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Ratings and 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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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

1 of 1 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:
-visibility/lighting and taking pictures
-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)
-TURN ON LIGHTER before going into other rooms
-BREAK JAR (and look at your inventory!)
-CUT things WITH SHEARS (and repeating it)
-X PANELS in altar room
-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!

NOLA Is Burning, by Claudia Starling

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I honestly have no clue what I just played. Gangster horror?, September 19, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game is completely off the rails. It started out as weird, segued to somewhat offensive, and then just took off into a bizarre void that somehow improved it.

The main character in this game is perhaps the most despicable MC in any Choice of Games entry I've played. You are a 'headcrusher', a violent enforcer for a local mob boss, and you're famous for torturing and killing people with a jagged, rusty knife. You are in love with your boss's wife and have been given a suicide mission to rescue her within 6 hours.

Now, I have no problem with aggressive protagonists. I've enjoyed taking over Alaska with a robot horde in Choice of Robots and being a slaughtering warrior hero for the Gods in Champion of the Gods.

But both of those games motivated the evil or violence. Before I played NOLA is Burning, I started compiling a list of what I think works and doesn't in Choicescript games, and having a motive for violence is one of them.

This game just kind of throws you out there. I don't know, it didn't really work for me.

Each chapter is a different step on your way to your final confrontation. You pass through an area with friends who practice Vodou, the turf of an Asian gang led by 'The Dragon', the local police precinct, and a strip club.

The game heavily uses slang, such as 'juice' for money and 'large' for (I think?) lump sums of $10,000 each. It uses phrases like 'Let's blow this popsicle stand' and 'hip to my jive'.

No other Choicescript game treats its main character so bad. You're constantly being betrayed or degraded or having body parts deeply injured or removed or having weird stuff shoved down your throat.

It's last few chapters took all this bizarre confusion and made it almost sublimely ridiculous. I had the honor of (Spoiler - click to show)losing my right arm, being possess by a Vodou loa and gaining a bionic bone-shooting arm, confronting the mob boss who was naked and wearing a baby's bonnet in a bathtub full of money before being lured by him into a room filled with robotic spiders.

The only game I've ever seen that can compare with the circus this puts on is Bolivia By Night, which has a memorable segment where you drive an armored hottub that is powered by a DVD from a South American knockoff of the Olsen Twins.

Ooh, boy. I told myself I'd never rate a Choice of Games article below four stars because 1. I love choice of games titles, 2. I wrote one and know how it feels to spend months or years of your life on these things, and 3. they've all gone through a lengthy review process and are generally polished.

So I'm just going to go through my rating system blindly and see where I end up.
+Polish. This game felt completely smooth mechanics-wise. No problems here, no typos.
+Descriptiveness. It had it in spades, often to my regret.
+Emotional impact. Yes, again by the above.
-Interactivity. I felt like the stats were confusing and didn't add up quite right.
+Would I play again? From seeing some others' comments, there's parts I definitely would want to see.

So 4 stars. You know, I almost gave it a point for interactivity anyway because I felt like I had real agency, but I honestly can't recommend this game to people in general, which is what I believe a 5 star review represents. I did not enjoy this game in the sense that its scenes filled me with delight. But as a critic I find it fascinating. I would recommend it to people who are into seeing the weird corners of company back catalogs and other obscure things.

The writer is definitely talented, they just use that talent in ways that give me discomfort, much like the opening scene of this game where I had to chug a bottle of Pepto Bismol after waking up in a dumpster.

I received a review copy of this game.

Speed Demons, by Pleroma

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A short and poignant game about breaking the speed of light, September 18, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This game was nominated for the XYZZY awards, and was one of 2 commercial games I hadn't heard of.

This game is based off of the lyrics to the song "Pushing the Speed of Light", which I looked up after playing. I think they add to the gameplay.

This game branches into 3 paths and each of those paths has a success and two failures, I believe (one for too slow, one for too fast). The three paths you choose between give you different backstories and goals.

I thought the writing was well-done, and my opinion of it improved as I replayed. I especially like the 'singing' path. It reminds me of a lot of the sci-fi in the 60's to 70's. It's not necessarily poetical or lyrical all of the time, but it places humans in a situation impossible in our present reality and uses that to give insights into our nature.

Here's my score:
-Polish. The game uses the standard Twine styling, and paragraphs have no line between them, making reading a little bit hard for me.
+Descriptiveness. This is one of the highlights of the game, the detailed descriptions of the technology and its effects, as well as your feelings and the crew's.
+Interactivity. Wildly branching games like this only work well if it's short, and this one is. Does what it's supposed to.
+Emotional impact. Hmm, it's kind of back and forth for me. I liked it but didn't really identify with any of the characters, and I feel like identifying is important for this piece. I'd give this 1/2 a star for emotional impact, but I round up.
+Would I play again? I've already replayed it several times.

Mushroom Hunt, by Polyducks

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Gorgeous graphics in an examine-centered game, September 18, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
Text-based games are so interesting because they get reinvented and renewed and spring up in different communities over time. Some groups have been making Inform-like games ever since Inform went out of business, while some have recently reconstructed and reimagined Magnetic Scrolls and Level 9 style games for nostalgia's sakes, and others still have made text adventures based off of popular culture's depiction of text adventures in TV, webcomics and film.

So this Adventuron game seems firmly in the retro/nostalgia camp, with chunk text and old-style cursor together with beautiful pixel art. Unlike the Inform 5/6/7 stream of games, the emphasis here is less on exhaustive smoothness or synonyms and more on having a small set of commands to work with.

In particular, the main commands you use are LOOK and GET. While there aren't traditional puzzles, there are puzzles similar to those in Lime Ergot and other games where you have to examine something then a detail of something. It also tracks state from room to room, so LOOKing in one room can affect a LOOK in another room.

The story is about gathering mushrooms for a stew of differing amounts of lethality. There are 10 mushrooms to find. Before getting hints, I had only found 4 mushrooms and had no clue how to get more.

Here's my rating:

+Polish: For what it's trying to be (a speed-jam retro adventure) it is very well polished, with perfectly-fitting graphics and a lot of hidden nuggets.
+Descriptiveness: The mental images the game gives are very vivid, especially of the mushrooms, which aren't pictured in the art. The smells were described very well, too.
-Interactivity. The play style didn't gel well with me. Most of my experience involved error messages, and the central puzzle for unlocking more content (finding (Spoiler - click to show)the shears) was a puzzle where I definitely knew what I had to do but didn't know how to type it/bring it about.
+Would I play it again? I've already played it several times.
+Emotional impact: I've gone back and forth on this. I can confidently say, though, that it is charming, and that's a good emotion.

This game has been nominated in the XYZZY awards for Best Use of Multimedia.

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