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Ratings and Reviews by Rovarsson

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Hibernated 1 - This place is death, by Stefan Vogt

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"It is what it is.", October 27, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF
Edit: It has been brought to my attention that what I called "retro-gameplay feel" is actual sparsity due to the limitations of the Commodore 64 on which Hibernated 1 was originally written. I therefore added a star for "tight programming in small nooks and crannies".
More in the comments.


"Hibernated 1" is a pretty straightforward sci-fi game with cool electronic engineering puzzles and an abandoned alien ship to spend a few cool hours as a space heroine.

That is, it could be, were it not that the game overdoes its retro-gameplay feel by quite a lot of notches for my tastes.

Although the basic descriptions are good, sometimes even great, implementation of scenery is almost non-existent, making it hard to get a feel for the spaceship you're investigating. Even more frustrating, implementation for needed objects is also very minimalist, leading to exchanges such as this:

> X SLAB
It is what it is. A closer examination does not reveal any new insights.

Is the glass slab lying on the floor or standing upright? Is it the size of my head or taller than me? Is it clear and transparent or milky and opaque? These "new insights" might give an inkling as to how to use this thing.

Oh, talking about that verb: due to the two-word parser, you need to USE objects. In the right place, and , very importantly, at the right time. If you do not, the response is unforgiving.

>USE PARTS
That is not an option.

Even though you really do need to use those parts in that location, only there is something else that has to be done elsewhere in the ship first. So, no helpful responses to tell you you're on the right track.

Well, since you're carrying around IO, a semi-sentient robotic tamagotchi to assist you, you'd think that helpful feedback would be provided by simply:

>TALK IO

but unfortunately, 99% of the time you get:

That is not an option.

Because of all this, it is clear at every moment that you are not a female spacecaptain uncovering the secret of a lost alien spacecraft. You are you, sitting at your computer taking a stab at the right sequence of commands to type to make something happen to the gamestate.

That being said, once you've come to that agreement with the game and with yourself, "Hibernated 1" is a fine "logic-in-the-dark" puzzle. Just don't expect too much back from it, like feedback and stuff...

Nightfall, by Eric Eve

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Stubbornly going back into an evacuated city to find "her", October 26, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Well, this was straight up my alley. Squarely in my comfortzone. Apparently I feel comfortable exploring the dimly lit streets of a gloomy abandoned city... (huh, what does this say about me, I guess...)

And exploring you must do. Since Nightfall is basically puzzleless, it's all about looking around and solving the Big Puzzle: Who is She?

While you search around the big, big map, some locations will trigger memories, which can be RECAPped to get a picture of this mysterious person you've actually half-known most of your life. Glimpses into her inner life, helping to make sense of what's happening this night.

The author has included some helpful commands to help navigate and keep your place in the story. (GO TO, REMEMBER, THINK). These are a great help, especially since the PC has a lot more knowledge of the geography than the player, and because it's easy to be unsure about what to do next in such a big city full of possibilities.

Writing and implementation are very good, good enough to have you wandering around Xing everything and forget about the time.

Yes, time matters in this game. You have to find her in a certain amount of time or ... Actually I don't know. I found her by 01.37am. I have no idea how much more time the game goes on for. (You can check the time limit in the help menu at the beginning of the game if you want.)

Depending on the route you took through the city, the locations and objects you examined, you get a different ending. (I got a "losing" one I think, but I liked it nonetheless.)

A game with great atmosphere, it deserves to be played/read attentively, best of all in one or two long stretches.

Sunset Over Savannah, by Ivan Cockrum

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A shining pearl., October 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Playing Sunset over Savannah is a marvelous experience.

It is a story about personal growth and difficult emotional decisions in a magic-realist setting. The protagonist goes through a sequence of changing emotions about his life and himself that reverberated strongly with me. The setting reflects that. It is an everyday beach location, a pavilion by the seashore, that is suffused with wonderment about small beauties. At defining points in the story, the magic breaks through in illusions or visions whose reality is up to the reader to interpret.

Hard as it may be, the writing succeeds flawlessly in capturing that feeling of wonder in the real. There are carefully crafted short descriptions of the beauty of beach, sun, sea... Responses to actions are clear and to the point.
Following important emotional breakthroughs the author goes all out in dreamlike prose, that fits with the moment in the story.
All through the game there is a fun, friendly humor, making the player feel at home in this world.

