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Ratings and Reviews by Spike

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Out, by Viktor Sobol
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Foo Foo, by Buster Hudson
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Limerick Heist, by Pace Smith
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Remedial Witchcraft, by dgtziea

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fairly directed magical puzzler, January 1, 2020
In Remedial Witchcraft you play as an inexperienced practitioner of magic arts. Not an uncommon premise: Games from Infocom’s classic Enchanter way back in 1983 to both Charming and my own Junior Arithmancer from the previous IFComp have featured a similar PC. Remedial Witchcraft reminds me particularly of Charming, as in that game and this one you’re not just inexperienced, you’re also kind of bumbling.

The gameplay is quite directed. At the very beginning the witch you’re apprenticed to gives you a couple of tasks to perform. Then, after you complete those, you’re presented with another set of tasks to perform. And frequently in the midst of completing these tasks the game will make suggestions for what you should do next. All of this means that there’s very little stumbling around wondering what you’re supposed to be doing. It certainly eases the gameplay and reduces the frustration that often occurs in puzzle-heavy games, but for me it was a little too much hand-holding. Of course, I also like banging my head against puzzle-heavy games.

The writing style is short. Choppy. Frequently not full sentences. Very casual. Distinctive. It’s an interesting choice that fits the PC’s character.

One of the magical items you get to play with is particularly delightful: the (Spoiler - click to show)teleportation rock.

Overall, I think I would have preferred more of a challenge, but I enjoyed figuring out the puzzles that I did in Remedial Witchcraft.

Heretic's Hope, by G. C. Baccaris
Spike's Rating:

Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir, by Damon L. Wakes
An amusingly fun way to spend half an hour, December 29, 2019
This choice-based game made me smile pretty much the whole way through. It's a short parody of fantasy role-playing gamebooks; it even comes with a character sheet to print and fill out. I enjoyed adding traits like (Spoiler - click to show)Orcular Trauma and (Spoiler - click to show)"Smooth Moves" (the latter in scare quotes, of course) to my character sheet.

The humor has a light touch. It's frequently sexually suggestive (the title is "Girth Loinhammer," after all), but it's on the level of Leather Goddesses of Phobos's "suggestive" mode.

All in all, an amusingly fun way to spend a half hour. (I played it twice, and after my second play I clicked the back button a few times to check out alternative endings.)

The Chieftain, by LeSUTHU

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Better resource management game than a first impression would indicate, December 26, 2019
I had more fun with this game than most other players seem to have had, judging by its current ratings and its placement in IFComp. I suspect many players were turned off by some noticeable bugs (some cosmetic, some more serious that affect gameplay), as well as the bare-bones interface. Looking past those, I found The Chieftain to be a decent resource management game.

My sense is that writing a good resource management game is all about the mechanics. What makes the various resource levels go up or down? And, more importantly, how much of this is under the player’s control, and how much is random? Too much control for the player, and the game becomes less interesting: You just do the same thing over and over again until you hit the goal. On the other hand, too much randomness starts to feel either unfair or like you’re simply tossing dice to see what happens. A good game of this kind needs to strike the right balance.

And I think The Chieftain mostly does get this right. The major random activity is scouting the surrounding area, and this can lead to many different outcomes. Some of the resource-gathering activities also produce a variable amount of goods. And then several of the activities are deterministic: The game tells you, for instance, that throwing a party consumes 5 food and increases happiness by 3. It took me quite a while to settle on a strategy that was consistently effective; I had to try a lot of the different activities over multiple days to see what they led to. Yet this process didn’t feel unfair, either; it was clear when I was taking a risk and that that risk was my choice. This seems to me to be what you want the player to experience.

There are also intermediate goals to keep the player’s attention. For instance, I saved up my coins and bought a longsword for display in the village. I also built a shrine and raised it a couple of levels so that it was generating more resources for me.

However, once I did finally settle on my strategy, it was mostly a matter of just doing the same things over and over until I hit the happiness level required to win. Some tweaks to the game’s mechanics could have improved this. It did take me a while to realize that this would be an effective strategy, though.

Overall, I think The Chieftain does most of what you want a resource management game to do correctly; that is, its mechanics are pretty sound. But there are places where those mechanics could be made better, and some more testing and changes to the presentation could have greatly improved the player experience as well.

Pirateship, by Robin Johnson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Pirate-themed light puzzle comedy, December 11, 2019
Pirateship is a lighthearted, pirate-themed puzzle comedy with the feel of a classic parser game. It's not technically a parser game because it's built with Johnson's point-and-click Versificator development system, but its room-based geography and use-the-right-object-in-the-right-place puzzles very much fit the classic parser style.

Most, if not all, of the humor in Pirateship comes from playing with pirate tropes. Sometimes the comedic effect comes from subverting these tropes, and sometimes the tropes are carried to such extremes that you can't help laughing. For me, the game tended to walk a fine line between funny and silly, but occasionally it hit absolute comedy gold.

