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Great Premise, Terrific Writing, Poor Execution, March 16, 2009
I was a big fan of "The Tick" back when the animated series was on. One of my favorite jokes from the series was the hapless group of pseudo-superheroes known as the Civic-Minded Five, whose absurdly ineffective "powers" consisted of things like having four legs or being able to deliver static electricity shocks. Neil deMause may or may not have been familiar with the Civic-Minded Five, but it seems likely that he was, as the characters in this game are clearly cast from the same mold.
You are Improv, leader of the Frenetic Five, a group of part-time superheroes in between gigs. Your superpower is coming up with MacGyver-like plans, which is no doubt the result of long hours of radiation received while watching the show on TV. You are trying to do just that, as a matter of fact, when your team's junior member, Newsboy, arrives to announce that evil is afoot... and it's up to you to stop it!
I must congratulate Mr. deMause for his writing talents. The story unfolds and the personalities of your teammates emerge in a convincingly lifelike way through various timed scenes. The jokes come fast and often, and several had me laughing outright. Everywhere the author paid care and attention, the payoff for the player is delightful.
Unfortunately, the care and attention the author paid seems to be wildly uneven. High expectations set by the opening scenes rapidly dwindled once I left the apartment, and by the time I reached the ostensible goal of the evil villains' hideout, the game world had lost its fizz and gone flat. I ran out of patience and resorted to a walkthrough, which left me totally bewildered as to how anyone could realistically have completed the game without it.
It's possible that I just missed an awful lot, that I couldn't tune into the author's wavelength and just didn't interact the right way. However, it seems far more likely that this work is simply unfinished as a result of of trying to get it out the door in time for that year's IF Comp, where it placed 13th. It's really a shame, since the story's universe held a lot of promise and left me hungry for more, despite the relatively unenjoyable time I had trying to reach the end. The good news is that there are two additional Frenetic Five titles out there that I have not yet played, and which I hope earn higher scores.
The coding quality is competent. What works, works well, and I encountered no notable bugs. It's obvious that Mr. deMause has it in him to produce some truly top-notch interactive fiction -- even half-baked, The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm und Drang did take the "Best NPC" Xyzzy Award for 1997, which is no small achievement. I look forward to playing more from this author.