Game Review: Locked Door (2022, Cody Gaisser)


You are in a room. A wooden door leads north. That’s the only exit. But, the door is locked!

This is a puzzle that has faced many a player of Interactive Fiction. We’ve all had to deal with the locked room scenario, where you have to find the solution for how to get that door open. You can play guess the verb. You can look for things to examine. You can check your inventory to see if you have something on you that could be used in some clever way to unlock the door.

Or you could just pick up the iron key and see what it does.

To quote the game itself:

Room A
A plain white room. A wooden door leads north.

You can see an iron key here.

Can it be that simple? Why not? One side effect of playing too much interactive fiction is that you reach a point where you assume that every solution has to be complicated. Sometimes, you can just pick up the key.

There is another room, though. Be sure to go in the other room and read what you find.

Keep in mind, this is only the first Locked Door game. There are at least three other adventures, all asking if you can unlock more doors. I’ve been playing the fourth one. I’ll review it as soon as I figure out how to open up the damn door.

Play Locked Door

Game Review: Second Wind (2021, Matthew Warner)

Society has collapsed.  Biological warfare has changed the majority of humans into werewolves.  Those who have not been infected live in locked-down shelters.  You live in Shelter 5, with your second wife Lorraine.  You used to live in Shelter 4 with your first wife, Wendy.  Wendy kicked you out after she found out that you were cheating on her with Lorraine.  Things have been tense ever since.

Now, Lorraine’s pregnant.  The midwife has told you that the delivery is not going as planned.  A C-section has to be performed to save the lives of both Lorraine and the baby.  (With humanity nearly wiped out, the survival of your baby could give hope to those few who remain.)  You have to get a doctor but that means making you way across the desert wasteland and the ruined city to Shelter 4.  Not only do you have to save the life of your second wife but you’re going to have to convince your first wife to help you do it.  You only have a few hours to make it and all of the shelter’s hoverbikers are damaged beyond use.  Best of luck!

Second Wind is an interactive fiction game for adults.  The stakes are real.  The puzzles require thought.  Your mistakes have consequences.  Puzzles are usually my great downfall when it comes interactive fiction.  Timed challenges are my second greatest downfall.  As you can probably guess, I had to play Second Wind a few times before I got anything close to a good ending and, even then, it was only as good as any ending can be when the world’s gone to Hell in a bucket without anyone even enjoying the ride.  But the challenge made the eventual success even more rewarding.  When playing a game like Second Wind, the best advice would be to remember that using google is not the same as cheating and that Occam’s Razor is your friend.  It also helps to take notes because a lot of the game’s puzzles depend on remembering numbers and then inputting them into the keypads necessary to enter the shelters.

I dug Second Wind.  It’s better-written than most and the descriptions are so vivid that you’ll feel like you’re in that apocalyptic desert, trying to make your way back home.  And if you really do get lost, there is a walk-through that explains the puzzles without leaving you feeling too ashamed for not being able to figure them out for yourself.

Play Second Wind.

Interactive Fiction Review: Being a Thing (2021, R. Asu)

Are you a person or a thing is the question at the heart of this game and finding out is going to take some courage.

At the start of Being A Thing 2, you are standing outside a dark city, unsure of who you are and what you are going to find inside of there. From the start, you have two choices. You can either follow what you feel you’re supposed to do and enter the city or you can turn around and leave and fail. Usually, it’s a bad thing to fail but considering what is waiting for you inside of the city, it might actually be the better option.

Most people playing Being A Thing 2 are going to want to explore. Since it’s a short game, why not take the 10 minutes necessary to discover what is inside of the city instead of turning around and leaving? And once you enter the city, you’ll still have the option to turn and leave. For a while, at least. Stay too long and you might lose that option but you may not have any other choice if you want to determine whether you’re a person or a thing.

This is one of those works of Interactive Fiction that is more of a short story with options instead of being a straight-forward game. Your main decision is how much of the story you want to explore before bringing things to an end by turning around and leaving the city. This really isn’t for people looking for complex puzzles or a huge range of choices to make. But if you’re looking for a well-written piece that actually has something to say about the human (or non-human) condition, Being A Thing 2 might be right up your alley.

Play Being A Thing 2.

Interactive Fiction Review: A Blank Page (2021, Edu Sanchez)

Where to begin?

