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Ratings and Reviews by Canalboy

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View this member's reviews by tag: Bill Lindsay Surreal Parser Based Birmingam IV - Large Old School Fantasy Puzzlefest Curses! Gothic Horror Infocom Jim Aikin Large Large Story Based IF Lydia's Heart Mulldoon Legacy Mystery parser Puzzle Fest Puzzlefest Quest. Relationship Romance Sequel vampire
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Gone Out For Gruyere, by B F Lindsay

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Bill Lindsay's Surreal Cheese Dream, October 16, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Bill Lindsay Surreal Parser Based
For those of you have played Bill's two large old school offerings - "Bullhockey!" and "Bullhockey2: The Return Of The Leather Whip" "Gone Out For Gruyere" will come as a surprise.

In this game your girlfriend from the previous offerings sends you out on a mission to buy the eponymous fermented curd (you'd think after rescuing her more than once in the two previous games she would have gone out to get it herself!)

I helped to beta test this one and I really liked the surreal nature of the game (a manoeuvrable hole plays a large part) as does manipulation of a Heath Robinson type of machine.

There are nods towards a more conventional style of film noir narration (the dude with the cigarette could have come from Make It Good) and a red herring or two along the way. There are other NPCs with whom you will also have to interact to complete the game and they are all well delineated.

I have not come across any bugs in the corrected version and the game is blissfully free of inventory limits and misspellings.

There is also an interesting twist at the end of the game when you have acquired the cheese.

I would thouroughly recommend it although prepare to set aside at least a couple of hours as it isn't easy!

Warp, by Rob Lucke and Bill Frolik
Canalboy's Rating:

Recluse, by Stephen Gorrell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Recluse - Excellent Medium Sized Puzzler In Tads, June 20, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Infocom, Puzzle Fest, Parser, Quest.
As a navel gazing IF puzzler of a certain age, I feel that Stephen Gorrell's neat medium sized TADS debut Recluse from 2008 deserves more trumpeting that it has hitherto received. That is, any trumpeting at all judging by a quick search. One review in over a decade doesn't suggest that it has become contemptible through familiarity.

Recluse bucks the modern IF trend, being a set of cleverly choreographed, sequenced puzzles leading to a surprisingly tangential conclusion. Surprising as the hitherto tenebrous plot suddenly takes on solid end game substance via several large screen dumps when you access the mansion. One NPC also displays chameleon like qualities late in the game.

The initial premise involves your efforts to deliver a package to a reclusive billionaire inside his mansion; after being summarily ejected using traditional methods of egress you explore the Infocom like grounds, finding various items to take and manipulate, including one early problem that had me stuck for days (Spoiler - click to show)taking the caterpillar requires a lot of repetition....

I liked the user friendly nature of play; no time or inventory limits, a warning if you have put the game into an unwinnable position (a rare occurrence thanks to its cleverly constructed nature) and built-in hints.

There are a sprinkling of misspellings and a few grammatical errors (again why these things aren't spell checked is beyond me when so much effort is put into other facets of the game) but nothing to really dilute the enjoyment of the game.

The ending of the game suggests a sequel, but as eleven years have now passed without one I imagine that the author has moved on to pastures new, although I can find no more examples of his IF creativity anywhere.

Rather like the only guy still wearing flared jeans on the bus, Recluse may be old fashioned but the denim is of fine quality.

Dracula - Prince of Darkness (formerly "House of the Midnight Sun"), by Paul T. Johnson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dracula - Prince Of Darkness formerly House Of The Midnight Sun, June 12, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: parser, puzzlefest, Gothic, Curses!, Mulldoon Legacy, vampire
This is a rather good, rather large slice of old skool gothic puzzlefest by Paul Johnson. There are nods a plenty towards Curses! and Mulldoon Legacy here (obstinate cat, formal garden, pirate ship, battlements and assorted hidden passages, steps and chambers) but it stops short of outright plagiarism.

Your goal to begin with is unknown, but there is the traditional castle to break into and the story slowly unravels, although the real reason for your determination to enter the castle will not become apparent until near the climax of the game.

You have to collect four items during the course of the game, rather like the rods in Curses! before you can begin to think about your final showdown with the eponymous baddie.

The descriptions of decay, death and ubiquitous grand guignol grate after a while and are sometimes a little too florid and a little too repetitive to prevent the shock value being diluted.

Many of the problems are totally logical and not too difficult, although the final scenes see the difficulty level take a sharp uphill turn; there is one action in particular you need to perform in an area that you have no real reason to visit.

The author has an obvious love of antique furniture and art as a plethora of these objects are lovingly described throughout the game, juxtaposed effectively against the pervading atmosphere of decay. Indeed, the decay of these priceless paintings and other objets d'art is described with far more plangency than the discovery of the dead or dying.

