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Reviews by Ivanr

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1-8 of 8


The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Curious; well-constructed; unique, July 22, 2017
The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is a strange game. Even though the player character's objective is made incredibly clear - to ascend the tower - the experience of playing it feels almost aimless. In away, Ascent is a distillation of one particular theme that runs through many of Veeder's works: "hidden" or tucked-away content, rooms that are fascinating but fully optional, whole complex subsystems, as complex as the rest of the game put together, that an inattentive player could never know they missed. In fact, The Ascent of the Gothic Tower has so much of this kind of thing that it almost feels like the whole game is optional - a sort of array of strange places and interesting experiences, that don't seem to represent any meaningful journey on the part of the player character; I think this feeling is magnified, not diminished, by the fact the player character is embarking on such a literal and (by authorial fiat) emotionally significant journey.

None of this is to say that The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is not a good time. It certainly is! Veeder's mastery of the craft of interactive fiction is on full display here, with charming and well-implemented subsystems of all sorts, and an occasionally eloquent narrator-PC who has his own sort of off-kilter charm.

Playing The Ascent of the Gothic Tower feels like wandering around in a huge, empty, static palace of stone. You have no reason to be there, and no reason to keep moving forward, other than that it's beautiful, and you want to stay. And the fact that you do want to stay is a testament to Veeder's excellent craftsmanship.

Taco Fiction, by Ryan Veeder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A flawless romp, July 22, 2017
I've been meaning to write a review of Taco Fiction for a long time, and for no particular reason at all, I figured this was the time to finally do so.

The reason I've wanted to is that Taco Fiction is a really important game to me; I first picked it up several years ago, when I was only into IF very casually (i.e., mostly doing coding exercises in Inform 7 and failing to complete Spider and Web). I had played the basic beginners' canon (Lost Pig, 9:05, De Baron...), and somehow in the midst of that, I came upon this game. Taco Fiction blew me away.

For a long time after playing it, Taco Fiction existed in my head as a prototype of what a perfect text adventure should be. And I think the reason it stuck with me (as opposed to, say, Lost Pig or Spider and Web, fine games though they are) is that it was purely fun. I have a poor head for puzzles, and I can only put with dark stuff for so long. Taco Fiction was fun. I never got stuck, I never got a default command; I was startled by (Spoiler - click to show)the cops in the diner (a masterful moment), and in the final scene my heart was sent racing. The rest of the time I spent smiling.

There are a lot of things to praise about Taco Fiction. The simulacrum of an "open world" is particularly impressive, given that this is essentially a linear game, plot-wise. The world is not huge, but there are characters who you can talk to for quite a bit longer than you would think with an expansive menu-based conversation system, and you can wander around doing essentially pointless things like purchasing and buying ice cream - but not out of adventure-game boredom, or an "amusing things to do" ethos; it's the kind of thing the PC would do, and you're free to do it as well. In between the delightfully weird, page-turning plot, of course. One with surprisingly subtle and insightful political points (in the least sordid sense of that word) to make.

Yes, I'm gushing. The reason I've put off reviewing Taco Fiction for so long is that it's hard to know what to write when something is just good. It's the game that made me excited about IF, that made me want to write my own, it turned me on to the rest of Veeder's excellent work, and it remained for years in my head the model against which all other works of IF would be compared.

Taco Fiction deserves to be canonized with the very best of modern interactive fiction.

For a Change, by Dan Schmidt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A primordial memory at war with a crossword, July 7, 2017
This is a game in the old, 90s "puzzlefest" style, but it's one of the best of that era, and it transcends the now-peculiar genre it inhabited. I admit, I am one of the softies, and I come from an era of hand-holding invisiclues. I used the hints a lot. I am glad I did, because otherwise I would not have experienced this incredible game; but there was also great satisfaction on the rare occasions that I could figure things out without them. A more patient soul than I would undoubtedly have have had a deeper and fuller experience.

A lot has been said about For A Change. I'll just add this: even if you're not a fan of old-fashioned puzzlefests, give it a try. Use the clues. Schmidt has created a beautiful world that is more myth than story, and more dream than myth.

