First Things First

by J. Robinson Wheeler profile

Time Travel
2001

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Just the puzzle game I needed, June 4, 2022
by Wynter (London, UK)
Related reviews: Parser puzzles

NOTE: as explained below, I think there are a couple of bugs in the "play online" versions: read on if you are stuck.

I'd been looking for a new, medium/large puzzle game to play, but I often find parsers difficult and slow to get off the ground, and tend to give up on them very quickly. First Things First finally broke this streak.

You are off to return your time travel books to the library when you discover that you've locked yourself out of the house. Quite coincidentally, an actual time machine materialises in your neighbourhood (you accept this in a somewhat matter-of-fact way), allowing you to visit a further four time periods, starting from before the house was built, and ending in an apparently dystopian future.

The puzzles are pitched at just the right level: difficult enough to get me thinking, but not so hard that I gave up. Notably, they are often of the kind where, just when you think you have solved the problem, another barrier turns out to be in the way, and what was apparently a simple goal gets further and further away: truly infuriating and deeply satisfying. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, you try to plant a tree. One bottle of Miracle-Grow is not enough to get it to grow large enough, so you need to figure out a way of taking all the bottles. When that's done, it turns out still not to be enough, so another bottle has to be acquired. The tree allows you to get into an otherwise unreachable part of the map to pick up an object which you had been looking for, but the next problem is getting out, and so on. Some puzzles have more than one solution.

The game was written with real attention to detail: it's a joy to see how the descriptions of different parts of the map change as you alter the past and the future. The tone shifts a great deal, encompassing tranquillity (the woodlands that were there before the house was built), urgency (long passages of dialogue with a major character at a crucial part in the game) and occasionally terror(Spoiler - click to show): there is one surprisingly unnerving sequence, which some players might miss, where you grow the tree to its full extent and fix the roof but do not install a lightning conductor, and then go into the +10-year future and attempt to climb the tree. The game goes to considerable lengths to instil a sense of growing panic as you lose your grip, and fall to the ground, leaving you alive but unable to move. Playing with the bank while having time travel abilities is also great fun.

However, I ran into a wall at an important point in the story: in the section called "Outside the Executive VP's Office", the game froze: in the middle of a block of text, there should have been a "press any key" option and there wasn't! I was using the Parchment interpreter on iplayif.com (the "Play Online" option above) - there seems to be something wrong with it. So I restarted using the elseif player ("Play Online in Browser"), which has a separate window for typing in commands, and that did the trick.

Unusually for me, I didn't need to resort to a walkthrough: the in-game hints were enough. However, I ended up consulting it because, close to the end, I got stuck in a loop which may be a bug because it doesn't make sense as a deliberate way to get the player stuck. (Spoiler - click to show)If you just walk into the museum, the young man will offer you a tour, but there is no way of accepting it: typing "yes" or "follow young man" just lead him to repeat his offer; you can't even move beyond this point. I checked the walkthrough and discovered that there is a note underneath the doormat, instructing you to knock on the door. If you do so, you can type "yes" in response to the man's questions, and "follow young man" should work also.

It looks as if First Things First has been relatively underappreciated in the twenty years since it came out, and undeservedly so. If you're looking for a well-thought-out puzzle game that will neither be a pushover nor impossibly taxing, this could be the one.


- Pinstripe (Chicago, Illinois), February 27, 2021

- Spike, June 12, 2019

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The IF time-travel game that most resembles Day of the Tentacle, May 31, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

It continues to surprise me that apparently so relatively few people have played First Things First. It seemingly has everything most players want: a good writer and coder (Wheeler), a fun premise (time travel mechanics), and lots of old-school (but fair) puzzles. It's not overly long or overly cruel. It even starts out like Curses! with some putzing around the house. It's about the most perfect game I've ever played.

The time travel mechanic is just lovely. You get to move between five different time periods over a fifty year period and tinker with things in each time period and see the ripple effects. Puzzles involve messing around with nature and seeing what happens, messing with your house and seeing what happens, messing with the bank and seeing what happens, and finally messing with people and seeing what happens.

There are two separate endings to your messing with the universe. The first one is more of a neutral ending and I was able to complete this path without a walkthrough and I'm a walkthrough kind of guy. The second one is much tougher and has more walking dead situations, but also much more rewarding. And if you just save on the regular, you should never have to replay too many portions as long as you keep going through the time machine and checking your work.

A must-play for those who enjoyed A Mind Forever Voyaging but wanted more agency, or for those who enjoyed LucasArts' Day of the Tentacle but wanted a more serious plot, or for those who just like any time travel game they can get their hands on.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Explore a mid-size map over 5 decades. Well-crafted, great puzzles, May 9, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

First Things First was nominated for an XYZZY award for Best Game, and won Best Puzzles, among others.

In this game that starts out very slowly, you quickly progress to an interesting situation similar to A Mind Forever Voyaging or Lost New York, where you can investigate a mid-size map over 50 years using a time machine. Your actions in certain time periods strongly affect the future in interesting ways.

This is definitely the best long-form time travel I have played, as I felt Lost New York (which explores New York over a century or two) and Time: All Things Come to an End (which explores many epochs in a linear fashion) had relatively unfair puzzles.

IFDB has version 3.0, but the walkthrough is for 1.1, so it didn't work in places. I am a walkthrough junkie, so it was hard for me to beat it, but I was able to guess from the walkthrough what I should try next, and eventually worked my way through it.

The game has good characters, beautiful settings, and a bit of a confused plot, which is natural given the main gameplay mechanic.

For simulation fans, it has an interesting money/bank account/investment system.

Strongly recommended for everyone. (Note: the first area seems incredibly boring, but it gets better and better. I started to like the game as soon as I made it into (Spoiler - click to show)the garage.)


- yaronra, July 16, 2018

- Denk, August 1, 2017

- PVince81 (Germany), April 23, 2016

- E. W. B., February 24, 2016

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), July 18, 2015

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent game, January 11, 2015

Good story, good puzzles, good implementation of verbs, hints are given when appropriate.
Actually, I only have a very small criticism to make: in at least two situations, we can get definitely stuck without knowing it. The first case is when trying to take (Spoiler - click to show)the miracle-grow jugs in the worksheet one by one, then the game only says "you should have done this when you had the chance", but lets you continue, which is ambiguous. More generally, one object is essential to the game, and should not be disposed off too early in the game, which is not very clear at first ((Spoiler - click to show)the wheelbarrow). The second case is when (Spoiler - click to show)you jump into the window without anticipating on how to get out after that. I think it would have been nice if the game had said something like "you should have thought of this before doing that, now you seem to be stuck".


- Sobol (Russia), December 28, 2014

- E.K., March 11, 2014

- Lorxus, March 8, 2014

- kala (Finland), November 16, 2013

- MonochromeMolly, November 1, 2011

- Levi Boyles, August 28, 2011

- Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle), February 15, 2010

- bolucpap, March 18, 2008

- J. Robinson Wheeler (Austin, TX), March 17, 2008


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