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The Wheels Must Turn Reviews
Author: Heal Butcher
Date: 2001

Reviewed by David Whyld (1)

Strange, unsettling, but pretty amazing I'm not sure how to start to review a game like this. Is it even a game - the storyline seems to move along whether you do anything or not and at times it seems more like you're reading a book than playing an interactive fiction game. 

That said, the writing was superb and the depth and substance truly amazing. I was halfway through before realising that you play the part of a hamster running around in a wheel (don't blame me - it's a weird idea!) 

Heal can certainly write with true power and if he applied his talents to a full size game it'd really be something to brag about. (That's a subtle hint by the way in case anyone missed it.) 

I'd recommend the game though I really can't say it would appeal to everyone. 

8 out of 10

Reviewed by David Whyld (2)

Welcome to the bizarre world of Heal Butcher. The Wheels Must Turn isn't the strangest text adventure I've ever played (that award would go to Heal's other game Silk Noil) but it's still a strange and unusual game to say the least; and also quite brilliant. Just what it's all about is perhaps destined to remain one of life's little mysteries. Quite clearly you pay the part of a hamster and you (seem) to be trying to escape from your monotonous lifestyle of forever running around in a hamster wheel in a cage. But nothing is as it seems in The Wheels Must Turn and logic often takes a serious back seat to the style of the game, which, it has to be said, is pretty damn amazing.

The standard of writing used here is very much larger than life: locations are excruciatingly detailed, often with sentences that run on and on; dialogue is strange and evocative yet always enthralling to read; there is a definite feeling that the writer went for a bizarre feel and succeeded admirably, although at times the writing seems too over the top and you find yourself - as with MileOut's Panic - yearning for something a little more straightforward to read.

The Wheels Must Turn is a strange game to play as well as to read. The game seems to move on pretty much on its own and whether you take an active part or not, you find yourself being swept along all the same. There is lots to see and do in the locations - no doubt to give the game a rounded feel - but you can simply sit and do nothing for most of the time and the game will progress anyway. This makes The Wheels Must Turn a very easy game to complete; indeed the entire thing can be done in less than ten or fifteen minutes. However, to get the most out of the game it's advisable to examine as many things as you can and ask questions of the characters you meet. None of these are really required to finish the game, but they add considerably to the depth and turn a very strange adventure into an enthralling one.

If the above gives the impression that this is, at heart, a rather silly game, the truth couldn't be much further away. The Wheels Must Turn may well be set in a hamster cage and you may well play the part of a hamster - Number 23 being your name - but this is a darker piece of work than the subject matter might at first indicate. Once you escape from your cage and the warehouse it is housed in and reach the rubble, you seem to have almost stepped into another game entirely. Visions of an apocalyptic future spring to mind, complete with the bizarrely named Devil of Operose who searches through the rubble (for what is never really specified). Then again, little in The Wheels Must Turnfollows the usual rules of adventure games; indeed at times it seems more like you're reading a book with occasional choices to make than playing a proper adventure game. As said above, the game tends to progress whether you take an active part in it or not. For the most part, you can just sit by and watch what happens without having to do anything for yourself.

This isn't a game that will appeal to everyone. In fact, I can well imagine that the sheer strangeness of The Wheels Must Turn will put most people off playing it. If so they're missing out on a treat. This is a game that should be cherished because it's original, thoughtful and a million miles away from what you normally get with text adventures. The only real fault I could find with it is its shortness: ten minutes after you start playing you've finished, and though the game has tremendous replay value there's only so much you can do in a game of this size before you've exhausted all available options. The same kind of attention to detail and inherent weirdness applied to a full scale adventure would really be something to watch out for.

Logic: 4 out of 10
Even after completing the game, I'm still pretty much at a loss to understand what it was all about. 

Problems: 10 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
No problems although a nice explanation at the end would have been much welcomed.

