Counterfeit Monkey

by Emily Short profile

Espionage
2012

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Number of Reviews: 33
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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!)


1 of 2 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.


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.


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.


3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Redefining Wordsmithery, March 24, 2014
by Jeremy Hollobon (New Zealand)

There's really not that much I can say about this ridiculously superb game which hasn't been said already (and more eloquently) by previous reviewers.

So I will limit myself to offering a little advice to anyone who is eyeing this cryptically titled game and wondering "...shall I?"

I would implore you to:

(1) Just download it already. You're more likely to meet a sunbathing Grue than to regret playing this game.

(2) Don't be put off by the fact that the story blurb doesn't make a blind bit of sense. It's not supposed to (until you've played some of the game). Just take a leap of faith into unknown waters.

(3) Make an effort to get the latest version of this game, which may require visiting the Author's web site. The IFDB-hosted gblorb may be out-of-date, and save-game files may not be compatible between releases, so you should get the latest version before you start playing. (I got burned by this).

(4) Avoid playing it on iOS Frotz. Much as I love that app, this game will be intolerably slow, and may even be impossible to complete, due to hanging.

Much as I would love to wax lyrical about the game's mind-boggling breadth and depth, smile-inducing humour, ground-breaking game mechanics, masterful prose, or just the astonishing fact that we live in a universe where you can play this game for free, I will steadfastly resist the temptation. So that you can get on with enjoying the journey ahead.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Amazing Game, Mixed Feelings, February 21, 2014

This was an amazing game. Professional in all respects, fascinating mechanics, gentle, well-described world hiding unexpectedly sharp teeth. I wanted to fall in love with it, and I did, for what turned out to be the first half or so.

The issue, for me, is that the characters were as gently and obliquely described as the world. I could sense there was a lot more to them bubbling under the surface, but I couldn't seem to unlock much of it. So I was left with a sense that the game would really be happier if we just stayed good friends and I didn't pry too much, and this left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

I may have rushed through too quickly; I'm used to IF that takes a few hours to complete, and this probably should have been enjoyed over a week. And maybe I'm spoiled by the easy narrative rewards of less demanding pieces. And maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind to enjoy exploring all of the nuances of the system and fiddling with everything in pursuit of success.

Minor spoiler (general feelings on ending): (Spoiler - click to show)I found the ending to be disappointing, enough so that I assumed I'd gotten a mediocre ending until I checked the source and discovered I'd gotten the best one (and some of the reasons why the author made this choice). I wasn't entirely shocked that the ending left me with mixed feelings, since I've played a few other games by this author and have come to the conclusion that our definitions of "happy" are considerably different!

Major spoiler: (Spoiler - click to show)I wanted Alexandra to be separated and to see them interact with each other face to face after spending so much time so intimately connected and going through so much. Leaving them joined just felt incomplete.

I would definitely suggest using Gargoyle if possible, since on WinGluxe, "go to" and "find" became incredibly sluggish as the game progressed.


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Truly amazing, October 17, 2013
by streever (America)

This may be my favorite IF game currently, the only game able to even stand up to try and compete with it being Make it Good.

The entire game is full of linguistic puzzles, and like most of Short's work, creates a brilliant sense of place without extraneous descriptive text. The setting is fantastic and unreal--something most writers would communicate through byzantine tomes you can read through ad nauseum--but Short makes it compelling and real with the perfect amount of detail.

I haven't finished it, but I've put 2 hours into it, and haven't felt lost or confused. Puzzles that could be game-breaking have multiple solutions, and discovering those extra solutions--while not seemingly necessary and not contributing to my score yet--make me feel like the king of puzzles, twirling about in front of my throne and doffing my crown to my adoring peasentry.

Speaking of being "The King of Puzzles", I demand that my knights Make it Good and Counterfeit Monkey present themselves on my tourney field tomorrow to battle. I want to see blood, you knaves!

Ahem, sorry, got carried away there. Nothing more to see here, moving on!