The puzzles range in difficulty from relatively straightforward to somewhat hard, which I think is the right range for this kind of game.

I found myself wishing for more emotional depth in Pirateship, though. I know the game is going for the feel of a classic parser comedy, and those kinds of games aren't generally noted for their extra emotional layers. But I can't help thinking that Pirateship could have done more here - and that that would have made it a better game. By way of contrast, Lost Pig is a great IF comedy not just because the prose is so often funny, but because (Spoiler - click to show)Grunk is oddly philosophical for a supposedly dumb orc, because the relationship between Grunk and the gnome is touching and a nice contrast of personalities, and because Grunk's blunderings actually serve as the catalyst for the gnome to make some changes to the lonely life he's been leading. The only layer in Pirateship beyond the laughs is its playing with pirate tropes (which, again, are the source of much of that comedy).

But I did enjoy Pirateship, and I think the game successfully does what it's trying to do. So, if you're looking for a light-hearted puzzle comedy with an old-school parser feel (but without the guess-the-verb frustrations of old-school parser games), or you just like pirates, you should give Pirateship a try.

Skybreak!, by William Dooling

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Huge space exploration-and-trading game, November 28, 2019
Skybreak! is a huge space exploration-and-trading game, with RPG elements and multiple win states. You can explore star systems; mine planets, asteroids, and comets; recruit spies; unearth lore; acquire alien artifacts; and collect beetles - among other things.

Skybreak! feels like a cross between Superluminal Vagrant Twin and Sunless Seas. Skybreak!'s setting, method for moving between locations, and text-based format are reminiscent of the former, but it has some of the features (such as lore-gathering) of the latter, and its scope is closer to that of the latter.

That isn't to say that Skybreak! is as large as Sunless Seas. It doesn't take nearly as long to win Skybreak!, for instance. (A few hours, three playthroughs, and judicious use of UNDO got me a nice ending in Skybreak!.) However, much of the reason Sunless Seas takes so long is that you spend a lot of your time moving your boat around on the screen and managing your fuel. Strip Sunless Seas down to its item- and knowledge-gathering aspects and its quest trees, and the scope comparison between it and Skybreak! starts to seem more reasonable. Skybreak! really is huge; I can tell from the few hours I've spent on it that there's a lot to the game I have not seen.

Where Skybreak! surpasses both Superluminal Vagrant Twin and Sunless Seas is in its number and variety of role-playing options. At the beginning of Skybreak! you've got a choice of five species (well, four and then an "other" option), two of ten background characteristics, and three of sixteen talents. These affect your win-state goals (as in Sunless Seas), your secondary goals, and the kinds of tasks you're most likely to succeed with. They really are meaningful choices, too: On my first and third playthroughs I made very different character selections, and those two playthroughs looked quite different. By comparison, SVT has no RPG elements, and Sunless Seas allows you fewer options.

By biggest criticism of Skybreak! is the random navigation. I can see that this prevents players from doing as much grinding, which would destroy a lot of the fun of the game. But it is also frustrating to be presented with half a dozen or more interesting options for a particular solar system and yet only be able to choose one of them before having to move on, perhaps never to return on that playthrough. The UNDO command does mitigate this frustration somewhat, though, as it allows you to try out the different options and then select the one you like best.

There's a great deal to see and do in Skybreak!. If you enjoy games like this, there's enough content to keep you engaged for many, many hours.

Dungeon Detective 2: Devils and Details, by Wonaglot

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Engrossing mystery in a fantasy setting, November 28, 2019
My biggest critique of last year's Dungeon Detective was that I wanted more game to play, which is really more of a compliment than a critique. Well, I got what I wanted! Dungeon Detective 2 continues the adventures of our furry sleuth, Sniff Chewpaw. This time he's hired by a devil to look into the bombing of the devil's dungeon, and the resulting investigation is both longer and more in-depth than the one in the first DD. There are several more characters to interview, night and day periods that offer you different event options, a couple of minigames, and a currency system where you can earn and spend money. There's also an animated Chewpaw graphic, which is quite fun. You've got a lot to keep track of, but it all worked for me, and I found myself more engrossed in Dungeon Detective 2 than I did its predecessor.

A couple of critiques: The dungeon itself is on the small side, but there's enough interesting content before you reach the dungeon that that doesn't matter too much. There are also a few too many typos for my taste. But these are minor critiques, especially compared with Dungeon Detective 2's immersive play and appealing PC.

The original IFComp version had some bugs in it that stopped gameplay for me (and perhaps others). I suspect the game would have placed even higher in IFComp without those bugs, and I hope the author makes an updated version of the game publicly available.

One of my favorite games from IFComp 2019.


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