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J. Hall's IF 2004 reviews

by J. Hall

Posted 16 November 2004 to

2004 Interactive Fiction Reviews.

Questions I ask when I judge:

- Do I like what I feel then I play it, or is there something missing? If I think there are too many missing descriptions or description cop-outs of important objects, then expect a low score.
- Was it well written? Were there any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors? Does the author demonstrate a good command of English?
- Are there any cases of "guess-the-verb" (or "guess-the-noun")? Are there any off-putting "insta-deaths" that come as a result of this?
- Are the puzzles (or things that can be vaguely be defined as a "puzzles") logical, or not? Are they reasonable, or are they utterly obscure? Points will be deducted if the game can be rendered unwinnable by accident, or without a good reason. Games that require multiple "past lives" to complete and/or suffer from "Kant" syndrome will also be penalised.

Don't cry of I've trashed your life's work. I'm fairly new to this IF writing malarkey and I get impressed by "unusual things", so don't take my opinions too personally.

Splashdown - Paul J. Furio is lost in space.

Not too bad. Nice and atmospheric, although I didn't get far with it; Controlling the computer was awkward and it is highly unlikely you would have worked out how to complete this game without the walkthrough. Also, the directions "north, south, east and west" are referred to as "starboard, aft etc." in this game. All good and well if you are in the navy and are familiar with such terminology, but I found that somewhat confusing.


Blue Sky - Hans Fugal is going loco.

I don't exactly know what is supposed to be going on in this game. I'm in Santa Fe, I've missed my tour and I'm supposed to be trying to catch up with my party. However, I failed to understand how milling around the town was supposed to accomplish this. Many of the puzzles in this game are vague, seemingly pointless and did little to advance the plot (assuming there was one).

6/10 if you like lectures on Meso-American architecture, 3/10 if you don't.

Ming Sheng - Deane Saunders is the one waxing on (and off).

Note: I'm a sucker for this sort of game, so expect bias.

I was a little confused at first, but what you are supposed to be doing quickly makes itself clear. The parser can be a little annoying at times, but apart from that it has a nice eastern, mystic atmosphere and the puzzles, when worked out, are unusually satisfying.


Identity - It would seem that Dave Bernazzani is lost in space too.

Another game with a "cryotube" fetish, only this time you've crash-landed on an primitive alien planet and need to call for help. I found it very difficult to get anywhere with this game without referring to the hints and the last task of the game involves wiring a radio, which was a bit of a nuisance too. I encountered a few guess-the-verb problems whilst playing, but it was nothing too serious. The "you see no such thing" syndrome was nowhere in sight either, which was good. Not a bad game overall.


Ninja - Paul Panks is disappearing into the night.

Awful parser. No plot. Insta-deaths.


Magocracy - Anton Joseph Rheaume shall not let you pass.

Now being an RPG fanatic, I'm a sucker for this kind of game, so perhaps this is going to be a little biased too. The mechanics of the game are a little strange and there are a few incidences that could be considered insta-deaths, but these are avoidable. Overall, I enjoyed this one more than most.


Redeye - John Pitchers wouldn't give a Castlemaine 4X for anything else.

I didn't like the excessive use of bad language, the esoteric humour that I encountered. There were a few errors in the author's "drug lingo" (play to find out) and ending was a little abrupt too. It was, despite all of this, a fairly enjoyable game to play overall.


Sting of the Wasp - Jason Devlin is getting erm...stung.

I've seen some weird genres in my time but a "damage-limitation" one is pretty unique. The whole thing is pretty bizarre and I'm not sure what to give it. I'll make it a 5.


Luminous Horizon - Paul O'Brian is wearing his underpants on the outside.

