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About the Story
Evil, sealed away for Aeons, has been released.
Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2020 XYZZY Awards
37th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
An Exercise for the Reader
... a huge, multifaceted, roller-coaster ride of a game
Mostly, it’s a hilarious parody of multiplayer online RPGs. But it also works as an enjoyable RPG in itself. Then there are puzzles to solve, several IF references (I caught another one today, this time to Hadean Lands), and Easter eggs galore.
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Would You Like to Change the Difficulty Setting?
What follows seems to be exactly what it says on the tin – a bawdy RPG comedy.
This game really opens up after crossing the desert and is far larger than the two hour judging requirement. At this point I’m not entirely sure if it even has an ending or if, like its source material it could potentially go on for ever. There’s plenty to enjoy and admire here, and I’m sure I’ll return to play it more thoroughly post-comp.
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... a sprawling assortment of wonders.
Cursèd Pickle of Shireton is a choice-based facsimile of an MMORPG where you can explore, take quests, build stats, and grind for experience. There is an entire adventure outside of the titular pickle's storyline, packed with outright comedy, subtle in-jokes, and external references that are serious and silly.
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|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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The Cursèd Pickle of Shireton is an excellently crafted story. There is great art, music, complex and mostly bug-free mechanics, and fun writing (especially in the "meta" portions). There is a lot of stuff here. However, I feel like I got stuck too much, and at some point didn't really desire to continue and discover the game's secrets.
This is a parody of the MMORPG genre, which is itself implemented in a text-based simulation of an actual MMORPG, presented as a fallback version for a graphical game. There are NPCs and fake PCs. There is a support forum where players discuss the game and share mods. Beneath each scene there is a chat screen showing the players' interactions in the area.
The problem is that the gameplay wasn't really fun for me. I get that it's *supposed* to be unfun, a simulation of a genre that I never really enjoyed, but plenty of genre parodies manage to make the gameplay decent in of itself (or, in IF, limit the mechanical aspects and focus on the story). I did a ton of delivery quests, sending mail from one part of Sameytown to another. The combat was particularly annoying to me. It was tedious to have to click the words in order, and I didn't like that the turns were on a timer (I discovered the slow time mod thanks to the forum thread). I actually felt like I enjoyed the combat in A Final Grind more than this. And there was the haunted house where everything permanently lowered your level??? I stopped playing in the town after crossing the desert because I couldn't get a sense of how to advance. I did enjoy the Crossing the Desert puzzle, though.
Reading some of the other reviews and discussions, I got a better sense of what this game contained, and how much I missed. I never played The Baker of Shireton by the same author, which apparently has a lot of shared content with this story. I think the key is to not approach this as a typical RPG, and just go hog wild.
Finally, someone dares to tell the truth about pickles - we need to get this game into the hands of Congress because it's time for action!
This one’s pretty hard to discuss without blowing a lot of what makes it so charming - Cursèd Pickle is a candy box of surprises, both narrative and mechanical, and I’m wary of stomping all over said charm by discussing anything other than the graphics on the loading screen (it’s a lovely picture, reminded me of Loom!) And I can’t just put the whole thing in spoiler-text, because there are like double-secret spoilers that I want to conceal even if you have dipped in for a bit but haven’t plumbed all the depths. So do yourself a favor and make sure you’ve played the game at least until you understand the title before you read the rest of this.
It occurs to me that you – my beloved (I mean belovèd) as-yet-unspoiled reader – might need some buffer text after the above admonition so you don’t accidentally seccade your eyes over something unsuited for their gaze. Let’s see, I can point out that there’s a location that features a peristyle, which is a sort of obscure column-filled courtyard that I also worked into my game, and showed up in Vain Empires as well. That’s just the sort of vaguely interesting coincidence one likes to bring up when one’s marking time.
All right, so here we are. Cursèd Pickle continues the MMORPG parody of the author’s earlier game, the Baker of Shireton, except this time you start out as a player character. The "game" is undergoing a big version upgrade, and the resultant crash bugs and corrupted data eventually shift you into reinhabiting the said Baker, except this time in a much more manageable choice-based interface as opposed to the parser chaos that overtook me, at least, when I tried to play its prequel.
Cursèd Pickle commits to its conceit, down to the IRQ port options when attempting to configure your nonexistent 3D hardware (before dumping you into the fall-back text mode). And it commits hard: even before you get to the baking bit, there are a good number of fetch quests, dozens of hair and beard options, a raid dungeon and mansion-looting mini-module, four different classes each with their own combat minigame… there’s even a “legacy” server that presents an interactive vignette from the main game in Inform 7 form! (Spoiler - click to show)(I couldn’t win this one, as I couldn’t figure out how to get ahead of the server wipe – if anyone’s found a secret here, please drop a line!).