That is the question at the heart of A Blank Page, a work of interactive fiction that anyone with a creative spirit should be able to understand.  In A Blank Page, you are the writer, sitting in front of a blank screen and trying to figure out how to begin.  It seems like it should be so easy.  You’re smart.  You’re imaginative.  You have ideas.  The keyboard is right there in front of you.  

So, why is it so easy to find something else to do?

You can look out the window.  You can chat with your friends.  You can go for a walk.  You can even go through your notebook and look at all of the ideas that you’ve had, ideas that seemed good at the time but which now add up to a big pile of What Was I Thinking?  Why can you do all of that but you can’t start your masterpiece?

Trust me, I’ve been there. 

In fact, I’m there right now. 

I have been playing and reading interactive fiction like A Blank Page for years but I’ve never actually written one.  I have had ideas for a few.  I’ve even started on a few.  But I’ve never gotten past the first room description or the solution for the first puzzle.  In October, when I was playing the entries in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition, I decided that 2022 was going to be the year that I was not only going to  finally write a game but I was also going to let the rest of the world see it.  It’s been tough getting started, though.  I’ve played some good games and I’ve played some bad and really sloppy games and I would definitely rather be responsible for a good one.  My hope is that I’ll have something to enter into the 2022 Interactive Fiction Competition.  I don’t care if my game is ranked in top ten of the entries.  I just don’t want it to be dead last.

That’s where something like A Blank Page is helpful.  It’s a reminder that I’m not the only one who sometimes doesn’t know where to begin.  It’s good to know that I’m not the first person to have ever struggled with this.  Somewhere, someone else is also struggling to write their first game or their first story or create their first painting and they’re hoping that, whatever the final result of their efforts may be, it will be good enough to justify a second one.  As A Blank Page‘s creator says in the introduction to the game, “all arts have their own version of the ‘Blank Page Syndrome.'”

A Blank Page is a short Twine game, full of details that will resonate with any artist who has struggled.  It’s good and comforting to know that I’m not the only person who has ever spent more than one day looking at a blank page or screen and asking, Where to Begin?

Play A Blank Page.

Game Review: How it was then and how it is now (2021, Pseudavid)

How it was then and how it is now is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

In this Twine game, you are attempting to navigate a maze with your ex, Clara.  You and Clara still have complicated feelings for each other and as much of the game is spent remembering the past as it is navigating the maze.  The maze is made up of unusual geometric shapes that you have to identify.  You are usually given three options to choose from.  Often the correct answer is deliberately not among the options.  Eventually, you find yourself in situations where you have to pick three numbers but it does not seem to make much difference which numbers your pick.  Is the narrator’s mind deteriorating, is a geometric apocalypse coming, or is it something else?  I played the game and I don’t know.

Twine is a good format for surreal games and they don’t get more surreal than How it was then and how it is now.  In short, it’s not a game for everyone but it is also obviously not meant for everyone.  For the matter, it’s also not really a game as much as its a short story with occasional choices.  (It literally is Interactive Fiction.)  Don’t worry about solving the maze because that will only frustrate you.  Instead, just click on an answer and see where the story is heading.

Play How it was then and how it is now.

Game Review: Goat Game (2021, Kathryn Li)

Goat Game is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

You are a research assistant at Yobel Industries. You’re also a humanoid goat, as is almost everyone else in this game. That doesn’t really play much into the game’s plot but it is does make the illustrations that go with each chapter interesting to look at. When you discover that there is a potential safety violation at the lab, you have to decide how to respond to both it and the subsequent scandal. There are a lot of decisions to make, most of which have to do with how you feel about your job and the animals that you work with. The decisions you make influence three key stats, all of which play into determining which one of the 15 potential endings that you’ll end up with.

The number of different endings is the main appeal of Goat Game. Because it’s a quick game, it’s interesting to see how much one choice can totally change how things go for you. The endings are determined by how much you hate or like your job and the city, and also how many friends you’ve made. I haven’t seen all the endings yet but I’m going to keep playing until I do. Along with the endings, Goat Game is well-written and it does a good job of transporting the player into the world that the game’s created.

Play Goat Game.

Game Review: Unfortunate (2021, Jess Elizabeth Reed)

Unfortunate is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

You are a fortune teller at a party. The person throwing the party has called your abilities into question and has dared you to correctly tell everyone’s fortune before the night is finished. Throughout the game, you observe and talk to the seven other party guests. You ask them questions and then, once you feel you have enough information about them and their relationships with everyone else at the party, you give them their fortune. Then, a few turns later, you discover whether or not you were correct.

