The Alchemist

by Jim MacBrayne (as Older Timer)


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Number of Reviews: 5
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
New QBasic Parser? Hold my Beer., December 9, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

Alchemist is a homebrew parser game, with a retro font and block-graphics sensibility. Retro puzzle-heavy gameplay too, as you are experiment-sitting for an eccentric alchemist, wandering around his mansion using magic and unlocking rooms!

I hit an early block with the parser dialect, where container/surface contents were listed, then made out of scope to subsequent commands without first removing them. Once I dialed into the command structure, I adjusted easily enough. It periodically re-intruded. You can jump ACROSS but not OVER things (or maybe the other way?) but I came away more impressed than not with the implementation. Given the daunting prospect of fifty years of parser technology to learn from this was the most complete effort I have yet seen. The QBasic implementation also was lightning fast, the command-results loop positively popped with energy. Between that, the ability to chain commands(!), and the insanely generous amounts of shortcut keys (including definable ones) the whole thing practically burst with propulsive momentum. I think I may be burying the lead here. A FULLY FEATURED HOME BREW PARSER THAT FLIES!

The puzzles themselves were zippy too - they were mostly pretty well signposted and clued as you went along, including an enigmatic but solveable clue book and robust hint system, which I really only needed for occasional dialect corrections. There are one or two spots of alternate solutions disappointingly ignored, but no real bouts of spinning on what to do next. One might be underwhelmed that the puzzles were fairly straightforward, but the choice pays off as the thing really moves!

Writing is solid, descriptive as it needs to be (though some unimportant rooms suffer lack of definition. There is a cupboard with no shelves or contents?). Sometimes you don’t get room exits, most times you do, but it's always just an X away in any case. There is light wit, particularly with the naming of the active machines and magic items, but its not really a chuckle-fest. All in all, the writing is completely transparent, rarely elevating but never distracting, which is kind of the Hippocratic Oath of Writers: First, Do No Ornamentation. Maybe heavier on the “repetitive recharge of expendables” sequences than I prefer, but more than compensated by multiple use puzzle elements.

Between the solid if straightforward puzzle design and lively, peppy pace it was seamlessly Engaging. Calling it Notably intrusive in parser dialect gaps, but easily enough accommodated and bypassed. All in all a great wrap for IFCOMP22, closing out on a high note.

Played: 11/13/22
Playtime: 2.5hrs, score 300/300, finished
Artistic/Technical rankings: Engaging/Notable
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless