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Good fiction, not so interactive, September 16, 2020
This is a great adventure story for 10- to 14-year olds. Heck, it's a great adventure story for all ages. If it were a board game, I'd label it 8-99.
"Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter" is not, however, great IF.
I've seen reviewers that would recommend this game as a good introduction to the medium for newcomers to interactive fiction. I would not. "Jack Toresal" does not give the player that sense of engagement, immersion, agency that is so important in interactive fiction. Even though it is an exciting adventure story, the player does not get to do any adventuring. Examining and searching locations and objects yield well-written descriptions but no discoveries. There are no puzzles to be solved, not even the kind of bigger-picture-understanding that goes with most puzzleless IF.
Starting a new IF-game, I always enjoy that exhilarating feeling of controlling my character in this new world. Here, that feeling quickly wears off to the point that entering commands actually lessens the immersion in the story. It becomes a chore to make Jack do the glaringly obvious when I would have rather just flipped the page of a novel and read on.
That said, the story really is good, and the characters in it are lively, well-written (to the point of caricature, but I don't mind that in this kind of tale) and they have lots to say.
Since the story is the first part of an intended series, it stops with a cliffhanger. If anyone hears the call of the IF-gods to write a sequel, I'd love to read/play it. With a bit more adventuring, that is.
-The first chapter does not suffer from any of the criticism above. It's a good and funny self-contained exploration puzzle.
-I found an extremely annoying bug that would have made me QUIT if this weren't such an easy game:(Spoiler - click to show)The game won't let you out of the library without the secret letter. The letter is in the chandelier. So if you enter the library without having lowered the chandelier from the room above, you're stuck.
Anyways: good story, bad IF.