This is my intent to judge shufflecomp. And what better judge of a contest inspired by music than someone who hates hearing music at his athletic club and has finally stopped being annoyed by other people's music on trains or buses? Why, someone who has been distracted from writing his own text adventures by music coming from below, that's who!
I wound up testing 8 of the games, and as such, I don't really feel comfortable saying too much about them besides that every one of the authors got back to me more than once--probably more than twice--and made some really good fixes. If every author in ShuffleComp was able to do this, then this really will be quite an event. I'd like to mini-review the authors I tested for to give a point according to the judging rules, in alphabetical order. My nine votes for best game will likely be confidential.
In the all-important (or at least easy to evaluate) pseudonym department, I give my nine votes to:
L. Starr Voronoi
Jed Brockett (bonus point for best author name/song name mixing)
Dead Man's Party, by Morrisey: A tribute to Grim Fandango with some touching bits about the afterlife and good humor. It felt the most like a flat-out game of everything I tested, so if you just want fun, this will work great. It's the only TADS game I tested & the only one with a score.
Flotsam and Jetsam, by Conrad Elton: a game about memory loss and wondering what you're doing there. I liked being able to stay lost, especially in light of the "best" ending and what that meant. It's an interesting interpretation of a song I liked. The best hint system of all the games--while the one below is thorough, I love in-game hints where you don't need a menu.
Groove Billygoat, by Efrain Finnell: you'll guess who the Thin Man is. I won't spoil the fun. Whenever you figure him out, you will be happy. Three urchins, ham sandwiches, a dance routine and even a fight based on, well, screaming. Enjoy.
Illuminate, by Summer del Mono: There's not much to do except muck
around with the paintings--but boy, is there a pile of ways to muck around
with them. I originally thought it'd just be 24 (4! for the 4 paintings) but it's more than that, and it's intuitive how to do so. Oh, try leaving the room at different times, too.
Monkey and Bear, by the opposite of sublimation: you may need to google ovanel nfpvv pbairegre (rot13) to see what the odd text says. This reminded me of CS Lewis's The Last Battle, due to the relationship between the two animals. It feels straightforward and linear, and you may miss the branching the first time around, but doing so adds to emotional impact when it works.
Sparkle, by Karly di Caprio: change stuff into stuff and find out why later. This is a game with a lot of subtle humor, and given the early verb you won't be surprised it's the journey that's important here, because you have a list of achievements which require replay to get all ten. You'll probably notice things and realize you've done nothing with item X this playthrough. The things to change don't make sense, but the puzzles do, which makes this game a fun puzzle.
Tea and Toast, by Maria del Pangolin: this game is about, in the literal sense, making tea and toast, but the old-fashioned way. The observations and memories and fourth-wall touches and singing in the game make sure this isn't just follow-the-directions, and unfortunately I wasn't able to re-test the game with all the memories the author wanted to put in. There're helpful hints if you don't do anything, and there's no way to lose. I was immersed enough not to try anything snarky like PUT TOASTER IN SINK, and you probably will be, too, even after I told you this.
White Houses, by Mr. Stamp: A tribute to Zork and what comes before
it. Contains a few neat in-jokes and, something Zork doesn't have, a
talking NPC! Not a treasure hunt, and the game wisely confines itself to only part of the world map. That helps focus on the story--with more than one way through. Neither is too daunting to figure, but I like the alternate endings.