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Text adventure / pencil-and-paper hybrid, April 21, 2019
"The Hypatia: A Puzzling Space Mystery" is a text adventure with an unusual format. It is presented as a series of web pages, each representing a room or plot development. Each page contains a wall of text and a PDF of pencil-and-paper puzzles. Each PDF contains one, two or three puzzles. Entering the answers to the puzzles unlocks further pages or additional keys that are needed to progress.
This is a compelling format for me, as a text gamer, longtime puzzle solver and puzzle hunt enthusiast. I haven't seen anything quite like it before, and I'd like to see it catch on.
It's not clear until you've progressed about halfway through the game that you'll need to spend some real-world money in order to finish. You'll use credits to unlock some rooms and to access hints. You'll get a supply of credits at the beginning of the game, but it's not enough to unlock the entire path. Most galling, once you've solved the final puzzle, you'll need credits to unlock the conclusion of the story. The cost is modest; $5 worth (20 credits) was enough for me to finish with plenty left over. This is a bargain for the several hours of gameplay here, but I think it should have been made clear up front.
Hypatia's story involves a malfunctioning spaceship which has trapped its crew in their quarters. As you solve puzzles, you'll access new rooms, unlock crew members' secrets and find keys to help you progress. The story is well-written, and I enjoyed reading it. It's entirely unimportant, though, since there's no connection between the story and the puzzles, other than that both are space-themed. I think there's a missed opportunity here; it would have been more satisfying if information from the story (say, a cryptographic key discovered in a cabin) was used in solving the puzzles.
The puzzles are the highlight of the game. There are fourteen pages of them, and many pages contain multiple puzzles. There are also interactions between some pages, requiring you to reuse a resource from an earlier page or wait to get more information from a later one. There's a wide variety of puzzles, including word, logic and musical. Most have an additional step required to derive an answer for the web site, and many have a twist that distinguishes them from the standard format. For instance, one page includes a jigsaw-style word puzzle and a battleship-style logic puzzle that must be used together to find an answer.
The puzzles are mostly excellent. I thought that a couple of them were underclued, and had to look at hints from the website to get a start on them. There are escalating hints on the website. Some are free, but useless (Have you noticed some obvious thing?); more explicit ones cost 1-3 credits.
The final metapuzzle went badly awry for me. It involves (tiny spoiler here) (Spoiler - click to show)a physical manipulation of the puzzle pages. I'd speculated on how it worked, and spent a fair amount of time on it before going to the hints. The hints told me I was doing the right thing already. Long story short, I was never able to get it to work more than about 60%. That was enough for me to guess the final answer, but it was an unsatisfying experience.
Even so, I enjoyed my time on The Hypatia, and I'd recommend it to other fans of paper-and-pencil puzzles. You can find it at braingle.com.