Hinterlands: Marooned!

by Cody Gaisser profile

Part of Hinterlands
Science Fiction

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Live. Die. Repeat., June 14, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

Has an IF sub-genre ever gone from the ridiculous to the sublime to the ridiculous as efficiently as the one-move game? To my knowledge Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die inaugurated it, efficiently combining its title, walkthrough, and single joke into one. There things could have languished but for Sam Barlow’ Aisle, which crammed a short story into its compact runtime, letting the player explore radically different aspects of a quotidian situation depending on where they directed their attention and efforts. The baton was quickly picked up – by Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle, which doubled down on the in-jokes.

This focus on comedy makes sense, though – with only one move there’s not much space to create character arcs or a deep, well-realized world, so a gag-generating jack-in-the-box is a worthy structure. And this is the structure Hinterlands: Marooned adopts. After a well-done intro bottom-lines your predicament – you’re an alien astronaut crash-landed on a wild planet and washed up on an isolated island – you have the leisure to examine your nearly-bare surroundings, which consist primarily of something with a made-up sci-fi name with an apostrophe. Then once you do pretty much anything other than look or examine, the game ends and you can try something different.

I’m being vague here since this is a one-joke game and spoiling the joke means spoiling the game. Before I retreat behind fuzzy-text, though, I’ll say that I think Marooned pretty much does what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do doesn’t fully leverage the format. One part of success at a one-move game is deep implementation, which the game does well on – beyond most objects having parts and subparts and a large number of game-ending actions being recognized, the bits that made me laugh the most weren’t the main joke but the responses to more random commands:

Crazy, Daddy-O!"

The other part, though, is presenting a candy-box of variety, delighting the player with unexpected outcomes and novel responses to their one-and-done actions. Here, everything pretty much plays out as a slight variation on a single note, and while the different endings are inventive and well-written (albeit less PG-rated than I would have preferred), they’re much of a muchness. So depending on the degree to which you wind up enjoying the single flavor on offer, this might be more of a five-minute game than a twenty minute one.

OK, spoilers to wrap up:

(Spoiler - click to show)So the unpronounceable thing on the island with you is a monster (happily, the parser allows you to refer to it as such rather than typing out the full thing each time). It’s an impressively-detailed and ghoulishly-described monster, with all sorts of ways to fold, spindle, and mutilate your hapless spaceman as you try to escape and/or fight back. There’s an impressive array of stuff you can try – beyond simply attacking the creature, you can try to tie its tentacles into knots, pry under its exoskeletal armor, poke at its eye, and seal closed its acid-snorting snout, to say nothing of various more friendly and/or amorous approaches you can make to the thing, or attempting to flee. But of course all that ever happens is you got spattered like a blood-filled water balloon.

I can see the right kind of player getting a charge of anarchic glee at ticking off all the different ways to die, as they’re as lovingly described as a gore-filled Heavy Metal cartoon. I have to admit this isn’t me, though, and beyond that I felt like there was a dearth of non-attacking stuff to try, so after the first fifteen minutes I felt less like I was joyfully experimenting and more that I was lawnmowering through all the different parts of the monster to try to thwack. That’s mostly on me for letting the joke outstay its welcome, though.

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