Impossible Stairs is a medium-sized puzzlefest crafted by Mathbrush. This game is an authorized sequel to Impossible Bottle, a story that tied for first place in the 2020 IF Comp. In this game, a series of puzzles bring your family together for a meal by the end of it. It’s a light-hearted adventure and not overly difficult. However, I did need some of the hints to make it to the end.
The game does start with a tutorial, so this one might be good for newcomers to the genre. It also has a hint system that will carry the player through to the end. I shut off the tutorial right when I started playing. I didn’t want it giving away any actions I should do. But the hints I did use a few times. They were a little clunky with specific topics and could use a few more synonyms, but I managed to figure them out.
The game itself is a time-zone puzzle, where going up and down the stairs will shift the player by 20 years. There are only six rooms in each zone, with a total of five time zones to play through. As you play, you find yourself going up and down the stairs a lot, piecing each puzzle together. And the puzzles are interconnected, giving the whole house a solid feeling. Even though there are over 30 rooms, the layout is small and easy to keep in your head. But as you play, it does become a bit to manage, and it was hard to know what to focus on. I had to use the hints.
There’s something special going on here, with bringing your family together for the last dinner, so to speak. Because here, when you get to the later time zones, you can see the house has been sold. You’re moving out. So bringing everybody together for a final meal works and pulls on the heartstrings. Also, who was that woman in the window? Was that the PC’s Mom? He didn’t really know his Mother, so she could’ve been. That part didn’t resolve, or maybe it’s buried in the code somewhere, and I missed it. But everything came together really well, and I enjoyed it a lot. There is a story worth playing here.
You Won’t Get Her Back is a text game by Andrew Schultz. Or maybe a text puzzle. He has written a lot of games over the years and even gamified IF with Big Nose on the Big Pyramid. Here he’s implemented a version of chess, the full board, not like his previous game, Fourbyfourian Quarryin’, but it plays tight. There are not a lot of extra moves. It’s a bit on rails.
This one has you in the final moves of a chess game, trying to get a checkmate, not a stalemate. You have a pawn and king, the enemy, a rook and king. The pawn starts off two moves from being queen. It took some time to get used to it. But after I read the verbs, thanks to Drew Cook, the game became easier to play. This isn’t to say I beat it, but I did get a stalemate. And even knowing the verbs, it’s easy to make a mistake, and the puzzle will reset itself.
Making your way through the game is tricky. And when you do fail, you can get achievements. Failure is easy, though. And when it happens, it’s hard to visualize the final moves. It’s explained to you, but you don’t see where the pieces end up. The explanations are neat, but not being able to see the final layout makes it hard to finish the game.
With some tweaks, this game might be easier to play. But the puzzle was hard, or hard for me, and too tight to finish. I like chess. I like the idea of it being implemented in Inform, but that’s a near impossibility. Andrew made an interesting puzzle out of it. Too bad I couldn’t finish it. Maybe if he puts in the full board during the final move, I could grasp it a little better.
Alchemist Gold is a text adventure written by Garry Francis. It was written in PunyInform and is only 82kb. That’s tiny. Really tiny. My first game was 512kb by the time it was done. I wasn’t using a stripped-down version of the library, but you can only put in so much with a game this small.
In this one, you hear of an Alchemist that lives deep in the woods, having mastered his art with the ability to create gold. The game starts off with a gated puzzle that keeps you out of the magic forest. This is typical for this type of game. Having a small area to get use to before jumping deeper into the game.
And the next part is a bit of doozy. It’s a maze that is navigated by an ASCII map. I like it a lot. It works well for me. Once you figure out the path, it’s not hard to get around. But I did venture back and forth three times, so that got a little old. I would have liked a MAP command that would show you the map. Not X MAP. Just to help speed up the navigation of the forest.
Then there’s the final puzzle – getting in and stealing the gold. I had a few problems with this section, trying to find the right thing I needed, but in the end, with some perseverance, I managed to get the booty and make it back out of the forest. Only to find an alchemist who turned me into a frog. I went back and got all the stuff and tried things like putting the sack on the gold to cover it, hiding it from the alchemist, but nothing worked.
In the end, he got the better of me, and I don’t know if it could have ended differently. You would think there is some way to sneak around the alchemist. When you do find him, you can get him to sort of follow you as you go back, but the idea of venturing through the forest a fourth time was too much, and I let him win.
In the end, it’s a fun game with some meat on the bones. There’s enough puzzle to keep you going for a bit, and it will even run on older machines. Making it a good candidate for some retro streamer to play.
For the start of ParserComp 2022, I played Midnight at Al’s Self Storage, Truck Rentals, and Discount Psychic Readings by Thomas Insel. I had pretty high hopes for it, and even though it’s a short game, I feel it missed an opportunity.
