IFReviewed by Ron Newcomb on 2007-02-04 01:54
Emily Short's Bronze is a continuation of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. You, the Beauty, have ended your week-long visitation with your family, who still do not truly understand you. But upon returning to your home and castle, something is amiss. Such begins this interactive fiction, a kind of media entertainment still enduring growing pains.
Creative writers say that journeys are only dramatically interesting if something happens on the journey. Characters on a journey must have emotional conflicts or resolutions, or meet something or someone important, or not complete the journey for some reason, etc., to make the journey interesting enough to narrate. Otherwise the journey should be skipped with a single sentence or two. Though Bronze includes only 50 rooms or so, its simple inclusion of the GO TO command implements this bullet-point of creative writing. And thanks to the mini-explanation of how one travelled between locations, a compass rose, and some simple overlooks and coherent layout, Bronze still preserves its sense of place in spite of it. It allows one to skip the uninteresting minutae of navigating places the player has seen before -- and the character has lived in for years -- so we can all get to the good stuff: the puzzles, the story, the set-pieces of Bronze.
Like other IF that reveal personality through surroundings and flashbacks, the rooms of Bronze are each little set-pieces, woven into a whole, making the exploration of a small castle a journey in time as much as space. The touch of fairy tale adds that extra sense of wonder, never knowing if a rose really is just a rose. And the general lack of people moving about, countdown puzzles, or anything else that depends upon time creates a soothing, leisurely game great for beginners who like to stop and smell those roses.
There are, of course, puzzles to solve, but nothing terribly complicated or intricate, and some have multiple ways of stumbling upon the solution, or are optional by way of solving a different puzzle. The real pleasure of the optional puzzles is their emotional tone, that the player can quite literally feel what sort of thing solving a particular puzzle may gain him or her, and decide beforehand if it's even worth the bother. In this subtle way, the player falls toward a game ending that would most likely be emotionally satisfying.
If the difference between beginner and expert players of IF is the threshold for frustration, then Bronze is definately an interactive fiction for beginners. Moderate length, single-command travel sequences, puzzles which guide rather than hinder, and freedom from the technical difficulties of interactive dialogue, the only thing fractured about this fairy tale can be solved by brains and Beauty.