IFComp ’12: Castle Adventure

I’ve been in the mood for a good old fashioned treasure hunt and hoped that Castle Adventure by Ben Chenoweth would be it. The game starts:

Welcome to Castle Adventure!  Written and directed by Ben Chenoweth (Copyright 2002 Grinnan Berrit Software).  Adapted to Inform 7 by Ben Chenoweth, 2012.

and I’m already confused. Apparently this is an Inform adaptation of a unreleased (?) 2002 game. But it plays like something from the dawn of text adventures. Is it supposed to be a homage? The help text says that only two-word commands are recognized but it seems to just be the standard Inform parser, so I doubt that any specific coding was done to make the game more archaic on purpose. What we have is just a really sparse, lazy game.

After the confusing copyright we’re given what has to be the most basic premise in all of Fantasy: go to the castle, rescue the princess. Then:

Forest
You are in a forest.

Nothing about who we are or where we are or anything. Along with being undescribed the forest is big and empty. Exits are never listed. Sometimes we’re told we can’t go a direction because it won’t bring us any closer to the princess, and sometimes we’re simply told “you can’t go that way.” After many featureless rooms I found a mushroom that makes me shrink. It can be used to enter a cave which turns out to be a maze of pitch black rooms and I’m done. This is tedious and awful and looking at the walkthrough the game goes on and on, filled with identically named rooms. Worse, it turns out the cave maze is timed! The effects of the mushroom wear off after a few turns leaving the player trapped. There’s no way to find the way through without testing each exit, eating up turns and there’s plenty of dead ends. Horrible.

Castle Adventure is unimaginative, unimplemented, badly designed, and reeking of laziness. Maybe for Chenoweth it serves to fill some nostalgic need but to any modern player (modern here being anyone who cut their teeth on text adventures after 1979) it is nigh unbearable.

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