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Reviews by Blake

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1-5 of 5

The Crystal Frog, by David Brown
An Exciting, But Flawed, Romp, November 20, 2019
by Blake
Related reviews: spectrum, bugs, old-school
I love digging through the archives of 8-bit computer text adventures. There were so many released, due to the widespread availability of user-friendly adventure game engines (such as the one used by this game, The Quill), that you can find yourself in some truly undiscovered territory; games that haven't been played hardly ever since their initial release. Of course, being the era it was, a number of these game can be very difficult, and there may not be much in the way of hints. You also need to hunt down the manual if you want the backstory for most of the games, which is usually essential. But, if you're willing to be brave, you can have a lot of fun.

Which brings us to The Crystal Frog, an oddly-titled, old-fashioned treasure hunt. The story is as simple as can be; there's a valuable artifact called - you guessed it - The Crystal Frog. Go and get it. That's it.

How you go about getting it is the fun part. The game has a vaguely creepy, surreal atmosphere, as move through a series of disconnected environments, solving puzzles and avoiding death. This is very traditional, echoing back to the original Adventure in several resounding notes. You encounter creatures and places from a variety of sources - fairy tales, classic literature, horror, all described laconically and eerily. No one wants to talk to you - NPCs exist to be given what they want, and then vanish. You move between areas like Alice in Wonderland, the world changing with the disquieting suddenness of a dream. Several of the deaths you can experience are quite creepy indeed. All of this seems very intentional, and is a welcome change from the impartial blandness or jovial self-awareness found in other treasure hunt games. Much credit to the author, David Brown, here.

In addition to the titular frog, there are several optional puzzles you can solve for additional points, and your score is given as a percentage, making it easy to gauge your progress. You can die, sometimes without warning, and there's at least one timed puzzle, so save often. The game is small enough that it never becomes an issue, and knowing that death might be around every corner contributes to the game's suspenseful atmosphere.

So, this all sounds pretty good, right? No, it's not very ambitious, and no, it doesn't do anything that new, but it's a game in the classic Adventure/Adventureland style done right - something many try, but not too many pull off (how many games have you played that claim to be "like Scott Adams", and fall so short of fun? Too many for me!). So why the middling rating?

Well, there's a bugged room containing vital information right near the end that makes the game unwinnable, (Spoiler - click to show)(a code you need to open the final door is in a room that, when you enter, makes said final door unopenable. Sadly, a score bonus, for killing a vampire, is hidden there, so you can't get 100%) and prevents you from getting a perfect score. Only way to get past it is to look it up in a walkthrough first, or save in the right spot, go on until you get the information, and then restore back to that point to proceed. It's not quite game-killing, but it does take the wind out of your sails, or at least it did for me. I hate when you can't solve a puzzle legitimately, and I hate not being able to score the full 100%. Some might say that gameplay-wise, it's not that different from learning by dying, but at least that's intended, and you know what happened. Knowing that this was just a mistake, and that you could be wandering around forever before you figure it out (like I did), that just doesn't sit right with yours truly.

Either way, now you know to look out for it, and you can click the very mild spoiler in the last paragraph for a hint on exactly what room it is that triggers the bug. The rest of the game is worth playing, though, and it makes for an enjoyable evening of spooky exploring.

You Find Yourself in a Room., by Eli Piilonen
An Interesting Diversion, November 20, 2019
by Blake
Related reviews: internet, web-based
This is not a traditional text adventure, in any sense. It consists, basically, of you going about, solving puzzles, as (Spoiler - click to show)the parser itself starts to reveal how much it hates you. Trust me when I say that while that idea sounds stupid on paper, it's executed well and works fine.

Gameplay wise, this isn't too fancy. You have a few simple puzzles before the game starts revealing the twist. Then there's a very annoying section where you have to (Spoiler - click to show)guess a number between 1 and 10,000. Solvable, but tedious. Especially with the computer spouting the same three insults over and over again. It works with the game's theme, but it isn't really that fun. I guess it's not supposed to be.

Overall, there isn't much gameplay here, but as an experimental subversion of your typical text adventure, it's fine.

First Times, by Hero Robb
Genuinely Effective IF Horror, November 20, 2019
by Blake
Related reviews: horror, positive, quest
A surreal and atmospheric game that manages to be genuinely scary, through a combination of strong prose, unnerving sound design, and creative use of the parser. Easily one of the best Quest games, playing to the engine's strengths and cleanly side-stepping its limitations.

