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Reviews by Danielle

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Dolores and the Cave, by Magda Knight

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
There's one memorable and creepy villain down in that hole!, February 12, 2018
by Danielle (The Wild West)
The dialogue is on point, and a variety of replies are offered. And as a bonus, the game's beautifully formatted.
If you like your horror on the tense, bad-choice-worse-choice Freaky McCreeperson side, you'll get a kick out of this.

self-care for wizards, by Kayla Bashe
Gentle, reminder of self-care techniques--made whimsical!, November 15, 2017
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: quiz
You step into the shoes of a defeated wizard and go through various rituals to revitalize yourself.

I enjoyed this. Although there's no active story, I felt like the intro about the rival wizard was a well done little setup-slash-metaphor.

It reminded me of this interactive self-care guide at philome.la, but instead of being a linear quiz, the fairy-tale calm vignettes of "self-care for wizards" acts as a gentle reminder of some things one can do to recharge one's batteries. The descriptions also made me smile.

This is a nice place to escape to. I hate to say that it's a "safe space," but let's think of it as comfort food, or a quick dip into a book like "Winnie the Pooh"--no drama or challenge. And that's not what this piece wants to be. Rather, it's a place to just be zen and breathe.

(And if you like this you might also like the free graphical Steam platformer MANDAGON.)

SLAMMED!, by Paolo Chikiamco

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
ENGROSSING. FUN. , June 24, 2017
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: choice of games
SLAMMED! is top-of-the-line CYOA/commercial Interactive Fiction, well-written and well worth the price of admission!

I know next to nothing about pro wrestling, but am enjoying every second of SLAMMED!, from the very cool, over-the-top characters I'm meeting to the backstage machinations of the industry. I am SO invested in my character, Alanna Roundhouse, and the journey she's making in this story!

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! The only thing I could wish for would be an option to adjust the font size!

Runt of the Litter, by Kelly Sandoval

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Never takes flight, June 24, 2017
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: choice of games
I guess I'm going to write a review about this game.

First off, the marketing arrowed me in the heart like a professional Robin Hood.

The blurb read: "Steal and raise a baby war gryphon!" and I couldn't hit "BUY" fast enough. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

But unlike CoG's "SLAMMED!", which sucked me into the story to the point where I *lived through it, mannnn!* (and you should really buy SLAMMED! immediately), I just couldn't get my head into this game (and I really wanted to, see para. 2). I had a really hard time keeping track of who was who and what everybody's different griffin looked like (which is, I think, kind of important when visualizing the story).

In short, The writing just didn't generate strong enough mental pictures for me and I couldn't stay engaged. But I kept on, thinking it would get better as I went.

Then I died before (I think) any real adventure started. So I hung it up, meaning to try another day and...I just haven't.

So it is with heavy heart I say that I can't recommend this game even though you get to raise a baby griffin. But ifever I give it another try and it turns out better for me, I will update this review.

Bill Belichick Offseason Simulator, by Jon Bois

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
JON BOIS INVADES IF, August 13, 2016
by Danielle (The Wild West)
I once had to shut down my laptop in the middle of a Jon Bois BREAKING MADDEN column, because if I continued reading one more word I was going to die suffocating from laughter. And now he's made an IF?!?!?

I know next to nothing about sports (sports people, sports rules, sports politics), yet I cherish each and every Bois column that he produces. (He also films a great off-topic video series, PRETTY GOOD, which is viewable on YouTube. I like the one about poker.). Yes, I'm a fan, and it thrills me to no end that he has deigned to sprinkle our obscure game genre with his hilarifying, absurdist, cosmic wit.

If lines like: "Crafting a receiver is most consistent with the Bill Belichick system. after all, you found Wes Welker in a pile of leaves, and you built Julian Edelman with a pottery wheel" occur to you as funny, even though you don't know who these people are, you will probably enjoy THE BILL BELICHICK OFFSEASON SIMULATOR. I know I am!

(Rating omitted because of fanlove.)

Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box, by Arthur DiBianca

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Made me exclaim aloud in wonder, June 24, 2016
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Haven't finished this game yet, but I keep laughing aloud and clapping with delight as I play with it, so I'mma give it five stars.

Others have noted how well-written it is. Being a writer myself, I marvel at the craftsmanship! Writing clear descriptions is a hard trick for some of us to pull off, but the writing in GBVB's practically invisible, a window into the world of the box. Add in the ingenious use of "U" and you get all the delights of physical puzzle-solving minus the annoying fiddly bits.

In short, this game is the philosophical opposite of Hard Puzzle.

INFECTION , by varshajay

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Mere Steps Away From Edutainment, March 5, 2014
by Danielle (The Wild West)
A solid little CYOA. While I never saw OSMOSIS JONES, the premise seems similar--play a police-style commander taking care of disease and other trouble in a human body. Though the writing may not be ueber professional-quality, the author has fun drawing the personalities of different immune response characters.

With some background info (pop-up profiles of the characters, perhaps? Or some clearly-written science facts about them?) this could make a fun addition to a kids' classroom health unit. I know it's something I would've enjoyed as a kid.

The Girl in the Haunted House, by Amanda Lange
Halloween Scares, Bite-Sized, March 5, 2014
by Danielle (The Wild West)
If you like scary (but not too gruesome) like I do, this game hits the spot. Though not very long, it effectively captures that creepy mood I like when I'm craving Halloween.

Think of it like a snack-sized Snickers bar...it's not gonna replace the amazing feast that is Halloween (or a creepy game like ANCHORHEAD), but it'll definitely tide you over!

Horse Master, by Tom McHenry

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Impeccable construction. Phenomenal debut. , July 12, 2013
by Danielle (The Wild West)
HORSE MASTER is a game executed to perfection.

Let me explain.

