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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pen and Paint – A review

On to the next entry in the IF Comp! This one’s called “Pen and Paint”. Hmm… Are we an artist? Are we a writer? Perhaps we’re locked in a room with a set of water colors and big tub of Indian Ink. Obviously the correct solution is to embrace the sweet kiss of death by downing the entire contents of the tub. Why more escape the room games don’t take the easy way out is beyond me.

Note: A reminder. The review will contain spoilers. Please play the game before you read further.

Final Verdict: Game starts off wonderfully but then gets mired in unpleasantly tough puzzles.

Full review after the jump:

Okay, full fledged admission: As much as I like puzzles, I can sometimes be pretty stupid at solving them. I’m also someone who doesn’t have a high degree of patience so when I get stuck in a game, I’m someone who’s going to turn to hints or even a full blown walk through pretty quickly.

That said, I’m proud of myself that I didn’t use hints or a walkthrough once when solving any of the previous games. (granted I didn’t technically complete “R”, but then who can blame me, amirite?) However that streak has been tragically and thunderously stopped by Pen and Paint where I had to look at the freakin’ walk through all the bloody time.

There were some clever puzzles that I did manage to figure out, (Bird maze, I liked it) but I swear there are some things I would never have gotten on my own. There are weird special commands, that are only used once and don’t seem to be hinted at like “dig” and “smite”. Really? Smite?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The premise is actually very intriguing. You wake up, your wife laying next to you, and hear strange noises coming from down stairs. Already a strong sense of mystery and conflict. But even before you get down there, things that are common place to your character are very odd. For instance, apparently the ceiling of your bedroom is not figuratively, or painted like, but literally an entire night’s sky. There’s a sea shell lying on your dresser that used to hold the sea, but now holds bird songs instead.

Curiouser and Curiouser.

So you go down stairs and are shocked to discover that the gallery where your wife displays her paintings along with your connected fiction, is changed in a difficult to pinpoint but deeply disturbing way. Something’s out of place. And you’ve got to do something about it.
It isn’t before long your wife stumbles out of bed and begins shouting at you to “go after” “him” while she lays a trap for whoever “him” is. All of this is very mysterious and really kinda cool, and I am completely enchanted.
Rghhh..... Nope, still can't figure it out. Let's look at the walkthrough...

And so it is with a heavy heart that I report that the good will the game sets up at the beginning is eroded slowly away through a series of sometimes clever, but more often needing-to-be-able-to-read-the-author’s-mind-variety of puzzles.

Your job is to “enter” the books and wander around in them until you find something. Looking back, I guess your wife mentioned the word “rhythm” but honestly that’s a pretty spare clue. Each journey won’t end unless you type the specific command the game is waiting for at a specific location, like “LISTEN”ing in a certain place. There’s also the issue with not being able to take a bunch of things it would seem natural to be able to take, but then being expected to take things like heavy logs and pink clouds that one usually doesn’t connect with putting in one’s pocket. Or seeking out a mechanical troubadour in your bathroom and presenting him with the final artifacts of your game-long quest, because that’s a thing a normal human mind would think of doing.
Moreover, despite having finished the game, I’m still pretty lost as to what’s it all about, Alfie. At the very end, you’re confronted with the guy who was messing up the paintings/books (I’m still a little confused as to the relationship between the books and the paintings), and in one paragraph he says that he was just trying to get you to stop procrastinating. Really? He’s like a Life Coach? If that’s not the oddest motive for burglary, I’m not sure what is.

The arch of my journey was:

1) The Beginning – Wow! This is really neat! I like this!

2) The Middle – Oh man, this is so hard and unnecessarily frustrating! I am having to consult the walkthrough all the friggin’ time!

3) The End – Uhh… What just happened? Was that it?

So the concept was cool, and I did like the puzzles of figuring out how to enter the books (though I would NEVER have thought of “feeling” the leaves in order to enter the Forest Book), and the story definitely had a lot of promise. I was expecting great things, or at least intriguing things. Over all, the atmosphere was pretty solid which makes up for some things, and it’s very very possible that I’m just a terrible puzzle solver and minds greater than yours-truly breezed through. For that I’m giving it a point higher than Glorious Revolution. Five.

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