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Marika The Offering Reviews
Author: James Webb
Reviewed by Duncan Bowman
After mazes, the next tropes in interactive fiction to wear themselves out entirely were probably the “Escape the Room” [ETR] format and death. Seeing yet another ETR game is enough to make a seasoned IF player roll their eyes. They tend to be basically plotless, decontextualized setups for a puzzle rather than a good story. If you have to stuff something under a door to catch a key, it's probably enough to make a player quit. We've seen that game with that puzzle so many times and in so many incarnations that it was now beneath our notice, like spam. And the last thing we want to do is to die over and have to restart our attempts every time, especially on something so limited.
But Marika the Offering offers a fully contextualized, narratively complete game with an interesting story and a structure that subverts our basic aversion to death by turning the ETR format on its head. No longer is your goal to escape from a locked room (though a nice thought, the attempt would be futile). Your goal is to lock the room and keep a vampire from coming in.
Obvious means of entry and ways to bar them start the player out proactively, which is good because they're about to lose. When the player feels they have finally blocked off all they can they go to sleep (or else they'll run out of turns and fall asleep anyway). The player then get to watch how the villain enters the room to kill our heroine. In this way, each death is a clue in solving the overall puzzle of the game. Rather than an annoyance, the author has made death into a service to the player. Aside from presenting a challenge, the continued inventiveness of the (rather traditional) shapeshifting vampire at gaining entry into the tower room becomes a running gag that's amusing to read. Especially if you're a completionist, the flow of the game becomes more about blocking one entrance at a time and then dying, then blocking the next, rinse lather, repeat.
There are a couple of tricky commands to execute in this game where players might run into Guess the Verb troubles. It's also worth noting that the game is inventoryless, preferring to let players use things from where they lie rather than making them pick all of them up explicitly. This lets players focus on examining their surroundings and blocking exits rather than acquiring objects.
Overall, this is a rewarding, not overlong game with difficulty neatly balanced on a knife point, worthy of as many plays through as it has deaths. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by George Oliver
Evocative and well written, "Marika" weaves its
narrative into its one
room puzzle better than many games of its class. The eponymous
heroine, "purest and most beautiful" of the village's young women, is
locked away in a high tower as an offering to the vampyre that so far
has kept an uneasy peace. No heroine, no peace, but of course it's
your job to muck up that arrangement by keeping the vampyre out of
Marika's room for the night.
"Marika" is a fun and solid game with I think two structural and technical problems.
At any point in the game you have the option of reading the back story of events that led up to Marika's night in the tower, and I wish this weren't so. In the opening of the game things couldn't be more clear. You are placed within Marika's point-of-view with a marvellous first-person narrative voice. The tower room is old and musty, it feels
dangerous. You think to yourself you have little time to act to save your life. And there is a mirror! For anyone with even a passing familiarity with the vampire genre everything couldn't be more obvious, and without explicitly saying what is going on the game has
wonderfully set up its premise. However, the back story hobbles this set up by making what is mysterious and interactive instead plain and expository.
You might be saying to yourself that choosing to read the story is entirely optional, and technically that's true. But I think an IF game is kind of like a toy where you are apt to twist every knob and push every button. If the author chooses to structure their game where it is possible to read something or make some action, this is a deliberate artistic choice, and given the nature of the medium where the whole interface is exposed at the command line, there is no functional difference between say, examining the mirror and reading the back story. I think the game could have kept just the last few paragraphs of the back story and made that choice work, but a better choice would have been to eliminate the story entirely. Barring that, at the worst include it as a flashback at some key point in the game, or at the best integrate it into the narrative.
The second problem is in the puzzles. Unfortunately many of the puzzles in "Marika" rely on executing them in a specific order and with a narrow range of verbs. For example, you can 'lift' the flagstone but not 'pry' it. You must 'sit on chair', and not simply
'break chair' to accomplish the same thing. If you try to do the puzzles out of order, on a second play through for example, the game is not forgiving. Luckily this simply is a technical issue and with more polish many of these problems go away.
