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IFComp 2022: Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey, November 14, 2022
Andrew Schultz has a nervy knack for swervy snacks that train take you to a brain break, and if all the play’s pain slays sane, then at least your frenzied frolic matches the envied aeolic! The antagonist, the Burning Bright Spurning Sprite, is “hoping for SOMEONE, ANYONE who might understand the slightest bit what’s in this” game, and while we might have to tie a little tightest to slightest, why not be fit for the bit?
This game presents you with cryptic rhyme puzzles, where mostly meandering mishmashes of words are thrown at you, and you’ve got to find some tangential rhyme scheme to carry on the meaning. While silly, this can be quite clever: a “freak framing” requires us to rebuke it of “chic shaming” from the “clique claiming” that makes it a rather “bleak blaming”, which helps to solve the situation. That kind of tight sequence of word association wrests wit where writ, leading sometimes to zany amusements. Presented with a mad monk: “>had hunk / You try to claim the mad monk has lost muscle, but the insult doesn’t really land, because with age comes wisdom, and stuff.” This kind of rhyming can be quite cute and inventive, with a delightful puzzle where trudging through slow sludge is solved with “>grow grudge / As your mood hardens, so does the sludge! But you don’t see that right away. You’re busy accepting you’re not perfect and realizing you don’t have to be and recognizing sometimes stewing is better than lashing out. The sludge even recedes a bit. You can go any of the four directions now.” There is a ludic fantasy of possibility implied here, a Norton Juster logicslip where you can end up anywhere just by ceasing your ascent!
Before we jump to conclusions, the game does unfortunately undermine that fantasy, because most of the play sequence consists of typing rhymes that don’t do anything until by sheer brute force you stumble onto the intended one, which often has little to recommend it over any of the unintended ones. In Roaring Rocks, for instance, you need to look for a boring box, which doesn’t really seem connected, other than that the game hints something is hidden? I tried “soaring socks” to jump over the obstacle, which seems like a more intuitive answer, but the game didn’t recognize it. Similarly, at the deep dune, I got it to seep soon, but the game complained that waiting for the seeping would take too long, so I tried a speed spoon, but got nothing. Instead, I’m supposed to leave the room and return? Which feels underdelivered for a game like this. Where the connective logic is more tightly interwoven with the rhymes, that logic can often be bewildering, as in a dizzying sequence that has you manifest a banquet, then cause a crow concert inside a shoe, which gives you a light lute, then you’re teleported? And sometimes the game’s writing makes you seasick: “A stun-steed zooms by, bellowing “None-need-done deed!” Have you lost focus on what’s really important? Or just put in a bit of extra rigor? You decide on the second, as you could also imagine a bin-bare-min mare to insult you for finding no extra neat stuff.” The game is telling me that the puzzle is solved and I can move on unless I want to find bonus points, but insists on doing it in a way that causes maximum whiplash. I suppose it’s hypocritical for me of all people to complain here. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.
Perhaps recognizing the dizziness, Schultz provides some nice features, like a series of helpful items that modulate your experience, such as a Guide Gong (keeps you on the right path), lurking lump (gives you one strong hint), and leet learner (keeps tally of the available rhyme points), all of which are nice customization tools to provide you with whatever additional mooring your mind might need to stern stay to learn lay the word way to keep bored bay. A hint system and a walkthrough add additional clarity.
These added guiderails temper any frustration to allow Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey to thrive on the chase for those sizzles of delight, when, trying to find where a locking lift could lead, you undertake a shocking shift, ending up in a Sore Soul’s Gore Goals, a rather desolate place indeed, but then you breathe life into it through shore shoals and four foals and why not more moles? If, at the end of such a wild ride, “You feel like you learned nothing, and yet, at the same time, you think back to what made you say “Wow, whoah,”” then, with the finishing bow bow, at least you’re left with a hundred percent pure sent pleasant present for constant content.