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Reviews by MathBrush

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View this member's reviews by tag: 15-30 minutes 2-10 hours about 1 hour about 2 hours IF Comp 2015 Infocom less than 15 minutes more than 10 hours Spring Thing 2016
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Lord Bellwater's Secret, by Sam Gordon

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An interesting, short one-room mystery intrigue game, October 22, 2020
This game is highly rated, which is why I tried it. It is fairly short, and has two difficult puzzles, as well as some trouble at first until you realize that you have to examine every object in the room (okay, maybe it' s just me).

The first puzzle (involving a sequence of numbers) was very ingenious. I thought at first the answer would involve some experimentation, but it was all very logical in the end, though I didn't solve it myself.

The second puzzle is a bit more obscure, but fun.

Altogether, it is not very long, and I would recommend it only to puzzle fiends. Those who are into intrigue may find it worthwhile to skip the two puzzles via walkthrough.

Fingertips: Hey Now, Everybody, by Melvin Rangasamy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short, one move game based on an old saying, October 1, 2020
This is a simple game but it made me smile. You play through the classic kitschy saying about Everybody, nobody, somebody, and anybody, and have to assign a person to do a task.

There are very few options, so the game ends quickly. Overall, a nice cohesive game.

Fool!, by Ben Rovik

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A masterfully written Shakespearen-style game with fiddly stats, September 29, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
I'm actually very torn on this review. I think I'm going to end up recommending this on Steam but not giving it 5 stars here, because the two sets of reviews serve different purposes.

Fool! has brilliant writing. I've read all of Shakespeare's plays multiple times (I got on a real kick in college where I'd read one of his plays after every other book I read), and there are some parts of this game I'd easily believe came from one of his books. It has a lot of poetry and jokes.

The overall backstory seems to be based on Henry IV parts 1 and 2 but in a different setting. There are battles between England and France, a somewhat rebellious Prinxe Hail and a rebellious northerner nicknamed Hotfoot.

In the midst of this, you are an aspiring fool who starts out with an audience of three wide-eyed kids and a stage marked by horse manure and drunks' vomit. Throughout the game, you build up your reputation and make friends (and enemies) along the way until you can end up as high as the King's Court or being one of the most famous players in the land.

It's a large game, maybe 4-6 hours long if playing intently.

With all these good things going forward it, it's hard not to recommend it. But I had to battle quite a bit with the stats. I frequently could not for the life of me guess when a choice was sanguine, bilious, phlegmatic or melancholic.

"Let's see," I'd think to myself. "This option is about cheering up my friends. That's sanguine, right?" Nope. It's phlegmatic, because you're trying to balance your various responsibilites.

Okay, trying to be famous is usually bilious right? No, this time trying to be famous is melancholic, because you're being cynical or cautious about it.

I was trying to roleplay as a confident and brilliant braggart (high blood/bile), and made it to act 3 with almost maxed-out sanguine (after restarting, something I almost never do, and battling back and forth for a while with the stats), and then a series of encounters somehow flipped it so I had extremely low blood and bile. I literally pounded my fist and shouted 'no!' in frustration a couple of times.

My reaction to the stats seems isolated. Fool! is fairly high on the bestseller list on the Choice of Games omnibus app and has very positive reviews on Steam and on the Choice of Games forum. The funny writing, the excellent quality of humor and even silly stuff like the ape companion make me feel confident that I can recommend this game to others and they'll feel like they got their money's worth, and I intend to do so on steam. If you're into Shakesperean comedy or want to max your Bawdiness or Wit then this game is absolutely for you. I don't regret playing it, and intend to return to it in the future.

I received a review copy of this game.

Vampire: The Masquerade Night Road, by Kyle Marquis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An enormous stat-driven Vampire game with great art, September 26, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
This game helps fulfill a childhood dream of mine. When I was younger, I always had access to and eventually bought a lot of guidebooks for RPGs. I focused on Dungeons and Dragons (I had over 20 AD&D 2E books as kid) but enjoyed White Wolf a lot. Sadly, although I really wanted it, I never found a group to run a campaign with and never tried playing Vampire: the Masquerade.

