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About the StoryIn this game about under-powered superheroes, you play as Improv, leader of the Frenetic Five. You use common objects in surprisingly useful ways. While queueing for stamps at the Post Office, you receive your new mission: stop Mr. Redundancy Man's plan to entangle the world in red tape. His secret HQ is in the copy shop.
Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee - The clone puzzle, Best Individual Puzzle - 1999 XYZZY Awards
-- Duncan Stevens
FFVMRM (abbreviated as FFVM from here on) does an awful lot of things right. It's funny. It's clever. It has a couple of really good lines in it, and a whole lot of better than average ones. It has no time limits, no way to die, and no penalty for exploration, regardless of how absurd your actions are. This is something I like in most games, but it's especially crucial for a comedy game - you don't want to penalize the player for trying to find the buried treasure jokes. You want to encourage it, and FFVM (abbreviated as FF from here on) does this. [...]
The primary puzzle in the game involves a copier machine. It's not a bad puzzle - broken up into lots of little parts, each of which isn't too terribly hard. The bad thing is that the parts have to be solved in a particular order which doesn't make a lot of logical sense. Doing things in the wrong order seems to confuse the game a bit. I blundered around for a long time trying to solve one puzzle and making no headway until realizing that I had to solve another puzzle first.
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Truth to tell, not getting anywhere is at least as rewarding as making progress, since your fellow superheroes have a wide range of amusing sarcastic responses. Moreover, the ending encounter with the Mr. Redundancy Man of the title is absolutely hilarious, mainly for the villain's dialogue: "Welcome to my hideaway lair, my dear friends of mine! Your arrival has come fortuitously just in time for you to witness the sight of my greatest and most triumphal achievement!" (Duncan Stevens)
There are essentially two types of puzzles in the game. The first type includes puzzles where you have to employ your MacGyver-like abilities, and the second revolve around correctly using your team's "talents" to get out of situations. As I'd mentioned previously, every team member has a hand in solving one puzzle or another, but figuring out which one you need isn't always apparent without a little thought. (This was especially true of Pastiche, as I had forgotten her special abilities from the first game in the series). The fact that the puzzles tend to be a bit tougher (or maybe more correctly, not necessarily intuitive right off the bat), is actually a positive as it helps out with the pacing of the game. (Francesco Bova)
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Neil deMause, the author, seems to have profited from the feedback he received for Sturm and Drang. As Baf's guide notes, this is "smaller and tighter than the original". Geared for the IF Comp, this piece railroads you to the enemy hideout almost immediately, avoiding the meandering feel of the midgame of the original. This is an improvement, and totally appropriate as part of the lightweight style of this series.
Also gone is the dependency on having random items to solve puzzles. Everything you need to solve the game's puzzles are either in the immediate vicinity or provided by a teammate. The focus is getting you to think like the PC you are playing: Improv, whose superpower is coming up with improbably effective plans a la "MacGyver". Again, an improvement.
One thing that's consistent is Mr. deMause's wit and sense of verbal humor, which shines through this piece as much as it did the first. For the second time, I found myself laughing out loud, which doesn't happen very often unless I'm reading something by Douglas Adams.
Unfortunately, another thing that seems consistent is the quality of implementation. I found myself running into strange bugs, finding aspects of the game revealed to me by bad parser guesses, and even a straight-up TADS error of some sort. Once more, I found the technical issues interfering enough with the content to slip into two-star territory on my rating system -- even though they did not prevent (and sometimes even helped!) my progress.
Perhaps Mr. Redundancy Man was another rush job (as I assumed with Sturm and Drang), or perhaps Mr. deMause's talents as a writer far exceeded his talents as a programmer when this was written. If the former, I fervently hope the day comes that we see a fully-matured work from him. If the latter (and if coding is still a challenge for him), perhaps collaboration is what's called for; there are certainly plenty of people involved in the IF community with the converse problem of being better coders than writers.
That said, I urge the reader to note that my rating system is unusually harsh, with a tendency to underscore decent games so that the four- and five-stars stand out. I would gladly recommend this piece to anyone who enjoyed the first "episode" in the series, and I would gladly recommend both to someone who hasn't played either of them yet.
One final note that may indirectly be a spoiler so I'll tag it as such: (Spoiler - click to show)Aaron Mumaw's review of Undo, also by deMause, made me think of the members of the Frenetic Five in a different way. It occurs to me that the superpowers of the team members are related to the common frustrations and foibles of interactive fiction. Lexicon could be the counter to "guess-the-verb" puzzles, Clapper eliminates "Fedex quests", Newsboy embodies the device of sudden revealing obscure-but-necessary information to solve puzzles, and Pastiche represents the need to guess what the author has made it possible to actually do in work if it's not well-hinted. (Either that, or she's a counterweight to the inexplicable dearth of frequent pop song references.) All this works well in keeping the action flowing and centered on Improv (i.e. you), whose talent is the sideways thinking any puzzle-based IF calls for, but it seems only a few critical puzzles require your help, with most of the rest easily solved by asking teammates for help.
It's been a long time since deMause produced a Frenetic Five piece, and he may never do so again, but it occurs to me that this character setup is ideal for enabling multi-solution puzzles as in Wishbringer. It would be an excellent device for providing a graduated point system (so far missing from each game) that rewards players who solve more without the help of teammates, and would provide some replay value without throwing up roadblocks for those who just want to see the story.
Like the last game, the puzzles suffer from having to guess exactly the real thing to do. Out of 20 possible solutions, only 2 or 3 will be implemented. For instance, to (Spoiler - click to show)get a quarter, why can't pastiche help grab one out of someone's purse?.
This game was nominated for Best NPC's and Best Individual Puzzle in the XYZZY Awards.
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