Game Review: The Call of Innsmouth (2020, Tripper McCarthy)

The game is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be played here!

You are a private detective, working out of Arkham, Massachusetts.  Arkham is a town that’s notorious for its many mysteries.  The locals say that it is a town that’s been touched by the paranormal but you’re a detective.  You deal with the real world.  When a distraught mother hires you to find her missing son, you think that it will just be a routine case.  Instead, it leads you to the decaying port town of Innsmouth, a place that makes even Arkham look normal!

A prequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Call of Innsmouth has all the elements that you would expect from a Lovecraft game.  There’s a trip to Miskatonic University.  There are references to cults, Cthulhu, and the search for ancient and maddening knowledge.  You can even chose to read the Necronomicon if you’re so inclined.  The game warns you not to read it but ultimately, the choice is yours.  Don’t worry though.  If you go crazy or get sacrificed, you always have the option to go back and make a different and hopefully better decision.  That’s a choice that most Lovecraft heroes don’t get.

I enjoyed this Twine game.  The Cthulhu mythos are always good source material for Interactive Fiction and The Call of Innsmouth does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of one of Lovecraft’s stories.  The Call of Innsmouth is a mystery and a game worth exploring.

It can be played here.

Game Review: Academic Pursuits (as opposed to regular pursuits) (2020, ruqiyah)

This game is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be browsed and played here.

You have just received a position in a prestigious university’s architecture department.  As was mentioned in your acceptance letter, it’s a role that you can “sink your teeth into.”  You’ve just arrived at your office, which is pretty bare.  Someone even took the curtains and the chair.  You’ve got plans for your new job and one colleague in particular but before you can worry about any of that, it’s time unpack.

Academic Pursuits in a moving-in sim, where the challenge is to not only find an appropriate place for all of your things but also to give your office the right feel.  Will you make you office feel academic or will you make it feel ominous?  While you’re unpacking, you can also examine each object and, even more importantly, think about each object.  Gradually, your backstory and your reasons for taking the position will be revealed.  Let’s just say that you’re more than just an academic looking to enlighten young minds.  How you decorate your office and what you decide to keep will also determine the future of both your career and your relationship/rivalry with another professor.

Academic Pursuits a simple but satisfying game.  I especially liked the way that the office changed depending on what you threw away and what you actually put on display.  Because there’s so many different ways to unpack (and yes, you do have the option to throw almost everything away), this is a game that can be played and replayed several times.

You can play it here.

Game Review: The Cave (2020, Neil Aitkin)

The Cave is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All the of the entries can be played here.

You are an adventurer who wakes up to discover that you are surrounded by darkness.  You’re alone and you’re in a cave.  Can you figure out how to get out?

Like many Interactive Fiction games, The Cave is made up of separate rooms, each one of which has its own unique challenges and rewards.  What sets The Cave apart from other games is that, each time you play, the cave is randomly respawned.  Just because a room is nearby the first time you play, that doesn’t mean that it will still be there the next time you play.  As a result, no matter how many times you play, you’ll always have a different experience.

With each puzzle you solve, you gain knowledge and attributes.  You can’t die in The Cave.  The game is not designed to trick you into losing.  Instead, the goal is to see what type of person (or character) you’ve become once you finally manage to make your way out of the cage.  Will you be clever mage who emerges from the cave with several different spells or will you be the type of fighter who just keeps smashing away until you finally broken free?  Play the game to find out.  As the game puts it, “Who are you really in the dark?”

The Cave can be played here.

Game Review: Standing On The Shoulders of Giants (2020, Illum Eggert)

This game is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be played here.

In this game, the player takes on the role of 17th century scientist Isaac Newton.  Newton has just received a mysterious letter from a woman who he doesn’t know, asking him to come to a cottage.  When Isaac goes to the college, the man of science meets a woman of magic and he soon finds himself in the future (i.e., our present).  Can Isaac solve the puzzles of the modern age and then return to his own time?

Standing On The Shoulders of Giants is a simple work of Interactive Fiction.  It comes with a walk-through but most players shouldn’t need to use it.  The walk-through itself states that the game is designed to be easy and that there’s no way the player can get a bad ending.  This game is less about solving puzzles and more about experimenting and seeing what will happen.  For instance, when you find yourself in the library, take the time to search for a few familiar authors.  You might be surprised with what comes up.

