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The Warlord, The Princess & the Bulldog Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2006
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by Mara Maijers

Warlord is basically a military superhero epic, and sequel to Whyld's A Spot Of Bother, which I purposely avoided. Incidentally, this is the first Whyld game I didn't >QUIT after more than a dozen moves, if only to sadomasochistically persevere and judge the entire game for Spring Thing. 

Despite being of the notorious ADRIFT strain, Whyld pulls off a technically competent game here. Warlord is quite jocular and unpredictable in tone, but generally holds its color and never degenerates into a maniacal off-the-mark circus act. 

The game doesn't offer the most sumptuous prose in the world, but The Bulldog's deadpan dryness makes up for it—I guess. None of the characters transcend the usual comical caricatures *yawns* and the setting has no particularly redeeming qualities of its own. In the end I just don't care much for puzzle-infested games with very little in the way of plot or character development. 

Most puzzle solutions weren't very obvious to my feeble mind, but I managed to pull thru. Most puzzles can be solved in more than one way, which is nice, I suppose. Unfortunately this somehow doesn't jive too well with the >HINT mechanism. A few hints went off on tangents and ultimately confused me as to any particular solution; this gem in particular: 

[…] Of course, if you happen to have come across the [trapdoor] key you could just save yourself a lot of hassle and use that instead. 

[…] Except there's no key in the game for this trapdoor, but don't let that stop you from looking for one. 

The hints were generally useful, though. 

After finishing with a mere 41/100 points, I had the feeling I'd left lots unexplored (duh). I'd originally planned to play from scratch and attain a perfect score, but as the game stretched on and on I lost my nerve and curled up in fetus position and started munching on a milky chocolate bar. I never quite figured out that stove… 

Rating: 3. 


Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

Ernh, I dunno. I'm not really a fan of Whyld's style of humor so when I'm grumpy about The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog I'm not sure how reliable my thoughts are. But it felt like the game was pretty disorganized and sloppily put together — there were a lot of areas where I had syntax issues, I noticed a couple cosmetic bugs, and I really never had any idea what I was supposed to be doing (beyond the general mission given at the start). Whyld says in the author notes that the previous game in the series (which I didn't play) was pretty popular, so I guess I'm just not in the target audience for this one. Oh well.


Reviewed by Mike Snyder

It's not the next chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia (and if no other reviewer makes the same joke, I'll be surprised). David Whyld's Spring Thing 2006 entry, written in Adrift, reprises the exploits of mercenary bad-ass Stavros "The Bulldog" McGrogan in a sequel to his earlier A Spot of Bother. It's up to The Bulldog to sneak, fight, grunt, and puzzle-solve his way to victory against the evil Warlord, Baron Grishtak. 

At times, this is a contradiction. From the start, the goal is clear. I don't mean the goal of the story (which is also clear), but the goal of the game itself. Finish the three primary objectives with full health for a score boost, and pick up more points for solving puzzles rather than pushing past them with brute force. This opens the game to a variety of play styles, but that "best score" objective is the carrot dangling just beyond reach. The Bulldog loses life points when he fights, and without a clear idea of how to gain them back (let alone how many can *be* regained), my inclination was to avoid fights and slink about the castle solving puzzles, preserving every point of health possible. So much for being a bad-ass. 

Even though I enjoyed the game using this strategy, I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been aiming for a perfect game. In the end, it didn't matter. I didn't complete one of the three objectives, and I won with a score of only 80 and health of 90. The ending - and the death ending too, when I purposely let The Bulldog get pounced by The Tiger - was still satisfying. 

Things take a bit longer when you play for points. Instead of beating up the bad guys, I lured them into traps, tricked them into leaving, or simply avoided them entirely. When I stumbled into traps or lost health in unexpected ways, I opted to "undo" or "load" a prior save, so I could try another approach. This made the game tougher. To get it all right the first time, I would have needed to read the author's mind. The interesting thing is that this was just another way of playing the game. With a different objective - let The Bulldog fight enemies and bully his way past the tough parts - it doesn't require psychic powers. It's a fair system which rewards do-overs without making do-overs essential to win. 

