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Reviews by MathBrush

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Animalia, by Ian Michael Waddell

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A richly responsive game about animals occupying a human body, November 19, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This was one of the best and most-talked-about games form IFComp 2018.

I played through this one once during the comp and about 6 or 7 times afterwards.

This game has some of the greatest responsivity I've ever seen in a choice game. You make a choice between several different characters to inhabit 4 regions of a robot-child's body. Each area of the body has 3 choices.

Throughout the game, the character inside a given area will talk, and there are 3 variants every time this happens. In addition, there is a point where any two characters can talk to each other, which gives (I believe) around 90 combinations, some of which are merged but still very impressive. There are multiple pathways through everything.

Basically, this is a combinatorial explosion game, which are usually very short because it's impossible to make them long. This is a long game, though, so that means the author worked incredibly hard.

It also made me laugh a lot at different points, literally laughing out loud (for instance when (Spoiler - click to show)Charlie the robot is standing in the toilet flushing his feet over and over until mom comes in).

I'm giving it 4 stars just because I felt that, although my choices mattered a lot, it was hard for me to make and execute plans. I tried so many times just to get to Martin's house, even with the author's help, and I wish I could have known better how to do that. But this is an incredible achievement of a game.

The Addicott Manor, by Intudia
A classic CYOA-style online game book about a haunted mansion, November 15, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This IFComp 2018 game features a professional thief protagonist who is exploring an old, haunted mansion with the intent of finding treasure.

The style is unique to the company, Intudia, with numerical choices listed in the text and buttons with numbers on them lined up below.

The game itself has an intricate backstory, with the mansion having many levels and many ghosts and villains.

There are numerous problems, however. The text is overly long at times, with scattered grammatical errors (like 'to' instead of 'too). The numbers on the bottom are often in a strange pattern with one number far to the side of the others. Instead of tracking state, it seems as if the game relies on you to remember what actions you took in the past.

Still, the story is compelling, and a fun read for fans of horror.

Border Reivers, by Vivienne Dunstan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A murder mystery set in Old Scotland, November 15, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I helped to beta test this game.

This is a fairly big conversational game set in medieval Scotland. The player must converse with over a dozen characters to figure out who is planning a murder.

The ambitious game design makes this feel epic, and it's exciting to get tangled up in the web of deceit. However, the large number of characters and the many topics makes for a combinatorial explosion, and it becomes easy to get lost in a forest of information.

The author has an Introcomp game that is also set in medieval times that is worth checking out.

Santa Carcossa Nights, by Bitter karella
A big, fairly serious horror game by bitterkarella, November 8, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
bitterkarella is known for making horror-themed games in Quest, both serious and humorous.

This game has more styling than most, with hand-chosen fonts and neon colors.

The storyline seems well thought-out, and the setting is evocative. It all feels like an intense and overwhelming dream, the kind you wake from gasping for air. It starts out light-hearted but gets more intense.

This game has the usual problems Quest does, which I think are inevitable given the platform. Of all bitterkarella's games, this is the one I'd most like to see polished up in Inform or TADS 3.

Pumpkin Night, by Eleanor Hingley
A novella-length game about a crew of teenagers and a haunted town, November 5, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game combines dating game-type choices with complex static storytelling to form a rich interactive game.

You go to a Halloween party, and a lot of people are there. A supernatural event puts the whole town in danger, and you have a group of 8 people you can interact with, including multiple romantic partners.

Most of the choices relate to how you treat people. It doesn't track perfectly, though...I picked constantly to have favorable interactions with one character (Zachary) and twice with another (Ione) and received romantic possibilities only with Ione.

Very impressive. The title and cover art led me to believe it would be a short and under-implemented parser game. Instead, it was a rich and polished novella.

The font was a light grey that was a bit difficult to read, as a warning to the visually impaired.

Fhtagn! - Tales of the Creeping Madness, by Design Imps

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An entertaining fusion of Lovecraftian horror with the roaring twenties, July 18, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I received a review copy of this game, and played through a couple of games.

This is a single- or multi-player board game that goes through 6 rounds. In each of the six rounds, you are trying to increase your 7 stats. These stats allow you to pass challenges. In the end, you see if your stats will qualify you for a 'role', determining if you win or not. The roles have 2 hidden stat requirements which you must guess from their descriptions.

I've played many commercial IF games in the last couple of years, and I would put this one in the top tier in terms of polish. The music, graphics, animations, and overall presentation are professional and engaging.

Writing-wise, I was strongly reminded of Fallen London in its more humorous sidequests. You are playing as a cultist each time. A good amount of text was repeated on two playthroughs, more repetition than is typical for a pure text game, but less repetition than I'm used to in a board game. It allows for mods (several of which are already developed), which increases the replay value.

The game was charming and funny. I found myself excited by the game map with its bouncy art of classic locations like an old town hall, an asylum, a speakeasy, etc.

The interaction was a little fiddly. It took me two playthroughs and two readings of the tutorial to fully understand what was going on, and I'm not really convinced of the 'elder sign' mechanic. The game doesn't tell you how to pass certain tests, including the test to see if you win, but you can spend elder signs to see what tests include. Replay also helps you know what tests require.

However, I enjoyed both of my playthroughs. Because I hadn't paid for the game, I considered what price I'd pay for the game. I thought, "Is this $20 range like Sunless Skies? Because that would be pretty steep." When I saw it was $4.99, I thought, "That's more than fair for the price you're paying."

