Yes, it’s another attempt to unclutter my desktop somewhat, so I’m reviewing a bunch of similar games together. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?
Monster Loves You!
Monster Loves You! is a game by Radial Games Corp and Dejobaan Games where you play a monster in the monster village of Omen. Your journey will take you from birth to elderhood, and your decisions could ultimately have an impact on monster-human relations.
Monster Loves You! has a very simple control scheme in that everything is controlled with the mouse and the controls basically consist of reading and then clicking a choice, then reading some more. Your choices will impact your stats: Ferocity, Kindness, Honesty, Cleverness, Bravery, and Respect (this last affects how monster society views you) and your choices will ultimately lead to one of several endings.
The visuals in Monster Loves You! have a cute storybook feel to them and are very brightly coloured, of particular note are the emoticons which show your character’s reaction to events, which are hilarious. The music has a very folksy vibe to it. Needless to say, it’s not a demanding game by any stretch of the imagination.
Monster Loves You! would probably be a great game to play with children or for adults who are looking to take a break from more gameplay intensive titles. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that since you are playing a monster, you have the option to gobble up everything in your path (this includes human children), and some decisions involve violence (although it’s all in text and nothing is shown). It’s short, but in all honesty, few interactive fiction titles boast 40+ hours of gameplay. It does have a decent amount of replay value in that events are randomized and there are many different endings. Personally, I think the $9.99 price tag might be a little steep for what you get, but absolutely buy it on sale if you’re looking for a cute little diversion from whatever big budget game has your interest.
An Assassin in Orlandes
Do you remember reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid and want an experience that takes you back to those days when you were holding your breath as the book told you to turn to page 25? If so, Tin Man Games has got you covered. They’re the company responsible for converting Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (basically a cross between a CYOA with RPG elements like stats and battles determined by dice roll) to digital format. The books were originally published in the U.K. and aimed at the 9-12 age group.
In An Assassin in Orlandes, you are hunting for a woman named Kari when you witness a murder. Your journey will take you from the streets of Orlandes to shadowy monasteries and forgotten crypts and pit you against cannibals, undead kings, and giant spiders.
Unlike other interactive fiction titles I’ve reviewed, As Assassin in Orlandes is the most book-like. When you click a page, it will flip to the next one as if you were turning the pages of a real book. Like the CYOA books of my childhood, you’ll constantly be told “Turn to Page ____.” at the end of a section. If you’re the type who wants the feel of a Choose Your Own Adventure book but you don’t want to dig through your bookshelves to actually find the books, An Assassin in Orlandes is for you.
What sets An Assassin in Orlandes apart from the CYOA books of my childhood is that it incorporates stats, an inventory, and battles like in your average RPG. At the beginning of the adventure, you’ll be able to choose your difficulty level (Casual gives you unlimited saves, Classic limits you to three saves) and asked to roll for Vitality and Fitness. Vitality determines how much HP you have, and is not only important during battles but can also be affected by certain decisions you make (falling down a hole, for instance, will cost you Vitality). High Fitness is also very important, as it can get you out of some dangerous situations. Battles are turn-based, with you and your opponents taking turns to attack and defend. During battle, you can choose to test your luck and potentially gain a bonus or penalty to your next roll.
Interactive fiction lives or dies by its writing, and the writing in An Assassin in Orlandes is great (all of the games in this review have great writing, in fact). The story is predictable, perhaps, but exciting, and depending on your decisions and whether the dice like you, can get pretty tense at times. During one playthrough, I ended up facing a giant spider and escaped with only 1 point of Vitality, whereas in another playthrough i ended up wandering delirious through a forest before I eventually died. Suffice it to say if you want well-written adventure story, you can’t go wrong with this.
Graphically, the game is mostly pages of text with some nice black and white illustrations. There’s some music; it’s nothing to write home about but it fits well with the game’s themes.
If I had one criticism of this game (and this is also true of Appointment with F.E.A.R. and The Forest of Doom) is that it ends up being very linear and getting the best ending seems to depend on whether you pick the right items from a list at the very beginning of the game, so unless you have a walkthrough or are taking notes (or you’ve read the original book), it can be frustrating to reach a branch in the story where you need a specific item to continue or it’s instant death.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for the type of experience that brings you back to a time where you devoured Choose Your Own Adventure books, you’ll want to give An Assassin in Orlandes a try.
