[IF Comp 2019] Chuk and the Arena, by Agnieszka Trzaska

This game is pretty clearly by the same author as Lux: we are navigating a map in a link-based system, collecting items, combining them in our inventory or using them on other items in the world, and solving puzzles. Typical parser activities, transposed to a link-based environment. But Chuk and the Arena works better than Lux, in part because its map is less complicated, and in part because there is so much more conversation. Links make a lot of sense for conversation; and so the entire interface feels far more natural to me than it did in last year’s game, where I kept feeling that it all would have worked better as a parser game.

The story is also much better than I had expected. You’re the wimpy little guy who has to use guile and careful planning to defeat several of the galaxy’s most famed warriors; which is fun, but then on top of that there is an overarching plot of betrayal and sacrifice to spice things up. Arena combat is, in fact, the least of it: you must win all the fights before you ever enter the ring. As Sun Tzu said:
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
I ended up being victorious – with some use of the hints, to be sure, because I didn’t want my play time to extend too far beyond the two hour limit. Yes, this is another game billed as two hours that I don’t think can be completed in that time span. I followed the competition rules and based my ratings on what I had seen after two hours, but the best is then still to come; for that is surely the final sequence. Here, the adventure game trope that NPCs are merely tools is radically undercut, as most of the people you exploited in earlier puzzles come to help you defeat a common enemy, and there are some very satisfying plot twists.

So, yeah, I liked this quite a lot better than Lux, which was already good. The puzzles make sense and are cleverly put together, reusing existing skills, items and people often enough to feel organic. A very solid piece of ‘classic’ IF implemented in a link-based system.

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