As I said, it’s a simple game.  If you’ve never played an IF game before, this would be a good one to start with.  It’s a likable adventure, especially if you know anything about the works of Newton and Einstein.

The game can be played here.

Game Review: The Shadow In The Snow (2020, Andrew Brown)

The game is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the games can be played here.

You’re in a dicey situation.  You’ve been driving through the middle of the blizzard, simply trying to find your way back to the main road.  After you crash into a snowdrift, your engine dies.  It doesn’t matter how many times you turn the key in the ignition, the car is not going anywhere.  It’s cold.  It’s snowing.  You haven’t seen another car for hours.  What do you do?

You can stay in your car.  I tried that a few times.  I don’t recommend it.

Your only other option is to get out of the car and wander through the wilderness in search of help.  Move in the right direction and you might find a cabin or a motel.  But be aware that you’re not alone in the wilderness.  There’s a shadow in the snow and it’s coming for you.

This Twine game is perfect for Halloween.  The story plays out like a horror movie and I was impressed by the number of ways that I ended up dying.  Right when I thought I had figured out the right way to kill the beast, I discovered that there was more to the monster than I originally considered.  The Shadow in the Snow is an enjoyable challenge and one that makes good use of the Twine format.

You can play it here. 

Game Review: You Couldn’t Have Done That (2020, Ann Hugo)

You Couldn’t Have Done That is an entrant in 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be played here.

In You Couldn’t Have Done That, you are a teenager named Theodora, “Theo” for short.  It’s your first day working at Lydia’s, a trendy clothing store in the mall.  The first day on a new job is difficult for anyone but, along with being nervous and wanting to make a good impression on the boss, you are also autistic.  Throughout the game, you’re forced to deal with people.  There’s a janitor in the mall.  There’s a customer who you recognize from school.  You have two very different coworkers.  Many of the things that many people do automatically, like smiling back at someone, are things that you have to think about and make a conscious decision to do.  Some people you meet are empathetic.  Most are not.

Throughout You Couldn’t Have Done That, you are given options for how to deal with the situations that arise through the day.  Often times, I would pick the option that, to me, made the most sense just to be told that “You couldn’t have done that.”  Even though you may want to and you may know it’s what most people would expect you to do, you simply cannot do it.  It was frustrating but that was the point.  Every time the story says, “You couldn’t have done that,” you experience the frustration that Theo experiences every day.  The game puts you directly into Theo’s head and you see the world through her eyes and, by the end of this short story, you are hopefully a more empathetic person than you were before the story began.  Theo’s day is not easy but the story at least ends on a note of hope.  It can get better.

You Couldn’t Have Done That can be experienced here.

Game Review: Minor Arcana (2020, Jack Sanderson Thwaite)

This game is an entrant in 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be found here.

Minor Arcana is probably not the first game to center around Tarot cards but it is probably the first one to actually be written from the point of view of the cards themselves.  You are the cards and, as you wait to reveal your next fortune, you think about your past and maybe your future.  Who created you?  Who gave you power and why?  Are you going to help the people who seek your insight or are you going to destroy them?  Are you a force of chaos or a force of peace?  These are the decisions that you, as the player, can make as you point and click your way through the story.

Like a lot of works done with Twine, Minor Arcana is more of a short story than a game.  While it’s true that you control several elements of the story and that your decisions will determine the type of story that’s told, it would be a mistake for anyone to play Minor Arcana thinking that it’s going to be a traditional IF game where you solve puzzles and examine rooms and decide whether to move north, west, or, if you’re really lucky, northeast.  Instead, Modern Arcana is more of a well-written mood piece, designed to make the player meditate on issues of fate, fortune, and the future.

Minor Arcana can be played here.

Game Review: Tavern Crawler (2020, Josh LaBelle)

Tavern Crawler is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be played here.

Tavern Crawler is an incredibly addictive Twine Game.  It starts out with a typical Dungeons and Dragons style set-up.  You and your two companions meet a wealthy man in a tavern.  The wealthy man is named Walter Barnes (not much of a fantasy name but that’s the point) and he offers you a fortune in gold.  All you have to do is find a dragon’s lair, kill the dragon, and then return with its head.

