Game Review: The House on Highfield Lane (2021, Andy Joel)

The House on Highfield Lane is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

Mandy has always been frightened by the forboding house that sits on Highfield Lane but, when she’s walking home from school one day and comes across a letter that’s been addresses to the house’s owner, she decides to finally conquer her fear. What starts as a simple quest to deliver the mail turns into a long adventure as Mandy explores the house, solves puzzles, and even helps to reanimate the dead.

The author of this game described its genre as being “horror without the horror,” because, even though the game is about exploring a creepy old house, there aren’t any of the elements that usually come with a haunted house game. (There is a mad scientist but he’s not such a bad fellow.) This is actually kind of an old-fashioned game, where the emphasis is on exploring and solving puzzles. There’s a lot of puzzles. Solving puzzles has always been my weak spot when it comes to playing IF games. I’m the type of player who always ends up asking for hints or looking at a walk-through. The House on Highfield Lane does come with hints. It wasn’t long after I started playing that I started to use them but again, I’m terrible at puzzles. I think most experienced IF players will be able to solve the majority of the game’s puzzles without having to ask for help.

This is an enjoyable and engaging game. The descriptions of each room were so well-written that I could easily picture them in my head as I played, This game was partially designed to show off the new Quest 6 engine and it does a good job of doing just that. Content-wise, it feels like a throwback to the old text adventures that you would play for hours, experimenting with different verbs and seeing what you could do in each room of the house. If you like exploration-centered games and don’t mind having to figure out several puzzles, this is a game you should enjoy.

Play The House on Highfield Lane.

Game Review: RetroCON (2021, Sir Slice)

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

Welcome to RetroCon 2021!  You’ve just arrived in Las Vegas and now that you’ve unpacked, it’s time to decide what to do.  You can go down to the hotel’s casino to gamble and try to add to the amount of money that you already have.  Or you can head to the convention hall and check out Retrocon, where you can play three other unique games.

That’s pretty much the entire game.  It’s simple but it’s also very addictive.  Will you play poker?  Will you bet on a horse race?  Or will you save your money and play an old football game or maybe the zombie killing card game?  There are several games to choose from and, what makes it even better, is that you can switch from one game to another.  If you’re not winning any money, head on down to the convention hall and blow off some steam by playing Last Will and Testament.  And when you’ve played enough for the day, head back to your hotel room and get ready to to play against then next day.

Retrocon 2021 is six games in one and they’re all enjoyable.  It’s almost as good as going to Vegas yourself!

Play Retrocon 2021.


Game Review: an Aside about Everything (2021, Sasha)

An Aside About Everything is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

There are some games out there that are so surreal and borderline obscure that you’re either going to love them or you’re going to hate them but at least you won’t be bored. That was my reaction to An Aside About Everything, a surreal game that will either leave you feeling very frustrated or very intrigued. You are Him. You exist in a void that appears to be your office. You are searching for a girl whose flyer you have hanging in your office. At first, you only know that her name begins with a K. When you leave the Void, you walk around a strange city and you talk to the strange people within. Some of them seem to know you. Some of them seem to know the girl.

It’s not always an easy game to figure out and it’s easy to get trapped in a loop so I would suggest saving the game every chance that you get. Playing the game, I got the feeling that it wasn’t meant to be totally understood by the person experiencing it. The author, though, seems to know what she was trying to say, even if it wasn’t always clear to the player. As a result, this game is surreal but it’s not random. It’s leading somewhere but where is a question that you may have to answer for yourself. The game was well-written, with brief but memorable descriptions of each location and character and, for a Twine game, you had a lot of options for what you wanted to say or do. It’s not an easy game to figure out and definitely not for everyone but I enjoyed it.

Play An Aside About Everything.

Game Review: The Last Doctor (2021, Quirky Bones)

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

You are a doctor, working in a dystopian hellscape. You and your clinic are the last stop for many desperate people. Supplies are running low. You are frequently tired and discouraged. But the needy keep coming. One night, a very important patient shows up unannounced at your clinic. He needs your help but does he deserve it? That’s your decision to make.

