Posted 21 November 2004 to rec.games.int-fiction
Since my computer broke down, my reviews are a bit belated, sorry about that. They are pretty short and may be of interest for authors to see what I liked and what I didn't and perhaps for players looking for games they could enjoy. The reviews are in the order I played the games (that means a random order).
Good Ninja has to retrieve a golden idol from the shrine of the bad
The first game I had to play was one of the notorious PAP. The game
lives up to his reputation: common abbreviations aren't implemented,
there's only a maximum of one possible action in any given situation,
there's nothing to do or discover that's not essential for the
solution. To make things worse, you die by chance. On the other hand,
the writing is minimalistic but not too bad and personally I had some
fun during the 10 minutes it took me to get through the game.
Sting of the wasp
Upper class bitch has to get her hands on pictures showing her with an
employee of the local country club. Who of the other upper class
bitches has them and how can she be convinced to give them away?
As can be seen from the summary, SotW is a cynical satire with really
loathsome characters, including the PC. Sadly, that's not my favorite
kind of game (Varicella excluded, which is my favorite game). The
puzzles are mostly quite nice, although for my taste it's too often
necessary to examine everything. While the story is the strength of
the game, the characters seem a bit one dimensional. I didn't finish
it in 2 hours but intend to do some day.
A game by the developers of Janitor, set in the same universe. The
task for the PC is to find out the way a machine works. That's not a
really new idea for IF, but it certainly is new, that this is all a
game is about (as far as I know, I didn't finish the game). I only
managed to produce "mush". The hints also didn't help me, which is
unfortunate: I looked forward to the game, because I liked Janitor a
Still on their mission to rescue their parents and the whole planet
earth, Emily and Austin need all their superpowers. Third part of the
Earth & Sky superhero saga. A technical brilliant and superbly written
game that offers a true superhero comic feeling. The special feature
that the player controls both characters, using a change-command,
works very well and is a must for solving the puzzles. The help
function is nicely embedded in the story and since the puzzles are
logical and well clued, it is perfectly possible to solve the game
without using it (I needed exactly two hours). There aren't real
weaknesses, however, I liked the predecessor (even) better, especially
the puzzles and story-arc. But perhaps that's only because I can't
look forward to another sequal.
After the crash of his spacecraft, the pc is not only looking for
rescue but also for his own identity. The story starts very
interesting, but gets neglected after a while. It is a short, but not
too short piece (I solved it in two hours, but had to resort to the
hints at the end to do so), with some good puzzles. The game seems to
be well tested, playing it was fun.
War memories of an old man are reevoked by the naive questions of his
grandson about the whole purpose of war. Contemplative, well narrated
story. Sadly, the decisions of the player don't seem to influence its
course very much. But perhaps that is the real message of the piece...
Anyway, I liked it, although I didn't see the announced multiple paths
(and yes, I played it more than once).
As can be seen by the title, Gamlet spoofs Hamlet, however, it doesn't
resemble that play very much. Neither the writing (which is very
unusual) nor the humor are my style. Additionally, the parser often
guesses what the player wants to do. By that, some puzzles can be
solved by accident. Most puzzles involve scanning the text for hidden
objects and examining them thoroughly. I'm not very fond of these kind
of games (I also belong to the minority that didn't enjoy Savoir-Faire
that much although that is far superior to Gamlet in terms of
writing and story). Obviously I didn't like it very much.
Nevertheless, I guess people who liked savoir-faire could enjoy
Gamlet, too, provided they don't mind being insulted while playing.
Now this was an enjoyable piece, a mystery adventure, hard-boiled
style. The info text says, IF would be suited to get children to read.
I wouldn't recommend Redeye for this purpose, it contains some
violence, swearing etc. Not so funny: I needed the walkthrough to
leave the taxi. Neither "leave car" nor "get out of car" worked, it
had to be "get out of taxi". But after that I didn't need any help
anymore, the game is fairly easy and fair. The writing is decent, the
story is far from novel, but I like playing these kind of games again
As I understand, Santoonie doesn't have the best reputation in the IF
community. I never played a game of them before, but somehow I enjoyed
Zero pretty much. You play a goblin, who has to get things in the
goblin cave back in order after a raid by humans. That essentially
means collecting items and bringing them back where they belong. The
room descriptions are terse and accurat and gameplay is entertaining.
