Escape From Summerland

by Joey Jones profile and Melvin Rangasamy

Fantasy , Science Fiction

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You'll like the emoticons here. No, really., September 11, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012

I feel Escape from Summerland may be underrated because it didn't get the IFComp reception it could have -- the authors were in a time crunch, and some bugs slipped through. Which is sad for those who maybe played it and got frustrated. It still may be frustrating with the bug fixes--but it's also a lot of fun, with very clever viewpoint switching and a lot of quirky humor.

You start off as a ghost who sees someone trapped in a tent. Seeing who they are gives a realization--you may be able to figure it out. Once his initial duties are performed, you switch to his pet monkey, which has a ... rather less nuanced version of things. Then once the monkey leaves her cage, you're the ghost, making sure she's safe. That done, you switch viewpoint to a robot. Its descriptions are technical and tough to decipher. But here's the twist: the more you observe and look around as the other players, the more you figure what they mean. And different items are described differently by Amadan (the ghost,) Jacquotte the monkey and Shinobi the robot. Shinobi appears to be some sort of drone from an outer-space invasion, not really malevolent but just obeying orders.

And with the three players' combined abilities, you switch perspectives until Jacquotte gets out of the park. It's fun but very tough. I've come back to EfS several times, and without the clues, I get stuck somewhere else. The puzzles make sense, but they're very sticky. There's a part-broken lift to operate, and pushing a box out of the way takes a while. Shinobi has lost both arms and is badly malfunctioning (the temperature gauge goes from -80 to 80 Celsius). And it is low on power, which is probably why the invaders desert it. And for big events, the power drops 2%. You may see where this is going. Will Shinobi have enough power?

EfS rapidly becomes a buddy-comedy but without the backslapping. Amadon, the least powerful, most knows what's going on. Shinobi, for its technical knowledge, has no clue what things are for. Jacquotte can reach places. Amadon actually needs to provoke Shinobi into an action, where Shinobi senses his presence without being aware he's, well, dead. And Jacquotte has fun with the buttons on the lift, as one always wanted to when one was much younger. Contrasting her with Shinobi is amusing, as she often reverts to emote-speak with no qualitative description, and Shinobi's technical descriptions include "Organic Pest Must Be Jettisoned Before Further Ambulation." In actual English, that means Shinobi must DROP PEST if Jacquotte has climbed, before moving on.

EfS also has neat touches beyond just the three entities seeing the same item in drastically different ways. Trying to change them to themselves gets clever responses. We realize that the amusement park is a sad place, poorly kept up even if there was no alien invasion. And ... well, there are still bugs hidden in there, so you may want to save after each small victory. Which sort of adds to the slog as the three entities push through, leading Jacquotte from her cage to freedom. And, yes, there is some guess-the-verb, due to the nature of how the three entities see the world, but I actually rather like the included hints. They help me stumble through, along with the three heroes.

EfS is a rare combination of charming and clever, where it's fun to take a step back and see what everyone sees even if there are pitfalls in he puzzles and parser. Once you get in the flow, it's clear the authors really knew what they were doing and had a great plan. I know after EfS I hoped and expected something even bigger and more polished. Sub Rosa, for IFComp 2015, was that. And it brings up a tough dilemma: would I rather have, say, EfS and Calm, or one Sub Rosa? I'll cop out here on my own question and say I'm glad we have both, since they're each unique in the IFComp landscape. And to say: EfS is worth taking another shot at, if you trip up at first. Even completing it with its hints/feelies by your side is extremely rewarding.

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