IFDB page: Phlegm
Final placement: 17th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition
A thoroughly whacked-out romp through realms of surrealism only barely touched on by Nord and Bert, Phlegm is pretty low on logic, but quite high on goofy gags. Perhaps its funniest moment comes in its opening screen, where it bills itself as “An Interactive Interactive”; it’s the kind of joke that’s only funny the first time, but since it is the first time, it worked for me. Also, in spite of the author’s assurance that it is impossible to make a mistake that renders the game unwinnable, I managed to do it, and I wasn’t even trying! (For the record, it’s because I put the toy elephant in the cart and then torched it with the flame-thrower.) Phlegm wasn’t really hilarious, but it provided a number of smiles, and even its puzzles were logical in an illogical kind of way. In many ways, the game is like its opening joke — lots of fun at the moment, but not anything you’d ever want to repeat.
Prose: Lots of cleverly funny little touches, from Leo the lemming whispering “Rosebud…” to the “Lil’ Terrorist brand Flame-thrower.” The prose was generally lots of fun to read, even if at times the silliness became a wee bit more irritating than amusing.
Difficulty: Well, I found myself looking at the hints quite a lot, but I’m not sure whether that’s because the puzzles were simply difficult, or difficult to take seriously. For some reason, I found myself unwilling to agonize about how to handle the guitar-playing lunatic, and wanted to look at the hints in order to see more of the jokes, since a game like Phlegm suffers quite drastically from a reduction in pace. So I suppose you could say it was a difficult game, but then again I’m glad I approached it the way I did — a plotless work like this one begs to be finished rather than battered.
Technical (coding): The coding was on the whole quite strong. I only found one weak spot, which was the fact that I discovered that I could carry the powder as long as I was holding the grail — it didn’t need to actually be inside the grail. Somehow I don’t think this is what the author intended.
Technical (writing): The writing was pleasantly error-free, which made the humor much more accessible and easy to digest.
Plot: Well, I couldn’t really say there was much of a plot, but on the plus side I don’t think much of an attempt was made at one either. So the game was plotless (aside from the very most basic “get-the-treasure” motivation), but it didn’t suffer all that much from being so.
Puzzles: Some of the puzzles were quite funny, and extremely reminiscent of Nord and Bert, especially those involving the needle. Then again, some others (the flame-thrower, for example), failed to be a lot of fun in their irrationality. In general, though, I’d call the puzzles successful in what I deduce to be their aim — parodying typical IF problem (the references to Balances were especially funny) and providing nutty goals in an off-kilter universe.
OVERALL — 8.5