FILM CRIT HULK recently wrote an article talking about the current trend towards narrative convolution in summer blockbuster movies. As a champion of classically-told stories, he keeps bringing up the point that a work of entertainment doesn't have to be mysterious or epiphany-inducing to be successful, even enduring. Rather, it should be well-constructed, or, in his words, "functional." He says:

"YOU MAY LAUGH AT THAT WORD 'FUNCTIONAL,' BUT TO HULK IT'S ONE OF THE BEST WORDS IN ALL OF MOVIEDOM. IT MEANS THE FILM WORKS DAMMIT. IT MEANS IT IS ENGINEERED PROPERLY AND DOES EXACTLY WHAT IT SETS OUT TO DO."

I've come to the conclusion that HORSE MASTER is an excellent example of this concept.

I'm having a hard time expressing this, but here goes: Every aspect of HORSE MASTER is constructed with thoughtfulness and quality. These solidly executed bits then all come together to form a deeply satisfying experience.

For example, take the main display menu: in visual novels, the choice menus are there because you need a place to make your choice. They're well-organized and easy to read, and that's about as far as they go.

In HORSE MASTER, the display menu does some HEAVY narrative lifting. Through this little viewport, you get to see the squalor your character is surrounded by. Seeing it, you *get* why you're making the sacrifices and taking the risks that you are. You GET why this character wants this horse to succeed.

That viewport sits atop a menu that exemplifies the low-grade anxiety that builds when you have too many choices and not enough time to pick them all.

These things are then yoked together by terse narration which clearly defines the character's desires and attitudes even as it spouts bizarre, Porpentinesque jargon.

Before I played HORSE MASTER, I thought I was in for a freakpunky Western CYOA, like if Anna Anthropy's CALAMITY ANNIE and Porpentine's CYBERQUEEN had a baby. The game I got had those flavors, yes, but it's a different beast altogether.

HORSE MASTER is not a deep art game. But I don't want it to be: the deliberate choices of its author let me access the humanity at the core of this story--and as a result I had a really wonderful experience.

I salute the author and look forward to more from him!
* * *

(Fellow players, I must know what ending you got. (Spoiler - click to show)Because my ending crushed me. I was *so* close. And whatever went wrong, I have no idea how I could fix it the next time. IS there even a good ending??)

Starship Fabulous, by E. Joyce, Ayse Gursoy, and Chris Johnston

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
If Bruce Coville Coville Wrote Galactic Romances..., April 13, 2013
by Danielle (The Wild West)
...it might look something like STARSHIP FABULOUS. See, one thing I've always loved about Bruce Coville's alien books (which I encountered as a kid and still love as a grownup) was that the aliens were very much *alien*--though likeable and good, their sensibilities, customs, and expectations were always foreign. The characters you encounter in FABULOUS are written in a similar vein which I really enjoyed--Rain introducing themself, for instance, as a scent rather than a name. (I would have enjoyed seeing more interactions where they make mistaken assumptions about you might have been fun as well!)

I found some programming bugginess from time to time (I was given access to a character on Day 2 that I hadn't met on Day 1; some responses referred to Male Character X as a she), but I was happy to overlook them for the sake of the experience. I enjoyed my ride on the ship and look forward to replaying.

I would *not* be opposed to someone else trying their hand at this concept!

Corvidia, by Alan DeNiro

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful Presentation, April 11, 2013
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Didn't want to rate this--it felt more like branching poetry to me (so I may not be the ideal audience)--but I enjoyed the choice of text styling and "special effect lighting" done on the text enough that I wanted to comment. Easy on the eyes, with a glow effect that makes it special.

Body Bargain, by Amanda Lange

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Smart Scare for an Evening in, March 17, 2013
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Last night I picked this game at random from the IFComp2012 folder hanging out on my laptop. And lucky me--I stumbled onto a gem!

BODY BARGAIN, while informed by Lange's musings on (Spoiler - click to show)plastic surgery and body modification, isn't a game weighed down by these topics. Approach this piece like you would, say, an episode of MONSTERS, or a particularly wild TALES FROM THE CRYPT comic, and I think you'll see what I mean.

The game's scenario is set in a sci-fi world, that scenario is tinged with horror (the kind of horror depends on how you play--(Spoiler - click to show)some decisions lead you towards a slasher-style story, other decisions a quieter, more disturbing tale).

Applause to Lange for her great handling of this game's atmosphere. BODY's tone is well-executed in both setting and its star NPC, Dr. Overclock (Could that name get any cooler? No.). Previous IF horror works (like DIVIS MORTIS) sometimes trip themselves up by inserting goofy jokes that detract from apocalyptic settings, but all the off-kilter stuff you find in BODY fits with the world of the story.

I was obedient during my first playthrough, unsure of where the scenario was heading. Upon replaying, I was delighted to find that a variety of decisions and scenarios had been implemented, dramatically changing the outcome of the story. Kudos to the author!

As one-off comics, TALES FROM THE CRYPT never gave you any more info than needed to get the scare across. What's really fun about BODY is how the extras fill in more backstory. Curious about Overclock? There's something there for you!

Regarding the content: (Spoiler - click to show)I don't go in for gore and splatter. (Did I read the author warning? Heck no! I just jumped in and played!) But the nice thing I find about reading horror (versus watching it) is that, in text, my inner director can adjust the gore level as needed. Sowas it squirm-inducing? Yes. But was it overkill? Nope. The author's choice to use clinical language for these bits was pitch perfect, in my opinion.

In short: a short game, smartly done--if you're the right audience for it!

ALL I WANT IS FOR ALL OF MY FRIENDS TO BECOME INSANELY POWERFUL, by Porpentine

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Present from Porpentine, February 14, 2013
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Remarkable how the succinct sentences evoke such vivid images. I also enjoyed the structure of the work, especially with the Twine format...In parts where (Spoiler - click to show)there's only a link-sentence onscreen, and when you click it, it changes to another link-sentence it gives a really exciting sense of motion.

