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Oldschool, For Better or Worse, December 6, 2020
The first thing I noticed about Tangled Tales is the ambition of its presentation: itís a multimedia experience with a parser, graphics, and sound all bundled into a .exe.
I have to respect the amount of work that went into the design of this interface. This could have been breezed through in good old Inform 7, but no, Tangled Tales insists on going the extra mile. Was it worth it? For me as a player, the answer is probably not. I didnít feel that the graphics or sound added much to the experience. The window is set up so that you can only display either the text or a location graphic at a given time. Consequently, I spent almost no time appreciating the graphics.
Everything about this game seems to be painstakingly built to induce a very particular kind of nostalgia trip for a very particular kind of player. Thatís true of the interface, which bravely bucks the familiar and minimalistic presentation of a typical modern parser game. Itís also true of the writing, the world design, and the parser itself, which I swear came straight out of an era from before I was born. The world is more-or-less a maze, full of indistinct locations connected in a large, convoluted network, and you may indeed be driven to draw yourself a map in order to try navigating this game. The story and the characters are amusing, but they arenít developed in any great detail - theyíre not the focus here.
The focus is a series of puzzles which would look extremely easy in theory, but which are viciously difficult in practice due to Tangled Talesí cheerful indifference to the kinds of quality-of-life details that modern IF players are accustomed to. This is a game in which the parser is so finicky that I didnít even know when I was playing guess-the-verb or not. Looking at a table might yield a brief description, but thereís no indication that what you really need to do is to look on the table. Sometimes you have to give an NPC a command in one syntax, sometimes you have to use a totally different syntax for no apparent reason. If it were not for the walkthrough, I never, never in a million years would have finished this game, because I wouldnít even have understood that the things I tried were usually correct, just not phrased properlyÖ with the proper phrasing often being some idiosyncratic command that Iíve never seen before and never would have thought to try.
To top it all off, weíre given a fifteen-page walkthrough file. The actual walkthrough is a chunk of run-on text encompassing about half a page. Then thereís an image that takes up one page. One page is dedicated to explaining what interactive fiction is, and briefly introducing this game in particular. The other twelve pages? Instructions. This astounding document is what cements my belief that Tangled Tales is designed to provide, as faithfully as possible, the authentic oldschool experience, deliberately complete with all the shortcomings and frustrations that may entail. Itís a metaphorical middle finger to every new idea or convention that has been developed in the realm of IF-design theory over at least the past 30 or so years.
Thereís definitely a certain audience who will get a kick out of this.