You play as an employee at an all-night self-storage. Your boss, Joe, hands you a list as he heads off to god knows where. You have to move a few boxes around and settle things with a wary spirit. It’s a short game, something that could have been put together fairly quickly for the competition. And probably for that reason, there are no strange characters that show up in a place like this.
Putting in characters is hard, and it takes a lot of work. I’ve even shied away from NPCs in some of my games. But with a title like this, Midnight at Al’s Self Storage, Truck Rentals, and Discount Psychic Readings, I feel someone should have shown up to throw a wrench in it all. Or three. It reminds me of some old-school zaniness from back in the 80s, like Repo Man. I could see Harry Dean Stanton playing Joe, messing with the PC as they haul stuff around.
I enjoyed the game. It’s short and easy, with one puzzle to work around that makes a lot of sense. It feels like its own little place, with a terrible storm raging outside. I just wished that author went a little further and brought some characters into the mix.
The Bright Blue Ball by Clary C might be the last game I review for Spring Thing 2022. It’s getting towards the end of the competition, and I know who I’m voting for. But I wanted to give a few more games a fair shake.
In this one, you play as a dog, looking for his bright blue ball. The game is short, intended for children, and easy to play. But it also has a lot of generic responses to things I tried out. Nothing major, but in a game this small, you’d expect to see it polished from one end to the other.
The things I found lacking were simple, like pushing or pulling objects in the game. I got mostly generic responses from this. And it also seemed a little strange that my family started calling after me right after I left, and they were all asleep. Unless I missed it, no one woke up and noticed I had left. The game just started echoing out that my family was looking for me. I also think that some verbs could’ve been added like BITE and then implement some cute responses. But the game doesn’t need to go that far.
Overall these are minor points, and this is a cute game. I think it hits the target audience for kids spot on. It’s easy enough for them to play, and they’d overlook all the smaller things an experienced player might try. It is a little light on the implementation for my tastes. I’d give it a 7.
It’s getting towards the end of Spring Thing, but I’d like to get a few more reviews in. The latest game I played was Tours Roust Torus by Andrew Schultz – an anagram game that’s the final installment in the Stale Tales Slate. Going into it, I expected a game where I could win it with an anagram solver, but I got stuck on the final puzzle and couldn’t finish it.
A lot of work must go into these games. Just coming up with the different anagrams has to be tough. While designing a game might be fun in the beginning, after three of these, I’d think it’d be hard to come up with more. And the game starts with a bit of that, a melancholy look back on life.
The design is simple and effective. You circle around a central room, solving anagrams and changing the environment. It took me a bit to get what was going on, I got stuck on the first one, but then it started to roll. I made my way through seven of them quickly, but then the final puzzle took a turn. I can only guess that it has something to do with reordering the rooms. It’s not an anagram puzzle that I could cheat, and after trying to brute force it, I gave up.
Tours is a fun game that has some light puzzles at the beginning that help shape the setting. It was a little strange, but I ran with it, and it seemed like it was going a little dark. Was I rebuilding Frankenstein? I never did get to the center of the lollipop. That last puzzle was beyond me. Still, I’m glad I played it. It was fun to rearrange the furniture.
In this year’s Spring Thing, the next game I played was Hinterlands: Marooned! It turns out that this is a one-move game, but I had no idea going into it.
The game has you stranded on a very small island, standing next to a Q’udzlth. And almost everything you do will kill you. There are a lot of death sequences in this game, and they’re all very polished, like the author had a lot of fun killing the player. The only thing is, it’s not very fun to be killed repeatedly with no clue in the final text that could advance the story.
Hinterlands: Marooned! is a hard game with not a single clue that could get the player to the end. I can see why the author might not want a walkthrough with only one move, but hints need to be woven into something like this – to keep the player with the game, not laughing at them. After 40 minutes of dying, I gave up. I decided not to rate this one.
The next game I played in Spring Thing 2022 was Fairest. This is the latest game from Amanda Walker, an author that took 4th place in last year’s competition. This game came with a walkthrough, the reason I played it next, but it’s the only one in the competition to have one.
In this game, you play as yourself and Prince Conrad. Well, the person you call yourself at the beginning of the game. This is the only real gripe I have with the game, but we can return to that later. The prince is the firstborn of an aligning King, so the crown should go to him. But due to a scheming stepmother, his two brothers challenge him for the throne. It is decided that you, Conrad, will go out on a quest to prove your worth as King.
The game unfolds naturally. With a guiding feather that takes you to the areas you need to be. No wandering around the map, wondering what to do. I never felt lost. The areas are big enough for the player to move around freely. They’re easy to keep track of and not so large that you need a map. There are three main puzzles that interconnect nicely, like a Tarantino film, minus everyone dying at the end.
