Varicella by Adam Cadre(1999)

The Little Ugly Evil Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Excuse me, but what sort of name is "Varicella"? Is this the first adventure game which has a fruitcake as the protagonist?

The Little Handsome Good Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: I'd just like to say what an idiot the first commentator is. I happen to have an uncle named Varicella. Of course, he IS a fruitcake so perhaps I should have left HIM out of it...

My Verdict: Varicella is another name for the ailment commonly known as chickenpox. It does sound better as a name for an adventure game than, uh, "chickenpox" would, but I wonder if Adam's not having a bit of a joke with us. That Adam!

The Review...

The reports of my supposed dislike of this game have been greatly exaggerated. I rather enjoy this game - in fact, I've been playing it more than any other game over the past couple weeks(we could even say I've been playing it to the exclusion of other games with the notable exception of Anchorhead.) The one problem I have with it is how it starts: rotten! Truthfully, I gave this game more scrutiny that I would give to many others because the author of this game is one of the best writers of IF we have at the moment, and I'm still expecting great things of him. He's shown he can write a perfect game, but he's not written the perfect long game yet which could hold up to Infocom standards. This game I thought would be that perfect, long game, but it's not - it has some definite flaws which, while they don't prevent it from being enjoyable, do prevent it from being a classic. If I-O is one of the most newbie friendly interactive fiction games I've ever encountered, this is probably about the least newbie friendly interactive fiction game I've ever come across. Varicella thrusts you into the role of Varicella, a palace minister at the Palazzo del Piemonte. The goal of the game is to grab the position of regent following the death of the king through whatever means necessary at the time - while doing this you'll probably find out what happened to the king, making it something of a mystery as well. I'm really not joking when I say the game thrusts you into the role - the setting of the game is intensely confusing(it's futuristic, yet is full of medieval and Renaissance references?). I like to know "where I'm at" so to speak when playing an adventure game. This game doesn't convey any sense of place to the player, and it's a real pity. The poor start of the game bothers me most of all - were there only a introductory note or two on the political, historical, and geographical setting of the game it would all gel together much better as a work of interactive fiction.

The good thing is that the game gets much better as you play on. The game is definitely challenging, as you have only a very limited time frame to work with. In fact, I don't think there's any way to win this game without running through the time limit thirty or forty times trying new things(some events are time oriented, too, making things all the more tricky). Yeah, you have to get killed thirty or forty times to win the game. This is actually more fun that it sounds, though it's also newbie unfriendly (kill a newbie too soon and he/she's apt to walk off in disgust). A good portion of the game is spent interrogating the various denizens of the castle. Unlike, say, Deadline, the NPCs do spout information like leaky faucets, and sometimes present lengthy blocks of text after a question. Much of the plot and the setting is revealed through conversation with the NPCs, but it still would have been much better to explain the setting in the beginning so the player could be comfortable with the game from the start. The NPCs are all interesting, but my personal favorite is the character of Princess Charlotte who reminds me of the character of Allison in Walker Percy's brilliant novel The Second Coming. The plot is certainly interesting and completely original as far as I know - it was good enough to keep me intrigued and coming back for more. The parser is kind and broad-minded as usual in Cadre games, though it is not as perfect in a game as large as this as it was in a smaller game like I-O, but that's to be expected. I like the game a lot, but somehow I doubt that we'll be playing it in twenty years. I'm betting that Adam Cadre still has a few tricks up his sleeves, though, and I'm predicting that in a couple years he'll release his masterpiece which will really set the world afire.

Simple Rating: 8/10

Complicated Rating: 33/50

Story: 9/10(This is the best plot Adam has ever come up with!)

Writing: 5/10(Only average, I'd say. Didn't particularly move or impress me.)

Playability: 4/10

Puzzle Quality: 8.5/10

Parser Responsiveness: 6.5/10

Reader Remarks

Quentin D. Thompson sprach the following on November 21st, 1999:

Erm, frankly I found the ending disappointing. A let-down. After jumping through that many hoops....well, I won't spoil it for future players. But after the great quality of the rest of the game - sheesh...

Quentin D. Thompson: sprach the following on December 13th, 1999:

Also, if I were Primo Varicella, I don't think I'd call anyone - and certainly not the queen - a "worthless ****". It's too - um - *unseemly*, if you ask me. :)

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