ParserComp is a competition for parser-based IF games only, run by Carolyn VanEseltine and continuing through the 14th of March. It is designed to encourage this form of game, and also to provide detailed feedback: games are ranked on multiple categories, and judges must submit textual feedback along with their scores. More judges are welcome, so please check it out and share your own thoughts as well.
Below, reviews of the first two I’ve played.
Oppositely Opal (Buster Hudson). This is a story in the Cute Witch genre, a little like Magical Makeover, in which there are characters with astonishing magical powers but who use those powers primarily for mundane or amusing purposes. Thanks to a feud with another witch, you’re stuck in a cabin in Iceland trying to construct a potion (which first requires finding or creating a bunch of ingredients), and all of your spells have been cursed to work backwards. It’s a one-room puzzle game that would have fit in quite well in the JayIsGames escape the room competition from some years back.
By and large the puzzles are clever without being vastly complicated, and if you get stuck, your familiar, a cat called Killjoy, will give you a clue. The curse means that spells require a little investigation before you understand them well enough to use them: it’s not always immediately obvious what the reversal of a given spell would look like. Fortunately, the game stands up pretty well to experiment. There are a handful of places where the implementation disappointed me a little (putting a frozen object in a hot cauldron doesn’t seem to affect either object, for instance), but for the most part it worked pretty well, despite there being a lot of different items and possible object states.
My main complaint about the interaction — and this is a fairly small one — is that the scope of the game means you get a bunch of information dumped on you all at once. I found myself having to review the list of recipe ingredients and the list of my own spells over and over. That part of the experience would have been smoother if either a) the game had had enough space to teach these elements more gradually so that I needed less review or b) there had been a screen element that let me keep some of that status information constantly visible.
I also did struggle a little bit before realizing that gur fnaq tbyrz jbhyq erfcbaq gb SRGPU ol vgfrys, engure guna SRGPU JUNGRIRE, naq oevat zr fbzrguvat gung jnf pybfr gb vg.
The game concludes with some final choices about how you will treat your rival witch, and has multiple endings sprung from that, though I confess that I found one of those endings so severe as to be out of character for the protagonist. But it’s clearly meant as the “unhappy” ending, so I suppose that works.
Six Grey Rats Crawl Up The Pillow (Boswell Cain). Set in an anachronistic Varicella-esque Italy that blends gothic and Renaissance elements (plague, poniards, decrepit castles, an anti-Pope) with comparative modernity (typewriters, automobiles). The premise is that the protagonist has entered into a bet that he can sleep through the night in an abandoned mansion; in order to accomplish this, the player must get rid of the various impediments that distract him. It’s not quite a one-room puzzle game, but the deal-with-nuisances premise is reminiscent of Enlightenment, and the just-one-more-reason-you-can’t-sleep experience is an exercise in frustration comedy.
For the first five minutes or so of play I sincerely wondered whether this game was trolling ParserComp. There is a memory mechanism that prompts the player to remember information about the bet, the house, and the other characters; remembering one thing often triggers several other possible memories. This is a technique I’ve used myself in a limited way in some games, but here the chains of memories are long, with the result that I was sitting there typing REMEMBER X / REMEMBER Y / REMEMBER Z / REMEMBER P / REMEMBER Q… — and beginning to wonder if the author was trying to make me wish the game were in Twine, where I could just be clicking through this montage of recollections. I think this would have worked better with shorter chains, and with the information distributed more through the game landscape, because as it was I stood around in the courtyard having what seemed like dozens of turns of memory before proceeding with the actual puzzles.
But the rest of the game is more normally parserish, and I think I was just a bit unlucky in deciding to run through these memories rather than doing other things first. I didn’t find any of the puzzles to be particularly difficult — this is a much shorter and less involved bit of puzzling than Oppositely Opal — but the atmosphere was entertaining.
Technically, not bad, though it seems a pity that LIE ON BED is not a recognized command given the prominence of said bed in the narrative.