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About the Story
Stiffy Makane, or rather his ancestor Mentula Macanus, is here subjected to an increasingly-unlikely series of crudely sexual romps through the ancient world. It's sort of like the Satyricon, except not nearly as funny.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best Individual PC - 2011 XYZZY Awards
4th Place - Spring Thing 2011
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
Apocolocyntosis transcends in-joke or parody or tribute. It completes the picture, it rounds out the meaning, of works that have gone before. To the puzzle-rich, erudite, but chaste and sometimes rather lonely universe of Curses (and much old IF in general), it adds dimensions of chaos; of acceptance of the body both in pleasure and in squalor; of the ludicrous as an antidote to misery.
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File Under: Classic Knob
With tremendous innovation, technical polish, and abundant humor, Thornton upends the medium with a work that's simultaneously traditionalist and transgressive, a layered and richly allusive delivery system for some highly demented and depraved content. It's a hugely impressive achievement, and I can't imagine anyone else pulling it off. I can't imagine anyone else even trying.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Related reviews: classics, ancient rome, stiffy makane, smut, satire, intertextuality, old-school, fantasy, historical fiction, gods
An excellent game, many aspects of which will be deal-breakers for many players. Let's start there.
First, it involves a lot of sex, much of it grotesque. With both genders, a variety of inanimate objects, corpses. There is a great deal of scatology. There are mohel jokes. Yahweh figures as a poor cousin to the Hellenic pantheon. (Spoiler - click to show)You will catch the clap and have it cured with a hash-pipe and a leather mallet. You will be raped and mostly enjoy it. If you are fond of taking offence at things, you will find ample opportunity here.
Second, although its sex operates under porn-logic, it is not really pornographic in motive; there are numerous sex scenes, yes, some of them with attractive people, but they're mostly played for laughs or squick or glossed over in jaded tones: "Of all the times you've ever boned a slatternly servant on a reeking mattress, this is certainly one of them." It's unlikely to function as wankfodder.
Thirdly, considerable background is required. You definitely want at least a passing familiarity with Graham Nelson's Curses (on which it is largely a commentary), Classics in general, and classical satire and comedy in particular. (Apart from anything else, there is at least one point at which insufficient knowledge of mythology can put the game in an unwinnable state.) It also helps to be acquainted with T.S. Eliot, Discordianism, the earlier Stiffy games, AIF conventions, Adventure and a broad swathe of assorted literary and geek lore. The overwhelming majority of players will feel they're missing things; some will feel they're being sneered at. You also have to cheerfully accept that none of this is going to be treated with anything slightly resembling reverence. (Fondness, yes. Reverence, oh my no.)
Fourth, it's quite old-school in structure and style. Scenery is sparse, wacky anachronisms abound, NPCs are very simple, and you're on a MacGuffin quest. It's cruel, too; a good deal of content can easily be missed, and there are several ways to put the game in an unwinnable state without realising it. On the other hand, the puzzles are mostly not very difficult, there are numerous modern conveniences, and the underlying design is well-crafted enough that play is generally smooth; but you will, nonetheless, want to save often.
The good news: if none of these forms a major objection you will probably enjoy Mentula very much indeed. Mentula is not a game that anybody has mild opinions about; it didn't earn a single 5 or 6 score in Spring Thing, and earned more 10s and more 1s than any other entrant. So, the good stuff: it's funny, clever, hugely good-natured, it's an overflowing cornucopia. Okay, it's an overflowing cornucopia in which some of the fruits turn out to be penises, but it's very clearly a game that was an immense amount of fun to write, and it conveys that sense of fun very well.
I have never played Curses. Any reference that Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis has to Curses is going to be lost on me. However, I did play Apocolocyntosis in a moving vehicle to and from an arcade, with several other people along for the ride and Bruce as the narrator. I believe MM:A gives you quite a lot to think about regarding the magic of a singular vision in design.
Bruce has made the kind of game I suspect he would like to play on some level, but never gets a chance to. Sometimes text games try to answer a question that is always lurking -- in Savoir Faire, we wonder "What if I could link these two objects?" In Deadline, we wonder, "What if I could accuse people of a horrible crime?" In Apocolocyntosis we get the answer to, "What if everyone was more-or-less receptive to my engorged video game cock?" Text games are really among the leaders in answering these questions, because doing so with a mainstream title means taking a chance. It's not remotely pornography, though it's an incredibly pornographic experience.
There are things I like about this game that have nothing to do with sex mechanic. It's packed with fun features. I like PONCY MODE being a thing you can enable, and I like that it came out as a result of discussions with people who made the newsgroups unreadable. I like it when people put footnotes in their games. What I liked most was the "hub" design of the game world. There's areas to explore in Apocolocyntosis, but Bruce doesn't ask you to play them all over again, like Halo, or play them a second time in reverse order, like Hexen. It's a difference in preference between generations of gamers, like how quarter-second cuts are totally okay in music videos if you are younger than I am, but a moronic unstyle if you are exactly my age or older. The area worlds are set up like chapters in a book, and filled with characters that I can dislike "properly": I dislike them because they treated our protagonist badly or were condescending to him, not because the author is broken and projecting his issues onto his characters.
I recall that as a group, we had a bit of trouble with the whale scene, but we were otherwise able to make pretty good progress with only marginal nudging. I was exhausted on the trip back, so more of a passive absorber in that regard, due to my attempts to have sex with the Sinistar machine at the arcade; don't judge me you fiends. The design, taken as a whole, it is that of a game meant to be played in a session or two, and it's all very approachable. It, like The Undiscovered Country is unquestionably an adventure game -- if you've been at all frustrated with puzzleless IF, this is the game for you. Even if you take the fact that it's a text game out of it, what interests Bruce from a gameplay standpoint is frozen in time, and I am delighted to return to a sort of post-Infocom Meretzky ride with his offerings.
There's a good deal of subtle humor in the game as well -- a great application of scare quotes managed to crack me up every time I did a playthrough, and you're never going too long without the game giving you a wry observation. More, while I had no idea what a lot of stuff was in the game, especially regarding archiecture, Bruce described it well enough for me to make sense of it. >LOOK is a strong verb in the arsenal once again, at least in my playthroughs.
Completing Apocolocyntosis, I wonder what kind of game Bruce would or could make next. I would most like to see him answer, "What if he gave us Stiffy's thoughts on all this?" I don't know if that sort of thing resonates with him much, but it wouldn't be the first time a mute protagonist spoke in a sequel.
The people who gave it a "1" in the comp are probably babies (no offense). If you have matured to the point where a video game can't offend you by simply existing there's a lot of adventure to be found here. A version of it existed for the Twitter-based game comp but give that a miss: Bruce convered the code into patterns of spaces, but the Spring Thing version is later than that.
Brace yourself for adventure, absurdity, and pumpkins.
Mentula Macanus is an absurdist epic that requires extensive mapping and saving, can be frustrating and sparsely implemented at times, but ultimately never fails to delight your inner highbrow with the ridiculous and paradoxical.
Puzzles and story are somewhat linear; the real meat is in its brilliant black humor and totally unexpected moments of profundity. The most rewarding moments leave you truly flabbergasted by obscure references that you didn't think anyone else could possibly understand. Not many games have made me laugh out loud, but this one did.
Play this for its humor, not its puzzles; take your time with it and allow it to exercise your patience; and above all don't take it seriously - you will be richly rewarded.
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