There is a wonderful, swearing sidekick and the whole experience was
very amusing (after I got a hint who to play the whole thing...)
Problem: After two hours I found myself at the City of Murl, Front
Gate. None of the nouns in the room description was implemented and
there seemed to be nothing the player could do. Obviously, the whole
thing was stopped being programmed far from completion. Now that's a
A Day in the Life of a Superhero
I was looking forward to this one: I really dig superhero games
(movies, comics etc.) and the beginning of the game is absolutely
hilarious. Sadly, after a short while I found out this is no superhero
game (at least the PC doesn't have any special powers). It has some
very funny moments, but at no time is suspenseful or evoking that
special superhero feeling (as E&S or Crimson Spring do). The story has
no real arc and mostly silly. And then, there are technical problems:
the scoring system doesn't work, no orders can be given to NPC's, some
verbs are missing and there are problems with the conversation system.
In presence of "The Cat" villain who can kill you after all the
command "fight cat" produces the answer "There is nothing worth
fighting here." That kills the fun. Whyld's talent for writing is
wasted on a genre he doesn't seem to care about very much.
You are god. Like the guy from the old testament, who craves the
sacrifice of animal and those kind of things. Now that's a perspective
I was always interested in! Goal of the game is to guide one of your
worshippers in safe haven. That is done by telling him (through your
assistent who is a great NPC) what to do. This change of perspective
works very well, the puzzles are logical (after accepting the premise
of the story), the game is technical ambitious and excellently
written. It just is bit too short and perhaps something to surprise
the player would be nice.
A far as I got (on the space station), it's not clear where the story
is going. But I was clear in my mind, that I had no chance of a
successful traversal, since I didn't even get the hints for the
machine puzzle in the sphere room. Sadly, what I had since so far
didn't captivate me enough to exert my mind any further. There also
were some spelling and grammer errors.
I must play
Playing a child locked up in an arcade, the goal of the game is to
successfully play all the games and by that getting to the top of the
high score board. That's not too hard and the puzzles are nice, but
the whole thing never got me too excited. It's a piece mostly for
nostalgic gamers that spent the eighties mostly in arcades.
The fifteen year old Miki Madea is skipping classes to free Kurusu
City from the ruling robots. Of the contents, it's clearly an anime
piece, but I fails to evoke the special charm of the genre. The
writing is more like Zork and it misses humor. The game heavy on
puzzles, however, I didn't get very far in the two hours I played
before voting. I probably won't finish it anytime soon either.
The Great Xavio
Haggerston (Professor of Logic) and his side-kick Todd (Ph D Student
controlled by the player) try to find out the trick of a magician. But
when the corpse of the magician is found, they have to solve a murder
case. Although the game is competently written and has no technical
flaws, I din't enjoy it. The puzzles are not very inventive, but still
(for me) very hard to solve. After playing it with the walkthrough I
still have no idea how I should have thought about some solutions
Splashdown was the game I enjoyed most in this years competition and I
would have liked to see it win. The voyage of a space ship of settlers
has come to an abrupt end shortly before landing. The computer wakes
the protagonist from his cyber sleep, for him to solve the problem and
save the settlers. The game is very influenced by the games of
Infocom, especially Planetfall. There is a Floyd-esque robot
side-kick, some references , the plot resembles Planetfall and so on.
But all that is perfectly realized. It is humorous without being
silly, the story may have been seen before, but the reason why the
ship crashed and how the explanation is implemented are great.
Moreover I enjoyed the puzzles very much (I used hints only once and
only to get further in the two hours judging time and even that
puzzle could clearly have been solved without hints). Great game!
To defend their small empire from an external attack, magicians summon
the PC who has the power to create things und thus fight the attacking
creatures. Neither the story nor ist ending are very surprising, but
the game could appeal to fantasy lovers. All puzzles are solved by
using the "create" command, so the term guess-the-noun is not a flaw,
but the basic game principle. I really liked the idea, but
unfortunately not the story.
As a tourist in Santa Fe, the player missed his group and now has to
find it. This gives the opportunity to discover the obviously very
beautiful plaza of the city and the surroundings and in passingsolving
some not too hard puzzles. The idea of an interactive tourist guide is
pretty nice and the game made me want to visit the city. But to really
succeed, it would have been necessary to include more sightseeing
sites and far more information about them. I look forward to a bigger
I ranked this one third of the comp and think it had the best writing
of them all. Its prose reminded me of the games of Robb Sherwin (which
is a big compliment). The game focusses on the story: a lost love, the
merging of dream and reality, truth and fiction and the possibilities
to determine one's own fate. The game is large and complex, with lots
of plot turns. Additionally, it gives the impression of many different
"solutions" and alternative endings (I'm not sure of that, having it
played to the end only once, but I definitly will play it again).
