Continuing the series of bookposts with... not books.
Bonus Level: Yoon Ha Lee - Winterstrike
Wait, what? Card-based interactive fiction is a thing? Okay.
This was really weird! I like Lee's short fiction, so I gave this a shot. It was intriguing, and taught me that I probably don’t need to play Fallen London (whose engine it uses). I had major issues with it, but respected it as a work of art and enjoyed the setting a lot.
The main issue I had with it is, like, to hell with micropayments linked to in-game currency. They impede my enjoyment of game art, full stop. I would much rather pay an up-front fee and feel free to role-play and explore without taking external considerations into account. Does Maig the exiled university student give a shit how much "Nex" Nick has in his account? She sure does now! And that sucks. (I ultimately spent $7.50 on the game, which is absolutely peanuts in the scheme of things, but I was raised to be
cheap thrifty, that hindbrain training doesn't go away easy, and the game kept hitting that training with its blizzard of paid story branches. I'd have preferred to play the first phase or two and then pony up $10 to finish and explore.) When I run into these schemes and it's not a game tied to some auteur I have a pre-existing fascination with, I always and always bail out immediately. They are toxic to fun.
The other main problem was that the game was just really opaque, and it was not at all clear what I had to do to see new things. And if you don't do the right things, you will just grind the same cards forever and make no progress. I eventually got the hang of it, but at the start I was trying to role-play, and the personality I'd chosen for Maig was very much not a Yoon Ha Lee character. So there are four factions you're asked to choose between, and various actions increase your affinity for them, and you have to get high affinity for ONE to get past the first big wall in the game, and the sum of the actions that were in character for Maig ended up canceling themselves out, affinity-wise. It was kind of funny, once I understood what was going on.
If you DO play the game correctly, with a personality that's more harmonious to the setting, there's some interesting stuff in here, especially the tension of wanting to be nice to the ironbird vs. slowly figuring out what was going on with it (which, proving that I did it wrong, I managed to barely even touch any of that in Maig's playthrough; she kind of stumbled into the de-fused ironbird ending without really grasping the magnitude of what was happening. But after her I played a disintegrating Ocular Guard character where I broke hard toward the ironbird, and it was pretty hair-raising). And like I said above, the city of Iria is just an awesome setting when you let yourself sink into it.
Overall I don't know what I'm recommending you do with this. If I could, I'd suggest experiencing the setting and the story possibilities without having to wrestle with the gameplay, but it was pretty rewarding and I found it worth playing despite the frustrations.
Bonus Level: Cardboard Computer - Kentucky Route Zero, act 1
I enjoyed this a LOT, and recommend it highly.
It's not a very game-y game. You're mostly exploring environments; there aren't any puzzles per se, and your only real choices consist of inconsequential (so far) dialog trees. It's still riveting, and the dialog trees have given me some really strong opinions about "my" Conway. (Hint: back up your save file, because there's only one. I did another playthrough to see more of the dialog options, and had to then re-do my first playthrough because he wasn't "my" Conway anymore.)
If you're wondering if you'll enjoy this, grab the vaguely-related Limits and Demonstrations. If you're bored by it, KRZ might not be for you; if you're intrigued and frustrated, then go for it.
(Also, turn off your lamp when you're driving the minecart, especially as you're approaching the mine's exit. This works best when someone is watching over your shoulder.)