Two of the five scenes in East Grove Hills concern a classroom presentation, a group effort to report on an assigned book. Which book? That is the question, and by laying it at the player’s feet, the game sacrifices half a story’s worth of characterization for the sake of the riddle. The players may be “extreme introverts, people with mental issues, and generally weird,” but I still want to know how they chose the book (if they chose it) and what they hated about it (or secretly liked).

On that note, here are my impressions of this year’s field.

Like The Baron, The Blind House contrives an injustice and indicts the player for it. As your attorney in this matter, I object — even if I can’t help returning to the scene of the crime.

You’ve taken refuge with a vulnerable, long-estranged classmate. While she’s away at work, you get to nose around the house and reacquaint yourself with its owner by way of her effects. Full credit to the author for creating an intriguing character (in Marissa) and especially for letting the player be the one to bring her to life.

Sadly that process is colored by a narrator so unreliable, she’s practically schizotypal. Even the exploration is faceted; what could be accomplished in one command is divided into two — EXAMINE versus THINK ABOUT — and the player’s obligations are doubled.

If this were IntroComp, Mite would be the hands-down winner. Love this bit about the garden gnome: “It’s the most peculiar thing you’ve ever seen and you can only guess what its purpose is.”

Up, up, and — aw, I’m already falling. Flight of the Hummingbird may not win Miss Congeniality, but it is pretty congenial. You’re a second-string superhero arriving late to the enemy’s lair. Now you have to catch up and catch him before — well, actually, he’s fairly inept and it’s not terribly urgent. Take your time?

The puzzles here are navigational: crossing the ocean, being on both sides of a gate at once, piloting a vessel, and so on. They’re somewhere between delightful and wallpaper, but Martin presents them with a strong sense of humor. Any game that places higher should be worth playing.

I’ve no more affinity for zombies than I do for pirates or ninjas or narwhals, but Divis Mortis is one of the better-constructed of this year’s well-made plays. You get to shoot, bash, cut, nuke, block, and throw. Games that let you do fun things are generally themselves fun — I believe this is due to the transitive property, destruction of.

Leadlight springs over low expectations with steady pacing and sturdy design. The way the map unfolds, the way items are distributed, the way the backstory is doled out: this is a decent game.

True, the author could have used Inform, labored over the writing, collapsed the repetition, and implemented responses for everything, one of which might or might not have contained the phrase, “as good-looking as ever” — but any game with randomized combat belongs to a different tradition, and I salute the author for making the most of his exile and writing for a platform no less venerable than the Z-machine.

Ninja’s Fate didn’t need to be entered in the competition but, in true Panksian fashion, it was. An answer to Forman’s Detective.

The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game for Great Justice: You venture forth into the stronghold of capitalism to wrest control of the people’s hearts. Because the people are so readily manipulated (straw men indeed), this is easily done. “Almost too easy,” says the narrator, “not that you’re complaining.” He’s right; it’s hard to talk through this mustache.

One Eye Open in a nutshell: “Three-quarters of the map is obscured with a large bloodsmear, but the lower right quadrant is mostly visible.”

I’m not sure which is more amusing: the gratuitous gore that just keeps coming; or that, beneath and behind and wedged in among, there are journal entries. Actual quote: “In the corpse’s mouth is a wad of crumpled paper.”

Still laughing after two hours, I wrote down my score and continued. After two hours more I had compiled a list of the characters involved, had reconstructed the backstory, and had typed HINT in every room. Still I couldn’t steer the thing to a satisfying end.

I can only assume that somewhere, in the exploded rib cage of a victim I haven’t found, is a note that explains it all.

Oxygen is Floatpoint retrenched: one room, one puzzle, and only one faction worth sympathizing with.

I don’t want to have fun exploring at my own pace; I want to be pursued, harried, searching, pressed. Following a Star finally grants my wish: its closing sequence brings in all the characters from the game’s earlier stages and lets me flee from them as fast I can to the finale.

In Death off the Cuff, a daring premise is knocked immediately awry: in a room full of suspects, whose interrogation will be the substance of the game to come, the furniture is described first, as though the lounge were empty. Was the murder weapon a chair leg?

Solving murders is, of course, excellent, and I try to do it at every opportunity, but this investigation was a bit of a goose chase. I needed the hints to tell me what a sharper detective would have noticed right away, for example, that a suspect who had been leaning forward intently was now sitting back, arms crossed, on the aforementioned furniture.

Where some games barely allow you to exert any pressure on the story’s flow, Erebus expects you to correctly identify the water pump and start messing around. I was so disoriented by the introductory hell ride that I spent most of my time wandering up and down the coast, trying in vain to decipher the carvings. I felt like I really was in the dark. Points for verisimilitude, I guess.

Talking about The 12:54 to Asgard, I want to quote the whole introduction. This’ll have to do:
With a smile, you unlock and open the maintenance closet door. Ah, your home, your domain. Everything in order, unlike every other square foot of this place.


Just crossing the threshold makes you feel a little better about everything. Cleaning supplies lined up in the corner, tools hanging smartly from the gear rack, and everything else organized and sorted into labeled plastic tubs...

Wait. What the hell is this!

But the lively intro soon gives way to a surreal melange of pies in the sky. Hope you brought utensils.

Sarah Morayati on The Lost Sheep: “The parable of the lost sheep isn’t really about a lost sheep, but about sinners returning to grace. The moral is the point. This entry is, however, literally about a lost sheep.”

Stay tuned for next year’s installment about the evils of procrastination (as depicted in Proverbs 15): Rose, where you play a man who must walk through a hedge of thorns to reach his bride. (Walkthrough: N. N. N. N.)

I think the author of The Chronicler was only trying to say (with “unfinished”) what every entrant would admit: that his ambition exceeded the deadline. Nonetheless I’m grateful that the outpost isn’t fully fleshed; enough tedium is delivered in this reduced version that I don’t know if I could have survived another wing.