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Excellent gameplay mechanic, December 12, 2020
Described as a "merciful puzzlefest", this has everything you would want from a piece of interactive fiction.
Going through my randomly generated order for the 2020 IFComp, I had already played through some decent-but-not-great games. Some games that tried too hard to be funny. Some games tried too hard to be too cheeky. Some games tried too hard to be clever. I know the author had to have put in an insane amount of effort into this game, but the end result is that it never seems to be trying too hard at anything. It just is a good game. And I absolutely adore Emma. If the author didn't base this on a real-life cute kid somewhere along the way, then all the more credit to him, because I could feel the childlike sense of wonder, adventure, and imagination right through the game.
I was glad that I found the central mechanic of the game on my own, although it did take me a while. (Spoiler - click to show)I noticed the dollhouse but I never examined it and thought I did. Only when I was stuck and back in my room did I realise that I never actually checked it out. When I saw it was a perfect layout of the actual house, with the dolls exactly where they were in real life, I already had the handkerchief. I wondered...what if I put it on the tiny table? When I went downstairs and looked at the real table, now with a tablecloth, I knew that I'd figured out half the secret of this game. But it's so well-implemented and well-coded that even the one or two sort of ridiculous parts still end up making sense. There are quite a number of red, or maybe blue, herrings in this game, but it didn't take away from the fun I had.
The way that mechanic is integrated blends well with the narrative. There is one line that had me laughing for quite some time, even though I'm sure the author never intended it to be as funny as it ended up being to me. (Spoiler - click to show)It's when you take the batteries out of the dollhouse for your flashlight and Dad just says something like, "Power's out" or something of that sort. I just cracked up for a long time, and it's not even that funny! I suppose it was because it was unexpected and delivered so smartly. That's what I mean when I said the game doesn't try too hard with what it does. It's just effective.
I did need a couple of hints with THAT one puzzle that everyone is talking about, but once you see the solution it's more of an "Ah, I see what you did there," moment than it is a, "That makes zero sense whatsoever," moment.
There was only one thing that I think could have been done better, and I came across it by accident. (Spoiler - click to show)That was realising you could leave the house from the living room onto the giant table of your room, I typed the wrong direction by mistake and suddenly found myself somewhere I didn't expect. If this had perhaps been hinted to, maybe once you've solved a couple of puzzles, then this game would have been near perfect.
By the end of the two hours and a few minutes that I took with this game, I knew that this would be a winner. And sure enough, the author got exactly that. This was by far the most fun game of the 2020 competition for me, and I loved it all the way.
(Spoiler - click to show)Plus, where else does a stuffed capybara become part of a puzzle solution? Or you can play the floor is lava? Or you can sing some absolutely ridiculous not-even-rhyming songs? Plus, I always start every parser game with the following commands: verbose (it can't be adjusted, meaning everything is verbose...good...), x me/x self...I'm a cutie wearing my leggings [Emma is totally adorable!] and a nice blue bow!...i...well whatever is in my inventory. And xyzzy. Always, for any IF game, there MUST be a response to that. And there was one for this game. Those initial commands make me know whether a game will be good or not.