The whole is mercifully free of any inventory or time limit (just as well as you will end up with a considerable variety of items to port around) and contains only a handful of typos and other grammatical errors, none of which really downgrade the game play value.

It is possible to put the game into an unwinnable position but not easily, and where this is the case there is usually a warning hidden away in one of the many inscriptions and messages you will find in charts, above doorways etc. In this game more than most, examine and search everything.

The ending certainly surprised me but that is for the player to discover.

All in all, an excellent parser based distraction which will keep you occupied for some time.

Uninvited, by Anonymous (reimplemented by David Griffith)

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Uninvited - Burn Your Invitation If It Arrives, May 31, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
The above is an old MAC game purportedly having new life breathed into it and available as an enhanced z code game.

Unfortunately it has all the old frustrations of pre "Bill Of Rights" days.

Limited Inventory Limit? Check. You can carry approximately seven items despite there being over twenty five portable objects in the first fifteen locations that I visited.

Sudden Death? Check. You may never see Gone With The Wind in the same light again. Lordy lordy Miss Scarlett.

Time Limit? Check. This is obviously a large game but all ended after 334 moves.

It's a shame as this could have been a good game with the above issues addressed and a thorough proof reading. Why oh why is it so difficult to spell check a document?

But frankly as it is my dear, I just don't give a damn.

Bullhockey 2 - The Return of the Leather Whip, by B F Lindsay

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Bullhockey 2 - The Return Of The Leather Whip - Excellent Old School IF, April 30, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Romance, Puzzlefest, Large, Relationship, Sequel
There is an old saying by George Santayana which goes something like "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There can be little condemnation when new authors produce old style work as entertaining and skilful as this, regardless of whether you consider puzzlefests part of the past or still worthy of current consideration as I certainly do.

The game runs via a Glulx interpreter and can also be played online; just check out this year's Spring Thing page.

It is a sequel to the author's Bullhockey game which was released last year but needs no prior knowledge of that game to enjoy, although it shares some locations and protagonists. I would recommend that game as well.

As in the previous game, the hero(?) of our story wakes to discover that his beloved girlfriend Natalie has been abducted from the apartment which they share in the run down town of Bunco Springs and sets out to find her, convinced she has been kidnapped by the evil sorceress of the first game who, he discovers, has just busted out of prison.

I felt a strong empathy with Tom, who is in every way a believably decent, flawed everyman. Try and steal something and you will see what I mean.

The picaresque story moves along at an enjoyable lick in three distinct acts, never rushing the plot and allowing for a real sense of "world immersion." Seldom these days do you have any kind of large canvas to paint detail on and to enhance the realism, the modern trend being to produce pretty cameos. Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip achieves the Old Master effect very well, buildings being realistically depicted in their scope. There are large areas of the game that need careful exploring and mapping, and therein lies much of the game's old school charm. Corridors are just that; long and often prosaic, but all part of the elaborate weave of the plot.

Those of an impatient, I want my dinner now! mindset may learn a thing or two. The rest of us will enjoy a throwback to the days of wrestling with the likes of Mulldoon Legacy, Curses! and Trinity. I have no hesitation in praising this game as highly as that holy trinity (no pun intended). It is also of a similar size to those games, being over 120 locations in all and the descriptions informative and entertaining without being unnecessarily prolix. It even features some "stepping out of the present" dream sequences which reminded me of Curses! in particular.

There are a number of interesting and well delineated NPCs, both friends and foes, my favourite being the pulchritudinous Judith; I wish I had a neighbour like that.

Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip is not an easy game, although the puzzles are generally logical and feel like part of the story rather than stand alone scenarios. There is a point near the start of the game however, (Spoiler - click to show) involving purchasing a newspaper that had me stuck for a while and that I know stumped some other people too.

The coding of the game is excellent, with the odd typo and left over bug now corrected by the author (I helped here a bit I must admit!) and no problems with inventory limits or hunger / sleep / thirst / lamp light daemons the likes of which so often plagued games of this type in days gone by. And no mazes!

One interesting option the author has included is the THINK ABOUT command. This enables our modern day Quixote to momentarily pause his windmill tilting and consider objects, locations and characters he has met. Some of the responses are important to the progression of the story.

The denouement really surprised me as it goes against all that I had been expecting. Suffice to say that the fourth wall is breached and I feel confident in saying you will never guess the outcome.

Load it up and if you're like me, get out the A3 sketch pad and pen and prepare to immerse yourself in Bunco Springs. Just never stay the night in the local hotel.

Birmingham IV, by Peter Emery

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Birmingham IV - A Review, January 10, 2019
I have just finished struggling with Peter Emery's updated old school puzzlefest Birmingham IV, originally written via the Quill in 1988 and updated for the 2018 competition as a .gblorb file.