I've mentioned "health points" several times. If you have visions of RPG stats and random dice-rolls - especially if you don't *like* those things - take heart. That's not how WPB works. Think of it as the antithesis of a scoring system. When you earn "score" points, it's for completing a task, reaching a milestone, or hitting some score-worthy trigger. These are things built into the game, and the points are set. If you play much IF, you've probably seen this in action. WPB has this *in addition to* its health point system. Points come off by making mistakes, or in other predetermined ways that involve alternate puzzle solutions. Sometimes, these mistakes (especially in facing enemies) can be repeated, but on the whole it's more like a credit system. The Bulldog is extended so many of these "mistake" points, and he spends them as necessary. 

The beauty is that making these mistakes usually gets The Bulldog past puzzles. For instance, there are several ways to pass the landmines near the beginning of the game. One way in particular saves The Bulldog from damage entirely. Other ways leave him only slightly scathed (or perhaps unharmed, but with the loss of something that might be the key to avoiding damage later). Of course, stepping into it (with persistence) solves the puzzle too, at the expense of a chunk of health. 

It's designed to be winnable, no matter how low your health becomes. The more damage The Bulldog takes, though, the fewer risks he can endure. Suppose this drops to a single remaining point. The game remains winnable, but every additional obstacle must be overcome with brains instead of brawn. This can become *very* difficult. Health can be recovered, but I never was quite sure how much. If I recall, I healed about 30. The Bulldog has suffered some prior to the start of the game, beginning with 63 health. Health of 100 is considered "full". It may be possible to recover more than 37, making it possible to take damage and still finish with full health. I never figured out the max. It's just as possible that every method in the game adds up only to a total of 37, meaning a perfect win requires a totally unharmed Bulldog. Maybe a better player than I - or Whyld himself - will say for sure. 

Really, it's a clever design. I can't think of a single puzzle that didn't have two or more solutions. The easier the solution, the fewer the points (and often, the more damage The Bulldog would take). Because my goal had me going after the toughest of each solution, I hit the built-in help often. After only a short ways into the game, I was requesting every hint available in every room. In a way, this became just another tool, like "undo". Instead of cheating, it seemed more like a part of the game. Some hints even felt more like puzzles to solve. Even *with* hints, it was often difficult to work out the best (most rewarding point-wise) solutions. Without them, though, I never would have. 

This all makes it difficult to say just how tough The Warlord, The Princess, and The Bulldog is. I solved many of the puzzles with easier solutions at first, costing The Bulldog only a few points of health. I would have finished faster - and possibly without so much reliance on hints - if I had just pressed forward from those points. I suppose it ranges from "challenging but not overly difficult" to "one step down from impossible", depending on what approach you take. Mine was more on the side of the latter. 

Whyld has done an excellent job of anticipating much of what players may try. The implementation level alone is amazing. Very little encountered in the game lacks first, second, even third-level implementation. If you look at scenery that has parts, you can look at those parts. You can often *interact* with those parts. If those parts have parts, they're probably implemented too. It pays to really inspect what's around. Even though much of it is optional, enough digging can bring up the keys to alternate puzzle solutions. 

The prose in WPB is dotted with amusing passages. Generally, Whyld isn't trying for real comedy - and if so, it probably wouldn't have worked here anyway. It's more the "ah ha, that was funny" kind of subdued but cliched humor you'd expect from a story in which the hero only grunts yet everybody understands what he means. When Baron Grishtak writes a letter to his ace henchman - subsequently obtained by The Bulldog - he admits that he "foolishly jotted down the access code to the master computer on the bottom of it." He goes on to encourage his henchman to destroy the letter after reading it, for that very reason. 

