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Uncle Mortimer's Secret

by Jim MacBrayne


Web Site

(based on 7 ratings)
4 reviews

Game Details


5th Place - ParserComp 2022

Winner, Outstanding Game in a Custom System in 2022 - Playerís Choice and Authorís Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards


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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An internally-consistent and pretty big Basic time-travel adventure, September 22, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game placed well in the 2022 Parsercomp competition. It's in Basic, with a custom parser; most games written in Basic with a custom parser are pretty bad, but this one is good. It's only as I write this review that I realize I've played another game by this author, from last year, so it seems this parser has had plenty of time for polishing.

This is a time-travel adventure. Descriptions are sparse and leave a lot up to the imagination. Puzzles are often riddle-based or combination-based; individually, they are often obscure, but as a whole they have consistent internal logic.

The parser generally works well; it has a few oddities that I noted in my review of Somewhere, Somewhen, and which others have noted as well; since the author has been aware of them for some time, I doubt they will change, so won't note them here.

I found it all generally pleasing. I almost never played text adventures as a kid, but there were two I played a lot in 5th grade in the 90s. I remember one of them being a Wonderland-like game that had gardens and interesting areas, and most puzzles were riddles. This game has very similar vibes to that era of game, and I found it charming.

Overall, this is a big game (I played about 4 hours and used a walkthrough about 11 times), and fun. I'm glad it was entered.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An entertaining old-school romp through time, August 4, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2022

Uncle Mortimer's Secret intimidated me, but at the same time, I wanted to play it. Details leak out from a game's reviews even if nobody means to spoil anything. And that worked both to draw me in and push me away. It was obviously a big game with a custom (and old-school) parser, replete with scoring, but it was also well-organized, by someone who knew what they were doing. It probably got fewer ParserComp votes than average because of the custom parser. It's got its oddness, but that's not a cover for the author's laziness or inability to put a story together. It feels more focused and assured than Somewhere, Somewhen, which the author submitted to the previous ParserComp, which had That Something. UMS had a lot more, maybe because the author didn't need to focus as much energy on the parser itself. It was the first ParserComp game I came back to post-judging, and I was surprised how quickly I did so. I'm grateful to the people who pushed others to play this game, and I hope I can do for so beyond ParserComp.

Your eccentric uncle Mortimer has disappeared and left you a letter. He's gotten involved in magic and alchemy, and he's probably been captured by someone quite evil. To rescue him, you need to visit several important time periods and events, and you may not have to do much, but when you do, you'll gain the trust of historical figures Mortimer meant and get the next piece of the puzzle. You travel through time by twiddling four numbers on a bracelet while in Mortimer's machine, and for me, it was nice to be able to get something right before doing what I had to.

I did so in all cases except the (Spoiler - click to show)Whitechapel murders in 1888, I was clueless as I never connected them to Jack the Ripper. This isn't all bad; for me, it was nice to know a lot without knowing everything, and also there was enough of a new spin on (Spoiler - click to show)Kennedy's assassination in 1963. I think with this sort of buffet-line approach to important historical events there's always going to be something you wished to see more or less of, and nobody's pleased perfectly, so your tastes may differ from mine, but overall it should work out right. For me the funniest puzzle was finding (Spoiler - click to show)Sir Francis Drake's bowling ball in 1588.

Eventually you do find Uncle Mortimer with a weird tesseract puzzle. The journey is worth it to me, though you will have to dedicate a lot of time. But it's the sort of game you can blow by with a walkthrough, if you have to, and you will get a lot out of it, and maybe in a few weeks you'll find yourself coming back to it, too, to see how much you remember. I found, briefly poking around, I enjoyed both what I remembered and what I forgot.

A few things still slow it up a bit, though. I'd still like to see a more understanding parser--the disambiguation isn't great, and there are some abbreviations, but maybe I'm spoiled with Inform. I'm pretty confident that the author will tweak what they want and need, though, given how they've honed a lot from the promise shown in Somwhere, Somewhen.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Traipsing through time, August 8, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2022

Sometimes I read a gameís blurb and it feels like itís inviting me into an exciting adventure, or to settle into a warm, comforting bath, and Iím chomping at the bit to get started. Others, though, like the sorry-this-is-broken lament of ConText NightSky, feel like a wet blanket. And to be honest, for an entirely different set of reasons I found the blurb for Uncle Mortimerís Secret daunting. The author flags that the game is large and takes at least 300 moves to solve (which seems like a lot?); that some extrinsic Google searching is required to solve the game; and itís a custom parser with a really really old-school appearance. That appearance was also somewhat familiar, which made me realize that the author wrote Somewhere, Somewhen 1 for last yearís ParserComp, which was a sprawling, hard Zork-alike that I respected for its achievements Ė the custom parser, at least, was solid, with the exception that it makes interacting with objects in containers or on supporters kind of a pain Ė but found too punishing to really enjoy. So it was with dread in my heart that I booted up this yearís entry.