(Spoiler - click to show)Music scared the crap out of me, though!

I have little idea of what happened, but I enjoyed the ride! I think I'm turning into a fan.

(Happy Porpentine's Day to you, too, Porp!)

On Optimism, by Tim Lane

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
The Breakup of a Relationship as Explored by Teen Salvador Dali, June 22, 2012
by Danielle (The Wild West)
This piece is full of overwriting. There is angst and Sturm und Drang all over the place here. It is messy. But! These emotions are also sincere. I don't know the age of the author, but reading it, I kind of took it as a something written by a younger person, perhaps for other younger persons, and I made allowances for it.

Before you jump all over me about Having High Standards in IF and Writing In General, *I think there's a place for this.* I've read enough YA to know that some overwrought pieces really resonate with middle-to-high-schoolers...but then they grow out of it. But at younger ages, the emotions are THAT real and THAT big, and I think by automatically looking down our noses at their sense of scale, we're not showing respect for the experiences of the younger generation.

* * *

Full disclosure: I recently went through a breakup that was difficult for me. Yeah, I'm an adult, but when the PC talked about having endless tears (which he did...er...a rather lot), I found myself nodding in understanding. This probably added a star to my rating.

In fact, ON OPTIMISM touched on some desires I'm still working through for myself. This character wants to know why the breakup happened; he was all in for it, but the girl pulled away for some reason. A similar thing happened to me; I was ready to commit, but the other party pulled away. In my situation, I will probably never find out what happened.
But, unlike me, Zach gets to explore (and even KNOW) what went wrong on her end--even if it is all "just a dream." There's a powerful element of wish fulfillment working here, and I don't think it's a bad thing.

In short, I couldn't dismiss the overall intentions and themes, despite the less-experienced writing.

* * *

Gamewise, the concept of exploring another's heart through rooms (but while we're in the heart, shouldn't they be "chambers"?), and discovering the girl's secrets through surreal imagery captured me. It has a nice dream feel to it--you have to do strange actions for no strong purpose, except intuition. That works in some cases and adds to the dream-feel, but in later points of the game, it turns into "guess the verb"--but the HINT command is implemented, so you can at least see the story end.

My favorite room was (Spoiler - click to show)The Room of Your Loves, even though I had no idea about the floor--it wasn't mentioned in the room description. The main conceit of that room is worth exploring further, I feel.

I'm also impressed with (Spoiler - click to show)the choice to have 2 different-yet-same endings. It adds a different flavor to the story (Spoiler - click to show)(the Eastern ending seems to point to some Christian imagery). A third ending (Spoiler - click to show)(going down at the fork) seems implied, but I wasn't able to find it.

While the use of "I" for the tense is a strong point, I thought it got a little confusing later, when "you" referred to the girl, because IF convention says "you = player." I can't recall if she was given a name, but that could have been useful.

My main beef is that I don't quite know what happened. (Spoiler - click to show)I got the feeling the girl was dead at the beginning...so when she comes to get you in the endings, I had no idea if this was in-dream, a final deathbed hallucination, or some weird magical-thing where what happened in the dreamworld reflected in reality.

It'd be interesting to see what a mature writer could do with these themes, because I think the ideas behind ON OPTIMISM, while muddily executed, are worth exploration.

A Place of Infinite Beauty, by Porpentine

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Overwrought, or not?, June 13, 2012
by Danielle (The Wild West)
I almost thought this was a joke game initially, with the highly dramatic descriptions and (Spoiler - click to show)very violent endings. But after settling in and realizing it wasn't a prank, I decided I liked the poetry of some of the scenes. And the different scenarios have different flavors, which, combined with (Spoiler - click to show)the winning ending led to a solid understanding of the theme.

Later on in the day, when I was watching something, it resurfaced in my mind. Any game that sticks with me after I've played it is worthwhile in my book--especially if it's short like this piece. My advice is: approach it as an interactive poem.

Bee, by Emily Short

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
BEE casts a wonderful spell, June 9, 2012
by Danielle (The Wild West)
My first encounter with BEE was magical.

I have been feeling restless and blue of late; few activities have been able to engage or cheer me for very long. But I nearly always enjoy Short's work, so when I saw she had a new one out, I ran over to read it. I thought I'd get to play a great game. Instead, I encountered a beautiful work that helped me get lost in someone else's life for a while.

It's sort of hard to explain the sense of engagement Short's created here, because it's different than a CYOA and even a well-made IF. While I made choices throughout the piece, it didn't strike me as a game. It sucked me in like a great novella--one I was co-creating (not just reading!) in real-time.

I've since done a number of playthroughs in order to see the different endings (there seem to be many). During these playthroughs, I've been guilty of skimming through in order to get to the "picking choices" part.

But my favorite version was my first run-through, which I did at a slower pace, contemplatively. Something about the prose, the cyclical scenes, and the portrayal of the quieter moments in life really spoke to my heart.

I am thankful for the talent, hard work, and investment Miss Short put into this piece; it transported me away from my discomfort for a while, and I think that is one of the noblest things a writer can do.

baby tree, by Lester Galin

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Tripping on the fine line., May 12, 2012
by Danielle (The Wild West)
The way the event unfolds has a nice sense of surreal dream-logic, and the text--when it's not getting in the way of actual interaction, or going out-of-voice to tell you you can't (Spoiler - click to show)talk to the dog--lets you project that creepy atmosphere...but it collapses at the big reveal, changing the mood from "surreal, unsettling" to "ridiculous, eye-rolling."

It's not that the premise is bad, but it needs more setup or prose-skill or something to take it ((Spoiler - click to show)the twist) from "ridiculous" to horrific. (Just replayed "9:05" and got a reminder of how well (Spoiler - click to show)a good twist can be done.)

