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Tribute: Return to Castle Coris
Author: Larry Horsfield
Reviewed by Mike Spivey
Return to Castle Coris is the most old-school text
adventure Iíve played so far in this yearís IFComp. Itís huge, somewhat
sparsely-implemented, contains lots of puzzles, is set in a fantasy world, and
features a plot thatís pretty much ďExplore this interesting location and see
what you find.Ē Fans of this older style of interactive fiction will probably
enjoy Return to Castle Coris, but players who prefer shorter games with more
focus on story will likely not care for it as much.
Me Ė Iím somewhere in-between. I like big, puzzle-filled games, but I generally prefer more of a unifying narrative than Return to Castle Coris has. I played the game for maybe two-and-half hours before stopping. I earned 250/400 points, so this gives a sense of how large Return to Castle Coris is.
The best parts of Return to Castle Coris are its writing, its scope, and the cleverness of many of its puzzles. Descriptions of objects and rooms are more evocative than you normally see in old-style IF; I could picture many of the locations rather vividly. The game, again, is huge; it takes a lot of work to create a game of this size, and one canít help but admire that. Plus many of the puzzles are quite creative, using items you can carry and the environment around you in interesting ways.
The biggest flaw I see in Return to Castle Coris is the same one that caused me, finally, to give up on it: Too many of its puzzles require the use of a phrase that might come easily to an author but that isnít a standard IF command and isnít clued and so will be very difficult for a player to think of. This is, I suppose, partly a guess-the-verb problem and partly a guess-the-authorís-mind problem. The last puzzle I worked through provides a good illustration.
I had just arrived at the edge of a large rift, after traversing a desert. There appeared to be no way to cross the rift. While in the desert, though, there were numerous birds of prey soaring around, occasionally snapping up lizards or other small desert creatures and flying off with them. A while back I had acquired magical items that could make me small or large. The solution to this puzzle is really clever: Make yourself small, so that an eagle will think youíre prey, swoop down on you, and fly you across the rift. Before the eagle eats you, transform yourself back to your original size. Again, a good puzzle Ė especially since itís clued by the scenery descriptions of the birds of prey. So I did this. Yet nothing happened; no birds flew down to grab me. I eventually checked the walkthrough, and apparently you need to get the eagleís attention after youíve turned yourself small. And the way to do that is, according to the walkthrough, WAVE ARMS. Now, your arms are never (to my knowledge) mentioned before this in the game, nor are any of your other body parts. None of your other body parts even appear to be implemented. Thereís no hinting that this is how to get the eagleís attention, or even that you need to get the eagleís attention after making yourself small. I have no idea how I would have figured this one out on my own. Unfortunately, this isnít the only instance of this kind of problem. Itís just the one that, after two and a half hours, made me give up on the game.
I also had several unpleasant wrestling bouts with the Adrift parser. For example, L is understood as an abbreviation for LOOK, but L BEHIND (an object) doesnít produce the same behavior as LOOK BEHIND (the same object). The worst, though, was when I typed GIVE RAT TO CHICKS and the game responded with ďThe two chicks do not seem interested in the dead rat.Ē The solution to this puzzle was actually to give the rat to the chicks; the problem turned out to be that I had the rat in my bag rather than in my hands. The parserís response was incredibly misleading.
In sum, Return to Castle Coris has some strong features that will make it appeal to fans of older style text adventures: good writing, a huge game world, and some solid puzzles. Too many of these puzzles need to be better-clued, though: If the solution to a puzzle requires a nonstandard command, the player needs some indicator as to the exact command needed. Otherwise, the puzzle needs to be rewritten so that it uses a more common IF command. As the game currently stands, I think many players will find Return to Castle Coris frustrating or have to resort regularly to the walkthrough.
Reviewed by Annsi
The background to the story is already explained in the
blurb of the game, so you can start playing without necessarily reading the
introduction - quite handy. Knowledge of the background story is not needed
during the gameplay anyway; it is there mainly to connect this game to the
universe of some earlier games by the same author, making this one a sort of
sequel (the blurb mentions an earlier game in the series, ďThe Spectre of Castle
You start at the mouth of the tunnel you are supposed to explore, and once you are in, you have to solve a series of puzzles to proceed, and that is basically what this game is about. From the very start, you have to pay close attention to everything around you, or you might miss some crucial objects needed to proceed. You will probably get stuck very early on, and have to resort to the walkthrough. I had to quickly resort to playing with the walkthrough open on the screen simultaneously, which was not a good sign. There were some things you wouldnít come to think of doing by yourself at all - for example, at one point you encounter something in the tunnel, and you have to it to discover a couple of objects. You are supposed to throw an object into a shaft, and this was not hinted at in any way, etc. So, in effect, the solutions to the puzzles were such guesswork that most of the progress was just thanks to typing what the walkthrough instructed. After some time of playing like this, I was attacked and died, and didnít bother to play forward. Shame, as there obviously was a lot more to the game.
The puzzles are inventive enough in themselves, but they were not sufficiently clued, and there were also many guess-the-verb issues, and I just didnít want to bother trying to read the authorís mind as to what the next move should be. 6
Like Just another Fairy Tale, this game takes on the classic style fantasy genre head on, albeit with a more adult focus. The writing is remarkably solid, which perhaps is not surprising, seeing as Return to Castle Coris is episode eight of a series. Here, the action takes place underground, further and further into the unknown. It actually reminded me a lot of certain games taking place underground that I played in the past, especially Ultima Underwold and Legend of Grimrock. Such were the feelings evoked by the writing. Unfortunately, however, I found this even harder than Just another Fairy Tale; not only are the verbs many and (to me) obscure, but it seems you also have to imagine nouns that are not described, and perform rather random actions that work in specific places while giving no informative response in others. Perhaps itís a learning curve, going through the episodes chronologically. At least I managed to die spectacularly a few times.
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