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7th Place - Text Adventure Literacy Jam - 2022
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Number of Reviews: 2
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This entry in the 2022 Text Adventure Literacy Jam is an entertaining desert island pirate adventure with magical themes – like Treasure Island with a Narnian twist. You play a shipwrecked mariner, washed up on the beach of a mysterious and once - but no longer - inhabited island. Through exploration and flashbacks, the story of the original islanders’ fate, as well as how the protagonist ended up in his current predicament, are gradually revealed.
This is a well-presented game made in Adventuron, with some multimedia flourishes typical of games made in the engine: there’s an excellent title graphic, colourful text, a subtle change of background shade in the flashback sequence (from black to very dark grey – subtle but effective), and at least one instance of the rainbow lettering that crops up often in Adventuron games. There’s also a thunderous, cinematic soundtrack to underscore the action that, at first, I found to be unintentionally comical paired with the somewhat humble text-game interface – but one you get over the incongruity, it does enhance the mood quite effectively.
Implementation throughout is reasonably good, although there were a fair few unimplemented commands and missing scenery items in the version I played, as well some other minor bugs (like some accidentally portable coconut trees). I should say that I didn’t play with the in-built tutorial on, as I find such tutorials a bit irritating. More irritating, though, is the imposition of a two-word parser, something recommended by the TALP competition (in last year’s competition it was a mandatory requirement). The wisdom here seems to be that a two-words parser makes it easier for beginners to get to grips with the somewhat arcane genre of the text adventure, by relieving them of the need to use more complex sentences. I disagree with this, on the basis that the restriction often forces players to phrase some commands in awkward and unnatural ways that beginners in particular are likely to find more of a hindrance than a help. An example is something like TURN ON TORCH (ie flashlight), which a two-word parser would reduce to the weird-sounding TURN TORCH or TORCH ON; similarly with TALK CAPTAIN (instead of TALK TO CAPTAIN) or LOOK TELESCOPE (rather than LOOK THROUGH TELESCOPE). I’m not convinced that such an approach is a very helpful and a sensible way to introduce players to the genre of the contemporary text game – but I suppose it is a way to introduce them to classic Scott Adams-style text games of the 80s for which this sort of restriction was more of a necessity that a design choice. Maybe that is, in some way, the aim of TALP. Anyway, the point is that here, it seems not particularly helpful in the several instances where a preposition or two would make for a much more natural player input, and the tendency of the parser to scold the player when they use more (or less) than two words makes it feel off-puttingly pernickety. (NOTE: I played the competition version of the game and reported several of these implementation issues to the author; they may well have been fixed in the post-comp version).
As for the gameplay itself – there are two rather disparate elements here. One the one hand there is an epic fantasy yarn, entwined with elements of the player character’s back story. There’s a real atmosphere of magic, mystery and adventure developed through some effective world-building, including a couple of really effective flashback / dream sequences. This is narratively more interesting than the majority of the TALP games I’ve seen which (with no disrespect to what are often very effective games) often feature a simpler story as a background to a fetch quest or other straightforward series of puzzles. Here, the flashback to the storm at sea is really well done – full of drama and peril, and a real sense or urgency, as an on-screen counter ticks down to disaster. It’s lot of fun to poke around the deck and talk to your crew mates as you hurtle towards calamity, and this sequence feels like the most deeply implemented part of the game. The puzzles associated with this main narrative are quite satisfying and mostly sensible, and effectively drive the plot along to its epic conclusion (I loved (Spoiler - click to show)finding the wolf’s eyes and making the statue come to life). Some, however, are a bit under clued and one or two commands are hard to guess (I struggled most to find the correct verb in the very final scene and had to consult the walkthrough to figure out that I had to (Spoiler - click to show)ASK TREE). On the other hand, running in tandem with the epic story, there’s a series of ‘achievements’ to discover: mostly rewards for doing small and ultimately irrelevant things like (Spoiler - click to show)dropping a pebble down a well, or (Spoiler - click to show)catching a seagull. This is a motif of many Adventuron games and it can be fun just to wander around and try to get points for doing random things, but here it just feels like a distraction from the main thrust of the game, especially as some of the things for which achievements are rewarded (like (Spoiler - click to show)lighting a fire, discovering a message in a bottle, and finding the treasure cave) felt like they should have been more important to the story than they actually turned out to be.
These two strands of the game didn’t quite gel for me, and I was left with a feeling that it would have been more effective if the game had concentrated on either the dramatic fantasy storyline or the fun and inconsequential achievement hunting, rather than trying to make the two work together. As it is, they sit rather uneasily alongside one another, with the ‘big’ storyline feeling a little underdeveloped and the inconsequential treasure hunting being a little distracting. The overall effect is of a game that’s not completely sure of what it wants to be – an effect that is only enhanced by a charming, if slightly perplexing, fourth wall-breaking coda that is fun but only serves to underline the oddly uneven tone of the game.
In all then, a well-written and well-made game that feels more substantial than many of the games in the TALP 2022 competition but suffers somewhat from a lack of focus. I hope the author produces more, though, as there’s definitely potential here, even if it’s not fully realised in this first game.
This is an adventuron game with a two-word parser and tutorial designed for beginners.
While many games in this comp seem to lean towards younger children's interests, I feel like the pirate story is not really childish. Instead, the author provides an interesting backstory for an island with magical creatures and enemies.
Most of the gameplay, though, is centered around solo exploration. Some puzzles have multiple solutions, which is neat.
A lot of work went into worldbuilding and into a tutorial that is helpful at suggesting verbs and giving expectations for the parser.
Overall, I wonder if it could have been a bit more fleshed out. It's actually more substantial than many games in the comp, and being shorter is better for beginners, but it felt pulled in multiple directions by seeking to be simple and short but also to do epic storytelling, which would have benefited from a bigger buildup. I had fun, though!
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