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IF cotton candy, November 11, 2017
Thaumistry, by famed implementer Bob Bates, would slot pretty well into the Legend catalog of the early 1990s. It's fun, it's breezy, and very well-polished. It's also less ambitious than the best-regarded works from Infocom or modern IF. No heavy themes, no unfamiliar gameplay mechanics, no fiendishly intricate puzzles. It'd probably be an excellent first game for newbies.
You're Eric, a struggling inventor who learns that he's also a bodger; which is to say, a wizard who seems to generate an inordinate amount of bad luck. You spend the game discovering your powers and foiling a threat to the hidden bodger community. Spellcasting is Enchanter-style, where accumulating spells with silly names and effects is the primary means of progressing through the story. The tone is "restrained zany" in the Infocom house style. Prominent members of the IF community past and present (Bates's Kickstarters and former colleagues) show up as NPCs. I enjoyed getting to prod baf up onto a stage.
The puzzles are straightforward, and most don't require a lot of lateral thinking. There are very few takeable objects, and a finite number of spells. Solving the puzzles is generally a matter of running through the list of objects and spells until a new result is obtained. With some of the spells (e.g., (Spoiler - click to show)summoning Greek waiters), there's no way to anticipate what the spell will really do, so it's just a matter of trying it everywhere until something happens.
The real strength of the game is in the implementation. It's as thoroughly-tested and bug-free as anything Infocom or Legend ever shipped, and, since we're no longer playing on Commodore 64s, much more richly implemented. It gates you in a tutorial area to begin. It ensures you can never end up in an unwinnable state. It minimizes pointless tasks, and teaches you shortcuts as you go along. There's a very handy THINK/RECAP function, which summarizes what you know and what you need to work on. There are appropriate and funny responses to almost everything, and Easter eggs everywhere. The feelies are fun and don't overstay their welcome. Presumably the hints are helpful and well-designed; I never actually looked at them. All in all, it's an extremely smooth experience. A little more friction might not have been so terrible, though.