IFReviewed by Andrew Plotkin on 2006-07-01 04:11
I really wanted to like this game. The author has entered two previous competitions, and neither game really impressed me. So when I started this one, I hoped it would be better.
And guess what? I loved it!
(One might have guessed, really. "Erden" was too big, and "One-Room Dilly" was too small, and "Winter Wonderland", well....)
It's a winter holiday game, and the careful references to "solstice" instead of "Christmas" aren't just cultural inoffensiveness. The imagery drifts across a wider range of mythology, from living snowmen to fairies dancing around a Yule fire. Familiar, but freshly presented, and it never drops into the horrid muck of commercialized Christmas legend that we've all gotten sick of.
Put it this way: while I was playing this game, that hideous eponymous goddamn song didn't cross my mind once.
The story is... I'm having my usual reviewing reaction, where I don't want to give anything away about the good games. If you'll pardon the vagueness, the story is well-shaped and well-paced. Inciting incident, obvious goal, resolution, sudden expansion, broader game where you figure out the real goal, resolution, and everything ties together.
It's a good story, one I'd be happy to have floating around the cultural soup. Simple, yes; it doesn't have the dark tones of, say, Susan Cooper's winter story; it's a kid's story, a fairy tale (in the modern sense). But I was grinning like a loon all the way through.
I'm not sure it's a little kid's game, though. Most of it was well clued -- the goals were fairly clear -- but the puzzles were tricky. Not extremely difficult, but the puzzles were definitely at a level above the primary audience for the story.
(Not the entire audience, I say. The audience includes people like me, of course. But, well, you know what I mean.)
Actually, when I say the goals were fairly clear, I should mention that I solved several puzzles out of order, without seeing all the clues that motivated them. This made the storyline somewhat patchy. It still worked, but some of the momentum was lost; I was wandering around solving puzzles at random, instead of being guided through successive goals. An interesting question, actually. How do you sustain that sense of flow without forcing the plot to be completely linear?
And then, on the other hand, I had to check the hints in two places.
The writing is a little shaky. Some of the descriptions are unclear, particularly about exits. (The clearing near the cottage, for example.) I had the status-line map turned off, and the description of exits was nearly adequate without it, but not quite. And the general style of prose got a bit out of hand at times, particularly with characters that speak in rhyme. (That's really hard to do without degenerating into doggerel. Tolkien pulled it off. Not too many others.)
But, overall, I'm not complaining a bit. The imagery was vivid and fascinating; the story was -- I'm repeating myself. I liked this game.
Obligatory spelling warning: Peals of laughter. Peals. Really.
Obligatory "Story" bug warning: Never put newlines in your "Story" constant. It should just contain the title of the game, not a multiple-line banner. Otherwise the verbose/brief messages get screwed up.