issues along the way because UNLOCK BRONZE WITH BRONZE wasnít understood (nor does UNLOCK DOOR WITH BRONZE KEY work Ė you need to match each key to each lock). This is a minor annoyance in the grand scheme, but it still look me like two dozen turns to get this stupid door opened, and there were a few other similar places, like futzing with (Spoiler - click to show)the gold casket or finding the block and tackle, where the parser wasnít as helpful as I wanted it to be.
So yeah, this is a review full of niggles of whatís a really well-done game, and I know a good amount of my caviling above is really down to personal preference Ė thereís a lot of good work and solid craft that went into Mockingbird, and I love seeing more historical games in the Comp. Sadly it didnít fully gel for me, but Iím definitely looking forward to seeing what the author does next.
Highlight: I loved the lavish historical notes available after winning the game Ė Iím kind of a history nerd so I love this stuff (though see next pointÖ)
Lowlight: OK, so the game is set in 1867, but in the epilogue the main character reflects on how ďPresident Johnson will snuff out the embersĒ of the Confederate dead-ender movement the outlaws are supporting. Come on, this is post Swing Around the Circle! Sure, the local military head, General Sheridan, was a staunch Reconstructionist, but from the timing implied by the notes, he was at best only weeks away from being transferred away by the soft-on-Confederates Johnson! (OK, I suppose maybe the singing cowboy isnít so up on politics, but come on, this feels like an oversight -- albeit one the author's said will be changed in a post-Comp update).
How I failed the author: er, per the above, I may have been overly-fixated on historical minutiae.
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