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A Varied Set of Absorbing Fragments, May 7, 2009
Although it comes in one story file, The Bryant Collection is divided into five small, straightforward games - ostensibly inspired by the notes of one Laura Bryant, as found by the author at a yard sale. These different segments consist of one characterful and cartoonish take on the Garden of Eden, two understated vignettes of contemporary life, one dash of science fiction in the form of a picnic at the end of the world, and (incongruously) one bare-faced and old-school puzzle based on (but not, in fact requiring the solving of) a classic Tower of Hanoi problem.
Of these, the Garden of Eden story was by far my favourite, simply because of its unusual setting and its strong and entertaining characterisation of both Eve and the serpent. It may just amount to a yes/no conversation, but of the five different parts it's the one that really stands out as being interesting, well implemented and fun to play.
The two contemporary vignettes are nicely realised, keenly depicting moments that are low-key and lacking in dramatics, but momentous to their protagonists all the same. Having said that, they are perhaps a little too prosaic. The sequence involving a college graduate returning to his family home may be well-written and deeply implemented, but exploring someone's house and reading little everyday memories is, well, not all that much of a step above all the other times we've explored someone's house in an IF game without their memories popping up.
Similarly, the conversation between two ex-lovers parting at an airport conjures a nicely melancholy tone, but I had a little difficulty figuring out exactly what I was able to do or talk about - knowing so little about these characters. It's a nice touch that the NPC notices if you seem to have gone quiet, but along with the tight time limit, it creates a bit of frustration when the PC is actually just displaying the signs of a player who's trying to work out what he can say.
Moving on, I found "The End of the World" to be the weakest part of the game. There's not all that much to do here except examine things, eat lunch and wait. It's solidly implemented in terms of how descriptions change throughout the event, but it all seemed a little bit too vague to me.
And then, finally, there's the Tower of Hanoi. All I'm going to say about this, is that it wasn't my thing, it didn't seem in keeping with the rest of the game, and if I'd realised that the game didn't have any kind of acknowledgement for completing all five segments, I wouldn't even have attempted it. Even using the most explicit hints available, I found solving this puzzle to be arduous and frustrating - it simply isn't the kind of thing that an all-text game handles well, and I struggled to remember which colour or size disk I was supposed to be putting where. For me, this was an unrewarding, anger-inducing throw-back to the dry, unmotivated puzzles of yore. Others will certainly feel differently.
Still, when you realise that there's no need to complete everything regardless of how much you like it (actually admirable in this age of pointless, unlockable achievements), then whether you're interested in characters, or puzzles (or both), there's a good chance you'll find something here you'll like.