IFComp 2020: Limerick Quest

This is a sequel to last year’s Limerick Heist, which I played but did not review. In both games, the central conceit is that the text of the game is in the form of limericks. But where the first game more or less rested on that, giving a choice-based branching story with a lot of dead ends, Quest gives us adventure-style gameplay with freeform exploration and some really clever puzzles. (The UI is still hypertext, but includes some selection boxes to maintain scansion.)

This shift in gameplay reflects a shift in content: where the first game was about a band of criminals robbing a casino, this one has two of them following a lead from the end of that game to a lost Aztec tomb in Siberia. While you do eventually get a backstory that explains this odd juxtaposition, it mainly serves to reduce the expectation of plausibility.

I think the most impressive part is the inventory. No matter what combination of items you have at any given moment, it manages to list them in limerick form, rephrasing things if necessary, inserting descriptive phrases to pad out lines or force a rhyme. Towards the end, you discover a way to replace objects with synonyms, and the inventory system still manages to keep pace with the literally exponentially increased number of possibilities. Inventory puzzles are handled cleverly: you get a limerick with one or more blank spaces, and have to pick items from your knapsack to fill in the blank, with rhyme and meter serving as hints. This leads to wordplay puzzles where the length of the words in letters and syllables are important, acting as proxies for size and weight, but this is clued in ways that completely went over my head at first. I managed to bluff my way through the tutorial puzzles without understanding them, and only figured out what I had missed when the climax forced the issue with a puzzle that put together everything I was supposed to already know.

If, like me, you spend a long time not really understanding what you’re doing, the game involves a lot of walking back and forth through the same areas. I wouldn’t call this out in a parser-based game, but the hypertext interface makes it irksome. You can’t just hit “n.n.n.w.” or whatever, you have to find the links on the screen over and over — and, while most rooms have a standardized stanza at the bottom listing all the exits, some embed them in the description text.

I recently praised a game for providing the option to display all a page’s text at once instead of making the player click on links to advance it a bit at a time. Kudos, then to Limerick Quest for doing the same — indeed, now that I look back at Heist, I find it does it as well. There’s one other option in the menu, to disable timed events. I’m pretty sure I selected this, but wound up with what appeared to be timed events in the end anyway, in the action climax where you’re riding a minecart through the caves, leaning this way and that to avoid obstacles, and words that rhyme with the correct choice appear bit by bit in the verse. It’s possible that I’m mistaken, but it’s hard to be sure, as the game doesn’t seem to provide a way to access the options menu from within the game.

Overall, this exceeds expectations: it could have been just a reiteration of a cute gimmick, but instead it experiments with UI and interactivity and pulls off some really impressive tricks.

2 Comments so far

  1. Chuck Jordan on 10 Nov 2020

    i’ve been reading these IFComp reviews, but am only just now getting around to saying thanks for posting them! I’m still fascinated by the kind of experimentation and exploration possible in text games, but I just don’t have the attention span required to stick with them anymore. This ALMOST lets me cheat!

  2. Pace Smith on 11 Nov 2020

    Thanks for the review!

    FYI, if the “timed events” option is on, there’s a countdown, and you have to select an option before it counts down to zero. If the “timed events” option is off, everything is the same – the words still appear bit by bit – but nothing bad happens if you take your time.

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