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About the Story
You've been trapped in a stupid zombie accountant long enough, tonight you steal another body and... Escape from Hell!
5th Place, Le Grand Guignol - English - ECTOCOMP 2022
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Number of Reviews: 4
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This is the other Grand Guignol I tested. It’s a very cool experiment: a “parserless parser” game (in a custom-made framework no less), which has a parser-y world model but no free-form input. Instead, you’re presented with a list of possible commands each turn: moving in different directions, taking various objects, and so on. It also has a map which shows your location and the locations of any NPCs you’ve met, which is extremely convenient in a game of this size (49 rooms in a 7×7 grid).
The only commands given to interact with objects are TAKE, DROP, TALK TO, and POSSESS, and the last of those is the core of the game: you’re a demonic spirit trying to escape from Hell by jumping from body to body. Each person you can possess adds one additional verb (an accountant can COUNT, an overseer can WHIP, a succubus can SMOOCH, a golem can SHOVE, a ghost can RAGE, a vampire can BITE, and so on), so maneuvering the right bodies to the right places is the key to solving many of the puzzles. (EXAMINE is also on the verb list but is just for flavor and never necessary.)
The overall tone of the game is light and whimsical, but never falls across the line into outright goofiness: the protagonist takes their escape attempt very seriously, as they break into the palace of the Princes of Hell and try to distract each of them away from the alarm. I really liked the writing, and spent a long while just counting forms in the first room, looking at the crimes that had gotten various IF protagonists sentenced to eternal damnation. (“Naomi Cragne: …I don’t know where to even start…”) And the humor hadn’t grown stale by the end of the game, which is no mean feat!
The puzzles were also quite good, and the body-swapping (with each body having a single extra verb) was a clever way to allow a wide variety of actions without overwhelming the player with links. There’s only one I consider unfair: (Spoiler - click to show)as the ghost, you can click the grayed-out direction links to pass through walls. While I did need a couple hints, everything else felt quite reasonable with the limited options presented, and figuring out how to (Spoiler - click to show)get Bernard out of the office was a great moment of discovery.
Blegh! You came so close last time! So close, but then Satan caught you escaping and threw you back. Stuffed in the body of a lowly counting clerk no less! Fortunately, you feel your powers of possession growing...
You are Zgarblurg (how's that for a malevolent-sounding name...), a demon spirit intent on escaping from Hell. To accomplish this, you must use your power to possess other entities.Fortunately, this particular version of Hell houses just the right creatures whose powers might aid you with your cunning plan (which you will make up as you go along...)
This Hell is a peculiar place, consisting of several regions. You start off in Accounting, move on to a large section loosely inspired by Dante's Inferno and Greek mythology (remember that one time where Orpheus got tangled up in brocolli stalks...), and confront the Princes of Darkness in their palace (which kinda made me think of a college frat house...)
The map is large but not sprawling. It's completely geometric (rectangular) in shape. Many areas are cleverly gated off so your exploration will require some inventive puzzle-solving skills.
I should mention here that the game was developed in a custom engine of the author's own making that closely resembles Gruescript and Versificator, as it is important for the following discussion of puzzles, pacing and map-traversal. These game engines present you with fine-grain options for which actions to take, along with accessible compass directions,resulting in a very parser-like gameplay experience. The available actions have been pre-selected by the author depending on the creature you are possessing and the location you're in.
The game provides an adaptive map grid that grows with the locations you've discovered. Along with the buttons for compass directions, you can click on any location on the map repeatedly to move your player to that square turn by turn. At first this felt like a great feature for player comfort. However, since almost all puzzles depend on bringing the right creature to the appropriate puzzle-location, the map-clicking feature soon felt very mechanical and gnawed away at my engagement. I quickly reverted to clicking the compass buttons as they gave me more of a sense of active navigation. Still, there's a lot of going back-and-forth across the map to switch creatures and positioning them, even if you have a clear objective in mind. When you're stuck and aimlessly wandering, the clicking interface pushed me out of the immersion faster than typing in directions in a parser would have done. (But this is probably just me bringing my parser-bias into a click game.)
The puzzles are fair once you get to know your creature's abilities. Some are decidedly elegant, providing a flash of insight or the satisfaction of a well-prepared plan working out just as you imagined. A nice variety too, with turn/timed sequences, unlocking gates with a twist, some surprising uses of objects. A few obstacles require a bit of background knowledge of Hades or the Inferno, but nothing that a bit of determined trial-and-error couldn't take care of.
There was only one puzzle that has me stumped even after I asked for hints:
-(Spoiler - click to show)The sacrifices to the Moirae. The fact that they want food offerings is well-clued. The colour-coding I understand. But how to deduce the order in which to give Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos their snacks completely eludes me even now.
