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Heroine's Mantle

by Andy Phillips

Superhero
2000

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Number of Reviews: 2
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
I enjoyed this, but there was context., April 27, 2010
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)
There's been a few games where a significant part of my experience was tied up in community play; something fairly long and puzzle-oriented gets released outside the comp, and there's a few weeks during which a good portion of IF people are playing simultaeneously. There's a tone of mild competition, you can get tailored hints fairly easily, and if you want to discuss something about it then it's fresh in everyone's mind. It doesn't happen too often; the game needs to be fairly long, somewhat difficult and reasonably well made. First Things First and Savoir Faire are good examples of games that really benefited from this kind of play, but I think of Heroine's Mantle is the primary example -- largely because I wouldn't have played it very far without that context.

The style is superhero cheese plus a good deal of campy spy thriller. I'm fairly sceptical about how suited superhero fiction is to IF; it's a genre all about action and visuals, it doesn't exactly play to IF's strengths. HM deals with the action problem by making your powers functional but quite limited, like the superhero version of an Enchanter spell; this is a tenable approach, but the puzzle structure is really too linear to make the powers feel very powerful. There is a good use of the training-sequence in which you learn to use your powers -- common in mainstream videogames, not much-used in IF. (A game needs to be pretty long for it to be of much use; games like The Erudition Chamber or The Recruit, which are entirely training-sequence, always strike me as kind of unsatisfying.) The puzzles are generally pretty hard, there are a lot of them, they're mostly very traditional in style, and they're sometimes a little awkward.

The writing's indifferent, and the plot's about at the standard of Hollywood superhero movies, with similar problems of tone -- too earnest, and inclined to leering. Your mileage may vary. Length is a big advantage; most IF is so short that there's little space for character arc or really explore a game mechanic. So the storytelling here isn't very dense, but it can still accomplish a fair bit.

If you like old-school puzzlers and superheroes, and aren't very sensitive to representation of women in fiction, you're likely to get a lot out of this. Otherwise, unless circumstances align, it's likely to be a struggle.