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Reviews by Jim Kaplan

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1-5 of 5


Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Pig maybe smart, but Grunk catch pig. So that mean Grunk more smart, June 6, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: admiral jota, humor
Play it if: you want simple, accessible puzzles and a short, sweet family-friendly game that's big on humor and character interaction.

Don't play it if: you're in the mood for something long, challenging, or particularly serious.

It's difficult to say something particularly new about a game like this. With its small scope and broad appeal, a lot of the obvious things have been already stated. But I'll go ahead and try to unpick what I like about this game anyway.

The appeal of Lost Pig all about its main character. Grunk is ostensibly the narrator of this tale, so his attitudes towards things colors the player's entire experience. I find Grunk's fairly simplistic descriptions of things interesting because they are reflective of the archetypal IF player's experience. Like Grunk, we put ourselves into a situation where we're confronted with machines and mechanisms we don't really understand, and we're made to figure out how to use them for our purposes. Grunk describes the world with the naivete of a child, and more importantly the naivete of a first-time player. And like the player, Grunk overcomes that naivete with cunning and shrewdness. Sure, he's not great with auxiliary verbs, tenses, or writing, but he does figure out all the steps needed to get the pig back. And with the addition of the gnome, Grunk can even display a fairly deep level of curiosity by learning about advanced principles of chemistry.

So Grunk's traits are those most IF players wish to cultivate in themselves: intelligence (in solving puzzles) and curiosity (in talking with the gnome).

Add to this his sense of humor. I've always held a soft spot in my heart for those throwaway pieces of coding, like Zork's patronising response to jumping for no reason ("Wheee!" "Very good. Now you can go to the second grade"). Little bits that added some personality to the game world and gently steered you away from the game's inability to let you do absolutely everything. Lost Pig almost feels like a game that's composed of that stuff. A lot of the joy in the game comes from having Grunk try stupid or outrageous things just to see his responses. And because the game is so thorough in implementing the things Grunk can try or do, it gets you to sympathize with him even more. Grunk lets the player act out the more childlike side of their sense of humor, because his willingness to try anything mirror's the player's willingness to make him do anything. Take the act of Grunk taking off his pants in front of the gnome. By itself, it's not particularly funny. But the fact that we're complicit in that act does make it funny. While playing this game, I found myself laughing at stuff I haven't been able to laugh at since the fourth grade.

That may not sound like a compliment per se, and I suppose it isn't if you're looking for something a little more literary. But I think the point that this game has constructed a uniquely sympathetic and charming main character stands.

So what about the secondary aspects of the game? Well, there are no obvious holes in the implementation of the setting. The gnome and pig are lovely characters in and of themselves - the pig for his variety of emotions and reactions (including intellectual disdain for Grunk!), and the gnome for the breadth (if not depth) of conversation you can achieve with him. I liked immensely the fact that the gnome is not immediately hostile towards Grunk - I mean, Grunk could realistically eat the guy - nor is he dismissive towards this comparatively dim and uneducated protagonist. Rather, he's willing to talk in basic terms about most any topic Grunk can think of and a few more besides that. For that he becomes a likable character and his relationship with Grunk, small in scope as it is, compelling.

The puzzles are few and simple, but they rely on intuition rather than method (intentionally so, as the maze demonstrates) and so they give you the pleasure of experiencing those little "eureka" moments every puzzle designer strives to cultivate in a player.

If I had something I'd change about this game, it would simply be the length. The core magical mechanism feels productive for more diverse and complex puzzles than what Lost Pig gives us, and even putting that aside I would have loved to have seen a game where the rather simple initial quest gets this young orc embroiled in something a lot bigger. Failing that, I think Grunk is easily a rich enough character for future adventures.

But that quibble aside, Lost Pig really is a gloriously fun and engrossing way to spend an hour or two.

Counterfeit Monkey, by Emily Short

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent technical accomplishment and a great sense of fun, June 6, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: emily short, humor
Play it if: you want a lengthy and engrossing puzzle-solving experience and a healthy dollop of satirical humor to occupy you for a day or two.

Don't play it if: you're in the mood for something that more heavily emphasizes atmosphere or depth of characterization.

Boy, did I like Counterfeit Monkey. It had me grinning like a maniac within five minutes of starting, and that grin never let up. Even when my face got sore after the first few hours.