There's a fine line in horror sometimes, and it's a shame this one missed it, because I think there's an audience for crumb-sized IF horror.

Divis Mortis, by Lynnea Dally

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Basic Training for the Zombie Apocalypse, April 16, 2011
by Danielle (The Wild West)
In the "About" section of this game, the author writes: "The inspiration for Divis Mortis comes from my own life. I am rather fearful of a zombie attack, to the point where upon entering rooms I think about how to best barricade them, I make sure to stock up on blunt objects and canned food, and I always am running through scenarios in my head."

In this regard, DIVIS MORTIS succeeds quite well. If ONE EYE OPEN contained the horror and surreal aspects of SILENT HILL, then DIVIS MORTIS surely contains all the "survival" feelings. As you search the hospital for escape, you see how your, ah, "predecessors" fared. This environment makes it easy to believe that you are in peril--so when you finally encounter scary things, you're scared of 'em! This is just the thing you want in a survival horror game.

This game is thoroughly grounded in realism. The medical jargon is convincing, and state of the hospital (and the story it tells) rings very true. My hat's off to the author, though, for a scene in one of the elevators--one of my very favorite parts: (Spoiler - click to show)In one elevator, you pick up an emergency phone--AND IT WORKS. Major kudos to her for this part; without it, I think a lot of the realism would have been lost.

However, like ONE EYE OPEN, I feel like DIVIS suffers just a touch from a tone problem: on occasion the player character shows some snark/humor that feels a little too funny for the dire occasion. It doesn't bother me any more or less than it did in ONE EYE OPEN, but in EYE I felt like the game could get away with it a little more, since it overall was a more quirky setting (flesh. eating. washing. machine. That is all.).

DIVIS has such a cohesive feeling of isolation and caution, the one-liners felt out of place--perhaps the author didn't think her setting would be enough to hold the player's interest? If the PC had been played completely straight I think we might have gotten an extra taste of horror. I even wish it ended on a more serious or personal note than it did.

My other issues with DIVIS can hopefully be seen as compliments. First, I wish it were longer! Second, I wish there were a few more puzzles, or maybe more zombie-interaction puzzles (distracting a zombie, or really sneaking by some, perhaps?). It sounds like the author isn't a programmer by trade, so I can completely understand why the puzzles aren't too complex. The environment makes up for these shortcomings, though.

With its short-to-midsized length and reasonable puzzles, this game might have been relegated to the "Play in one evening" category--though an exceptional one due to the thought put into the setting. However! The ending really adds to the replay value.

In short: Horror buff? Zombie fan? Scenery hound? PLAY IT!

Mite, by Sara Dee

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Charming Garden Adventure!, March 4, 2011
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
Having finished playing "Mite" I can't help but think of Gail Carson Levine's book "Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg." Some might think of "Fairy Dust" as just another Tinkerbell promotion. However, if you look in side, you'll see these gorgeous watercolor illustrations, which perfectly perfectly depict a magical fairyworld, where flowers are tall as trees and goblins lurk.

"Mite" is a short game that lets you have an adventure IN that beautiful miniature world!

As a game, it solidly built--with a few puzzles, but nothing too taxing. It's really the world you encounter that is its strong point. It's not huge or luxe or lush but it knows what it wants to be, and portrays it well.

Due to its length, fantastic world, and non-complicated puzzles, I think this would play very well to the fairy or elf-crazed child.

My favorite bits: the chipmunk guard (a girl!), and the ending. While simple, the ending feels true to the world anc character and leaves things open for a sequel, which I would be interested in seeing--especially if we get to see more of the chipmunk warrior!

Leadlight, by Wade Clarke

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Who knew white text on a blue screen could be so nerve-wracking? , November 16, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010, horror
LEADLIGHT is the most gory, horiffic, survival-horror, text-based entertainment you'll have on an Apple II in 2010 during the Halloween season!

YES you will be annoyed that you have to type "ex mirror" instead of "x mirror" in order to look at things.

MAYBE you will, like me, wish the plot made a little more sense (I only missed a handfull of secrets, but I still have questions: (Spoiler - click to show)So why is Great-Great-Grandmother out to kill me? Did she cause the massacre, or am I responsible? The girls seem to blame me, but obviously the Founder thinks I'm a horrible person who needs to be destroyed. But the Founder's doing the black magic...right? I'm so confused.).

But if atmosphere is your thing, you're gonna love LEADLIGHT because it is chock full of it.

---

You wake up in your all-girl Australian boarding school, and everything is wrong. Terrible, uneasy things await you in nearly every scene. But this isn't a slideshow of an empty, spooky school. Oh no. LEADLIGHT is crawling with your former classmates, all gone mad...(Spoiler - click to show)and most trying kill you.

Here, LEADLIGHT introduces an RPG flavor into the mix; you obtain items and clothing which affect your abilities in the game. These elements helped immerse me inside the world; when you don't know what you're going to face when you go into a room, you're a little more cautious about entering it.

But despite all your caution, you are going to die in this game. There are gruesome death traps everywhere, and not all of them are spelled out for you. In a world where we praise games for being "forgiving" some might shout, "That's not fair! There was no warning you were going to kill me!"
However, in this setting, the sudden deaths adds to the sense of peril you feel. (It helps that after you die, there is an option to Undo to the moment before you hit the trap.)

And for all our boasting about modern IF parsers and their ability to understand complex commands, Mr. Clarke makes the 2-word parser your ally, helping simplify puzzles that might have become unwieldy if given more options.

There were a couple places I got stuck on (and were not referenced to in the hint guide--in particular, (Spoiler - click to show)I feel bad that I had to kill a traumatized girl to get her ribbon; if there was an alternative solution, I didn't see it). But these spots were later in the game. With judicious use of the three save spots, I never found myself locked into a situation I couldn't escape.