The game’s dark, and the ending a little chilling, with a long list of choices at the end. I don’t know how well this works in a parser game, but I don’t see how you could do it differently. It also made for some interesting conclusions before the final scene.
This game was polished, with a lot of love put into it. I only got hung up once, and the mirror was no help where it could’ve been, but there was a walkthrough that got me out of that early part of the game. I’m glad, or I would’ve missed a beautiful game.
What I was saying before, it did feel weird having the game address me directly. It felt confusing when it was over because it felt like that person was still talking to me and not Conrad. The transition back was strange. It really broke the 4th wall. Also, I think there was a missed opportunity with the horse. You should be able to talk to the head after you free the girl. I just thought that something extra could’ve been thrown in there.
This game really blew me out of the water. I didn’t know what to think going in, but it turned out to be a dark game with easy puzzles that I enjoyed immensely. I hope it does well in the competition. But there’s only first place. This one is a strong contender for Best In Show for me. I can’t recommend it enough.
The second game I played for Spring Thing 2022 was The Legend of Horse Girl by Bitter Karella. I like the artwork, and I thought the setting was neat, but I didn’t know there was no walkthrough when I started.
The game starts off in the plaza of Santa Diablo, Texas. A small western town controlled by a land baron, Judge Lazarus Dives. This first room is loaded with eight exits, and it’s the hub for the game. But with so many exits, I think the town could’ve been spread out a little, with a long road and connecting rooms. One room with a ton of text to parse can be hard.
I liked that I felt I could still complete the puzzles when I was stuck. I played for a while because I felt I knew what to do. I just need to find the right item. But I never did find the correct item and got stuck after exploring the entire game.
And I hate to say. The game is flawed with bugs. The most glaring one is when you try taking things. If the player takes an item already held, the game doesn’t say, “You already have that.” It retriggers the event that took the item. So, if there’s a conversation attached to taking the item, you get that conversation anywhere in-game when you retake it. This is an odd bug. The game could also use a lot more synonyms like bartender for La Muerte, shoe for the horseshoe, or sheet for the broadsheet. Smell and listen are missing default responses and return a blank line if the environment isn’t echoing out something.
I played the game for a while but didn’t get that far. I explored all there was and picked everything up. I tried to give that stuff away, but this provoked no reaction. I could talk to people. This was good. They all had opinions about the Judge but couldn’t help me with much more. I made it into the church but couldn’t ring the bell. I looked for rope, or sheets, or something, but in the end, I gave up. There were no hints to point me in the right direction or a walkthrough I could have skimmed.
It’s hard to know how to score this game without completing it. There’s the set-up that I played for over two hours, but I can’t get to the payoff. I want to see the Judge get his, get up to his Villa and take him out. But I’m dead in the water with the second game I’ve tried so far durning this competition.
I started the 2022 Spring Thing Festival with Bigfoot Bluff by P.B. Parjeter. It looked like a light-hearted, easy to play through game, but I got stuck, and without a walkthrough, I couldn’t finish it.
You start the game as Bigfoot Jr. trying to photograph the cryptid creatures in the park. The game comes with a beautiful pdf map to help orientate you. In this game, you’re part of the paparazzi but don’t have your own camera. Getting one is the first puzzle, blocking off the parking area and wetting the player’s appetite for more.
After the first puzzle, the game opens up. It’s billed as a sandbox game, and you have access to most of the areas. It looks like you need to get 60 points before finding Bigfoot Senior. You gain points in the game, but you can also lose points. Undo has been removed, so the author wants the player to take the point loss and keep plodding on.
I went everywhere I could, and I picked up a lot of objects, following the adage that the adventure takes everything not nailed down. This included the Park Ranger. The game wanted me to lose him, so I dropped him in a dark room and never saw him again. I don’t know if this broke the game or not. Unfortunately, there was no walkthrough provided.
As I started to push harder on the game because I wasn’t making any progress, more of the thin implementation started to show. Like, if you’re going to ask players to put something on a chain, implement the other objects that the player will try, even the ones during a brute force. I also think this is a good place to interject some comedy into any game. I also found some objects with default descriptions. Why is it there? Is it that much of a red herring?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this game quite a bit. I like its minimalistic nature, where I should be able to find everything quickly. And I found a lot. However, the game just needs to be implemented a little deeper. It looks like this is the author’s first parser game, it’s a great attempt, but it lacks a bit of direction (I know it’s a sandbox, but it’s also a parser game), and the objects need a bit more work. If they’re red herrings, you might want to remove them. If they work together to form something new, I think they need to be better clued.
This game gets 7 out of 10 stars. It still needs work, but what’s there is very enjoyable. If it had a walkthrough, that would go a long way.