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6 Stars IFReview Rating Bolivia By Night

IFReviewed by Emily Short on 2006-08-01 05:00 

Game Profile

Author
Aidan Doyle

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Tads2

Release Year
2005

IFR Overall Rating
5 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
Played to completion?: Yes

This is nutty but works far, far better than it has any right to do. With a few minor exceptions, I almost always knew where to go and what to do, and had a general idea of how to solve the puzzles that were in front of me -- thanks to careful game design. The map and plot are laid out in such a way that it's hard to reach a puzzle without already having seen all the components necessary to solve it. I was rarely stuck or bored. A few solutions of the late game puzzles veered from merely unlikely into mind-bogglingly implausible, but they were hinted fairly extensively; there were only one or two things that I got hung up on.

The setting was also strong; the credits indicate (if we couldn't have guessed from the photos) that the author visited in person, and there's evidence of that first-person experience throughout.

I very much enjoyed the photographs. They set the atmosphere and grounded the game in reality. In general I think this is a great example of the sane way to incorporate graphics in IF. Illustrating every location is hugely difficult, and if you try to depict all the environment changes that the player can accomplish, you start to lose one advantage of having a parser and text game in the first place -- namely, relatively inexpensive interactivity. Instead, in "Bolivia" we have illustrations that show up at important plot junctures and scene changes (as a reward for accomplishment, sometimes) and show the setting, but don't even pretend to be pictures of what is going on at the moment. [One mildly spoilery example of how the author used the photos well: if the picture of the Zebra had appeared before the Zebra character showed up in-game, I wouldn't have understood what it was, other than Something Really Wacky. Having the photo show up after the Zebra puzzle made me laugh, though -- it was like a visual punchline to this joke. "Here, you've been imagining something silly? It's even funnier than you thought."]

Finally, in my experience choosing the protagonist's gender in IF rarely does anything interesting, so I was intrigued to see that playing a female character made for some funny (or mildly disturbing) twists on the NPC interactions. The game manages to walk a fine line -- the narrative voice is never snarky or harassing about my gender, but some of the characters are, a little, and the result is a reasonably successful depiction of being a foreign woman in a culture of machismo.

If there's a drawback, it's the tonal inconsistency. It's a little strange to have these light, goofy forms of enchantment operating alongside serious social issues. But somehow I think it mostly worked, even so -- this would have been a much more depressing and less enjoyable game without its leavening of humor, magic, and cartoon violence. Meanwhile, the Bolivian history lessons were interwoven in the game in a way that didn't make them too overwhelming.

"Bolivia By Night" wasn't quite cohesive enough to become a favorite of mine, but it has a lot going for it, is fun to play, and introduces a setting I've never seen before in IF. My initially dubious reaction to the talking Che t-shirt wore off surprisingly fast.

Bolivia By Night Awards

    2nd place on the 2005 Spring Thing.

Emily Short Profile

IFReviewer Rating
10 Stars IFReviewer Overall Rating

Name Emily Short
Gender Female

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