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(based on 21 ratings)
About the Story
Marrow is delicious but that's not why you're here. You're supposed to pick up a single jar of alien bone jelly, which of course can't exist and doesn't exist, so you've convinced yourself that transporting it is no crime. Getting worked up about such nonsense would be like fretting about mermaids getting caught in tuna nets, and you've got other fur-bearing fish to fry.
Winner, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Winner, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual NPC - 2011 XYZZY Awards
2nd Place - IntroComp 2010
Downloading the hefty (by text adventure standards) 500MB package gives you a Hugo interpreter (yes, Hugo) and a data file. Load one with the other and you're up and running. Immediately you are greeted by multimedia! There is music! There are pictures! The pictures change! Yes folks, in 2011 we can now replicate what Magnetic Scrolls was doing in 1983. Progress! So, now understanding the reason for the file size, you can crank up the volume and sit back, absorbing some pretty damn good ambient techno beats, some with voice samples. There is a decent number of tracks, ensuring you won't be hearing the same number over and over in one session, and they do provide a great atmosphere that perfectly fits with the world of CRYPTOZOOKEEPER. Yes, you can switch the sound off, but you would be losing a large chunk of the experience without it. [...]
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Rock Paper Shotgun
Splice of Life: Cryptozookeeper
You find some odd things, poking around the dusty corners of the internet. Take Cryptozookeeper, a darkly comic splatterpunk interactive fiction adventure with grisly Pokemon type elements. It sounds like an unholy abomination of game types but for the most part it’s a narrative interspersed with fairly conventional puzzles. The story isn’t conventional at all though. It starts with a courier collecting some alien DNA from a rundown shack containing a large one-eyed man and his pet bear-dog, Puzzle, and swiftly becomes increasingly deranged. Later on you’ll be merging DNA to make battle-beasts even more uncanny than a duckbilled platypus but first you just need to deal with that bear-dog. The game is free to download although there is a deluxe copy for sale, which comes on discs in a box like olden times. [...]
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Like most gamers, I drifted away from the world of text adventures around the time graphics, sound and joysticks were invented. I played my share of text-based games in the early 1980s, but quickly moved on to “the graphical stuff” and didn’t revisit the genre until my interest was re-piqued by Jason Scott’s documentary Get Lamp. [...]
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We Eat The Night, We Drink The Time
This game is definitely not for everybody. If you find gore and repulsive behavior too upsetting, avoid it. Similarly, if repetitive RPG combat makes you want to shoot yourself, stay healthy by not playing this game. For me, though, IF that makes me laugh over and over again, and occasionally astounds me with something sublime or defiantly ridiculous, can be forgiven of almost any sin. Cryptozookeeper is that kind of IF. It's Robb Sherwin at the top of his very strange game, and I'm glad I finally figured out how to enjoy that.
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Cryptozookeeper: Inside the Red House
“Someone make sure Eeyore there has herself a nice long gulp!” You’re not sure who said it. It could be any one of your friends. It could even be you! -Cryptozookeeper
Sometimes, the moments that stick with you from a game—for years, even decades—are not significant moments in the game itself. Instead, they’re the off-hand moments when a space is created inside a game that feels extremely ephemeral.
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A feckless loser, likeable but kind of awful, has his life even further ruined by the intrusion of an SF/F trope. He joins up with a group of yet-more-awful guys and an cute girl or two; together they navigate a grody, nocturnal Americana fever-dream, overcome obstacles through randomised combat, and squabble interminably; a extensive range of graphics and atmospheric music rounds the experience out. Scatology, sass and geekery abound. If you've enjoyed previous Robb Sherwin games, then, this is a safe bet.
In Cryptozookeeper the subject is aliens and cryptids; the result is something that feels like The X-Files cross-bred with Pokemon, with an all-slacker cast. A lot of things don't make sense, and the general feeling is of a partial hallucination; wisecracking is juxtaposed with graphic horror, the plot develops tangled corners that you don't need to keep track of, and gameplay alternates between drifting easily along while expostulation happens, and being stuck in a frustrating corner with a skewy puzzle just beyond your grasp. And it's always night. And characters point out, repeatedly, the many aspects of the story that make no sense. It's a very particular kind of surreal.
At Cryptozookeeper's heart is a mini-game in which you create cryptids by combining DNA that you've collected, then battle them in an underground animal-fighting ring, in order to level them up to face a final challenge. The design is such that collecting all the DNA and discovering all the cryptids is optional. Combat is old-schoolish and random, but handled automatically and quickly; your main decisions are about gaining stats. On the other hand, you'll do a very great deal of it, it involves few strategic decisions, and it's not very clear how much is enough; players who dislike grinding may grit their teeth.
Thorough implementation is often talked about as a sine qua non of IF authorship, but it comes at a high cost. Sherwin puts as much effort, care and love into his games as anybody making IF, and does extensive testing; but robust implementation comes fairly low on his list. (Save often.) Among his higher priorities, it seems, is long-arc story. Cryptozookeeper is sometimes buggy or cumbersome, and often sparse and linear -- but it's also large and brim-full of content.
For much of the game you have three or four NPCs in tow, but you can talk to them rarely and on very limited topics. Despite this, they feel more developed than many NPCs with ten times their conversation topics -- Robb writes very well, the images help, and you have time to get to know them. (Too, you're constantly sniping at one another; the silences feel, appropriately, like irate sulking.)
Like most Sherwin games, this is basically about how the world is dark and horrible but even the most abject can be redeemed; it manages the difficult task of making both the darkness and the light seem genuine.
