It’s time for yet another annual Interactive Fiction Competition! I didn’t enter this year due to Pamplemousse-related matters, but since last year was such a great experience, I thought I’d give back to the community by writing up reviews of all the entries I’ve played. I’ll do my best to get through all the games, except for “Body Bargain”, which I beta’d.
Anyway, I’ll start off with two games I played last night: “Signos” and “Shuffling Around”. As one might expect, there are spoilers behind the cut.
“Signos” by M4U
You play some mysterious person wearing a mask, who encounters a bunch of holy men. You seem to be on some kind of quest, which I can’t quite figure out, and if you interact with any of the interactable objects, you wind up in a dark room with no exits and a page in a book telling you what you just did to get there. The game implies that by taking these actions, you somehow got distracted on your quest and lost consciousness, suggesting some kind of death scene.
Needless to say, I couldn’t figure out how to progress any further than these death scenes. Actions were underimplemented, spelling and grammar mistakes were everywhere, and I couldn’t find any evidence of beta testers. The game’s written using the Quest system, which uses a hybrid of hyperlinks and parser commands. I’d love to play a better implemented game that took advantage of such a system, but this one, where the drop-down menus kept telling me I could “take” human characters  and most of the commands I tried gave me default messages, just felt really cumbersome.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I played the web-based version; I wonder if the downloadable one fares any better, but I’d have to get on a Windows machine to try it.
“Shuffling Around” by Ned Yompus
You’ve just lost your job, and you’re at some kind of conference slash job fair. This would be an amusing premise for an IF game on its own, but upon exploring a secret entrance off to the side, what we actually wind up getting is a delightfully bizarre Nord and Bert-inspired wordplay game that jumps from one surreal location to the next incoherent estate, a null root ox.
Basically, you have the power to change things into anagrams of what they are. Say, for instance, if you see Britney Spears, you can turn her into a group of presbyterians.  I quite like it when IF games do this sort of thing, particularly with the text parser — making good use of the medium, rather than making me feel like I’m plodding through something I’d enjoy a lot more if it had graphics and a point-and-click interface. Happily, the puzzles and interactable objects were well clued, and there’s a decent hint system in-game if one is stuck, as I sometimes was. That said, I admit I tried to run some solutions through an internet anagram server. Isn’t rearrangement rave?
There are two gizmos you can pick up early on in the game that give you clues about what words you need to rearrange and how, but I could only take one of them with me. There’s hinted to be a way to get both of them, but I couldn’t figure it out.
The writing reminds me of last year’s Taco Fiction, with its down-on-their-luck loser protagonist, and there’s even a scene in which you wind up making a taco. So, I’m thinking Ned Yompus is either a pseudonym for Ryan Veeder, or a pseudonym for someone else trying to capitalise on subject matter that won the comp last year. Either way, the writing was both hilarious and anagramtastic, a charlatan guitar admission.
The game did go on for longer than the alotted two hours for me, which is the only thing I didn’t like about it. There are three main “nodes” in the middle part of the game, but you only need to finish two of them to get to the finale — I wound up playing all three because I liked the game enough that I didn’t want to miss out on any of the content. An okay problem to have, a removable panty hook.
I still have a bunch more games to play, but I think this may just wind up being one of my favourites in the comp, if servicemen may hop onto tofu.