The setting of this game is a little clichéd: the sorcerer’s apprentice. I think the last game I played like this category was Berrost’s Challenge in the 2008 IF Comp. These are the games where the novice protagonist is left with (or has stolen, found, inherited, etc.) some of the master’s spells and they need to prove themselves in some way to move up a wizardly rank. Given this year’s theme of underground, the twist on this story is that the PC’s master, Syrion, had his lab underground. Theme satisfied.
The spells are a mixture of extremely specific spells (a spell for opening an unopenable bottle) and general (spells for seeing more detail in things, and for making complex things simpler). As you might imagine, the bottle-opening spell portends the appearance of an unopenable bottle in the course of the game.
The king of the spells is one that gives you more detail about items. Effectively, it is a super-examine verb, and means that some items have not just a description but a meta-description. A key turning point in the game is when the player realizes that the spell can be applied not just to visible objects, but items appearing in the details of objects. This allows the player to drill down, for instance, into the contents of a painting. This literally adds depth to descriptions, and I suppose is even metaphorically consistent with the underground theme because you can dig down.
It is not a huge game: there are essentially four rooms, three underground, and once accessible by teleporting above ground. The level of detail is inconsistent. Not every item that appears in descriptions is covered by dictionary words and descriptions, but there are no gaps in the major items. The puzzles are reasonable and do allow you to exercise all of the spells. A couple of the spells are not actually helpful, but are entertaining. I did look at the hints at one point, and they are well-written and helpful. The only down side to the hints is that you can’t exit them without revealing all of them. The best you can do is look off into the distance while hitting the space bar repeatedly.
The game has a good voice, and it is interlaced with some humor, particularly in Syrion’s descriptions of his spells, which suggests that he did not particularly like his in-laws. The goal of the game is to get out of Syrion’s lair, and when you finally do so, it feels a little like the ending fizzles. You walk out the door, and there are your friends. But the game isn’t over. What more does it want? They just stand there. Finally, you have to talk to them to trigger the ending, et voilà.
This wasn’t a stellar game in terms of theme, and I would prefer a deeper implementation, but it was fun to play and fair. Given the rubric for rating these games, I’d give it a seven or eight. Four for playability, one and half to two for writing, and again one and a half for technical implementation. If I were rating it against the IF Comp 2009 games, I would have given it a seven.
[Note added after the competition: This work placed second in the competition, and was contributed by Benjamin Roux, aka Yoruk on the forum]