I liked the idea behind this game. It may be puzzle-based but, instead of trying to guess the verb or figure out what part of the room you have yet to search, you’re trying to ask the right questions and correctly interpret the answers. That’s a challenge and there’s enough characters in the game and they move around enough that Unfortunate is the type of game that will be worth replaying.

There’s a few bugs in the game, though. At one point, I got trapped in the kitchen and could not get the game to respond to any of my commands. In that case, I had to restart the game from the beginning. Overall, though, this is a challenging game with a good idea at the center of it.

Play Unfortunate.

Game Review: Brave Bear (2021, John Evans)

Brave Bear is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

In Brave Bear, you are a teddy bear.  In the tradition of Toy Story, you can walk and communicate with all of the other toys and devices in the house.  The game is short and simple.  You are walking around the house.  In each room, there is a dark phantom (each representing things like insecurity and depression) that you must defeat in order to continue on your way.  Some of the phantoms you can defeat on your own because you’re a brave bear.  Others are going to require you to make friends and get help from the other toys in the house.

It’s a cute game, ideal for it you’re looking for something that you can play quickly.  There are puzzles and puzzles are traditionally my downfall but, for once, I was able to solve most of them on my own.  And if you do find yourself stuck, there’s a walk-through.  It’s a simple game but who doesn’t like a brave bear?

Play Brave Bear.

Game Review: The Song Of The Mockingbird (2021, Mike Carletta)

The Song of the Mockingbird is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

You’re not just a cowboy. You’re a singing cowboy! You’re as fast with your guitar as you were with your six shooter. You’re in love with Rosa, a sensuous dancer. Unfortunately, Black Blade’s gang of outlaws have not only abducted Rosa but they also stole your gun! If you’re going to rescue, Rosa you’re going to have to use your wits and your ability to pay attention to all the little details of your surroundings. It won’t be easy. From the minute you start the game, you go from happily singing The Yellow Rose of Texas to being ambushed by Black Blade’s men.

The Song of the Mockingbird is a western. There really haven’t been that many western IF games, which is strange because the western genre seems like it would be a natural fit for the Interactive Fiction format. The Song of the Mockingbird makes a good case that maybe there should be more western games. Well-written and full of memorable details, The Song of the Mockingbird is an entertaining and fun Inform game. It’s a text adventures but the descriptions are so vivid that you don’t really need any fancy graphics to help you visualize the world of the game. The game mixes serious western action with some satirical but affectionate digs at the whole singing cowboy genre.

There are a lot of puzzles in The Song of the Mockingbird. Some of them are simple and some of them are not. Of course, having to solve puzzles have always been my downfall when it comes to IF games. Fortunately, Song of the Mockingbird comes with a walk-through, which you can use as a last resort. I will admit that I referred to it a few times but, when I did, I discovered that Song of the Mockingbird’s puzzles aren’t really difficult. They just require the play to pay attention to every detail of their surroundings. This is a game where it pays to be attentive.

Play The Song of the Mockingbird.

Game Review: The Best Man (2021, Stephen Bond)

The Best Man is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

In The Best Man, you take control of Aiden.  He seems like a classic “nice guy” and that’s the problem.  When his best friend Laura calls him and asks if he would be willing to step in at the least minute and serve as the best man at her wedding to John, Aiden agrees.  Just from the opening conversation between you and Laura, it first seems that The Best Man is going to be one of those romantic comedy games where a nerdy guy goes on an everyday quest (like getting the wedding rings before the ceremony) and eventually “wins the girl.”

Instead, the game reveals that Aiden is not a reliable narrator.  He spends a lot of time in a fantasy world, where he and Laura are together and have a beautiful future but actually, it’s obvious that Laura has never considered him to be anything more than just a friend.  Aiden is so delusional and obsessive that, about halfway through the game, I wasn’t even sure that Laura had actually called him or that Laura even existed to begin with.  The game itself features a lot of minor tasks that need to get done before the wedding but the fact that the whole thing might be in Aiden’s head adds a new wrinkle to the usual romantic comedy.  Aiden may think about Laura abandoning her husband-to-be for him but the player knows that would be the worst thing that could happen.  It takes courage to write a game where you actively root against the person you’re playing and considerable skill to actually make it work.  Fortunately, Stephen Bond has both.

The Best Man is well-written with enough interesting details to make it worth replaying.  The mix of dark comedy and disturbing drama really pays off,

Play The Best Man.