Game Review: Amnesia (1986, Electronic Arts)

You wake up in a hotel room in New York City.  You have no idea how you got there.  You have no idea who you are.  And you have no clothes.

So starts Amnesia, the semi-legendary text adventure game from 1986.  Amnesia was Electronic Arts’s attempt to challenge Infocom’s domination of the text adventure genre.  To write the game, they brought in author Thomas M. Disch.  Disch came up with a twisty and complex story where each choice often led to unexpected tangents.  The game featured a detail recreation of Manhattan, one that you could experience only if you could figure out how to find some clothes and get out of the hotel without getting arrested.  Of course, even after finding something to wear, it’s probable the many players decided to go ahead and marry the mysterious woman who claimed to be the main character’s fiancée.  Those players found themselves suddenly whisked off to an Australian sheep farm, where they lived out their days happy but unsure of who they actually were.  For them, the game ended quickly but without many answers.  Others, however, braved the streets of a virtual Manhattan is search of their identity.

Who are you?  Throughout the game, there are clues but they’re not always easy to find.  There’s a large collection of eccentric and bizarre characters who can help you or hinder you.  You have to avoid the police who want to arrest you and the people who are trying to kill you.  Of course, even if you defeat those assassins, the game also features random encounters with people who will ask you for directions and who will shoot you if you give them the wrong answer.  This feature was actually something that EA added to the game to punish anyone who had borrowed the game disk from a friend.  The game originally came with code wheel that you could use to determine which streets intersected with each other.  If you bought the game, you would be able to give people the proper directions.  If you didn’t buy the game or, if you’re playing the game in 2023 at the Internet archive, you would end up making a random guess and hoping that it didn’t lead to you getting shot by a tourist.

(Fortunately, there’s an online version of the code wheel.)

Even if you die, the game doesn’t necessarily end.  You might find yourself waiting in Purgatory.  After a certain number of turns, Charon might approach and ask if you’ve figured out your name.  If you give him the right name, you can move on.  If you don’t know your name, Charon leaves with a promise that he’ll return in another thousand years.

Amnesia is a challenging game.  It’s also a frequently frustrating game.  Thomas M. Disch was an author and the game reads like a long and dense novel.  There are times when Disch seemed to forget that the point of Interactive Fiction is that the player is supposed to have complete control over their actions.  At the same time, Amnesia’s descriptions are so detailed and many of the events are so unexpected that this is a game that benefits from frequent replaying.  And the game itself is so difficult that when you actually manage to accomplish anything, whether it’s getting out of the hotel or finding a place to sleep or even giving someone the right directions, you feel as if you’re the greatest player alive.

Or at least you do until the next puzzle comes along.

Play Amnesia.

Game Review: Europop Vampire (2021, Chris Chinchilla)

You’re a vampire so get out there and party!

That is pretty much the plot of this short Twine game.  You are given the option of deciding what type of vampire you are (Are you a Nosferatu or a Twilight or a Gothic Vampire?) and you’re also allowed to decide just how exactly you want to spend your evening.  Do you want to hit the clubs or would you rather spend your night singing karaoke?  It’s up to you.

This game feels like it may have been abandoned why it was still being developed but what there is of it is enjoyable.  The game at least has a sense of humor.  There’s even an ending where the game says that you’re obviously looking for something darker than this game is prepared to offer up.  Not much happens in this game but a few of the jokes did make me laugh.  After you’ve played as many overlong, overly serious Twine games as I have, it’s hard not to appreciate something as unpretentious as Europop Vampire.

Play Europop Vampire.

Horror Game Review: Power, MT (2017, Phil Strahl)

You were just a traveler, passing through Power, Montana, when your car broke down.  Temporarily stranded, you were thankful when a local farmer offered to let you stay in his guest room for the night.  But then something terrible descends upon Power and you find yourself running through the town, fearful for your life.

The objective of Power, MT is straight-forward.  Make your way through town and hopefully, find some sort of protection before you are captured by the strange, apparently supernatural storm that is pursuing you.  To be able to do this, though, you’re going to need the flashlight on your phone to see where you are going.  And, with each turn, that flashlight drains your battery and leaves you that much close to being plunged into a darkness from which there is no escape.  It’s a simple and relatable premise.  Who hasn’t hit the panic button while searching for a place to recharge their phone?  The game is well-written and there are a lot of places to explore, even if there’s not always a lot of time to reach them.  Power, MT captures the feeling of running for your life.  It’s a challenging game (so be prepared to die a few times while figure it out) but it’s also not impossible to win.

