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About the Story
An entry in the 2007 One Room Game Competition. You play a young girl, trapped in a tower room and in fear for her life.
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Number of Reviews: 10
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I heard that one-room and escape-from-the-room text games went gangbusters somewhere between the 1990s and 2010. I learned this in 2010, the year I started playing any of the non-commercial IF that had been going on for the past couple of decades. And of the one-room games I have tried so far, Marika the Offering is easily the one what is most killing it in my fave charts.
Marika is a barricade-the-room game in which you play a 15-year-old beauty who has grown up in a ye olde town afflicted by the curse of a vampire. The fiend shows up once every 15 years to snack on a pretty virgin, and God help those who don't supply him with one!.. or at least that's what he says. It's not like the parties involved are talking to each other all the time.
You, Marika, are to be the latest offering to the villain, and find yourself locked in a tower bedroom at game start. The townsfolk expect you to lie back and think of England, but your mum has encouraged you to try to make the room impregnable before you fall asleep. And so begins an extremely exciting and suspenseful race against the clock of the sun.
The writing is lovely, with a bit of a romantic trill, and it also does its utmost to be clear about the potential usefulness of all the features and objects in the room, both before and after you have made your first interaction with each. Player knowledge is divorced from character knowledge, so that even if you've played before, you can't act on an idea that has not yet come to Marika through her actions as you have dictated them.
The game also removes the need to GET or DROP things. Once an object's practical usefulness is known to your character, you can always act as if you possess it, which makes good sense given that everything you can act upon must be in the room. Generally, issuing a LOOK will remind you of the status of most things you have previously messed with, given that they will all be visible from where you stand.
Another cool feature is that if you run out of moves, fall asleep and get attacked by the vampire (it's likely to happen to every player at least once, and probably more times before they solve all the puzzles) you will learn something, from the manner of your death, about what actions you still need to take to vampire-proof your tower.
The complete backstory to the game is presented as an optional read, presumably only because of its length. You will be better off reading it before getting into the game, and it seems plain to me that if you enjoy the writing in the game, you will enjoy the engaging backstory as well. Making it optional seems to have been the only hesitant design choice ("Will this deter players?", perhaps) in a game otherwise defined by clear design choices.
Ultimately, Marika the Offering is a very satisfying and tense time-limited puzzler with a Gothic thrillingness about it and involving writing.
Contrary to almost all other one-room games, the goal is not to escape but to secure the room so that the bad guy doesn't get in. This is a refreshing new look at the genre and the game handles the setting quite well.
There's a time limit but it serves a purpose: every time when the time runs out and the room is not secure enough the game tells what part of the room you missed. This is infinitely better than getting a general "you died"-message without a clue how to improve the next time. It's not even annoying to die several times because each time you are making progress.
Some minor design and parser problems keep this from being a five-star game. Objects can be examined exactly once, then you get the generic "nothing special"-message. At least in one point the story suggests that an item is essential to solve the game (it is not) but recovering it is not possible and there's no indication later that it's not necessary.
After mazes, the next tropes in interactive fiction to wear themselves out entirely were probably the “Escape the Room” [ETR] format and death. Seeing yet another ETR game is enough to make a seasoned IF player roll their eyes. These tend to be basically plotless, decontextualized setups for a puzzle rather than a good story. If you have to stuff something under a door to catch a key, it's probably enough to make a player quit. We've seen that game with that puzzle so many times and in so many incarnations that it was now beneath our notice, like spam. And the last thing we want to do is to die over and have to restart our attempts every time, especially on something so limited.
But Marika the Offering offers a fully contextualized, narratively complete game with an interesting story and a structure that subverts our basic aversion to death by turning the ETR format on its head. No longer is your goal to escape from a locked room. Your goal is to lock the room and keep a vampire from coming in.
Obvious means of entry and ways to bar them start the player out proactively, which is good because they're about to lose. When the player feels they have finally blocked off all they can they go to sleep (or else they'll run out of turns and fall asleep anyway). The player then get to watch how the villain enters the room to kill our heroine. In this way, each death is a clue in solving the overall puzzle of the game. Rather than an annoyance, the author has made death into a service to the player. Aside from presenting a challenge, the continued inventiveness of the (rather traditional) shapeshifting vampire at gaining entry into the tower room becomes a running gag that's amusing to read. Especially if you're a completionist, the flow of the game becomes more about blocking one entrance at a time and then dying, then blocking the next, rinse lather, repeat.
There are a couple of tricky commands to execute in this game where players might run into Guess the Verb troubles. It's also worth noting that the game is inventoryless, preferring to let players use things from where they lie rather than making them pick all of them up explicitly. This lets players focus on examining their surroundings and blocking exits rather than acquiring objects.
Overall, this is a rewarding, not overlong game with difficulty neatly balanced on a knife point, worthy of as many plays through as it has deaths. Highly recommended.
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