Reader, that dread was ill-founded. This is another decidedly old-school game, with its plot focusing on a missing relative with a mansion full of magic/weird science, a collectathon metapuzzle (the MacGuffins this time are colored rods), and puzzle-forward gameplay. But itís actually a forgiving one: thereís a well-considered hub-and-spoke structure where you start poking around your uncleís mansion and discover the time machine, then start to unlock different time periods to visit, each of which opens up further eras, gives you one of those rainbow rods, or provides items or info you need to access new areas of the mansion hub. This helps pace out whatís a reasonable-sized game, so that youíre always pretty clear on where you should be focusing your efforts, and regularly get the dopamine hit of making progress on one of your goals. And thereís no inventory limit, or ability to get the game into an unwinnable state.

Another departure from old-school sensibilities is that the game eschews the overly-terse style of the 80s, providing enough texture to make the time-travel exploration lots of fun, at least for this history-nerd. The periods you visit are all reasonably separate in time and place, and strike a good balance between being instantly iconic, while not making you visit eras that have been done to death (though the choices are admittedly entirely Eurocentric). While each is usually made up of no more than a handful of rooms, with only a little bit of scenery and an NPC or two, thereís enough here to give you some flavor and scratch that time-tourism itch; I caught a couple of fun Easter Eggs, and Iím sure I missed more (Iíll spoiler-text my favorite: (Spoiler - click to show)meeting Watson and Crick as they discovered DNA, I was a little annoyed the author had omitted the contributions of Rosalind Franklin Ė but when you ask the duo about her, they shamefacedly admit they yoinked her work without credit). And while there are some anachronisms, usually to solve the puzzles, theyíre kept to a minimum, thankfully, avoiding the zany kitchen-sink worldbuilding that I thought detracted from Somewhere, Somewhenís effectiveness.

Speaking of the puzzles, theyíre also a traditional lot: some codes with attendant riddles, some item-swapping, and a soupcon of key manipulation. None of them are that novel, and sadly some of them are not especially well-integrated and feel like the authorís put a puzzle in for the sake of having a puzzle: in the Runnymede segment, for example, the central dilemma is that the Barons have shut King John up in a tent until he signs Magna Charta, but theyíve neglected to provide him with the means to affix his John Hancock to the thing. But taken on their own terms, theyíre for the most part satisfying to solve, and with rare exceptions are generally pretty simple, so at least the iffy ones donít draw too much attention to themselves (thereís also a two-tiered hint system, that prods then spoils each challenge, to get the player unstuck).

As mentioned in the gameís blurb, thereís also a less-traditional sort of challenge to proceedings, which is that you need to set the time machine to a specific year in order to access each different era. But only once is the year just given to you; in every other case, youíll be given a location, event, or more cryptic clue that the player needs to decode to figure out what year to put in. Keeping with the overall low-key vibe, the average player will probably know a couple of these off the top of their heads, and for the others a few seconds on Wikipedia will be enough to clear things up. But I still found it a fun dynamic, and I could see the need to pop open a web browser prompting some players to engage with the real-world history thatís teased in each era.

All told, I had a lovely time with Uncle Mortimerís Secret. Sure, the gameplay largely consists of crowbarred-in puzzles, and the story is sketchy to the point of nonexistence (hopefully youíre not expecting much of a climax or denouement). And the no-looking-at-stuff-in-containers-or-on-supporters thing continues to be an annoyance. But itís largely player-friendly, and has a certain hard-to-capture charm to it that makes those flaws melt away. If youíre in the mood for some low-stakes, low-friction time tourism, itís hard to think of a better option.

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Uncle Mortimer's Secret on IFDB


The following polls include votes for Uncle Mortimer's Secret:

Outstanding Game in a Custom System in 2022 - Playerís Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best game in a custom system in 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....

Outstanding Fantasy Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best fantasy game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB...

Outstanding Underappreciated Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the most underappreciated game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....

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