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Sam Kabo Ashwell has written many short games, and Dithyrambic Bastards is one the earliest. Like the much more recent The Cavity of Time, it greatly enjoys being fiction, being about other fiction, and in fact shamelessly borrowing from other fiction; but unlike Cavity, Bastards is ruined by a lack of self-control. We have everything: a weird writing style that mixes high poetry with low slang; an insane fictional world where people die and kill for poetry; sudden and unexplained plot twists; the author punching the player in the face with a big glove saying "metafictionality!"; quotations from English poetry; puzzles that can only be solved by looking up and reading English poetry -- and all that in the space of maybe five minutes. It is too much, too uncontrolled, with far too little coherence. In other words, this game is a mess.
That doesn't mean it's all bad. For instance, the "private detective who interprets everything as having something to do with Paradise Lost"-joke could have been successful if it had been sustained for longer. There is, after all, nothing inherently wrong with text like this:
She sat down on the desk. Hell, those legs were longer than Paradise Lost, and just as tautly constructed; gave you the feeling that if you went looking for it you’d be headed for a Fall.
“Got a light?”
You size up the flame-shrouded torso. To serve in Heaven doesn’t seem so bad all of a sudden.
I can see how that could work. Or take the puzzles in the end, especially the second (and final) puzzle involving William Blake's The Book of Thel, which you can only solve by looking up the motto of the poem:
(Spoiler - click to show) Does the Eagle know what is in the pit,
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod,
Or Love in a golden bowl?
I think there could be a great and educational game with exactly this idea: in order to progress, you must read famous poems and use the knowledge encoded in them to progress. But Dithyrambic Bastards doesn't do much with the idea (except for telling us that a second part will be coming along).
So I would suggest skipping this game, and playing one of Sam Kabo Ashwell's better short-form IFs instead, like Ugly Chapter or The Cavity of Time.
Dithyrambic Bastards on IFDB
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This is version 6 of this page, edited by Lance Campbell on 28 July 2021 at 1:40am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item