Return to Castle Coris is the most old-school text adventure I’ve played so far in this year’s IFComp. It’s huge, somewhat sparsely-implemented, contains lots of puzzles, is set in a fantasy world, and features a plot that’s pretty much “Explore this interesting location and see what you find.” Fans of this older style of interactive fiction will probably enjoy Return to Castle Coris, but players who prefer shorter games with more focus on story will likely not care for it as much.
Me – I’m somewhere in-between. I like big, puzzle-filled games, but I generally prefer more of a unifying narrative than Return to Castle Coris has. I played the game for maybe two-and-half hours before stopping. I earned 250/400 points, so this gives a sense of how large Return to Castle Coris is.
The best parts of Return to Castle Coris are its writing, its scope, and the cleverness of many of its puzzles. Descriptions of objects and rooms are more evocative than you normally see in old-style IF; I could picture many of the locations rather vividly. The game, again, is huge; it takes a lot of work to create a game of this size, and one can’t help but admire that. Plus many of the puzzles are quite creative, using items you can carry and the environment around you in interesting ways.
The biggest flaw I see in Return to Castle Coris is the same one that caused me, finally, to give up on it: Too many of its puzzles require the use of a phrase that might come easily to an author but that isn’t a standard IF command and isn’t clued and so will be very difficult for a player to think of. This is, I suppose, partly a guess-the-verb problem and partly a guess-the-author’s-mind problem. The last puzzle I worked through provides a good illustration.
I had just arrived at the edge of a large rift, after traversing a desert. There appeared to be no way to cross the rift. While in the desert, though, there were numerous birds of prey soaring around, occasionally snapping up lizards or other small desert creatures and flying off with them. A while back I had acquired magical items that could make me small or large. The solution to this puzzle is really clever: Make yourself small, so that an eagle will think you’re prey, swoop down on you, and fly you across the rift. Before the eagle eats you, transform yourself back to your original size. Again, a good puzzle – especially since it’s clued by the scenery descriptions of the birds of prey. So I did this. Yet nothing happened; no birds flew down to grab me. I eventually checked the walkthrough, and apparently you need to get the eagle’s attention after you’ve turned yourself small. And the way to do that is, according to the walkthrough, WAVE ARMS. Now, your arms are never (to my knowledge) mentioned before this in the game, nor are any of your other body parts. None of your other body parts even appear to be implemented. There’s no hinting that this is how to get the eagle’s attention, or even that you need to get the eagle’s attention after making yourself small. I have no idea how I would have figured this one out on my own. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only instance of this kind of problem. It’s just the one that, after two and a half hours, made me give up on the game.
I also had several unpleasant wrestling bouts with the Adrift parser. For example, L is understood as an abbreviation for LOOK, but L BEHIND (an object) doesn’t produce the same behavior as LOOK BEHIND (the same object). The worst, though, was when I typed GIVE RAT TO CHICKS and the game responded with “The two chicks do not seem interested in the dead rat.” The solution to this puzzle was actually to give the rat to the chicks; the problem turned out to be that I had the rat in my bag rather than in my hands. The parser’s response was incredibly misleading.
In sum, Return to Castle Coris has some strong features that will make it appeal to fans of older style text adventures: good writing, a huge game world, and some solid puzzles. Too many of these puzzles need to be better-clued, though: If the solution to a puzzle requires a nonstandard command, the player needs some indicator as to the exact command needed. Otherwise, the puzzle needs to be rewritten so that it uses a more common IF command. As the game currently stands, I think many players will find Return to Castle Coris frustrating or have to resort regularly to the walkthrough.