----

LEADLIGHT walks a fine line. On the one hand, there's not a lot of deep characterization or background going on. It's gory in the way I imagine slasher films are. And the "survival" aspect has you dealing out mindless death at the pace you might associate with an FPS.

On the other hand, there are a smattering of interesting choices you can make within the game, such as (Spoiler - click to show)killing the Dancer, which seem to demand a second play if only to see how those choices change the outcome.

It's the perfect Halloween treat--perfect for a night when you want some creepy thrills. I encourage any fan of ANCHORHEAD or THEATRE to try this one.

(PS -- If you download the full package that comes with the IFComp 2010 collection, you'll be treated to a handsomely-illustrated manual and spiffy hint sheet that took me back to the days of Sierra Online adventure games.)

Rogue of the Multiverse, by C.E.J. Pacian

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
Minigames, Meet IF! Plus Bananas!, November 11, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2010
ROGUE is a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi trek that'll keep you coming back for more.

Normally when I play IF, I play to get through the story. And often, IF is streamlined to that end: the rooms you encounter and the people you talk to and the objects you find are all designed to either get you "in" to the story (through atmosphere and object descriptions) or get you to the end of the story.

ROGUE's mission areas are one of the few instances I've seen in IF where you can plunk around for a long, enjoyable time, not doing anything to further the plot (if you desire). In other words, ROGUE's mission areas act as a minigame, and a darn fun one at that.

You can play an infinite amount of missions, because they're procedurally generated. But they're not lame missions, no--each world you're beamed to has its own fully-realized character, whether it's a cybernetic city or a series of grassy fields.

When you're done with a mission, you return with all kinds of crazy loot, resulting in kooky commentary from the doctor about the booty. Oh, yeah, and you get money, too, which means you can buy things from the store. Delivery to your, uh, "home" is automatic; once you've bought something, return to your house and see the awesome alien junk you've acquired!

The ability to buy all the store's random merchandise and play the missions at your leisure, without being required to do anything to advance the plot--heck, without being *penalized* for not advancing the plot--delighted me. Absolutely delighted me.

I also enjoyed the unconventional setup of ROGUE. It starts in a prison. I was expecting it to go 1984, but then I (Spoiler - click to show)wind up a lab experiment. I was expecting it to go (Spoiler - click to show)PORTAL, but then suddenly I'm roaming around like a (Spoiler - click to show)TOMB RAIDER with access to the Home Shopping Network. Then things go kablooie and now I feel like I'm driving through (Spoiler - click to show)DIE HARD. And that ending? (Spoiler - click to show)What is this, THE PRESTIGE meets TEMERAIRE? It was wonderful to have my expectations swept aside in such fun ways.

I do have one complaint, though, and it almost made me take off a star.

Dr. Sliss' cursing.

I understand this game has a subversive sense of humor. And yes, parts of Dr. Sliss' questionaire raise an eyebrow. But in my mind, the main bulk of the game felt "PG," so encountering such strong language in the finale felt really REALLY jarring to me. It didn't fit the tone of the rest of the game.

Plus, while I know IF is generally made By Adults, For Adults...the whole scenario has a Bruce Coville/ARTEMIS FOWL kind of vibe that I think middle-school kids would get a kick out of. I would have loved to've played this game as a kid, and I know there are a lot of parents and children out there today who'd have fun playing through this together. With all kindness, I invite the author to consider editing out that language in a post-comp release.

Even if that never changes, I highly recommend ROGUE OF THE MULTIVERSE. You'll love the alien cultures, you'll love Sliss, you'll love the rip-roarin' finale, and you'll love taggin' random items for booty. It's a blast.

The Blind House, by Amanda Allen

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Raises more questions than it answers, October 28, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: ifcomp 2010
I liked the sense of mystery introduced in this piece--coming in from the rain, Estelle, just nosing around someone else's life.

The introductory section struck me as a little purple-prosey, but by the end, the writing either improved (injecting a lot of atmosphere without any cheesiness) or I stopped noticing any flourishy bits.

Here's where I'm lost: even though the author states that this is an interactive story, and more about your interpretation than puzzles...I didn't really feel like I got all the stuff I needed to construct my own background.

In particular, (Spoiler - click to show)I couldn't even tell if I was real or not. Some little bits made me think that hey--maybe I'm a figment of this gal's imagination or a separate personality?--but other evidence seems to point to the idea that I'm real and abusive. Or maybe I killed the houseowner in the first scene??. And I couldn't quite figure out how Estelle fit into all this. And I really WANTED to know.

It's pretty well-implemented, and there's a couple of interesting things to do (like (Spoiler - click to show)replacing the dry flowers in the bathroom with the roses...which I might have dyed with hair dye??), and overall, you'll enjoy snooping around someone else's house for an evening.

But the interpretive aspect of the work/work's meaning just didn't do it for me.

Gris et Jaune, by Jason Devlin

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Mysterious, Ambitious, Compelling, October 21, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: ifcomp 2010
Gris et Jaune was the first IFComp 2010 game I played, due to the writeup over at JayisGames.com. In effect, they said: "We'd hate to spoil even the beginning for you. Just play."

So I did. And I think you'll enjoy it best that way, too, so I'll keep my comments brief.

---

The beginning grabbed me in a way that I haven't experienced since parts of ANCHORHEAD.

I've never seen this setting before in IF. It begs the question: why hasn't someone set a piece here before?

There's a lot going on emotionally. More than you'd expect from a work featuring (Spoiler - click to show)a zombie.

That said, I'm not sure how much of that emotion was conveyed clearly. I had a lot of questions about a certain character (Spoiler - click to show)--Mama John-- and how things fit together between some characters. (After emailing the author--whom I found very congenial--about it, it sounds like we may see some changes in the post-comp edition; hopefully the emotional links will become more clear.)