Sounds simple right?  The problem is that you were quite drunk when Walter approached you so, even though you heard about the dragon, you didn’t really hear the name of the tavern where you were supposed to meet him afterwards.  Though finding and dealing with the dragon is a part of the game, Tavern Crawler is more concerned with what happens after the quest.  Will you be able to find Walter or will just get spend all of your time wandering from tavern to tavern, getting progressively more sloshed as you search?

Tavern Crawler is unique just for the amount of options that you’re given.  Every decision you make has a consequence and effects how the game will end.  There’s not single throw away decision to be found and, as a result, you can play Tavern Crawler over and over again without once playing the same game twice.  Will you remain relatively sober and not only find Walter but also discover the secret of the dragon?  Or will you get so drunk and obnoxious that you’ll end up penniless, bloody, and abandoned by your companions?  The choice is yours!

I liked everything about Tavern Crawler.  There’s several side quests that you can chose to get involved with and the town, its residents, and its taverns are all described so precisely that you feel like you’re right there, drinking ale and wondering whether or not to get involved in the knife game that’s taking place in the back of bar.  Tavern Crawler creates a world that you’ll want to explore and the game rewards experimentation.  As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to replay it just to see how many bad decisions I can make before dying.

Tavern Crawler can be played here.


Game Review: Desolation (2020, Earth Traveler)

Desolation is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be played here.

In this piece of horror-themed Interactive Fiction, you have just escaped from a mansion and a blood-thirsty cult and now, suddenly, you’re in the desert.  You have no food.  You have no water.  Your phone isn’t going to save you and the sun isn’t going to stop beating down on you.  You’ve got a flashlight but that won’t help if you die of thirst and there’s a good chance of that happening since you’re stranded in the desert.

Or are you?

Desolation does a good job of keeping you guessing as to what’s really going on.  After a few turns of wandering around in the desert, the game took an unexpected turn and then, a few turns later, it took another unexpected turn.  I can’t go into the details without spoiling the game but I will say the Desolation kept me on my toes.  I’m terrible at IF games that require you to figure out how to survive in a desolate location.  I always go the wrong direction or pick up the wrong object.  That happened to me a few times while playing Desolation but I still enjoyed the game.  It’s a real challenge and requires more than a little thought.  If you’ve never played an IF game before, this is probably not the one to start with.  But people who know the format should enjoy the challenge of Desolation.

One final note: Desolation is actually a sequel to an earlier game, Two Braids Girl.  I haven’t play the earlier game but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Desolation.

Desolation can be played here!

Game Review: Ascension of Limbs (2020, AKheon)

Ascension of Limbs is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction competition.  You can browse and play all the entries here.

In Ascension of Limbs, you play the owner of a mysterious antique store.  You may have bought the store.  You may have inherited from a relative.  You may have gotten it in some other mysterious way.  There’s a lot of randomization involved in Ascension of Limbs, which means that you can play the game several times and have a totally different experience each time.

Your goal in Ascension of Limbs is to not go broke, to not go insane, and to not end up poor and destitute.  That’s not as easy as it sounds.  There are some dangerous things in that antique shop and, if you’re not careful, they can sap away your sanity and lead you to do some terrible things.  (Losing a point of sanity limits what you can do in the store, sometimes at the worst possible moment.)  If you can’t find anything to sell, you’ll lose money.  Lose all your money and the game is over.  It’s not easy to make money when you’re also losing your mind.  Lose your mind and the game is also over.  Balancing both money and sanity will be challenge but the game offers a lot of ways to do it.

Make your choices.  Do you promote your store or do you hope the customers will just find you?  Do you call the police about criminals or do you use them to commit insurance fraud?  Do you build up a strong base of loyal customers or do you murder them, for either their money or as an exchange for forbidden knowledge?  The choice is yours!

Ascension of Limbs is a challenging game but I can’t recommend it enough.  For those with patience and a tolerance for the occasionally macabre, Ascension of Limbs is a game to play again and again.

Play it here.