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Cleverly designed, well worth playing., Tue 4th Sep 2012
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After mazes, the next tropes in interactive fiction to wear themselves out entirely were probably the “Escape the Room” [ETR] format and death. Seeing yet another ETR game is enough to make a seasoned IF player roll their eyes. They tend to be basically plotless, decontextualized setups for a puzzle rather than a good story. If you have to stuff something under a door to catch a key, it's probably enough to make a player quit. We've seen that game with that puzzle so many times and in so many incarnations that it was now beneath our notice, like spam. And the last thing we want to do is to die over and have to restart our attempts every time, especially on something so limited.
But Marika the Offering offers a fully contextualized, narratively complete game with an interesting story and a structure that subverts our basic aversion to death by turning the ETR format on its head. No longer is your goal to escape from a locked room (though a nice thought, the attempt would be futile). Your goal is to lock the room and keep a vampire from coming in.
Obvious means of entry and ways to bar them start the player out proactively, which is good because they're about to lose. When the player feels they have finally blocked off all they can they go to sleep (or else they'll run out of turns and fall asleep anyway). The player then get to watch how the villain enters the room to kill our heroine. In this way, each death is a clue in solving the overall puzzle of the game. Rather than an annoyance, the author has made death into a service to the player. Aside from presenting a challenge, the continued inventiveness of the (rather traditional) shapeshifting vampire at gaining entry into the tower room becomes a running gag that's amusing to read. Especially if you're a completionist, the flow of the game becomes more about blocking one entrance at a time and then dying, then blocking the next, rinse lather, repeat.
There are a couple of tricky commands to execute in this game where players might run into Guess the Verb troubles. It's also worth noting that the game is inventoryless, preferring to let players use things from where they lie rather than making them pick all of them up explicitly. This lets players focus on examining their surroundings and blocking exits rather than acquiring objects.
Overall, this is a rewarding, not overlong game with difficulty neatly balanced on a knife point, worthy of as many plays through as it has deaths. Highly recommended.