Since I didn’t get time to enter IFComp this year, I thought I’d chip in with (brief) reviews instead. As in previous years, I’ve made use of personalised shuffle to choose my entries for me (I’ll just work down the list in batches of five). Similarly, as in previous years, I’ll be using the IFComp’s own judging scale. So, here’s my first 5 (which ended up being 4, for reasons which will become clear). I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but there might be some minors, so if you want to go in knowing nothing, perhaps hold off reading for now.
Gone out for Gruyere – BF Lindsay – 7/10
This is precisely what I’ve come to expect from a BF Lindsay game – solid writing and puzzles with a dash of strange humour. I found it oddly enjoyable to be taunted by a giant cheese throughout. I liked that the taunts were contextual, but would have appreciated a little more variation in the abuse! Some of the scenes are definitely movie references, but I couldn’t be sure whether all of them are, or whether this knowledge offers further clues to solving puzzles.
Some sequences proved a little tedious – for example, having to open and close the glass case repeatedly when experimenting with the machine – shortening this would have been preferable.
I’m terrible at puzzles and so I failed to remove the cheese, but am aware this is a failing of me rather than either the game or its hint system, both of which would likely be perfectly understandable for someone more adept at problem solving. However, I was very pleased with my final 6/9 score – that’s far better than I usually score in this sort of this game!
Limerick Heist – Pace Smith – 8/10
This is a heist story somewhat reminiscent of 2018’s Let’s Rob a Bank by Bethany Nolan although with greater structural and narrative complexity. The story is charmingly told as a series of limericks which, rather than the random selection of Let’s Rob a Bank, offer clues regarding how to woo certain team members. It is possible to fail to convince some characters to join the heist, or indeed, to fail outright, and there are multiple endings. These are fully listed at the end of the game to help encourage replays, and in the end I achieved 3, with some more satisfying than others.
The Mysterious Stories of Caroline – Soham S – 5/10
Note: Major spoilers for the ending of this one, as I felt it merited discussion
As is often the case with timed text in Twine (I’ve done this myself) the transitions are overly slow in places, sometimes to the point of annoyance. The format for the ‘audio’ clip sections didn’t work for me – they’re presented as journal pages rather than audio transcripts, so why not just make them journal pages in-game? (Also, some of these timed out while I was reading and moved on to the next section – I couldn’t decide if this was because audio was actually used – I had my sound turned off and there was no indication as to whether audio was required in the menu screen). The content of these logs also offered little to enhance the story or move it forward. Similarly, the tone and style of the newspaper articles wasn’t convincing, but all these ‘inserts’ looked nice and helped break up the text. Narratively, I found Mysterious Stories in general to be overly wordy and confusing in places due to the many time shifts and occasional grammatical strangeness.
I like the end of scene summaries that indicate how I’m affecting protagonist Henry, but it isn’t clear whether I actually am, and I didn’t care enough for the story to go back and try alternatives. There were concerning attitudes expressed in the ending I reached (although obviously, I don’t know if it was the only ending). Katherine’s actions would constitute child abuse – she traumatised Henry and he disliked the kissing she subjected him to. Therefore regardless of whether the other accusations were false, Henry himself wasn’t falsely accusing her. If the intention was that Henry’s viewpoint was partial or false, or that victims of abuse tend to blame themselves for their abuser’s behaviour, this was clumsily done with vague mentions of Henry having mental health problems inferred as the reason his testimony should not be believed.
Turandot – Victor Gijsbers – 8/10
I should probably begin with the caveat that I know absolutely nothing about Turandot, so have no idea if this is in the spirit of it or not, but I like the characters and tone of the writing, and the credits indicate that little of the original made it through. Written with customary Gijsbers humour and snappy dialogue, I love the way choices (or lack of) are used to emphasise comedic moments. (Yes to more wine!) I came across a couple of typos towards the end, but they were very minor and in no way affected my enjoyment or playability, hence the retention of a high score. I don’t know whether my choices affected the ending and due to the relatively long playtime, didn’t go back for another go, but that’s not to say I won’t as this is a wonderful story, wonderfully told.
The Untold Story – Michael Pavano – ?/10
Couldn’t get the download link to work for this one (see above). Given the title I’m wondering if it’s some kind of artistic statement. Did anyone else have any luck? I’ll gladly return to this if anyone’s able to furnish me with a working copy!
More reviews to follow anon!