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the IF Arcade: reviews

by Sean Barrett

Posted 4 January 2001 to

You really ought to just go play them before reading any reviews, ok?

Administrative note: the zip file does not include any release information, such as a list of authors (even one without correlating authors with games); I'd recommend changing that.

Despite what I've written below, pretty much all the games were worth booting up and running, if not because they offered hours and hours of fun, simply because it was interesting to see how many different ways people could tackle this idea.


(in the order I played them, which was basically the order they unpacked, but all zcode games first, and pinball last)


A curious reversal: this game is played from the point of view of the title character, who was the antagonist of the original. Some very short, crisp imagery, but not entirely faithful to the original game. Not much fun to actually play, though, but that's true of a lot of the games here. This one is unique because the property (license) is still alive today (discounting dumb Foo 2000 or Foo 3D attempts on Hasbro's part), and the author is well-aware of that.


Wow. Gratuitously high-quality. Just go play it; some small liberties but captures the high points and details in a great way, and doesn't require any knowledge of the original to play; IMO the "Hunter, in Darkness" of this collection.


A cross between the old Star Trek text games and Asteroids, which provides a bit of a motivation for the gameplay. The actual game is an actually playable asteroids game, but I found it too hard to track the asteroid trajectories (you have to compute deltas by hand from turn to turn, missing the real experiential effect of being able to immediately sense their trajectories) and it lacked a way to tell how big each asteroid was, which is crucial for winning. In other words, huge liberties with the actual gameplay, and yet actually attempts to construct an interesting and playable game (but fails for me--too complex and too hard); all in all a neat try.


Umm, ok. You get a couple different descriptions of how things look, but then it stops changing for no apparent reason (because the author didn't want to write more, presumably), but it also never brings itself to a close, so you end up driving for a while wondering if anything new is going to happen. Apparently not. Yawn. Well, the original game was pretty "Yawn", but, well, most of the other games here went one way or the other--either bring the game to a close or being consistent in the repetitiveness.


A bit mechanical an implementation; your controls have little effect--the sequence is mostly on rails--but the story (the sequence of events that follow) isn't interesting and detailed (e.g. the way it is in Centipede.z5), just repetitive, so it's just not very compelling.


A nice intro story setup--one that you can imagine them adding to the original game if it were released today and they thought it needed a better fiction. Then a very descriptive telling of the gameplay; seems like there might be a fairly complex representation of the board internally, not sure, but it seemed unlikely you could clear a board (I got 12900 points in 37 turns). Hmm, the saucer sounds a bit more like the Invaders section of GORF than the original, and the shields were omitted (bunkers in Invaders2.gam).


A nice start--the use of separate locations is appropriate for this game, but the choice of "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" to mean "left" and "right" seems bizarre, unless the whole thing is set in a circle--aha, it's a wraparound world, so I guess that's the whole idea. Nice, puzzles enwrapping two basic Joust strategies. Possibly my favorite of the bunch: a more detailed setting than the original with lots of atmosphere, faithfulness to the original, and some "puzzles". Cool.


Hmm, Lode Runner retold as "Thief: The Dark Project". I'm not sure why digging and letting someone fall in a hole works in one place but not another, but maybe I'm forgetting something about the game. A little too plain--with all the described stuff for atmosphere (sounding a bit more like Prince of Persia than Lode Runner, really), I wanted to be able to examine it, oh well.


A nice retelling of the game, not providing any new information or context, but with poetic telling of the abstract mysteries. Fun.


Wokka wokka wokka! A silly backstory. Hmm, third person, well, all of these games were 3rd person in the first place. Umm, ok, strange ending. Basically, this combines the gritty realism of Centipede.z5 with the deepened context of Joust.z5 and the on rails experience of Loderunner.z5. But I didn't really enjoy it. Then again, a pretty neat idea for how to not just literally adapt the game. [PS: See Zarf's page for how to suppress the score without leaving a '.' behind.]


What a strange game. Although you can play and "win" naively, once you play "correctly" you find that the focus of the game is on certain connotations of the language of the "naive" game, in a way that's rather, well, silly. Although it hints at backstory, it reads more to me like a mishmash of ideas pretending to be a backstory, not something that was actually thought out.


Rather than just using "left" and "right" abstract controls as in Galaxians.z5 and Invaders1.z5, Invaders2 has the player running from room to room; this allows an accurate representation of the shields ("bunkers"), which you can hide in. Unfortunately, you can't seem to see the aliens, although you can shoot them. Then there's this bit of backstory with a brooch, but then I die when I return from it, and I'm not sure if you're supposed to be able to get past that, but I can't, and it's not a very satisfying ending.


Entertainingly wacky descriptions--"be where ball will be in the hood of likeli"; basically impossible to play--you're given guesses as to where the ball will go, but even on the turn previous to its arrival that guess can be wrong. There aren't really enough descriptions for it to be worth playing more than a couple points. (But hey, that's more than zero!) Sometimes the ball wraps from high to low instead of bouncing, what's up with that? And it seems to go from 'middle' to 'lowish' without going through 'middle low'. I quit with score 3 to 2. From the size of the game file I wonder if I missed a bunch.


An investigation of the dark side of tapper; looking at the consequences of the gameplay from an almost realistic perspective. Seemed rather plain to me; it could have been more emotional and less "just the facts", given the way it was being spun.


Heh heh.


I think one of the "Basic Computer Games" books that had "Hunt the Wumpus" in it also had a text pinball game which printed out the pinball board as ASCII graphics, rather than in an IF-ish style. Instead, this games tries to capture the abstract mental state of being a pinball machine's ball-- much like Marble.z5, with less poeticness and more zip. Kinda fun, but dunno how much of it I saw, a little hard to get out of the lower reaches.

I'm not going to guess who any of the authors were, but I'll note that several of the games just spoke "quality" at me--the writing, the attention to detail just made me trust the author. [Those that didn't may not be the fault of the author so much as the time investment they put into these semi-jokey games, and I wouldn't hold any of these games against any future games from their authors.]

The ones that made me feel this way were:

Joust.z5 (with some hesitation--a couple bugs)
Marble.z5 (maybe)
Unlabeled.gam (hard to be sure though)

and maybe even Pinball.gam.

This article copyright © 2001, Sean Barrett

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