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Reviews by Walter Sandsquish

Moderately-Challenging

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The Eleusinian Miseries, by Mike Russo

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Flippant, October 11, 2020
The "Eleusinian Miseries" follows a vacuous, self-absorbed player-character as he is introduced into an ancient Greek mystery cult. Amusingly, the cult resembles American universities' fraternities, and their mild hazing rituals and toga parties, except its members speak with British idioms and have names like Alky and Puffy.

While "Miseries" characters are well-acquainted with ancient Greek clothing, foods, vases, and architecture, they are also flippantly vague on other Greek folkways. The PC's unrequited adoration of his friend, his ineptitude at practical tasks, and his surprising aptitude at accidentally emasculating statues of Hermes appears to be a joke about the virility of either the ancient Greeks, American fraternity brothers, or British trust-fund kids. Regardless of the way you read it, it's pretty funny.

The game is structured by five distinct scenes. The first scene is a well-designed and implemented set of find and fetch tasks. The second scene is a little under-clued and linear, with a brute-force puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(you'll need to try a lot of clothing combinations until you find out what amuses your cult-mates) and a guess-the-verb puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(if you want to splash or spatter something on yourself, try "wash" instead). The third scene is more open and involves some lateral-thinking repair puzzles. The fourth scene has little interaction, but carries some thematic weight for the game. And the final scene is a clever optimization puzzle which points to several alternate game endings.

"Eleusinian Miseries" is a funny, engaging, well-structured game, with only a few implementation problems.

Alone, by Paul Michael Winters

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Desolate, October 10, 2020
"Alone" plunges the player into a desolate landscape. Its stark, spare descriptions suit the aftermath of an apocalyptic epidemic, but, unfortunately, it doesn't follow through on its characterization of the shell-shocked, exhausted player-character we are introduced to at the beginning of the game.

Nevertheless, "Alone" consistently displays effective game design. Its puzzles lead to each other in a logical progression and establish the game's backstory unobtrusively. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly inventive, but they are engaging and, for the most part, sensible. There are a few exceptions, though. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)the player is expected to remove a cash-register's money tray, even though the description of the register tells the player that the PC knows money is useless after the apocalypse.

The game's implementation is just as spare as its landscape, sometimes too spare. The PC can't, for instance, open the door of a junk car or examine the food in a hydroponics lab. "Alone" could also use a lot more synonyms for both nouns and verbs to help the player navigate its environment. Scalpels are not also knifes, gas masks and gas cans get conflated with each other, and panels can be touched, but not pressed.

But, "Alone's" combination of a stark tone, suitable to its environment, and solid game design, which guides the player through the post-apocalypse, works well.

Toonesia, by Jacob Weinstein

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Enjoyable Nonsense, August 12, 2020
"Toonesia" is a light, pleasant hodgepodge of Warner Bros. cartoons, which effectively recreates the world of 2-D animation. It manages to squeeze the desert of Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner, the woodlands of Bugs Bunny, and an abandoned jewel mine into a small setting. In the weird world of 'toons, this makes sense.

But, while Weinstein's writing is solid, and his programming is usually transparent, the game has some problems. One nasty bug will kill your player character if you pay attention to it. The east-west directions are reversed in the description of the cliff walls surrounding the Mesa. Even in a 'toon, this doesn't make sense.

And, while Weinstein did capture the essence of the Warner Bros. characters, he failed to make any of them very interactive. The most interactive one, Dizzy Duck, is also the most frustrating one. Oddly, Dizzy will react to Elmo's actions, but to nothing that Elmo, the player character, says to him! In the Warner Bros. world of hyperactive, clever, sarcastic characters, this just doesn't make sense either.

Despite these weaknesses, "Toonesia" is still an agreeable game. The puzzles are fairly simple, and entertaining, to solve, once you catch onto their theme, which shouldn't be difficult in a 'toon-sensical game.

The HeBGB Horror!, by Eric Mayer

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Wry and Weird, July 27, 2020
The bleak humor of "HeBGB Horror" fits the frequently-frustrated actions of the player character. The PC may try to emulate his music idols, who all have names like Blitz and Yngvie, but Mayer ensures that the PC's successes will go awry, just as his world will get weirder.

In New York's Bowery district, occult horror and punk music intertwine. Weirdly angled floors and walls enclose sagging, decaying furnishings, used by pierced, drugged characters, who gather to listen to screeching and wailing music.

Atmosphere and wit are plentiful in "HeBGB," but synonyms are not. A more robust vocabulary might help a player better navigate the peculiar problems a wanna-be punk rocker might have with eldritch horrors.

Though most of "HeBGB's" puzzles are clued, many are also obtuse. You may, for instance, have problems understanding the relationship between dried cheese and frayed telephone cords, or distinguishing between the uses of a pin and a pen, throughout this game.

