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Ratings and Reviews by deathbytroggles

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Shuffling Around, by Andrew Schultz (as Ned Yompus)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Great Game Age? Art Gem!, July 8, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
If you enjoyed Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail Of It--specifically the Shopping Bizarre--then Shuffling Around is an absolute must play.

I've always been fairly good at anagramming but found it mostly dull. But Schultz did just such an impressive job at turning it into a funny, engaging game with clever puzzles and endearing characters. And even if you're not good at anagramming, there are an unbelievable amount of gadgets you can use to give yourself different types of hints depending on your weaknesses that allow you to play at the exact pace you want. On top of that, if you get truly stuck you can just ask the game for more direct hints if you want to avoid going to an anagram solver on-line.

Like the Shopping Bizarre in Nord & Bert, you must often solve random anagrams lying around to get objects for your inventory to use on puzzles later. And while some of the puzzles are really straightforward (e.g. anagramming a bunch of items in a kitchen to make yourself some food), there are some rather genius multi-step puzzles, my favorite being the one to defeat the archenemy in the sortie.

But beyond just the puzzles, Schultz spent on what I can only imagine was an ungodly amount of time writing copious descriptions of rooms and objects that use clever anagrams for no other reason than to show off, and it was wonderful. Admittedly some of the anagrams are forced and make the writing a bit stilted in places, but in this world it was welcome.

There's not much of a story and it's mostly a disjointed puzzlefest, but considering each anagram I solved was like pushing a dopamine button, I was glad to be a rat in this maze.

Detectiveland, by Robin Johnson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A little Tex Murphy, a little Sam & Max, June 30, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
I've always been a sucker for hardboiled detective stories, especially when they are self-aware. Detectiveland is a straight send up of the genre written in a Twine-like parser that only requires navigation of hyperlinks (including an extensive inventory). Everything is here: the embittered detective, sleazy law enforcement, speakeasies, powerful dames, and cheesy dialogue. The graphics and music also fit the mood, though I turned off the music after a while due to its repetition. The fourth wall is frequently broken and I smirked a good dozen times while playing. I also appreciate that the narrator has more modern sensibilities when it comes to feminism and race issues.

The puzzles are not bad considering the format; even though it's easy, one can't just mindlessly click through the game. I especially enjoyed the one in the Italian restaurant. And while the game can't be made unwinnable, what most would consider to be the best ending (out of three) does require extra foresight and can be put out of reach if you're careless.

I wanted to like this even more than I did. Every aspect is above-average and well-polished. While it was neither funny enough nor dramatic enough to be among my favorites, I would recommend it to anyone who likes the genre.

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds, by Abigail Corfman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A delicious little game served hot with lots of ketchup, June 22, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
The first Twine game I played was a fantastic introduction to the system. About twenty years ago I played Will the Real Marjorie Hopkirk Please Stand Up?, a game about trying to find 100 ways to kill 100 clones. I was enthralled by the premise and disappointed it was a demo with only five solutions. So I was thrilled to finally get to play something similar that was less intimidating and more lighthearted.

I really appreciated that no significant knowledge of vampire literature is necessary as Corfman provides ample hints along the way if you're stuck. Some puzzles can be solved in multiple ways. And there's also plenty to look at and tinker with that explores the character outside of just her night shift job.

The structure isn't perfect; some playthroughs get repetitive (which was one of my criticisms of Galatea) and some paths of victory can be found by luck, though the game's brevity (and levity!) help alleviate these concerns. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult, but some are clever, and it never felt like I was mindlessly clicking on hypertext.

What shot my rating up to five stars was the game's three epilogues that provide the player with silly information about vampire stories, 16 more ways to kill a vampire (no puzzling required), and a Rashomon style section to view all your playthroughs via the eyes of one of the McDonald's employees. Corfman's writing is so delightful that I eagerly read everything and have now played this twice since its release.

Fallacy of Dawn, by Robb Sherwin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Very strong writing overcomes very poor implementation, June 17, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
Fallacy of Dawn won the XYZZY award for best writing; if you play for five minutes and don't immediately agree, then save yourself some headaches as this game might be the buggiest to ever win an award. If you do enjoy the writing, then you're in for a treat that is Sherwin's fascinating and demented brain space.

One's enjoyment is also enhanced if you're familiar with much of the 80's and 90's video game references sprinkled throughout, but it's not necessary. I literally spent thirty minutes in the arcade and the movie store reading titles of various games just to read Sherwin's descriptions. I then spent time Googling games I hadn't heard of.

