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Reviews by MathBrush

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American Election, by Greg Buchanan

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A long Twine game with illustrations and music about Trump's election, June 22, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game is one of the most difficult to rate that I've had in a long time. Not to play, but to rate adequately.

What does a good rating mean? Is it an endorsement? Is it a message that says, 'Hey, I'm sure you'll like this game?" Is it an objective measure of technical skill?

This game is very long, 11 chapters of text that took me over an hour to play. In it, you play one of Trump's campaign staff as you aid him (with an in-game alias of Truman Glass) in getting elected, and the aftermath.

There's been a lot of talk on Twitter in the last weeks about authors appropriating others' stories. As a white able-bodied man, I have written protagonists as female, or disabled, or hispanic, without really thinking about it.

This game goes a bit further, in that the author writes the experience of a queer woman in America with a minority second-generation immigrant background. And these facets are essential to the story. I see in the credits that others were consulted, so it's possible that this is what they were consulted on.

The minority you are is an option, and Polish ancestry is oddly listed along with Hispanic, Black and Indian ancestry. Is this saying that Polish people have similar experiences with POC? Or is it saying that it's immaterial which one you pick? Other details are off; the twin towers attack is described as happening at sunset, when I remember it happening during early hours at school in the West.

What is the story? It portrays the protagonist as divided against herself, constantly experiencing ill effects that are contrary to the ideals of the campaign she works for. It's not a straight-up retelling of Trump, but it's close enough. It veers between painting Trump as a hideous cartoon and glamorizing him as a tough-guy mob boss.

Politics have belonged in Interactive Fiction for decades, almost since the beginning. Infocom even had a game that was just a big anti-Reagan message (A Mind Forever Voyaging). It's a medium especially well suited to political messages.

I don't know if I felt comfortable with this game's messages. Like Trump itself, it stated controversial things (like saying being anti-vaxx and pro-choice have to go together) and then played it off as satire.

I don't endorse this game, except for players who are interested in seeing a take on American politics. I do give it a 4 star rating on my scale, knowing that this will be effectively seen as an endorsement, as it will be fed into the overall average.

My scale:
-Polish. The game is thoroughly polished, with text transitions, styling, illustrations, and music.
-Interactivity. I am definitely anti-slow text but this was better than most, with fast-forwarding enabled by clicking and a fairly fast speed to begin with. Choices were sometimes clearly not important/not offering real choice, but in general I felt like my choices mattered and they were brought up again in the future.
-Emotion. Well, I felt a large range of emotions playing.
-Descriptiveness. The writing made me feel like I was there.
-Would I play again? This is the star I'm not awarding. I don't really agree with this game, and don't feel like playing again.

The Prongleman Job, by Arthur DiBianca

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A heist game with a limited parser--but watch out for the owner!, May 13, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I helped beta test this Spring Thing 2020 game.

In it, you play as a someone trying to rob a house for an organization of thieves.

Like DiBianca's other games, you have limited parser options here. All interactions are performed by typing the name of the object you are interacting with.

The puzzles are interesting, with puzzles involving far-flung parts of the house, searching puzzles, combination locks, etc.

The owner can come back at any time, and discerning the patterns of his visits is one of the biggest puzzles of the game, one which I didn't see for a long time and which really surprised me. I'm not sure it worked for me completely, but I enjoyed this game well. If you're a parser fan, this is one of the best parser games released this year, and definitely worth checking out!

Napier's Cache, by Vivienne Dunstan

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An unusual historical parser game, April 11, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I beta tested this game.

Napier's Cache is in an unusual niche of historical fiction, and is based on a family story of the author.

It is fairly linear in story with nonlinear interactions in each 'phase'. You first have a small treasure hunt, followed by a dinner scene, then another treasure hunt and a simple maze.

In design it reminds me quite a bit of Christminster, an early (pre-IFComp) inform game that was well-regarded at the time, that also had you doing things like eating at a dinner with scholars and discovering the history of old alchemists.

Overall, the quality is well-done, and most reasonable interactions are coded for. I enjoyed each iteration of this better than the previous, and I believe this is something to be proud of.

Pensées Profondes, by White Fangs

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A long, obscurely written French Twine game with minimal choices, February 28, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This is game that is hard for me to review, in many ways.

First, it was difficult to play. It is in French, not my native language, but it also is written in a very allegorical and elusive style. It is very long, with at least four chapters each with a dozen or more pieces. I encountered a bug while looking at my objects list at the very end of Ch. 3 where the link to return to the main story disappeared.

Also, it's hard to say what score to assign. According to my rubric, I give 1 point for being polished (it is), 1 point for being descriptive (which it also is), and 1 point for interactivity (despite the fact it's linear, giving me a choice to see the objects page or not was in fact useful). But I didn't feel an emotional impact as the scenes were too disconnected, and I was too exhausted by it to play again. I believe that many of these problems would be mitigated for a Francophone.