This game is exactly what I hoped for if I had played such a campaign. A clever story cooked up by a master DM (or the VtM equivalent), a large number of encounters with chances to grow my powers, and fun dives into lore and characters.

This game is designed to keep you on your toes. In an interview, the author said that his favorite concept in VtM is that just surviving is incredibly hard, and just dumping characters in a big city and seeing if they can live for a week. This is exactly the kind of scenario you have in the game.

You play as a vampire who is coming into Tucson after a long absence. The Prince there brings you into His service and asks you to complete several tasks. These tasks are each there own chapter, and there are 2 sets of 3.

You have many stats (over 30), with your initial stats determined by your clan (together with a clan weakness; mine was zoning out due to beauty). All stats are useful throughout the game, though mental stats are more useful early on.

Between mission you can spend your money (on housing, which is very useful, or cars, which the writer seems really really excited by and describes in incredible detail, with over a dozen options including exotic sports cars), upgrade your stats, or buy new equipment. You can turn NPCs into 'ghouls' who help you with everything. I got a ghoul early on and she factored into literally every mission from then on in an integral way.

True to the source, the game is heavily focused on stats and strategizing. The most important stat is hunger; high hunger makes you bad at everything, including finding more food to eat, so getting high hunger can cause a terrible spiral until you get back home and buy some cheap food. Moreover, using your coolest powers (i.e. 'disciplines') raises your hunger. You can use this to your advantage by using powers to hunt food, immediately wiping away your hunger boost.

I would describe this as a 'deluxe' Choice of Games title, if that descriptor existed. It has incredible graphics when you meet people, it has a great IP connection, and it is LONG.

I play a lot of IF games, and I can finish even very long material in an hour or two. But it took me an entire Saturday and much of the evening before to play this. It's like several shorter Choicescript games bundled together. To get a better idea of its length, I was thinking 'this game is huge' as I was getting close to its end. I was a little disappointed I had been able to raise my stats as high as I wanted, but it was okay. Then I realized that I was only halfway through the game.

There is some strong profanity in the game. I didn't run into any explicit sexual content. I received a review copy of this game. The violence level is about what you might expect from a game about superpowered vampires engaged in a war.

Timeout in the Wasteland, by Feneric

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A science experiment in the wasteland, September 23, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This one is an interesting game that shows a lot of promise, but has a lot of little details that can make for a frustrating experience. With a few tweaks, it could work pretty well. I'd love to see a longer game from this author with a long period of testing entered into IFComp or Spring Thing one year.

You play as a plant geneticist who has survived an apocalypse. You must keep your little garden of food safe, feed yourself and create hybrid plants. There are 4-5 days of gameplay with time tracked.

The programming here is impressive, from the time tracking to the puzzles involving three nouns at once. But a lot of ground level work is missing, the kind of thing that generally comes with experience or exhaustive beta testing.

Here are my scoring criteria:
+Polish. The game is technologically impressive, with complicated puzzles, active animals, a time system, etc.
-Interactivity. The game lacked exit descriptions in important areas, and some interactions were 'fiddly'. (For instance, to drink water, you must 'drink canteen'. DRINK WATER instead results in 'The Canteen is not open.', since the water is modeled as an object inside the closed canteen.'
+Descriptiveness. The writing is spare at times, but so is the setting. And the author put a lot of effort into backstory and thoughts in 'the wilderness'. I think the writing is good for a parser game, and will only improve with time.
-Emotional impact. The fiddliness of the interactions kept me at a distance from the game. Had the background actions been smoother, I think the feelings would be stronger.
-Would I play again? It was fun to see everything possible, but the difficulties made me loathe to return and tinker around.

The author's other game (The Gateway of the Ferrets) has the same kind of complicated game techniques but adds some cute ferrets that amplify my enjoyment of the game. It's worth checking out!

Edit: The interactivity and polish have increased since I wrote this, so I've revised my score accordingly!

