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Delightful IF, January 23, 2016
This is a thoroughly delightful IF that is at times charming, amusing, funny and horrific, all the while being quite a straightforward, polite and extremely polished game. I started playing it last weekend and finally finished it. I don't know how I've missed it all these years!
In fact, I do. When it first came out of IFComp 2006, by some guy named Edgar O. Weyrd, I wasn't too keen on the title or the unknown author. Then, I played for a very short while and wasn't too hot on the narrator's voice and quite clueless as to the purpose of the game. It seemed you could do nothing but wander around and have a few notes written in your notebook. So, I dropped it.
Now, the very first thing I did this time around, besides learning it to be by Plotkin, was to take a careful look at that subtitle right there: A Cozy Mansion Mystery in the Making. I did not notice it my first time around and it makes things a lot clearer.
Here's how this bright IF opens up:
Grey gravel crunches in the drive. Grey windows retreat behind wrought-iron balcony rails. Grey skies press down over the looming, shadowy edifice.
You /do/ enjoy your job, but the decor can become a /bit much/ sometimes. You shall hope that the inside of this mansion proves to be cheerier.
Let me tell you right away: the narrator as pictured above is one of the most effective I've ever seen in parser IF. It's voice will stick in your head. It's able to convey your surroundings with the same ease as it strongly characterizes the PC all along, besides bringing your attention to the important points in the narrative. Yet, when I first played, somehow I was under the wrong impression that it was about some home decor designer abated by the bad weather and bad conditions of the old house. :D I don't know if it was intentional, but it can be interpreted that way at first. This time around, I took a more thourough view of my surroundings and the protagonist and got a far grimmer picture of what was really happening.
Then, as I wander around the house, taking notes on this and that and commenting upon the decor, some unexplainable things begin to happen. Doors open and close, parts of the house spin, the floor comes to life and even some portcullis appears out of nowhere. Spooky, huh? It really is a cozy mansion mistery story after all, but with one hell of a twist.
The game is divided in two parts: exploration of the mansion and the "solving" the cozy mistery proper.
The mansion is in itself a puzzle: initially, only a few rooms are open and many doors closed so your puzzle away how to open them. The fact that the protagonist seems unable or unwilling to touch on things, you'll learn other ways to open the doors. This is done by simply going around, trying different paths. Passing under some kinds of archways or doorways will produce different effects on how the house "sees" itself. Understanding how to open the different regions of the house is the puzzle and it is highly engrossing and fun.
So, besides being a traditional cozy mistery story, it's also a traditional explorative text-adventure with puzzle-solving and a few treasures to hunt after. But it doesn't feel that way, it takes those genres and bends and distorts them until something very unique came up. While there is the exploration of a map, the map is not huge, it's not overly difficult walking around it. The difficult bit is observing the effects your paths produce. But, ultimately, even an unobservant player should eventually unlock all regions by simply traversing all possible paths. Sounds boring, so, yes, be observant and read all the notes. After you explore all the map, all doors are open and the protagonist finds the "treasure", which fits just nicely in the inventory and also makes it even more clear the nature of the protagonist.
Then comes the second part, when the "guests" arrive at the mansion. If you haven't figured out the identity of the protagonist so far, the way the narrator projects the doings of the many NPCs to the future should make it clear that the protagonist sees all their actions from out of time. Your task it to figure out their intentions and connect each one to the wheres and whens around the mansion. This last part plays sort of like Clue, but in an immensely more narrative-focused and fun way. The notes in particular are striking, resembling versing couplets from Edward Gorey, I guess.
After that, your job here is done.
So, this was my review of a very enjoyable piece of parser IF that is traditional and novel at the same time and engaging and puzzling without being overly difficult nor terribly long. It's just the right size. It's also polite in the cruelty scale and you can't get stuck or be put in an unwinnable state. Give it a spin and you won't be sorry.
Now that that is over, my spoilery opinions, be warned.
(Spoiler - click to show)
You are the grimm reaper. Yeah, he does seem to have an eye for decor like one woldn't normally associate with him, but given he's so restless going around reaping the souls of mortals, one can't blame him for having some hobby, even if mildly appreciating the decor in the places he visits. It may be an old stone and pipes mansion, but at least the wallpaper is bearable enough.
His nature explains why the houses reacts to his presence: he's a supernatural being, a kind of a ghost bound to earth under perpetual grey skies, a poltergeist disturbing doors.
It also explains why he sees a portcullis in the middle of the foyer or the actors in the future or in all rooms: he sees all of it out of time, all at once - how it was in the past, how it is today. That's also why intentions look like a frozen explosion.
It seems the dual nature of the game got mixed reviews: some liked only the first part, others hated it but enjoyed the latter part. I enjoyed it throughout. I can't see how some likened the first part to a maze. Really? It's just walking around rooms, not even that many. Could it that the mention of the novel Maze in the About page did it for them? By the way, while certainly influenced by some of those, this is really one of a kind. Is it right that Plotkin came up with a fairly novel anagram for Edward Gorey? never heard of him, guess he had less exposure than Dr. Seuss.
I can see that people might get shocked and disturbed at scenes such as this:
Little girl with silver bell / Lost it down the garden well
Little girl she followed after / Trailing silver bubbling laughter
But the reaper is no murderer. He merely sees intentions and collect their souls after they themselves take their foolish steps towards their departure.
I though the finale to be in the same tone as the rest of the work:
Which brings this assignment to a timely, if somewhat exhausting, close. No rest for the messenger, of course. The next pack of cards is already being shuffled, and their road has yet to be paved.
not exhausting at all, very fun, very worthwhile. Yeah, I can see how achieving this level of polish might be exhausting for the game designer, but quite the banquet to guests of the house... delightful