Looks as though my comments on the games are going to be more perfunctory than I had originally planned. While I greatly enjoyed playing them, there were an octillion other (mostly school-related) things that urgently needed doing. Divided attention/limited timeframe is bad. Still, I was tickled pink to have been invited to review SmoochieComp 2001. So, here are my thoughts. They're disorganized and full of holes, but hopefully someone will derive amusement from them, or even find them useful. They'll probably make more sense to the people who've already played the games (or to the people who wrote said games).
Spoiler Warning: Beware. My reviews couldn't be any more full of spoilers if my name were Spoiler Von Spoilerson.
Yippee, I'm a stalker!
My identity becomes clear to me gradually. At first I think I'm just sort of a sap, a bland romantic who's determined to "rescue" his lady love from her college dorm. Her hero. Feh.
Then I start examining myself. New clothes, you say? What kind of jacket am I wearing? A green military jacket... hmm. Veddy interestink. And -- oh, I'm holding some poems. They're titled things like, 'The Elephant Man and I'. The plebes in the hallway are giggling at me. They will never understand the purity of my love. I must slide the poems under my true love's door, and then run off before she can see me.
The poems, by the way, are perfect. Just the right tone of overwrought creepiness (a little reminiscent of the poetry I myself used to write in Grade 8, in which I gave voice to my inner torment and rhymed words like "rain" and "novocaine").
See, I'm identifying with Mister Twitchy. Of course I am -- he's me! The IF medium is used to interesting advantage here. Even as I gradually become more and more disconcerted by my character, I feel pathos for him. I want him to win. The identification is much more immediate than if I'd been reading about him in some 3rd-person-ominiscient thingy. -- It also occurs to me that if I were playing the girl, the object of his affections, he would surely be a villain.
I don't know how crazy I am about the fact that the stalkee and the stalker turn out to be based on real-life people. It removes me from the story a little. While the whole ending of the game is interesting and fun, it's less engaging than the beginning -- well, for me, anyway.
At any rate, 1981 is a groovy little creep-fest. Indeed, there is a fine line between Worshipper Of The Muse and Squinty Creep With Binoculars. 'Tis fun to cross that line with impunity.
I don't have too terribly much to say about this one. It's not that I intensely dislike it, it's just that games about noblemen and sorceresses don't tend to float my proverbial boat. Character names like "Hakuin Ikthanadar" irk me. Nobody's fault.
The writing is solid. Detected one typo -- "betrayl" -- unless that's some sort of wacky phantasy spelling.
I made it up to the dancing-with-Bloodwyn part, and then I couldn't think of any more things to ask her about, so I'm not sure how the story ends.
Again, it's not as though this was a bad game. Some people will probably like it.
Dead of Winter
I like the idea of updated fairy tales, but this one seemed to be straddling the fence a bit overmuch. Dead of Winter felt like a fairly conventional fantasy thingy that wanted to transcend the "conventional fantasy thingy" mold, but couldn't quite do it.
There were a few things about the game that I found braincatching. Making the Ice Queen black was an interesting way of casting against type. I liked that the Dragon was a person, and not a firebreathing reptile. Playing a heroic chyk is always fun (although that gives rise to another quibble: for a noble rescuer, the PC is awfully passive. She mostly just seems to drift around from place to place).
The whole thing felt somewhat disjointed, perhaps because the game was so short. I went to some places, and did some stuff, and then the game was over. The characters were way underdrawn, and the story felt rushed. My advice to the author: expand, take your time. I know that these were supposed to be short games, but even so, description and background are good. Who is this boy I love, and why is it imperative that I rescue him? Why don't I just drive myself home and find somebody less frozen? Who is the Snow Queen, and why is she such a bee-atch? What's the dragon's story? Questions, questions.
I was confused for the first minute or so. Then I was hooked but good.
There's mythology, there's intrigue, there's romance. The game-world is dense and rich (with a creamy nougat center!). I attribute my initial confusion to this richness: not only is there a plotty mystery to investigate; there's a whole unfamiliar world in which the player must get her bearings. I am the type of person who needs a Cole's Notes in order to follow anything more demanding than The Wedding Singer. Still, I likes a good story.
The characters are well-drawn and fascinating. I particularly like the Androgyne; s/he reminds me a bit of an Oscar Wilde character (the background information that I was able to glean about the androgyne race was cool in extremis). And then there are the potential romantic interests: the prince, the dashing and amorous Masked Man, the vaguely ominous maybe-villain. Despite his probable badness, the bad guy seems to like me. He doesn't just have indecent, "surrender-my-proud-beauty" desires for me: he respects me. I like that in a villain.
Or am I wrong to call him a villain? The game is keeping me guessing. I don't know who to trust, even though I like almost everybody. The Earth Minister seems so comforting and unthreatening, but if I am to believe the maid, she is up to no good. My first instinct was to peg the Masked Man as a noble-rogue type, but I'm beginning to think that maybe he's somewhat shadier than that. It has also crossed my mind that he and Valkir (the maybe-villain) are the same person.
As is probably evident from my wording, I haven't been able to finish the game yet. Alas. Me no too smart. Need clues. Nevertheless, yay for Emily. I much prefer games in which I gather information by talking to people, to games in which I amass a bunch of objects and use them on stuff.
The Tale Of The Kissing Bandit
Mwah-ha-ha. Such fun.
I don't have volumes of comment on this one. It was cute and amusing and utterly unoffensive. The author adknowledges in his notes that the implementation is spotty, so there's not much point in my flogging the issue.
I very much enjoyed lines like, "If only she knew... ha-HA! If only she knew!" I had a vivid mental image of the Kissing Bandit swooping around melodramatically, with much twirlage of cape and moustache.
Another one with noblemen and sorceresses. I actually liked it fairly well -- it was lighthearted and well-implemented, with a nice attention to detail. I never felt confused or lost. The pacing of the story worked; things flowed smoothly. There were a number of different endings. All good things. While the story wasn't the sort that grips or entrances me, it was fun.
The conversation style was new to me. No objections to it (though all of the exclamation points made me feel very emphatic!).
The changing descriptions of the walking stick in my inventory were very cute.
At the end of the game, upon locating my love, I was told that her physical appearance was irrelevant to me. I must say, that's a tall cool drink of water
Jessica is your wife of fifteen years...
>ask Jessica about me
"I don't know much about that."
I don't know the word kiss.
Dude, you need a second honeymoon.
Shabby implementation. I'm told that the kitchen is to the west of the livingroom, but when I try to go west, it doesn't work. Then I go east, and it turns out that the kitchen is there. Similarly, I have to discover by accident that I can go east from the kitchen.
Oh, and check this out:
I don't know the word kiss.
What do you want to attack it with?
Chilling. Simply chilling.
Thanks to Emily and all of the authors. I badly need vicarious smoochies.
This article copyright © 2001, Bridget Sweeney