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Warning: This is not interactive fiction., March 7, 2008
In 1995, Inform 6 was under development and the first IF Comp was organized. The modern era of interactive fiction had not yet begun. Author Gareth Rees has been instrumental in bringing about the modern era; he helped kickstart the adoption of Inform by contributing to the Designer's Manual and producing the well-regarded Christminster. It is not necessary to be enthusiastic about The Magic Toyshop to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we all owe him.
This game is much more akin to "Hunt the Wumpus" or some other ASCII mainframe relic than it is to a work of IF. It has a framing story, but that story in no way affects the gameplay. Gameplay consists of a series of increasingly devious logic puzzles, most of which are based on the kinds of pen-and-paper games that kept kids busy on rainy days before the invention of the game console. To advance, you often have to figure out a way to creatively cheat. While this is somewhat amusing, it is also slightly perverse -- you have no motivation for doing so other than to "win" by any means necessary.
As if that weren't enough, the game loses its consistency about two thirds of the way through and introduces a "puzzle" requiring knowledge of the Infocom classic Trinity (and others?) to even have a clue how to proceed. Resorting to the walkthrough did not leave me with a sense of failure -- only puzzlement that the author could expect anyone but himself to figure out the right sequence of moves.
Should you make it to the end of this player/author grudge match, you are sent packing with little more than a cursory "*** You have won. ***" and no sense of accomplishment.
It is hard to imagine, but this all-work-and-no-play entry scored 3rd in the Comp. While this piece may be worth examining by a programmer for its noteworthy adaptation of classic timewaster games, it holds little value to a player -- except maybe the kind of militant puzzle fiend one can only find in Britain. I would not bother with this one unless you really get the urge to solve bent logic puzzles using a text parser.