Codex Sadistica: A Heavy-Metal Minigame

by grave snail games

2021

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Several grades above scrap metal, for sure, December 3, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

So I was worried this game would be much darker than it actually turned out to be. Well, perhaps heavy-metal-hating adults from my youth who insisted there were Satanic messages in there, or at the very least it wasn't the sort of thing that helped you be productive in society, would disagree. But it did turn out to be sort of supernatural and dark, or at least, that's the fate that was threatened. It never actually happened. And yes, this effort is about heavy metal music and various subgenres, but this didn't stop my clueless self from enjoying it, and it shouldn't stop you.

You're at a heavy metal club and are very upset your own "real' metal band is being kept off the stage by a very long glam-metal performance. You need to get back on-stage. This is harder than it seems. The lead singer of the glam-metal band is, in fact, more than just a selfish jerk. Your problem? You'll need all your band members together to have the force to do so. They're all distracted by something silly. Emmy, your guitarist, is upset her Switch is low on power. Mae, your cousin ("and more importantly, your drummer") is being accosted by – horror of horror – dudebros out in the back. Tamm's brother insists on playing D&D with her. Clover and Max stuck themselves in a closet to avoid a stalker. All this must be settled before you go on stage. And there's a "horrible" secret why the glam-rock band is so popular: the lead singer is worse than the dudebros. A demon, in fact.

Evasive action must be taken so that the club and, indeed, the world avoids a horrible fate. The key command to use here is JAM: once you jam correctly with a fellow band member, they're willing to do what it takes to get on-stage. JAM also meshes different subgenres of metal into a third. All this is beyond me, and apparently the hybrids aren't relly related to the originals, but it's all in good, clear fun. Clear enough that even an uninitiate like me could understand it.

Minor vandalism is required. You must burn a poster for Acid Lobotomy (there really is a band named this! It's too perfect,) but the game notes they would've wanted it that way. You and Mae have a very detailed discussion about heavy metal minutae that can't possibly appeal to outsiders, but it does here, because it's obviously overdone, and it's used to leave the dudebros bothering her in the dust.

The game map itself isn't very big–it's one of those packed music clubs, after all. So you could trial-and-error everything except the puzzle noted in spoilers. I was worried it might be something much, much bigger due to the word "Codex," but really, I think it's about the right size.

I'm pretty sure I missed out on some of the joke details, and I had no clue whether or not jamming created different fusions of metal styles. But I didn't mind. It's a fun little romp of good (but not, like, sickeningly or boringly good) vs. evil. I very much enjoyed it, and I'm speaking as someone who doesn't really enjoy live music, especially loud live music. I'd almost say the game's good harmless fun, but somehow, that seems like exactly the wrong compliment. Perhaps I get all the excitement of crowds without, well, having to deal with crowds. At any rate, I think the author did a good job of articulating the excitement and humor of metal culture, probably better than I would do discussing college sports fandom or chess ("That Carlsbad pawn structure, eh? Eh?") And I'm glad I played it, as if it hadn't been in IFComp, I'd likely have said, eh, heavy metal? I'll pass.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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: it’s 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 game’s perfectly functional, all its edges are rough, with implementation issues everywhere you look. Would it have violated Codex Sadistica’s 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 Spidermoon’s 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 you’ve 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, it’s hard to deduce the consequence of the different musical effects just from their descriptions – we’re firmly in trial and error territory here. There aren’t so many combinations to make this annoying, and the writing is sufficiently fun to enliven even unsuccessful attempts, but this did mean that I didn’t get much satisfaction from solving the puzzles.

Now that I’ve segued over to critiques, it’s time to turn to those implementation issues. I didn’t 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 don’t have descriptions (“you see nothing special about Mae’s Lighter.” Really?). Items and people mentioned in room descriptions sometimes aren’t 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 didn’t 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 can’t shut up about how talented this band is so it’s a shame they don’t apply themselves a little more. But hey, now that I’m a dad, I come by this lameness honestly – so I do hope there’s 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 – awesome! But it’s a one-move sequence that’s over as soon as it begins – 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 else’s baby) came to an end near the close of Codex Sadistica – 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 couldn’t immediately solve the puzzle.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
This game will melt your ugly face, November 13, 2021

I guess I'm not a true metalhead. It took me way too long to figure out the possibilities of this game. I came SO CLOSE to reading the walkthrough because I thought I was out of ideas. I am sure true devotees of bone shattering riffs knew the kind of trial and error that was needed to keep progressing.

I enjoyed the humorous tone, and it was fun finding solutions to these situations. There is a little bit of in-game hinting to help players along, which kept me from getting too frustrated. The download includes a cool map, but you would never really need it; the location is easily navigated.

