by Ben Sisk


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Live as 3 different people until you get it right, November 3, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

It took a while to update Java so that it would run Wabewalker, and it was time well spent. (Note: download Java 17--you may wish to uninstall your curremt Java version first, too.) It’s a game that’s meant to be confusing at first, I think, but that's not just for its own sake, and certainly not due to the custom parser, which I found worked well. Finding a clue what to do (beyond "explore and take stuff") is a great introduction, and it’s quite possible you’ll solve a puzzle by accident and then realize what’s going on. And that all feels fair.

The oversimplified plot: keep getting killed, sending you to another person’s life, until you organize things right. You become three people total, in three different worlds. If you’re not careful, you get killed for good. At one point, I was quite legitimately worried there was an endless loop, and I very much felt the tension when I was trapped between two worlds, unable to open the third, because I’d forgotten about a door and instead looked for something else that changed game states. That something else was behind the door–I hadn’t taken careful enough notes. If this sounds vague, I want to keep it that way, to avoid spoilers.

Because this game has ambition. It forces you to say “Huh?! What?” and banks on you being able to sort that out. What are the panels with three lights for? How do they work? How do you change lights? And so forth. There’s a certain frustration when you’ve set more lights than you need to open something, then fewer, and you wonder what the heck you have to do. Because there are only so many possibilities, though there seem to be far more when you start.

After I figured what the puzzles were about, the rest seemed like scratchwork, and, well, it wasn’t. There were other moments I hoped I wouldn’t be getting killed like before. I thought I calculated it. But I was still scared. I’d spent all this time scratching out figures to possess three people’s consciousnesses properly, not really knowing who they were, and it had better pay off!

Other than these three people, though, there aren’t many you deal with. Someone invites you in to hypnotize you, for a short segue that lets you see beyond one area where you get killed. This confused me a bit since my host said “No, that worked wrong,” and I still got a scroll. But given I was a bit careless about the narrative, I found it trippy that somehow A might’ve killed B might’ve killed C might’ve killed A. One of them killed the other, though. There’s also a phone call over a landline, which I found amusing, because it plays on a few text adventure tropes. It wasn’t hilarous, because that didn’t fit the game’s tone, but it was a well-paced joke.

So overall, I was pleased. What could’ve been busy work felt like a legitimate adventure. I can’t rigorously decide how true to Buddhism it is, but I do like how things work–there are so many orders to solve the puzzle in, and you may loop around a while before getting it, and quite possibly it’s more rewarding if you loop around more.

As for issues? The end cheesed me off a bit once I knew what to do. All those similar commands to type felt anticlimactic, and between bad memories of Ultima IV shrines (meditating three times in a row, I would go do something trivial and notice my response time had timed out–plus, these games have two mantras in common) and being unable to use an up-arrow, I was ready to get on with things and not particularly close to inner peace. In short, the ending puzzles were what I feared the beginning would be. In fact, one item really seemed to cue that. I saw and thought “welp, I hope they’re not instructions for later.” This all contrasts with how solid the parser is in general and how economical the “open the locked door” puzzles are and how they weave together. So be prepared for a grind at the end, but it shouldn’t outweigh the rest of the game.

The custom parser overall worked very well, though I wish H (hints) would mention the MEMORY command. The author may have updated it by now--I suspect it is an oversight, since they did the hard work of tracking everything you have learned with MEMORY.

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