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About the Story
Anything might happen to you on the way to the convenience store. You might even run into a guy handing out cursed ascots that lead you to lost fortunes guarded by terrible monsters. Can you nab 100% of the Hizkwelderbang fortune, or will you be lunch for the Eagle Beast?
15th Place - 15th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2009)
Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle - 2009 XYZZY Awards
A CYOA where you have to answer yes or no each turn. Unfortunately, some of the choices are based on information the player only gains later in the game, so that you need to use trial and error (or, more precise, saving and restoring) tactics to win. The plot is (deliberately) silly; on the other hand, the game is full of no less silly humour that I liked very much.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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A confession: I really liked The Ascot.
The Ascot is one of those cheap Choose Your Own Adventure games - and a particularly constrained one, for that. Apart from a few special exceptions (like meta-verbs and the nearly useless EXAMINE), the game's parser only understands two words: YES and NO. As a result, the game feels extremely limited in scope. You can finish The Ascot in just one move (by typing NO at the first prompt), or invest a few minutes and work your way to a somewhat positive ending. You could even argue whether this is actually IF. However, I'll take a short constrained game that's actually fun over a boring game with a good parser.
Another reason not to like The Ascot is that this game belongs to the dreaded "wacky dorky humor masquerading as generic fantasy" club. That genre is usually populated by first-attempt games by teenage authors who then proceed to submit their bedroom experiments to the IF Competition, and force the poor judges to suffer through streams of lame jokes and random narratives. However, for some reason, the humor in The Ascot really worked for me. The narrative voice is consistent, if deliberately silly, and it even managed to make me laugh sometimes - especially when it self-reflects on the game's own limitation, a device that usually falls flat in other games. Here are two (mildly spoilery) examples:
(Spoiler - click to show)
[...] the old woman clucks at you. “[...] Are you ready to finally claim your family’s fortune, young master?”
Oh, so you wanna go home, then?
So, you’ll accept your quest, then? (I can keep this up all day, by the way.)
And here is how the game forces you to accept one option over the other when you enter a dead end in the story branch:
“Let’s try the other way,” whispers Gertie. Are you gonna listen to her?
Okay, so... you’re standing around and... standing around... and...
Gertie asks you again if you wanna go down the other tunnel.
Gertie stares at you. “Are you going?”
Gertie stares at you. “Are you going?”
Oh, man. You have no chance at winning this one! She’s good, she’s good...
It might be cheap humour, but it made me chuckle. I'd rather take this game's honest tongue-in-cheek approach over a linear game that attempts to give you an illusion of freedom and fails.
Overall, I'd probably give The Ascot three stars on a very good day. But then, of course, there is The Ascot's main claim to fame: the infamous "smart puzzle that you can easily overlook and actually turns out to be the game real raison d'etre". That's why this little harmless game was nominated to a Xyzzy (that it arguably deserved to win) after being very harshly dismissed by many IF Competition reviewers. That puzzle changed my perspective on the game's strictly constrained mechanics, and it probably justifies investing a few extra minutes to get to the optimal ending... And that's where the fourth star comes from.
The Ascot is a Choose Your Own Adventure game of a particularly restrictive type: at every point, you can only choose "yes" or "no". However, for a game that has choice so obviously at its centre, The Ascot is surprisingly linear: most choices will either stop the game immediately, or have only small effects on the order in which you see things or the contents of your inventory.
The story of The Ascot involves escaping a curse, fighting an evil monster and gaining treasure, none of which is very innovative, although it is brought with zest and flair. More importanly, there are several possible endings and getting to the best one is not easy, but is rewarding. Not hugely rewarding, but rewarding in the sense that you'll think: "That was a neat puzzle!"
If you have not seen the best ending, you haven't really played The Ascot. ("Have I seen the best ending?", you wonder. If you wonder, you haven't.)
Also check out my original competition review and the reviews linked on the IFWiki.
Back before Choose Your Own Adventure got tiresome for me, I still wondered. Why wasn't there more where what you did before affected the choices you could make? Without cheating? I think there were a few examples--one CYoA asked if you had talked to a weird guy who gave you a clue, with a better ending if you did. It couldn't track game states without being spoiler-ish.
The Ascot takes advantage of this in many ways, both to slip in a few jokes and provide different endings. The humor's pretty off the wall, from the not-so-subtle railroading (there're several riffs on the But Thou Must trope) where you pretty much have to take the Ascot, to making sure you only type YES or NO, to forcing you along to a park or searching where you need to. It's rather fun to be heckled by the good-natured parser, and I enjoyed trying to be stupid. The side paths don't take too long, although you do get stuck if you (Spoiler - click to show)utterly ignore others' help.
What characters there are, are good. Gertie, your friend, is a good agent for moving the game along, and the beast you fight at the end is silly and fearsome.
But just a string of jokes wouldn't be enough. The author took huge risk (Spoiler - click to show)including the "decent" ending and not the best one in his walkthrough and, in fact, not showing us the best way through. This almost surely cost him a couple places in the standings. However, knowing what I know, it was a pleasure to work things out, and as someone who played the game after the comp, I'm glad he made this choice. Other reviewers have alluded to this, but really, figuring out what to 'really' do is clever. I think it's adequately hinted that you need to do something, and the sheer lack of options makes it frustrating you don't quite know what you do. Until you figured it out.
I giggled stupidly after finding what to do, and the final puzzle is a delightfully annoying brain teaser, consistent with the game's friendly needling. This game packs a lot of fun into a short amount of time, and it leaves me hoping there are other games out there. It's clearer than many other multiple choice games, and it offers an example of how restricting choices can make for a tighter puzzle. I am sure there are other ways to do it, and I hope to see them.
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