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IF Competition 2004 micro-reviews

by Nusco

Posted 16 November 2004 to

Authors, please take any negative comment as an encouragement to write a better game, not as a suggestion to stop writing. And don't take anything personal. This year's competition was very good: no game was so bad that I could have been able to write it myself.

Due to time constraints, I had to let out The Big Scoop, Mingsheng and (gasp) Luminous Horizon. I roughly sorted the games by final vote. In general, the "Red Light" category contains the games that I rated up to around 5, and the "Yellow Light" category contains the games that I rated from there up to around 7.

Red Light (not overly striking)

- Ninja v1.30 (finished)
Short BASIC game about a ninja who must do something to someone, but ends up moving between two or three underdescribed locations and winning the game for no apparent reason. Probably contains less words than this review. Extremely buggy.

- PTBAD 3 (didn't even come close to finish it)
The author's note: "Don't understand the point that this game is getting at? Thats ok, I don't either, and I wrote it!". Yeah, it's one of those. You're "in someone else's mind", wandering around without a clue nor a walkthrough.

- Getting Back To Sleep (finished with walkthrough)
"Astronaut in peril" plots were all the fashion this year. This one is another point against home-brewed parsers. The real-time technology never really comes through, while the bugs and parser limitations do. The prose and puzzles don't really help.

- Ruined Robots (finished with walkthrough)
Sci-fi with neither the sci nor most of the fi. Some robots, some uninspiring locations, a generally sloppy feeling. The author's hints are as subtle as a slap in your face, but the puzzles felt too difficult anyway.

- Zero One (finished with walkthrough)
Short, underimplemented game about a guy escaping from somewhere. It's sci-fi, but it could be just about anything. Pointless and juvenile in its approach to story and character.

- A Light's Tale (finished with walkthrough)
Zany fantasy game where the author jumps here and there trying to make it all feel part of a theme. Some of the long monologues are so bad, they deserve cult status. Everything, including the "light" theme, is all over the place.

- Who Created That Monster? (finished with walkthrough)
A satirical game about the current Iraqi war. Pointless puzzles, confusing map and very peculiar humour. Wait a minute... That is humour, isn't it?

- Order (finished, with walkthrough)
An interesting "create" command lures you into fantasy B-games hell. Missing item desciptions and increasingly random story elements make this one involutarily humorous. It can be completed by using ESP or a walkthrough.

- A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero (not finished)
Superhero parody involving a talking parrot and lots of comedic characters. Let down by quirky parsing, overly sparse implementation and verbose prose. The humour didn't quite work for me.

- Murder at the Aero Club (finished)
A short and very bland whodunit, where you don't really care about who did it. It feels like a series of in-jokes between the author and her acquaintances. The setting, a small private airport, is original, and it kept me playing.

- Stack Overflow (finished with walkthrough)
A messy alien abduction story with a bunch of puzzles that range from the interesting to the totally pointless. Nothing to write home about.

- Blue Chairs (didn't finish it)
Average geek takes drugs and dreams his way through a confusing game. Pretentious tone, as if the game wanted to teach you something very profound. The competent implementation and writing is not enough to make it less irritating.

- Redeye (finished)
An earnest attempt at a mistery/action story. Very rough around the edges, with lots of edges. The "unexpected twist" in the end can be seen approaching from miles ahead.

- Blue Sky (finished)
A curious short story about a tourist lost in Santa Fe and looking for his group. Simple, with retro style puzzles. Ultimately too insubstantial to be satisfying. At least it doesn't make promises that it can't keep.

- Kurusu City (didn't finish it)
Japanese schoolgirls against the robot dictators. The English prose feels strange, but maybe it's just me. Many situations feel a bit random, and the game has hints but lacks a walkthrough. The B-movie robot descriptions are funny, though.

- Zero (stuck)
A fantasy story on the side of goblins. I wanted to play this a tad more, but the lack of a walkthrough and an hunger-sleep puzzle convinced me to quit. If I'm about to die from lack of sleep, why can't I use the beds?

