IFReviewed by David Whyld
on 2006-10-30 02:52
A Crimson Spring was entered in the IFComp 2000 where it came 23rd out of 53 entries, hardly an impressive showing for what is otherwise a reasonably decent superhero caper. I'm guessing the adult tone put some people off, or maybe the judges of the IFComp in 2000 just weren’t fond of the superhero genre.
You're the star of the piece, the superhero known as Holy Defender, boyfriend of Red Cloud who, as the game begins, has been brutally murdered by persons unknown. Being a superhero, you're not the type to sit back and let the police catch her killers, so off you go to find them.
A Crimson Spring is a very linear game. Normally I'm not too fond of linear games as I don’t like being forced along a set path and not being able to choose where I go and what I do, but here the linearity is handled much better than usual. I was a good halfway through the game before I realised how linear it was; a positive thing. Most of the actions I took seemed perfectly reasonable at the time so there was seldom a feeling that I was being forced to do things and didn’t have the freedom to take other actions if I decided to, and even when I became aware that that was precisely the case, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the game. Saying that, I would have preferred a bit more freedom to roam around and pick and choose what I could do. After a particularly large fight in a nightclub with several supervillains, I was quite looking forward to being able to track them down and finish them off once and for all. Unfortunately, the game had other ideas and most of them I never laid eyes on again. A pity really, as the ones who never put in another appearance were the more interesting ones.
The game comes with sound and graphics. The sound I can’t speak of because I always play IF games with the volume off (sorry, it’s just plain distracting), the graphics were okay-ish in a comic book drawing kind of way. The drawings of the locations were quite cool, but the drawings of the superheroes and supervillains left a lot to be desired and often looked to be the kind of thing I might have drawn myself back in my nursery school days. Still, they weren’t that bad and at least gave me something to look at. They also, despite their amateurish appearance, gave the game a more professional feeling. Don’t ask me why amateurish drawings should make a game seem more professional, but they do.
As for the main character, the Holy Avenger, the main problem I had with him is that for a superhero he’s not very super. Or super at all. His co-superheroes have amazing powers that let them fly, make themselves invulnerable to harm and the like. The supervillains likewise have powers that set them aside from the average guy in the street [Some of the powers are kind of unusual and not really superhero/supervillain powers as such (the AIDS Archer just has a bow and some special arrows) but at least they're a bit better than what our main character gets.] What does our hero, the main character of the piece, have?
A steel pipe.
Yep, that’s it. He can’t fly, he can’t leap over tall buildings with a single bound, he doesn’t have x-ray vision and cool webs don’t shoot from his wrists at will. He doesn’t even have any cool gadgets like Batman. He is, basically, just a guy in a silly outfit who carries around a steel pipe and hits people with it. Not very super at all. In fact, the Holy Avenger doesn’t really act like a superhero for most of the time. Early in the game, I had to get access to a nightclub where several supervillains were hanging out. Despite trying several different ways, the only thing I could thing to do that worked was to beat the bouncer on the door unconscious (thus making use of the steel pipe which, after all, isn't entirely useless). I'm sure Captain America never acted like this.
At times, the game seems to go into auto-pilot mode with huge swathes of text scrolling past while the player takes no action. When trying to get into the apartment of one of the supervillains, I got captured. There followed a lengthy sequence of events with the supervillains debating what they were going to do with me, interrupted by the timely arrival of one of my superhero accomplices who promptly beat the living daylights out of them and rescued me… all without me doing anything except occasionally tapping a key to move on to the next block of text. While having the action taken out of my hands saved me figuring out what to do, I’d have preferred the option to at least try and escape on my own. Taking the interactive side out of interactive fiction kind of defeats the point. Perhaps the game was written to a tight deadline, which would explain huge blocks of easy-to-write-and-program text filling the screen instead of a more interactive piece.
Content-wise, A Crimson Spring is more adult than most superhero games I've played. Which is to say that while the superheroes and villains all have silly names and wear silly outfits, they're a little more down to earth and believable than the likes of Superman and the Hulk. I'm not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing, though. Part of me likes the idea of superheroes being larger than life. When they're shown to be the same as you or me, they don’t seem half as interesting. But while the game itself might be more adult in content than your average superhero yarn, it’s no more realistic or plausible. One of the strangest parts was when I found several supervillains calmly hanging out in a nightclub.
Supervillains? Hanging out? In a nightclub?
These are people generally involved in schemes that could leave hundreds of thousands of people dead and dying, who are wanted by every law enforcement agency there is, who are often plotting to blow the world up for one reason or another, and yet here they are hanging around in a nightclub as if they haven’t got a care in the world. Even more strange is the fact that no one else in the nightclub seems at all concerned over this – and the supervillains, let’s face it, don’t exactly blend into a crowd. One of them is called the AIDS Archer and carries around a bow and arrows loaded with life-threatening diseases, yet none of the partygoers in the nightclub were bothered by this. Perhaps even stranger still, when the big fight in the nightclub ensues, with superhero and –villain powers being thrown all over the place and people being knocked unconscious at a rapid rate, none of the passersby even bother fleeing the club.
I finished the game with a little help from an online forum (the snot cage puzzle* really had me flummoxed) but failed to reach a decent ending. After checking the walkthrough, I discovered one of the commands required to reach a decent ending is SEARCH ROOM. Hardly the most intuitive command in the world of IF gaming and one I'm not surprised I didn’t figure out for myself. Still, it’s possible to get to an ending without use of the SEARCH ROOM command so I'm complaining too loudly about it.
* Yes, a snot cage puzzle. Created by a supervillain called Mucous Man. I kid you not.
Overall, I like A Crimson Spring. It had its fair share of flaws, and there were enough things I could point out about it that needed fixing and/or improving, but it had a certain charm that appealed to me. While not a perfect game by any means, it certainly deserved to fare better then 23rd in the IFComp 2000.
6 out of 10