Paintball Wizard

by Doug Egan profile

Comic puzzler

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1-8 of 8

Can't Hear No Buzzers and Spells, January 6, 2024
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

Part five of the review sub-series “Twinesformers: Parsers in disguise.” The latest reviewed work to derive gameplay from parser traditions, but bend Twine to the task. In gameplay, I found this to be on the rough side of the spectrum. There is a main story pane, which has links to interesting objects inside location descriptions, and a side pane which contains command buttons (Explore, Go, Action, Talk, Cast). You bounce back and forth between location pane and command pane, often needing two or three clicks to get anything done. In my head, this seemed like an interesting paradigm to maybe apply to Texture, building on what All Hands showed us was possible. Here, not only was it clumsy, it was also… visually unappealing? New links could spring in above the text in a disruptive and laundry-listy way.

The spell system has a nice idea behind it, but similarly suffers inelegant UI. You learn spells throughout the game, eventually discovering (Spoiler - click to show)prefix/suffix combos can be recombined to do new things! That is a really cool mechanism, narratively well timed! It is undermined a bit by text choice. You get SO many of them, it is almost impossible to keep them all in your head, so casting becomes a (Spoiler - click to show)lawnmower of combining sub-words until you get the effect you want. The prefixes at least have some kind of mnemonic juice to them, the suffixes felt totally, unintuitively random. The puzzles are mostly straightforward, more pushing at the interface model than brain burning, but there is a nifty time loop one.

In isolation, these gameplay challenges kind of straddle the Notable/Intrusive boundary. Against a bland narrative they would be the dominant takeaway and tip Intrusive. Boy oh boy is this narrative not bland!

It throws a lot of things against the wall, without having any idea how to unify them. The main narrative tone is light bro-comedy, a fraternity of wizards literally called BRO engaged in a low stakes paintball game. It is twisting Potter lore for comedy, but also background, and can’t decide which it wants more. Sometimes Potter lore is fictional, sometimes real depending on the needs of the scene. It is also an allegory for persecution and prejudice, diving into dissonantly serious flashbacks of disturbing magic-user abuse by not-even-thinly-misnamed Muggles. It kind of inverts the whole Potter engagement with these topics without a lot of thought or control or comment on the inspiration’s takes. It also feels a bit off. The wizards in question are uniformly white dudes. Casting them as an oppressed minority has kind of a squicky, coopted ‘no, I’m the victim here’ vibe that doesn’t sit right. Or it wouldn’t EXCEPT…

It is ALSO, and this is my favorite, weirdly homo-erotic! There are almost no females in the game, barring one whom the protagonist showed complete ambivalence toward in the face of her clear romantic interest. The frat bros are super emotionally supportive of each other, a tack not typically associated with sexist Animal House vintage comedies. And OH those wand descriptions. Yeah, wands. Y’know sometimes wands are just cigars. Deeehfinitely not here though. Paintball attacks are openly, gleefully ejaculatory. The spell to paint an opponent is SPLORT. One character’s wand is, and I’m spoilering this not because it’s not great, but because you’ll laugh more if you find it while playing, (Spoiler - click to show)TURGID. It is sold I think by the completely deadpan delivery. It’s not QUITE clear the narrative knows what it’s doing here, even though it definitely does. This playful comedy subtext lends deniability to the ‘poor, persecuted white dudes’ angle. Not a lot, but maybe just enough.

So I guess it’s a gay Potter prejudice-trauma bro-comedy? Well now that I see it written out, there’s almost certainly slashfic of this out there. Despite its loose stitching and contradictions, I kinda love it for that? I think the tone saves it - even its most dire parts focus on the puzzle in play, backgrounding the worst excesses in shadow. Kind of. Usually. Also, isolating the harder themes to flashback provides a narrative break from the lighter, subtext-oblivious paintball sections. You can see I’m bending over backwards to try to justify this strange, strange melange. I’ll tell you one thing, with all this going on, for sure the UI paradigm was NOT my main focus as I was playing!

Just too internally dissonant for Engaging, but raging, bouncing Sparks of Joy showering the place, just splattering all over a Notably intrusive UI.

I am so, so sorry for that. I am an adolescent.

Played: 11/5/23
Playtime: 2hr, not finished, 4/5 foes, 4 medallions
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy, Notable kludgy interface, bonus point for unhinged narrative stew
Would Play After Comp?: Yeah, I kinda think I have to… (oh no, I just, I have no excuse…) …finish.

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

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- E.K., December 3, 2023

- TheBoxThinker, November 29, 2023

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Frat brothers cast spells at each other and bond, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I like this game, one that I tested it. Even though it’s longer, I replayed the whole thing before this review, and one of the hardest puzzles in my current WIP was influenced by a puzzle in this game that I really liked.

It’s a Twine game with a parser influence. Like Scott Adams style games, the screen is split into an upper and lower part, but unlike them, the bottom remains mostly static while the top changes. The game has quadratic complexity, as you choose an action and then choose a noun to apply it to, which can be an object in -game or yourself on the sidebar.

Gameplay revolves around discovering and using new spells, which are in a two-syllable format. Over time, the spell system develops some complexity and richness.

Story-wise, you are an initiate in a fraternity of wizards, completing your final initiation: a magical paintball tournament. You have to defeat your brothers while also coming to know them.

I’ve seen some concerns in other reviews about the way you get to know them: by casting a spell that lets you live out other people’s memories, generally their most traumatic. The original version of the game did not include explicit consent for that action, while the most recent does.

From my point of view (which is subjective), this game is clearly fantasy. Not just wizards and spells fantasy (though it has that), but also a fantasy of friendship and understanding. The dream of having a circle of friends so close that you can share anything between you. In fact, there are a lot of clues in the paintball game itself that the whole thing is kind of a setup, a way for people to get to know you; it’s really quite possible that this mind sharing was intended.

Except…parts of the game indicate that the mind spell is newly rediscovered and exciting.

But that’s one aspect of the game I only really noticed now as a player. It’s really trying hard to tell three different stories at once:
1-A goofy game of paintball between fraternity friends with whacky spells and silly pledge rules
2-A dark and serious exploration of humanity’s injustice to those who are different from them
3-A heartwarming tale of acceptance and overcoming insecurity.

So I think part of the problem other reviewers identified isn’t so much that the idea of furrowing through someone’s mind is inherently bad for a story, but that the significance of events and characters takes on really different shades of meaning depending on which part of the story they’re in. Riptide, the frat brother in a treehouse, is a comic individual; Riptide, the oppressed child who essentially experienced torture, is not (I think that was the right character, but I’m not sure).

Overall, though, I enjoyed each subplot separately and found them worthwhile, but I’m not sure they coalesce into a greater whole (something I’ve been concerned about with my own game, which has a similar mix of the flippant and the dark).

Puzzle-wise, it’s outstanding, but also very difficult. I’d likely chalk up the low number of reviews to the puzzles, which are among the most difficult I’ve seen for choice based games of this size, requiring several leaps of intuition and a lot of experimentation. I had to get help several times on my first playthrough, but none this time around.

Overall, I found this satisfying.

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- The Hungry Reader (California), November 12, 2023

- Edo, November 6, 2023

- jaclynhyde, November 6, 2023

- Zape, October 15, 2023

1-8 of 8 | Return to game's main page