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A mythological romp that's childish in a good way, January 4, 2022
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
I have to confess to finding the initial presentation of Hercules! off-putting. Sure, the twelve labors provide a sturdy framework for a puzzley parser adventure, and I’m hardly in a position to object to injecting comedy into old Greek stuff after my IF Comp game from last year, but the blurb, from the sophomoric premise (Hercules is a puny asthmatic) and use of profanity to the content warnings’ promise of scatology to come, seemed to promise a game with an annoyingly middle-school sensibility.
Happily, though, while that impression isn’t far off, Hercules! wears its relative immaturity well, exuberantly boasting jokes that mostly land on the entertaining side of dumb (I appreciated being told that the shoals weren’t hard rocks, but classic rocks, for example) The mostly-simple puzzles are usually pleasant to work through, with polished implementation and a plot that hits enough of the classical beats to show the author’s done the work while making some welcome tweaks to better accord with modern tastes (there’s no wife- or child-murder here, thankfully, but there is a climax calling back to all the friends you’ve made along the way).
Highlight: one of the most charming aspects of Hercules! is its map – you’re plopped down in a geographically-accurate but much-compressed version of Greece where a simple “GO SOUTHEAST” will take you from the shore of the Peloponnese to Crete. And while the available geography is large, if you go to a location too early, Hercules gets a bad feeling, which helps keep the scope manageable (all the labors must be done in order, understandably enough).
Lowlight: while the puzzles are mostly straightforward object-manipulation exercises, there are a few that feel underclued or fiddly (Spoiler - click to show)(falling asleep so you can hunt the hind in a dream world, for example, which doesn’t seem to be an idea suggested anywhere, and having to do the pendant rigmarole four times with four different mares is annoying busywork), especially I think in in the second half of the game (though see below). Exacerbating this, you can pick up a large number of junk items during labor number seven, which clogged up my inventory in the latter half of the game and made sussing out what to do more challenging – other labors get rid of unneeded items once they’re concluded, and it’d have been better if the same approach was taken here.
How I have failed the author: I was able to get through the first two thirds of the game in an hour, with baby napping next to me. He started to stir, though, about when I was trying to get the mares from Diomedes, and let me tell you, there is no video-game timer mechanic more stressful than trying to finish a parser game before a newborn wakes up! As a result I kind of panicked and wasn’t thinking very clearly for the last chunk of the game, and had recourse to the hints if I couldn’t solve a puzzle in like thirty seconds. On the plus side, I did get Hercules to his happy ending just before Henry needed a diaper change, so that’s doubly a win.