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Reviews by Sobol

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Behold!, by Admiral Jota
A Short Game From 2001, November 13, 2019
by Sobol (Russia)
Those planning to participate in the recently announced Emily Short Anniversary Contest might be interested in this 2001 mini-tribute - a SpeedIF by Admiral Jota. Emily is the villain of the game, disrupting the XYZZY Awards ceremony. There's a reference to Metamorphoses and some other in-jokes.

In reality, the next ceremony went without incidents (you can read the transcript here); Emily won the Best NPCs XYZZY for her Pytho's Mask.

Grimnoir, by ProP

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Urban fantasy done right, October 29, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
I had a dream based on Grimnoir after playing it. Don't really know what made this game so engaging; I guess it's just an interesting story, deliberately filled with recognizable clichés but humane and absorbing. It would make a good TV series.

After exploring and interviewing witnesses, at the end of each chapter you are faced with a diagnostic puzzle (in the vein of When in Rome). These puzzles make you read the previous text carefully, searching for clues, and not just skim through the links - which, of course, adds to the experience and makes the game world more vivid in your imagination. The bestiary guidebook you are given is well-researched and, in addition to unavoidable vampires and basilisks, features some rather unusual monsters; I was pleased to see it starting with Alkonost, a lesser-known creature from Russian folklore.

They Will Not Return, by John Ayliff

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A PC named PC, October 14, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
The owners of the house are gone; they will not return. But the housekeeping robot still continues to clean dust, make food for them, trim their lawn... Sounds familiar? Yes, the melancholic first part of the game is basically Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains. But then the author takes the premise in a new direction.

They Will Not Return is a short science fiction story in the classical spirit: you should play it if you like Bradbury and Asimov. It's the third game by John Ayliff that features an AI protagonist; and his AIs are wonderful - not too humanlike, not too machinelike, touching and sympathetic. (When playing Seedship, I cared about the player character as much as about the success of its mission.)

The Volunteer Firefighter, by Stefanie Handshaw

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Good, August 5, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
On the first playthrough, I was having fun and experimenting and enacting a fireman fantasy. Then I died. Then I thought about the game for a while, replayed it and adjusted my rating up a star.

The Volunteer Firefighter is probably the most realistic ChoiceScript game I've played. It's set in our present world; the events and characters described are much more mundane than, say, in SLAMMED!; there's very little of extraordinary, over-the-top; no striking plot twists, no clever narrative tricks; you don't even have a chance to do many "heroic" deeds. It's a simple and honest game and it has some simple truths to remind you of.

The Road to Canterbury, by Kate Heartfield

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Educational, April 28, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
I've been waiting for this game for a while. Since the promotional text specifically mentioned the Miller and the Wife of Bath, two of the most larger-than-life Chaucerian characters, I expected The Road to Canterbury to be a light-hearted merry romp through the comical version of Middle Age England - perhaps in the general spirit of Tally Ho and A Midsummer Night's Choice by Kreg Segall (based on Wodehouse and Shakespeare, respectively; Kreg Segall is also one of the beta-testers for The Road to Canterbury).

As it turns out, the game is rather serious, and political, and often reads as an encyclopedia of medieval life and thought. Your character stats, for example, are traditional medieval virtues and the four Hippocratic humors. It isn't particularly light-hearted: some important things are at stake. And while there are some gently amusing moments, the main attraction here are extraordinary many details for those interested in the life and times of Geoffrey Chaucer. Quotes from Virgil, Boethius, etc.; scattered references to the original Canterbury Tales and other Chaucer's works (the Prioress' dog, the name "Blanche", the astrolabe, Saint Christopher's medal, etc.); excursions into the English religious history - and so on.

The story is good and a bit slow-paced, as it fits the source material. The tales pilgrims tell each other are not those from the original book, but condensed versions of other medieval tales (a lay by Marie de France, for instance). Likewise, the characters are new. The Miller, for one, is completely redone and has little in common with Chaucer's Robin; Alyson of Bath, though, is still recognizably Alyson of Bath (and she's romanceable, too!). The most alive of the cast, for me, were two historical figures - Chaucer himself and Philippa.

