Even Some More Tales from Castle Balderstone

by Ryan Veeder profile

Episode 4 of Tales from Castle Balderstone

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A grab bag of innovative parser/choice hybrid games, November 7, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

It's become increasingly hard to review Ryan Veeder's games because they're generally all the same: 'This game does something very creative that I hadn't really seen before and is polished and funny. One of the best games I've seen in a while yada yada yada. If this game was by a new author, I'd think they're one of the best new authors out there.'

And that's all true here, too. This game does something I had once considered the 'holy grail' of modern IF, which is to combine parser choice in a logical way. In this game you use Twine in an overworld with a map, which leads to Inform 7/Vorple mini-games that seamlessly transition back into Twine. Its all hosted on the authors website using the autosave feature first used in his Fly Fishing game. My only concern is for preservation; is there a way to ensure the game could be saved for posterity?

Storywise, the framing story is the same as last year, a funny take on literary culture and the way we handle celebrity writers. It contains 5 (or so) mini stories:

Letavermilia: This is a linear (story-wise), puzzle-based space game. You play as a bounty hunter chasing after a criminal who is also named after a horrible plague. You chase them from world to world, with each world having a puzzle you must solve to find the 5-digit autopilot code needed to move on. Solutions range from exploration and mapping to a straight-up cryptogram (the latter being my least favorite activity of the whole game, but easily solved online and solvable by copious in-game hints). This game features some genuinely chilling moments and some funny ones as well, and demonstrates Veeder's predilection for deeply implementing unnecessary side systems. This one takes an hour or so to play.

Nyvo the Dolphin: This is a Metroidvania-style game where you as a dolphin explore a wreck filled with scientific equipment, which grants you increasing capabilities. This was horror in the sense of Beetlejuice or Addam's family, where our cheerful protagonist blithely navigates the remains of past human devastation and death. This one took about 30-45 minutes. I had a little trouble navigating, so mapping might have been good, but I enjoyed the power curve and the finale.

Singing for Me: this is a Lovecraftian (or maybe, more Blackwoodian or fae) small town living simulator, in many ways reminiscent of AKheon's recent Ascension of Limbs or titles like Stardew Valley. You play as a recent move-in in a cabin, and typing LOOK gives a list of places or people you can visit. Each visit takes the entire day. You can also buy stuff, where buying one thing takes the whole day, or sell many things at once. As you explore, you discover more locations and people. Like Stardew Valley, there are significant holidays that you can experience on a set schedule. Through these, the main story is developed in a classic 'creepy small town' style like Midsommar or The Village. I enjoyed this one; I was worried I wouldn't be able to see everything, but the game gives you plenty of time to focus on one or two goals that matter to you. I spent a couple of hours on this.

Visit Skuga Lake: This game had the most traditional gameplay but used a mechanic with quadratic complexity. Basically, you start locked in a closet, but soon break out with the help of (Spoiler - click to show)an amulet with an empowering eyestone. You then wander a large map, gaining two new classes of powerful items that interact with each other in an enormous amount of ways. I'll admit that I ended up 'lanwmowering' many options to find what worked, but it was also fun to experiment so it didn't really feel tedious. I played this for about an hour and a half.

Finale (called (Spoiler - click to show)Hunted): (Spoiler - click to show)This story was a bit confusing, but felt fast-paced and appropriate as an ending. It was Christmas-themed and felt like an action movie. Scenes focused on movement and basic take/use gameplay. It wasn't as compelling mechanically as the earlier pieces but story-wise and emotionally was satisfying. This took less than an hour.

Additional comments: (Spoiler - click to show)There is a secret fifth game. I was able in this one to read many books, see a family tree and look up people in it, make coffee, and find a nook, as well as talk to Allison Chase. I wasn't able to find any use of the nook or book or tree, so either I missed out on the point or this was just a 'chill and vibes' section like the end of Rope of Chalk. If the latter, I think it worked well.(Spoiler - click to show)