Diabolical, by Nick Aires

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Play the villain (or, supervillain) with lots of laughs, September 23, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This game came out in 2015, after landmark games like Slammed!, Choice of Robots, Hollywood Visionary, and Creatures Such as We. But it definitely feels like a game somewhere in the transition point from early Choicescript (which was a lot more trope-focused and experimental, with either few stats or tons) and later Choicescript (where games tended to have unique focuses and more standardized gameplay and stat amounts).

You play as a supervillain focusing on one of three main stats: ingenuity, combat, and terror. I played as straight terror, and pretty much every challenge let me just pick a terror option when it wasn't testing one of my personality traits/relationship. I think this game definitely falls into the 'three stat trap' they've mentioned when training newer authors, where you can just pick one thing and stick with it forever.

I'm planning on writing more about this once my odyssey through Choice of Games's catalog finished, but I think the greatest use of stats in Choicescript games is not in providing puzzles or testing you but in showing the game remembers your previous actions. I think the more compelling way of providing 'challenge' and replay value is in setting up strongly motivated courses of action that directly compete with each other, forcing you to choose one at the cost of the others. This game has some of each style.

This game is definitely comedy-focused, and allows you to have a complete disregard for human life if you choose (I did a 'no kill' run). A lot of the humor is sort of mean-spirited, including a recurring news segment (that does a good job of showing the consequences of your choices) where a divorced/divorcing couple repeatedly insults each other. I didn't really like that kind of humor at first, but there were some genuinely funny segments, especially near the end.

The overall plotline and mystery reveals were pretty satisfying. I had a romance I liked. Two things that didn't work as well for me were a pretty abrupt ending (about four paragraphs were all there were after killing the main boss) and a few times where it did that 'Haha just kidding of course you aren't going to do that action you just picked' thing.

Overall, I'd feel comfortable recommending this game to people who like 'funny' villains or antiheroes more than heroes. This wasn't in my top ten, but I'll definitely replay at some point to see some of the other paths.

I received a review copy of this game.

Theatre, by Brendon Wyber

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Sprawling, creepy, non-linear game with great pacing, September 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
"Theatre" was developed after "Curses" and before "Anchorhead", and has many elements in common with both of these games, including some shared puzzles. It is a large, sprawling game, with many puzzles in the find-an-object-use-an-object category.

I found it slightly easier and slightly smaller than the other two games, but it may have just felt smaller because I always felt drawn forward to complete the game. A series of lost journal pages for collection provide a fascinating backstory.

As others have said, the writing feels a little off at times; however, the game gave me quite a few genuinely creepy moments during exploration, similar to the famous (Spoiler - click to show) "you forgot to close the front door" moment in Anchorhead. The game was strangely compelling despite the weaker writing.

As I said, the puzzles are slightly easier than many similar games. I also noticed that the author favored certain puzzles; for instance, there were at least five puzzles where the solution involved (Spoiler - click to show)pushing or moving a large object around.

A couple of times in the game, I thought I had put myself in an unwinnable situation by entering an area without some object I needed to get out. However, I found I was wrong. I don't think there is really any way to lock yourself out of winning, except by using one-use items when you shouldn't (when you have used a one-use item correctly, it will be obvious).

A couple of things, I wasn't quite sure what they did: (Spoiler - click to show)turning the switch in the electrical panel, and wearing the amulet. Also, as other reviewers noted, there were quite a few plot points never resolved.
However, I didn't feel cheated.

The one star off is for the lack of polish and the plotholes. Overall, though this is one of the most enjoyable games I have every played (for reference, the other games I've most enjoyed are Curses, Anchorhead, and Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina). I anticipate playing through it again several times in the future.

(I added the star back later)

The Cryptkeepers of Hallowford, by Paul Wang

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A single dungeon adventure with many paths, September 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
The Hero of Kendrickstone was a game that I enjoyed purely for the TTRPG module feel. This game absolutely has that same vibe, kind of like the Eye of the Beholder games.

In particular, this game (longer than the first one and IMO more polished) is a classic dungeon raid. You are a PC in a party and have to deal with the threat of the undead under a town while negotiating between various parties aboveground. There is a money economy, magic weapons, etc.

