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Presented here are my capsule reviews (all spoiler-free) of the IF Competition 99 Inform games. BE WARNED these reviews are not fair, balanced, or impartial (although the scores given are the scores I submitted on my voting form)! They contain plenty of unconstructive criticism and abuse, but I have tried to highlight any good points I could find in even the worst games. So, in reverse order:
This could’ve been a contender. If the game lived up to the nice in-game instructions and sample transcript. Unfortunately it contains fatal errors, and so becomes unplayable.
There are four rooms in this game, and that’s all I can tell you, because I never figured out how to get out of them. Rybread Celsius’s reputation goes before him. I predicted the way to get out would be unfair and gave up.
How much more incestuous can interactive fiction get? A game about writing an IF game. No offence people, but get a life! This is throw-away stuff.
The fact that I didn’t like this shows the importance of a good hook. Something exciting needs to happen to grab your attention, or the writing needs to be really catchy, or the genre needs to be clearly defined in an opening scene. Music Education has none of these things. There is a reasonably well implemented college campus here. It is large, and may require mapping. There is no obvious goal, other than to practice your instrument. In a word: boring. IF authors, stick with this rule: make genre-specific games. Real-world scenarios are dull.
Pass the Bananas
An implementation of some form of puzzle that I didn’t understand. I managed to win by accident, but on the way I noticed a plentiful supply of bugs and some nice humorous touches.
You wake from an accident (how original) and find yourself in the woods. You stumble across a log cabin, and a couple who share a secret about a special type of phoenix. Apparently, the goal of the game is to ask the two characters about everything. Lomalow won’t maintain your interest long enough to reach that goal. The whole phoenix story is just too silly to take seriously, and there are annoying puzzles that veer towards guess-the-verb.
Beat the Devil
As soon as you load this up, you notice a rogue room description appearing before the intro. This does note bode well. In fact, it holds together pretty well although there are no ground-breaking ideas here. In fact, it is all eerily reminiscent of Perditon’s Flames: you have ended up in Hell, and need to outwit the Seven Deadly Sins (Sins Against Mimesis, anyone?). The big idea is that Hell has been transformed into the Mall of Hell. Well implemented and playable enough.
Another one of those ‘eccentric’ entries in Comp99. The author has made the curious design decision of having very early line breaks. Whether the spelling mistakes and strange implementation issues are genuine design decisions or just mistakes is another question. Still, it certainly grabs your attention in the opening (how to prevent your own suicide?). I couldn’t answer that question, so the game ended very early for me. Certainly original, and an arresting writing style.
Death to My Enemies
Interactive silliness: you need to use the objects at your disposal to defeat the evil Dr. Whatsisname. Very neatly coded, with responses for almost all actions.
For A Change
An intriguing story, and an instant hook in the form of the strange language used. Its difficult to give any kind of summary because I never figured out quite what it was all about. I would certainly have played on beyond the judging time, but got bogged down in trying to interact with the NPC.
Hunter in Darkness
Oh no, a cave crawl! In fact, Hunter in Darkness is a technically accomplished, and probably very accurate, simulation of the real pot-holing experience. The author has put a lot of effort into making the cave areas sound different from each other, but he doesn’t quite pull it off. There is one stand-out scene where you are stuck fast, can’t move forward and can’t move back. The tension is palpable, and all the more so because the author has made it interactive rather than just a big chunk of text. However, the fact is, caving is boring. At the end of the day, this is just a big maze. As a result, I soon became impatient, and the sheer thought of having to map was enough for me to end my session.
Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname
The whole thing is set up nicely as an Indiana Jones-cum-Zork style thingy. The FULL score option is a great read. And then: the first puzzle. I simply couldn’t solve it. The Help system had no on-line hints either. That spelled the end of my session. A shame, because it looked great fun.
Chicks Dig Jerks
What the hell? Starting off like one of those ‘adult interactive fiction’ episodes (pulling in a night club), but then completely switching tone and turning into some kind of cyberpunk horror thriller thing, Chicks Dig Jerks is riddled with bugs, has a bizarre multiple choice conversation system, and makes no sense whatsoever. But despite all this, its one of the most memorable games in the competition. The writing has a real edge to it, and for some reason I was reminded of the book SnowCrash (don’t know why). A must-play, you’ll either love it or hate it.
Only After Dark
Woohoo, a genre game! My favourite, too: horror! Beware the moon, we got ourselves some werewolves here! As soon as I saw the words ‘Day One’, I was thinking Anchorhead 2, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. The opening scene certainly delivered, and then the dramatic second scene topped that. And suddenly, I was stuck. I simply couldn’t figure out a way to survive. If only a Help system was included. With a walkthrough, this will surely be a definite must-play.
Yet another entry in the long line of children’s fairytale/ folklore adaptations. The excellent prologue sets things up very nicely, although the ugly ASCII art doesn’t help matters (what are those things? Snowflakes?). The writing is high class, as is the implementation. The puzzles are at a manageable level usually, and when they begin to get difficult, there is a full Help system available. Its not quite original enough for my liking, basically taking Firebird and just substituting a few winter-themed puzzles for Firebird’s ones.
Well, this is high quality stuff. The Photopian influences are clear to see, and the implementation is pretty good for a game of this size (it is larger than most games in Comp99). Its not up to Photopia standards however, firstly because it uses the cliched "you fall asleep and find yourself... somewhere else" plot formula, and secondly because the Help system is not helpful enough (I eventually got stuck in a scenario that the Help system doesn’t even mention).
Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win
Very much in the Varicella mould, Jacks is a tale of political intrigue in an unspecified location and era. You are an unspecified character, attempting to hold on to your position from unspecified competitors. The whole thing zips along at a steady pace, puzzles being just the right level of difficulty, the writing generally excellent, and a faultless implementation. Great stuff.