“The Xylophoniad”, like the Labours of Hercules, tells the story of a Greek hero–well, heroine in this case–as she tackles a triad of exploits such as might keep the bards and poets singing for centuries to come.
Well, with a name like Xylophone (“Xy-LOPH-o-ne; four syllables,” our heroine is quick to inform us) it’s quite clear that we won’t really be playing this one straight. And indeed we don’t. From the Trojan War shenanigans to the Bicyclops (a cyclops with two eyes! The horror of it!) the work is steeped through with clever humour. It manages to avoid being awkward or self-conscious, though I’m sure there’s a great temptation in that direction, given the subject matter–an irreverent approach to Greek mythology. I’d even say the humour is gentle, which is possibly a product of the relatively Spartan (see what I did there!) prose.
The prose is simple and direct, and does not give away much more than it has to. Often, it simply lets the situation speak for itself. That is what I mean when I say it is relatively Spartan. As silly as much of the premise is, there is little to no over-the-top indulgence in that silliness. The result is that the humour is more subdued than the premise would have us expect. I’d say this is a good thing.
As a game, it’s pretty old-school. We explore the landscape, find things, use them on other things, move things around, give things to other characters … it’s certainly not ground-breaking IF here. True, if every work of IF were groundbreaking in one way or another, we wouldn’t have an inch of ground left to stand on; but there is little in the puzzle design to make the game stand out. What “The Xylophoniad” gives us, instead, is competent design. I’m not sure that the system it uses is particularly robust; but the game has been designed well enough that I never tripped over any holes.
It’s a bit tart, sharp and clever, without being overwhelming, and it’s all built on a spare, simple framework. Like an extra-light Victoria sponge: raspberry jam tempered with whipped cream, and sandwiched between two layers of the simplest sort of cake you could ask for. Classic.