Story: 7 out of 10
It's hard to say just what this game is about and so difficult to rate it on a story basis. That said, the writing is illustrative enough to paint a dark 
picture of the world the game is set in and from this you can gather a feel for The Wheels Must Turn which pretty much makes a storyline academic.

Characters: 9 out of 10
A strange fellow called Master Awning (some kind of hamster himself?) and the aforementioned Devil of Operose. Each is nicely detailed and add considerably to the dark atmosphere of the game. 

Writing: 10 out of 10
At times enthralling, at times bizarre, always a joy to read. 

Game: 8 out of 10
The second strangest game I've ever played but also one of the best.

Overall: 48 out of 60

Reviewed by Duncan Bowsman

Densely overwritten, yes, but nobody could charge Heal Butcher with unoriginality-- characters, setting, and diction all are out of the ordinary and strongly support the story's mood of mystery, horror, and the uncontrollable. There is even a shade of absurdist humour amidst its toil and suffering. At the very least, the quasi-flabbergasting verbosity of "The Wheels Must Turn" offers a refreshing break from the fairly rote descriptions one sometimes finds in interactive fiction. On these strengths, it warrants a play or even just a gawk.

On the other hand, the interactive element feels pointless to the extent that I cannot offer it more than 3 stars. Aside from conversation subjects, second-level descriptions only offer repetitions of what has already been said, and the plot structure, short as it is, is strictly linear-on-rails. The winning action seems overtly symbolic, but since what exactly it represents in the world is never clear it just feels empty. Perhaps these detractions were due to competition restrictions (I haven't been able to find the constraints of the ADRIFT Spring Comp 2001 anywhere), but player action holds so little meaning in this text that I have to wonder if it could have been better presented as static fiction.

Strongly atmospheric, but left me scratching my head.

Reviewed by Hombre

Having played both this and Silk Noil, I can say that Heal is very skilled at description. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and after a while you just want to quit reading all the unnecessary pages of text. 

Unfortunately, the poetic dialogue is the only thing these games have going for them, and that just isn't enough to carry the game. I give this one trick pony a thumbs down. 

Reviewed by Wade Clarke
If certain scenes from the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy were more serious in their theology, and were also molested by Philip K Dick, Ray Bradbury and some poet, the result might be one of those awful what-if mixed metaphor things of the kind you have just read in this sentence. But the result might also be something like the short game called The Wheels Must Turn. 

The game opens with a quote about misery from a fatalistic tome called The Book of Servos, and the first location is 'Walking in the Hamster Wheel', the latter fact a sure sign that the player's lot is not going to be a splendid one. You do actually play a hamster in this game, albeit one with great sentience and the power to communicate. 

The setting is something like purgatory or machinery hell, where you and other hamster slaves manipulate wheels in a Big Brother like environment. You can't do much, nor does the voice of your consciousness urge you to do much. The clotted cream poetry of the game's prose could irk in a longer game, but to me, this is about the right duration of game to make such a delivery work. 

Wheel's strongest quality is that it will inevitably prompt thoughts along the line of 'What was that all about?' when it's over. It's not very long, and your interactions mostly move the happenings of the game forward, rather than making them turn in any directions. There is one puzzle (in a sense, it's almost overkill to call it a puzzle, but it is a moment where there's only one thing you can type to make the game conclude) and if you can't pull the answer out of your brain, the good news is that nothing is spoiled by pulling it out of the walk-through. 

On paper, the idea of this game wouldn't have appealed to me in that I like gamey games - gamey defined by me as being able to offer tons of different states, based on the number of moving parts. Wheels is a line from A to C with very few states, but the writing and the ideas are interesting, and it's short and idiosyncratic, so in playing it I demonstrated to myself again that you should keep on trying different things. It's a game probably best talked about with other people who have played it. It's difficult to describe more than I have without spoiling it or indeed dumping the game's contents. Ultimately I think it's a good sign that something this small can promote this much mind activity.


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