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About the Story
Housework is only as dull as your imagination. Join Emma, six years old, on a playful adventure of peculiar proportions.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner - Leaving the house, Best Individual Puzzle; Winner, Best Implementation; Winner, Best Use of Innovation - 2020 XYZZY Awards
1st Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 13
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(I beta tested this game)
As modern video games get more and more complex, and the hardware gets more and more powerful, AAA games are capable of overwhelming feats – I gasped in wonder the first time I saw the crowded streets of Assassin’s Creed Unity’s revolutionary Paris, for example, and that’s more than five years old! But for whatever reason, when I run through the times when a game has just bowled me over with amazement, a disproportionate number are things from IF, like the power-fantasy of Hadean Lands, where I cackled with glee at the way I could type “W” and see the game visibly pause before spitting out the results of the twelve different sub-puzzles I’d automatically solved with that single key press. Perhaps it’s that the flexibility of text means it’s always capable of surprising you, whereas once you understand the systems at play in something like an Assassin’s Creed game, you’ve pretty much got the whole thing figured out. Or maybe there’s something to the old saw about imagination, and picturing what the text is describing, being more evocative than just seeing.
Anyway, add the Impossible Bottle to the list. I’ve seen a number of reviews that bounced out of this one early, before getting to what makes the game so amazing, so while I’ll be putting the rest of this under a spoiler block to preserve the surprise, I do want to clearly say for those who haven’t played yet that there is something amazing here and it’s not just a game about a six-year old picking up a mess, so stick with it through those first ten minutes.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get spoilery:(Spoiler - click to show) when I first realized what the gimmick here was, it made me smile – the idea of a magic dollhouse that lets you change what’s happening in the real house is a clever one, and the initial puzzle where you figure that out leads to a lovely aha moment that made me feel smart. But oh man I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes. You can move things around, sure, makes sense. Putting a small thing in the dollhouse turns it into a normal-sized, real thing in the real house, OK. Putting a big thing into the dollhouse to shrink it, now we’re starting to get more complicated. Then add on that you can sometimes blow things up twice, or shrink them twice, and that changing their size might make them come to life or otherwise slightly shift? It stops feeling like a gimmick and starts feeling like magic, especially once your dad makes a fateful decision, and you figure out how to get into the titular bottle…
The dollhouse opens up a huge possibility space, but TIB does a masterful job of helping you stay on top of what you’re doing. There’s a handy GOALS command that lists what you could be working on at any given time, and a progressive hint system to keep you on track. More than these external crutches, the game also provides solid direction via suggested verbs and cueing from other characters, and while the magic of the dollhouse is very versatile, you generally have a good understanding of what kinds of things you can accomplish so you’re rarely left floundering. And it’s all implemented incredibly smoothly, so that it’s easy to do anything you can think of. I’ve only played a few Dialog games, but it really shows its strength and versatility here – I mostly played by typing in commands, but a few times when I ran into disambiguation issues (primarily when I was trying to mess around stacking furniture to see if I could break the game), the ability to click links made it incredibly robust to mischief and player screwing-around.
While the puzzles, and the size-changing mechanics, are the real stars of the show, there’s plenty to like about the narrative side of things too. The other members of your family don’t rise much above stereotypes, but they’re lovingly drawn and appealing nonetheless. TIB is another game that references the pandemic, but instead of using it as a tool of horror or isolation, instead it focuses on the way people and families can come together and support each other through a tough time, which is always a lovely message but is especially so right now.
Is TIB a perfect game? No, probably not – the solution to the dinosaur puzzle feels a little too unintuitive to me, for one – but it is a delightful one (you can get all the way through to the end and never realize that you can play the-floor-is-lava!), and, as I keep repeating, really just magic.
This was my favorite game of the 2020 Comp.
I came to this game with high expectations, having previously played Tethered by the same author. The Impossible Bottle is diametrically different in atmosphere and setting - the only thing they have in common is that, in both games, objects aren't what they seem to be at first glance - but this is another excellent game by Linus Åkesson.
This game is based on one single, very strong and very thoughtfully worked-out idea: (Spoiler - click to show)a dollhouse which allows you to change the size and nature of items inside the actual house, and vice versa. This reminded me somewhat of a similar mechanic in (Spoiler - click to show)Emily Short's Metamorphoses, except in that game the solutions felt a bit more arbitrary and random, perhaps due to the more mystical atmosphere, whereas in The Impossible Bottle they were more logical and easier to figure out.
After having struggled through a couple of fiendish (but deeply, deeply enjoyable) games by Graham Nelson (both of which, if I'm not mistaken, are referenced in this game: try chatting to Nolan at different points in your progress), I appreciated the 'merciful' rating of this one, not to mention the hint system, which gave out tips without giving too much too quickly.
The child-centred view of the world ("this room is the best, because it's yours") was sweet and funny, and once I had figured out how to make the game 'work' it was great fun to (Spoiler - click to show)move different objects and change them from one thing to another. And there is a cuddly capybara in it.
What initially appears to be a charming slice-of-life about a six year-old girl helping her dad get ready for a dinner party turns into a old-school puzzlefest with an extraordinary mechanic that I'm embarrassed to admit I needed the in-game hints to even discover. For those that don't mind knowing ahead of time, the mechanic is (Spoiler - click to show) that your bedroom has a dollhouse which is a replica of the actual house, and putting items in and taking them out of their respective rooms changes their relative size in reality. For example (not in the game), if you were to put a toy sword in the dollhouse's kitchen, and then go to the actual kitchen, you'd find a regular sized sword.
The coding for this puzzlefest is damn impressive, as there are so many things you can do that aren't required that the game allows you to do, and even some potential alternate solutions to puzzles are at least acknowledged even if unsuccessful.
I badly wanted to give this five stars, but the more I played the game the more I found myself exhausted. Some of the puzzles enhance the charm of this universe and the way your family reacts (or doesn't react) to some of things you do is great. I actually adore the whole sequence with (Spoiler - click to show) the stegosaurus and the way Dad reacts to it. But there are also several puzzles that seem to be there simply for puzzle's sake, (for example the (Spoiler - click to show)rope/anchor puzzle inside the impossible bottle), and I found myself going to the hints quite often just to get a jumpstart on what to do next. There are also so many items you can carry or manipulate and a lot of them are irrelevant to progressing in the game, so I found myself easily getting overwhelmed and resorting to the hints for that reason as well. For their own sake, the progressive hints were really well done and I rarely needed the final hint to progress; I mainly just needed a nudge on where to focus my efforts.
A must play for puzzle enthusiasts and I would be surprised if The Impossible Bottle doesn't win an XYZZY award or three.
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