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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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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!

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.

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.

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.

The Gateway of the Ferrets, by Feneric

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A fun little game with a complicated device and two NPCs to control, September 15, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This parser game was made as part of last year's advent calendar.

It centers around a mysterious sort of room, inspired by Planescape and Land of the Lost but also reminiscent of Myst-like games and machines.

You have a pedestal with all sorts of doodads and contraptions. To get them to work, you need the help of two ferrets of varying talents.

The overall puzzle took me a while to puzzle out, and I was very happy to get the solution in a flash, but I was stumped before that.

The ferrets are cute and have nice little narrative touches, one of the highlights of the game.

The game only needs polishing to be great. A few things that could use improvement:

-The game starts with a wide open state space but only one thing advances the puzzle. I didn't notice that thing because (Spoiler - click to show)it requires examining the gateway and I had spent my first minutes exploring the device and trying to play with ferrets.
-Some actions can be difficult to phrase. In particular, instructing the ferrets to go to specific platforms was quite tricky for me to get (I tried climb to platform, go to platform, go up, etc. before hitting on the correct (Spoiler - click to show)climb mesh and (Spoiler - click to show)jump to w/e commands)

Those frustrations are mostly what made me feel the interactivity and polish could use some tweaking. But as a 'figure out this device puzzle', which I enjoy and I know quite a few others do, I would recommend this.

Congresswolf, by Ellen Cooper

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Congressional campaign manager sim/werewolf rights, September 12, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
So this game is better, I think, than its steam reviews would suggest. A few people seemed to have bombed its reviews over there. But its not perfect.

The writing in this game is descriptive, and I could picture all the characters clearly. You play as an aid to one of 4 different congressional candidates. Unlike other games that play it a bit safer, this one uses real life US parties (Republican and Democrat). It doesn't seem extremely biased one way or another; someone mentioned the game as treating Republicans as 'evil' but I chose a Republican millionaire and the game seemed just fine with that choice.

In this game, similar to Werewolves: Haven Rising, werewolves have been around for a while and are subject to harsh restrictions on their freedom.

The main threads of the game are:
-Deciding to do a dirty or fair campaign fight
-Making a decision about how you feel about werewolves
-Dealing with the aftereffects of a grisly murder
-Running a monthly budget

Someone said on Steam that the game seemed to assume a female protagonist. You can choose your gender, but some scenes in the game do feel written for a female protagonist in mind. For instance, there is a frightening scene where the protagonist (major spoilers for the middle of the game) (Spoiler - click to show)is being followed on a dark street alone at night, and is attacked in an alley by a werewolf, and is worried for about a month afterwards so it can see if they turn into a werewolf at the next full moon. Its easy to see this as an analogy for (Spoiler - click to show)rape and possible pregnancy, and that's not a theme that's very common in other media (except for the (Spoiler - click to show)Alien series). But it worked for me, and I don't see it as a drawback.

The biggest drawback I do see is that the narrative arc is relatively flat. I didn't feel a real build-up in tension in any of the main plotlines, although there was some there. The overall writing level was great, though, and I felt like my decisions definitely mattered. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to fans of werewolves, political games, or simulation text games.

I received a review copy of this game.

Choice of the Petal Throne, by Danielle Goudeau

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A deep dive into the worldbuilding of Tekumel that is cut short, September 3, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game is based on the world of Tekumel, a world setting almost as complex (or more) than Middle Earth and created starting in the 40's by M. A. R. Barker.

This game uses this setting well, but relies on prior knowledge of it or the desire to read several pages of backstory in the stats screen. I had that desire, so it was okay.

It's a lush world that incentivizes you to act violent, proud, sensual, etc. It's very interesting, and it leads to an exciting underground adventure.

And then, it stops. I thought I'd have quite a bit left to play, but it ends at what I thought would be the midpoint of the game. There are several pages of epilogue, but I felt like the overall narrative arc wasn't satisfying. It doesn't have to be longer, but the plot threads that are given prominence should, I feel, occupy more time.

I enjoyed it, regardless, and would recommend it to people who want to see if Tekumel and its novels and RPG settings are worth reading. It's made me think about reading them.

