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Reviews by Pete Gardner

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1-5 of 5

Mystery Fun House, by Scott Adams

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A classic gem from the golden age of adventure, January 25, 2010
by Pete Gardner (Vancouver, Canada)
I swear, to this day I have dreams of chewing some gum, putting it on the end of a branch, and using it to fish a coin out of a sewer grate.

Mystery Funhouse was the first adventure game I ever played. I missed out on Adventure and the others, because computers at that time were not readily accessible. A good friend of mine convinced his father to purchase him a TRS-80 home computer from Radio Shack, and this was one of the games that came with it. We played the snot out of that thing. Those were the days before the Internet and walkthroughs, so we had to figure it all out by ourselves. Took about a month. From then on, I was hooked on all things Adventure.

You start off outside a funhouse. You need to get into the funhouse and diffuse a bomb before it goes off. After a certain point, something begins going on with your shoe. Basic stuff, but back then it was so different that it forced the player to think in unfamiliar ways. You know, the way we IF players think all the time now. The game in itself is straightforward, relying on retrial and repetition as the player learns what to do and what not to do. I said itís straightforward, but itís not easy. You really have to sit and think it out.

In this day and age, Mystery Funhouse will not seem like a big deal to a new player, but it had a permanent effect on my life back in 1981. I owe my entire career in the games industry to this little software gem, occupying less than 16K of memory. Good stuff.

Theatre, by Brendon Wyber

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
An atmospheric performance that pays off, January 25, 2010
by Pete Gardner (Vancouver, Canada)
Encore! Author! Theatre is a wonderfully moody work of IF in which the player is stranded in a creepy old theatre with no apparent way out. The more he tries to get out, the deeper he is drawn into a fiendish plot that spans over seventy years, the successful outcome of which could doom not only the player, but the whole world.

Many of the rooms in Theatre are minimally described, and yet the feeling of unsettling dread is maintained effectively for the game's duration. The puzzles are numerous and fair (Spoiler - click to show)(my favourite involved a ghostly usher). Most of them are clever, and one in particular is (Spoiler - click to show)rather gruesome. They are all quite satisfying to solve. Another thing I enjoyed about Theatre is that it is one of those games that, thankfully, do not end with a long single blurb of prose once you perform the winning action. It goes on a little further than that and provides a very satisfying conclusion. Bravo!

This is a (virtually) full-length work that keeps the player involved throughout. I spent perhaps five-to-six hours on this. Using the walkthrough will get you through it quicker, of course, but seriously--resist using it if you can. This game is not too-too hard, and is rewarding to complete. I myself resisted using the walkthrough, but succumbed to the adaptive built-in hint system. I really appreciated the fact that this was, indeed, a hint system and did not blatantly give away the solutions. Despite this, I was stumped by a few guess-the-verb road blocks that could have been prevented had the author worked a little harder on providing synonyms for some of the actions.

If I were to voice any significant criticism of Theatre, it would only be to reiterate what has already been mentioned elsewhere: the Lovecraftian references of ancient, cosmos-spanning creatures were out of place--they did not integrate well with the author's own style of horror, which was effective enough to stand on its own.

Despite that, the bottom line is I enjoyed this game a lot. I recommend it to any who enjoy creepy, suspenseful horror. I am not aware of other works by author Brendon Wyber, but if I encounter any, I will definitely play them.

Phantom of the Arcade 2: Shadows, Darkness, and Dread, by Susan Arendt, John Moulton

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Another example of sequels proving stronger than originals, January 20, 2010
by Pete Gardner (Vancouver, Canada)
I'm happy to report that Phantom of the Arcade 2 is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor in a number of ways. The writing, although not grammatically perfect, is much stronger and evokes the atmosphere well. The puzzles are still quite simple, but they require a little more thought than in the previous instalment.

The intro to POTA2 drew me in suddenly. It was enjoyable and clever and, as a matter of fact, made me laugh. The player finds himself in the backstage of a theatre, looking for costumes to use for a Halloween party. Something unexpected occurs and the next thing he knows, he is in an abandoned amusement park. He must collect a list of items to make his way back out.