The Empty Chamber: A Celia Swift Mystery, by Tom Sykes

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A pleasant little murder mystery in 1950's England, November 30, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
This game is a fine addition to the long tradition of murder mystery interactive fiction games.

This is a one-room game. You, Celia Swift, are aiding Inspector Land in researching the mystery of an orchestra member's death.

There are two phases: a puzzle-based investigative phase, and a deduction phase.

The investigative phase requires patience, and the deduction phase doesn't give too much away if you guess wrong.

The one thing that mars this game is the large number of unhelpful responses. If a second edition were released, or a similar game released in the future, I would wish for more custom responses.

Summer Night City, by ghoti

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A challenging Twine game about dystopia and intrigue, November 19, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I beta tested this game.

Visually, this game is nice and polished, and the text is free from typos and bugs.

You play as a man blinded by the government and sent to work. While at work, you encounter a cast of characters entangled in a web of intrigue, and must make your own decisions and what to investigate and who to help. There are 6 different endings, some of which can happen unexpectedly, which makes this game pretty difficult (especially with no undo feature I saw.)

The first chapter's text is incredibly dense, with a lot of big words and long sentences. Once other characters are thrown into the mix, the pace picks up, and the dialogue especially is fresh and well-written.

I would love to see a dialogue-only game by this author (like the very popular games Birdland and Hana Feels). As for this game, I was interested enough to play to several different endings, and felt satisfaction at reaching a good one.

Frenemies; or, I Won An Andy Phillips Game!, by B F Lindsay

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A loving tribute to/light parody of Andy Phillips in a single room, November 19, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
Andy Phillips is a figure in the IF community known for occasionally releasing massive IF games that generally feature science fiction of some sort, large maps with a few puzzles available at a time, and deadly women.

In this game, you're a super-fan of Andy Phillips who has been locked in by his roommates. You're wearing a jumpsuit from an Andy Phillips game and you have tons of memorabilia around the rooms, all of which is directly based off of the games.

There are a few start puzzles and then one main one, getting out of the room. I found the starter puzzles not too hard, but the main puzzle requires few leaps of intuition. Given the constrained size of the game, however, it's possible to suss out the solution after time, and there is a great help system.

Additional Tales from Castle Balderstone, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short horror parser games connected with a backstory, November 19, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
Like the original Balderstone (which you don't have to play to understand this), you are at a gathering of horror writers who tell 'stories' which are minigames. The order of the stories is randomised.

The games are coded well, and the tone varies a lot, sometimes dramatic, sometimes silly, sometimes frightening, all sort of tongue in cheek. Many of them have twists, whether geographical or as a meta-narrative etc.

I came, I saw, I had fun, the stories aren't really related, so why don't you just go try it out and see for yourself?

Faerethia, by Peter Eastman
A polished Twine game with music and philosophy, October 9, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I'm a fan of 'two-world' type games, and this one fits the bill.

This game starts out with you in a sort of Plato's Cave. Soon you find yourself in Faerethia, and then there is a flashback to (Spoiler - click to show)the real world.

While there is an overarching story (one that has been done by several people, even up to Dr. Who and MLP fan fiction), the real thrust of this IFComp entry is its philosophy. It tries to tackle identity and the idea of continuity of self.

Does it work? It might have been hard once to imagine getting any kind of deep discussion out of interactive fiction games, but there's been quite a lot of work in IF that tackles big issues in a professional and educational way (like the excellent game Hana Feels).

Does this game reach that level? I'm not really sure, but it has a lot of polish, and it's not quite so heavy-handed as many other 'deep' games. I felt my playtime was well-spent.

Enceladus, by Robb Sherwin

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A participatory space western comedy, October 8, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
Robb Sherwin is legendary for a certain kind of game, one with many creative NPCs, imaginative and creative language, and blood, sex, and profanity.

I love his style, but frequently it gets too much for me. But Enceladus has the wittiness and imagination without as much of the blood, sex and profanity. This IFComp game is like Respectable Robb Sherwin, as if Sherwin's writing were a teenager seeing a cop drive by, doing their best to walk normal and not look like they're high.

So this is a Robb Sherwin game I can genuinely recommend for most audiences. It's not meant for kids, though (there's some gore and it could get pretty scary for them). This is a great chance for more people to discover Sherwin's clever humor (or stupid humor? or both?).

You play as a character on the HMS Plagoo. A werewolf is loose in space, and you soon crash on the moon Enceladus. You have to defeat your enemies while simultaneously taking care mentally and physically of your friends while they do the same for you.

The game is completely linear; the interactivity is "do the next thing we tell you too". There's a few smatterings of puzzle elements, a little bit less than Photopia, for instance, but more than 0.

This style of interactivity made me feel like I was an actor in a play, giving lines at the appropriate part. And since Sherwin's writing has always reminded me of Shakespeare (focusing on witty turns of phrase and a mixture of lowbrow and highbrow), it works well.

(P.S. It may seem hyperbole to compare anyone to Shakespeare, but I'm not saying that quality of writing is exactly equal. I'm just talking about the sense of humor)


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