This is a pretty simple Twine game. It took me less than ten minutes to play it and I get the feeling that it’s actually a part of a bigger story. That’s not really a problem, though. The IF Comp is a good place for writers to show off their work and test whether there’s an audience for a full or more detailed version of their game. The Last Doctor is short and I would have liked more options but it was also well-written. From the opening lines, I could visualize the game’s world and, as I played, I felt like I was in the middle of that clinic, making life and death decisions. It’s easy to see how the game could be expanded and hopefully, it will be. If The Last Doctor were expanded into a bigger game, I would definitely play it.

Play The Last Doctor.

Game Review: How The Monsters Appeared In The Wasteland (2021, V. Dobranov)

How The Monsters Appeared In The Wasteland is an entrant in 2021 Interactive Fiction competition.  Browse and experience all of the games by clicking here.

The world has ended. Chaos reigns. Only savagery remains. At the start of this game, you and your partner are in your hovercraft, making your away across the wasteland, when you’re attacked by a crew straight out of a Mad Max film. From the start, there’s more to do than to just sit down in gunner’s seat and open fire. The hovercraft has been damaged and it’s up to you to make the repairs as quickly as possible. Once you do start shooting, the game’s not over. Ammo is limited and your pursuers are relentless.

How The Monsters Appeared In The Wasteland is a game devoted to the best part of any action movie, the chase. Though the game sounds simple, some of the puzzles do require some attention to detail. There’s more to winning than just being a good shot. This is a well-written Twine game that puts your right at the heart of the action.

Play How The Monsters Appeared In The Wasteland.

Game Review: Codex Sadistica (2021, grave snail games)

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

Finally!  You and your heavy mental band are scheduled to perform at Blood Furnace!  But what’s this!?  The Infurnal Stage (as it’s called) has been taken over by a glam metal band and they’re playing over their allotted time!  They’re not only eating into your set but they’re spreading glam!  Can you track down the other members of your band, pull them away from their distractions, and save metal?  You can if you try and if you remember that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by jamming!

Codex Sadistica is an enjoyable text adventure.  The Blood Furnace was a memorable location and the members of your band were all well-developed.  Some of the puzzles took some effort but none of them were impossible and the game comes with a walk-through in case you get stuck.  Not surprisingly, this game will be most enjoyed by people who know about the metal scene and are familiar with all of the different subsets but the writing is clever and witty enough that I think even people who cover their ears whenever they hear a screech guitar will be able to enjoy it.  Be sure to jam with every member of your band.  As the game goes on, you find new ways to jam and each style that you play will have a different effect on the people listening.

Play Codex Sadistica.

Game Review: Smart Theory (2021, AKheon)

Smart Theory is an entrant in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and experienced here.

In Smart Theory, you’re a college student who is woken up one morning by Paul “Big” Brother, who is excited to have the chance to teach you about Smart Theory, the new academic theory that is sweeping the campus.  Whether you go willingly or not, you will eventually end up at the assembly and you will discover what Smart Theory is all about.  (Personally, it’s more enjoyable and morally more rewarding to go unwillingly.)

Originated by a Texas fertilizer salesman who was trying to win a bet, Smart Theory may seem like a bunch of movie quotes but it’s actually the new way that you are going to be expected to view the world.  And while some of it may sound dumb, it can’t actually be dumb because then it wouldn’t be a smart theory!  Get it?

Designed with the Twine operating system, this is less of a game than a satirical short story about the current culture of conformity on campus.  The more Smart Theory is explained, the more obvious it becomes that no one is willing to point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes.  The game has something important to say about being weary of any ideology that doesn’t allow its followers to question it.  To enjoy this game, it probably helps if you already agree with the point that it’s making but that doesn’t make that point any less relevant.

Play Smart Theory.

Game Review: AardVarK Versus The Hype (2021, Truthcraze)

AardVarK versus The Hype is an entrant in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and experienced here.

