IFDB page: A Day In The Life Of A Superhero
Final placement: 23rd place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition
By now, my affection for superheroes is no secret. I love a good superhero game, and I love a good superhero parody. A Day In the Life Of A Super Hero is a good superhero parody, but unfortunately not a very good superhero game. Its greatest strength by far is its writing — there were many spots that made me laugh, and many more that made me smile. Super Hero‘s satire isn’t quite as finely honed as that found in Neil DeMause’s Frenetic Five games, but it’s lots of fun nevertheless.
Along with the typical comedy juice available from silly supervillain names like The Gardener and The Pizza Delivery Kid, Super Hero does a lovely job at conveying a boundless gee-whiz enthusiasm on the part of the PC. Near as I can tell, the titular hero actually has no discernible superpowers, and nor do any of the supervillains — they just adopt the exaggerated poses and outlandish names of the genre in the service of jazzing up their personalities. I also found it amusing that the game features no less than 28 ways for the hero to meet an unfortunate and ignominious defeat, and encourages you to collect ’em all, like bad-luck action figures. Moreover, Super Hero surprised me at times with its thorough coverage of unlikely verbs, and its witty responses thereto. For instance, when suspended above a crowd of people:
spit on crowd
That's the sort of thing super villains would do, not super heroes.
Of course, taking a scattershot approach with the jokes as it does, Super Hero misfires every so often as well. Sometimes it throws out a joke so old as to have lost all its appeal. Other times, it’s guilty of running a gag into the ground — one “bad odor” joke might be funny, but ten of them will not be. Still, judged on its writing alone, Super Hero is a rollicking good time.
Unhappily, the game’s interactivity does not support its prose, and much of that is the fault of Adrift. The unmodified Adrift parser is already quite weak, but somehow in this game it seemed even worse than usual. For starters, Adrift frequently falls victim to its asinine policy of ignoring input that surrounds a keyword, resulting in gems like parsing “look behind couch” as the same command as “look at couch.” But the problem seemed to come up way more than normal in this game. For instance, when the PC tries to address his animal sidekick, Smelly The Parrot:
ask smelly about soldier
A fusty smell pervades your apartment. It's probably a mixture of you never getting around to cleaning it and that time the Slug Monster was here to kill you.
The first time this happened, I went, “Huh?” After several tries, I finally figured out that the parser must be stupidly pulling “smell” out of that string and pretending that my command was “smell.” At least, that’s my theory for what it was doing, and repetition of the principle in other instances seems to bear that out. Conversely, the parser can be weirdly uptight about addressing items with their full name:
You see no such thing.
x city rag
The City Rag is the city's worst paper, one that specialises in writing slanderous and libellous stories...
You see no such thing.
x mrs muggle
You've seen her sort before: old, grumpy, permanently displeased about something unspecified...
For a player like me, accustomed to other parsers’ much more sensible approach of treating all pieces of an object’s name the same, these responses are infuriating. Also infuriating is when the parser stubbornly and willfully misunderstands input:
ask erik about singer
"Sorry, can't talk," says the singer. "Genius at work. Ohhhohohohohoh!"
But most infuriating of all is when the parser out-and-out lies, and lies in such a way as to make winning the game extremely unlikely. For example, at one point, it told me it didn’t know the verb SHOW, when in fact that verb is crucial to solving one of the game’s puzzles. When there are a number of free IF tools that provide much, much better parsers, my patience for substandard parsing like this is limited indeed, and this game would have been so much stronger had it not been hampered by such silly flaws.
However, sad to say, not all of Super Hero‘s problems can be ascribed to Adrift. For one thing, there are all kinds of bizarre typos that I can only chalk up to carelessness:
“You mean as in give him a damn goof biffing till he clears off and leaves you be?” says Smelly.
A damn goof biffing? Secondly, like Whyld’s Comp03 entry, this game seems quite a bit too large to complete in 2 hours, which is something I really dislike in a comp game. Of course, perhaps much of my inability to complete Super Hero stems from its aggravating tendency toward read-the-author’s-mind puzzles. To blithely spoil one of these, the PC’s apartment has a half-dozen pieces of furniture, and moving one of them reveals a crucial item. Nothing in the room or object description suggests that moving it or moving anything else will be useful. And so on.
At bottom, Super Hero is entertaining writing trapped in excruciating code. I fervently hope that other talented IF writers can avoid this dastardly predicament.