Number of Reviews: 8
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Funny game with clever puzzles and only a few frustrations, December 4, 2020
This is a parser-based game featuring several puzzles, but also some funny scenes and dialogue. You play as Ichabod Stuff, the recently fired village-idiot of Swineford, headed back to the farm where you rent a barn stall, to figure out your next career move. You have to talk to the family you live with, and their animals, get some minor "quests" to start your career as a knight, and then complete them. The game features the typical parser interface, but with a menu-based dialogue system, which I appreciated.
The game is relatively short and features a fairly small map. Early on, before I was sure just how big the map was I did feel the need, for the first time in years, to draw my own map. This was primarily because the game used ordinal directions, which I have trouble keeping straight in my head. There wasn't really a pressing need for it and if the map had been rearranged to only use cardinal directions I think it would have made the game a little better.
I think the game starts really strong, particularly in its non-puzzle parts. The first descriptions you encounter, and especially the first dialogue you have with the NPCs, can be laugh-out-loud funny. I also appreciated that early in the game as you are going through the typical examine everything routine, that the game will just go ahead and make you take the objects that will be useful later, while not letting you get anything that won't be useful. The puzzles in this game were plenty fun and challenging (more on that later) without red herrings, so I appreciate that the author didn't include any.
Before I go into what I didn't like about the puzzles, let me talk about the stuff that I really did like. The animals. Any puzzle involving direct interaction with an animal was delightful. Some of them were (Spoiler - click to show)guess-the-verb puzzles, but in the best way possible, with plenty of clues given to figure them out without too much hand holding. Any time I feel impressed with myself for figuring out a non-standard puzzle without too much frustration I enjoy it very much, and in those situations the credit really goes to the author for excellent puzzle design. I also really liked how those puzzles figured into the story arc and ending of the game, they were integrated into the whole, not just one-off puzzles. Finally, the game has a really good hint system accessible via the help menu, it is split into different sections so you don't get hints you don't want, and doled out Invisiclues-style, so if you just need a nudge you can get just that.
Regarding what I didn't like about the game: (Spoiler - click to show)the nest puzzle. Two aspects of it frustrated me greatly. The first was getting straw. Annabelle makes it very clear that you need straw and you only see it mentioned in one place, in your stall. But when you try to "get straw" or reference it in any way the games tells you that you can't see that here. I banged my head against this one for awhile. The description of your mattress and the "gaping hole" made me think the straw was spilling out, but I had to read the clues to understand that you have to "examine hole" in order to get the straw. So this was an example of an object clearly listed in the text that wasn't implemented in a way I was expecting. On the flip side, another aspect of this puzzle, the mud, was something that was implemented the way I expected, but wasn't clearly described in a way I was expecting. You can't find a mention of it in that room's description, nor when you "examine stream". Of course it is obvious that a stream is the place you would find mud, but in the midst of my frustration regarding the straw, I was wondering if the stall and stream were red herrings and I should be looking elsewhere for my straw and mud. After reading the hints and just typing in blindly "get mud" I was able to complete the puzzle. Later I realized that if you "examine bank" the mud is mentioned. I feel like here the mud should probably be in the room description, but at the very least examining either the stream or the bank should mention mud (or they could just be implemented as the same object). One other small problem with a puzzle I had, but got past quickly, was finding the cat after you get it out of the tree. After you fall from the tree there is no indication which way the cat went, but given the small map only two directions make sense. However, when you head NW to the clearing, the game seems to indicate that you hear the cat from that direction before you reach the location. It took me a second to realize I had to go NW again from the clearing. Unlisted exit puzzles are tricky, I think this could have easily been avoided by 1) put the text indicating that you heard the cat in the room description after you reach the clearing rather than on the way there and 2) making the direction you have to take out of the clearing not the same direction that you took to get to the clearing, as that makes it more confusing. The issues with these puzzles and the frustration they caused is pretty much the only reason I gave this game three stars. If they are fixed in a post-IFComp release I will happily bump my rating up to four stars.
Overall, a fun game with some clever puzzles that is well worth your time.