The game tells a dark, tragic story. The author has a knack for coming up with very uncomfortable, unsettling imagery that combines mechanical and non-organic form with autonomy and flesh. They do a great job in integrating your actions into the scene at hand, too, forcing you to get up close and personal with your twisted surrounding. You're never just an observer, and this becomes a vital part of the story. The story itself is not told directly, but pieced together handily, and is left open enough in the right areas so as to allow for multiple endings, all of which are worth seeing. It's easy to tell where in the game the paths branch too, so replaying to see them all isn't too difficult. Just be sure to save fairly often.

The only real issues are a lack of proofreading (quite a few misspellings and grammatical errors), and low verb implementation - "use" is your main verb throughout most of the game, resulting in the game being quite easy. I was able to solve it with no hints and little trouble. I think some other people who have mentioned that they found the game hard may not be fully aware of just how much of each room you can examine. Part of the issue is the engine itself. Quest lists the "level 1" items and points of interest, if you will, the obvious ones, in the "Places and Objects" and "Items" boxes, but not the deeper, "level 2" objects, that are listed only in the room description.

A non-spoiler example: You are in a room. You can see a chest and a flowerpot. Both are listed in the Places and Objects box. They are "level 1" items. If you examine the chest, you find that it's unlocked. You open it, and there's a ruby inside. You examine the flowerpot, and you see a lump in the soil. You examine the soil, and you find a buried key. Neither the ruby, the soil, or the key will show up in that Places and Objects box. They are "level 2", and can only be interacted with the conventional way.

A spoilery, specific example from the game: (Spoiler - click to show)one of the hallways has holes in the wall. While not listed in the Places and Objects box, you can examine and find a journal that offers a critical clue in solving the janitor's closet riddle puzzle.

Because of this ambiguity, and because the author writes the game properly, so that everything is mentioned in the room description, I recommend closing that Places and Objects box and just playing based on the text, just like you would in a normal parser. You avoid a lot of confusion. That goes for any Quest game, really. Some of the bad ones will NOT list items in the room description, opting to include them only in the box, but the games that do this are usually rife with so many additional problems so as to render them not worth playing anyway.

Quest rant aside, do play this game. I've avoided spoilers, so turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and experience the game for yourself. Just remember to examine everything (the game does recognize proper shorthand, so just an "x" will do), and remember that the vocabulary is limited, and you should have no problems solving the game and enjoying one of the scariest IF titles out there.

Revision: I also wanted to add that this game must be played in the Quest client. Playing online causes issues with the multimedia, and the game will crash and fail to load audio properly. The Quest client also makes it much easier to browse other games authored in the engine, and is necessary for any game utilizing sound, so playing online is usually best avoided anyway. Cheers!

The Hulk, by Scott Adams, John Romita Sr., Mark Gruenwald, and Kem NcNair

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Weak First Entry, November 15, 2019
by Blake
Related reviews: negative, superhero
Playing as The Hulk in a text adventure should be a lot of fun, liberating the player from the usual weakness of early IF protagonists, who often complain that they can't do this, that or the other, usually in regard to matters of physical strength. Sadly, this game, the first in the unfinished Questprobe series, makes little use of the main character's powers. You die in absurd ways, floundering through a very small area filled with annoyingly difficult, often unfair puzzles. The next adventure, starring Spider-Man, fared much better, but this one is a skip.

Rape Escape!, by Alan Francis Ang

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not so much a game as it is a paragraph, November 9, 2014
by Blake
Related reviews: quest, offensive, awful, funny
I went into this expecting it to be piece of tasteless crap. However, it wasn't even that. There's nothing to do in this "game". Literally. There's not a single command that the game responds to, with the exception of "examine me", which just gets the response, "Looking good". Doesn't help you much.

You start out passed out on the couch, but there's nowhere to go, nothing to interact with, no one to talk to, nothing. I tried every command I could think of. I tried going every direction. I examined everything in sight. No response for any of it.

Another review on the Quest website said that this might be a case of the author doing a test upload. As stupid as that is, if that is indeed the explanation, I think a less lurid title would have worked.

Or maybe the author wrote a full game and something went wrong in the upload process. Maybe the author accidentally uploaded an earlier version of the game and hasn't checked the comments saying that the game is unfinished. Maybe it's been created for overly analytical types like myself to hypothesize about, so the author can have a laugh as we grasp at straws. Who knows?

All I can do is state the obvious, and say, "Avoid this."

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