As has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.
I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with last year: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. Last year that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.
Now up: Earl Grey.
Synopsis: a highly surreal wordplay game in the general spirit of Nord and Bert, where you manipulate objects by adding and removing letters. Lots of inexplicable and unexpected events, mostly linked by commonalities of words.
It’s sufficiently surreal, in fact, that I don’t think I would have gotten through it without a walkthrough, because the things that you’re allowed to do/supposed to attempt are so startling.
I like the mechanic here. My sense was, though, that some things weren’t accounted for (why couldn’t I turn the lance into a lace, for instance? I guess perhaps because it’s too improbable a thing to be pierced with). And there were many moments where I couldn’t act because the scene hadn’t cranked around to producing the object I needed to act upon — but I didn’t realize that the right thing to do was talk to one of the characters another six or seven times.
The unpredictable puzzles and surreal setting, together with a plot that brought new things into and out of play constantly, and the opportunities to die if you miss the timing of an event, made for a situation too strange for me to manage by myself. Though I kept trying to get away from the walkthrough, I returned to it again and again.
That said, there were a lot of things about this game that I did like: the writing has a lot of charming asides, there are some evocative moments (though the whole sea ion collection sphere business was… really weird), and I liked the gimmick of the internal commentary at the bottom of the screen. Narcolepsy did something a bit similar, but few other games provide a running update on what the player character is thinking. Here it acts both as a source of jokes and as a series of hints, and in this game I felt like I could very much use any kind of direction or hinting that might happen to come my way.