Counterfeit Monkey

by Emily Short profile


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Number of Reviews: 17
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A masterclass in innovative game design, March 5, 2022

There's not much I can say about this masterpiece that hasn't already been said, but I'll give it a go anyway!

I think the most impressive feature of this game is the combination of wild, extravagant possibility with tight focus. Once you get the hang of your letter-remover, the range of possibilities seems almost paralysing in its scope: you can turn the objects around you into completely different objects with a flick of the wrist. A single item can yield all kinds of wildly different new items depending on which letter you remove, and these in their turn can do the same thing. More possibilities open up as you gain access to more word-manipulation tools - the anagram gun, in particular, is a dizzyingly powerful piece of kit that, once you get it running, makes you feel well-nigh omnipotent. All of the comments about the sheer scale of the task the author must have faced in coding all of these possibilities are, if anything, understated.

And yet at the same time it all works, because the game's scope never gets too out of control. For example, restricting the main mechanic to removing letters (and not adding them, except for one limited tool) means that any given object can only yield a limited number of new objects. Judicious use of adjectives in object names means that many cannot be manipulated at all, or only in fairly limited ways. Even the mighty anagram gun can only turn most objects into one other object, and most of those are useless if hilarious. I think this is the true achievement of this game - to create a world of apparently infinite possibility, that nevertheless limits that possibility without ever feeling restrictive. Enough range of possibility remains to allow the player freedom to try all kinds of things which don't help advance the game at all but are still possible. Here a shout-out has to go to the Britishizing Goggles, which are much appreciated if completely useless, and must have been another headache to implement. (Though they're not infallible e.g. "rigourous" is not correct British English, sad to say.)

This is one of the few puzzle-based games that I managed to complete entirely on my own, though some sections gave me lengthy pause for thought. It's all logical, and while "guess the verb" is effectively replaced by "guess the noun", you at least have all those possible nouns in front of you, in theory. On some occasions the gameplay slows as you read repeatedly through your entire inventory, trying to work out which word, with a letter removed, might produce something useful - and the game's adherence to the modern convention that it's possible to carry in your arms literally everything that's not nailed down means this can be a time-consuming process. More often than not, though, the relevant object is fairly easy to identify. One point to bear in mind is that everything you need to solve a puzzle is always available in locations you can travel to from that puzzle point, something that in the later stages of the game means you can discount much of your swollen inventory when trying to work out what to do.

The parser is very friendly, allowing you to take back game-losing moves. Conversations are rather mechanical, but as we all know, conversations are impossible to implement well in IF. The parser does suffer from frustrating limits in the underlying engine - e.g. it cannot handle "Put X and Y on the Z", requiring instead "Put X on the Z" followed by "Put Y on the Z", even though there are a number of times when you do have to put two things onto or into something.

Most importantly though, this game is just absurdly fun to play. The fact that something like this is free when it outclasses on every level the classic Infocom-era games - that we had to buy with actual money, from actual shops - is something to be profoundly grateful for.

I must add that it's thanks to this game that I discovered Toki Pona, which I'm going to investigate in more detail. Oh, and finally, playing this game late at night leads to very strange dreams.

[EDIT] tenpo ni la, mi sona e toki pona. jan Emili o, pona!

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent! , November 29, 2021

Really impressive display of talent and creativity. loved the multiple solutions to puzzles and kept you engaged from start to finish!

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Clever Use of the Medium, November 18, 2021

This is my favorite IF of all time.

Much of the gameplay involves converting objects from one thing to another by altering their spelling. That sounds odd outside of a text-based game, but in this setting it works brilliantly.

Structurally, the game is the type where you wander around an area collecting things and solving puzzles that may require pieces from distant parts of the game world. But with the way this game works, the key to solving puzzles requires a lot of creativity and word-play.

The game provides many hours of gameplay. It took me several days. For the most part, the puzzles were the right level of challenge to make for fun gameplay, but I did use a walkthrough a few times when I got stuck.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Impressive Wordplay, June 21, 2021
by dvs

This game is what Infocom's "Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It" was trying to be, a clever puzzle-based game based on wordplay. The author added depth, political angst, and much more interesting characters and settings. It's an incredible achievement. (And there are different levels of difficulty! It's amazing!)

I, unfortunately, didn't enjoy playing the game even though I was impressed by its scope, depth, and technical prowess. The dark theme felt like it belonged in a separate game. But the main reason was that I was playing (over Zoom) with an eighth grade friend of mine (her first IF!) and when we came across the "double entendre" puzzle we were both extremely uncomfortable with the solution and we stopped playing altogether. (I finished it by myself months later.)