As to the presentation, the author held nothing back. My first fifteen minutes were spent just reading the introductory material - details about the game, additional commands, the intro, etc. The game font size can be adjusted via the command prompt. Screen-clearing at each room change can be turned on or off (personally, I liked it on - it was easier to quickly scroll up and re- read room descriptions that way). Around four different fonts were used - one for room headers, one for the room description, the default font for most game messages, and a script-style font for letters and notes. It may sound like a hodgepodge, but it works well (if you're using the Adrift runner and your Windows-based computer has those fonts) and it set WPB apart from other games in terms of style. 

To now, it may seem as though I have no complaints about The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog. A big game, though, has more room for things to go wrong. None of these problems (in my play-through, anyway), were game-killing, but they ranged from mildly annoying to completely preventing (or, at times, *allowing*) certain solutions. My transcripts note quite a few typos - not surprising in a game of this size and complexity, but still minor dents in the proverbial finish. Weirder quirks included things like the non-working pendant (it worked once, but after a subsequent "undo" or "restore", shaking it didn't work even though it still had 3 charges); being able to enter the guards' training courtyard in a "they're gone" state, even though they shouldn't have been; a reference to a voodoo doll in the hints, which doesn't seem to be in the game (Adrift will usually respond to objects it knows, even in other places, and it didn't know that one); being able to break the panel in the sleeping quarters repeatedly; I didn't realize it at the time, but the "code to the master computer" is too long to work in either of the computers found later in the game; some available exits were unmarked on the map; some exits described in the text didn't work in the game; you can't "undo" to before a hint screen; I couldn't get "exit" to work (even though it was supposed to), when trying one of the codes; A seven-letter password scattered throughout the castle appears to have two fifth letters; it's possible to set the watch before winning, so that it goes off during the final scene; a few other miscellaneous quirks. 

As the game progressed, these things either became more common or more noticeable. Maybe it was the cumulative effect, but my faith in the game's internal consistency was shaken. If I felt at all guilty about reliance on hints, the feeling passed when I thought that maybe the game was broken just enough to *prevent* the solutions I needed for a perfect win. This may not be true. From my experience, the bugs that persist after beta testing are usually the bugs in sections that *aren't* vital - else they would have been worked out already. Nonetheless, it's a reminder: the better the polish, the higher the faith. 

Most of the design works great. The health point system contributes to alternate puzzle solutions, and alternate puzzle solutions are abundant. The hints, although cryptic at times, are helpful. Even so, a few specific parts left me cold. One very early puzzle (the one that avoids a loss of health - an easier but damaging alternate does exist) requires waiting a few turns after taking action. I was impressed that the game allowed the particular action, but I thought I had messed up - so I did an "undo". Speaking of "undo", you can unwittingly make a move that disables it, in what I can only describe as a prank perpetrated by the author. It's by no means a necessary (or even an obvious) move, but some players will try it. I found no way to re-enable it, aside from reverting to a prior save (or starting over). One obstacle requires that you lose everything in inventory. The hints describe a way to keep most of it, but it requires repeating an action (and it's even possible to undo a failure, repeat, and succeed the second or third time). 

As a Spring Thing entry, WPB is fittingly sized. My play-through - taking most puzzles the hard way and relying heavily on the built-in hints - was eight and a half hours. Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the time I spent with The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog. An incredible amount of effort was put into this game, and it really shows. A post-competition release could address the remaining problems, making it even more recommendable. 

My Spring Thing score: "9" 


Reviewed by Lumin (Reviews Exchange 9)

I've never been a big fan of puzzle-heavy games, both because I find myself more drawn in when the 'F' part of IF is the most prominent, and because I'm just no good at solving the things unless I've got a walkthrough handy. But David Whyld's The Warlord, the Princess, and the Bulldog is, simply put, the best Adrift game I've ever played. It's also one some the best IF I've ever played, taking a place in my mental 'Top Five' list that until now has never been graced by a single pure puzzler. Poor David may well have shot himself in the foot with this one, because any of his future games are inevitably going to be compared to it.

While technically the sequel to A Spot of Bother, a game I had played previously and had been rather underwhelmed by, WPB can (and probably should) be enjoyed with no knowledge of the original, and when you start it up it's evident almost from the very first room that it's lightyears ahead of its predecessor.