---

Gris et Jaune isn't perfect. But there is something very special about it. Play it. You'll feel the heart that went into it.

East Grove Hills, by XYZ

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
On Memory, October 20, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: ifcomp 2010
The night before I played this, my church had a speaker who was, at the time, Bishop (a pastor) to a number of kids who lived through the Columbine shooting. He recounted two of the survivors' stories. Those stories were on my mind while I played this.

The game calls itself "An Interactive Anecdote"--and I feel that's an accurate assessment. The way it's told, the details it leaves out, and its emotional inconclusiveness (in parts) gives this work a feeling of exploring a memory. Some moments are crystallized; they always happen the same way. Other moments are nebulous and change each time you revisit.

I can't say that I know what this piece is saying. I'm not even sure I liked it, or "got" it. But it was interesting, and maybe you'll get more out of it than I did.

Death off the Cuff, by Simon Christiansen

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Delightful writing; unusual method., October 20, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: ifcomp 2010
I'm not one who tries to "outguess the author" when I read mystery novels or watch movies. I enjoy the ride. So maybe I'm not the target audience for this piece.

CUFF contains a really fun play idea--I just had a hard time getting it going. The first playthrough, I threw the wrong guy in jail (sorry!). The second time, after I thought I'd exhausted the number of items I could examine, I hit a wall. Almost none of the descriptions repeat themselves more than once, so I reached for the walkthrough.

I don't think I would have solved the crime without it. Even after the walkthrough, I didn't quite catch the thread of logic. But I also feel this way after reading some mystery novels, so it could just be the way my head works.

Definitely play this one--the writing is a plum, perfectly in-genre--just know it takes a very careful eye to untangle the real mystery.

Flight of the Hummingbird, by Michael Martin

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Hummingbird: Finally A Reason for Massive Pecs, October 20, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: ifcomp 2010, superhero
HUMMINGBIRD is fun superhero adventure that does a good job of taking a visually cool superpower, translating that power to text, and still making you feel cool while using it.

The author purposely designed some moments to reward you for mastery of the superpower, and those moments really pay off.

I felt like the second part of the game needed a more direction. I had a hard time figuring out what I had to do, and one idea I thought was a fun and valid solution to a problem wasn't even in the ballpark of what the author had in mind--(Spoiler - click to show)I really wanted to drop those curtains on the goons!!
As a result, I played most of the endgame with the Hint guide out.

Afterwards I wanted to replay the FRENETIC FIVE series, so I'd say if you're a fan of superheroes, and also superhero parodies, you'll enjoy your own flight with the Hummingbird.

A Quiet Evening at Home, by Anonymous

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Plain, sugar-free, no-fat, whipped-creamless, slice of life., October 20, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: ifcomp 2010
OK, so really it's more of a programming test. You get home, you have to do some things, then shut down your house for the night before you go to bed.

Now, I haven't programmed my own IF game, but I've dabbled in it a few times and, you know, I've got to give Anonymous credit for finishing and releasing this thing.

It's competent. The parser replies aren't *too* snarky, there are "reminder" texts that occur to help keep you on-track and towards your goal. There's even a cute hamster.

My main complaint was that, in order to solve (Spoiler - click to show)"taking out the trash", you had to go to a section that is (to my memory) never mentioned in any other room's description. I mean, I searched for that (Spoiler - click to show)trash can for over 20 minutes, and I don't even think there are 5 rooms in the entire house. It was a very annoying problem that could have been fixed with just one line of description.

So it's probably not a game most need to play.

But I still want to give the author kudos. Kudos for producing this. You did it! You finished a whole game.

Violet, by Jeremy Freese

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Gem of a game!, June 7, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
If you came to VIOLET wanting a huge dungeon-crawler, you'll be disappointed. But if you're in the mood for something different, this game is a perfect little tidbit.

It's all about Violet. Come to think...yeah, it is all about her. A generic parser voice would turn this into another game about accomplishing a mundane in-office task. Instead, Violet editorializes upon your actions (whether good, bad, or stupid), and mentions memories that remind you that there's more at stake here than a thesis.

I also think if this game hadn't had such a good hint system, I would have had to've knocked down a star. Intially, it's a little tricky to catch on to the thread of logic, so when the hints ended up being more like the UHS system (in which a number of clues are given before the answer's handed out), AND in Violet's voice, I was very happy.

Violet is fun to listen to (my favorite pet name: "weet-bix"), and you feel a lot of genuine affection in the writing of this game. The spot-on implementation, charming voice, and perfect length make this equivalent to a short-story masterpiece.

EGC Paper Chase, by The Educational Gaming Commons

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Not a review, just an amusing thought., April 16, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
"...and to introduce some of the hotter spring 2010 education technologies,"

Methinks the developers of this game weren't thinking of the IF community when they developed that blurb. "Hot" (and its variants) and "IF" do not go together, unless we are talking about some distant solar entity.

Ralph, by Miron Schmidt

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Cute idea, obtuse puzzles, April 14, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: animal games
While I really enjoyed the concept (I love any game where you get to be an animal), and found the implementation solid (esp. of Christopher Robin, who is adorable), the puzzles were, for me, really obtuse. I ran to the walkthrough and still had no idea what would have led me to take that set of winning actions.

(Also, between this and "A Day for Soft Food"--what's with hostile NPC owners and animals?)

Dead Like Ants, by C.E.J. Pacian

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal, Dark, Beautiful, April 12, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
This wasn't what I expected when I picked it up. I figured some kind of game about ants, maybe being tortured by people...perhaps like ANT BULLY: THE TEXT ADVENTURE.

Instead I got this really strange piece with insects anthropomorphized into beings more like people (a widow, a lawyer, a damsel, not a spider, slug, and damselfly); more importantly, I got a tale of twisted tenderness and ambiguous triumph.

