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About the Story
A time-sensitive mystery puzzle game with multiple endings. As you explore your surroundings, you get the feeling that your surroundings are vaguely familiar.
36th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I’m going to dare to assert a generalization: it you like IF, you probably like books. Don’t get me wrong, I know that many of us identify primarily with the STEM side of the house – and seriously, god bless y’all, without you we wouldn’t have the authoring languages or interpreters or whatever the hell GlkOte is (please, please don’t try to explain it to me) – but still, I feel like if you’re the type of nerd who slept through English class, you’re probably off messing around with roguelikes or something rather than hanging around our community’s fair precincts.
If I’m right about that, that means there’s probably a reasonable slice of the Comp audience who’ll get a kick out of You Feel Like You’ve Read This in a Book, a by-the-numbers choice-based puzzler enlivened by an ongoing game of guess-the-reference. You start out, in that hoary old adventure-game trope, with amnesia, but from a threatening note left nearby you quickly learn that you’ve got to gather a $50,000 ransom – or the just-implanted packet of neurotoxins in your head will explode and bring you to an unpleasant end. But as you scramble to find the money, the player realizes that either the setting is some kind of literary mashup, or whatever happened to the protagonist’s brain is stimulating their nostalgia circuits too, because nearly every location you visit strongly reminds you of a book you’ve read (both you the protagonist and you the player – I’m guessing most folks will be at least somewhat familiar with at least two thirds of the works on the list).
This means that as you go through the motions of resolving your immediate dilemma – exploring the town, trying to re-find your apartment, looking for something valuable to hock to the pawn shop to make up the ransom – you’re also seeing if you can figure out the literary source for whatever you’re experiencing. Sometimes this is trivial, as when you visit your downstairs neighbors, who have a curious habit:
"Whenever someone dies around the city, they tend to leave their unit, sometimes for the whole day…. You scan the room for valuables, but you are overwhelmed with the plethora of knicknacks, so numerous they are practically balancing on top each other. Old books, pictures on the wall of various people none of whom you recognize, glass bottles, and just when you thought it couldn’t get more weird, a skull? Just out in the open? The only things that seems to be of value are a violin and a small flashlight, both of which you grab."
Others, though, are a bit harder to catch – fortunately, there’s a walkthrough that not only spoils the puzzles, it also lists off all the works being riffed on.
The puzzles are no brain-scratchers – if you’ve got the right item or piece of information, they’ll largely solve themselves. Things are made somewhat more complex by the fact that there are multiple different endings you can try for, but the biggest complication is that the neurotoxins are no idle threat – time does pass as you play (in a nice touch, some location descriptions and events actually shift as the day wears on) and if you faff around too much, boom. I have to confess that I found the timer annoying, but at the same time the less-petulant part of me has to concede it’s well done; a kick against puzzley choice-based games without parser-style features is that they too easily turn into an exercise in lawn-mowering, so the timer ensures you can’t just mindlessly click through every option, and it’s tuned to allow you to explore almost everything your first time through, though actually solving it of course takes some replays.
(I should say, while there isn’t the kind of worked-out inventory or interaction system like you find in One Way Ticket or A Long Way to the Nearest Star, there are still some canny design choices here – in particular, text color is used to good effect to highlight what’s merely background description, and what has game-mechanical significance).
It all works well enough, but still, for a game that evokes so many positive memories, I found it curiously forgettable – like, it hasn’t been twelve hours since I played it, but I couldn’t tell you which ending is the one that reveals what’s actually going on with the protagonist’s amnesia and who the nemesis with the vendetta is, much less what those explanations wind up being. Part of that, let’s be real, is probably due to the fact I’m feeling a bit zonked out right now – my son’s teething, so this has been a week of long days and longer nights – but partially because the TFLYRTB is very much a case of the journey trumping the destination. I had a lot of fun wandering around playing spot the reference (at least once I made my peace with that #$%$ timer); I probably would have enjoyed it less if there hadn’t been a minimally-plausible framework holding the experience together, but the framework certainly isn’t the draw.
I love a good sneaky reference to a popular work I liked, and I love getting the reference–or even forgetting the reference and saying "gee, of course." The title indicated something more idyllic to me than what I got. Because, indeed, one of the endings is very dark indeed and makes a play on the original title. There are several, and since YFL is a tidy little game, you can explore it to see them all without too much trouble. I wound up almost missing one because of my eternal nemesis, timed text. (Note: it's used effectively somewhere else, and I also appreciated the use of colored text.) But I got them all, with help from the walkthrough, and enjoyed it. I'm not ashamed to admit I push ahead a bit, and if I have to look a couple times, I chalk that up to my own haste and obtuseness.
The plot is this: you wake up with a case of amnesia, only knowing there's a neurotoxin in your brain due to explode in 24 hours unless you find a $50000 ransom. That one day's enough, in game time (fixed number of clicks, plus there's that handy undo arrow) to look around quite a bit, but it also indicates bumpers so that the world is not too big. And what do you find? Well, you find your own apartment, and you find you're rich, though you never learn why. A lot of details are left unfilled, which I found a bit favorably creepy. You can also find or steal stuff to sell to the local pawn shop. You can get away with two straight-out profitable activities (your bank account gets you close to the magic number) but there are several things well worth finding and selling. Morality doesn't matter, here, and perhaps the item you get the least money selling would be priceless in any hypothetical black market of famous items found in books. Not only that, I don't believe buying it could ever push you over the $50000 mark. If indeed the author worked the numbers so this happened, congratulations to them!
There are a few ways to end. You can die, you can perform a ritual to get cured, or you can even visit a hospital as long as you get injured other ways. The hospital only takes the neediest patients, so you need to find a way to get injured more than once. The second way was a bit tricky since it required a bit of a walk around the map, which only had ten rooms, but with the repetition involved it wouldn't be surprising if some people had the right idea but then backed off.
This all gives a much more different impression than you'd expect from the title. I expected high fantasy or absurdism. I got a bit of a thriller-mystery. And that doesn't quite match up with the book allusions for me, even with how I saw they were supposed to work against your amnesia. Some do feel a bit shoehorned in, and the game is left feeling mechanical and generic for that part, though--of course you want to see all the references, once you've read a few! I can also see some people not quite getting that different things can happen at different times, even though the world should be small enough you can traverse it more than once before dying. I didn't recognize one or two of the books, too. My lazy side would also have preferred the undo/redo arrows be closer to the bottom where I did most of the clicking, though of course there's always tabs. None of this is fatal, but it certainly let me feeling needlessly slowed. But I liked what I saw, and based on YFL, I have a couple more books to add to my list.
This is another surreal Twine game based on exploration (after just having played Lucid), but I'm happy with that since it's one of my favorite genres.
This game is built out of a bunch of literary references, starting with Neuromancer (which I've never read), and branching into Kafka, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Most of them are oblique references, ones you have to puzzle over or which potentially could describe several stories (at least for me).
The tone is fairly dark, beginning with unwanted surgery and poisoning and including a lot of theft.
The game is somewhat narrow; at first I thought there'd be tons of options or strategy but the game funnels you pretty effectively. I can say there are several options that are hard to discover and the endings can take work, so that's actually pretty good, now that I think about it. Maybe the funneling is actually a good thing, since with Lucid I had the opposite problem of too many choices.
Overall, it was pretty fun to try to puzzle out the literary references. 'Diary of Anne Frank' is a bit of a bold choice to have alongside more goofy or wild entries. But I had a good time with this. The main drawback to me was the lack of weight in the endings; to me, the endings were abrupt and didn't resolve many narrative arcs (I saw 3 endings, including a death).
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