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Plot: Bot, Spot a Lot, April 25, 2021
Day and night are often just slipped into a game to provide realism, or give the player unofficial barriers that don't feel like puzzles. But in Sentient Beings, they offer up variety and puzzles that aren't out of place in a tutorial-style game.
And it's so well-executed that even when I saw what was going on and worried it didn't work, I wound up getting through without worrying about many of the technical aspects. I'm not the sort of person who'd generally gravitate to this game, but I liked it, and I hope that's not just a backhanded compliment.
You're this cute little robot who needs to pick up 24 specimens and bring them back to your rocket ship. Twelve are nocturnal, and twelve are diurnal. You need to do some preparations, such as measuring the temperature and light and air composition, before you can store anything in your rocket ship. While this may feel pedantic, it fits in well with the theme of the jam, which is to teach people about text adventures. And the science-y bits also provide for ways to explain verbs to you so you won't be guessing.
If I could change one thing, I might allow the player to return in their rocket ship after getting 22 or 23 of the samples, with a slightly less happy ending. If a casual player has, say, a 96% chance (this number was pulled out of nowhere) of finding any one specimen, there’s an 70% chance they’ll miss one (1-.96^24), so that could be frustrating for someone who doesn’t take disciplined notes right away. (Or maybe the game just put me in enough of a scientific mood to be OK with writing something like this.) However, even there, the game has a lovely walkthrough and you can guess which specimen you may've missed because (Spoiler - click to show)area 1's specimens go to the top left, area 6 to the bottom right, and so forth.
Lawnmowering through is a strategy that should work, though--there aren't TOO many things to observe, push, or search under, either at night or day--and the stuff that needs manipulation is pretty obvious. Plus, it's actually pretty scientific to go through room-by-room, in keeping with the whole science theme and taking careful notes and such.
But the game does a lot to make sure you don't miss details. It’s wonderful to be able to shut the robot off until the next day/night. So it makes the push-pull between wanting to explore more and wanting to nail down getting all the specimens in one area a little more interesting. My experience was worry the game might be a bit big, and once when I discovered its boundaries and found everything, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more. I enjoyed the variety of terrains, and the different graphics in the day/night switches helped that.
The game is robust enough that I was able to work around a (now fixed) bug. I felt more focused the second time through, and I had a better plan, because the game allowed it. It's probably the most complex game of all the entries in terms of features as well, with an option to set robot humor and so forth.
This game also deserves serious credit for using custom verbs the best of any of the entrants. They're relatively intuitive, using some nouns that doubles was verb. MEASURE also requires an guess-the-noun puzzle, which I can assure you is a pleasant variation on the usual guess-the-verb. Given that tutorials were a focus of this comp, the author integrated the new verbs in very well, but only after you learned the standard ones.
Sentient Beings made me think without telling me it wanted me to think, which is always appreciated. I didn't realize it was well done until I looked back and thought about it.