The most consistent tonal impression I got from Counterfeit Monkey was that of a high-quality Monkey Island game. Surreal plot devices, anachronistic histories, a coastal setting, a light-hearted story with streaks of darkness...it's all there. Oddly enough it also reminds me of The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game in its tone and charm, though I prefer Monkey for its outstanding gameplay and depth of setting. There's even a hint of Planescape: Torment lurking in there somewhere (a detailed setting where belief and opinion have physical power).

In gameplay terms, Monkey combines a feeling of casual puzzle-solving fun with a profound degree of technical effort. In that respect it feels like a sort of leveled-up crossword, which is appropriate because almost all of the puzzles here are navigated through some form of wordplay. I spent a chunk of the first half of the game a little concerned that the gameplay wouldn't significantly change. The letter-removals were great, but they also felt fairly straightforward, more so than what I think I'm used to in the early stages of a longer Emily Short game. But then the story starts to throw in some fun alternative powers, and remains fairly dynamic from there. Mixing it up with some memory exploration and the ongoing plotline, and you have a story which is fairly excellently paced.

It's difficult to overstate how much effort it must have taken (at least form the perspective of a novice like me) to have implemented the wordplay. A lot of my enjoyment came out of trying some more obscure ideas and realizing just how thorough the research was - how delighted I was to find that the author had taken the time to implement a cad, complete with "smouldering gaze"!

Definitely worth your time. Entertaining and impressive.

Banana Apocalypse and the Rocket Pants of Destiny, by Emily Short

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Quirky with some funny moments, June 5, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: emily short, humor, speed IF
No one comes up with a work of genius with two hours' worth of coding, but Emily Short still gives us a wacky and offbeat vignette to match the wacky and offbeat prompt. The IF equivalent of a decent two-minute YouTube video: fun, light, harmless.

The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game, by Taylor Vaughan

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Utterly Charming, March 27, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: taylor vaughan, humor
Play it if: you're in the mood for some distraction and a bit of light humor that plays off some lovely caricatures of communism and capitalism.

Don't play it if: you're in the mood for intellectual challenge or satire that's actually razor-sharp instead of soft, warm, and fluffy.

The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game can only be encapsulated in the word "charming". The whole game is filled with a kind of whimsy you can find in the old Monkey Island puzzle-solving games: some light satire, a bit of caricature, and a young, plucky would-be hero.

There are really three levels to the humor here. The first is the caricatured viewpoint of the main character (appropriately named Karl). It's great fun to read the verbose and melodramatic descriptions given to vile dens of capitalism (e.g. a coffee joint) and glorious artifacts of the Revolution (e.g. your hat). The second is the ridiculously simplistic tools and methods you're expected to use to overcome capitalism - among them the Ventriloquator, a device which forces its target to spout Marxist slogans. The third level is the fact that the world actually bears out the logic of these methods. The capitalist world is just as surreal as Karl's mind, from the government bureaucrat's behavior to the bizarrely simple steps which will supposedly collapse the government and implode the economy to achieve Revolution.

The only real complaint I have about the game is its lack of ambition. For all its charm, the game feels a bit too short, and one gets the feeling that The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game could have taken its cues from the previously-mentioned LucasArts puzzle-solving games to expand the setting and the story a little.

Still, The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game (boy, am I getting tired of typing that out) is a solid game with no discernible gameplay hitches. This would make a good easy distraction and an excellent beginner's introduction to interactive fiction.

P.S. Oh, and the soundtrack on the author's website is brill. Good touch, Taylor!

9:05, by Adam Cadre

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Great Fun!, March 20, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: adam cadre, humor
Play it if: you have a sense of humor.

Don't play it if: you're under the impression that your time is too precious to bother with a game that isn't long, complex, or challenging.

I don't think a game has made me laugh that hard in ages!

There's only so much one can say about a game like this, because it has a very specific, fairly spoiler-iffic aim in mind. Discussing difficulty, the command system, and technical innovation would have no point. Suffice to say that it accomplishes its goal. It has some significant replay value: it's only on a second playthrough, observing the seemingly mundane yet rather precise way in which everything is described and reported, that you realize how tight the writing really is.

This is my first experience with Adam Cadre's work, and on the strength of this one alone I'm going to go check out some of his other stuff.


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