- Square Circle (finished with walkthrough)
A Kafkian story about a man imprisoned for unknown reasons. It becomes less and less interesting as it goes, but the philosophic undertones are clever and sometimes funny. Largely based on a difficult puzzle that doesn't really fit in IF format.

- The Great Xavio (finished with walkthrough)
A comedic mistery with a well characterized NPC and not much more. Clumsy, uncertain use of the medium. The puzzles are decent at best, but the two protagonists save it from being quickly forgotten.

Yellow Light (OK to very good)

- Chronicle Play Torn (not finished, probably never will)
Ye Olde Puzzle-Fest, with decent implementation spotted by some obvious bugs. From the generic fantasy-starting-in-a-house setting onwards, everything feels a bit oh-hum. Never actively bad, though.

- Identity (finished)
Hopelessly cliched "astronaut with amnesia" stuff. Interesting enough at first, but it dries up after the first half. The lost identity theme adds nothing to anything, and that last puzzle could have used some trimming.

- Magocracy (didn't finish it)
An interesting MUD simulation mixed with traditional IF. The exciting premise is let down by repetitive gameplay, and the "undo" command makes it all a bit pointless. Refreshingly different, but seriously flawed.

- Goose, Egg, Badger (finished with walkthrough)
A girl must deal with the daily grind of her own private zoo. Very confusing. It's actually a clever joke, but I couldn't get it until I read the walkthrough. Native English speakers will probably appreciate it.

- Typo (finished)
A single large one-room puzzle about a very complicated machine, with some impressive parser tricks. Too focused on implementation and technology and not enough on being actually fun. Amusing ending sequence.

- The Orion Agenda (stuck)
A sci-fi story about meeting an alien culture. It can't seem to decide wether it's partly serious or not. It feature a sidekick with its own emotional reactions. I missed a essential item, and I was stuck without a walkthrough.

- I Must Play (finished)
A number of funny and pretty smooth mini-games tied by a loose narrative about an arcade game loving kid. Geeky humour transpires throughout.

- The Realm (finished)
A short, light-hearted fantasy adventure about a squire on a mission to kill a dragon. The humour is not always spot-on, but a couple of clever puzzles make up for it. One of the puzzles is a bit guess-the-nounish, though.

- Trading Punches (didn't finish it—I will, probably with a walkthrough)
A very well-crafted Sci-Fi narrative implemented with maniacal attention to details. Professional if verbose writing, clean graphics and an involving and deeply human story almost push it up to the upper levels. But sorry, I couldn't stand the puzzles.

Green Light (the cream of the crop)

- Blink (finished multiple times)
A short, nearly puzzleless, anti-war familiar drama. Very competent use of the medium and an interesting story. Too rethorical and deliberate to be genuinely moving, but it gets close. It deserves to be played multiple times.

- Splashdown (not finished yet)
Back to this year's theme: austronauts awaking from cryogenic sleep. This one is really good, though. It's a funny take on Infocom's classics, with the same gentle humour and fiendish puzzles of its inspirators. Great sidekick.

- All Things Devours (finished with sub-optimal ending)
A clever and funny time-travel puzzle game where you are a scientist trying to save the world from her own invention. A coherent setting, a genuine sense of urgency, but a bit confusing at times. I'll get back to it, just to look for the optimal ending.

- Sting of the Wasp (looking forward to finish it)
Well-written social satire with Gourmet-style "lateral thinking" puzzles. The cheesy opening scene gives way to a very solid, enjoyable game. Intelligent writing, strong characters. The humour is hit-and-miss.

- Bellclap (finished multiple times)
A fascinating mess-up of some IF conventions, this (very short) experiment is only partly successful. But somehow, the game manages to keep the thrust of its catchy opening line. Pleasantly subdued humour, decent puzzles.

- Gamlet (not finished yet, but I will)
Prepuberal Prince of Denmark wannabe peels the deep implementation layers of its parents' home. Unrivaled atmosphere, fluorishing prose and dark, dark humour. Deeply unsettling and funny at the same time.

And that's all for this year. All in all, a great competition.

This article copyright © 2004, Nusco

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