“Within a circle of water and sand” is a choice-based game in which the protagonist attempts to win a swimming race over a series of islands. Once committed to it, she realizes that the circumstances and stakes of the race are not what she expected.
Gameplay: The game is choice-based, with the decision points relating to the protagonist’s preparation for and actions during the race. The choices are clear and do matter, and they succeed in setting up tension during the race. Death is common in the game, but the player can replay from the last relevant decision point rather than having to start from scratch. 6/10.
Mechanics: The core mechanic of the game is trial-and-error gameplay, as in games like Shadowgate. It’s usually unclear when first encountering a decision point which option is the correct one (and the incorrect ones are generally immediately fatal), and it’s often not even clear in retrospect with the post-death hints. The player has the ability to scout out the islands before starting the race, but many such excursions either resulted in nothing productive or a potentially fatal encounter. 5/10.
Presentation: It’s refreshing to see a game that has some supernatural or surreal elements (e.g., the witch and talking crocodile), but isn’t just a retread of what Graham Nelson called the “lazy medieval” setting. The Polynesian setting here is more original and creative than most works’, and it’s an integral part of the game rather than just being an arbitrary place to put the characters. The writing is strong, and the characters are believable and deeper than they might seem at first. The game also features illustrations that are well done and a few other embellishments (a clickable map, graphics for achievements, etc.) beyond what would be present in a text-only medium. 7/10.
You might be interested in this game if: You like stories with an unusual setting. You liked the old “Choose Your Adventure” books, but you’d like one with better presentation.