I suppose I should really be aiming that disappointment at IFDB for not having an "adult content" warning on games. It was hard to resist playing the highest rated game on IFDB that was based on wordplay. (It seemed innocent enough!)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Another all-time favorite, December 9, 2020

This game is a classic. It is everything an IF game should be. Just play it and see for yourself!

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A truly amazing feat in modern IF, October 8, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 8-10 hours

First, let me begin by saying that this has to be the pinnacle of IF programming. This game is large and deep, and amazingly robust with its responses to player input. I can't even imagine how much time Emily Short put into writing and testing it. Bravo!

As far as the user experience is concerned, this is a great game. It has a well-built environment/world, with backstory for both the setting and the characters. The characters aren't particularly deep, but much more fleshed out than your typical IF game, complete with memories that pop up to reveal more about you (the player character) and the NPCs.

The map is quite large and mostly revealed from the beginning of the game (I highly recommend playing with the built-in map on), but you aren't overwhelmed with possibilities. As you complete the main tasks in an area and clear roadblocks to advance to a new area, you rarely (if ever) have to go back to get an object that you didn't know was important the first time you came across it. I loved that, it both made the puzzles easier to wrap your head around and gave me a real sense of progress as you moved around the map.

The puzzles are revolutionary, using a mechanic that I don't think had been explored before (or since?) this game. It is a nice change of pace from the more mechanical or character-stimulus puzzles of other games. The only downside was that because the puzzles were all word/letter based, it got to be a bit repetitive and a few times a little too easy as it was obvious what you needed to progress and you just had to find an object one letter off from your solution.

I enjoyed this game a lot and appreciate it even more. A must play for any IF enthusiast.

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
An overwhelming mix of wordplay, exploration and story, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

Note: This review was written months in advance. A week before this review was published, another review came out saying that counterfeit monkey was overwhelming and was very negative about the author and game in general. While I was overwhelmed, I think this is an incredible game, and that the author is extremely talented.


Counterfeit Monkey is a technical marvel of wordplay and implementation. The game is a large exploration game where you can alter almost any item by adding or removing letters, reversing letters, performing anagrams, etc.

This game has been rated highly by the majority of those who played it, and I must praise its puzzles, writing, implementation, and craftsmanship.

These very qualities led me to feel overwhelmed playing this game. I had a similar experience with Blue Lacuna. In both games, so much is implemented that I had a hard time thinking of what to do next. In both games, you have a certain sense of urgency, so you want to move forward, but both reward experimentation. So I have a feeling of being torn in two directions (much like the protagonist of this game).

I wonder if the reason I feel drawn to interactive fiction in general is its minimalist, constrained atmosphere. Games like Zork or Curses! where you are noone, and exploration is the only goal; games like Glass, where you can only steer a conversation; games like Rogue of The Multiverse that are split into several parts with clear goals. Even games like Ad Verbum, which mirror the puzzle parts of Counterfeit Monkey without the plot.

Most will not feel the same as me, but I love the minimalism and asceticism of classic games, and I don't know if I enjoy those games which have been built up into a rich, huge world.

2 of 3 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.

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
The best game ever created, October 20, 2015

This game is reason enough to create a national IF Laureate post. I hope Emily Short wins the lottery, or, barring that, I hope I win the lottery and can become a patron of her work. If anyone ever meets Sarah Vowell, please please have her play this game.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Great Game! - Recommendation: Don't Play Hard Mode, February 23, 2015
by Matt W (San Diego, CA)

Really enjoyable puzzle game. The characters, setting, conceit and UI are all unique. The writing is excellent: humorous and delightful. I don't want to elaborate on the many many other reviews of this great game. I just have a couple of points:

1) Most of the puzzles have multiple solutions. Normally, I wouldn't like this, as it makes puzzles feel 'sloppy', but it works really well within the word-manipulation conceit. I mean, of course when you can reify text, there are many things that can happen and many solutions to potential problems.
2) The game offers the option to play in hard mode, which eliminates some (easier) puzzle solutions and changes how you have to approach a few situations. I recommend NOT playing on hard mode. The breadth of available options are a strength of this game, and I think hard mode fails on the side of sacrificing content for challenge.
3) If you're using Gargoyle for Windows, the default font (Bitstream Charter) does not render Unicode characters correctly, which can affect a couple of scenes in the game. This almost certainly won't affect your ability to complete the game, but I recommend using Times New Roman, which has a complete Unicode implementation. And I used a window size of "cols 150" and "rows 60" which made the map very readable and provided a good space for text on my screen. YMMV.

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