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About the Story
Save OkayCo from the Flame-Lame Fey and Ed Spray-Spread! With thanks to my imaginary friends Amos and Abel Fay.
75th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 2
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Friends, I have a confession. I have now played two Andrew Schultz games (this one and Very Vile Fairy File from last year), and they both have the same effect on me: as I stare at the words on the screen to try to make sense of them and respond in kind, my vision starts to swim, I begin to babble, language dissolves as words themselves decay into meaningless nonsense-sounds, and I feel the cold immensity of a vast, amoral universe that cares nothing for humanity and our feeble attempts to apprehend it through logic, mathematics, and language. Great Cthulhu can do his worst and Yog-Sothoth can get in line: I have played Under They Thunder, so all your threats are empty.
If the title doesn’t give it away, the central gimmick of Under They Thunder is pig Latin: the player character embarks on an epic adventure to help a big-box retailer defeat an angry monster-fae army (I think? See above, my sanity as I took my notes was questionable), all through the power of inverting a word and adding a friendly “ay!” syllable to the end. There are relatively-simple fill-in-the-blank puzzles where you need to take the prompting of the name of an object or location and de-piggify it, guess-the-noun puzzles where given a certain pattern of phonemes, you need to run through all the options you can think of, and a set of more traditional puzzles where you need to read a particular book (or, I think, hum a particular tune) to teach you the lessons, or put you in the mood, needed to see off an overbearing interloper.
I should say, I can tell this is a very well-crafted game – both because it’s huge, with the central puzzle mechanic run through its paces and ramified in every way imaginable (each language puzzle seems to be worth a point, and there are 144 of them!) and because there are a thoughtful set of helper gadgets, hint features, and speedrun options that try to meet every player where they are at. This is a game for a very specific audience, but the author also provides every possible on-ramp to help you figure out whether you might be part of that audience and just don’t know it yet.
This is commendable, and I totally can intellectually see the appeal, but it just doesn’t work for me. My mind doesn’t bend the right way to make the puzzles comprehensible, and privileging wordplay over the merest sop to mimesis (do we still talk about mimesis?) takes me out of the world because the whole thing feels like chaos. I got maybe five percent of the way in under my own steam, looked to the walkthrough to eke out a couple of additional points, then used the fast-forward options to zoom to the end, though unsurprisingly didn’t find the finale especially edifying given all I missed.
By all means, give this one a try – Under They Thunder wants you to like it, it’ll invite you right in – just don’t be surprised if your brains are running out your ears before too long.
I’m always happy to see another Andrew Schultz game in the comp. His games have ranged from large open worlds with large amount of traditional puzzles (like The Problems Compound) and compact, laser-focused games like Threediopolis or The Cube in the Cavern.
This one has open-world elements mixed with a lot of wordplay. There is a specific gimmick/rule for items and things in this game that has surprisingly large amounts of play.
I beta tested this game, and was pretty overwhelmed while testing. The state of all possible solutions is so large (especially when using slang words or words I’d never heard pronounced). Fortunately, since then, Andrew Schultz has both increased the number of available help systems (including a very useful passage to a ‘cheater’ helper) and turned on most of the older hint systems by default.
My most recent playthrough was a lot easier due to these helps, but still difficult. I especially enjoyed the boat-based sequence. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the game is when you get on a good string of guesses in a row. One possible weakness is the lack of uniformity in puzzle solutions; each puzzle might be solved by a song you’re thinking of, a book you’ve read, typing in the solution to a wordplay puzzle, or USE-ing an item. While this theoretically increases freedom, the state space becomes a little too large for me to handle successfully. Available hint items definitely aid this though!
One thing I’d love to see in a future Andrew Schultz game is one where you have to find nouns hidden inside other words (like a ‘shovel’ that produces a ‘hovel’ you can enter).
+Polish: Given the enormous state space, I think this is very polished.
+Descriptiveness: There's a lot of creative uses of the main wordplay mechanic here.
+Interactivity: Despite my frustrations, I had fun. I like wordplay.
-Emotional impact: I didn't get absorbed into the story.
+Would I play again? Yeah, it feels like there's more to discover.
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This is version 7 of this page, edited by Zape on 4 May 2021 at 9:58pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item