Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge

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A very strange, very British mystery, August 8, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2022

(I beta tested this game, so this is more a short series of impressions than a full review)

One of my favorite games of last year was Christopher Merrinerís ParserComp entry The Faeries of Haelstowne, and Adventuron game set in an English backwater where supernatural doings are transpiring. Comes now Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge, and Iím happy to report that IFís hottest mini-trend, ďgreat ParserComp entries in Adventuron with an implausibly-named British village in their titleĒ has continued into its second year.

Okay, the resemblance is mostly superficial, and plotwise the two games donít actually have much in common Ė this is set in the present day, with an appealing teenage protagonist whoís investigating some strange goings-on that have a family connection. If anything, though, THH goes even further than Haelstowne did to make the sometimes-finicky Adventuron parser feel just about as smooth as the far more mature Inform or TADS ones, and it boasts engaging prose thatís incredibly clean (even in the version I beta tested, I didnít detect a single errant typo in this largish game).

Much of what I enjoyed about the game was delving into the mystery of what exactly was going on with the disappearance of the protagonistís aunt Ė thatís a stereotypical setup, but the truth of whatís going on boasts some creative zigs and zags, and the game does a great job of presenting different pieces of the puzzle through varying means, including but not limited to well-written letters and diaries. The structure is well judged to support this slow unlayering of the onion, too: much of the game revolves around unlocking different rooms in your auntís kinda-spooky house, but you also travel to a handful of other locations which helps change of the vibe, and time passes as significant plot points are reached, giving the story time to breathe. The puzzles are likewise there more to help pace things out and provide a sense of engagement than to melt the brain Ė youíll have seen most of them before Ė but theyíre generally well done, solidly clued, and satisfying to solve; the release version also has integrated hints.

Thereís a late-game turn thatís not exactly a plot twist, nor even a shift in genre Ė I guess Iíd call it a tweak to the vibe? (For those whoíve played the game: ). I could see it being somewhat polarizing since it isnít especially heavily telegraphed in the first two-thirds of the game. Still, I enjoyed it; the early parts of the game clearly establish that thereís some unexplained strangeness thatís been hovering over the town and the protagonistís family, and itís satisfying to encounter said strangeness and instead of it just being ghosts of Cthulhu or whatever, itís actually still really strange!

Regardless, THH is a really fun time, with good writing, characters, story, puzzles, and implementation; I have a hard time picturing the IF fan who wouldnít dig this one. Definitely recommended, and Iíll be keeping my eyes peeled next ParserComp for any game set in like Chipping Sodbury, or some Welsh town without vowels, in hopes of a three-peat.