The navigation was a little strange ("sunwards" and "widdershins" replace some traditional directions), but once I got that figured out, interacting with the other characters was...interesting. After a number of encounters, you start (Spoiler - click to show)wondering how THIS daughter is going to die. It puts the reader/player in an interesting position, to (Spoiler - click to show)root for your character's demise, so you can "win".

That (Spoiler - click to show)"repeated-death-to-gain-victory" mechanic would be all well and good, but it's the epilogue (Spoiler - click to show)from the Queen's point of view that elevates it from "a strange tale" to "a strangely beautiful tale."

Snack Time!, by Hardy the Bulldog and Renee Choba

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Spot-On Animal Game!, April 12, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: animal games
When I played RALPH and A DAY FOR SOFT FOOD, I was hoping for a couple of great animal games, where I could slip out of the human mindset and check out a different perspective on life.

But I felt both the abovementioned games suffered from hard-to-comprehend puzzles and really hostile NPC owners ruining the fun.

So what a delight when I picked up SNACK TIME! It's not very big, no, but I had a lot of fun exploring the little apartment from the Hardy's POV. It has a lot of cute humor sprinkled throughout.

The action for the last point wouldn't have occurred to me, but that's a nitpick from me.

If you love animals, you've got to give this one a try.

A Day for Soft Food, by Tod Levi

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
High Concept, Obscure Puzzles, April 12, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: animal games
I'm gaga for cats, despite having never owned one (allergies). I love games where you get to be an animal (just like I like books where you get to experience the world through an animal's eyes and "culture")--so slam dunk, right?

Well, the descriptions are extremely cat and deadpan. But the puzzles made no sense to me; they didn't seem to follow a cat's mind (unlike the descriptions). And the hostile owner always showing up and ending the game--I got fed up real quick and left for another game. I suppose I wish it were more forgiving as a game, so I could enjoy the cat's life for a while.

Love Is as Powerful as Death, Jealousy Is as Cruel as the Grave, by Conrad Cook (as Michael Whittington)

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Not for the sensitive..., April 12, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
I was hoping for a ghost story; instead I got almost nonexistent implementation and some repellant characters/situations.

The atmosphere is effective, in that I (as a Westerner) found it very foreign and a touch hostile-feeling (as can be the case when you're a stranger in a strange land, minus the language).

But little implementation means you can't explore the setting. The show's on rails, but in a bad way; the whole event feels futile, the main NPC you interact with is a real creep, and the ghost arrival, to me, felt "out there," like there wasn't enough buildup; it just showed up..

Futility + your repellant friend + poor implementation = 1 star in my book.

Book and Volume, by Nick Montfort

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A game I hate forms a nostalgic memory I treasure., April 9, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
This isn't a review. I really didn't like this game. I found it obtuse, confusing, weird, impossible.

But the ending has given me an experience I will cherish forever.

Back in college, my friend and I played a lot of IF together. This was one of the games we played, and it holds a special memory for us.

We had no idea what we were doing. We started off without a map ("We don't need no steeekin' map!!" is our philosophy for most IF) and got lost a lot. Then, after a certain point (Spoiler - click to show)the city blew up and we were inside the city and we died. And it felt pointless.

So we downloaded a map and a walkthrough. We did what the walkthrough told us. We discovered the (Spoiler - click to show)what, conspiracy theory? and (Spoiler - click to show)escaped the city.

What happened next is sort of remarkable and nostalgic for me. This shared experience has become a joke between us, much like how "The cake is a lie" is a shared joke for all players of PORTAL. However, it does kinda spoil the ending so... (Spoiler - click to show)We quietly escaped the city. We met a man there who was very zen. The city blew up. Then the man asked if we wanted to go get a Blizzard.

My friend and I looked at each other, went "??! What the heck was that about?" And then (Spoiler - click to show)we went straight to Dairy Queen.

Basically the author made the perfect frozen yogurt commercial for intellectuals.

Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
Anchorhead: Better than All TV., April 9, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: horror game
Note: this review was written while I was in the beginning of the game. I've since finished and have added some more notes to the end.

* * *

I started ANCHORHEAD last night. It's not a new release--it won a slew of awards in back in 1998, and for good reason.

See, I've been craving an eerie game I could really sink my teeth into, and ANCHORHEAD has delivered.

The depth of its gameworld is incredible. When Earthworm Jim came out, everyone said, "It's like playing a Saturday morning cartoon!" Remember that? Well, ANCHORHEAD is like playing an excellently-written novella.

The attention to detail is incredible--you can interact with most objects you see, and the gameworld responds in a believable manner. Because of this, it's really easy to get into character. For example, I always lock the door when I leave the house. Does it do anything related to gameplay? No. But because I feel like I'm such a part of this world, I feel like I MUST act as though it is my real world, and thus--I lock up my (Spoiler - click to show)(electricity-less, sometimes frightening) house when I leave.

Here's another example: (Spoiler - click to show)It was morning in the game. I had just woken up, and my husband was in the shower. I had the feeling I'd need his university ID card later on, and his pants were hanging there right off the end of the bed. So I rifled through the pockets. Sure enough, the ID card was right there in his wallet...But in the end, I felt guilty about going through his things. So I left the card in his wallet.
Did I just lock myself out of some major puzzle or backstory? Maybe. But at least I didn't steal from my husband. That's the sort of feeling ANCHORHEAD evokes for me.

(Also, the game gave me points for soaking in a bath. :3 )

Another great thing about ANCHORHEAD: the puzzles fit. There were a number of times today where I felt like I was at a total dead end, but by taking a closer look at a couple of things, tinkering around with realistic game actions--BOOM! New paths were opened. New mysteries revealed.

