The Impossible Bottle

by Linus Åkesson profile

Episode 1 of The Impossible Series

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Number of Reviews: 13
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Works on multiple levels, March 2, 2022
by dvs

The game starts as a simple meet-the-next-goal puzzle game with a young protagonist...but we soon discovered the clever twist and kept unraveling layers of consequences which brought us great joy. Even the ending held a nice surprise for us.

There was gentle hinting that eased us in the correct direction without feeling like we were being railroaded. The language was fresh and joyful.

A delightful game, highly recommended!

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Brilliantly ingenious mechanic, February 15, 2022

This is an excellent game, with a really strong central premise that opens up a whole world of intriguing possibilities. Playing this shortly after Counterfeit Monkey inevitably raised comparisons with that game: Impossible Bottle is much smaller, and part of the fun here is working out the mechanic for yourself rather than being instructed in it, but it's similar in that once you understand how it works there are all sorts of crazy experiments you can try.

I'm not great at puzzles, but I solved all of them myself apart from (Spoiler - click to show) getting into the bottle, for which I did have to rely on the very well implemented hint system. I think I simply hadn't appreciated the sheer scale of the central conceit! I do feel that some of the puzzles are rather unintuitive, but the writing is charming enough that it gets away with it.

I like to interpret all the weird goings on as taking place in the protagonist's imagination, but of course you could read it differently...

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Cute, clever, and impressively polished, June 7, 2021
by Wynter (London, UK)

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.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Simply magical, December 8, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

(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.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Wonderfully Whimsical, December 5, 2020
by Ann Hugo (Canada)

This game didn't make it on to my original list of games to play (puzzles aren't my favourite thing). But I kept hearing a lot of really positive things about it, and, in the end, I just had to investigate. Man, I'm so glad I made that decision.

Without even getting into the story or anything it was already interesting, being parser-based and point-and-click. I used both myself, mostly sticking with point-and-click, apart from with directions, which were sometimes simpler to just type. I found that this choice made the game much more accessible. I don't tend to play parser-based IF, but this game was so easy to play (well the puzzles were tricky but accessibility-wise).

I'm proud to say that I figured out most of the game without the walkthrough (I did attempt to use it a couple of times, but I found that it just overcomplicated matters for me). This game is challenging at times (you've got to think outside the box), but it's not so challenging that I quit playing, which says a fair bit. Well, more so it says that the game was so incredibly fascinating and whimsical that I couldn't quit.

The characters, pace, and setting were excellent. And, without spoiling the game, amazing things happen. What I'm trying to say is that this game is wonderfully whimsical and anyone who hasn't played it really should experience the overall wonder and the especially incredible moments.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Intricately realized puzzling, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Dialog

The Impossible Bottle is a parser-based game by Linus Åkesson, published in 2020. In it, you play as a six-year old girl who has to clean up and help do other chores around the house. Things are complicated by the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)she and her family seem to live inside a fractal arrangement of doll houses. Or maybe it’s all just the power of the girl’s imagination?

The gameplay is all about puzzles. The core mechanics here are really clever, supported by a well-designed and responsive world that encourages (and demands) experimentation. I was a bit frustrated by (Spoiler - click to show)how chronically helpless Dad is, but I guess most games wouldn’t exist if everyone else in the game world were more competent than the player.

The writing is efficient. The tone is sometimes ordinary, sometimes imaginative and whimsical. It does its job without wasting words.

The game has three clearly defined acts, but it still feels like a loosely structured “sandbox” puzzle game at heart. The drawback with this approach is that the gameplay can feel a bit uneven. I solved some puzzles before even realizing they were puzzles, and then, at other times, didn’t have the slightest idea on how to even begin accomplishing some task. Some random or timed events can also add to the confusion.

The way the game is playable either parser-based or choice-based is a nice and unique touch. I played the online version and thought the presentation was all around smooth.

The Impossible Bottle is an impressive puzzle game that makes me interested in the potential of Dialog. Even though my playthrough had some small snags and confusing moments, it’s probably nothing that can’t be fixed in a post-comp version. It’s fundamentally a solid title that does some unique things, and it’s simply fun to mess around with.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A most unique puzzle design and a heart-warming ending, December 1, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This game is a parser-based puzzlefest and it has one of the most clever and unique mechanics I've seen in a game. You play as a six-year-old girl, trying to help her father get ready for dinner, while her mom is on the phone and her brother is hiding in his bedroom. At the beginning it seems like a normal (even somewhat boring) situation, with you doing a couple fetch quests in what is an extremely normal environment. But early on you figure out that all is not what it seems and your options are a lot more open than you realize. To say much more would be be spoiling it, so the rest of my review will be hidden behind spoiler tags below. But I will say this, even as the environment and puzzles aren't what they seem at first, neither is the story. The author's ending to the game really ties everything together nicely and brings some warmth to it. It is a fun story/game, especially for this time in the world.

Mid-Game: (Spoiler - click to show)The mechanic of being able to change things in the dollhouse and see them change in the normal house is great and I'm very curious what kind of coding it took to implement that. I did not figure that mechanic out by myself, but rather asked for a hint for another puzzle and got a hint that clued me in to being able to not just rearrange things in the house via the dollhouse, but to filter things through the dollhouse. I think it is a fair puzzle though, it is obvious looking at the dollhouse that it is a recreation of the actual house so I think it is only a matter of time and experimenting before you realize you can grow things.