The Dryad's Riddle, by Avery Moore
Nice; could use a bit of polish, April 7, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
The most unusual ChoiceScript game I've seen so far: there are no RPG elements and stat-balancing at all, only puzzles to solve.

A child gets transported into a fantasy land and has to answer a series of riddles to return home. The riddles are mostly classical ones and can serve as an introduction to some common puzzle types and themes; I especially liked the riddle about goldfishes - a homage to Fibonacci's Rabbits. (Several puzzles can also potentially give children an introduction to the joys of brute-forcing.) The characters are cute and provide some entertainment between riddles.

Cereal, by Brian Kwak
Minimalist humor, February 2, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
You know those moments - when, say, in Lost Pig there's absolutely no reason to type BURN PANTS, and the sensible course of action is quite obvious, but you type BURN PANTS - and are totally happy with the results?

Well, this whole game is one of those moments in the purest form.

It's extremely brief. You can see all possible endings in a couple of minutes.

Get Lost!, by S. Woodson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Magical, January 5, 2018
by Sobol (Russia)
Besides being amusing, absorbing, excellently written, cozy and generally making you warm inside, the games by S. Woodson also demonstrate an interesting approach to branching in an interactive story.

There's a sort of contradiction in choice-based puzzleless IF. On one hand, linearity is usually considered a drawback; most players want to feel that their choices really matter and substantially affect what happens, want the game to be truly interactive. On the other hand, in a significantly branching story the player will only see a small part of what's written by the author, can easily miss the best bits; the ratio of the player's enjoyment to the author's labor is low.

It would be great to make the players restart the game and explore all the various plot paths; but motivating them to replay many times and read different variations of the same story requires some serious stimulation.

In the games by S. Woodson - this one, ♥Magical Makover♥ and Beautiful Dreamer - different story branches entwine and interact with each other to form a kind of higher unity; some paths throw light on enigmatic elements of the other paths, make you see your previous game sessions in a new way - and even revisit them because, as it turns out, you didn't pay proper attention to something curious. They are all different elements of the same picture, and you want to see the picture whole.

(Narcolepsy by Adam Cadre utilized the same idea, though less effectively: the crazy guy in the university plaza always gives you hints referring to other storylines.)

In both ♥Magical Makover♥ and Beautiful Dreamer, there's one "main" branch - the one which is central to the picture and which the player is most likely to find first.

In ♥Magical Makover♥, it's the one featured on the cover art - the only one where the protagonist's initial goal is reached. If, say, the player tries three different random products on their first playthrough, they get this branch with the probability of 60%.

In Beautiful Dreamer, it's talking to Cephiros about the moth - which has the highest priority among all the topics the protagonist may discover.

Get Lost!, which is much smaller than the former two games, lacks the "main" branch: all the paths are of equal importance.

Crocodracula: What Happened to Calvin, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mysterious, November 4, 2017
by Sobol (Russia)
Crocodracula supposedly recreates the feel of American TV shows for kids from the '90s; having little familiarity with those, I was instead reminded of the recent hit series, Gravity Falls. There are similarities: two young protagonists in a small town full of various supernatural stuff, a creepy swamp, a climbable water tower, a helpful book about magic and dark secrets, a cryptogram... There was a cute plot and some good kid-friendly spooky moments.

Games by Ryan Veeder generally feature lots of optional details, glimpses of a backstory, digressions (like, for example, the tale of Homeschooled Gwen in Robin & Orchid) which add to the atmosphere and give you the feeling of inhabiting a rich world. In a game like this, which encourages you to look everywhere, search for hidden content and don't do what the NPCs tell you to do, these many optional details turn into red herrings. After helping the sheriff and playing through three different endings I'm still not sure I've seen it all. Is there a way to open that door with a Latin inscription? What is the significance of the Old Tree? Or the verb "ululate"?.. Perhaps some mysteries of Opasassa are never to be unveiled.

The Dragon Will Tell You Your Future Now, by Newsreparter

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The Dragon Won't Tell You Anything, October 3, 2017
by Sobol (Russia)
You were going to meet a dragon, but you're stuck at a door which won't open. I looked through the code - seems like there's no way to get in. So, it's either unfinished or an unwinnable joke game (having one among the entries feels now like a good old IFComp tradition). Probably the latter. There were a couple of mildly amusing moments, though.


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