The puzzle in Byzantine Perspective — how to get at the chalice — becomes quickly subordinate to the mystery of what is going on, and once you can answer, all you have to do is reach out and take it. Embodied so perfectly that even people who don’t like puzzles should be able to admire it.
Broken Legs: in a way, the unwavering confidence of Lottie’s voice works against you; your adversaries are denigrated and your surroundings are dismissed. You can only really solve the game by tuning out that frequency and adopting the outlook of a marooned astronaut whose only chance of survival is to scour everything in sight for some shred of utility. All the same, I’ll take this any day over Grounded in Space.
The Duel in the Snow stands out for its measured writing and novel milieu — where I think it actually earns more points than Broken Legs — but not for its riveting gameplay. As the story plays out, you’ll recover from drinking too much brandy, drink more brandy, and become swept up in an altercation which brandy may have instigated. (This mostly involves waiting.) There’s a mystery to be solved, but the game buries it too well (the primary clue being at the back of a book the protagonist dismisses) and then barely acknowledges that you’ve uncovered it. Instead it courses headlong to the duel: conclusion foregone, but presented nonetheless as the central puzzle. To “solve” the duel, to figure out a way to live through it, is to abnegate the story — and yet the author has allowed for no other outlet.
Rover’s Day Out attempts to redeem the mundane by freighting each action with cosmic significance. No, it’s the other way around: it couches a far-fetched scenario in the most familiar environs; takes conventions that have been trampled to death and invents them a heaven. So relentlessly subversive it gets a bit trying, but still: try it.
Yon Astounding Castle: surprisingly good, funny in its many incongruities, language blatantly (but deftly) misused. By the end, however, it escapes its architect, as if he kept building rooms next to each other without any thought to the proportions of the castle, which ends up quite lopsided, the beginning portions well-judged but the basement unfinished. Particularly lazy is the Makery, a room where you MAKE anything you can think of that the author has anticipated; and the Intricate Object, which you can keep examining to find more and more items. Later, following the walkthrough, I returned to the frozen lake only to find it unfrozen and the game apparently unwinnable. I feel like this is probably an interpreter issue and that I could spare myself lots of grief by treating Adrift games as Windows-only.
In a competition packed with trifles and playthings, Condemned stands out for its super-serious approach and the way it stubbornly resists being played. You explore an allegorical garage, wait for flashbacks to pass, and arrange for your own crucifixion. It’s like a nightmare version of Photopia that lurches from over-precise physical description to hysteria. Fans of bad writing will enjoy lines like
“Can’t wait to fuck up that bitch named Dylan at school,” Sig anticipates verbally.
but everyone else is advised to move along, get some cotton candy, and see if the next game can guess your weight.
The intro to Resonance — not to mention the dedication or the cover art — does a terrible job preparing you for the game. Looming shadows are replaced by cartoons, the roadblocks of circumstance are replaced by riddles, and the big, frightening world turns out to be a watertight snow globe.
The second half of Gator-on is unorthodox and allows for lots of fun descriptions, but it accepts so narrow a range of commands that the player barely gets to take part. I was gnashing my teeth because I couldn’t get Gator-on to gnash his — or to do much of anything else.
The Duel that Spanned the Ages could benefit from a twist ending, for example, the shocking admission that its author has already designed and plotted the next thirteen episodes. The puzzles here are certainly no worse than the ones in The Elysium Enigma, even if Spanned lacks a compelling central mystery to spur the player on. If the author promises not to enter subsequent episodes in future competitions, he deserves — after several rounds of chemotherapeutic criticism — to be clapped on the back and welcomed to the table.
Interface: You’re trapped in a crude, robotic construct, with only your sense of sight and the ability to pick up and drop things. See also every other game in the comp.
Grounded in Space: buttons and dials and consoles, oh my! What you actually do: control a person controlling a spaceship. The writing is good in the introduction and the conclusion and in various asides, but when it comes to the main thrust, from the twin engines of plot and play, the lively narration mostly abandons you. Yes, you’re alone in space and you have to figure things out on your own, but you’re also a resourceful scamp who has no problem building and launching his own rocket. Especially when the computer cuts out, I wanted the kid to come into his own and take over the narrative (if not solve the puzzles outright).
Earl Grey contains “sea ions” that you have to change into sea lions who come together to howl at the moon, producing a gaseous spirit that feeds on lice and/or ice, thereby freeing your companion, who produces a sword that you change into a word, so that you can change something else into something else and on and on from one arbitrary scene to the next. Not my cut of pea.
I won’t argue that The Ascot doesn’t belong in the competition — in its acknowledgment of IF conventions, it surfs right past Gleaming the Verb — I just don’t think it belongs in the winner’s circle. If there were a Xyzzy award for best walkthrough, though, it would definitely be a contender.
The Totally True Story of a Real Invisible Man: If it were this frustrating handling envelopes, unlocking doors, and using computers, I’d want revenge, too. The central joke — that the protagonist’s invisibility only complicates his revenge — is belabored by puzzles so contrived that none but the saintly would want to see it through.
The Grand Quest: A series of challenges that range from diabolical to hellish to infuriating. Arrayed like this, the game is only as good as its worst puzzle — which is to say, agonizing.
Gleaming the Verb asks you to READ the CUBE, but unless you have realized that it’s purely a word puzzle, that your surroundings are irrelevant at best, and that the traditional set of adventuring commands should be left well outside the cube, you may as well READ the WALKTHROUGH.
Eruption: If you find a spelling error, you get 100 points and win the game immediately. The series of hints about the rat puzzle was quite funny, but it only serves to underscore how small and dormant a world this is.
Spelunker’s Quest: How do I get past the rats? In Eruption, you don’t have to; they didn’t make it into the game. Here, you get to slaughter them with a machine gun. Yep, it’s just another day in the life of a spelunker.
“Put tapes in slots and chips in boards to discover the magic of retro-computing — in Star Hunter, available now!” Had this been released as a C64 disk image? Massive respect. Compiled with a ten-year-old version of Inform? Not so much.