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>point P-remover at preview, January 7, 2013
Emily Short's Counterfeit Monkey is a large and ambitious contribution to several IF genres, but I think the description that best indicates the gameplay experience is "wordplay puzzle game". Short imagines a world in which names are more fundamental than physical properties, and to rename an individual object (subject to given rules) is to transform it to something else. The game's island setting of Anglophone Atlantis is a centre for development of word-altering technology, and the protagonist must make use of this technology in order to smuggle plans for a new device out from under the noses of the island's oppressive government. A tool available from the start of the game can remove any letter of the alphabet from an object's name; to give an example not from the game, a BEARD could become a BEAR and then an EAR. The game allows any appropriately-named object to be modified, often in more complicated ways than this example suggests. The range of options seemed daunting at first, but I found that puzzles were arranged to ensure that new abilities and locations become available only once I had demonstrated proficiency with the resources already available.
A puzzle game founded on such depth of simulation would be noteworthy in itself, but Short combines it with a setting and plot that are engaging in their own right and make the fantastical premise seem almost credible. Over the the course of the game, the player learns about the history of word-altering technology and its likely future development, not to mention its competing uses by criminals and the authorities. By making clear the legal and technological constraints on the transformations, Counterfeit Monkey not only explains how a world in which "animal" and "mineral" are mutable categories escapes incomprehensible chaos, but provides a natural basis for the police-state setting and industrial espionage plot.
Although this review has referred to a "protagonist", the player character Alexandra is actually a verbal and physical "synthesis" of two people, linguist Alex and spy Andra, who have decided that sharing a merged body temporarily will give them the opportunity to leave Anglophone Atlantis unrecognized. The player's input is interpreted as attempts at action from Andra, while Alex takes on the role of the narrator and parser. The contrast between the dominating, problem-focused Andra and the more cautious, locally-knowledgeable Alex provides a perfect fit for the player-parser relationship.
The game's tone is also something of a synthesis. Some excellent humour arises from the bizarre objects the player can create, while the dystopian background is treated quite seriously. The ethical implications of Alexandra's actions receive due attention, but I felt that it was here that the only perceptible tension arose between the plot and puzzles. ((Spoiler - click to show)Concerns are raised in the game about the power of word-manipulation to bring people or animals into existence, and Alexandra's equipment is initally configured to prevent this. However, the puzzles assume that the player will be happy to create "animates" routinely once this ability is acquired.) This criticism is trivial in light of the remarkable achievement that Counterfeit Monkey represents as an adventure game, a simulation, a narrative and an experiment in IF player-parser relations. I hope that any player not allergic to wordplay will download it and enjoy it as much as I did.