So if you're a fan of Lovecraftian references, gothic humor, Ruby Gloom-style art, or complex board games like Arkham Asylum, this is a good game for you.

Known Unknowns, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
High school ghost investigation with teen romance, May 18, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I had this game mixed up with the short Birdland sequel Open Up, and so I never got around to playing this until after the XYZZY Nominations. Then I had to see what it was all about.

Brendanís writing is what I wish I could write like. Characters are so vivid, and the text takes startling turns of phrase that you canít help from laughing at. The characters felt alive to me.

Part of that left me with a bad aftertaste in a way that a lesser artist couldnít do. The events in the game are the kind of thing I was terrified of growing up. My area had a lot of teen pregnancies and deaths from alcohol and drugs that affected people I knew. The idea of going to parties where all the highschoolers are getting drunk, watching each other have sexual experiences, using drugs, and having young men who wonít listen to Ďnoí (like Jayden) wander around seems like a reminder of personal nightmares.

But I donít believe thatís what the author intended. Games are a Rohrschach test that brings out whatever the reader is thinking. I wouldnít have had such a strong reaction to the game if Brendan hadnít written such strong characters.

The rest of the game is wonderful. The use of emoji is like a comedy version of 10pm, and the overall mystery and romance were well done. I liked the use of red options to distinguish paths that were very different from the others. It made choices feel more significant.

I also found the structure really interesting, with conversations like multi lane highways and exploration segments like city streets.

This gameís craft level is very high, and Iíve found myself thinking of it frequently in the last few days as Iíve been working on my own games.

The Hall of the Fount of Artois, by Simon Ellis
A homebrew parser game that leans on classic tropes, May 2, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This is a parser game written in C++. I played it on my own at first, but after I found it had trouble responding to several commands (and crashed after a few unexpected commands) I resorted to the walkthrough.

This game leans heavily on old text adventure cliches, especially making homages to Curses! and, perhaps, Scott Adams games.

Several scenes from Curses! are exactly reproduced, such as the delicately balanced key and the spade joke.

The worldbuilding was fairly well done, but I can't recommend this one due to the difficulties of the parser.

if not us: an interactive fiction anthology, by ub4q
An ambitious and sprawling collection of games, April 29, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This is unique among IF; the closest thing to it I've seen is the current Spring Thing game Life in This Northern Town.

This is an anthology of five games: one inform game and four heavily modified Twine games.

I'll discuss each game in a minute. First, an overview: the folder from itch.io contains six images, one of each of the main protagonists together with a cover photo. The art is very well-done.

The general idea is that five heroes banded together, and then something occurred to them in the long run. The games focus on the beginning and the aftermath, skipping the traditional climax. It's contemplative.

Each game is named after a main character. Looking at the photos before playing is advised.

Alemayehu is the Inform game, and perhaps this should not be the game to start with when you're playing through. It is a constrained parser game, with a few actions primarily relating to other characters. It is a one-room game.that last a couple dozen actions or so.

Apollinariya is a textual labyrinth in Twine. The screen is split in two, with a table of contents on the left and text on the right. Your goal, if there can be said to be one, is to fill out the table of contents on the left, after which you can read the story as a whole. Links are unusual, as clicking on them reveals arrows going left or right, occasionally crossed out. To me, this was the weakest Twine game, as I ended up lawnmowering every link to get the last bits of story. But I enjoyed the final story.

Arzan is a heavily styled letter with a number of binary choices. in tone and styling it is reminiscent of First Draft of the Revolution. While the story is fairly linear, it offers some significant choices in terms of tone and emotion.

Cevahir was perhaps my favorite Twine subgame. Based on a taciturn character, it is minimalistic in writing but uses evocative visual imagery.

The final Twine game, Renatum An Amurum, uses retro styling, similar to text boxes in SNES RPG's. Similar to the Texture writing system, hovering over links provides additional context, but links are still clicked instead of dragged. This game requires replays to get the full story.

On the negative side, I found the new names and the obscure writing hard to get into at first, and I was surprised that the Twine and Inform games had been bundled up into applications.

I felt like I knew the characters by the end, which is a good sign.

American Angst, by m3g1dd0

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An ambitious amnesia horror RPG with some rough edges, April 21, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game was not what I expected. With warnings about graphic violence and explicit language, the title 'American Angst', and the logo of an American flag-colored smily face, I expected something like a mix between 'The Purge' and 'Saw' and anti-Donald Trump revenge horror.

I got something else instead, and was pleasantly surprised. This game is an amnesia-based horror game that tells the story passively through set pieces, until the end when all is revealed.

It uses extensive styling, with special 'emphasis' boxes, an 8-bit looking battle interface, and special designs for links and devices. Profanity occurs about once or twice a screen, but my chrome extension blocked it easily.

The game saves automatically, and takes you back to checkpoints if you die.

I found the story compelling, and was surprised by the ending(s).

The game has rough patches, though. The credits don't list a single tester, and it shows. There are several mis-spellings (such as the word 'matrace' for mattress) and small grammatical errors (like 'the flashlight doubles for a nighstick' instead of 'doubles as').

Similarly, there are many game elements which should improve interactivity but end up not doing much. There is a panic stat which doesn't seem to do much besides letting you choose between having a panic attack or not. The battles are more random than strategy based. And choices aren't informed, some literally being 'left or right?' with no other information, making it feel like you don't have control.

Having had this game tested would have caught some of these issues. As it is, though, this is a well-done game and one of the best Twine games of 2017.


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