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Bullhockey!

by Bill F Lindsay (as B F Lindsay)

Scavenger Hunt
2018

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Number of Reviews: 2
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Old-school puzzlefest that could use more polish, December 4, 2018
Bullhockey! is a massive, sprawling, old-school text adventure. (Think 1990s, not 1980s; it's not as old-school as Flowers of Mysteria or Escape from Dinosaur Island, two other games in IFComp 2018.) It reminds me some of Curses!. Both games start out with you in your home, in a relatively mundane and real-life situation. Then, as you play through the game and begin to solve puzzles, the story takes several twists and eventually turns into something odd, supernatural, and even - at times - surreal.

I loved Curses!, and there's a lot about Bullhockey! that I enjoyed as well. But I couldn't shake the feeling while playing Bullhockey! that I was watching an Olympic figure skater try for a triple axel with a double toe loop and just not quite nail the landing.

To me, Bullhockey! feels both heavily implemented and underimplemented. That may sound like a contradiction, but they actually go together. It's heavily implemented in the sense that there are a lot of objects - especially at the beginning, when you're still in your apartment - that appear in the game. However, only a few of those are actually relevant for solving puzzles or advancing the story. So, as the player, you spend a lot of time interacting with these objects but not making progress toward your current goal. Because there are so many objects, though, there's no way that the author can anticipate all the different things that a player will try. This means that there are plenty of reasonable actions that a player will take that arenít implemented - or that just give the default response when the default response isnít quite appropriate. Sometimes this means that the player is sent the wrong signal on a puzzle or runs into a guess-the-verb problem. To take a very early example, while you're still in your apartment one of your first goals is to turn off the ceiling fan that is annoying you. One thing I tried was
(Spoiler - click to show)
> THROW STAFF AT SWITCH

to which the game responds

Futile.


This is Inform's default response for this action, yet the action is not that far from the intended solution for the puzzle. Moreover, the act I attempted turns out to be the right idea for another quite similar puzzle, much later in the game!

For a game this size, (and Bullhockey! is huge) it also feels undertested. (There are only two testers listed in the credits.) I'd say another five testers willing to play through the entire game would have resulted in the removal of much of the underclued feeling with certain puzzles, parts that felt underimplemented, or places where the default response was misleading.

I feel like I'm being more critical than I am with most of my reviews. This is because I think Bullhockey! has the makings to be one of the great puzzlefests in the old-school style, and I love puzzlefests in the old-school style. It's got wacky, clever puzzles that... just often need to be clued better. It has delightful responses to many actions I tried, but... with other, equally-reasonable actions it doesn't recognize them or just gives the default response. It has complicated sequences that lead you along just right in places... but then has other places where I would have never gotten through without the walkthrough.

Maybe "polish" is the word I'm really looking for here. More polish, and Bullhockey! could become one of those diamonds of an old-school puzzlefest that many of us in the IF community still relish.

Now that I've critiqued Bullhockey! for a while, let me mention a few things I particularly enjoyed. Many parts of the game are quite funny, like the scoring system. There's a sly running joke about various locations that you attempt to enter that I enjoyed. Also, exchanges like this one:
(Spoiler - click to show)
> GO UP.
Maybe you should try flapping your wings?
> FLAP WINGS.
I was being sarcastic.

Some of the puzzles are total Rube Goldberg machines that once you see how they work you have to sit back and marvel at which you've just done. Two of the most prominent are (Spoiler - click to show)the literal Rube Goldberg machine in the science museum that's being built (and I mean the entire thing, including the trampoline on the men's clothing store and the fact that you end up back in your apartment!) and the extended sequence that starts in the amusement park and ends with you in jail. Several of the other puzzles have this feel as well.

I also really enjoyed the solution to the puzzle where you are standing at a dot. I'm not sure it's an entirely fair puzzle, in that it requires outside knowledge, but I loved the solution - and am a little proud that I got it without having to resort to the walkthrough. :)

If you like old-school puzzlefests, you will probably enjoy Bullhockey!. Just don't be ashamed to have a walkthrough handy.

(As a final note, I was pleased to read that the author is planning a Bullhockey! 2. I look forward to playing it.)