IFComp 2020: Lovely Assistant: Magical Girl

Here we’ve got a broad-gestured boffo environment: the mansion of a famous stage magician/superhero, laden with puzzles and secret passages, populated by caricatures like a robot butler, a gardener who’s a clown, an opera singer in full Valkyrie getup. The magician is absent, kidnapped by one of his numerous enemies, and you, his lovely assistant, have to navigate the puzzles to find him, guided by taunting messages the villain left behind.

The puzzle design is pleasingly cartoonish — at one point, you have to bring a large object downstairs by sawing a hole in the floor under it — and also distinctly old-school, the sort where every inventory object has exactly one use and can be discarded once you’ve discovered it. Unfortunately, the parsing is a bit old-school too, and it really needs to handle more commands sometimes. There were times when I gave up on what turned out to be the correct approach because none of my attempts were phrased the way it expected. There’s an in-game hint source, a crystal ball, that occasionally helped me recognize when this was happening, but mostly it was just as prone to not understanding me as the puzzles.

That much will be fairly easy for the author to fix in a post-comp release, if they care to. All they need is to get some player transcripts and implement the things the people tried that should have worked but didn’t. But there’s another problem that would take some actual redesign: that it’s easy to get ahead of things in ways that undermine my faith. For example, at one point, I made a cat leave a room. This solved a puzzle, but I hadn’t even noticed the puzzle it solved; I was just poking around at things, and hadn’t interacted with the cat at all, so its sudden unavailability left me feeling like I had done something wrong. Also, that trail of messages I mentioned also seemed to just abruptly run cold. It starts with a note in the initial room, which tells you to go to the attic. The message in the attic, which takes a little solving to find, tells you to go to the library. I went to the library, solved a puzzle, and didn’t find any more messages. So after that, I went around solving puzzles just because they were there, until I stumbled into another message very near the end of the game. Looking at the walkthrough afterward, it seems that I really only missed one message, but missing that one bit of guidance mean that I spent most of the game feeling like I was missing something I was supposed to have.

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