En Garde

cover (37)

Ho! An Infocom pun. I like that. I also like the game A Mind Forever Voyaging, despite its faults. At least it was trying something new. As does En Garde. But there the similarity ends.

The second game by Jack Welch, the second time the Inform+Vorple = something a bit different. The immediate impact on the player is that commands are accessed through use of buttons along the side. It’s very clever, the way these are revealed, but more on that anon. I very much like Welch’s games – if you haven’t played Pogoman Go! or Rover’s Day out (which won the 2009 IFComp) you really should.

This game has the same deft, humorous, lightness of touch in the prose. It’s funny and very nicely implemented. I didn’t find any issues.

When the game opens, we are in a bluish room and can’t remember anything. This situation, tropey though it sounds, is resolved quickly and turns into something new and fresh.

Spoilers, maybe.

It turns out we are a zombie. We don’t know this at first, of course, but it’s quickly revealed once we discover our appetite for brains. It seems that we are in a laboratory of some sorts – the remainder of this light puzzler is spent in resolving the quests we get along the way. Specifically, how do I get out of here, can I be cured, and others.

So far so, yeah, that’s sounds like it might be a little bit of fun. However, where this game gets really interesting is in two areas – two things I haven’t seen before.

Firstly, as I mentioned previously, the buttons on the left act as our commands. Despite this being ostensibly a ‘parser’ game, it plays as a choice game, with the results of our choices appearing in the standard way, as if we’ve typed them. That’s pretty cool, but what is really cool is the way that these commands are slowly released. The start of the game presents us with a single command – east. Then, as we begin to eat brains, and develop more than just a basic zombie intelligence, further commands are given. At first the buttons are color coded – I doubt zombies can read.

That, on it’s own would be a cool thing, but the second innovation of this game is that our zombie brain takes on the combined personalities of the people and animals whose brains we eat. At first it’s just a mouse, but later on in the game, we have up to five individuals rattling around in there. Including the protagonist – sort of. At least a bit of him.

Where the game shines is the conversation that is constantly happening between all these individuals. It serves as a commentary on the action, a way to give direction to the player, and a way to hold interest in a relatively bare environment. No lush scenery, this. It’s also consistently amusing.

Much kudos to the author for these innovations.

I found the puzzles to be relatively easy and the whole thing flows along linearly. I didn’t need the walkthrough. If I was being picky, I’d say that there could have been more the author could have done with this – the game was over too quickly. There’s not much to do or see outside the narrative and puzzle solving. 9/10.


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