If you are a fan of large (109 locations) parser based puzzlefests filled with logic problems and medieval scenery / objects, this game is undoubtedly for you; I am certainly of that ilk. The puzzles are hard but fair, with one or two possible exceptions. (Spoiler - click to show) Using the cat to dispose of characters without getting eaten yourself for instance .

If however, you worship at the Twine altar and dislike inventory limits, exits not fully described, sudden death endings and manifold red herrings you would do well to avoid.

The author's love and deep knowledge of time and place become evident as you uncover much that seems arcane to the modern eye, and more than once I was sent scurrying to Wikipedia to look up the meaning (and hence possible use) of the latest medieval trinket I had unearthed.

You start in modern rainy day Midlands, theses strewn over the floor but quickly slumber into a bucolic medieval setting. Your dingy bedsit has become an austere but spacious cottage reflecting your monastic, didactic choice of life; an existentialist dream maybe.

It is not immediately clear what your mission in life is, and you blunder around a large map collecting objects and meeting mostly antagonistic NPCS; as previously mentioned there is a small inventory limit (a sign of the game's age) which is a pain and means you will have to spend some time hiking backwards and forwards to collect and drop items. This is not helped by the fact that many items are totally useless but you will not become aware of this until the end of the game in most cases.

Mapping is a prerequisite because as mentioned some exits are not described.

Three missives will explain to you your mission and the puzzles generally speaking become harder as the game progresses. A magic system becomes slowly available to you as you explore but be careful where you use it!

One psychaedelic section of the game (you'll know it when you encounter it) is more than vaguely reminiscent of the Phoenix Topologika games, and Jonathan Partington's Acheton game in particular. This section took me ages to hack through but I must say is very cleverly constructed. You'll need your wordsmith's hat on is all I will say.

The game is divided into seven sections and you can only reach the next one after completing the previous one, beware however it is possible to abrogate Graham Nelson's Bill of Rights by making the game unwinnable. An example comes right at the start but should soon become obvious if you've made the wrong choice. Save often.

The writing is on the whole evocative without being unnecessarily prolix, although I did encounter a handful of typos, together with one amusing bug involving (Spoiler - click to show) the cauldron of stew in the Spotted Dog Inn.
And what's this with the watery eyes?

As an adjunct to your moral crusade there are also a number of treasures to collect along the way.

The end game throws up an interesting moral choice between altruism and greed; which road will you take?

All in all a well written puzzlefest for this nostalgic fifty something to enjoy.

Four stars.

Humbug, by Graham Cluley
Humbug - Graham Cluley, November 19, 2018
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Avoid this game like the plague. One of those complacent "wacky" pieces where aadvarks sleep on washing machines and Octopii carry paintings by Dali. Why not have Christopher Columbus fighting a cucumber or several sea lions reciting T.S. Eliot with spoons on their heads? Given the size of this thing, they may well be in there. You deserve the Queen's award for gallantry if you make it far enough to find out.

The game tries to be funny but isn't; most of the attempts at humour are just weird. For example early in the game you find a half eaten mousse on a kitchen table.

x mousse

....it's only serious contender in the "I stay in the kitchen" stakes was a sausage-on-a-stick present at the Harlesden Glow Worm Regatta, 1982.

There are acres of this kind of free form rubbish. Examining a kettle spews forth a similar torrent of surreal mish mash. Whether the author thinks of himself as Spike Milligan, a member of the Monty Python team or Douglas Adams I'm not sure, but he fails on all fronts. Avant garde humour can be used sparingly and thus with deftness in skilled hands; once you've seen one clockwork shark though you don't need a whole menagerie of surreal beasties.

Beyond the all pervading "designed by a clever wacky student" smugness is a poor parser which frustrates in many locations; at one point in a tunnel you find a computer with a display. A sign proclaims that it requires a number to be typed in. The parser, however, does not understand the verb "type" on its own or any number either.

Type 1 on computer - "Not numeric format."
Type one on computer - Not numeric format."
Type 1 - " I do not understand the word 1."

And again in another room - a Games Room with an octopus who makes you play a game involving the removal of fourteen sweets from a plinth and the loser takes the last one.

Of course to win the game you have to say "Moccasin Beehive." Oh you merry student prankster you.

"Take sweet" - I can't see the sweet.
"Take two sweets" - I can't see the sweet.

Aaaargh - you just told me there are fourteen of the bloody things on the plinth in front of me!

"Put sweet in satchel" elicits an Adrift error "Bad Expression %object1%. Size"

At this point I realised the game was being philanthropic towards me by closing itself down. I really had suffered enough.