In fact, David's done so many things right with this one that I hardly know where to start. The game was an entry in the Spring Thing and thus is quite a bit larger than average, but despite the size the writing is solid throughout, and except in a few minor cases mercifully bug and typo free. I can't even imagine the work that went into testing this one, let alone writing it in the first place. 

To begin with, let's talk about aesthetics. The game just looks GOOD. In fact I never realized how blah the default look of Adrift was until I played this one and saw how much of an effect taking a little care with the fonts and presentation could have. There are also little touches like clearing the screen for every new room, an oldschool convention I've never really cared for, that somehow work here and add to the overall impression of professionalism.

But okay, I know, real IF aficionados couldn't care less about APPEARANCE; it's all about the gameplay, right? Well, I'm happy to say that WPB delivers in that area, too.

You play the part of Stavros 'the Bulldog' McGrogan, in the author's words "the hardest man the SAS ever produced" though it soon becomes clear that that's a hell of an understatement. The main character rarely has much of a personality in the more puzzle focused games, usually serving as a mere cipher, but that's definitely not the case here. The Bulldog alone contributes a hefty chunk of entertainment value to an already entertaining game, and despite the brilliance of most of the puzzles it just wouldn't be the same without him.

Oh, and there are lots and lots of those puzzles, but thankfully they really ARE brilliant, that rare mix of challenging but fun. Two of the things I dislike about puzzles in general is how just for the sake of having puzzles, they're often crammed in where they don't belong and stick out like a sore thumb, and how they can ruin your enjoyment of an otherwise great game by forcing you to bang your head against a brick wall for hours and hours, making not one iota of progress.

WPB circumvents both of those problems. First of all, the plot is a simple one, mostly involving infiltrating a fortress, and all of the puzzles feel like a natural part of infiltrating that fortress. Some are fairly straightforward, some are more complicated, and ALL of them are fun. I never once felt like Action A was just a tedious and unrelated chore to get to Room B.

Secondly, David made some unique design decisions that keeps players from running into the other problem I mentioned. It really does seem like it would be difficult to get stuck, even for 'solution-challenged' people like myself, as just about every major puzzle has an alternate solution, sometimes several, and you don't even need to solve every one of them, as there is plenty of bonus material and multiple paths to the end. (Though only the more difficult one may lead to the the optimal ending, I still managed to accomplish two out of three of the main goals my first time through, and only needed to consult the hints twice.) 

Then, of course, there's the fact that many of the 'alternate solutions' might be as simple as bashing your way on through the opposition. The Bulldog starts off with a certain number of 'life points', which I know isn't a term generally associated with IF, but it works so well here I wonder why more games don't use it. Every time you take the easy way out and solve a puzzle with brawn instead of brains, there are painful (and usually amusing) consequences for the Bulldog, which eat up a number of life points. All life points gone = game over, but by making good use of the Undo command (which can be accidentally disabled in the most hilariously cruel way ever, though it's through a command I always try in the first room, so no big loss there...) I never even came close to dying until the final confrontation at the end. 

Compared to the rest of the game the epilogue seemed slightly weak, or at least disjointed, but it's not really an issue, and the only reason I mention it is so that I can have SOMETHING in this review that qualifies as criticism. Needless to say, I am eagerly awaiting the sequel.


Reviewed by MathBrush

This game by David Whyld has 52 rooms, 5 npcs, and a ton of puzzles. These puzzles were hard and confusing to me, except for one thing: you can skip most of them. You are assigned a etc number of hit points, and each time you reach an enemy guard or a cliff, you can just rush through and get hurt, or be clever.

Even the real solutions usually have multiple options. However, I ended up being frustrated a lot. One thing to know is that if you know a password, you just type the pazsword, not SAY or anything like that.

You are a commando type guy rescuing a princess from a Nazi-style fortress. There are some intriguing locations.

Overall, this is off the beaten path of IF, but I didn't regret playing.


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