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About the StoryStolen away by apathetic Blind Ones, your only desire is to return to your Cellarium and the Song of the Universe. They should understand. You shall make them to understand.
1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2013)
Winner, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Winner, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Implementation; Nominee, Best Supplemental Materials - 2013 XYZZY Awards
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I suppose we should start with the title. "Coloratura" is a moment in the music where a series of close intervals, or a pattern of close intervals, are played/sung very quickly, demonstrating virtuosity, technique, and general awesomeness. It's an effect, an adornament, an embellishment. I'll admit that by this definition I am unsure of why exactly this is the title of the game - but it puts us immediately in a musical frame of mind, and maybe that's all that's necessary (EDIT - A quick look at Wikipedia actually tells me the word derives from the latin "colorare", "to colour". As you'll see below, this makes a lot more sense, and the ambiguity of this title is a perfect match: this game is all about wildly different realities coexisting).
This game is very musical and very visual. In fact, it translates the PC's non-human nature by focusing on these two aspects - the physical world is very much unimportant... and, due to some very good writing, a strange yet mundane place to be. Of course we, the player, know exactly where we are, and what these devices are surrounding us. The PC does not, and it's not easy to describe a world through the eyes of a character completely out of their element while at the same time making it easy for the player to recognise and navigate without problems.
One major advantage this gives the author, of course, is regarding implementation - only the most important parts of the room need be described and implemented, and everything else is background noise. Besides being great design it's also part of the general atmosphere. The PC does not care in the least for unimportant objects, does not know what they are, and does not care, because all around the PC is a world of colours and music (though surely not in the sense that we know music) that is a lot more vibrant than anything else.
Although you control this character physically, as in pretty much any other IF, it becomes obvious very soon that the physicality is very limited and very, very uninteresting. There is a curious sense of wonder, an essential vitality and goodness in the PC, that drive this entire piece, and it transcends the physical plane in a way that veritably shines through. It makes this game a slightly surreal, off-beat experience that you cannot put down.
Of course, all this positivity in the PC is part of the central gimmick: we very soon realise that this is the "Research ship discovers horrible monster in the depths of the sea". In fact, this is "Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster", or "Zork: A Troll's Eye View", with a different setting. And the point of view of the PC is... well, let's just say you never thought that the monster's PoV could be so appealing.
It does put you in mind, of course, of how subjective reality is, and how people can mean the best and still commit the worst atrocities. The inability to see the world from the other person's point of view (and the extent to which it is unavoidable, because we are after all a complex organism that is nevertheless centered in itself and a product of its own history, so that "walking a mile in someone else's shoes", while good sound advice that can be followed to some extent, remains in the end an impossibility) is a central theme in this game, never more so than in the Epilogue and in the meat scene - a scene that I did not understand until later, when I fully realised what it was exactly I'd done. It was a very curious sensation. I finally felt the horror of the situation as the crew might have, but it was rather detached, because of the enduring positivity and well-meaning that prompted me to take that action.
The musical aspect of this game is all-encompassing (and when I say all-encompassing, let me just point out that in very few games I can meaningfully "examine universe". Nuff said), though not with any actual practical value rather than setting your goal. Still, it permeates the PC's (narrator's) speech often, enhancing the slightly surreal, definitely non-physical nature of the creature you are playing.
There are some physical aspects of the character, of course, but they are very alien to us and they allow for a couple of very interesting puzzles.
I have to take a quick break here to say I absolutely loved this game. Moving on.
I have talked about "colours" as well. The PC can perceive and actually alter characters' auras. It's a simple nudge - trying to colour someone's aura is like making them feel confident/curious/stubburn, from the outside in. It won't drastically affect their actions, most of the time, but it *will* have an effect on how these actions are taken. And it's a central puzzle in the game. It reminded me a lot of "Delightful Wallpaper" (a love/hate sort of game which I loved and recommend, though it won't be for everyone. Oh no.), where in the second half revolved around placing "intentions" on characters, a brilliantly abstract and powerful concept. In this one you can colour their auras with abstract concepts.
So we're navigting a colourful musical world, where the physical reality of the ship is actually jarring with the ethereal universe the PC inhabits. Just to sum up.
Implementation is very solid, and there were two instances where I was surprised to find that the game accepted my commands. In one of them I knew exactly what I wantd done, but was having trouble finding a way to express it, even before I started typing. Eventually I typed what felt most natural: (Spoiler - click to show) > LET ME GO . I was delighted to find that it worked. Top-notch. Also, you can choose between nautical/cardinal directions. This author has done her homework, with splendid results.
This game is relatively short, but very very sweet. I had a hard time writing this review because I wanted to make sure I said everything that I had to say, and there were so many things to mention. It's a very rich experience that makes a great use of the medium, and well, 10/10 basically. It's excellent. The author's previous efforts were good, but this one is her masterpiece. So far. I'm looking forward for the next masterpiece. ;)
Hugs not Frotzes, May 4, 2014
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2013 XYZZY Awards Nominees by Molly
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