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Return of a Legend legend!, September 17, 2023
Bob Bates is a legend in the world of text adventures. While his two games for Infocom (Arthur and Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels) are generally not considered among their best, he co-founded Legend Entertainment and had his hands in almost every game, including Eric the Unready, Gateway, The Blackstone Chronicles, and Quandaries. After being co-president of Zynga and working on all sorts of projects, he returned after 20 years to the world of interactive fiction with the delightful Thaumistry: In Charmís Way. I was one of the kickstarters and even got a couple of lines into the game myself. Naturally, I was quite eager to play. And while itís a very short game with little freedom, itís still a joy for those who like wordplay and tongue-in-cheek humor.
You play as Eric Knight, a young inventor who got famous as a teenager thanks to a lab accident that led to a remarkable invention. However, years have gone by without anything else to add to the rťsumť. With his career on the verge of ruin, he is visited by a bodger, a magical user who is part of a hidden society that subtly tries to affect positive change in the world. A very successful inventor has created a device that can detect magic, which would be the end of the bodgers; youíre enlisted to sneak into a convention to destroy this device.
Thaumistry is excellently coded. Iíve played the game twice now and have detected not a single bug, incongruent response, or guess-the-verb issue that tend to be the hallmark frustrations with text adventures. Your bodger friend gives you a tutorial on magic (while the game gives you a tutorial on playing text adventures), including teaching you a few spells (or charms, as it were), as you learn about their history before being brought to the convention. Of course, the magic-detecting device is under guard and there are investors who would also like to get their hands on it.
The disappointing feature of the game is that it's overly linear. While there is often a few puzzles you can be working on at a given time, each has only one solution. And with few exceptions, every spell you learn throughout the game is only relevant to one puzzle, often obviously so. There are a couple of spells that require some acute thinking, including a two-step puzzle that involves time travel. And most alternative solutions that arenít accepted are at least recognized and explained away. However, I would have much preferred a system like in Wishbringer, where every puzzle has multiple solutions and more points were awarded for the more clever angle. Speaking of points, this game has 100 of them, and there is no way to win the game without getting all 100, defeating the purpose of the scoring system.
The game also needlessly locks off certain areas until your bodger friend feels you need them, making him seem less like a sidekick than a manipulative dungeon master. More than that, these additional areas (such as the zoo and the financial district) are neither near the convention nor connected to it in anyway, making the exercise feel quite contrived.
While there are no graphics or sound of any kind, a helpful map is one click away so that you donít need to make one yourself. Though, the map is so small that within twenty minutes of playing youíll have it memorized anyway. And there is an excellent nested hint system that recognizes where you are in the game and offers gradual hints for available puzzles only.
What ultimately saves the game isĖ-forgive me-Ėits charm. Nearly every character and scene exudes whimsy, from the twin sisters who created a literal copy machine to the inventor who values his privacy so much that nobody is allowed to see his product. Perhaps my favorite is a stranger you bump into who is playing with an invisible dog, and you must figure out how to convince the dog that you are a worthy play partner. The game also has the classic Infocom-style digs at pop culture and authority figures without it feeling like Mr. Bates is hitting you over the head with his personal grievances.
While it doesnít offer much in the way of length or challenge, Thaumistry is an amusing romp that should take even text adventure novices no more than an afternoon or two to complete.