Of course, a bug at the wrong moment would kill the fragile atmosphere of a game like this quite swiftly. Fortunately, Sunset over Savannah is very much up to the challenge of sustaining this wondrous experience. I found one tiny bug and less than a handfull of typos. Things like sand, water and ropetying are well handled, as are swimming and diving. The little details like a small crab scuttling around in the sand or the pressure of a wave crashing above while diving add immensely to the immersion. There are also tons of meaningful responses to completely unnecessary commands, which makes it a joy to just play in the sand.

The puzzles our protagonist has to solve to get a grip on his own emotions and resolve are hard. Really hard. (To me, that is. I'm not that proficient in that department.) It was particularly difficult to find that first loose thread to get the ball rolling, and even then, the ball got stuck more than a few times. This is no punishment however, having such a beautiful place to wander around in. It pays to think about all the properties of the inventory-objects, all the possible functions they could have.
There is a good help system with vague-to-explicit hints per puzzle, but once you've explored all locations thoroughly, all you should maybe need are one or two nudges.

A lesser game would have a serious problem with integrating so many hard puzzles into a story that depends on depth of emotion and fragile wonderment. It would be hard to maintain the willing suspension of disbelief on the player's part.
Not Sunset over Savannah. The characterization of the protagonist and his mental state are strong enough to maintain the illusion and the immersion.

A beautiful, beautiful game.

Fragile Shells, by Stephen Granade

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Space Station Escape, October 19, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Escape
This, ladies and gentlemen, is good work!

"Fragile Shells" is an excellently made text escape game. It consists of a series of interconnected puzzles, all of them solvable by using logic, common sense and a ready knowledge of basic physics.

Maybe too easy for some, but I found that the layering of one puzzle onto another, linking their solutions together into one clear chain from the givens to the conclusion was very satisfying indeed.

Just about every command I tried had a meaningful response, a very friendly game indeed.

Add to this an exciting backstory remembered in bits and pieces by the protagonist to frame it, and you get a short and delightful IF-gem.

A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Immersion extreme!, October 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Not quite IF as I imagine it, but hey, it's text, it's a game (of sorts) and I can assure you it does not take long to get fully immersed in this simulation of a society developing.

It is amazing what sparse text and a few action buttons (with reload-timer) combined with human imagination and empathy will do to suck you into this world, how little of a nudge a brain needs to be there in that other world.

The Dreamhold, by Andrew Plotkin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Snippets of a mage's life, October 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy
I played The Dreamhold in tutorial-mode. The tutorial voice was really well done, providing not only a basic introduction to IF but also guidance to certain puzzles and avenues of possibilities deep into the game proper. It never gets too intrusive.

There is an immense castle/dungeon to explore, with quite a complex layout. I like making my own maps, so this was a fun excercise on its own. You start off in a recognizable, habitable few rooms, and the further you venture from that center, the more varied and fantastic the locations get. There are a few vantage points up above. The wide sunlit vistas from these are a nice contrast to the dark feeling in the rest of the castle.

The puzzles in tutorial-mode are well-clued and solvable without hints, provided that you are well and truly engaged in solving this game. Especially near the end it is neccesary to understand what you have learned during your journey, instead of just having gone through the motions.

The sunlit vistas I mentioned are welcome sources of light and space in this game. I would have welcomed just a sprinkling of comic relief or self-deprecating humor from the PC to break the sad-and-gloom atmosphere a bit more. After some time searching the halls and domes the air in the castle starts weighing on the player's mind.

The implementation goes very deep, for scenery-objects as well as for "wrong" commands. Most things the player tries are recognized and their impossibility or impracticality explained, instead of getting a standard sarcastic snarl.

Fun, big, entertaining. Three stars for now, maybe more when I replay in expert-mode.

Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
(mostly) Logical Magic, October 11, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, History
I had been putting of playing Savoir Faire because it is a) an old school puzzle hunt which b) depends on magic. Two things I do not particularly enjoy when playing IF.
However, after succesfully completing the puzzly Theatre with very few hints, I decided to take on Emily Short's challenge. It was great!

The reason I dislike most magic is that it feels superficial. A bunch of floaty blabla about "words of power" that somehow control the essence of things doesn't appeal to me.
In Savoir Faire, most of the puzzles depend on the Lavori d'Aracne, a magic system that lets the practitioner LINK objects. That way there is at least a hint of a physical connection between the objects and the practitioner of magic. These links also depend on a material likeness of the objects, so the magic system feels more like the use of an extra property of nature than a violation of it.

