Winter Wonderland / Laura A. Knauth (1999)

Ascii Boyz's Verdict: Hellya! It's about time we got some rad ascii pictures into text games. You losers are SO far behind the times.

The Zork Zero Jester's Verdict: I don't want any competition when it comes to superbly-crafted annoying NPCs. Here, do this peg puzzle. Forget the sprite.

My Verdict: If Ms. Knauth has never actually experienced a white Christmas then she is one of the greatest writers around. I'm stunned.

The Review...

When I got to Winter Wonderland in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition, I had played a lot of short games. Games that were just the germ of an idea. Games that, if expounded upon, has the potential to be pretty good. Winter Wonderland has no such potential. Mostly because, it's totally explored, implemented and delivered.

I write this in October, in Colorado. I haven't been back home (Rochester, NY) in almost a year. It's like 80 degrees this time of year out here. What the hell is up with that? I'm homesick. I miss the unbearable cold. I miss the ten inches of snow my hometown gets dumped upon daily. I miss the whacked out driving, the way the streetlights give everything covered by snow an eerie glow, the sort of good cheer that only comes around Christmastime in New York. Winter Wonderland captures all of that. It's a long, involving, honest-to-goodness game. Thank God.

Winter Wonderland is, you see, a game about a little girl named Gretchen Bales who has a sick brother named Sandel. While attempting to bring him a new pair of shoes, she finds herself transported to a dimension straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. However, the sentients she meets are not slavering arctic overlords, prepared to grind little girls into a thick, yummy paste. Well, not all, natch.

The writing is absolutely superb. You can usually tell, by playing a game for all of five minutes, whether or not the author has decided to incorporate all the things that are in scope. Many successful adventure games work because you can sit forever and just "look" at things. This game has that appeal. In that respect, the game comes off more as an interactive fairy tale... the puzzles are not random tests of mental agility, but rather logical solutions to believable problems. Through it all, Ms. Knauth  creates a magical world, heavy with descriptive prose, that leads you to believe you are really in a world covered by fluffy, thick snow. It's so incredibly engrossing.

If I have any fault with the game it is that sometimes a given room's description is dominated by the exits away from it.

Winter Wonderland was one of the best games I played in the '99 Competition. It could have been released fifteen years ago by Infocom and sold fifty thousand copies. Kudos to Ms. Knauth and congratulations on a job well done!



Simple Rating: 9.4 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 9.0 / 10

Writing: 9.7 / 10

Playability: 9.2 / 10

Puzzle Quality: 9.0 / 10

Parser Responsiveness: 9.1 / 10

Reader Remarks

Robb sprach the following on November 10th, 1999:

I should note that the terseness (is that a word?) of this review is only because I don't want to rob a player of it from any of the mystery or excitement it contains. That is all. Thank you.

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