Some people have called it short on Steam. I've come to realize as I play these games that 'feeling short' often has less to do with word count (though it plays an important role!) and more to do with the narrative arc and setting expectations. It's unusual to have a game this size focus on a single event, and so people expect more, whereas a game set over one year (like Creme de la Creme or Metahuman, Inc.) provides well-known markers like holidays and season changes so players have an idea of how they are in the story and when the end is coming.

Again, like the last game, this is meat-and-potatoes Western RPG style gameplay, so if you love that sort of thing its great, but otherwise you may find it uninspiring. I'm in the first camp, and would definitely play another game in this series.

I received a review copy of this game.

Not Made With Hands, by Emily Short

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Emily Short's first public game, September 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game was announced as uploaded to the IF Archive on February 15, 2000, before Galatea. You play as a pilgrim who falls through some leaves into an ancient shrine. There are three rooms.

It was a proof of concept game. As such, it has some details implemented amazingly well, and others not implemented at all.

For instance, every object is marked as flammable or not; as cuttable or not; etc. but many objects listed in room descriptions are not implemented and reasonable synonyms (such as 'cookies' for 'packet of cookies') are not implemented.

Things this game models include:
-breakability
-flammability
-visibility/lighting and taking pictures
-shaking
-wearing a variety of things

I've played this game a few times over the years, and never got as far as I did today. For posterity, here are a few things that are interesting to do (spoils everything I found):

(Spoiler - click to show)
-SHOOT something (takes a pictures)
-BURN something WITH LIGHTER
-TURN ON LIGHTER before going into other rooms
-WEAR SKULL
-BREAK DEMIJOHN WITH METAL BOX
-CUT CHEST WITH SAW
-BREAK JAR (and look at your inventory!)
-CUT things WITH SHEARS (and repeating it)
-LOOK UNDER ALTAR
-X PANELS in altar room
-BREAK PANEL WITH METAL BOX
-ENTER PANEL or HOLE (can't remember which)


Things I haven't done:
-unlocked the metal box
-found the crayon

As for a rating:
-Polish: Half polished perfectly, half terribly.
+Descriptiveness: Lots of nice extra details. Very vivid, similar to later work.
-Interactivity: Very janky. This was created to demonstrate simulations of various physical attributes, and not to be a smooth game.
+Emotional impact: Despite its numerous frustrations, or perhaps because of it, the game has always held a certain mystery for me. There's just so much to find, and its rewarding. Kind of like So Far, which had a similar impression of there always being one more thing to find.
+Would I play again? I've visited this game several times over a few years' span.

The Hero of Kendrickstone, by Paul Wang

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Like playing through a Western RPG module, September 20, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
I was interested in Dungeons and Dragons at a young age, and I remember reading the first AD&D Player's Handbook with a flashlight when I was in grade school. So any game that manages to recreate the feel is a good one for me.

This game reminds me quite a bit of the parser game Heroes, one of my early favorites from when I started playing IF. In both games, you choose a class (both have a magic class, thief class, charmer class, and a physically powerful class), and then experience the same set of events but through a different viewpoint.

In this case, it's a fairly standard series of Western RPG tropes. I played through as a wizard, and died in my final confrontation. I plan on replaying to see more.

I received a review copy of this game.

You start out getting a specific reason that you are called on a quest. You journey to a great city, having an encounter with thieves along the way. In the city, you choose a patron (with a patron for each main class). Eventually, an evil wizard begins attacking, and you have to choose between 4 quests (again, tailored for the individual classes) to defeat the wizard.

It is possible to fail and die, and there are definitely 'wrong choices', with no save system. There is also a very important money system in this game, with successful quests netting you more money and a variety of things to spend it on.

The RPG-style gameplay is really the whole content here. If you're into that kind of game (such as Sorcery!, Choice of the Dragon, Heroes,etc.) then this may be a favorite of yours. If you're not into that, you'll be disappointed. The reviews on Steam are split, and I think that's the reason why.

I look forward to the sequel, and to replaying (with a different class this time) to see if I can finally defeat the wizard!


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