And there's the other thing--with some games, you solve a puzzle...bing. That's it. Check the puzzle off your list, you're done. In ANCHORHEAD, with every new revelation you discover about (Spoiler - click to show)your creepy house (and the INSANE PEOPLE who owned it), three more unsettling questions pop up. It makes it nigh impossible to put down.

I could write tons more about how I love this, but I really want to go back and see (Spoiler - click to show)what's in the crypt behind our house. You all, you just...just try it.

* * *

Well! The final half of the game was harder for me. I probably could have figured a few of them out on my own (though for me, (Spoiler - click to show)escaping William at the slaughterhouse turned into an episode of "Guess the Verb"), but you know what it's like with walkthroughs: you can't just look ONCE.

Despite the harder puzzles taking me out of the game's spell, I still highly recommend ANCHORHEAD. Some actions you're forced into to turn the story's feeling away from Grandpa Lovecraft and into Uncle Steve's realm, but it felt appropriate.

Really...the epilogue. You'll be thinking about that for a while.

My favorite death: (Spoiler - click to show)Reading through the Huge Tome in the church. It summed up the horror of Grandpa Lovecraft's work in what--3 paragraphs? If ANCHORHEAD was a book I would have bookmarked this page. FOREVER.


Fragile Shells, by Stephen Granade

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Escape-the-Room artists: this is your dream come true, April 9, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: short games
Somewhere out there is a Platonic Ideal of the "Escape the Room" game genre. In my opinion, FRAGILE SHELLS comes remarkably close.

Most Escape the Room (EtR) games have a simple premise: there is a room full of stuff, and you must escape it. Most I've seen are graphical, nearly all have annoying codes and machines that make little logical sense, a few have interesting twists, and even fewer have any emotional motivation to escape provided rooms.

FRAGILE SHELLS gives me some things I've wanted in the genre (but never realized were missing): a compelling story behind the EtR setup, a subtle and intense feeling of danger, and puzzles that don't require me to write down stupid codes and patterns. Tapping into the emotional motivation behind escaping, though--that is where this game shines for me.

Also helpful: the obstacles you encounter (and how you solve them) make sense, so long as you closely examine everything. Even so, the hints are well-implemented, doling out just enough info to get your brain kick-started.

It's not the best IF game ever (I ran into a few implementation problems, and the technical aspects of the story still aren't crystal clear to me), but it's one of the best of the EtR genre.

Bronze, by Emily Short

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A fairytale retelling not to be missed, March 31, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
I'm one of those readers who LOVES to see the traditional European fairytales (Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Rapunzel et al) retold. I've read nearly all of Donna Jo Napoli's retellings, and I seek out more retellings in that vein everytime I hit the library.

BRONZE is a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast." Besides being a superb example of IF as a game, it has a great original backstory that weaves through the original story, one that adds an extra layer of intrigue to the original setup.

Add to that original backstory Short's evocative writing, and you've got yourself a winner.

The End Means Escape, by Steve Kodat

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Compelling puzzles in completely disjointed scenes, March 31, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
This is a hard one for me to rate, because in some areas it really excels, while in other areas it falls flat.

For instance, its opening scene, with the varying personalities you encounter and the unique way you get information about the room drew me in quickly. Immediately afterwards, there was a puzzle that made zero sense to me. The hints only helped to a point, but the puzzle needed more context.

After that, the scene turns creepy and isolated in a way I don't see too often in IF. Loved that. But the puzzle itself turned into a frustrating experiment in reading the author's mind. Boo. (At least the built-in-hints helped.) Then a maze with a clever solution that I enjoyed puzzling out.

The final scene had an interesting puzzle and setting, but I had zero idea who I was. What was I now? What had I been in the first scene? Why do I care? Why did the maze lead to this?

Great puzzles and moody sets are all fine and good, but if they're going to be so disjointed in theme, the character (or something! anything!) should be a unifying, overarching thread so it doesn't feel like a cafeteria lady serving up IF puzzles wearing a Halloween mask to be mysterious.

I played this right after finishing An Open Field. Here's my conclusion: those two games should've traded some ideas. OPEN FIELD, while initially disorienting, ends with a clear background concept; by the end, you knew who you were, what your situation was, and what your goal would be as that character. However, OPEN FIELD lacked implementation that would've made it a standout work.

THE END MEANS has implementation up the ying-yang. (Just "x young" in the second scene of THE END MEANS...you'll understand.)

If you like puzzles, try out THE END MEANS ESCAPE. If you're looking for more story to go with your IF, you may want to sit this one out.

Beta Tester, by Darren Ingram

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Fun first room; falls apart in second half., March 2, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: short games
Beta Tester is good for a couple laughs here and there. The hamster in the first room is probably worth the download. But once you're past the first room, the game falls apart.

I had a hard time figuring out what the objectives were in the second room--in one case, I found the solution to a puzzle in another room without being aware that a puzzle existed, while in another area, an objective is present, but I can't figure out any way to accomplish it. The funny writing helps delay the sting, but can't eliminate it altogether.

I eventually gave up. When objectives are so ill-defined that I can't figure out what to do, it's time to move on to a work that's had, (say it with me, now!) better beta-testing.

Snowquest, by Eric Eve

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Great for an evening, just don't expect anything too deep., March 2, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: short games
Snowquest is a competent work with a little extra depth than your usual short game. The first half of the game has a great sense of setting; the first scenes especially have a sense of peril to them. It uses the (Spoiler - click to show)"it was only a dream" trope a number of times, but uses the dreamlike atmosphere in a way that keeps the scenario interesting, rather than feeling like a cop-out. I especially liked (Spoiler - click to show)the scene where you discover yourself in the downed plane.

The game changes dramatically during the second half. While the elements of the first half don't match up to the second half's parts one-to-one, I still enjoyed the dream logic going on, even though the ending was forgettable.

An enjoyable way to spend your night. Not a perfect work (others have noted problems with implementation), but better than most reruns.


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