One King to Loot them All

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Conan and the Treasures of Par-Sur, December 28, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

I do my level best not to compare works against each other. I have a nominally objective rubric I attempt to apply so comparisons should not be necessary. Like all such rubrics, subjectivity is merely hidden behind layers of objective indirection. This is brought home to me when works with superficial similarities somehow come out of my cold, mechanical rating machine with different scores.

We all got our own genre preferences. You don’t have to dig deep to uncover mine. Relative to OKLTA understand I’m a High Fantasy tourist. I don’t dislike it, but there’s no spike of endorphins when such a work is on the horizon. This is a Conan riff, kind of a family-friendly version played pretty straight. It didn’t strive too hard to inject humor, plot twists or high concept into the mix, fairly middle of the road there. For me, this is typically a recipe for Mechanical gameplay. Other such works have topped out there.

Where OKLTA did tweak the formula was in basic verb utilization. Instead of >EXAMINE, you are asked to >REGARD. Instead of >GIVE, >PRESENT. Instead of >OPEN X, TAKE Y, >LOOT X and so on. Thankfully most (but not all!) common synonyms still work, but flavorful commands are available. Look, I’m not going to pretend this is a massive innovation - parsers truck in verb-play ALL THE TIME. Here though, the noun and verb space is pretty constrained. Simple things are not implemented. If you only have a limited verb space, why NOT use flavorful ones instead of bland defaults? Despite myself, I found myself chortling at every opportunity to SMITE things.

Oh, it was Notably Intrusive, don’t get me wrong. When the only way to get liquid out of a container is to >LOOT CONTAINER, you’ve kind of gone awry. It can and does sometimes devolve into a ‘guess which new verb will map to a desired, unimplemented verb’ exercise. No clues whether it is the wrong idea or the wrong phrasing. What it was, was playful with the form. It’s like if a crafty but uneducated barbarian wanted to write IF, this is what we’d get. “OF COURSE CONAN LOOT, what else it be fancy man?” That resonance with the story kind of appealed to me!

There was another nifty instance of experimenting with form that again was Notably Intrusive, but kind of playful. At one point, you are asked to rewind time. There is no in-story mechanism to do this, just none at all. The solution requires use of PLAYER powers unavailable to the CHARACTER. Just so, so wrong as a coherent narrative. But as a coy tweak of the form… kind of fun?

While the narrative was unlikely to win me over on its inherent charms, and the puzzles straightforward enough not to bring out my inner thinker, there was just enough of just the RIGHT kind of gameplay tweaking to bring some joy to the proceedings. I also did guffaw at an endgame gag, sucker punching the Magic Child of Destiny trope, which honestly could use a little roughing up.


Played: 10/24/23
Playtime: 1.5hrs, finished
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy, Notable command fussiness
Would Play After Comp?: No, experience seems complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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