The setting, the technical implementation, the plot, the writing, and the actual puzzles--the way they are solved and the mechanisms involved--are fascinating and novel. This is one of the best works of IF available.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A dynamic masterpiece, June 6, 2013
by RedHatter (Vista, California)

Emily Short writes masterpieces, this is undisputed. Yet the Counterfeit Monkey outdoes even Short's other games. The world was as compelling as any book I have read. Unparalleled character development, not only characters around the player, but also the character herself; The game is written from the point of view of 'Alex' narrating for the player, and as such opens many possibilities to see the player from the eyes of another. Through out game play the player finds memories to view, adding insight into the player's past. The virtual world Short built is large with items scattered across it, not all that the player uses. Counterfeit Monkey game play centers around word manipulation, changing the name of things to change what they are, creating unless possibilities. In addition to all this, the game did not feel 'static' with conversations, new characters, and new goals, around every corner.

I would caution anybody thinking of play Counterfeit Monkey that it is very hard. Do not play unless you are an advanced player.


12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent technical accomplishment and a great sense of fun, June 6, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: emily short, humor

Play it if: you want a lengthy and engrossing puzzle-solving experience and a healthy dollop of satirical humor to occupy you for a day or two.

Don't play it if: you're in the mood for something that more heavily emphasizes atmosphere or depth of characterization.

Boy, did I like Counterfeit Monkey. It had me grinning like a maniac within five minutes of starting, and that grin never let up. Even when my face got sore after the first few hours.

The most consistent tonal impression I got from Counterfeit Monkey was that of a high-quality Monkey Island game. Surreal plot devices, anachronistic histories, a coastal setting, a light-hearted story with streaks of darkness...it's all there. Oddly enough it also reminds me of The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game in its tone and charm, though I prefer Monkey for its outstanding gameplay and depth of setting. There's even a hint of Planescape: Torment lurking in there somewhere (a detailed setting where belief and opinion have physical power).

In gameplay terms, Monkey combines a feeling of casual puzzle-solving fun with a profound degree of technical effort. In that respect it feels like a sort of leveled-up crossword, which is appropriate because almost all of the puzzles here are navigated through some form of wordplay. I spent a chunk of the first half of the game a little concerned that the gameplay wouldn't significantly change. The letter-removals were great, but they also felt fairly straightforward, more so than what I think I'm used to in the early stages of a longer Emily Short game. But then the story starts to throw in some fun alternative powers, and remains fairly dynamic from there. Mixing it up with some memory exploration and the ongoing plotline, and you have a story which is fairly excellently paced.

It's difficult to overstate how much effort it must have taken (at least form the perspective of a novice like me) to have implemented the wordplay. A lot of my enjoyment came out of trying some more obscure ideas and realizing just how thorough the research was - how delighted I was to find that the author had taken the time to implement a cad, complete with "smouldering gaze"!

Definitely worth your time. Entertaining and impressive.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Some good, some bad, February 27, 2013

I see from the release date, that this is a pretty new game. So, I'm going to assume that Emily Short might be making some changes to things soon as some new editions are released.

For right now, though, it's a little rough in spots.

The good news: I loved the story. It was one of the most imaginative plots that I can remember. And, the story is very well told. I really like the writing. There is a nice, consistent tone to the writing that solidly conveys a time and place that is only slightly removed from our real universe. Nothing over the top. And, the non-player half of the player is nicely handled. I also sort of liked the inclusion of the map. At first, I was unsure about it, but it grew on me. The text was a little hard to read, and the placement of the streets didn't exactly match up with the expected movements in every location. But, it was clear enough to give you some idea of the spatial relations. Certainly, I wouldn't want to see a map like that in every game (especially ones with more than about 20 locations), but this one worked.

The bad news: I really did not like the "Pick Your Own Adventure" sort of leading that was going on at various places. When you encounter various people, the game will prompt you with suggested topics of conversation. The reponses then prompt even more topics of conversation. At that point, you pretty much just play a scrivener and retype those questions. I didn't think that those exchanges added anything to the game. I would have preferred a page of automatic text instead of that.

I was also underwhelmed at some of the vocabulary. It seemed to me that there were lots of things that I would try to do where the game would not allow obvious actions or would not recognize obvious synonyms. The description of each area is short and doesn't give you much room to play around (even if to no particular purpose).

I'll check back on this game in a few months and try it again if a new release has come out. For now, I would give it a solid 3 stars.


20 of 21 people found the following review helpful:
>point P-remover at preview, January 7, 2013
by Edward Lacey (Oxford, England)

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.



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