A Squire's Tale, by Benjamin Appleby-Dean

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A great medieval/fairy game sandwiched between two disappointing chapters, August 25, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I had trouble starting this game. It begins with a story about you, a squire, helping your lady chase down a rogue baron who may have kidnapped the prince. I found this chapter very lacking, for my tastes one of the most difficult opening chapters of a Choicescript game to get through. Choices were confusing, there were a lot of stats but very few points to go around (my largest stat was a 29 at the beginning, which in most Choicescript games represents dismal failure), and the story seemed fairly dry.

But the middle part of the game was very good for my personal tastes. I love games about the Fae or the fairy world, and much of the game revolves around attending a fair and a tournament. The fair has plausible deniablity with magical involvement, such as a tent that looks suspiciously like a giant flower.

In the path I chose, I ended up in a faery land, and found that part very enjoyable. I left with a strong assurance that I would somehow return.

But the last chapter all built up to a final choice, and I failed that final choice. I didn't die, but apparently I lived a sad life and never had any connection to the faery world again, which seemed a direct contradiction to the earlier paths.

I may need to play again, but I found the last chapter a bit lacking. And as for the first one, I wonder more and more as I play through the Choice of Games catalog whether authors should write the first chapter last, using a small set of 'preset' stats and names for a placeholder for placetesting until the very end. So many Choice of Games titles (pretty much all the ones I've given 4 stars) have mediocre opening chapters but satisfying mid-games. I think that you really get to know your characters and world as you write a game like this, and that you tend to grow as an author as you write. This game has the second-lowest rating on the Apple omnibus app, and I think its opening has a great deal to do with that.

I received a review copy of this game.

Neighbourhood Necromancer, by Gavin Inglis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A (purposely) ridiculous game about commanding a horde of zombies, August 23, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This is a game I went back and forth on for a score (between 4 and 5) for a while.

It's different than most other Choicescript games, but, in common with Gavin's other game, For Rent: Haunted House, it has a very, very small number of stats. There seems to be very few ways to tell what, if anything, your stats are used for and what effects them. There is one point in the game where you can actually ask a banshee what the stats do, but that is only one option out of many, and I didn't try it as I had others I was more interested in.

Most of this game involves you commanding a group of zombies and skeletons (the numbers of which are tracked and change), and basically creating a ton of gore. A lot of intestines and decapitations and devouring.

The game is completely self-aware, and includes outrageous characters (like an romantic option who urges you to complete destruction, or a vampire). The opening is very different from the rest of the game and I would definitely recommend pushing past it.

'Winning' is hard; my run (and most people's I saw online) ended in arrest. Strategizing is difficult in a way that's not entirely fun, and that's probably the biggest reason I'm going for a 4 instead of 5.

Strongly recommended for people that like parodies of horror movies, and there may be some overlap with fans of this game and fans of Robb Sherwinn games.

I received a review copy of this game.

The Fleet, by Jonathan Valuckas

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A purely strategic Choicescript game set in space, August 11, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This is a Choicescript game which feels like a streamlined, story-fied text version of some war game like Alpha Centauri or one of those boxed set tabletop games with hex maps (but only in spirit; it's shorter and more linear than those games).

You have stats like energy reserves, fighter pilot strength and fighter pilot numbers, etc. There is no romance at all, and all of your decisions are on how to manage your fleet, its strengths and its political positions.

I enjoy simulation games, but this one had a few flaws that prevented total enjoyment. I had trouble deciphering why some of my actions led to some of my skill changes. One complaint I've had with a few Choicescript games is that it can be difficult to tell when your stats are being tested vs when they are being changed.

Another issue is the lack of narrative surprises. For me at least, everything was telegraphed from very early on and never really changed. I read something about tips for writing heist movies and novels once that I think applies here. Paraphrased, it said, "Either the audience knows the plan ahead of time or the plan works perfectly, but never both at once." There just wasn't enough dramatic tension.

Fortunately, the strategic elements were engaging and well-thought out. Overall, worth playing if you know what kind of game you're getting into and enjoy that genre.

I received a review copy of this game.

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