This year is 1997 and the students at the local high school have been transformed into blood-coughing, murderous zombies by the Hype, a new soft drink.  It’s up to the members of the world’s great garage band, AardVarK, to defeat the Hype but doing so is going to involve solving some puzzles and spendng a lot of time at a convenience store.

This is an intentionally strange game and it takes a while to get used to the format but I dug it.  There are four members of AardVarK and, throughout the game, you switch back and forth from which member of the band you’re playing.  Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep track of which band member you are but I still appreciated the game’s ambition.  This might be the first true enemble Interactive Fiction game that I’ve ever played.

The story is full of goofy, self-referential humor.  Imagine if Kevin Smith wrote an IF game and you might have some idea of this game’s skewed perspective.  It’s a fun game, though, full of odd dialogue and strange scenes.  Some of the puzzles do have weird, out-there solutions but fortunately, the game comes with a HINT section that will help you out.  The best thing to do with a game like this is to just type whatever pops into your head and see what happens.  The joy here is from the journey and seeing just how weird things can get!

Play AardVark Versus The Hype.

Game Review: And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One (2021, BJ Best)

And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One is an entrant in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and experienced here.

And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One is one of the best text adventure games that I’ve ever played and since the joy of discovery is one of the best things about this game, I don’t want to spoil too much of it in this review.  In this game, the time is the distant past.  You are Emerson and you’re fourteen years old.  Your best friend is a girl named Riley.  Riley will soon be moving all the way to Wisconsin.  As the game begins, you bicylce over to her house.  As it rains outside, you two play the games on her computer.

Will you try to beat Infinite Adventure, a series of seemingly simple games where you have to solve puzzles to advance to the next adventure?  Will you once again play the Wizardry knock-off, the one where you kills monsters and find junk?  Will you try out the educational game that Riley’s mother is testing?  Or will you get really brave and risk the sordid world of strip poker?  It sounds simple but there’s a catch.  All of the games are connected and your future and Riley’s future will be determined by the decisions you make.

This is an ingeniously clever game and it will spark nostalgia for the days when everyone owned a bulky personal computer and crude graphics were the only thing that was needed to spark a player’s imagination.  But it’s also a game about friendship, love, and growing up. It’s also not an unnecessarily difficult game and your patience will be rewarded.  I got one of the good endings and I’ve never felt happier about how an IF game ended.  The film is full of great characters, from Riley to the people who you meet while playing the games on Riley’s computer.  I can’t wait to play this one again and see what I may have missed the first time around.

Play And Then You Come To A House Not Unlike The Previous One.

Game Review: Closure (2021, Sarah Willson)

Closure is an entrant in the 2021 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and experienced here.

In Closure, you play the best friend of Kira. Kira has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend. Because she wants to find, for sentimental reasons, a photograph that was taken of the two of them during happier times, she breaks into his dorm room to search for it. When she can’t find it, she texts you. She sends you a description of the dorm room and asks you for advice. You can text back with command like “search the desk,” “look in the closet,” and “leave the room.”

The last command is one that I sent a few times because I’m not a teenage girl and I guess I had the stereotypical male response to Kira’s problem. Sad over a breakup in college? Leave the dorm room, suppress all of your emotions and your feelings, drink until you pass out, wake up with a monster hangover, keeping going out and turning off every girl you meet by constantly talking about your ex, and, after everyone finally tells you that they’re getting sick of hearing about it, move on with your life. That worked in college (or, at least, everyone always pretended that it worked in college) but it wouldn’t make for a very good or emotionally rewarding IF game.

Closure, however, is a good IF game. Once I accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to talk Kira into leaving the dorm room, I helped her investigate and solve the mystery of why her boyfriend had dumped her. At first, I thought the texting approach would make for an awkward game but it actually ended up working pretty well and the game ends with a good message about moving on and yes, closure. It also ends with a suggestion of things that you could tell Kira to try the next time that you play the game. This is a simple but rewarding game, one that can be played more than once.

Play Closure.