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The puzzles have their own problems. On the whole, they make sense, viewed in retrospect, and a few show a modicum of cleverness, but mostly they're (a) entirely opaque until the solution is explained in the hints, (b) major trial-and-error jamborees, or (c) dependent on astounding stupidity from various NPCs. There's a maze, but it's not a huge one, and a handy NPC will hand you a map if you ask, which leaves one wondering why the author bothered to include the damn thing. [...]
And then, at the risk of piling on, there's the stuff that makes Helpfulman even less pleasant to play than it would have been had the design, implementation, and writing been competent. There's lots of bathroom humor and other bodily function jokes, for instance, along with some gratuitous gore; this is doubtless quite the turn-on for a certain demographic, but I'm afraid that text IF is not the main stomping ground of that demographic these days.
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I wanted to like this one, really I did. It was clearly trying to do some neat things, using the HTML-TADS options, but they didn't work perfectly for me. For instance, there's an option to put a menu in the left as a kind of sidebar, but when I scrolled the menu would vanish from view. It only offered a handful of commands, anyway -- a LOOK command, which I presume is no different from typing LOOK myself, and a COMMANDS that would list all the verbs I could use. The latter might have been useful, since some of the game's commands seemed to be a bit esoteric, except that it happened all at once in a scary single-column infodump to my screen.
There were also some illustrations; I approve of this. On the other hand, some of them reminded me of things I did in Hypercard ca. 1986: dithered black-and-white images of simple objects. Eep.
Another interesting thing the game did was to use an oft-suggested but seldom-implemented approach to conversation. When you spoke to an NPC, certain words were highlighted as links, and clicking on them equated to >ASK NPC ABOUT HIGHLIGHTED TOPIC. This avoids any fishing around for things to talk about, I suppose, without going all the way to having a menu. I thought it was a valuable experiment, though I am not sure I'm totally crazy about the effect.
In atmosphere, the game reminded me a bit of Heroine's Mantle, which I liked despite various drawbacks. Unfortunately, it shared a few of Heroine's problems, as well. The puzzles weren't quite as unfair, but it was still entirely possible -- even easy -- to render the game unwinnable, as far as I could tell. In particular, a certain sequence involving a telescope seemed to give the player too little warning. I did my best with it, but it was this sequence that ultimately caused me to give up on the game without really getting past the prologue: I couldn't figure out how to get past a certain point, I kept ruining my options, and the actions recommended by the hints were not successful. Plotwise, the logic of this sequence also seemed a trifle obscure.
The game otherwise could have used a bit more polish. I noted several places where there were typos or misspellings, or where the author had put in a non-default response but the default response was subsequently printed as well. I would probably have played at least a while longer if I hadn't run into the puzzle difficulties, however.
This is version 2 of this page, edited by Edward Lacey on 24 February 2013 at 7:57am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item