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Fun but underripe, April 23, 2021
So I Was Short of Cash… is a rarity in this Spring Thing, as it’s a story-light, puzzle-focused parser game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I found it a nice change of pace, though the implementation is awkward enough to prevent it from going down as smoothly as I’d like.
Plot-wise, SIWSOC jumps right into the action, with the title conveying the basic setup and then the opening text further relating that you’ve been hired to deliver an envelope to someone (you don’t know who), and you’ve entered a house (you don’t know whose – actually turns out it’s some kind of embassy?) to look for additional instructions that have been placed there for you. There’s a lot that’s vague about this, and I found myself unsure even of what the setting was meant to be as I started (the word “quest” to me conjures up a fantasy vibe, though what’s on offer here is more a light-hearted 20th Century spy romp). Turns out the game is all about the puzzles and you can just go with the flow without worrying too much about any of this, and I had a fine time once I did that – but still, even for a jokey game like this, it would have been nice to have a clearer sense of the premise.
So what are those puzzles like? They’re largely about following somewhat-cryptic notes left by your patrons to get around a series of locked doors, primarily through traditional object-manipulation actions. I found they were pitched at a good level of difficulty – the riddles usually give you enough to start poking around, but weren’t immediately obvious to me, leading to a couple of fun “aha” moments when I figured out the trick. The game also offers a few small nudges in the right direction, and was kind enough to explain one puzzle after I solved it by trial and error.
On the other hand, even as someone familiar with how Inform games work I found I struggled with the parser a fair bit – just about everything I tried to do took a little more effort and created a bit more friction than I wanted. I ran into some guess-the-verb issues (when trying to see if there was something concealed under an object, LIFT and PULL didn’t work, requiring TAKE or LOOK UNDER; emptying a bucket required POUR INTO rather than EMPTY); unimplemented synonyms (a device described as an “electirc [sic] lock mechanism… with another keypad” responds only to “keypad”, not “lock” or “mechanism”); and a lot of small conveniences I’m used to seeing in modern games are absent (automatically figuring out which key I want to use to unlock a door, for example). Again, there’s nothing game-breaking or that delayed me too long, but a bit more polish would have substantially increased my enjoyment.
The writing side of things is pretty similar – it’s easygoing, with some bits that actually made me laugh (including, mirabile dictu, a toilet-flushing gag). But there are some technical errors, including typos and spacing oddities, and some odd word choices, with a chicken left in the oven described as “getting ripe… maybe overripe?” Again, it’s nothing too bad, but bespeaks a game that could use another round of editing.
I don’t want to be hard on SIWSOC, since I did pass a fun half-hour or so with it, and it’s definitely got some charm. And it was entered into the Back Garden, so perhaps it’s unfair to expect it to have the same level of testing as a Main Festival or Comp entry. But I think there is a missed opportunity here – given the amount of work that went into making it, only a little more could have made it even more of a fun diversion.