Still, it is not puzzle-free and has a sort of a maze. I thought that
was a bit distracting (not the puzzles but the maze-like second act),
so I won't rate it best score. Anyway: a definite recommendation.
The Big Scoop
The third mystery I played in the comp is a murder case, blamed on an
innocent woman. The player is a journalist who is given the
opportunity to solve the murder case and perhaps win the pulitzer
prize on the way. The game is far from spectacular, but on the bright
side doesn't have many flaws either. While the player solves nice
puzzles (very fair, yet some were too hard for me, but I guess that
was partly because I played it late in the comp and in the evening),
most of the thinking is done by Linda, the presumed murderer.
Accordingly, the story is pretty straight, brought forward by the
players actions but not really influenced by them. Nevertheless, it's
a fun game, best for a rainy sunday afternoon. In direct comparison, I
would chose Redeye, but that's a matter of taste.
The Orion Agenda
Stationed on a surveillance outpost in orbit of Orion 3, the player
observes the developing culture for a company called SciCorps. Even
better: thanks to a promotion he gets the chance to go on a field
mission for the first time. His mission is to disguise as an native
and investigate a problem in the SciCops base on the planet. Trouble
starts when the native Orionions discover them... I liked the story,
which reminded me very much of Star Trek's prime directive. Also very
nice is the slowly rising level of difficulty. The puzzles are well
clued and satisfying, although the stone puzzle lost me. There is an
interesting plot turn near the end. Although I didn't find it too
convincing, I liked seeing it. But there is a severe disadvantage
which made me mark down the game: it is almost unplayably slow on my
Palm m515. Sometimes it was one to two minutes (!) until I got a
response from the game. I finished it only because it was the only
game I had with me on a four hour train trip. I don't know what the
problem was, but I never encountered it before.
After The Orion Agenda, this was the second game in a row that was
told as a flashback. I don't think that's a really good way to start a
piece of IF since it diminishes the feeling of being able to change
the story by the players actions. Trading Punches is a fantasy/SF
story about the first co-operation between humans and an alien race of
fire-beings. The author puts great detail in the world and the plot
and the story is nicely told. The puzzles are o.k. although sometimes
a bit confusing. I had a huge problem in chapter 2.2. where I remained
stuck although I consulted the walkthrough after a while. Restoring
and playing the part again, following the walkthrough step by step
worked, but I still marked the game down for this. I'm not a huge
fantasy fan, so if you are, try this one out.
Goose, Egg, Badger
In the night before her birthday, a girl on a farm has a lot to do:
clean the house, lock in the animals (which were, if I understand
correctly, freed by a burglar?) and so on. The main attraction of the
game is that most (all?) of the implemented nouns are also verbs. Or
so I'm told by the help text. Since I'm not a native speaker I won't
even try to guess what to "yak" or to "ape" could mean. The plot, of
course, is weak (cleaning up is something I try to avoid by playing IF
instead), but not the main point of the game. Perhaps I shouldn't rate
it at all, but rules are rules:
Chronicle, Play, Torn
Searching for his grand uncle, who practices occult arts, the player
discovers notes about a summoning of a kind of demon. He also
discovers a perished city. In the two hours until judging, I didn't
get into the mysteries any deeper. I also didn't get in the right mood
for the game, mostly because I was annoyed by technical errors: a lot
of reasonable commands that should solve the puzzles didn't work. When
I found a book about herbs and knew I had to identify mandrake using
it, "look up mandrake in book" didn't work. If you don't refer to the
book, which is titles "Of roots divine" as the "green book" you get
the answer "I don't know what you're referring to". It's frustrating
knowing the solution for a riddle but spending lots of time trying to
tell the game. There are other minor flaws: when I tried to "give"
something to a dog, I was told "You can only do that to something
animate". The verb "pet" (something I like doing with dogs) wasn't
implemented either. I will give the game another shot, but only after
it's beta tested more thoroughly.
This article copyright © 2004, Bob Woodward