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Coulrophobia!, August 18, 2021
We join our protagonist Lil' Ragamuffin (Rags to her friends) and her pet rat/best friend Percy while they are preparing an evening feast: a leather shoe roasted to crispy goodness above their small campfire. A man approaches and offers Rags a way out from the streeturchin life: join the carnival! He gives her a free ticket to come and see it for herself. Against Percy's advice, Rags, unafraid, visits the carnival and soon finds herself confronted with some very nasty clowneries indeed.
Rags is a great character. She's small with a big mouth, keen on adventure and very curious about anything that crosses her path. I often chuckled when I read what actually came out of her mouth when I entered a simple ASK ABOUT command.
Percy the rat is her counterbalance in some ways. He's more cautious, more prone to using his common sense and more knowledgeable about the "civilized" world. To the player, Percy functions as an in-game cluegiver, comparable to Crystal from Illuminato Iniziato, though not as deeply realized. The player should treat him as an in-game convenience rather than as a last resort hint-system. Small nitpick: Percy's hints appear to be location-specific. If you forgot to ask him about the blue-striped giraffe ropeskipping on the ballroom balcony, you'll have to return to that location. (note: No blue-striped giraffes were found nor hurt during my playthrough.)
The map of Carnival of Regrets is very well done. The carnival grounds are clearly subdivided in areas like the Side Show and the Animal Pens. Parts are blocked off by an adversary, almost like a level-boss, ensuring that the map does not become overwhelming and that the player will have (probably) seen everything before crossing to the next area.
The carnival is filled with a diverse and entertaining cast of colourful characters, some helpful (but mostly powerless themselves), some outright dangerous to stray little streeturchins...
It's a true joy to read the adventures of Lil' Ragamuffin as they unfold. The writing is gleefully creepy, with evocative and adjective-rich descriptions of many things grotesque and scary. The enjoyment of the author shines through in reading these passages. In the bigger picture, the action is well-paced, there is lots of freedom to explore, well-placed bottlenecks and a growing sense of urgency as you learn more about the underlying mystery of the carnival.
Sadly, Carnival of Regrets is bogged down by a lack of smooth and trustworthy gameplay.
The world and its contents are seriously underimplemented, and what level of implementation there is is unevenly spread. Sometimes an unimportant scenery-object is vividly described and attempts to interact with it are accounted for, while there are plot-relevant objects that are hastily and too tersely described. This underimplementation means that the game misses many opportunities for funny or helpful responses to "wrong" commands. More importantly, the lack of synonyms for important verbs (for instance: SCREAM works, SHOUT does not) can lead to frustrating attempts at mindreading.
The puzzles are easy-to-medium difficulty. They are well thought out and well clued, some very clever in concept. The lack of smooth implementation hinders the player's enjoyment however. For most puzzles I had the correct solution figured out, but it was still helpful to use David Welbourn's excellent (as always!) walkthrough to get the exact commands when I got stuck.
All criticism aside, Guttersnipe: The Carnival of Regrets is funny, delightfully scary and very well written. Recommended!