Although I do think the puzzles are fair, many of them felt ever so slightly underclued. This is another instance where I missed the freedom of the parser to poke around, hoping that fail-responses to PULL, MOVE, LICK or KICK would nudge me in the right direction. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, a simple DRINK WATER on the banks of the Lethe or even SWIM IN LETHE would eliminate any need for background mythological knowledge. (Again, probably just me and my parser sensibilities.)
Once you have penetrated the Palace of the Dark Princes after a fair amount of puzzling, the pace picks up as you confront each of the six Devils (originally seven, but Belphegor couldn't be bothered...). It'sa lot of fun to figure ut their respective weak points and concoct a plan for their undoing.
An engaging and challenging puzzler with some hilarious moments. My main source of enjoyment was how the game invited me to dream up creative (if far-fetched) solutions to the problems it poses. I felt my brain engaging with the obstacles in the background even when away from the screen.
Here's another EctoComp (or should I say ECTOCOMP?) review.
Escape from Hell is about the escape efforts of Zgarblurg, a demon spirit who got caught pulling a prank on Lucifer and was sentenced to inhabit the body of a zombie and count paperwork. But gradually, Zgarblurg has been regaining strength, perhaps enough strength to escape both hell and mind-numbing bureaucracy.
As a spirit, you possess NPCs to travel and interact with characters and your surroundings. There are six total, and each have a specialized skill centered around a verb that can be applied to certain puzzles. For example, the zombie counts things, the succubus smooches, and the golem shoves heavy objects. The main mechanic is to possess these characters to use their abilities to your advantage. I also found two solutions for two puzzles in the game, which was nice.
While it is not obvious right away, the overarching goal is to (Spoiler - click to show) indispose the demon princes so that you can escape through the mineshaft. Otherwise, they will intercept you to keep you from leaving. The solution for each (Spoiler - click to show) prince (I never thought of Beelzebub as a prince, but maybe I am behind on the times) were creative and inventive, especially since they involve using their own vices against them. In total, it is a longer game. I completed it in about two hours.
I am a big fan of Fagerburg's games which can be cryptic, but in good way. These games use creative gameplay mechanics that are streamlined for discovery and experimentation. In Dessert Island, for instance, puzzles feature a magical spatula with pre-prepared spells, but knowing how to fully use it requires some work. While Dessert Island, I feel, is a little more technical than the author’s other games, they all feature strong setting, story, characters, and other attributes that engage the player and motivate them to investigate methods of problem solving, even in the face of a daunting puzzle. Plus, the author also strives to make things user-friendly so that technical puzzles are enjoyable to solve.
Escape from Hell is not a particularly cryptic (if at all) game, but some puzzles will take longer to crack than others. For me, (Spoiler - click to show) it was learning how to cut the golden threads in the courtyard via food offerings. First, it was about discovering the mechanic of food offerings, and then it became a matter of making the right ones in the proper order. It took a while, but rather than being frustrating it was fun and felt rewarding once I solved it. The author has always seemed to have “signature” puzzles, ones that are creative with a distinct style.
The game focuses more on puzzles rather than story, and there is not much else to add other than that Zgarblurg stepped on the toes of the wrong prince. And I do not think it needs any more than that for it to stand on its own because the focus is on exploring the landscape and interacting with (sorry, possessing) people for your own gains.
The bureaucratic monotony paperwork-hell in hell is reminiscent of Perdition's Flames, a TADS game about discovering the mundanities to be experienced after you die. Escape from Hell only touches on those themes lightly at the start of the game (such as the Infernal Cubicle), but they are still a humorous component in the game.
(I am not sure where to put this so I will just list it under “story.”) There are some fun easter eggs with the (Spoiler - click to show) cubicle forms. They list people who are destined to go to the underworld when they die. The catch is that these people are characters from other games. If you look closely, in the corner of each form is a reference number that you can use to confirm the game on IFDB. None of this has any purpose in the gameplay but I still had fun looking for games that I recognized.
This game is a parser/choice-based hybrid. It looks like any of the author's parser games but instead of typing on your keyboard you click on links and buttons. The action buttons change depending on what actions are available based on your character and location. Everything is easy to use, and you can carry out commands at the same pace of a parser game. I also liked the appearance of the game. It has a purple background, white text, pink text for dialog, and pink links.
Escape from Hell is another fun game by Nils Fagerburg. Great for Halloween or, quite frankly, any time of the year. It is a creative puzzlefest with technical but well-clued puzzles amid humorous characters. If you have played the author’s other games before, you will recognize the trademark qualities in Escape from Hell, and I recommend it to everyone.
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