Beyond that Sherwin is excellent at developing characters. The character of Delarion Yar is sympathetic and funny. Your best friend's name is Porn yet he's somehow endearing. And your girlfriend Clara is a rare well-written female in the cyberpunk genre. Each NPC is given similar treatment; even the bad guys are given distinct personalities.

I also appreciated the gameplay; you must earn enough money to afford a surgery that will help you regain your abilities as a hacker and there are many different opportunities (both legal and illegal) to do so and they can be done in any order. Moreover, much like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, most puzzles can be solved by either fighting or wits. The latter solution tends to be more entertaining, but the former is a nice alternative.

An extra fair warning about the game's bugs and technical issues. While I encountered nothing that crashed the Hugo engine or put the game in an unwinnable state, there are so many instances where the game doesn't understand common verbs depending on the game state. There's multiple locations where room exits aren't indicated at all or there are exits described that don't exist. Some actions can be repeated that shouldn't. And there are so many unimplemented objects. This becomes frustrating because Sherwin's writing deserves the "examine everything" approach by the player, yet it's impossible to tell what will come back with "that thing isn't here" responses. I should add that the game's graphics, while a bit grainy and a bit sparse, definitely add to the atmosphere.

The ending is satisfying if a bit abrupt; I felt like I had more to explore in the town of New Haz (and I did; there were at least four puzzles I never solved). But as I couldn't stop grinning throughout my entire play, Fallacy of Dawn still goes down as one of my favorite games.

Galatea, by Emily Short

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
No statue has ever been erected to a critic, June 7, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
Galatea is an impressive piece of coding. Around the turn of the century there were many games that tried to create incredibly in-depth characters that would respond to anything, not to mention Scribblenauts, which tried to allow for a near infinite amount of actions. Of all in this genre I've tried, Galatea is the most successful at being interesting; yet, the shine wears off quickly and I stopped caring quicker than I thought possible.

Short is a superb writer, and her ability to write engaging dialogue with a statue still makes me jealous. The perspective she creates is infinitely interesting and I wanted to find as many conversation topics as possible to just hear more of what Galatea had to say.

Unfortunately, the game quickly turns into an exercise of trying to find as many endings as possible (of which there are 70). While I enjoyed this premise in Aisle, I find it tiresome here as finding various endings requires repeating some dialogue options multiple times while purposefully trying to manipulate Galatea's emotional state. At times it felt gross, and it didn't help that the PC is mostly an unsympathetic snob.

I believe I would have enjoyed this much more if Short had allowed the player to focus more on exploring Galatea's mind without worrying about triggering the next ending. In that case it could have been an extraordinary character study. As it stands it felt too much like I was playing with a gimmicky toy. Still, I would recommend everybody play this, if even for a brief time, just to experience the high concept.

No Time To Squeal, by Mike Sousa and Robb Sherwin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Baby You're a Rich Man, June 5, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
Mike Sousa and Robb Sherwin as a pairing makes sense, as the former's strength is coding and the latter's strength is writing. So I was pretty stoked when I first played this. But instead of combining their strengths, it appears this was developed like a McCartney/Lennon song where they just jam two separate numbers together and hope it works.

The first half of the game is clearly all or mostly Sousa. It feels very similar to At Wit's End, with fun slice of life situations set up in a Rashomon fashion; yet the stilted writing has a difficult time evoking pathos in situations that clearly demand it. The second half of the game is clearly all or mostly Sherwin, as it's trippy and confusing but well-written enough to keep you going. Ultimately, though, it felt like I was playing two completely different games and both left me unsatisfied. And while I do enjoy the occasional allegory, Sherwin is clearly better at writing tautegorical characters and dialogue.

It's relatively short and if you like the authors it's probably worth a play to see if it trips your trigger. But there's a reason why of the games that finished in the Top 10 of the 2001 IF competition, No Time to Squeal has the lowest ratings (despite finishing fourth); it definitely grabs your attention, but the whole is much lower than the sum of its parts.

Castle Adventure, by Kevin Bales

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
One of the better games made in BASIC, June 2, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
One of the first graphical adventures I played, Castle Adventure was literally written by a 14 year-old in his mother’s basement using nothing but BASIC for the game and ASCII characters for the graphics. Given the tools used and the year it was made, it was quite an impressive achievement.

You control an ASCII clover, moving around using the arrow keys. Commands are of the two-word variety, and most tasks you can complete just by running into things. At its heart this is a treasure hunting game, with the goal naturally to pilfer as much as you can from the castle without getting yourself killed and finding the key to unlock the gate that for some reason locked behind you.

