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Heroine’s Mantle

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 2000, Andy Phillips

One of the best IF games ever, Heroines Mantle is a wonderful puzzle-intensive IF that proves how it is possible to design solid puzzles without sacrificing the plot. It is also one of the most challenging games youll ever play. Dan Shiovitz amazing review of this modern masterpiece is so compelling that Id like to quote some of it here, since I couldnt have said it any better:

“It’s not saying anything new to talk about the IF community having mixed feelings about puzzles in games. Some people like, some people don’t, and so on for pages. Games fall in various points on the puzzleness spectrum: to one extreme you have things like Photopia and to the other, things like Mulldoon and Heroine’s Mantle. The thing is, while nobody would argue that Photopia‘s success can be explained entirely by its lack of puzzles (and not, you know, by writing quality) far too many people make the mistake of thinking that games like Heroine’s Mantle are successful entirely because they have a lot of puzzles. In fact, because these games are, or appear to be, purely puzzle-centric, there’s been a massive lack of critical attention to anything else about them. This is a pity, because Heroine’s Mantle is a world-class game that is totally worthy of standing alongside So Far or Galatea in the category of games that not only bust open new ground and reveal strange vistas, they’re good.

Here is what happens in the first twenty points or so of Heroine’s Mantle: you are saved from drowning by a superheroine, you grow up, you sneak into an office building, you attend a party, you find out the world is threatened by a master criminal, you have an encounter with a female assassin, you force your way to the penthouse, you re-encounter the assassin in the middle of one of her nefarious schemes, you battle some elite bodyguards, you hack a computer, you ransack an office. Point-wise, this has all happened in just the first five percent of the game. Later in the game, you battle various super-villains (including a space-pirate), fight untold number of robots and secret cultists, save the city from being poisoned, save the mayor from being assassinated, and this is all in the same game. Nobody else has done this or, really, anything close.

To make this massive storyline go requires the player to make mental leap after mental leap, often blindly, hoping the game will be there when you land. There are machines that have to be fiddled with for no other reason than that they’re there, capabilities of your ship that have to be guessed at because they’re not fully explained anywhere, even actions that have to be taken for no apparent reason other than that, in retrospect, they look good. And people hate this.

I obviously can’t tell people not to hate that in a game, but I can say that you should be understanding this as a baseline axiom, not as a flaw…. This is not a failure of the game or a problem with the design. All IF has restrictions: from the parser, from the world model, from our inability to code NPCs that can hold “real” conversation. And the best games take these restrictions and deal with them, whether it’s Galatea with the tiny world that focuses you on the single NPC, Spider & Web with the restricted conversation options that lead to a tense and weighty dialogue, or Heroine’s Mantle with the forced actions and crazy puzzles that let Phillips create a huge and glorious storyline.

For certain sorts of games, the best reaction you can have as a player is “I want to do something like that!” Heroine’s Mantle is doing so many new and crazy things in so many areas that there are dozens of possibilities that fly out in all directions. And what I’d most like to see is for lots and lots of players to grab a walkthrough (or nothing at all besides the [game file], depending on how much patience they have), play this, and then go out and write some games of their own.” Kudos to Andy, and may he keep confounding us with more devious, insidiously addictive games for years to come. Two thumbs up!

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