Beat the Devil, by Robert "M" Camisa (****)

First of all, why is this game's Z-code file called "btd2.z5"? Is this a sequel? Or is the "2" supposed to represent nouveau slang, as in, "Beat the devil to..." To what? What is this? The hell is going on here? I don't like it when a game's filename tries to confuse me. I'm very fragile and sensitive like that.

Moreover, you're probably asking yourself at this point, "Hey Ben, how come as soon as you got your name up in lights on RFTK, you almost immediately stopped contributing, almost as if you were mocking the honor that Robb and Bryan had just seen fit to bestow upon you? Also, while I'm at it, why have you chosen Beat the Devil as the subject of your next review, when it was already sufficiently reviewed by Bryan in his section? Huh?" I'm compelled by your conviction to respond...

First of all, my life is all over the place. Flyin' out to California, going on job interviews for jobs I'm not sure I want. Soul searching. Cleaning cat puke piles off my hardwood floor. Plus there's all that drinking to do. Second of all, you know me. Am I gonna put the time and effort into reviewing a game that a) I don't feel strongly about, or even worse b) I haven't played? Of course not. What's wrong with you? And seeing as how BTD is the only game I've either played, OR felt strongly about lately, it seemed a prime subject for this, my latest review, which as of the end of the third paragraph, I still haven't started yet. You have only yourself to blame.

I think it was me who said, at one point or another, "I hate puzzle-less IF." Rather, I probably insinuated that in my own inimitably subtle and irritating manner. I don't hate it, of course, but it bothers me. Puzzles (as ugly a word as that is) form the foundation for IF, for without obstacles, a work of IF becomes little more than a book, the pages of which you turn by pressing a key, rather than flipping a leaf of paper. Yes, "obstacles". That's a much better word than "puzzles". A "puzzle" to me is those little buggers where you have to get the numbers in order from 1 to 15, or where you stick little oddly shaped cardboard pieces together until they form a picture of a naked woman. Obstacles are what we, as IF players, must overcome to learn more about the PC, the story, and yes, maybe a little about ourselves.

But I hate puzzle-less IF.

And the only thing I hate more than puzzle-less IF, is doing IF puzzles.

You are in an empty room. In front of you are twenty-three colored buttons, a swinging pendulum, sixteen thimbles of increasing size, a teddy bear with an eye missing, and four silent barbershop singers, each of which sports a lever where their penises would normally be.

Oh, Christ.

In Beat the Devil, the PC is informed that in the stuporous haze of a post-party hangover, before he passed out, he made the ill-advised promise that he'd sell your soul to bag some babe or other. Naturally, left unconscious, you find yourself tasked with backing out of that promise, as indeed your soul has been transported to Hell -- more specifically, a rather stylish shopping mall in Hell.

In a politely worded, yet firm note from the Prince of Darkness himself, you learn that if you want things to work out, you have to defeat the seven deadly sins, dressed as mall regulars, and do a few other things. It's made quite clear that all of these tasks will somehow involve... ...solving puzzles. Oh, Christ.

This game is great. This game is a four-star game. This game is probably my favorite of all the Comp99 games I've played so far. Know how I know? Because the whole point of the game is to solve puzzles, and I got stuck several times, and I still actually looked forward to playing. This is a phenomenal achievement when you consider how hard it is to get me to play any of these games to begin with.

The mall is presented always with much humor and light, playfully incorporating such underworld staples as fire and brimstone with all the elements you'd expect to find in the more transient otherworld of retail shopping malls. And the sins, oh, those wacky sins, wearing their helpful little nametags ("Hi, my name is: Gluttony"), how innocent they all seem. This game is really, really hard to dislike. Fortunately, I never wanted to.

The puzzles themselves are near perfect. They're the kind where, even if you're stuck on them for any length of time, once you've solved them, you cannot help but think, "Oh, of course." Most make complete sense, and even better, many seem to lead into others as smooth as glass. Solve puzzle B, and puzzle A pops back up to knock a little sense into your head. Ample hints are also given, often in the form of a mumbling, half-conscious demonette sprawled out in the middle of a novelty store. All of this serves to make the time spent with the game so entertaining, so painless, that only one word, "fun", comes to mind when searching to describe the overall experience. That's what it's all about.

The writing is of a consistently high quality, and only a few typos serve to dampen any sense of perfection. The typos were actually quite upsetting to me, particularly because they are so few and far between; they stuck out that much more sorely. Then again, these little reminders that this game was written out of love, and not out of ambition, may serve even to enhance one's appreciation.

By the way, many thanks to the group on the message board for helping me out with scoring that last point. All I can think to say is...

"Oh, of course."

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