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Tangled Tale, A - Review

Review by pippa


Last edited:

I'll tell thee everything I can: There's little to relate...

Despite being a Quill'ed game, A Tangled Tale is not a traditional adventure. (Opinions may vary if it's an adventure at all.) It's a series of riddles and number puzzles with a few nods towards the adventure framework. The title is taken from a series of puzzles that Lewis Carroll wrote for The Monthly Packet magazine in the 1880s, and many of Carroll's more famous characters appear in the games, as well as many quotes from his work.

The first noticeable difference from a normal adventure is the navigation system. The only directions allowed are Left/Right/Up/Down. However, Left and Right don't mean "turn" in that direction. Instead they're fixed directions, like North/South or East/West in a traditional game. The playing area is circular, so if you go far enough Left, you end up coming back from the Right.

Many of the locations feature characters such as the Mad Hatter, Humpty Dumpty and the Caterpillar, all represented by colourful UDG art. ("You could make a joke about," whispers a little voice in my ear. "Something about graphic characters and graphics of characters.")

Anyway, much of the game involves talking to these characters, once you've worked out how to do it. What the game's instructions don't tell you is that any command beginning with HOW, WHAT, WHICH, etc. is taken as a question to the character. Ask the right questions, and the replies might contain (often cryptic) clues towards a keyword, which you can type to be briefly transported to a new area.

Here an anonymous figure asks you two riddles or number puzzles. For each one you answer, a knot will untie itself in a piece of string that you're carrying. Answer them both and you're transported back to the main playing area, to get a new keyword from another character, and so on. The aim is to remove all the knots from the string so that it can be used to rescue Alice, in one of the game's few traditional adventure puzzles.

Parser/Vocabulary (Rating: 5/10)

It has a clever and unusual attempt at a conversation engine on the Quill, ahead of its time in many ways. But there's nothing in the instructions to let the player know it exists, making the game unplayable. The non-conversation vocabulary is very limited, and seems to follow Humpty Dumpty's famous opinion of words.

Atmosphere (Rating: 6/10)

Surprisingly good. I love the character pictures (the White Knight is my favourite) and there are plenty of quotations from Carroll throughout the game.

Cruelty (Rating: Polite)

I don't think it's possible to put the game in an unwinnable state without doing something really stupid. And there is plenty of warning before the Jabberwock attacks and kills you.

Puzzles (Rating: 4/10)

Only two real adventure puzzles. And one of those, the Jabberwock, is a red herring (as the game openly admits.)

This means the game stands or falls by its riddles and number puzzles. And here we have a big problem. In the redesigned font, the digits become backwards characters for a couple of mirror writing puzzles. So we have to solve the number puzzles without actually being able to read the numbers on screen! Not a good idea.

Overall (Rating: 4/10)

As a big Lewis Carroll fan, I really wanted to like this game. It has a clever idea behind it, and is the sort of thing that can work well nowadays if done in Inform or TADS.

But the author, D. Watson, was striking out into new territory for adventures and struggling against the limitations of the Quill system, a bit like Carroll's White Knight, boasting "It's my own invention!" while falling off his horse. The end result is worth a look for curiosity value, but a bit too tangled for its own good.