Play Power, MT

Game Review: The Twine Fishing Simulator (2022, maxine sophia wolff)

The Twine Fishing Simulator starts out like an old school fishing simulator.  At first, everything about it, from the font to the simple directions, reminded me of the type of clunky but addictive text games that I used to play back in the early 90s.  Back then, we didn’t need a lot of fancy graphics or even much descriptive text.  We just needed our imagination.

You are fishing.  You start at the Lake.  If you catch enough different types of fish, new locations will be opened.  Each new location gets bigger and there are new fish to catch at each place.  There are also various rewards that you can get after you catch certain fish.  There are NPCs who you can talk to.  You can ask them questions about fishing.  Some of them offer hints.  Some offer side quests.  Some ruminate on the nature of existence.

The further you get into the game, the stranger it gets.  This is not a typical fishing simulator.  It’s not just about catching the fish.  It’s about why you’re catching the fish and why you’re moving from one location to another.  It starts out as nostalgic fun and then gets increasingly surreal as the game progresses.  I can’t reveal too much about it without spoiling the game’s puzzles but it’s ultimately one gigantic mindscrew disguised as a fishing simulator, and an entertaining one at that.  Anyone can write a strange game but it takes talent and imagination to write a strange game that, like this one, is worth playing and even replaying.

It was only after I finished the game that I realized that I could have just stayed at the Lake and kept fishing.

Play The Twin Fishing Simulator.

Horror Game Review: Zombie Blast 2023 (2022, Sam Ursu)

The year is 2023 and the zombie apocalypse has begun.  First, you parents were killed.  Then, your spouse was killed.  All you have left is your baby and you are going to do whatever you need to do to protect the last remaining member of your family.

Zombie Blast 2023 starts out simply enough.  You are in a house with four room.  The baby is in one of the rooms.  (The room changes each time that you play.)  You have an axe.  You have a shotgun that carries a limited amount of shells.  You have a limited amount of energy and, if you don’t stop to rest occasionally, you’ll weaken and maybe even find yourself incapable of moving.  You also have to find time to eat.  Your number one objective is to protect the baby from the zombie horde that is approaching the house.  Whenever a zombie gets in the house, you have to kill it before it reaches the baby’s room.  As the game progresses, you can level up and become a better zombie killer but, at the same time, the number of zombies will also increase.

Zombie Blast 2023 is an addictive work of interactive fiction.  I played it several times, trying out different strategies and seeing how long I could last before I was “overwhelmed.”  As you level up and as the zombies become more aggressive it becomes a real challenge to try to make sure that you’re in the right place to kill them before they manage to get into whichever room the baby is in.  Can you make it through to the morning?  It’s not as easy you might think.

Play Zombie Blast 2023.

Horror Game Review: A Shift In The Night (2022, Muulk)

You have a job working the graveyard shift at a gas station in the desert.  Because you have been hearing things coming from the backroom, you go to see a doctor.  He tells you that hallucinations are an occupational hazzard for people who work overnight.  He gives you some pills to control them.  He says that you must take them every hour.

Feeling better about things, you go to work and discover that you left your pills at home.  Can you survive the night?

A Shift In the Night is a work simulator where you attempt to get through your shift without dying.  It’s not just the weird buzzing coming from the stockroom that’s a threat.  There are also customers to deal with.  Some of them are harmless.  Some of them are crazy.  One of them is definitely very dangerous.  Good luck guessing which is which.

You would think that surviving an 8-hour night shift wouldn’t be that difficult but I have so far managed to die in four different ways while playing A Shift In The Night and absolutely none of those deaths were pleasant.  The game uses graphics and sound effects to put you right in that gas station.  When I was 18 and fresh out of high school, I worked nights part-time to help pay my college tuition and this game captures the atmosphere of the night shift.  I always enjoyed the freedom of not having to deal with salaried management but I also knew that I had a greater chance of getting shot at night than during the day.  This game brought back memories.

Play A Shift In The Night.