Nevertheless, "HeBGB Horror" is weirdly fun and strangely satisfying.

The Plant, by Michael J. Roberts

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Clever, March 31, 2020
"The Plant" is an engaging game which plays off the silliness of high-tech conspiracy theories by whimsically contrasting current technology with that of a former, fictional, Eastern-Bloc country.

Players learn about this conspiracy by solving mostly-innocuous, but frequently amusing, puzzles in each of the three areas of the game, but each area also contains a challenging and ingenious puzzle which provides access to the next area of the game. The puzzles are well-implemented, but each area contains a non-interactive scene which changes the game-state to allow the set-piece puzzle to be solved, and one of these scenes isn't well-clued and could be easily missed.

Nevertheless, "The Plant" is an excellent text-adventure game, which is well-worth a player's time.

Busted!, by Jon Drukman and Derek Pizzuto

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Frivolous Fun, March 31, 2020
"Busted's" drug-themed subject matter allows it to play with campus-life tropes in a surreal manner, with a humorous effect. This also allows it to apply some of the more annoying conventions of old-time adventures, like hunger and sleep puzzles, to its collegiate setting in a relevant and clever way.

The result is as much a frivolous survey of university annoyances and practices as it is a homage to first-generation text-adventure games. It's enjoyable, engaging, and funny.

Play the AdvSys version if you're able to; it's much better implemented than the Z-Code version.

TimeQuest, by Bob Bates

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Sprawling, February 16, 2020
TimeQuest provides plenty of fun and clever puzzles through a light-hearted time-travel theme. The writing is clear and lean, with a bit of whimsy and irony, and the implementation is excellent, creating no game-play problems.

But, the game provides very little direction to the player, resulting in too many save-and-restore puzzles and a lot of aimless wandering at the beginning of the game.

If you make a log of where everything is, for every location and every time frame, before you begin actual game-play, you'll likely enjoy this large, puzzle-heavy text adventure.

The Awakening, by Dennis Matheson

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Creepy, but Buggy, May 5, 2015
"The Awakening" creates a sense of dread in a creepy setting, and its puzzles are reasonably clever, but it is hampered by several annoying bugs.

Aside from a few guess-the-verb and guess-the-preposition problems, there are a couple places in the game where you can take items, and then view the same location from a different vantage and still see the items you took in their original place.

Nevertheless, the game's unsettling atmosphere overcomes the distractions created by bits of careless programming.

The Tower of the Elephant, by Tor Andersson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Vivid, but Under-Implemented, April 26, 2015
This short adaptation of one of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories features engaging prose and good characterization, which is odd, because I remember Howard's prose and characterization as clunky and overblown. I suppose all Howard needed was a good editor.

The game itself, however, is under-implemented. Nouns, plurals, and synonyms are missing, making it tough for the player to communicate with the parser. There's even a guess-the-preposition puzzle here, which forced me to consult the walk-through. And, instead of providing clues in the descriptions, the author makes suggestions directly to the player.

Still, this game has interesting stuff in it. One of the game's branches creates a small role-reversal for the player-character. Instead of an NPC following the PC, you follow another character. Fun, but taking this path bypasses the game's best puzzle. There's also a vivid, and effective, action sequence here, a rarity in IF.

I'd say it's worth fighting the parser a bit for a few good puzzles and the excellent writing this game offers.

Arthur, by Bob Bates

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Enchanting, February 2, 2011
"Arthur" is a clever synthesis of a few of the earlier, usually neglected, legends surrounding the legendary King Arthur's youth. Arthur must prove to Merlin that he is ready to accept the responsibilities of a monarch. Empowered by Merlin's ability to transform himself into different animals, he slithers, burrows, and flies through the wilderness surrounding Glastonbury.

Despite the fact that it's set in the wilderness, "Arthur" teems with characters. Bob Bates quickly and cleverly etches the kind, but stern, Merlin with just a shade of menace; each of the variously-colored knights that stand in Arthur's way has a distinctive personality (my favorite is the Blue Knight, who must have just wandered over the hill from the filming of Monty Python's "Holy Grail"); and the evil King Lot is, well ... evil. The protagonist is, as usual, missing, but "Arthur" sports another dozen delightful personalities that I won't spoil for you. I will, however, tell you that Mr. Bates found room to pay homage to that first memorable IF character, Floyd!

"Arthur's" only weakness lies in its structure. After following Merlin's lead, the player could find himself wandering aimlessly through more than half of this sizable game. It's a problem that could have been easily fixed, and, as a matter of fact, I'll take care of it right now: (Spoiler - click to show) After you deal with the injustice Merlin mentions, walk as far southeast as you can. Listen to what the nice man in red says, and try to be agreeable.


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