Appointment With F.E.A.R.
This was actually the first game from Tin Man Games that I bought off Steam. Appointment with F.E.A.R. is a superhero-themed gamebook that originally came out in the 80s (and thus has no relation with the F.E.A.R. series).
Appointment with F.E.A.R. puts you in the role of a superhero who is charged with protecting Titan City from an assortment of villains. Your goal is to uncover the location of the secret meeting of F.E.A.R., an organization run by the infamous supervillain the Titanium Cyborg.
Your goal in Appointment with F.E.A.R. is to collect Clues that will eventually reveal the location of the meeting. You collect Clues by following up on leads and defeating villains. Uncovering Clues and defeating villains will net you Hero points and usually a Luck point or two. You can use Luck points to give you a better chance at unlocking collectable cards, which isn’t essential for winning the game but if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a feature.
Appointment with Fear is more graphics heavy than either An Assassin in Orlandes or The Forest of Doom. It’s presented in a graphic novel format but it isn’t difficult to read like it’s physical counterparts (I sometimes have difficulty with following the order of the panels when I’m reading a physical comic book).
I’ve already mentioned that the writing in all these games is top notch, but Appointment With F.E.A.R. is easily the funniest of the bunch. I played this with a friend who’s into superheroes, and we both had a good laugh while playing this game. The dialogue is cheesy and overdramatic, the villains are over the top, even the randomly generated superhero names are hilarious. Your character’s civilian form, for instance, sports a pair of thick-rimmed black glasses a la Clark Kent. I lost it when I them for the first time.
The one big criticism I have with this game (and with the other games by Tin Man games) is that there is a very specific path you need to follow depending on which superpower you selected at the beginning, so you can potentially play this game fifty times and each time will end the same way–in complete failure, so, again, unless you have a walkthrough or you’re a fan of trial and error gameplay, Appointment With F.E.A.R. can be incredibly frustrating. Still, if you like superheroes, especially if you like parodies of the genre, this might be worth a look.
The Forest of Doom
The Forest of Doom is the latest gamebook from Tin Man Games on Steam, but it’s one of the earliest Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. In the Forest of Doom, you are an adventurer who is tasked with finding pieces of a legendary hammer forged by the Dwarfs to protect them from their enemies.
The Forest of Doom is the same kind of Choose Your Own Adventure/D&D hybrid as An Assassin in Orlandes in that it is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure book with combat mechanics. However, in this one, the stats you have to keep an eye on are Skill, Stamina, and Luck (Skill affects the damage you do in combat, Stamina is your HP, and Luck is like Fitness from An Assassin in Orlandes). You still have an inventory to manage, but The Forest of Doom also has a map and the illustrations are in full colour instead of black and white.
The writing in The Forest of Doom is great but kind of cheesy, not in the comedic way of Appointment With F.E.A.R. but cheesy in the same way that old RPG manuals, or parodies of The Lord of the Rings are cheesy. If I didn’t know that this gamebook came out in the 80s, I would have said that it was a parody of RPGs at that time. Nope, it’s playing it completely straight, near as I can tell (which, being that it is actually from the 80s, makes sense).
My one complaint with this game is the same issue I have with An Assassin in Orlandes, which is that the game requires you to have specific items which you choose from a list at the beginning of the game to complete objectives. If you don’t have these items by a certain point you literally wake up at the very beginning of the game and have to start over. (Seriously, the entire game is made out to be one long dream sequence.) So, again, unless you have a walkthrough or love good ol’ trial and error, The Forest of Doom and friends can be frustrating. However, the writing’s solid (if cheesy) so if you like a good fantastical yarn, this might be a good pick for you.
Overall I would say that none of these games are horrible. The ones from Tin Man Games can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t know exactly which items you’re supposed to bring along, which might turn off players who are used to more open-ended games like The Yawhg. (The Yawhg is a fantastic game, by the way.) If you’re interested in gamebooks, however, you could probably do much worse. Monster Loves You! in contrast, is a more modern, less frustrating piece of interactive fiction that you can play to take a break from more intense games. Whether you just want to chill out or sample a bit of gamebook history, there’s something in this review for everyone.