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(based on 17 ratings)
About the Story
"Magic comes with a price. But on your birthday, all your expenses are paid. Welcome to Grooverland."
Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: July 1, 2021
Current Version: 1
Development System: Inform 7
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
Winner, Best Puzzles; Nominee - The moveable stage with the laserfight, Best Individual Puzzle - 2021 XYZZY Awards
1st place - ParserComp 2021
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Happy birthday to you!
It's your special day and your parents have gone all out and got you the Queen-package for Grooverland. It's an all-access special treatment pass for your favourite theme-park, with a coronation ball in the big castle included. You just have to enjoy the rides and find your Queen-stuff while you're at it.
A seemingly light and humorous plot, told in a funny and colourful tone. Until you get a bit farther along on your quest and start gathering the regalia you need to enter the Queen's castle. A darker dimension lies behind our own, and obtaining the symbols of your royalty causes it somehow to overlap more and more with the happy theme-park reality, subverting our familiar world into solid scary-clown territory. (Coulrophobics can rest assured, no actual scary clowns appear in the game)
The writing seems to have some trouble keeping up with the gradually changing atmosphere. The descriptions do change while the game-world devolves into a darker version of itself, and random background events now depict monstrosities selling snacks, but I never had the feeling of being dragged down into darkness with the protagonist though. I was more a curious but distant observer than an involved participant.
In part, this is because the puzzles are so darn good. They are very accessible, even on the easy side. At the same time, they are wonderfully original in the most creative way: take something that's well-established and add an unexpected twist. The laser-fight puzzle is among the best I've ever seen, while it is in essence a "push the right button"-puzzle in disguise.
Now, the accessibility and originality of the puzzles demands that the writing be crystal clear (which it is), without any ambiguities in the descriptions, so the player can clearly visualize the surroundings. This takes precedence over describing the atmosphere of the changing game-world. The clarity of the puzzle-descriptions shines a bright spotlight in the supposedly dim and gloomy alternate realm taking over our world, causing it to be not so dim and gloomy.
Grooverland's gameplay made a very solid, robust impression on me. The game-world felt like it was there, and I could try whatever I wanted without fear of breaking anything or confusing the underlying order. There are helpful NPCs, funny references to other games, a lot of tinkering and experimenting puzzles, all leading up to an exciting endgame.
The grand finale is just the way I like it. I have proved my worth during the middlegame, solving the fiddly puzzles with the many possibilities. Now it is time for a straightforward but very exciting and well-paced boss fight. Excellent way to reward the player and to leave him with a sense of accomplishment after finishing the game.
I enjoyed this very much.
Disclaimer: I cameo (name-wise, anyway) in this game as an NPC. This was a prize the author gave me for IFComp reviewing.
Grooverland is a big, modern day fantasy'n'puzzling adventure set in the eponymous theme park. The player is eleven-year-old Lily, and for her family birthday outing she's granted the run of Grooverland for a day, as well as the personal party role of Queen. The park is outwardly wondrous but increasingly sinister as the game progresses, putting the game into what I broadly think of as the Wishbringer tradition, with a touch of Willy Wonka to boot. Indeed, both Grooverland and Wishbringer open with a dragon attack scene, and in both cases the scene quickly turns in an unexpected direction.
Grooverland is named for IF author Chandler Groover, from whose games it's inspired in imagery and themes, though in a more G or PG-rated way than the source. I continue in the embarrassing (but majority) tradition of reviewers of Grooverland who haven't played most of Groover's games. Nevertheless, I recognised more of them than I thought I would during Grooverland. Plus, like the game says, knowledge of them is not essential for play.
The puzzles are excellent, exploiting all of geography, mathematical logic, permutational experimentation, and intuition both fantastic and emotional. They involve such tasks as feeding icky foods to weird animals, charming creatures into service, eating giant cakes and working sideshow magic. Some interlock, some stand alone, some require the player to reach back to prior ideas or knowledge at the appropriate moment – and they're great at building that knowledge in the first place – and they all feed each other's logic.
It's this consistency and cumulative development that makes Grooverland feel so vivid. This is a big game (close to three hours for me, without hints) but arranged so that it never feels overwhelming. I'm not used to puzzling at such length these days, nor with puzzles that are so cleanly and sharply presented in concept and in their elements. I almost felt they might be easier than they seem, but I think it's the access to them that is the site of increased ease, a reflection of contemporary possibilities in IF and the author's abilities.
The prose delivers visual clarity, and is especially good at doling out the game's highly dynamic world in a comprehensible way. While the various wacky NPCs demonstrate clear personalities in prose, I felt the heroine perhaps demonstrated the least, or at least the least specific. The game has an impressive catalogue of anti-stock responses and jokes, but I got the feeling too many of them were from the school of parser humour rather than what Lily might be likely to think. (Though who can prove that she doesn't think like a parser game author? She's certainly likely to become one if she survives the experience of Grooverland.) Lily's family, too, are a bit functional in delivery. That didn't bother me. There's so much puzzling to be getting on with, I was glad to not have to ASK/TELL my family into the ground as well. Amongst them, they have enough strokes to conjure the needed familial emotions.
The prospect of tackling the game's finale was almost too much for me when I reached and apprehended it. However, it turns out not to be some brutally punishing boss fight puzzle, but rather a way to reward the player with access to the powers they've spent the game acquiring.
Grooverland is a great puzzle game that's fun and highly involving, and a fine feat of fantasy imagination as well. It is also technically rounded well beyond what any one player might see, which I consider to be one of the hallmarks of the best IF.
As a fan of Chandler Groover's writing, the setting of this game was nice. There are references to many of Groover's games that were fun to find and read. This game is probably better enjoyed playing some of his first!
I enjoyed the puzzles generally, but found one of them to be too difficult. The (Spoiler - click to show)creaky house was a huge pain to think about. Mapping it is probably necessary, and while that is traditional, I hate mapping puzzles and was happy to skip it using the in-game provided hints which were direct and helpful. I also found myself a little disappointed by the (Spoiler - click to show)midnight laserfight puzzle which seemed somewhat barebones where the items you could pick up and drop didn't matter. My favorite puzzle was the (Spoiler - click to show)menagerie puzzle with foods named after Groover's other games. Delectable and fun to strategize! I really enjoyed the use of the cake as well, which had a nice parallel to (Spoiler - click to show)Eat Me with progression being marked by what you eat and destroy, and the shenanigans with the animals in the petting zoo. The in-game hint system is very useful if you are having trouble, so if you're unsure about this game, the puzzles shouldn't put you off. It also helps that this game is impossible to be made unwinnable.
The (Spoiler - click to show)steadily more horror-themed amusement park was a nice touch, but this game by no means trips into the actual horror that marks Groover's games. You get about what you see going into Grooverland, with about Disney-level scares.
Story notes: (Spoiler - click to show)Although the beginning of the game really had the feel of a ten year old blitzing through the day that just for her, the high queen! I felt the ending was more caged in. Even if you don't interact with the family members early in the game, you still must pick up their dropped items and use them in the last section. But in the early game it's easy to ignore your siblings and parents in favor of the cool amusement park with very little dialogue from them, so going back to the idea of using their love to defeat the monster and save the park feels kind of hollow. The ending being unmissable thus makes it feel like, well, you have to do this to move on the plot, and somewhat unearned by the player.
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