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Kurusu City by Kevin Venzke [Comp04]

IFDB page: Kurusu City
Final placement: 20th place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

When I noticed the Japanese (or at least Japanese-sounding) names in Kurusu City, I wondered if this was maybe one of those IF games that’s heavily influenced by anime and manga, like The PK Girl from a couple of years ago. One look at the PC’s identification card removed all doubt:

>x id
   Huge eyes, rather angular features, and messy hair stare at you
   blankly from a faded image.  Text to the left and below reads:

      49 BUECHE APTS

   Age:  15 Sex:  F Hair:  BRN Height:  5'0"

A five-foot-tall, fifteen-year-old girl with huge eyes and angular features? That’s anime, alright. The only piece missing was for her hair to be purple or blue or some color like that, but a purple-haired character comes along later to supply that element. Also like The PK Girl, there’s a distinctly odd quality to the PC’s point of view, but where in The PK Girl that element was sexism, here it’s just sex. There’s this weird, lascivious edge to much of the text, particularly in descriptions of the NPCs. Examine an NPC and you’re likely to hear that she (they’re pretty much all female) is “curvy” or is “wearing a tight pair of blue jeans.” At one point while interacting with an NPC, the PC feels “rattled and uncomfortable” due to the NPC’s “unbridled femininity.”

So the PC is an adolescent and a budding lesbian, who often thinks of others in terms of their sexuality. Fair enough, but the game doesn’t stop there. At one point, I happened into an instant-death ending that involved a horrifying and completely unexpected incestuous rape. The game’s ongoing fascination with the PC as a sexual subject (or object) felt rather distracting, and frequently a little creepy.

The main story winds around the game’s setting, a future (or alternate) world where robots govern humanity. For instance, when the PC decides to skip school, she finds that robot enforcers have been sent to fetch her back. Her goal is to take down the robocracy once and for all, and to do so she must wander around and talk to a lot of sparsely implemented NPCs. Actually, I have no earthly idea how she’s supposed to do it, because after an hour spent solving a couple of puzzles and restarting a whole lotta times, I found myself totally stuck. I turned to the hints, doling them out to myself slowly, but failed to progress further.

Finally, I looked at the entire hints file (it’s rot13 encoded), but still found no joy. The hints seemed to assume that I’d seen things that either I’d never seen or was too dull-witted to recognize. A scan of the newsgroups reminded me that this was the game where the author had released a better set of hints after the September 30th deadline had passed. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a comp stickler, because I think that’s cheating, or at least finessing the rules. My feeling is that you’re judged on what you submit as of the comp deadline. Whatever you release afterwards, whether it be hints, a patch that fixes a game-killing bug, or what have you, is not eligible for consideration, at least not by this judge.

So I continued to muddle through, and with about 20 minutes remaining found something that broke the game wide open for me. Unfortunately, at that point I only had 20 minutes left, so I wasn’t really able to see a huge amount of new material. My advice to struggling players is to revisit all locations frequently — though most of them remain completely static, at least one can change significantly during your absence.

Besides helpful hints, a few other things seem missing from the game. At one point, I examined a game object and was told “(This is the comic book that was mistakenly included in your game package.)” Actually, I think what you mean there is “mistakenly not included.” It may have been intended as a joke all along, a satire of Infocom‘s in-game feelie object messages, but if so, it’s too weak to really work.

There are a couple of other elements that might be intentional but come off as bugs. For instance, at one point I suddenly got a huge boost to my score and found myself with “a score of 27 points out of a possible 7.” The resultant rank was “Nice Sister”, which matched the action that had given me the huge score boost, but if this is a joke, it’s done so confusingly that not only is it not funny, it actually seems like a mistake.

I seem to have spent most of my review commenting on how strange and/or incomplete Kurusu City felt to me, so let me finish up by pointing out some well-done parts. There’s a nice feature in the game’s inventory code which prints out the results of an X ME before printing the inventory on the first time it’s used. Subsequently, it just prints the inventory. I thought this worked so well that I’d like to see it become an IF standard. Also, there’s a game-within-a-game that serves as an entertaining satire of the medium itself. There’s a nice multi-stage puzzle involving gaining a credential, and I found the story interesting enough that I felt sorry when time ran out. Mostly, though, my reaction to Kurusu City was a puzzled shrug.

Rating: 7.2

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