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Reviews by Jim Kaplan

porpentine

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CRY$TAL WARRIOR KE$HA, by Porpentine

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
If you don't like my review, close your web browser, July 10, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: porpentine
Play it if: you're a fan of Ke$ha and all performers possessed of such unabashed pride in themselves and their identities, and the idea of a glitter-soaked confidence rampage makes your blood fizz.

Don't play it if: you want story, structure, elegance or audacity to support a rather messy near-stream-of-consciousness experience.

howling dogs invites endless speculation. CYBERQUEEN is its own kind of masterpiece. CRYSTAL WARRIOR KE$HA, on the other hand, reads like one of a thousand Tumblr blogposts. Though it plays with words a little, it lacks a distinctive personality. It has weirdness by the bucketload, but doesn't really channel it in an interesting way. CYBERQUEEN was a chainsaw, but it was a chainsaw wielded by a surgeon. This is a firehose of glitter aimed at a paper cup.

I'm starting to get swallowed by questionable analogies here, but my deal here is that the language and the content of CYBERQUEEN come across as fresh. They demand attention and create visceral impressions. By comparison, when CRYSTAL WARRIOR KE$HA presents a vehicle called Vagina Jungle and a choice to drain my boyslave's virile energy to fuel my slutwave mantis transformation, the foremost thought in my head is "this sort of thing has been said seven million times before and it's old already". Perhaps my own lengthy Tumblr experience affects me in that regard, but I think there's more to it than that.

Let me just mention that I have no issues with Ke$ha. I happen to think she's a very talented singer-songwriter, and though her album work tends to disguise this rather well, her music is generally not something I listen to by choice and as such I don't really care enough to offer an opinion. Judging her on her presented persona alone is equally pointless to me.

That being said, the championing of Ke$ha is not done particularly well here, as far as I'm concerned. I got the impression that bits of the writing were references to actual lyrics or quotes, and confirmed it by Googling the first phrase to arouse that suspicion in me: "If you don't like my song, then turn off the radio."

Why did that phrase stick out? Because as a sentiment it comes across as too lazy for an author as smart as Porpentine to have come up with. (Though she did endorse it, so maybe I'm not all that perceptive.)

Yes, I'm aware of the vested interest inherent in being a guy who writes his opinions about things. Nevertheless, a sentiment like "turn off the radio" or "change the channel" strikes me as an admission of defeat. It says I'm only comfortable in a world where everyone compliments me, which is sort of at odds with this game's overriding sense of confidence and assertiveness, of the never-ending battle against the haters. I find it rather ironic that a game which attacks haters with the statement "I pity your attempts to justify your insecurity with analysis. It is false analysis with no substance" would then follow it up with a statement decrying all analysis!

Not every work has to be a masterpiece, and not every work has to be particularly ambitious. This is after all something of a glorified music video. But even with the relatively novel software of Twine this already feels like it offers nothing new or interesting.

CYBERQUEEN, by Porpentine

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Nightmares Made Flesh, July 10, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: porpentine
Play it if: you want a nearly-pure transformation of text into a visceral, cinematic experience.

Don't play it if: you have a weak stomach for just about anything that could reasonably be expected to make a human being queasy.

The first two words in this game are "wet" and "sticky". And if you think the use of sentence fragments as impressionistic descriptors is passť, the rest of Cyberqueen probably won't be to your taste, because what it mainly does - what it does best - is transplant the experience of fragmenting consciousness into writing.

Cyberqueen is a war between intimacy and grotesquery, violation and transformation. The tone and content draw from the erotic and the clinically repellent, switch between them and occasionally combine them. In a certain way it reminds me of the Guillermo del Toro film Pan's Labyrinth, which had the audacity to sew together a wondrous, childlike fantasy and a grim, horrifically real war story. In both cases, the achievement is admirable, though exhausting.

The tale itself reads something like a fusion of System Shock and parts of Ray Bradbury's The City. Interestingly enough the antagonist, while malevolent, is not entirely unsympathetic, though she certainly stretches and probably breaks the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable sympathetic behavior. In certain readings she might be taken to be the protagonist, albeit not the player character.

The nature of this work's structure makes me wonder if it can even be described as interactive fiction, because while you are ostensibly presented with alternative options the game is ultimately an extremely linear experience. You are certainly made to suffer the protagonist's fears, pains and frustrations, but the "interactivity" is illusory. ("Sorry to ruin your power fantasy," gloats the antagonist as she seals your fate.) "Cinematic prose", perhaps.

The story plays with themes of identity, both in an internal sense and in a physical sense; it preys on the communal horror of deformity and dysmorphia. Which is good - it's touching on things of great social relevance. But it doesn't really discuss them, preferring to let them come to fruition in a more emotional than intellectual sense. Forsaking both the pen and the sword, Cyberqueen attacks the human comfort zone by wielding itself like a chainsaw. This would be a flaw under other circumstances, but I get the distinct impression that this was the author's intended direction for the story and as a result I must call it a success.

So why five stars? Firstly, because it deftly exploits the medium in such a way as to charge up the emotional responses we are asked to give to the events of the story; and secondly, because it is a complete and unabashed triumph in terms of what it tries to be: a fleshy, palpitating tale of agonizing transformation that demands your attention.


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