As delightful of a turn as it was to have a dinosaur suddenly appear in the house (I loved the dialogue between father and daughter when that occurred), I wasn't as big a fan of the stegosaurus and hamster puzzles. Those steps didn't really follow upon one another and I had to rely heavily on the walkthrough. Also, for me the stegosaurus appeared before I'd gotten the brother out of his room, so I had to figure that puzzle out while this crushing sense of urgency to deal with the dinosaur is hanging over my head and it threw me off.

Late-Game: (Spoiler - click to show)So I figured out that you could take a page out of Inception and walk south from the dining room and into a much larger version of your room by accident. I was trying to navigate quickly and accidently typed south when I meant north. The next time I was in the dining room the description showing that you could go south was there and I wondered if I just missed it earlier. But the walkthrough talks about an exit that isn't listed (this must be the one time the instructions say you will have to type something in, rather than point and click). That said, if I hadn't discovered it on accident I think I would have become extremely frustrated by my inability to make progress shortly thereafter. And I think the problem is compounded by the point-and-click interface the author implemented (which I loved) that clearly let you know what was possible in most circumstances so that you wouldn't really consider stepping out of the house in that way. Though, now I see that perhaps that might have been the author's intention, to get you to think outside of the bottle, so to speak. Still, I think a better solution would be to have that exit appear when you'd progressed to a certain point in the game.

I thought adding this extra layer to the puzzles, being able to filter yourself through the dollhouse in addition to objects, was genius and was a lot of fun to use to solve the last puzzles, which I thought were clever and fair. The one thing I didn't like however, was climbing out of the house and down the ladder and realizing I'd messed something up and having to navigate my way all the way back to my room in the normal house to fix it.

Ending: (Spoiler - click to show)When it finally dawned on me that there was no one coming over to dinner a big grin spread across my face. I had noted the date on the calendar earlier and thought about the implications of having another family over to dinner during a pandemic, but then put them out of my head because games don't have to match reality. I wonder when the author conceived this game, if it was since the pandemic struck then that is a truly amazing amount of work to put in to a game of this complexity in about six months or less. The ending scenes and speeches were great and just what I needed to hear at the end of this year. Bravo!

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An impressive Dialog game with increasingly intricate puzzles, December 1, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I beta tested this game in a pure parser format before the clickable version was enabled.

This is a very strong game for the competition, one of the most polished parser games. You play as a young girl who has to go around the house getting stuff ready for dinner. But as the blurb says, this is a game of 'peculiar proportions'.

In fact, it turns out that the main mechanic of the game is (Spoiler - click to show)manipulating objects and altering the size of things by interacting with a scale model of your house. This provides for wildly inventive puzzles that get better as the game progresses.

But, since it gets better as the game progresses, it struggles a bit near the beginning for finding motivation to continue. In a sense, that's a lot like Shade, which has a very similar opening (in the sense that you're fetching objects in a house) and also gets better and better as time goes on.

Dialog is looking strong as a game language here. This is very complicated stuff, with a lot of disambiguation and complicated parser directions, and it's handled beautifully. The hyperlinks threw me off a bit as I was surprised that the mouse arrow turns into a text cursor when hovering over them. I wonder if some kind of color change when hovering (like Twine's highlighting) or turning the cursor into a hand (like both Twine and Windrift), as text cursor doesn't indicate 'click here' in my brain.

+Polish: The game is very polished.
+Descriptiveness: I was going to say that the setting is very commonplace, even with the cool mechanics, and doesn't lend itself to impressive descriptions, but then I remembered (Spoiler - click to show)the little hamster-sized hat you put on the hamster. There's a lot of cute little things in this game.
+Emotional impact: Very fun.
+Interactivity: Love the puzzles.
+Would I play again? Happily.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent puzzlefest, more than it appears to be, December 1, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Dialog

In this game, you play as Emma, six years old, as she tries to help her parents with some housework. Boring? Not at all. There is much more to this game than it at first appears to be. I don't want to give anything away, just want to say that this game is a serious contender for the "Best implementation" XYZZY-award next year, as well as other XYZZY categories. Very impressive!

If you intend to play puzzlefests without hints or only with a few hints, there are lots of hours of entertainment in this game (EDIT: I read that a reviewer only used a little more than two hours to solve this, so I am probably a very slow puzzle solver!). It took me more than seven hours to complete this game without hints. I see myself as a medium parser player and I did get stuck many times. But when I did, I put the game on hold and tried it the next day. Every time I did this, I managed to get a little bit further. Eventually, I managed to complete the game this way. So the puzzles are certainly fair. Most of the puzzles are also very clever and rewarding and there were no "bad" puzzles.

The writing is good and whimsical. And if you need it, there are built-in hints. The ending was fine too, though the second last paragraph felt a bit far-fetched. But that didn't ruin anything.

I regard this game as a modern classic up there with "The Wand" and other excellent puzzlefests. A "must-play" if you love puzzles!

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