I'm looking forward to revgiblet's next game -- starting with the IFComp 2006 "The Sisters" and now with "Marika" his work gets better and better.
Reviewed by Emily Short
Since I enjoyed A Fine Day for Reaping but had problems with the parser, I was interested to try this game, in which the author says he deliberately set out to write a less ambitious piece with tighter parsing.
Does it work? Well — it’s not as headbangingly frustrating as AFDFR, in part because the scope of the game keeps there from being too many different options, and most of your activity is focused on the same few props. There’s less opportunity to get distracted by irrelevancies and red herrings. But I still ran into quite a few places where the ADRIFTiness of the parser let the game down a bit. For instance, LOCK DOOR WITH ROD produced the surprising
I grab the iron rod from the floor and charge at the door.
Screaming with rage I bring the rod round in an arc and into contact with the door with as much power as I can muster. There is a deafening clang and the rod is jarred from my hands and thrown across the room, just missing my head. I stumble back, hands shaking and ears ringing
That was plainly not what I wanted to do; perhaps the game was matching against [anything] DOOR WITH ROD, intending to catch all variations of hit, smash, break, destroy, etc. I admit that what I was trying to do was odd and a bit unintuitive, but the game did not cope with it gracefully.
And there were also just some missing synonyms or places where I was clearly trying to indicate an appropriate action but the game didn’t pick up on it: PRY FLAGSTONE or PRY FLAGSTONE WITH ROD for LIFT FLAGSTONE; PUT PARCHMENT IN FIREPLACE when I wanted to burn the parchment; etc.
I also felt that Marika didn’t play to Webb’s writing strengths: instead of the wry understatement and humorous imagery of AFDFR, he goes here for high-flown language and melodramatic emotional effects, and the results are sometimes not as compelling as one might hope.
Still, I enjoyed the game. Webb did achieve his goal to some degree: though some parsing problems did exist, they did not get in my way nearly as much as the ones in AFDFR did. The goal was straightforward and easily to understand; the puzzles mostly seemed fair; I sympathized with the protagonist and came to like the guard who was on her side. (I assume they get married and live happily ever after. It seems only fair. I was a little sad that there wasn’t a turn or two at the end in which I could express my gratitude myself — KISS ENRIC seemed like an obvious final move — but probably I am now just being a sap.)
Reviewed by Fra Enrico (Torino, Italy)
Although easy, beautiful history, written well and with the just number of enigmas sufficiently engaged to you is one. The style simple nevertheless variegato, adapted to the atmosphere very created and very cured. These are the things that me piacciono in an interactive story, and this is an optimal example of Interactive Fiction - even if perhaps can think the introduction little prolissa.
The enigmas are simple as ideazione, but sufficiently engaged to you. The indications sometimes render the life too much easy, therefore like some too much explicit indications. The game forces to proceed little for attempted to you, recommencing from every head time; in this way it loses longevity, because once understood the way to arrive to the end does not have more sense rigiocarlo.
Reviewed by Nitku
Contrary to almost all other one-room games, the goal is not to escape but to secure the room so that the bad guy doesn't get in. This is a refreshing new look at the genre and the game handles the setting quite well.
There's a time limit but it serves a purpose: every time when the time runs out and the room is not secure enough the game tells what part of the room you missed. This is infinitely better than getting a general "you died"-message without a clue how to improve the next time. It's not even annoying to die several times because each time you are making progress.
Some minor design and parser problems keep this from being a five-star game. Objects can be examined exactly once, then you get the generic "nothing special"-message. At least in one point the story suggests that an item is essential to solve the game (it is not) but recovering it is not possible and there's no indication later that it's not necessary.
Reviewed by MathBrush
This is an opposite game, where you defy conventions. In this game, you are in a room and don't want to get out; you do everything you can to barricade the room so that a vampire can't get in.
There's a huge textdump at the beginning, which is written pretty well.
The puzzles are great, but could be hinted at better. It didn't last long, but it was great while it did.
Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.
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