Non-spoiler note about Eric Eve’s Snowquest and Oliver Ullmann’s The Duel that Spanned the Ages: I was a beta-tester for these, so I’m not going to review them. I guess I’m not overstepping the bounds of propriety, though, when I say I heartily recommend both.
Another few lines of spoiler-prevention text — some great palindromes from the net:
“Doc, note. I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.”
“Emil, a sleepy baby peels a lime.”
“Evil I did dwell, lewd did I live.”
“Reviled did I live, said I, as evil I did deliver.”
“Won’t lovers revolt now?”
Now for the Comp game:
The spoiler-free summary: If you don’t let the fake Olde English put you off, you’ll discover a merry, lighthearted treasure hunt. It’s quite a long game, and reasonably well implemented. Recommended, despite some flaws and a very thin plot.
(There are spoilers in the review, but only mild ones, I think. So if you haven’t decided whether to play Astounding Castle and the summary above is not enough to sway you, I think you can safely read the following to get a better picture.)
Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort
by Tiberius Thingamus
In this adventure, findeth ye olde treasures from within yon castle. Maketh friends as ye o’ercome meddlesome goblins! Outwitteth ye riddling gnome! Resizeth ye belts & belt-like things!
Can ye getteth all o’ ye treasures & defeateth ye evil wizard?
Verily, thou hast overdone it with thy phrasing.
I suspect that the mock-archaic style will get old(e) very fast for most reviewers. It does contribute to the silly atmosphere, but the author might have achieved the amusing effect without irritating those players, if he had restrained himself and had used this stylistic device only in NPC dialogue and in the Book of Wisdom (the integrated hints). Apart from this issue, there were no glaring misspellings or grammatical errors.
Depending on one’s tolerance of (silly) puns, the writing might be found groan-inducing or hilarious. It’s not highbrow literature, but that’s not what it aimed at, and I felt it was filled with a sense of good-natured humour.
The story/plot is thinner than a Chinese lantern, but that doesn’t matter too much, because the game does not pretend otherwise. Still, I’m somewhat on the fence: On the one hand, it would be nice if there was a bit more world-building or backstory (could be unobtrusively exposed in treasure descriptions, room descriptions, NPC dialogue). On the other hand, that would probably run counter to the game’s overall style, which is a deliberate mix of traditional gaming flavour and self-aware, but not self-deprecating, silliness. Adding more backstory might counteract the game’s lampooning of the treasure hunt genre and of IF conventions. The “intricate object”, for example, is clearly a parody of how some other IF games force the player to examine everything in several levels of detail. Giving the object a credible purpose within the story-world would obviously subvert the parody, and the same goes for the motley collection of treasures. To get an idea of the style, see this quote (though it’s not always as self-referential as here):
Ye heareth whate’er sounds ye room description describeth, o’ course.
The puzzles are mostly straightforward, sometimes allowing multiple objects for the solution. Some reminded me of the LucasArts adventures of yore. Two notable exceptions: On one occasion the “riddling gnome” turned into a trivia gnome and I had to consult Wikipedia, and on another occasion, right before the very end, there’s an instance of guess-the-noun where I had to look at the walkthrough.
I liked the “WIN” feature very much: You can retreat from the castle at any time with the >WIN command, whereupon you’ll be presented with a short account of the rest of your life (then you can >UNDO). Your fate ranges from an early death by stamp-poisoning to a nobleman’s life, and there’s a different result for each number of collected treasures, so be sure to WIN and UNDO when you gain a new treasure. It’s a nice touch that even in the high-ranking outcomes you’ll always see some drawbacks and some lingering doubts about the other lives you could have had — rather realistic!
Astounding Castle is quite long. When I noticed that I had hit the 2-hour-mark, I wrote down my judgment (which is, roughly: “quite good”[*]), after which I still needed more than an hour to get to the end. In this phase, the game suffers from long walks to and fro, which are exacerbated by a slightly unintuitive geographical layout (If you draw the typical grid-map, you’ll get crossing paths, like this: When, from room X, you go N. E. S. W, you are not in room X again). There’s also a maze, which didn’t add much except a pinch of old-school flavour.
I played & finished the game in Gargoyle because of the beautiful typography, and when I later opened it in the original Windows Adrift interpreter, I saw that it had a pretty cover picture and even synthesized speech in the intro. I didn’t check if there were other pictures.
Summary: An enjoyable, merry game if you’re in the right mood to get into the silliness. There’s a cute squirrel, a talking flower, and an obese snake. What more could one want?
A transcript of my playing session is available upon request, just drop me an e-mail at michaelNOSPAMnealNOSPAMtenuisATgmail.com. (Replace the NOSPAM with “.” and, obviously, the AT with the @ sign).
[*] I haven’t decided yet on my final scoring method, therefore I don’t want to publish an exact 1-10 score (now). Will I emphasize the ordering of this year’s games relative to each other (meaning I’ll have to play more of them before I begin to assign the exact scores), or will I aim for “eternally valid” scores (meaning I’ll have to face the challenge of comparing them to an extreme range of works, from the worst old 1-point homebrew games to 9-or-10-point Jigsaw, Babel, Floatpoint, the Infocom productions)?