Lydia's Heart, by Jim Aikin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Lydia's Heart by Jim Aikin, May 3, 2017
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Mystery, Horror, Jim Aikin, Lydia's Heart, Large Story Based IF,
A bit like the Cryptic Crossword Puzzle compilers who create the puzzles in the heavier journals here in the UK, I tend to have my favourite IF authors, the ones who are on my wavelength and the ones who seem to see the world from the same side of the looking glass as myself. Birds of a feather and all that. For instance, I have always found Andy Phillips's games easier than a lot of other people seem to, whereas Andrew Plotkin's masterpieces have always left me struggling for air and inspiration, my persecution complex making me feel like he was having yet another Roman Holiday at my expense whenever I tried another work from his oeuvre.

Having played (and in the second instance completed) two of Jim Aikin's earlier games, the sprawling and atmospheric old style puzzlefest Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina and the medium sized but more comical A Flustered Duck I approached Lydia's Heart with some idea of how his puzzles are created and solved (very intricate, get 'a' so that 'b' can unlock 'c' thus releasing 'd' who gives you 'e' by way of thanks and with which you can bribe 'f'.... but also with the realisation that his mind, like Plotkin's, is hard wired differently to mine.

It quickly became evident upon starting Lydia's Heart that here is Aikin the storyteller, making a marked sea change towards what is often considered better (i.e. more narrative driven) IF and no longer an ocean away from the direction that my mind tends to be sailing.

You could argue that there is a certain despairing similarity between the cold, bleak and sinister Shopping Mall in Ballerina and the cloyingly decayed rural hovel of Heart, but whereas the former is little more than a finite (albeit very large) games board upon which Aikin can plant his clever snares and traps, the latter appears (in the First and Third Acts at least) as a place in which a story can unfold and therefore seems bigger despite occupying far fewer locations; as if the young female protagonist would fall off the end of the world should she try to leave Eternal Springs, doomed like Eustacia Vye attempting to leave Egdon Heath in Thomas Hardy's The Return Of The Native.

The NPC's in this game (of which there are quite a few) are not as static as is often the case, and the more you communicate with them the more you become aware of something very sinister deep in the heart of old Dixie. Slowly Hardy or Tennessee Williams becomes Lovecraft. Of the characters, my favourite (and I suspect Aikins's too) is the talentless wannabee Nashville warbler Honey, who gets all the best lines: "Honestly, I think Id forget my boobs if they werent a hundred percent real." My career? Honey arches her back so her breasts stick out. Ive just released my very first CD. Maybe I mentioned that." Morally ambiguous characters are also rarae aves in IF, so David is also an interesting addition. Torn between selling his soul to regain his health and his innate revulsion of what he must do to achieve it, he is uniquely vulnerable within the framework of the story.

Not everyone is againt you as you will slowly realise, and although the game is not studded with sudden death endings at this point you must still be careful what you are carrying when entering into colloquy with anyone, as one unconcealed item can be your downfall. Fortunately you will certainly stumble across the almost ubiquitous, bottomless carrying device early on which for some reason no-one ever questions you about. On the whole the inventory system works quite well with only occasional annoyances.

There are still a number of difficult but fair puzzles to solve in this part of the game, but they fit in so well with the narrative that they don't feel like a contrived caravanserai of brain teasers in a puzzle book as in some of Aikin's previously cited work. They are there to lubricate the plot, not as stand alone set pieces of logic.

Then suddenly, should you progress far enough through the narrative you are plunged into the Second Act if you will, a world of mazes, statues, scorpions and locked cabinets that feels much more like old style Aikin again. This section contains a few stern posers, and one particular leap of intuition which I wouldn't think many people would make (Spoiler - click to show)One of the red jewels on the pedestals is actually Lydia's heart and you need to have the locket open, worn and point at it with the monkey beside you to get it and I was reduced on a couple of occasions to checking out the extremely well constructed Hints section. You can only reveal answers to problems in parts of the game you have encountered, much more satisfying than a mere walkthrough.

The denouement of the game seems to me to have been a bit more hastily written. For the first time a few minor bugs appear(Spoiler - click to show)you find the pouch of leaves in the hole every time you search it as if it were the first time, and when you are in the power boat or the rowboat it tells you that they are too far away to be searched.

The limits of credibility are occasionally stretched to snapping point as well during the end game; those chasing you at one point would have to be thicker than several hundred short planks not to follow your trail successfully(Spoiler - click to show)through the trapdoor in Cabin four to the cellar.There is also an object you will need right at the very end of the game which, if you manage to find it or even realise that you needed it, must make you more of a deity capable of Dei Ex Machina gestures than the one contained in the game.

The ending came as a bit of a disappointment as it would have been nice to see the bad guys get their come uppance, but I left the game feeling much more like I'd interacted with something linear than completed another of those "Crossword Puzzles" and that can only be a more rewarding thing.

The parser and the writing are as accomplished as we have come to expect from Mr. Aikin.

In summary, and despite the few caveats mentioned, a splendid addition to the IF canon and one guaranteed to keep you you engrossed for hours. Four stars.






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