[Comp03] Larry & Robin's Reviews [2/3]

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Larry Kwong

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Nov 17, 2003, 11:38:11 PM11/17/03
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Hercules First Labor [sic]
Score: 1.1

What ?!

As I write this, there is a stunned expression on my face. I have no
idea what just hit me. I suppose that, in some perverse way, someone
might be impressed by the html interpreter. But the game... oh the game!
All right, so it doesn’t know "x", "l", or a number of other basic
parser commands we should be able to take for granted by now. There’s
clearly a system implemented for verb synonyms, so would it really have
been so difficult to type an extra letter into the code?

I can’t even begin to get my mind around the first puzzle. Why do I have
be in bed to read? And why do I go down? Is my bed recessed into the
floor? (Though that would be cool.) The following exchange is amazing (I
have to simulate the command lines here, as it annoyingly erases the
previous response each time):

I can also see: Suitcase

>take suitcase
What ?!

>examine suitcase
What ?!

Or this:

Brutus calls to you.
‘Hail Hercules!’
‘Just talk to me when you’re ready to leave,
and I’ll open the gate for you.’

>talk to Brutus
What ?!

>Brutus, open gate
"brutus," is a word I don’t know...sorry!

And so on. It turns out, of course, that the correct text is "talk
Brutus," which clearly makes sense. There are no puzzles to speak of,
and at some point in the walkthrough I use a staff to open a cave
(believe me, there’s nothing worth spoiling here), except that I never
picked up a staff in the first place. If you look through the verb list,
there’s even an entry for "F&@k" [sic]. But even when you encounter
naked women, it just returns "It’s beyond my power to do that."

Okay, so clearly it’s more fun write reviews about bad games than good
ones. But that’s because the good ones speak for themselves, while the
bad ones require that their inadequacies be shouted from the rooftops
for others to learn from. Please, at least have some of the game make
some kind of sense.

Finished? Almost. I couldn’t get past the two-room maze to find the
lion, and I honestly didn’t care. It’s not even in the walkthrough,
which I turned to almost from the start of the game.

Aside: Hercules exhausted my asides.

The curse of Manorland
Score: 1.4

I’m not sure I should bother. If the writer is a young girl, I can’t
bear the thought of insulting her. Yet the game was so frustratingly
funny that I can’t help but tease a little bit. Putting the mattress in
the window returns a statement saying the window is closed. I can’t open
the window, so... oh I see, "throw mattress out window." Many actions do
nothing but tell me I’m cold, until I try a second or third or fourth
time. I appear to be bored by thunder and lightning. I, an 11 year old
girl, can apparently lift up an entire garage to get a key. I go to
sleep at random intervals, sometimes in succession. Locked doors can’t
be unlocked. It goes on like this.

Finished? No. I gave up after Part 1. Seriously, it’s not even silly
fun. Maybe at the end of the game, it turns out it was all a brilliant
formulation suggesting that only in the mind of a child can reality and
surrealism fully coexist. But I’ll take my chances.

Aside: Two windows games in a row, I need better luck.


Caffeination
Score: 1.8

Let me guess, an exercise changed into a game for the Comp. The layout
is so dull and expansive, and there are so many objects (99% of which
are useless) that it can’t be anything but. If those objects were
interesting or even functional, it still might be a salvageable game.
But even the simple coffee maker only works with a full coffee pot and
coffee grounds (except that it doesn’t), and the computer that is
switched off is already on. In fact, turning the computer off boots it
up.

I gave up trying out new objects after a while, and most of the puzzles
only vaguely make sense. Also, I can kick something to break it, but
can’t "break" or "hit" it. The walkthrough was heavily relied upon
throughout.

Finished? Yes. Though I didn’t even want the damn coffee any more by the
end.

Aside: Travels in the Land of Urban.

