Counterfeit Monkey

by Emily Short profile

Espionage
2012

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Number of Reviews: 33
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Thorough, polished, and usable, but sometimes challenging in a frustrating way, November 28, 2015

This is one of the first few IF games I've played, so that's where I'm coming from.

I enjoyed the writing and story.

Overall, the parser had all sorts of useful features that made it much less frustrating and more enjoyable than other IF that lacks those sorts of features. I rarely had difficulty figuring out how to get the character to do what I wanted, something I can't say for the few other IF games I've played.

In particular, I appreciated the great space of possibilities achievable through word-manipulation that the game actually accounts for, even if it isn't directly relevant to advancing the story.

There's 2 main reasons I didn't give this five stars:

First, I encountered a few small bugs. One that particularly annoyed me was that the "exit" command didn't work inside the University. Additionally, (Spoiler - click to show)on the ship at the end of the game, the look command made no mention of a wardrobe (or at least it wasn't highlighted in bold if you turned that feature on), but you need to open the wardrobe in order to progress. How is that supposed to be fun?. Those two are my primary reasons for docking a star because they frustrated me due to making it unnecessarily difficult to progress. Most of the other bugs I encountered were related to missing content but had no affect on the gameplay.

Second, especially as the game goes on and your inventory grows, I found some of the puzzles to be more frustrating than enjoyable. I was holding so many items because I had no idea what would be useful, but this made it harder to figure out what I was supposed to use to solve a particular challenge because it increases the pool of objects you have to pick from - complicated by the fact that each object can potentially be transformed into other objects using word manipulation.

One particular puzzle that frustrated me was the one in the middle of the roundabout where teens are chained up and there's an all purpose officer. I eventually looked up the solution after spending far longer than I'd like to admit on it. (Spoiler - click to show)I was told that I couldn't do anything that would make me suspicous. So why could I grab the gun and shoot the tree? Also, it seemed that the solution hinged on looking at the tree with your monocle. I had mine off, I think because I had to remove it to avoid detection earlier. I understand that it makes sense to always have your monocle on if possible, but, due to the large space of possible things to try in this situation, it makes it far less reasonable to expect someone to guess that they need to use their monocle on a perfectly innocuous tree. The only hint you get is that the all-purpose officer has been transforming things. You have to deduce from that that you should check for more transformed things, but that wouldn't be my first suspicion. Especially because I would expect a tree to be at that location. There's also lots of red herrings - the octopus, the statue itself, the signet - all of which are bolded objects but have nothing to do with the solution. Also, the officer's actions made me think I had to do something at a specific time or else the game would become unwinnable - like I had to do something while they were climbing or something. There's all sorts of stuff that could throw you off..

In general, I would say that, while some of these solutions may seem obvious in retrospect, you have to account for the state you are in before arriving there - you have potentially a lot of items. You have all sorts of different people and different actions to try. Sometimes you'll try an action but be given an explanation for why you can't do that, so you may develop an assumption about what you can and cannot try that leads you to never try something that was the solution all along. Puzzle games attempt to prevent this type of frustration by limiting the space of options you have to explore and/or providing small hints towards the solution. As a developer, you can't always rely on your own judgement to decide whether something will be fair or not too frustrating.

I don't know what went into the development of this game, but I suspect the puzzle frustration issues could've been revealed with a bit of testing from someone who didn't already know the solutions. As far as design, decreasing the amount of options available to you, having less unrelated objects and red herrings in the rooms involving the puzzle (because there's already enough with all the crap you have in your inventory), and providing more subtle hints would've helped keep me from getting frustrated with some of the puzzles. Overall, I felt like I spent a bit more time than I would've wanted not making any progress while trying to solve some of the puzzles.

That aside, it's still a great game and I enjoyed playing it; it just got a little too frustrating at times. I usually do well at puzzle games (they happen to be my favorite genre as far as video games go), though I'm new to IF, so I wouldn't blame the challenges I faced on my own inability. I'm fine with having difficulty with a puzzle - it's possible to have lots of difficult puzzles WITHOUT causing frustration and hurting the enjoyment of a game. I just don't think this game consistently achieves that.

All told, I would say I enjoyed about 85% of the time I spent with this game, so I definitely recommend this. Had some of the puzzles been designed more to be challenging without being frustrating, I would've probably enjoyed it a lot more.