Pirateship, by Robin Johnson

Pirate adventures are a comfortable genre in interactive fiction, providing a convenient source for adventures and a setting that’s exotic but relatable. “Pirateship” is an choice-based adventure game takes advantage of the motif by providing an exceptionally smooth user interface for its exploration and puzzle-solving.

Gameplay: The main character of the game is, as expected, a young pirate exploring a island containing a treasure. Gameplay is in the style of traditional adventure IFs, with the protagonist gathering items around the island and deploying them in largely straightforward manners to dispense with various obstacles. The most remarkable feature of the game is its clean, well-designed interface. Objects in inventory or in the current room appear at the bottom of the screen, with verbs specific to each object following them. It’s simple and intuitive, and it handles all of the situations in the game without difficulty. 8/10.

Mechanics: The puzzles in the game are generally strong clued and logical. (There are a few stranger ones, such as an alternative solution to a puzzle involving a crocodile egg that hatches and attacks an inconvenient NPC.) Conversations follow the same mechanics as interactions with objects, and they’re similarly well-conceived. None of the puzzles are particularly complicated, but they’re satisfying to solve and invoke the theme and setting of the game. 8/10.

Presentation: The UI features clean layouts and fonts, and interacting with it is seamless. Although the setting of the game is a familiar one in IF, there are nice touches such as a mermaid divided between woman and fish longitudinally, or the randomly generated pirates aboard the protagonist’s ship. 9/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You like games about pirates.

Score: 8

the secret of vegibal island, by ralf tauscher

“The secret of vegibal island” is a long, parser-based game whose depth is marred by errors in its text and implementation.

Gameplay: The game is in large part a parody of the Monkey Island series. In exploring the island, the protagonist can prove his worth as a pirate by solving various puzzles. The gameplay is sloppy, though, with frequent typos and odd word choices (or translations errors) such as “You have a treasure (closed).” (The object in question seems to be something like a Kinder egg.) The competition build even has test comments still active in it, including one to complete the game in its entirety. 2/10.

Mechanics: Some of the puzzle ideas are clever and take advantage of the game’s theme, such an early one about buried treasure. It’s difficult to progress in the game or even sustain interest in it, though, due to the numerous issues with its implementation. 3/10.

Presentation: Typos are ubiquitous throughout the game (e.g., “Its a creamy puff,” or “There is this a guy working here.”). Punctuation marks, especially periods, are often missing, and capitalization is haphazard. Not only are test commands are still present in the release version of the game, but the included walkthrough even uses them. 2/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You liked the Monkey Island series of games by LucasArts.

Score: 2

Fat Fair, by AKheon

“Fat Fair” is a game about excess, with its gratuitously off-putting main character perpetrating a variety of crimes.

Gameplay: In the first half of the game, the main character attempts to set up the titular fair; in the second, he tries to cover up or mitigate the disasters that occur from his actions. The protagonist is set up to be as repulsive as possible even before the events at the fair, with the game narrating one scene as: “And then— as often happened to Borsch at the sight of food— he lost control. He dropped on his knees and started devouring both canned food and earth alike in large gulps.” The game’s Grand-Guignol-style excess and crass low comedy become annoying even before the end of the first scene, and there’s no escape from them in the rest of the game. 2/10.

Mechanics: The puzzles in the game aren’t bad, but timers throughout the game make it frustrating to play. The main character’s obesity has ruined his vision, so the player must have him whoop periodically in the game to allow him to navigate by echolocation. It’s weak even as a one-shot joke, but turning it into the equivalent of a hunger timer is a pain and serves no purpose.3/10.

Presentation: It’s not necessarily a problem that the protagonist has no redeeming features as a person, but there’s nothing to make him interesting to the player as a character. The bulk of the game is gross-out or shock humor, which gets old quickly. 2/10.

Tilt: There’s a raven flying around the fair for some reason, and the protagonist can interact with it. +1.

You might be interested in this game if: You liked the episode of South Park in which Cartman runs an amusement park.

Score: 3

Pas De Deux, by Linus Ã…kesson

As a fan of classical music, I had a particularly enjoyable time with “Pas De Deux,” in which the player conducts an orchestra and solves various problems by signaling from the rostrum.

Gameplay: Gameplay consists of literally conducting an orchestra’s performace of “The Nutcracker,” with each turn corresponding to a measure of the piece. Beyond just turning the pages, the protagonist can also cue musicians in various ways as the piece continues. While the goal of the game is presumably to give the best performance possible and receive the maximum rating in the review the next day, I had fun trying to derail the concert. It’s a clever premise for a game, and it uses the restricted actions available to the protagonist to good effect. 7/10

Mechanics: The game allows the player to use clickable keywords or a full parser, although a few commands require the latter. While the author provides a score to follow, it’s a bit odd for a game about music to be entirely text. It would be a very different game if it had a more elaborate interface that, for example, used audio and took place in real time. As it stands, the game takes clever advantage of the restrictions on its player, as in limited-parser games. 7/10.

