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(based on 10 ratings)
About the Story
Welcome to Santa Diablo, Texas, a tiny desert town held in the grip of fear by a corrupt judge and his gang of outlaws. No one dares to stand against these rustlers. No one, that is, until the fateful day that SHE came to town: a mysterious drifter with no name and her name is... Horse Girl
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 4
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The Legend of Horse Girl is a gleefully absurd take on Western tropes, starring a heroine raised by wild horses and featuring a bar staffed by coyotes, apparently sentient tumbleweeds, snake oil farmers, dairy spiders, and more. It’s also pure, (mostly) unadulterated fun. I am not exaggerating when I say I laughed out loud multiple times while playing this game. I was unreasonably amused when the character Butch McCreedy turned out to have a twin named Femme McCreedy, for example. And then there’s one puzzle solution that involves (Spoiler - click to show)dunking bats in milk as if they were cookies until they get fed up with this treatment and fly away, the mental image of which just killed me. (I thought I was going to be (Spoiler - click to show)actually drowning them, which would have been ridiculous enough, but the way it played out was funnier.)
Speaking of the puzzle solutions, they’re generally just as absurd as everything else in the world of the game, but most of them are signposted well enough that it works anyway. Given that the gameplay is very straightforward (get items, use them on other items, repeat) and requires few unusual verbs, one could say that trying to figure out what might work per the internal logic (such as it is) of the zany setting is the puzzle, in most cases. And when that works, it’s tremendously satisfying. There were a few places in which the leap of logic the game wanted me to make was a bit too far for me; I don’t know if there were things in the game that I missed that would have hinted at these solutions, though.
I did wish a little bit for a built-in hints function, although the list of necessary verbs in the “about” text sometimes proved helpful – not so much for guess-the-verb issues, which I didn’t feel the game had many of, but because in some cases the very presence of a verb in the list hinted at an approach to a puzzle. Also on the subject of quality-of-life features, I did appreciate that the game usually removes objects from your inventory if you don’t need them anymore.
There was also one aspect of the structure with which I struggled a bit: you can, essentially, encounter the introductions to the majority of the game’s puzzles right off the bat, without even beginning to solve anything. This made it sometimes unclear to me what order I should be trying to solve the puzzles in, and whether I didn’t have what I needed to solve a particular puzzle yet (probably because it was gated behind the solution to some other puzzle) or whether I did but hadn’t figured out how to use it. But this is, I think, not an objective flaw but a matter of taste – I personally get a little overwhelmed by having a ton of "open" puzzles at the same time, but others might prefer that to a more linear approach.
And in the end, the charm of the writing carried me through these minor frustrations without much difficulty. Despite any nitpicks, I had an absolute blast playing this game, and that’s the important thing.
Confession time: I recognize that there’s some real heft to the complaint, stated forcefully by A Single Ouroboros Scale and by many other games and folks too, that the IF community is too enamored of jokey puzzley medium-dry-goods parser games, and there’s more thematic, literary, and even systemic development happening in other parts of the scene. But – of course there was a but coming – I’d humbly submit that the proper level of enamor-ness for such things is definitely nonzero, because when I come across a game like The Legend of Horse Girl, part of my brain recognizes that this is all just USE OBJECT A ON BARRIER B stuff wrapped up in joke-a-minute delivery, but the rest of said brain is having enough fun not to care.
It helps that the setting here is a weird west that takes advantage of the familiar tropes to deliver some clever satire while also putting a distinctively gothic, genderpunk twist on proceedings. My notes file is filled up with little copy-and-pasted bon mots, from the way you go up against twin baddies, Butch McCreedy and his sibling Femme McCreedy, to the snake-oil salesman’s patter noting that his product is sovereign against ills including “juggler’s despair”, to the just-slipped-in-there detail that the bartender is “a tall slender woman with hands like enormous spiders.” The numerous characters are a joy to interact with, and while a simple TALK TO command gives you everything you need to know, they’ve got lots of additional fun dialogue if you try to ASK ABOUT different stuff. Add in a big-bad who’s got enough legally savvy to ensure his “can’t be killed by any man of woman born” deal-with-the-devil has a definitions clause to take care of women and non-binary people too, and you have a funny, self-aware game that kept me smiling through its one hour playtime.
The puzzles are also calculated to delight. There’s a reasonable degree of openness to explore the medium-sized setting and poke at the various puzzles, though they’re mostly arranged in a chain. At any point in time you’ll only have a few options for things to do and a modestly-sized inventory of one-use items, which means that the momentum generally stays high. Some of the challenges are reasonably familiar – you’ll need to gather three ingredients for a noxious, alcoholic brew in order to win a drinking contest, which makes for a straightforward scavenger hunt – while others are more esoteric (it’s heavily clued that you need a bezoar to win said contest, but the process for getting one is pretty obscure). While I did get stuck on that last puzzle, which I think did need better signposting, for the most part the game really nails the balance between being easy enough to allow for quick progress, but tricky enough that the player feels clever for figuring out what to do next.
The one thing holding LHG back is that it could use just a bit more tightening and bug-fixing. While I didn’t hit any game-breakers, there were enough things in need of polishing to make me hope for a post-festival release. Sometimes commands didn’t lead to any response, just spitting out a blank command prompt (LISTENing in the plaza, DRINK CACTUS); a significant weapon was missing a description, and some parser fussiness led to this who’s-on-first moment:
What do you want to saw the boarded-up door with?
What do you want to saw?
What do you want to saw the boarded-up door with?
And one last nitpick: my Californian pride requires me to note that the town should probably be San Diablo, not Santa. But while these niggles made my playthrough a little rougher than I wanted it to be, they didn’t stand in the way of enjoying the heck out of this game – sure, it’s relatively straightforward IF, but there’s nothing plain-vanilla about Legend of Horse Girl.
Bitter Karella has been making games for many years now, but I think this is the best one I've played so far, for my tastes.
You play as a cowgirl whose beloved horse has been stolen by a lying, murderous judge, and you have to get it back.
It's set in a wide town with quite a few locations, and even more that get unlocked over time. I say the humor is 'grotesque', but by that I mean that a lot of solutions are amusingly gross.
The characters are vivid and based on tropes and stereotypes, like a snake-oil salesman, a crazy miner/inventor, a brothel owner, etc. A few of them lean heavily into racial and cultural tropes, like an opium-smoking asian man named Lucky Strike or a hispanic saloon owner named La Muerte with a face painted like a sugar skull. I'm not really fond of relying on racial stereotypes, but all those characters are portrayed in a positive light as independent business people respected in their community.
The puzzles were pretty hard, and I had to get help on a couple, especially on finding a bezoar. I played the game over about a week on and off. Most puzzles are 'find an item in one area and use it in a creative way in another'. A lot of the humor is in finding out what item actually solves to problem.
The implementation of the game is a big improvement over all past Karella games, but still has a couple of rough edges here and there. I had trouble finding the right words to use the dynamite, or to use a rope. Fortunately, the game itself will also include the right wording to use as a hint, and has other features designed to help with implementation.
We played part of this in the Seattle IF Meetup, where it seemed well-received, and I finished it on my own later.
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