Cold Iron

By Andrew Plotkin (Parser; IFDB)

You’ve lost your axe. Despite everything the Reverend might say about you being a lunkhead, you know where it is: the dark forests behind your cottage.

Cold Iron has a relatively limited scope for one of Plotkin’s games, both in size and implementation. Even with my limited puzzle-solving skills, Cold Iron took me about 5 minutes to finish. The puzzles, however simple, are pleasingly quirky: the things you find are linked to stories in your book of tales. The items needed to solve the puzzles are highlighted by the writing effectively, so it should not take too much effort to figure out what’s going on.

There is also a pleasing, if ambiguous, twist, which made the small puzzles that much more satisfying, even adding a bit of emotional depth to the otherwise straightforward story.

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Dual Transform

By Andrew Plotkin.

You design virtual workspaces for clients, but this particular project is proving to be a little harder than expected. So you’re starting from a blank slate, now. Time to work from the bottom up.

This game is described as ‘metasemantic’, and there is a certain moment in the tail part of the game where it really becomes very metasemantic. Mostly, though, you explore concepts as you would a room.

Plot: Dual Transform is a puzzle-based game, with little of any other story devices such as characterisation or backstory. The puzzles were not too hard but not too intuitive either. Solving them took a bit of guessing and a bit of peeking at walkthroughs, unfortunately. But then I’m not very good at these.

Mechanics: The concept of a ‘one-room’ or even a ‘one-object’ puzzle has been cleverly turned on its head here. Plotkin does some really ingenious things with the one object and one room- because one room does not necessarily mean just one space.

The Dreamhold

by Andrew Plotkin

I am fairly near the end of the game and on my first playthrough. Apologies if you feel this is not a fair review.

You are stuck in a wizard’s version of a mind palace: a ‘dreamhold’.

Language: Andrew Plotkin creates a rich and varied environment with just enough details to keep the player interested.

Plot: Straightforward: the player needs to collect six items, though the player must figure out how and certainly why. There is variety enough in the puzzles and they are mostly self-contained.

Mechanics:  Because this is a game aimed at beginner IF players, there is an extensive and comprehensive adaptive hint system. Likewise, my clumsy meanderings have not yet put the game in an unwinnable state, making it a friendly and forgiving game. Despite this, I got lost all the time (navigating curved structures with the cardinal directions is very confusing for me) and the settings pretty much merged into one another.

The Dreamhold is also a good example of games with settings which change on their own.

Shade

by Andrew Plotkin.

Another critically acclaimed game!

As the help text suggests, this is a one-room game set in the PC’s apartment. Sounds unremarkable! As the PC, you’re all set and ready to leave for Death Valley for some art festival. You’re all packed, just waiting for the taxi when… where are your tickets?

Language: Nothing much to say. There is purposeful use of background ‘props’ such as furniture, possibly symbolic, though I haven’t quite wrapped my head around that yet.

Plot: Soon after finding the tickets, the story takes a surreal turn. The PC’s cool, almost detached narration belies the growing weirdness of the whole situation as the room morphs into something almost unrecognisable. The baffling ending may confuse some, but Shade is one of those games which you have to play more than once to fully understand.

Mechanics: Nothing remarkable. There is a kind of hints system, or at least a list of ‘things you have to do to progress’ in the form of a changing to-do list, also a sly hint about hint systems in the form of the help text.