I have read comments criticizing the implementation of this game, and when I was playing the early parts of it, I would have agreed. However, after finishing, I actually think this game is written the way it is meant to be. For the first few puzzles, I was upset because I was trying things that I thought seemed like clever solutions, but were not the correct solutions. That doesn't mean the game is underwritten; just that it knows what it wants to be. You have to stick to theme when playing this one. One thing that helped me is writing down what I had already figured out, so I knew what I hadn't tried. I would never have been able to commit it all to memory.

The one exception is (Spoiler - click to show)the ending. What is going on with the IFComp this year and all the abrupt finishes??? This story was about to climax into a flaming ball of awesomeness and blow everyone's genitals out the backs of their heads, and then it was gone. You gotta give me more here, man!

I could nitpick about the whole glam rock controversy, but so much of this story is so on point, I didn't mind. It's a fun challenge with great theming and an interesting mechanic. If you disagree, then there is not enough room in this comment box to properly describe how much I hate you.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Pitch-perfect satire, October 18, 2021
by bkirwi
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

The main blurb gets the premise across pretty well: you're in a metal band, the (terrible) act ahead of you in the lineup is running over time, and you need to assemble your bandmates and save the show. (Though things do eventually get a little weirder...) The author satirizes the metal scene without ever coming across as mean-spirited; the characters are all a little stereotypical, but written with affection and humour, and the story works even if you're not super familiar with the genre.

Most of the puzzles are based on a novel, central mechanic, introduced around the midgame. While it's not the deepest mechanic, it's a lot of fun to play around with, and the game's short enough that you don't end up exhausting the possibilities until the final moments. None of the puzzles end up being particularly difficult; if you get stuck, experimenting with different combinations and locations is enough to keep things moving without being frustrating.

The game was a little bit under-implemented: verbs that felt natural weren't there, significant objects described by the game weren't there at all or didn't have the right behaviours, and there's a little bit of guess-the-verb. Nothing huge or game-breaking, but enough to add some friction to an otherwise-delightful experience.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The power of metal compels you!, October 6, 2021
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: comedy, IF Comp 2021, parser-based, Inform

Codex Sadistica is a parser-based game by grave snail games, published in 2021. You are Scream, a metal vocalist at a tightly packed metal festival that is held up by a pretentious glam metal band. It's up to you and your bandmates to save the day with the power of real metal.

This is a fairly compact, fairly light-hearted puzzling adventure. It has one quite unique puzzle mechanic: you are able to jam with your band members to produce different type of metal genres. The sheer power of music generates different effects, f.e. (Spoiler - click to show)death metal makes people angrier and sludge metal causes literal sludge to spill out and cover the floor. It's a fun system, although the way it's handled in moment-to-moment gameplay does rely rather heavily on trial-and-error. The game is a little bit short for the complexity of the system too - in a way, I felt like the story ended right around the time when I was coming to grips with all the existing genre combinations.

As an avid metal listener, I found the setting and the writing amusing, although there were a few times I couldn't completely follow the game's humor and logic. For example, glam metal is presented as having fantasy themes and a very slow tempo, which doesn't really resemble any glam I've heard in my life. (Spoiler - click to show)As a side note, Mae's tirade about gatekeeping in metal also rings a little hollow since the entire setup of the game is based around heroically ridding the music festival of lesser metal... but maybe that's a part of the joke?

The implementation is somewhat lacking. Many seemingly important things mentioned in the prose haven't been implemented, and the ones that have been implemented typically have generic descriptions. You can't talk to your bandmates outside scripted moments, random NPC dialogue can be intrusive and repetitive, you can't "listen" to get unique responses even though it's a game about music... and so on. The game generally works and can be played to completion, but this type of mild roughness makes figuring out its logic harder, and it also seems like a missed opportunity for additional jokes and lore.

Still, I can say I had a fairly good time with the game. It could be worth a try if you're looking for a short- to medium-length comedic adventure about the power of metal.


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A heavy metal parser puzzler with colors and a couple rough patches, October 5, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This was a genuinely fun game. You are part of a heavy metal band whose set is being taken over by a glamrock band. You have to assemble your band together, but each is distracted and can't come help you.

After some initial exploration, you gain the power to JAM with the other members of your band, which lets you cause interesting effects. Jamming with 2 people at a time provides more effects, leading to about 10 jam powers all together.

The writing is snappy and fun, the colors are cool, and the mechanics are interesting.

The only real downsides are (for me), a lot of profanity (in line with metal fans, though) and a lot of missing synonyms and alternate solutions. I kept trying things like RIP SHIRT or SURF CROWD or UNPLUG SWITCH or TAKE SWITCH and getting error messages, when it seems like these things ought to have been implemented. The game is very smooth in other areas and had testers, so I guess I'd just recommend in the future piling on even more testers and implementing everything they try in a transcript. I think this game is already great, but I think it could be pushed to 'completely awesome' territory by such efforts. I definitely hope to see more games by this author in the future, because they have a real talent for writing and mechanics.



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