Horror Game Review: Kiss of Beth (2021, Charm Cochran)

Cordero has just knocked on the door of your home.  He’s here to take your roommate Beth on a date.  While Beth gets ready, your job is to check Cordero out.  Have a conversation with him.  Find out what he’s planning to do on the date.  Maybe ask him about his family or his plans for school.  You could even ask to see pictures of his dog if you want.  Find out all that you feel you need to know about Cordero because, towards the end of the game, you’re going to have to make a big decision.  And that decision will effect not only how Cordero views you but also your relationship with Beth.

With the exception of the final few moments of the game, Kiss of Beth is a conversation simulator.  At the start of the game, it seems like you are just being an overprotective friend but, as things progress, it becomes obvious that there is more to your relationship with Beth than just friendship.  There are two potential endings, a good one and a bad one.  I’ve discovered that it’s a lot easier to get the bad one than the good one.

Kiss of Beth can be played in less than 15 minutes and, because of the number of choices and the multiple endings, it’s a game that can be replayed several times.  After you finish the game the first time and learn the true nature of your relationship with Beth, you’ll be surprised when you play the game a second time and see that all the clues were right there for you to see.

Play Kiss of Beth.

Horror Game Review: Friends? (2022, MBoone)

One night, Natt is woken up by his friends Josh and Stan.  Josh and Stan want Natt to step outside and have a drink.  Natt has not seen or checked up on Josh and Stan for a while.  Natt can be a friend and have a drink or he can go back to sleep.  Either way, he is going to end up in a bad situation.  Are Josh and Stan friends?  Natt soon discovers that there are consequences for not keeping up with people.

Friends? is a choose you own adventure style horror game.  You decide how Natt reacts to things and then you discover what happens as a result of Natt’s decisions.  The majority of the decisions appear to lead to Natt dying a horrible and gruesome death.  If you make the right choices, Natt can survive but it’s very difficult to get through the game without Natt taking on some damage, both physically and mentally.

A few typos aside, Friends? is well-written and the endings are gruesome and twisted enough to keep most horror game players happy.  It doesn’t take long to discover that there are very real consequences to making the wrong decision.  The game features multiple endings and multiple paths to those endings, making it a game that can replayed several times.

Play it and then check up on your friends.  They would probably love to hear from you.

Play Friends?

Game Review: Night Train (2022, Evan Farris)

In this Twine game, you wake up in a train.  The train appears to be deserted, except for you.  Outside the windows, everything appears to be dark.  Do you explore the train and try to discover why you have become a passenger and just where exactly it is that you’re going?  Or do you go back to your compartment and wait for an answer?

This is a short and simple Twine game, written in the style of an old Choose Your Own Adventure book.  You are given various options that you can use to explore the train and hopefully learn what is going on.  Make the right choices and you’ll find the answers.  Make the wrong choice and you’ll fall victim to a fate of Lovecraftian horror.  The game takes less than ten minutes to play and I do wish there had been a few more options but the game’s story is intriguing and it does a good job of capturing the player’s attention.  This game really makes use of a classic Interactive Fiction scenario.  You wake up with no idea where or even who you are.  You spend the rest of the game trying to answer those questions.  There are a few typos in the game but, for all I know, there’s probably a few typos in this review.  None of them are serious enough to really interfere with the experience of playing the game itself.

Play Night Train!

Game Review: A House On A Hill (2022, Devin Cummings)

There’s a house on a hill that everyone says in haunted.  Your friends Ingram and Ryan have dared you to enter the house, even though you might get sick from something you find in there or you might even die.  You can try to convince one of them to enter the house with you.  You can enter the house alone.  Or you can go home.

If there’s one thing that every good Interactive Fiction writer understands, it’s that you can get a player to do anything if you suggest that doing otherwise would make them a coward.  Saying “Go Home Coward” is the equivalent of making chicken noises.

Once you enter the house, you can search the rooms and you get a chance to make a few simple decisions about whether or not to do certain things.  Throughout it all, you are given the option to turn around leave.  You’ll get called a coward but considering what does happen if you stay, sometimes it is worth being called a coward.

This is a simple Twine game and it shouldn’t take anyone longer than 10 minutes to play it.  But there are enough different areas of the house to explore and enough possible outcomes that the game itself can be replayed several times.

Play A House On A Hill.