I cannot honestly say that I have played the other two games in the series (Earth and Sky and Another Earth, Another Sky), so this was my first taste of Paul's highly acclaimed saga. It was a pretty good one, too. You take the role of two superheroes whose parents have been kidnapped by the local super-villain and must now find his hidden base and rescue them. The heroes, Earth and Sky, have their own special powers that can be used to get out of tricky situations and to solve puzzles; "Earth" has super strength and is indestructible, while "Sky" can fly and shoot lightning bolts. It was quite entertaining listening to these two siblings battling enemy robots and bickering/throwing wisecracks at each other while solving puzzles (if you make any attempt to use your superpowers, the response is usually accompanied by bout of cheesy, Batman-style onomatopoeia i.e. "BLAM !", which I thought was a nice touch). That is not all either; your viewpoint can be changed from one hero to the other by simply typing in "change", allowing you to look at puzzles from a different viewpoint and to access places that your partner cannot. The cleverest part about it was the hints system- hints are not obtained by just typing in "hint" but by talking to the other player, who then drops suggestions and subtle hints on how to proceed, followed by sledgehammer ones if they are asked again. I found no significant problems with the game, even though a few of the puzzles were a little obscure for my liking. Unfortunately, this meant that I was unable to progress very far before the allotted two hours was up and I would have liked to have seen the ending, but I was impressed nonetheless.


Day in the Life of a Superhero - Now it's David Whyld's turn to wear his underpants on the outside.

Hmmm...what should I make of this? Well, for a start it's a spoof and I can't say I'm usually that keen on them. This one, however, is different. From the jabs at superhero cliché to Harry Potter references, it's actually quite funny, or at least I thought so. Toilet humour is kept to a minimum.


Kurusu City - Kevin Venzke is taking the Metal Mickey.

Getting shot by accident by a passing cleaner robot (armed with a laser, for some reason)? Getting arrested and sent to jail by a giant food blender? No, this isn't the latest game in the "Space Quest" series or even an episode of Futurama, although with its apparent trivialisation of death and injury, you could be forgiven for thinking it was, but I do believe Kurusu City is supposed to be serious. All your life, your country has been ruled by a robot dictatorship and you, a school girl, have now decided to put an end to it all, for reasons which are never brought to light. Today, you have decided to skip school and bring down the government. So what does this "Robot Dictatorship" consist of, you ask? If the first images that enter your mind are those of the Terminator, Daleks screaming "Exterminate !" or even the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, then you are going to be disappointed; the robots in this game are all shaped like giant hat-stands, food blenders and television sets...and are about as smart. It is hard to imagine how the country was taken over by this gang of laser-toting household appliances, but that is a topic for another day...

So this is the future and you're in a busy city. That means lots of futuristic people, buildings, cars and other stuff, right? Guess again.

-x people
-You don't see any people here.
-x buildings
-You don't see any buildings here.
-x road
-You don't see any road here.
-x robots
-You don't see any robots here.

While the game itself is relatively free from errors, there were a few that I though were silly, such as having the same ticket seller at two different monorail stations in two different parts of the city. Another involved waiting in the school changing rooms, watching the other pupils get changed into their gym outfits and then getting changed back into their ordinary clothes...and then getting changed back into their gym outfits and then getting changed back into their ordinary infinitum. However, one later realises that the biggest problem with this game comes from the ease to which it can rendered unwinnable- if you ever figure out that you have made it unwinnable in the first place. Have you left that all-important item at school? Too bad; you can't go back and get it so you had might as well start over. But how do you know when it becomes unwinnable and how do you know which items are all-important? Without consulting the list of sledgehammer hints (which were not provided with the competition release), it is unlikely that either of these questions will be answered (most of the puzzles are either illogical or so obscure that you need 90% of the sledgehammer hints just to get anywhere.) Looks like somebody didn't read the "player's bill of rights" before embarking on their project.

Overall: 4/10

The Orion Agenda - Beam me up, Ryan Weisenberger.

Somewhat reminiscent of the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, you are ane officer who has been sent down to a pre-industrial planet on a mission to observe the natives. Unfortunately, you and your partner end up getting captured and sent to their village. You later learn that the people of this planet are being used as part of a plot to start an intergalactic war. This was a good game with a decent plot, but I noticed but one serious problem within the game; there is a puzzle which involves cards, yet there are no cards were mentioned anywhere in the room description (or perhaps it was just me). The rest of the puzzles were fine.

Overall: 6/10

This article copyright © 2004, J. Hall

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