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Cursor  Member Reviews - Cursed

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
  Review by Matt Wigdahl, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

OK, so in IF we now have both Curses!, the seminal Inform work by Graham Nelson, and also Cursed, an ADRIFT game by Australian newcomer Nick Rogers. Based on my cursory web search, the only IF work Nick has publicly released previously was an ADRIFT conversion of the classic Adventure, so welcome to the IF world, Nick!

CREDITS is implemented and shows numerous beta testers, which is a good sign. The game also has apparently been tested under both the standard ADRIFT Runner and SCARE, which is what I’m using. That’s a pretty good early indicator that this isn’t going to be a half-baked effort. The intro text is good in that it’s immediately trying to establish a character, less good in that it’s a bit overwrought for what a person condemned to die in an hour or so would likely be thinking.

Spoilers (some pretty major ones at the end) follow…

This is an ambitious work. Although on the surface it’s a desperate quest for justice, it’s really about relationships — family relationships, to be exact — with a strong current of “sins of the father” running through it all and a slight undertow of somewhat genericized religiosity. It feels somewhat inspired by George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series, but that may just be because of the medieval fantasy epic genre of the story. Or maybe because of the frequent violent deaths.
You’re Torrin, the ward of King Rithusar of Rylane (get used to the “alphabet soup” fantasy names — there are plenty), and you’ve apparently been framed for the murder of the king’s son, Prince Alsanter. After being escorted to a quick trial and conviction, you’re to be executed, until Rithusar, who still sees you as a son and secretly doesn’t believe you’re guilty, convinces the court to allow the wizard Rixomas to curse you into the form of an animal instead. Once you leave the throne room, every hand is raised against you, and you have only the whispered advice of Rixomas to guide you in an attempt to get help and discover the true murderer.

You get to choose the animal you’re transformed into, which is a nice touch. The form you choose apparently has a major impact on the puzzles you face, which is another nice feature. I’m not sure how effective it is as a selling point for IFComp, though, since this is a long game as it is and the two-hour limit will likely be up before there’s significant time for replay. I chose the snake, after asking my son what he would pick in this situation.
Your task as a snake is to get to the city of Kathrentia and speak with a wizard there who may be able to help you. To get there, you’ll have to avoid hostile humans and animals, and figure out inventive ways to manipulate your environment to accomplish tasks that you can’t perform in your animal shape. As a snake, I was pretty much limited to pushing things around with my nose, crushing, biting, and hissing, but careful examination of the surroundings and creative use of these limited actions had me catapulting through the air, plopping into carriages from second-story windows, and getting blasted into the air on a burst of water. For the most part, the physical puzzles were fair, fun, reasonably-clued, and tolerant of varied attempts to solve them.

The same cannot be said of the conversations. In particular, a conversation with the wizard Mazrena (or whomever you meet up with as a rat or fox) was so finicky that I actually had to restart the game to get it to complete in an acceptable way (a way that didn’t end up with me immediately getting chomped by a mongoose). Similarly, some state seemed to get messed up during the final conflict scene, requiring me to back to an old save and try again before the game would complete as advertised. Although the author warns about frequent death, this type of totally arbitrary, unclued death is pretty demoralizing.
Mechanically the game is reasonably sound. Occasionally the game would pretend it didn’t understand a verb that it understood perfectly well in another context, which I think is a pretty annoying and misleading problem. Every once in a while it would output something that looked like a debugging state check ([locationhide-Dead=fox]), there were some difficulties with disambiguation that were flagged as a SCARE side effect, and I wished for more verb synonyms at a few points, but overall these are fairly minor issues.

My love-hate relationship with the internal monologue continued throughout the game. I like the idea of it, for the most part, but it seems pretty detached — there’s a whole lot of telling, rather than showing, going on. Much of the time these monologues jarred me out of immersion rather than deepening it.

There’s a lot of waiting in the game. Very often you just have to wait out as a cut-scene plays through, perhaps walking as directed or moving to get it to proceed. The author has quite a bit of backstory to push, and this is one way to make sure you get it, but some of the scenes go on for longer than they should.

One thing I think the author does well is to jump into the persona of different characters for interludes as the story progresses. To my mind, these conversational set-pieces are a much better way of dumping backstory than wait-driven cut scenes, so I was happy to see them used here.

The story loses a bit of force for me simply because the twist at the end is so predictable — I had it pegged before getting out of the courtyard. And despite the large amount of backstory, and the emphasis on the relationships between the King, his two children, and his ward, I never felt the player was given enough information to really understand why things played out as they did. I hope I didn’t miss something as I came down to the wire on time, but I don’t think I did.
It’s tough to rate the first game of the Comp. I like that this was an ambitious, large, earnest game, with clever mechanics and a theme beyond that of a simple fantasy quest. The fun puzzles and copious backstory make me want to rate it pretty highly. It did a good job of leading you to use nonstandard commands in interesting ways. On the other hand, it’s capricious and downright frustrating at some points, the story somehow doesn’t fully satisfy, and there are enough rough edges that I can’t give it a super high score. I’m going to call it a 7 and reserve the right to adjust as I go. Nick, this was a good debut for you. I’ll be watching for your future works!

0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
  Review by Ron Newcomb, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews

Cursed is a game I really want to like. After (partially) reading someone else’s review mentioning the longer passages of text, I knew I immediately had to try it. I like to read, ya know, but much IF asks me to type in about as much as I’m getting back. That’s a state of affairs that has always seemed a bit wonky to me. An occasional forum quip is that there’s more IF authors than players, and that it’s more fun to write an IF than to play one. While I don’t believe that’s true, I do think there’s a reason for the perception, and I think the status quo on quantity has something to do with it.

Anyway, judo chop:

I settled in with Cursed happily reading about a crime I didn’t commit, and that I’ll soon be executed, and that I probably can’t teleport out of this one like in that Jon Ingold game. It did bother me that the writing wasn’t very strong. I mean, it flowed well, it was readable, it was generally inoffensive. But the king didn’t sound like a king, there wasn’t a lot of world-building or character development going on considering the amount of words I was zipping through, and, well, it just didn’t seem to be dense enough. There were some names and relationships introduced, though, so it wasn’t bad enough to make me quit, but I remember wanting to get to juicier parts of the prose.

What I did have difficulty with was the latter-day maze that marks the first bit of serious physical interaction. Today’s mazes have a sensible geographical layout in relatively normal locations, but the moving walls of death patrolling the area make it become a maze. Moreover, these weren’t particularly believeable walls of death, either. Foxhunts do not involve swords for a reason other than the trees getting in the way, I’m just sayin’.

One part of the writing I did enjoy was how it switched to first person within the italics. I’m one of those people who don’t generally like first-person stories (IF or otherwise) but do like interiority, so the format of Cursed worked really well for me.

The game gets harder further along, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up if the early sections gave me trouble, especially if others have problems with it. I came for a story, but Cursed is a work that tries to cater to two different audiences simultaneously — the reader and the puzzle-solver — and ended up pleasing neither.

I give it a 7 of 10. I appreciate what it’s trying to do and enjoyed what time I spent with it, but only because I bailed before it got seriously hard.

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