I’m still impressed at not only the amount but also the variety of puzzles implemented using ASCII graphics. They’re not complex puzzles by any means; it never gets more difficult than bringing item A to point B, or making sure you have item A before you go into room B. But it’s refreshing to know you can’t just rampage your way through the castle. There’s even plenty of tension, as demons, bats, and other creatures guard treasures and you either must run away from them or attack them using limited available weaponry. There is at least one walking dead situation, though the game is short enough that it’s not terribly annoying. And while the original version had plenty of bugs (and some glaring spelling errors), and playing this on a new PC is impossible (even with DosBox you have to fine tune the game’s speed perfectly to avoid battles from being an exercise in learning the “restart” function) you can find ports and remakes that will do just fine, including one version that's point'n'click.

Ultimately, Castle Adventure is not a great game and other than the sweet nectar of nostalgia there’s not much worth recommending. Though much like a younger me in awe playing around with a rotary phone, this could be briefly entertaining for someone who’s never played a game programmed in BASIC. But man, major props to Kevin Bales. Keypunch Software even stole–-literally stole–-his game and sold it under the name Golden Wombat for a while.

First Things First, by J. Robinson Wheeler

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The IF time-travel game that most resembles Day of the Tentacle, May 30, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
It continues to surprise me that apparently so relatively few people have played First Things First. It seemingly has everything most players want: a good writer and coder (Wheeler), a fun premise (time travel mechanics), and lots of old-school (but fair) puzzles. It's not overly long or overly cruel. It even starts out like Curses! with some putzing around the house. It's about the most perfect game I've ever played.

The time travel mechanic is just lovely. You get to move between five different time periods over a fifty year period and tinker with things in each time period and see the ripple effects. Puzzles involve messing around with nature and seeing what happens, messing with your house and seeing what happens, messing with the bank and seeing what happens, and finally messing with people and seeing what happens.

There are two separate endings to your messing with the universe. The first one is more of a neutral ending and I was able to complete this path without a walkthrough and I'm a walkthrough kind of guy. The second one is much tougher and has more walking dead situations, but also much more rewarding. And if you just save on the regular, you should never have to replay too many portions as long as you keep going through the time machine and checking your work.

A must-play for those who enjoyed A Mind Forever Voyaging but wanted more agency, or for those who enjoyed LucasArts' Day of the Tentacle but wanted a more serious plot, or for those who just like any time travel game they can get their hands on.

Shrapnel, by Adam Cadre

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An initial rush of excitement, but can't sustain itself (literally), May 30, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
Shrapnel is impossible to describe without spoilers, so just know that if you like Cadre's writing or like gimmicks (and don't mind low interactivity) you should just play it. It takes about fifteen minutes.

Now, some spoilers:

(Spoiler - click to show)This could have been great. After being eaten by dogs and regenerating and seeing your own corpse, I thought I was in for a game of a lifetime. Sadly, like the game itself, the plot just collapses in on itself. The scenes are too short and too confusing to illuminate the characters. I've played it four or five times, and while I really enjoy the themes and the writing, I just find it terribly unsatisfying. Perhaps the part that disappoints me the most is when we meet the time traveler from the future who tries to explain things but just adds to the confusion.

Shade was released the same year, and while there are definite similarities, I thought Plotkin's work had a tighter narrative and felt more immersive.

All that said, the gimmick thrills me enough to give it four stars. Still, one of the weaker offerings from Cadre.

Photopia, by Adam Cadre

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Generational, May 27, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
I just finished Photopia for the second time, almost twenty years after my first playthrough. I worried that time or perspective would change my opinion, and while that did indeed happen, it remains a treasure I will still recommend to anyone who delves into the world of interactive fiction.

When I first played I was about 20 years old and was mostly moved by the big dramatic moments. Like others have mentioned, time has led me to find these somewhat manipulative, lacking depth. The character of Alley in particular doesn't move me any longer, though I reject that she is a Mary-Sue. We don't see her flaws, though I believe this is because we only see her through the eyes of others who have no reason to highlight her flaws. On this playthrough then I was moved by the characters around Alley, her parents especially (perhaps being the parent of a daughter now helps that). The best parts of Photopia are the ones that don't move the story, where you learn more about everyone through the conversation system or by examining the world around you. The only part I actively disliked was the scene from Alley's suitor, who is nothing but a trope here.

Beyond the characters, I am still amazed at the technical skills on display. The dynamic maps during the bedtime story sections are amazing. Cadre also does a wonderful job of pushing the player through the game at the perfect pace in order to tell his story. While this could have worked as static fiction, I believe the medium improves immersion.

Even with its now recognizable flaws, I remain very fond of this work and will hopefully play it with my children when they are old enough.

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