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Counterfeit Monkey

by Emily Short profile

Espionage
2012

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Number of Reviews: 12
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent technical accomplishment and a great sense of fun, June 6, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: emily short, humor
Play it if: you want a lengthy and engrossing puzzle-solving experience and a healthy dollop of satirical humor to occupy you for a day or two.

Don't play it if: you're in the mood for something that more heavily emphasizes atmosphere or depth of characterization.

Boy, did I like Counterfeit Monkey. It had me grinning like a maniac within five minutes of starting, and that grin never let up. Even when my face got sore after the first few hours.

The most consistent tonal impression I got from Counterfeit Monkey was that of a high-quality Monkey Island game. Surreal plot devices, anachronistic histories, a coastal setting, a light-hearted story with streaks of darkness...it's all there. Oddly enough it also reminds me of The People's Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game in its tone and charm, though I prefer Monkey for its outstanding gameplay and depth of setting. There's even a hint of Planescape: Torment lurking in there somewhere (a detailed setting where belief and opinion have physical power).

In gameplay terms, Monkey combines a feeling of casual puzzle-solving fun with a profound degree of technical effort. In that respect it feels like a sort of leveled-up crossword, which is appropriate because almost all of the puzzles here are navigated through some form of wordplay. I spent a chunk of the first half of the game a little concerned that the gameplay wouldn't significantly change. The letter-removals were great, but they also felt fairly straightforward, more so than what I think I'm used to in the early stages of a longer Emily Short game. But then the story starts to throw in some fun alternative powers, and remains fairly dynamic from there. Mixing it up with some memory exploration and the ongoing plotline, and you have a story which is fairly excellently paced.

It's difficult to overstate how much effort it must have taken (at least form the perspective of a novice like me) to have implemented the wordplay. A lot of my enjoyment came out of trying some more obscure ideas and realizing just how thorough the research was - how delighted I was to find that the author had taken the time to implement a cad, complete with "smouldering gaze"!

Definitely worth your time. Entertaining and impressive.

Comments on this review

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Emily Short, June 6, 2013 - Reply
Thanks for the review! I'm glad you enjoyed the game.

The more gradual puzzle curve was deliberate; one of the criticisms I've gotten on past puzzle games, especially Savoir-Faire, was that it got too hard too fast, so people didn't have a chance to find their feet. Obviously that's going to feel different for different players, but I wanted to build something that was a little more accessible this time around.

As for the cad, I'm glad you found him. He was one of the first objects I put in the original concept sketch, and there were puzzles around getting him to do things for you, but you had to kiss him first to make him cooperate. That idea went away almost immediately -- as the game left the realm of *pure* surreal silliness, I no longer wanted to implement sexualized bargaining as a mandatory player action. Also, having one NPC you might task to do something set up the expectation that ordering around characters was going to be a frequent solution method, whereas I wanted in practice to keep most of the agency in the player's hands and certainly couldn't afford to implement all the generated NPCs as potential servants/assistants in a meaningful way.

But some of his residual behavior remained even after all the related puzzle content had been scrubbed.
Jim Kaplan, June 6, 2013 - Reply
That's fascinating! Though I guess not too surprising given the rather naughty streak running through the wordplay...

The one time I actually tried to use the cad for something was in the cold storage escape (I figured a troll wouldn't be believable). Then of course he got instantly gelled and I found myself mourning for both my common sense and my pet cad.

Regarding the curve, I figured it might be something like that. I think maybe it bothered me briefly just because I was used to your usual pacing of difficulty, so my meta-gaming instincts were a little confused. I don't think it would be an issue for someone less familiar with your lengthier works, though.
Sam Kabo Ashwell, June 6, 2013 - Reply
I have to disagree with you about depth of characterisation. Admittedly, Monkey isn't really an NPC-focused game, and a lot of the wordplay-created NPCs are obviously two-dimensional. But Alex and Andra are pretty strongly characterised (Alexandra won the 2012 XYZZY Award for Best Individual PC) and there are some nicely-observed secondary characters.
Jim Kaplan, June 6, 2013 - Reply
I agree with you there. I don't mean to say that the characterization is shallow - that would be a bit ridiculous given the author we're discussing here! I simply mean that I don't think it's the focus of the story. Monkey motivated me to keep playing chiefly because of the puzzles and the plot, not in order to see the characters to their conclusion. This is contrast to, say, Anchorhead, where saving Michael is a strong motivating force in the endgame (even though Michael is a less detailed character than you'll find in Monkey).

I realize I didn't actually mention the conceit of Alexandra as the PC, but I think that's because it felt fairly underemphasized compared to all the other elements in play. In any case I felt much more like Andra with a sidekick living in my brain than a balanced mix of the two.
Sam Kabo Ashwell, June 6, 2013 - Reply
Hmm. That's interesting, because I experienced it very much the other way around - since Alex provides the narrative voice, I felt as though I got a lot more information about what was going on inside his head, while you learned about Andra was less immediate, rendered through scattered clues, and often from Alex's perspective.
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