Codex Sadistica: A Heavy-Metal Minigame

by grave snail games


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A grungy heavy-metal adventure, November 30, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Codex Sadistica gives off big music-zine vibes: itís got a self-consciously over-the-top aesthetic of total commitment to and love of heavy metal, with stripped-down gameplay where you solve puzzles almost exclusively through power chords. On the other hand, while the gameís perfectly functional, all its edges are rough, with implementation issues everywhere you look. Would it have violated Codex Sadisticaís artistic ethos to have butter-smooth programming and elegantly-implemented parser responses? Yes, 100%, but I still missed them.

The premise is a classic get-the-band-back-together quest, as you must go extricate your bandmates from their individual predicaments so you can storm the stage and kick off a performer who's overstaying his timeslot (admittedly, the game kinda lost me here, since Faramir Spidermoonís eleven-act song-cycle of himself sounded awesome). The venue is a tight four-and-a-half locations, and the writing really lets you feel the grime and sweat coming off the walls. The puzzles you need to solve are grounded (sneaking bandmates past an overzealous fan, helping another win an argument with well-actually-ing dudebros), but the method for doing so is anything but: once youíve got your first bandmate liberated, you can jam with them to create powerful effects, from a fuzzy doom-metal riff that conjures up fog to pirate-metal that summons a crowd of larcenous seagulls. Further complicating matters, you can genre-mix by playing with more than one of your bandmates at a time, increasing the face-rocking quotient while adding complexity.

This is a lot of fun, but as those examples indicate, itís hard to deduce the consequence of the different musical effects just from their descriptions Ė weíre firmly in trial and error territory here. There arenít so many combinations to make this annoying, and the writing is sufficiently fun to enliven even unsuccessful attempts, but this did mean that I didnít get much satisfaction from solving the puzzles.

Now that Iíve segued over to critiques, itís time to turn to those implementation issues. I didnít run into any bugs that impacted progression, but there are a lot of niggles in Codex Sadistica. Locations list their contents using the default Inform rules, often redundantly when objects are already mentioned in the room description. Multiple plot-critical items donít have descriptions (ďyou see nothing special about Maeís Lighter.Ē Really?). Items and people mentioned in room descriptions sometimes arenít actually present. Character interaction is handled with a TALK TO command, but this is never mentioned to the player. And damningly for a music-focused game, LISTEN, DANCE, and SING didnít have any effect.

Again, given the context, I suppose this is all fair enough, and leveling these critiques just marks me out as the lame dad who brought his kid to the show and canít shut up about how talented this band is so itís a shame they donít apply themselves a little more. But hey, now that Iím a dad, I come by this lameness honestly Ė so I do hope thereís a post-comp release to iron some of this stuff out.

Highlight and lowlight: I have a tricky combination *light for this one. An early puzzle requires you to help your guitarist get through a dungeon in their DnD game Ė awesome! But itís a one-move sequence thatís over as soon as it begins Ė lame!

How I failed the author: my streak of luck with baby-napping (like, the amount of napping the baby was doing, not good fortune stealing somebody elseís baby) came to an end near the close of Codex Sadistica Ė Henry was waking up with a dirty diaper just as the climactic showdown kicked off, so I went straight to the walkthrough there when I couldnít immediately solve the puzzle.

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Greg Frost, December 7, 2021 - Reply
I absolutely want to play this game now based on your review. I am also primed by LucasArts to automatically think favorably of anything which involves a "heavy metal adventure."
Mike Russo, December 7, 2021 - Reply
Yeah, I think it's definitely worth the play! Just be aware there are some rough edges, but nothing too major.
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