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Ratings and Reviews by John of Thornwick

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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.

A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend
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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.

Sacrifice, by Hamish McIntyre
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How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors, by Brian Kwak
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climbing 208 feet up the ruin wall, by Porpentine
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Begscape, by Porpentine
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Shrapnel, by Adam Cadre
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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!

Stay Lost, by Casey James
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