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Shapeshifting fantasy adventure, January 7, 2022
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
Puzzley fantasy adventures donít tend to be my favorite IF subgenre, but theyíve got deep roots and an undeniable cozy appeal. I was surprised it took me about 2/3 of the way into the Comp to get to one on this year Ė theyíre typically thick on the ground, so maybe theyíre falling out of favor? Fortunately, Finding Light does a good job flying the flag, with enough of a twist on the hoary standards of the genre to stay fresh and puzzles that go down easy. Itís not going to set the world on fire, but itís a worthwhile way to scratch this kind of itch.
Letís start with the twist, since itís tied up with the premise: you play a familiar spirit, bound to a boy with magical abilities and able to swap between human and fox shapes at will (the human shape kind of threw me for a loop since it gives the whole nonconsensual soul-binding thing a creepier vibe). The game starts with him being kidnapped by raiders, so itís up to you to sneak into their fortress and set him free. Your different forms have different abilities Ė as a fox, you can track scents and talk to other animals, whereas as a human you have hands and er, color vision? Really, the fox gets the better end of the stick here Ė which come in useful as you work through a series of simple obstacles, from a maze with a twist to a couple of fetch quests.
None of these puzzles are anything too tricky, but theyíre not trying to be too brain-melting and they donít overstay their welcome. Similarly, the setting sketched-in, and the boy youíre bound to doesnít register as much of a character, but they work well enough to justify what youíre doing. Thereís a topic system that makes conversation with the various animals you encounter go down easily, too Ė these are actually a highlight, since while your master is rather a bowl of oatmeal, the raven, rat, and horses you meet have personality.
Implementation-wise, there are a few small niggles. I ran into a bug where trying to go in non-cardinal directions either didnít produce any output, or gave a response that only made sense in the maze, and there were some missing synonyms or fiddly action phrasing required in a few places. But it's nothing too major, and the puzzles are well-clued and smoothly implemented. I think this is the authorís first game, and itís an impressive debut both in terms of programming and design Ė I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they do next!
Highlight: The raven was my favorite character, and it was fun to take reading material back to her to decode.
Lowlight: The game doesnít have any ABOUT or CREDITS text as far as I can tell, so Iím not sure whether there were testers Ė if not, this is impressively smooth, but regardless, always have testers!
How I failed the author: I was reasonably tired when playing this one, so I appreciated the overall gentle difficulty, but I was thrown for a loop by what was supposed to be a hint: the rat says he has exactly three things to trade, so after I got three things from him I thought I was done, without realizing that one of them was a freebie that didn't count as an additional swap, and I had one more left. Fortunately this didnít hold me up for too long.