Presentation: Even though the game is based on music, the writing is strong, and the characters are well-defined despite their brief appearances in the story. The reactions to conducting failures were described well, and I genuinely laughed at the response to KILL [musician]. 8/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You’re interested in classical music and have ever imagined yourself as a conductor.

Score: 7

Turandot, by Victor Gijsbers

Despite my interest in classical music, I have little familiarity with opera. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to play “Turandot,” which adapts Puccini’s opera into a choice-based interactive fiction format.

Gameplay: The game is fundamentally an extensive conversation between the titular princess and the protagonist, a prince who becomes her suitor. Despite that setup, the game never feels constrained or repetitive; the dialogue is well-written and authentic, and it explores tangents about justice and morality instead of just being a standard love story. The two main characters have strong, well-defined personalities that are engaging and complex. 9/10.

Mechanics: The game runs on the ChoiceScript engine, and play progress by choosing one of a list of options at each decision point in the story. Those choices are mostly color; the plot, while involved, is linear. Nevertheless, the dialogue is strong enough to make steering conversations rewarding, and the plot is compelling enough that having few branch points isn’t restrictive. At several points in the game, ostensible choices are greyed out and unvailable to the player. Most prominently, the safe or more rational choices are unavailable when the narrator first meets Turandot; he’s so overwhelmed that he can only declare his love for her. It’s not a bad device, but it’s a cliché in interactive fiction at this point. (A better variant occurs in an early scene in which the protagonist is offered a drink, to which the three possible responses are all “Yes.”) As a nice touch, the stats screen simply reads, “Love cannot be quantified.” 8/10.

Presentation: The dialogue is consistently strong throughout, a and the game is genuinely engaging to play through. The two main characters exchange witty banter, but it’s written well enough to show an authentic and meaningful relationship instead of just being clever barbs. About two-thirds of the long game is simply an extended conversation between the two of them, but it doesn’t drag. 9/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You prefer parser-based puzzlefests and want an excellent but very different kind of game.

Score: 9

Under the Sea, by Heike Borchers

“Under the Sea” is a simple, charming game about exploring an atoll and meeting the ocean life there.

Gameplay: The game is somewhat reminiscent of the old Infocom games Seastalker or Cutthroats, given its aquatic theme and focus on puzzles. While it’s as friendly to young players as Seastalker, “Under the Sea” is a much stronger game with a more active protagonist. Compared with Cutthroats, it’s less confrontational and more tightly focused. The puzzles are simple but logical (modulo the assumptions of the setting) and well-clued throughout. 6/10.

Mechanics: The puzzles in the game are solid. One of the objects in the game provides hints for them, but the puzzles are easy enough and the game space is compact enough that it’s largely unnecessary. After completing a significant puzzle, the player is given the choice of how the narrator should record the events, generaly either in a detached and truthful way or in a florid and self-aggrandizing way. It doesn’t affect the plot beyond adding color to the game (and affecting the epilogue), but it’s a nice touch. 7/10.

Presentation: The text is strong throughout, particularly in its characterization of the protagonist via the logging system. There are a few typos in it, but nothing major. Several easter eggs and other secrets, listed in the walkthrogh, augment the main plotline. 7/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You’d like to play a fun, simple, well-made game.

Score: 7

Bradford Mansion, by Lenard Gunda

“Bradford Mansion” is a classic adventure story using a custom parser.

Gameplay: The protagonist is a lawyer investigating a missing will that had belonged to a recently deceased client of his firm. Doing so involves investigating his mansion by solving various puzzles with objects found around the mansion. The obstacles are the standard ones: locked doors, a hostile animal that can be mollified by feeding it, and so on. The ultimate resolution to the story is a bit disappointing, with the character simply leaving the mansion with the unread will. (The walkthrough hints at a more elaborate ending, but I didn’t find it in my playthrough.) 4/10.

Mechanics: The puzzles are generally straightforward inventory puzzles, with the protagonist finding items in one place and using them in another. Despite the genre, there’s little adventuring or sleuthing involved; the story could just as well have been about exploring an abandoned or haunted mansion.