At the start of the game, your PC is almost too obnoxious to even be an anti-hero. Coming to the house you grew up in to ask for money to help with gambling debts, finding that your adoptive father and sister are not there while you expected them to be, and then going on to loot the place? Not very nice, to put it mildly. Through the snippets of backstory you find through memory and exploration though, he is somewhat redeemed (somewhat, that is.)

The setting, the mansion of the count who took in the PC, makes quite an impression through the near-perfect prose of Emily Short. Descriptions are terse, only the bare necessities there, with an ever so delicate sprinkling of detail. Examining further however opens up layers of feeling and meaning about the rooms and furniture, so that the player is drawn into this world. Extremely well done!

Because of the use of magic, I tagged this game "fantasy", but it's actually more an alternate history, where the old France is precisely the same as it was, with the addition of this extra set of natural laws, i.e. the Lavori d'Aracne.

Hard puzzles, but all of them logical; many alternative solutions (except one I found so obvious that I was disappointed not to have it work: (Spoiler - click to show)To uncork a bottle you link the cork to your sword and then draw the sword. To my mind it made much more sense within the magic system to put the sponge in the drain, then link the cork to the sponge and pull out the sponge.)
And even when you're stuck you can relax while playing with the mechanical cooking contraption (which is very reminiscent of the contraptions in Metamorphoses)

Great game!

The Chinese Room, by Harry Giles and Joey Jones

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The dream of a brain in a vat full of liquor., October 8, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy
"The Chinese Room" posed a hard problem to my consciousness: three stars or four?

First off: nits to pick.
-Very annoying typos and misspellings ("er" instead of "her"), the consistent use of quotation marks instead of apostrophes (plover"s eggs).
-Many nouns or synonyms not recognized.
-Shoddy implementation of a cool device (the qualiascope)

-A rather big nit: there is an unmentioned path northwest from the beach.

My consciousness decided on four stars however.

-Although the game has no real story, the diverse puzzles are tightly held together by a very cool and engaging framework, the land of philosophical thought experiments.
-The puzzles are very well thought out, and more often than not very funny.
-Extensive background information, a crash course in the history of philosophy that makes an interested mind look up more on Wikipedia, or, in my case, open up my old copy of Bertrand Russel's "The History of Philosophy."
-The varied locations, landscapes and scenes are very nicely described, painting a picture in the player's head with a few well-chosen sentences.
-Playing illegal logic games with Willard Van Orman Quine (the philosopher with the coolest name ever.)
-An actual intuition pump!

A joy to play.

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!, by Steph Cherrywell

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Good Golly Miss Molly!, September 27, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Comedy
A good story-driven game with easy puzzles and a menu-based conversation system, so nothing gets in the way of defeating the Brainguzzlers and saving your 1950s American Smalltown.

I really liked the game for the first half hour of play. After that the caricature of 1950s scifi horror, and of 1950s American society began to wear me down. I began half expecting The Jetsons coming down in a UFO of their own to drop off the Fonz who would then save the day.
I also doubt that "Jeepers!" would last long as the swearword of choice during an alien attack.

Technically, the game is very well put together. The scripted conversations are perfect for an uptempo story like this. Intro, middle and endgame are well paced. I would have liked some more implementation of scenery, but that would have slowed the game down, so it's understandable. What did bug me, and slowed the game down is the lack of synonyms available. A fast-paced story-game like this would have benefited from a wide choice of different names for your items so you didn't have to stop to remember how something was called in the description. I hated that in a scifi setting such as this, "blaster" was not recognized.

Probably best played in one go, straight through to the (slimy) ending.

City of Secrets, by Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Large, engrossing,... and somewhat lacking., September 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Adventure
Emily Short is one of my favourite IF-writers, and when I found this big story-game with her name under the title, I pounced on it!

And it is good. Apart from being an immersive adventure and a detailed exploration of a fine city, deeper themes also shine through.

Truth above obscurity, even if truth also means complete transparency?

Creativity above strict order, even if creativity also means chaos?

The writing is top-notch, the NPC interactions feel real, the city and its history hold the interest, but in the end, the game misses something.

Is it because the game is so good that I raised the bar impossibly high?

Finding an outdoor café where there were no interactive NPCs and where nothing story-moving happened disappointed me.
Finding out that a little nook in the gameworld, about which I dreamed up many possibilities, didn't play a role in the story didn't feel like a red herring, it felt like a let-down.
Finding out that certain information I found about my character didn't matter to the game was a pity.

But those are nitpicks, and very personal nitpicks at that.

This game is very very good. Just not as amazing as I really really wanted it to be. And that's on me.

So play it.


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