You could consider some of the following to be spoilery. I recommend you play this game before reading the review.
Basilica is a mid-length puzzle game. I played through and completed it in about an hour and a half. I had to consult the walkthru once.
Playing as Ilemauzer, demon of the Pit, you have absolutely promised your Auntie that you won’t try and rescue your Mom, who has been captured and imprisoned by the Nuns of the Basilica de Sangre. But of course you will. Armed only with the ability to possess humans, you sail to the island.
What follows is a puzzly parser game with an interesting and unusual core puzzle premise and some really good writing, but with a couple of implementation issues.
Possession of the NPC’s is the central mechanism for interacting with this world. And it’s implemented very well.
It’s the…er….attributes… of the NPC’s you can possess that lead to some of the puzzle solutions. As different people, you can do different things – and your relationship with other characters changes depending on who you are. In addition, talking to the various characters is very well done. I get different responses when I am possessing different people – and the responses deserve close attention – you do need to talk to people in this game. One of the really clever little touches is how the player’s visualization of the game changes when possessing a blind nun.
I did need to keep notes. Basically, when you leave a character – for the most part, they stay where they are, but without my notes, I would have forgotten where everyone was. However, given that the map is reasonably small, it’s not too onerous.
However, while the central mechanism of the game, the possession of the various NPC’s is really well implemented and forms an impressive puzzle system, I did feel it missed an opportunity. It would have been really nice, would have really elevated this game, to have the world viewed differently as you look at it through the eyes of the different characters. Maybe some variation in the room description, further reactions from other NPC’s, further reactions from the possessed person to being possessed (and released). But then again, this must have been a complicated game to make, and I understand that time is not the author’s friend!
Under implementation. I do feel a little bit like a broken record on this. I hate to point it out, but Basilica does feel like it could do with a little more time lavished on providing a further level of implementation.
One of the things that parser games allows us to do, as authors, is really flesh out this World we’re creating. All nouns in the text (especially the room description) need to be examinable, and have responses for alternate actions. In Inform there’s this useful construct “Instead of doing something other than examining with.” – I’m sure there’s an equivalent in Quest.
I had to go to the walkthru once. It wasn’t that I was stuck – I know exactly what I needed to do and with whom, but I couldn’t find the right phrasing. “…a large crack bisects the slab blocking the entryway to the crypt, deeply enough that a strong enough human could probably pull it down.” but none of ‘pull slab’ ‘pull down slab’ and countless variations would do it. In the end, from the walkthru, it was ‘punch slab’. Maybe I should have got this, but guess the verb is my least favorite puzzle mechanism. You’ve cued me ‘…could pull it down…’ Not following thru with an action that relates to the text is a thing.
I’m in the same pickle right at the end. ‘enter boat’ ‘get in boat’ ‘sail boat’ ‘row boat’ ‘untie boat’ ‘leave island’ – none of them work. I’m stuck for ages till I hit on the right command. It turns out to be ‘use boat’.
I don’t want the author to think I’m picking on this game – I very much enjoyed Basilica – I liked the basic premise, the writing was consistently excellent, I thought the puzzles were fair and clever. It was interesting and fun, and, ultimately, that’s what matters – but just adding those little touches, making me feel like this world is totally fleshed out and avoiding player frustration of guessing a command, would have made me love it. 8.5/10 (I’m on the cusp of a 9)