The engine is a custom one (or at least one I’m not familiar with), and it lacks many of the features of more common systems. Abbreviating LOOK to L isn’t recognized, and the command LOOK INSIDE [THING] is not implemented. TAKE THING AND OTHER THING or TAKE THING, OTHER THING are not parsed; items must be taken individually. Pronouns are not recognized. The game’s parser is usable, but its restrictions affect gameplay. 4/10.

Presentation: There are numerous typos throughout the game: “The style it was built in suggest…,” “…no need for his stuff anylonger,” “no will in existance,” etc. In addition to the parsing difficulties mentioned above, there are several guess-the-verb issues in the game. It’s clear, for example, what to do with a slab of meat the protagonist runs across, but neither CUT MEAT WITH KNIFE nor USE KNIFE ON MEAT is recognized; only USE KNIFE WITH MEAT works. 3/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You like old-school adventure games with some elements borrowed from mystery stories.

Score: 4

Faerethia, by Peter Eastman

Although it’s difficult to characterize precisely, “Faerethia” is a series of related vignettes about the goals and permanence of humanity.

Gameplay: The game comprises several scenes, related by general theme rather than content, interleaved with some exploration of a paradisaical environment. Those scenes vary in format: the first is a standard choice-based, puzzleless exploration of a mathematician’s office; the second is an adaption of the classic “Lemonade Stand” simulation (complete with the terrible sound effects from that era); and so on. It’s an interesting idea, but given the game’s lack of interactivity and its episodic nature, a short story or even short film might be a better format for it. 5/10.

Mechanics: There’s not much to do in the game besides click on the links to advance the story, and most of them have no apparent effect beyond continuing the scene (the strongest one being the recurrence of the answers to certain personal questions in the epilogue). Even the Lemonade Stand vignette, which was originally a stand-alone game, has a predetermined outcome with little variation in the route leading there. 5/10.

Presentation: The text has a consistent tone adn is generally well-written throughout, although it gets a bit overwrought in places (e.g., “We are the atoms from which society is composed.”) The focus of the work is on the permanence of humanity, but I didn’t find that it raised any questions about the matter; instead, the game was more like a curated series of short films involving that motif. 5/10.

Tilt: The main character in one of the first scenes is a mathematician. +1.

You might be interested in this game if: You’re interested in some of the philosophical ideas considered in cyberpunk games without the noir or dystopian aspects.

Score: 5

Chuk and the Arena, by Agnieszka Trzaska

Despite being a light, choice-based game, “Chuk and the Arena” is a complex game with intricate, well-designed puzzles.

Gameplay: The main character is an alien who enters a gladiatorial tournament in order to recover a moon stolen from his home planet. Defeating his opponents involves figuring out their weaknesses and solving puzzles around the alien ship to exploit them. It’s a lightly comedic science-fiction game, but the characters are solid, and the puzzles are complicated and satisfying to solve. 9/10.

Mechanics: The game is strongly puzzle-based, and the puzzles are reasonable and clever. They all have multiple moving parts, and solving them is a more involved process than just collecting inventory items and using them at the appropriate place. Even though the game is choice-based, it has an efficient inventory management system that allows items to be used in conjunction with other objects, characters, or setting details. 9/10.

Presentation: The text establishes a light, comedic tone that compliments its involved puzzles. The comedic scenes are well-written, and the characters have clear, distinct personalities. Those personalities are often rather two-dimensional and directly related to certain puzzles, but that’s fine for a game in this genre. 8/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You like choice-based puzzle games.

Score: 9

Gone Out for Gruyere, by B F Lindsay

“Gone Out for Gruyere” is a light, puzzle-based game with comedic elements and an absurd but enjoyable premise.

Gameplay: Gameplay is smooth throughout. Some of the puzzles are difficult, but they’re all reasonable with a bit of experimenting. It’s clear from at least midway through the game what the central puzzle of the game— obtaining the cheese— involves, and that fact motivates the smaller puzzles in the game despite its absudist elements. 7/10.

Mechanics: The puzzles make sense despite the surrealism of the setting, and they’re more interesting than just use inventory objects on other inventory objects. Even though the game is clearly not intended to be taken seriously, its puzzles are consistent and rewarding. 7/10.

Presentation: The introduction is completely absurd, and it sets a strong tone for the remainder of the game. There’s a minor issue with the syntax for answering a riddle near the beginning of the game (SAY “[ANSWER]” and variants aren’t recognized, but GNOME, [ANSWER] is fine), but gameplay is otherwise smooth. Despite the game’s focus on the mechanics of the puzzles, the introductory and concluding scenes of the game are well-written and satisfying. 7/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You want a short, puzzle-based game that has a surreal setting but reasonable puzzles.

Score: 7