Episode in the Life of an Artist
Score: 2.3

This game begins with the exciting "getting dressed" puzzle, followed by
the magnificent "standard bathroom" description, and finally the
satisfying "cooking breakfast" conundrum. I’m so glad he modeled boring
actions. To be fair, the actions you take are coded well in affecting
what happens on the bus. But major bugs later on take that compliment
back. For example, one action triggers a major event; doing it again
(and again) keeps triggering it, even though it clearly is meant to
happen only once. Also, there’s a bug that makes half your objects
disappear for good. As for the "puzzles," there are some guess the noun
problems as well as guess the author’s thoughts ones.

The book of quotations was commonplace and kind of annoying. Their
inclusion in the game suggests a different initial game concept, as they
serve no purpose here other than to demonstrate that the author likes
them. The abstract symbolism of the game’s motifs (widgets and wodgets)
are a nice idea, but are ultimately empty and rather pretentious.

Finished? Almost. I followed the walkthrough exactly for the last part,
and it doesn’t work (or make much sense). At this point, though, the
story is so convoluted and such a mish-mash of ideas that I don’t really
care.

Aside: It’s possible to remove all your clothing except your coat and
wristwatch. What am I, a flasher?

Slouching Towards Bedlam
Score: 9.7

Absolutely riveting. A story that accurately conveys a sense of dread
throughout, Bedlam is the text equivalent – probably even superior – to
the classic graphics adventure Sanitarium. Each room is still vivid even
as I write this review, and the game’s storyline is both cohesive and
internally consistent. The NPCs are eloquent and well-implemented (even
Triage... which reminds me somewhat of Oliver Wendel Holmes’ Banana
2000), and the machines and devices throughout are intricately exquisite
in their complexity. Best of all, the game is clearly non-linear, as I
performed actions late in the game that I realized were meant to be done
earlier... and yet it had no profound impact on the storyline.

Portions of the language used throughout are reminiscent of For A Change
in its bizarre, yet oddly logical syntax. On the whole, I found the game
to be a refreshing and abrupt change from the last several entries, and
restores my faith in the competition again. I won’t say much more about
the game, except that it definitely needs to be played to be believed.

A few minor things such as quite a few typos and a somewhat abstract
final solution keep the score from being perfect.

Finished? Yes, but with only minutes to spare and a frantic search
through the in-game help system for the last command (which I still
think is non-evident).

Aside: Finally, I get to indulge the Warrior side of me in a game!
Muahaha.

Cerulean Stowaway
Score: 8.3

Cerulean Stowaway starts off as a Hitchhiker’s-esque whimsical
fish-out-of-water space romp and transitions into B-movie horror. The
segue is rather abrupt and poorly done, but the story picks up well
after that shaky moment. The problem is that the moments of horrific
revelation are laid out very matter-of-factly and they elicit no obvious
reaction from the PC. This particularly makes no sense in the context of
the PC’s backstory, although he does have a rather delayed and
understated reaction.

The prose throughout tends toward whimsy, trying to capture the feel of
a B-movie scifi/horror flick. It adds too much gore for it to be
congruent with the humor, but the funny moments tend to stand out
nonetheless. The puzzles are overall quite clever and satisfying, and
the multiple endings are well planned.

It is possible to put the game into an unwinnable state without knowing.
What seems like an obvious solution to an earlier puzzle uses up an
object you need for the end. While this might seem more realistic, is
certainly isn’t fun to have to go back to an old save and redo all of
the puzzles in between. It’s the only puzzle I needed the hints for, and
it turns out I already thought of it, only in a different context. Also,
I was still 10 points short even after getting the optimum ending...
hmmm.

Finished? Yes. However, I won only after restarting to use the minimum
possible uses of a certain limited item so that it wouldn’t run out. The
game needed to be far more forgiving than that (especially since the
object could have been used up earlier just testing it out randomly.)
It’s a major factor in the final score, since I still had to do things
in an annoying and somewhat illogical order to take advantage of the way
the daemon runs. An extra use or two would have made the gaming
experience far more pleasant.

Aside: [Spoiler ahead] "Her hands are wrapped around the hook which
protrudes from her stomach as though trying to push it back through her
body. You have the unpleasant suspicion that she was still alive when
she was placed on this hook." What gave me that clue?


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