As little else did, it holds up.

Got ID?, by Marc Valhara

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not for everyone, June 16, 2017
I can completely understand why this is a relatively "polarizing" game (to the extent that anyone plays it at all). The tone is singular and pretty in-your-face, and either you like it or you don't - and if you don't, you're going to hate this game. If, like me, you find it reasonably funny, you're likely to, like me, find it pretty fun. Among other things that I appreciate about it, it has an enjoyable tendency to allow you to do really stupid things (like (Spoiler - click to show)shooting the clerk for no reason) and then even semi-rewarding you for doing so as you lose the game; this makes it feel a little bit "ahead of its time" in its implementation, even if that sense is mostly illusory.

This game shares an author with the surrealist classic Stupid Kittens, and it isn't hard to tell; the content may be more conventional, but the style of both mechanics and prose is very recognizable. I happened to like Stupid Kittens, and I think Got ID? isn't terrible either, but I could hardly blame anyone for deciding differently. De gustibus, and so forth.

(Disclaimer: I haven't actually played to the winning ending, so if the game becomes wildly more offensive after the opening stages (a distinct possibility) then I rescind my endorsement. All I can say with certainty is that I like what I played of it.)

Don't Pee Yourself!, by Hulk Handsome
Goofy fun, June 10, 2017
Slapstick comedy is very hard to accomplish in interactive fiction, but this one nails it. Long, long indeed has it been since a text adventure made me laugh out loud! Skillfully done comedy.

Dinner Bell, by Jenni Polodna

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
technically wobbly, undeniably original, June 9, 2017
For a game made in 2012, Dinner Bell is surprisingly underimplemented (a lot of synonyms weren't recognized, and I was especially surprised when (Spoiler - click to show)the message blocking interaction with the candles didn't change while I was wearing the oven mitt). But in terms of atmosphere I think it mostly accomplished what it set out to do. That atmosphere - gross and disturbing, leavened in appropriate measure by "zany" humor - is one that I don't think I've ever seen attempted before. So props for that.

And, hey, it was a fun game.

Fail-Safe, by Jon Ingold

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Old-school, but in some ways still unsurpassed, June 6, 2017
The formal conceit of Fail-Safe is very clever, and in my opinion underutilized (not (Spoiler - click to show)the twist, I mean, just the PC-narrator split). Other than Deadline Enchanter, which was doing a bunch of other weird formal stuff as well, I can't think of a modern game that has really tried this in a longer form. I think "giving commands over a staticky radio" was a great formal conceit in terms of reducing the artificiality of the interaction, and made what would otherwise have been some pretty hum-drum sections much more engaging.

From a modern perspective, some of the puzzles in this game are probably slightly "unfair" (for example, at one point you have to remove an obstacle to moving in one direction, but even after you've successfully removed it, the text doesn't make clear that you can actually proceed). Normally, I can't stand stuff like this, and it makes it hard for me to complete a game, but Fail-Safe is so short and straightforward (puzzle-wise) that it wasn't a big impediment, even for me. This is a classic that absolutely holds up.

The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode, by Victor Gijsbers

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Upsettingly creepy, in classic Gijsbers style, May 18, 2017
Don't be deceived by the cover art and goofy-sounding title. In practice, the conceit of this game is strikingly similar to Gijsbers's famously disturbing De Baron. The key difference is that, rather than laying out the subtext explicitly in-game as he did in De Baron, in The Game Formerly Known As Hidden Nazi Mode a similar idea is conveyed through "external" documents like the title, the fictitious accompanying essay, and the response to the HELP command. Perhaps for that reason (being unused to effective "feelies"), I found this game if anything more upsetting than De Baron. The Game Formerly Known As Hidden Nazi Mode is not for the fainthearted, and not for young children either, despite what you might hear from people who did not pay close attention while they were playing. How they would expect a young child who had never heard of the Holocaust to (Spoiler - click to show)solve the final puzzle is utterly beyond me.


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