The plot is simple, but what more could one expect? The intent of the game is fulfilled well--it's a fun, spooky romp. Tongue is placed firmly in cheek here, and stays that way--another improvement over the original. This game uses the convention of room descriptions that tell some of the story the first time they are entered, often requiring a second "look" to get the basic description. While this may not always be the wisest approach to IF design, it works well here. This method was only responsible for two flaws that accidently revealed minor plot elements before they had happened, but they weren't crucial. On the downside, there were many unimplemented nouns in the room descriptions which made the game seem a little unfinished. When examining scenery, I would rather see "you see nothing special about the [item]" than "you can't see any such thing"--especially when it is staring me in the face!

There is one NPC, largely unimplemented, but for some reason I didn't mind. The way she is used works well. It is possible to finish the game successfully, but with two different outcomes. What those outcomes are, I'll keep secret, but if you find that you haven't finished to your satisfaction, there may be something else you can do.

There is also one interesting bug at the very very end, which lets you rack up an unlimited score. But the game is over by then, so it doesn't impact on the story.

On the whole, I enjoyed this spook-fest considerably more than its predecessor. Don't expect any purple prose in this one: it is light fare to be sure, but if you like spooky, haunted settings, as do I, this one might be worth a try.

Phantom of the Arcade, by Susan Arendt, John Moulton, and Russ Pitts

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A video arcade commentary--plus spooky ghosts!, January 20, 2010
by Pete Gardner (Vancouver, Canada)
I have always been a sucker for spooky games. Anything haunted, whether it be a house, an asylum, an abandoned church building, an amusement park--you name it. When I learned that the Phantom of the Arcade was set in a haunted video arcade I just could not resist.

The game started out interestingly, with the player arriving mistakenly at a run-down building that turns out to be an abandoned arcade. Initial explorations quickly reveal that it is not all that abandoned after all, although there are no corporeal entities to be found within. Nice start.

But then, as we get further in, atmosphere gives way to attempts at sophomoric humour. Some of the jokes work, but before long, sadly, they begin to fall flat, since it is essentially the same joke over and over again: "some games good, some games stupid, only strange people play these games". The puzzles consist of picking up things found along the way and handing them over to the various entities inhabiting the arcade. Any strategy rapidly becomes a simple matter of lawnmowering to decide what item to give each apparition. (These ghosts, by the way, appear mostly to be the type of youth one would have expected to inhabit arcades over the past ten to fifteen years. Perhaps the moral of the story is "arcades kill", because there were no older ghosts to be found anywhere, all of them apparently taken before they had emerged from post adolescence.)

I can't really recommend Phantom of the Arcade, unless you are interested in something very light on challenge, prose and plot. I see that two of the authors have written a sequel to this game a year later. Perhaps I'll give it a spin to see if they have improved.

The Coast House, by Stephen Newton and Dan Newton

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Memories, seaweed and shrimp boats, January 15, 2010
by Pete Gardner (Vancouver, Canada)
The goal of The Coast House is unclear, but the atmosphere is good. This is a mystery that follows the player as he searches the home of his late grandmother and retired grandfather for clues to...something. Just what he is searching for is unclear. All he knows is that his grandfather suggested that there was something back at the old unused house in the town of Dalton on the coast of Texas that would be of interest to him. And there we have it.

The puzzles in The Coast House are relatively easy, and the game is quite forgiving. You donít die, at least not that Iíve experienced. The prose has a few grammatical errors, but not enough to really disturb me. I found the lack of a clear goal a bit confusing, as I had no real direction to follow. It was largely a matter of going through the usual paces of exploring the map, examining everything, trying to use things together to achieve a simple result, and maybe something will happen to move the plot along. Had the game been a bit longer I would likely have given up, not really feeling driven to accomplish anything.

What causes The Coast House to stand out is the effective atmosphere generated by the prose. Iíve never been to the east coast of Texas, and especially not to Dalton, but I now feel as though I would recognize it if I did. Great attention has been given to detail, generating feelings of nostalgia and loss. That is quite an accomplishment for such a short game, and it is clear that Dalton, or a town much like it, is close to the heart of the author(s).

Having said all that, would I recommend The Coast House? Only if you are looking for decent example of atmosphere. Apart from that, the events were really quite ordinary and after finishing the game I thought to myself, ďWell, that was nice.Ē But that was it. No wow factor for me.

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