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Endearing but (formerly) buggy, September 22, 2023
Starting the last of Larry Horsfield’s trifecta of ParserComp entries, I was energized by my success in Bug Hunt on Menelaus – could I keep the streak alive? I was energized by the winning premise, too. Finn’s Big Adventure is a spin-off from the mainline Duke Alaric Blackmoon series – Finn is the Duke’s six year old son, and after his lessons with the local wizard, decides to sneak out of his room one night to investigate rumors of secret passages in the catacombs below the castle. Alas, much like X-X R I didn’t get too far in this one, but this time the game has to take its fair share of the blame, as I ran into two progress-stopping glitches in the opening section that sapped my will to continue.
The trouble first arose in the pedagogical sequence that begins the game. You’re given the opportunity to check out the wizard’s study and find the book that tells you about the secret passages, as well as some notes that seem to provide clues about how to open them. The game prompts you to write the clues down so you can refer to them later, which was a nice detail, so I jotted down a copy on the scrap of parchment I’d been using for my class notes. Feeling like I was ready for my expedition, I confidently typed OUT, only to be told that there was something I needed to do before I left. After twenty minutes of wracking my brains, I finally figured out what the issue was – rather than copying the notes onto the parchment, I was supposed to write them down onto a scrap of paper that had been left, forgotten, under the wizard’s desk. Sadly, once I’d copied the clues once, the game wouldn’t let me copy them again, so I had to restart in order to progress.
This was frustrating – why go to the trouble of coding an alternate solution to a puzzle if it’s going to make the game unwinnable? – and especially annoying because there was no in-game reason I couldn’t progress, just an out-of-game warning that was meant to be helpful. Still, I pushed on through the next sequence, as Finn faked going to sleep and snuck out of his room after his bedtime (as the parent of a toddler, I could relate to this part). I made it down the catacombs and found a series of manacles and chains that I think lined up with the clues I’d copied down, but I couldn’t figure out the right syntax to interact with them – TAKING and PULLING them occasionally gave hints that I was on the right track, but while the notes suggested I should be able to attach them to each other or ring-bolts in the dungeon walls, nothing I tried seemed to work, and the built-in hints didn’t have anything to offer.
Thinking that I might have missed something back in Finn’s bedroom, I sneaked back upstairs, and found that sure enough, there was a “war belt” hanging on a clothes hook on my door, complete with my trusty dagger. This find was soured by two flies in the ointment: 1) despite Finn clearly knowing that the war belt was there, and it being described in such a way that it should have been clearly visible from the interior of the room, it wasn’t mentioned in the top-level room description – X DOOR was required to disclose its existence, which feels like it’s taking unfair advantage of a gap in knowledge between the player and the protagonist. More galling, though, was 2) the discovery that now when I tried to get back down to the catacombs, I was told “There’s something in your room that you have forgotten!”
This sure seemed like a bug, since I couldn’t find anything else in the room, and the fact that it hadn’t fired when I’d left the war belt behind, but did fire after I’d found it, sure suggested that something had gone wrong somewhere. Not feeling up to restarting once more and seeing which hoops I had to jump through to avoid this second progress-stopping issue, I abandoned the game there, which was a shame – Finn was an engaging protagonist, and it’s hard to go wrong with a hunt for secret passages in a maybe-haunted castle. But Finn’s Big Adventure needed a bit more testing (and a more robust hint system!) to live up to its promise.
(This review was written for the initially-released version of the game; per the author these bugs have now been fixed, so I'm hoping to give it another play and update this review accordingly)