I think like 90% of this is technically optional, but it’s all crafted with incredible care, with tiny jokes and novel features everywhere you look. I’m listing a couple of my favorites here, but they’re pretty major spoilers, so proceed with caution: (Spoiler - click to show)you can ask the pickle about its plans for world domination, which spits out a list of the fifty-odd zones it’s going to conquer, with four or five laugh-out-loud gags buried among them; and you can turn into a freakish man-bee hybrid by accepting the Hive Queen’s offer at the end of the dungeon, which lets you grow wings and skip what I think is an arduous desert trek that makes up the final section of the game. Though this makes your henchman flip out and book it for home, understandably.. And all these systems aren’t there just as a joke-delivery mechanism: the core RPG loop is well fleshed-out, and compelling enough that I spent an hour and a half just doing side-quests and grinding up my character’s stats instead of engaging with the main quest.
Speaking of the jokes, the writing is dead on throughout, sending up MMORPG global chat, fetch-quest tropes, and marketing patter with equal aplomb (OK, I do have one note: some of the pickle jokes over-rely on “briny,” and subbing in “vinegary” in two or three places might be worth considering. This is my only critique of the prose, and it is more than counterbalanced by the use of the accent in “Cursèd”). I heartily approved of the disgusting descriptions of how the filthy townspeople gave vent to their pickle addictions, and approved even more heartily of the harbourmaster’s disapproving opinion of same. And the best joke in the entire game is the song my bard sang at the end – it’s a nice, confident trick to save your strongest material for the very end!
Implementation-wise the player is in very good hands here too. The timing aspects of the combat mechanics were sometimes a little stressful for me to keep up with on a trackpad, but not so much so that I felt the need to use the optional slow-down plugin (if you’re in the market for such a thing, you can find it in the message board linked off the stats page). I noticed a couple of very small implementation issues – amazingly few, considering the “more is more” approach to different subsystems and interfaces: as the baker, at one point I had -1 customers queueing for bread, and dough left in the oven when quitting for the day would still be in the oven, yet unburnt, in the morning, just the same as I’d left it ten hours before.
There are few games as positively crammed full of delight as Cursèd Pickle. An ill-wisher could cavil at the premise, arguing that for such a Brobdingnagian game, it’s ultimately rather slight in thematic terms – at this late date, does the world really need another MMORPG satire? But after giving it a play, they’d change their tune right quick.
(The tune is the Melody of Malcontent, and while they’re singing it you’ve been sliced to ribbons. Ow!)
(Also I wasn’t joking in my opener, pickles are gross)
So, Hanon Ondricek has a long history of making very unusual and experimental games. I first came into contact with his work in the 2015 IFComp, which we both entered. He had a game called the Baker of Shireton, an unusual game which was a baking simulator with some MMORPG-style elements. One especially odd feature was that it modeled abstract objects as inventory items, like your name, job, and quest. It later turned out (spoilers for this game) (Spoiler - click to show)that you were an NPC in an MMORPG and could hack the game to get out and go on a short quest.
I found that idea fascinating, and I ended up using it in several of my games. So that made the Baker of Shireton get stuck in my brain.
This game is a successor to that one. In this game, you get to play an upgraded version of the fake MMO that the first game was set in. This is a choice-based system instead of parser, and it has great art by Marco Innocenti and music from a variety of sources. The music was catchy; I left it on for much of the day as I played, and my son liked it too.
The bulk of this game is getting and fulfilling quests from different NPCs. There is a complex combat system (I especially enjoyed the 'magic' mechanics which require you to quickly spell some words during combat. There is also an option to slow down combat significantly for people who have trouble with quick time events). While rich and actually pretty fun, combat isn't completely necessary. In a way, it reminds me quite a bit of Porpentine's various comabt systems, and various bee-related events in the game also bear some resemblance to her.
Speaking of bearing resemblance, there are references to a lot of games in here, including many of Hanon's older games as well as Cragne Manor, the SCP foundation and others.
Solving this game was challenging. I frequently had to think outside of the box. Hanon is one of the pioneers (along with people like Agniezska Trzaska) in choice-based puzzle mechanics and boy does this game have a lot of them. I definitely wouldn't feel bad asking for hints (and, in fact, I didn't feel bad; I asked for quite a few).
This is also a very large game. I spent around 5-6 hours beating it.
My overall evaluation:
+Polish: Absolutely polished. About the most polished a game can get. I don't mean bug-free, I mean that every aspect of the user experience has been accounted for and acted on.
+Interactivity: Loved the RPG events, the weird shortcuts you get later on, and the ease of use of the AXMA system.
+Descriptiveness: I especially appreciated the details in Luneybin.
+Emotional impact: The horror-lite sections near the end worked well for me.
+Would I play again?: Definitely plan to revisit this just for fun in the future.
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