I wasn't sure what to expect when trying this game. I hadn't played any of the author's previous works.
The first thing that appealed to me in the game was the general feel and atmosphere of it. The graphics certainly were a great addition towards this effect. At first though, I felt as if some of the more upbeat songs included in the game's soundtrack felt out of place in the first few rooms. However, this wasn't an issue for me as the game progressed more and I heard all of the songs multiple times. I found myself humming a few of the tunes to myself at work the next day.
A big plus to the game is the NPCs, which are all done very well. My only complaint with the conversation system is that I kept trying to "Talk to Grimloft about X" out of habit. Basically, I kept attempting to skip a step when talking. The characters are all fleshed out very well with their backgrounds and personalities.
The difficulty of the game was varied to me. For the most part, I just seemed to float through the story, while enjoying the amusing exchanges between the NPCs. Some of it was truly hilarious to me. Then, I would hit a snag and would spend roughly twenty minutes trying to figure out what to do next, but it rarely came down to a "guess the right word" issue. At one point I became very stuck, and still could not figure it out when coming back to it the next day. I ended up sending a message to the author asking if perhaps I had found a bug or I just didn't get the puzzle. While it ended up being the latter, as I had tried to use a different verb with the right noun, he mentioned that he would add the verb I tried to the next version.
The system of creating and fighting creatures is pretty addictive. I found myself trying all sorts of combinations. (Spoiler - click to show)My only regret with the way I had played the game was that I had not built up my cryptids a bit more for the final showdown. I just barely won, and an all-out annihilation would have been most satisfying.
Overall, a great game and I would recommend it to just about anyone, especially those new to interactive fiction. You can tell the author put a lot of heart and time into it. I'd be very interested in seeing more of his behind-the-scenes stuff. This game easily made my personal list of favorites.
I've been reviewing the Introcomp version of Cryptozookeeper for SPAG somewhat more than a year ago. And yeah, it was like meeting one's old pals from school to find all the aspects I criticized in the demo unchanged in the full version.
The utterly unfair opening puzzle, for instance, still lurks there, unchanged. Fortunately, it's the only specimen of the kind - once you get past it, you can count on being treated more or less decently by the game, although the puzzle quality varies. For the most part, puzzles don't get in the player's way, except for occasional stalemates. In most cases, one just needs to pay careful attention to the descriptions to get out of such impasses. There was a verb guessing puzzle, and another one that seemed to solve itself without any efforts on my part (at least, I never understood how it worked), but both were optional. On the other hand, at least one puzzle was of top-notch quality; sadly, it was also the only one I didn't solve on my own, which is even more a pity, since, as it turned out, I was on the right track and just didn't realize it due to a lack of attention and patience.
The conversation system, too, remained as awkward as it was in the demo version, requiring the player to re-type the dialog mode activating command after each move, and to leave the conversation mode to look up the topics available. This awkwardness is accentuated by the fact that conversations are often used as plot advancing triggers, and this fact isn't concealed too well. This creates rather mundane action chains for the player, who has to go through a prescribed list of topics till (s)he hits upon the one that makes the story go on. (And yes - there were countless situations in the game where I badly wanted to discuss a certain topic with other characters, but this topic wasn't in the list).
Speaking of unnecessary mundane action sequences - I can't slide round the DNA combining process in this respect. This needs some explanation. Well, a large part of the game consists of the PC collecting DNA samples from various animals and then mixing pairs of them in a strange contraption to create cryptids. The contraption has two receptacles to hold the samples, and a button to start the process. Each receptacle can only hold one sample, and one has to remove and put them into the receptacles individually, so that it takes the player three to five moves altogether to perform a mixing. Just why not make a special command like "mix smth. with smth." that'd handle all these trivialities automatically?! Compared to that the fact you can pick up the activation button of the mixing machine and carry it with you is a rather minor issue.
Considering there are ten and dozens of DNAs to mix in Cryptozookeeper, and my moaning in the previous paragraph, you might be surprised by the fact that I did my best to try out every possible combination of the DNA samples while playing. The reason? Well, the aforementioned drawbacks weren't the only things the full version adopted from the demo; it also took over the splendid, characterful writing. Even more important, Mr. Sherwin managed to keep its level consistently high through the whole story - a remarkable feat, considering the size of the game. Thus, any successful DNA combination resulted in a reaction that was an adequate reward for the previous turns of mundane object juggling. Similarly, every cue of the PC's companions in distress justfied the agonizing topic-hunting preceding it.
The strong aspects - the writing, atmosphere, and character development - don't just redeem the game; rather, they prevent the player from paying attention to any weaknesses and disputable decisions of Cryptozookeeper. In addition to the ones already mentioned, I'd add to the latter the plot holes and the RPG elements. I won't say anything else about the plot holes, except expressing my firm belief there must be quite a lot of them, since the plot is kept pretty vague all the time. My unwillingness to expatiate about them has in a less degree to do with avoiding spoilers, though - the main reason is, I didn't have any chance to concentrate on them while playing, and didn't have any wish to do so afterwards. As to the RPG elements, they are optional for the most part, so that the player can more or less regulate how much of random fighting (s)he is having; on the other hand, there's still that scene towards the end of the game, where you just have to lean back for twenty or so minutes and watch an ongoing battle inactively. And yes - I didn't mind; it all was for me, as a Russian saying goes, like moles on a dear face.
Summing up, I'd say Cryptozookeeper is by no means a perfect game, but it has everything to make you fall in love with it.
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