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Reviews by John of Thornwick

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1-6 of 6

ANATIDAEPHOBIA, by Peregrine Wade

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Heartfelt tribute misses the mark, January 26, 2017
The idea of a text game inspired by the world of Gary Larson is intriguing. It sounds silly, but this is really a very ambitious mark for a writer to set themselves: anthropomorphic animals acting out pulp genre tropes, wordplay, and morbid exaggerations of cliches have to be patched together into a surreal narrative that still feels coherent. The author would have to mimic the diction of a multitude of hacky narrative styles, describe objectively troubling scenarios in a comical style, and solve the deeper problem of how to translate Larson's signature interaction between graphical and textual humor into an interplay between text and choice.

ANATIDAEPHOBIA, while fun in its own way, does not realize the potential of that premise. The humor is based not on clever pastiche and morbid juxtaposition, but on zany randomness. The motivations and behavior of the various entities the player encounters don't feel like familiar materials transplanted into a goofy setting (as they would in a Larson comic). They're just goofy. The items, too, are merely incongruous, not inventive extensions of ideas or wordplay.

The style of the text often gestures toward pastiche, but does not have convincing control of the diction of the styles it's mocking.

Aside from those stylistic issues, there are some typographical errors and at least one game-breaking bug ((Spoiler - click to show)a certain path through the conversation with the cow traps the game in CYOA mode). Most of the puzzles are quite unforgiving about exact word choice, which is of course a common parser game frustration, but in this case it is exacerbated by the off-the-wall nature of the puzzles and solutions.

Detectiveland, by Robin Johnson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fun, light adventure. Pretty much perfect., January 16, 2017
In the first scene, Detectiveland strikes a distinctive, familiar tone. A cold beam of hard-boiled cynicism, projected through a filter of coy self-awareness. From beginning to end, the exposition and action are consistently direct, sparse, and more than a little silly. The music and the type-writer theme complement this style very nicely.

The puzzles are fun, and the solutions are often a bit off the wall, without becoming unguessable. It helps that they don't all have to be solved in a particular order. For the better part of the game, there are three cases that can be worked on simultaneously or in any order. Some of the puzzles (including the last one) can be solved in several different ways.

Stink Bug Plague, by zephyo
Goofy, clunky edu-tainment, January 12, 2017
Stink Bug Plague is supposed to be an educational comedy game. It's true that the initial passages and the endings are ridiculously over the top. You might even find them funny. And it's true that the research phase of the game packs a lot of entomological info. But these two aspects of the game are badly stitched together. The tone shifts drastically from one moment to the next. No sooner are you immersed in the goofball wild-card antics of the opening scenes than you're expected to switch into hard-core scientific research. There are even links to scholarly articles, like you're going to stop playing a game and go read a scientific journal. I got tired quickly of thrashing back and forth between the madcap flavor text and the dry research.

Luckily, you can skim the research passages, because the game takes notes for you. Your job is to use these notes to stem the stink bug tide. Incidentally, it took me a long time to figure out how to advance to that part of the game, because it's assumed that you will repeat a certain action several times, for no apparent reason. It felt like I'd already done everything and for a while I thought I had made some crucial error.

The last phase of the game pulls things together a little better. You have a well-defined set of choices to make based on your notes. But the winning combination turns out to involve some guess-work, and most of the research results (including those from the heavy-handedly sanctioned scholarly sources) turn out to be red herrings.

After having played the last phase once, I found replaying the research phase a little more fun. It felt a little more like hunting for clues and less like slogging through a mass of overly detailed information. I wonder if earlier access to the lab (and a more logical use of the research info) would help to enliven the early game. It also would be very helpful to get some explanation or hint (perhaps nudging the player back in the direction of a particular source) of why a particular combination of choices fails or succeeds in the last part of the game. I managed to get the best ending on my second try, but I have little idea why!

Torn, by Joe Chedburn

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Hardly Fiction, January 11, 2017
Torn is a grindy stat-crunching slog. It's dull flavor text papered over a pile of numbers. It's "fiction" only in the sense that the website has a fictive atmosphere, but no real narrative is possible. I don't think this game offers the kind of fun most IF players are looking for.

Just Another Day, by Theodore "Ted" C. Lim

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting, incomplete, January 9, 2017
As slice-of-life games go, this game has the potential to be a nice entry. Potential.

The idea of simulating the complex morning routine of a working parent struggling to get out the door on time is not a bad premise. The author demonstrates an appreciation of the difficulty of this lifestyle, which comes through in a few wry turns of phrase as well as in the structure of the game. That this Sarcastic Mommy flavor isn't sprinkled more liberally throughout the descriptions (especially in the refusal messages, which are mostly boilerplate), is disappointing.

There are many minor defects in the descriptive text. It is often impossible to tell what item is where (e.g., if the player has dropped something somewhere unexpected) or what state James is in (e.g., he is said to be asleep after the player wakes him).

More significantly, it is often difficult to hit on exactly the right action or sequence of actions required to accomplish something which should be quite simple mechanically. The challenge of a game like this, centered around beating the clock, should be how to organize the series of actions most efficiently, not reading the author's mind to determine what verb to use. Thus, it would do no harm to the challenge to provide cues in the descriptions and refusal messages. Granted, in a number of places this has already been done. It's unnecessarily coy for the game to be vague about what is preventing the player from putting James in the car at the end.

With some TLC and spit shine, this game could really be worth playing. But it's not there yet!

Panic Mansion, by beatlesfan317@yahoo.com

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
needs an overhaul, January 9, 2017
The plot of this game is obviously secondary. It's not even trying to be anything more than a pretext for the gameplay. Which would be fine, if the game were playable. The idea of combining a quiz format with RPG combat stages isn't inherently bad, but this game combines them in such a way as to make both of them less fun. The effect of the "boss fights" isn't so much to break up the monotony of the trivia game as to punish success by forcing you to repeat the questions after (almost inevitably) being defeated in a grindy link-mashing sequence.

That's the big picture. Zoom in on the details, and a different picture emerges--a much uglier picture. The battle mechanic boils down to a repeated choice between "Attack" and "Defend," a choice which has no actual discernible consequence that could lead you to develop a strategy. The fights are all unevenly matched against you, so you have you to replay each section over and over again until you get lucky.

None of that really matters though, because this is a trivia game. Just take the RPG and plot stuff as flavor or packaging, like balogna wrapped around a chocolate bar. Just gnaw your way through it to get to the good stuff, right?

Unfortunately, the trivia questions are the worst part of the game. They're the same every time you play, you're punished severely for wrong answers (you have to get every single question right), and some of the answers are flat out wrong.

All that being said, the overall structure of this game wouldn't be terrible for an educational flash-card kind of game. The questions would have to be replaced with something useful to learn, the order somewhat more randomized, and the questions in each stage would need to build logically on the previous stage. The mini-bosses could feel more like a reward than a punishment, if the player's strength in each fight depended on the number of questions correctly answered in that stage. The "attack/defend mechanic" is essentially meaningless, so it should just be thrown out. Why does there need to be any clicking at all? Just let the fights play out automatically on a timer.

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