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Good Introductory IF, March 29, 2012
Play it if: you're new to IF, or if you're in the mood for some light amusement and fairly easy puzzles.
Avoid it if: you prefer a bit more bite in your IF, or you've a hair trigger for cruelty or unfairness, for while not particularly challenging, this game has a soupçon of both.
While more of a showpiece to display some of Inform's capabilities than a true game, Balances is nevertheless an enjoyable enough experience in its own right to recommend it to the novice player.
The game, drawing upon the Enchanter trilogy's magic system, offers several good puzzles - many of which revolve around the player's ability to reverse spell effects. This creates some fun possibilities (Spoiler - click to show)(including the need to die at least once to win). There was an alternative solution to the lottery puzzle, however, which I would have loved to see implemented(Spoiler - click to show) - specifically, reversing the "caskly" spell to turn the first-prize ticket into the last-prize ticket, though that would have required re-tooling of the elephant puzzle.
There are, unfortunately, a couple of puzzles which would qualify as cruel or unfair (Spoiler - click to show)(specifically, the lottery puzzle). Nevertheless, I only had to resort to a walkthrough only once - and given my flair for puzzle-solving, if that isn't a sign of low difficulty, I don't what is.
Ultimately, Balances is a light and loose distraction. It's probably most suited to newcomers to interactive fiction given its small scope and relatively straightforward gameplay. The magic system and its implementation may also give aspiring IF writers some pointers on basic puzzle construction.