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About the StoryThe Fish of Māui. The Land of the Long Cloud. Aotearoa. An entire continent of untamed wilds, and the last place on Earth where dinosaurs still roam. If only you'd come ashore under better circumstances...
1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 16th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2010)
Winner, Best Game; Winner, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Winner, Best Implementation; Winner, Best Use of Innovation - 2010 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
After an opening scene that could use some tightening, Tim's trip suddenly turns into an even more exciting adventure. We're squarely into adventure stories territory, with Tim exploring a forest full of dinosaurs, befriending the local wildlife, and getting shot at by poachers to boot. All of which is good fun. The puzzles are fine, if perhaps at times a little too difficult for the younger part of the audience. The animals you will meet are very well implemented, with the right combination of being a real animal and being cute, and (as every reviewer has pointed out) you can name them. Every small male dinosaur ought to be called Henk. Believe me.
There is other good stuff as well, such as the keyword interface of Blue Lacuna, lists of conversation topics, and exits listed in the status bar. At times the author may have relied on these a bit too much: exits are badly described in the text, and nouns that are not highlighted are almost invariably not understood. But all in all Aotearoa gives a very smooth experience.
My biggest gripe is that unlike some other children's stories, this one doesn't have much to offer to adults. It's just a simplistic adventure story with dinosaurs, and the references to Maori culture, though intriguing, feel tacked on and fail to give any real depth. This isn't a huge problem, but it limits the appeal of the game.
There has been some discussion about whether the game is (inadvertently) propagating racial stereotypes. These discussions are always sensitive, and I'm not particularly eager to take up a position in them. I just want to state for the record that to me nothing in this game felt inappropriate. (Also: the game has the Maori defeating the English by cultivating a relationship with dinosaurs, and states that the fictional New Zealand conservation policies have been an inspiration to the entire world. So any white-boy-saves-the-natives plot seems to be balanced by a Maori-kick-ass-and-teach-the-world-about-environmentalism backstory.)
But first, let me talk about the polish. Oh, it is polished. Superbly polished. It's not just that I couldn't find any bugs, I also found tons of little ways to help the player along. There's a radio that keeps you in contact with the other major NPC, making conversations that much easier; there's comprehensive replies for pretty much everything you care to try; there's even multiple ways to solve a puzzle, and they all make sense. There's a way to name some NPCs Beyond-Zork style, which is not only a neat trick and saves typing, but actually makes it all feel more personal. There's credible reactions from NPCs to your actions. There's even an NPC that imitates you almost all the time, or is otherwise engaged in some activity.
Polish. Detail. The game has them, and comes alive through them. Because all of a sudden I'm seriously thinking about the puzzles, seriously manipulating objects, seriously trying stuff out - because the game has been fair to me, and has been giving me information as I asked it, and has added little details here and there (like the "glory") which just make me glad I'm exploring.
I mentioned puzzles. In fairness, they're not all that hard, and they're not meant to be. This is "introductory level" IF by the author's own admission. Well, for intro-level, I found it quite satisfying. The answers were never staring-you-in-the-face obvious, though they weren't hard to spot either. A fine balance which I would, indeed, recommend to new players. There's also a various assortment of puzzles, not just USE X ON Y. Although the game is rather small, it permeates of care, detail, and creativity (as in, it does a lot with the little it allows itself to have).
The storyline feels very much like one of those Famous Five books (in Portugal, I'd have said "Feels like an 'Uma Aventura' book"). Young kid against the evil poachers. Sure, it feels clichèd and done to death, but then, if you sum it up in a single line, what doesn't? It's not the concept, it's what you do with it. And the author runs with the concept as far as it goes, giving us exactly the right sort of excitement, surprises and exploration that you'd expect. And he does it with real fine pacing, which is another unsung hero. The game unfolds piece by piece at a relaxed pace, never letting you get bored.
And there's the mystical element. It's soft, though not all that subtle. It brings across all the right elements of a good tale told around the campfire, the sort of tale to make you feel good about all the little gifts Life gives you every day. It's an extra dimension that makes all the difference, enhances the experience considerably.
It's my pleasure to rate this game 5/5. Technically, it certainly deserves it. Artistically, it might not be groundbreaking, but not everything needs to be groundbreaking. It's a story that made me feel good, told in a good way. It also captured the feel of a type of book I haven't read in a long, long time, and although I'm not going back to Enid Blyton any time soon, I was so very glad of the trip.
This is, in fact, the sort of game I'd like my children to play. It's *that* friendly, and the message is *that* important.
Bravo, Mr. Wigdahl.
(Spoiler - click to show)such as naming of animals. I thoroughly enjoyed how actionous the game was, lots of physical things to do, lots of energy and urgency. As it is, I've docked a point for it not being challenging/mysterious enough, and for some suspension of disbelief problems with the NPC(Spoiler - click to show) Eruera. Is he really happily telling stories whilst lying on the beach with a broken leg awaiting aggressive poachers? Those folklore bits might have been better in cutscenes as it messed with the urgency in places and thus the pacing somewhat.
There is an optional in-game tutorial mode which includes guidance about what commands to try and highlighting of keywords. I think we need some good beginner games, and the helpful nudges don't intrude on the awesomeness of the game itself, that is, it doesn't feel like a tutorial game, just a game with a handy guide in it. It also has a more forgiving and helpful parser than standard and so is going to be the game I recommend to people who want to start playing IF.
I've just learned how to spell it, still don't know how to pronounce it. I'm sure the blorb would stretch to a sound file :o)
Very tight, polished, obviously well-loved, gentle, warm, actionous, DINOSAURS.
[This review is for the competition release, IF comp 2010.]
See All 5 Member Reviews
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This is version 4 of this page, edited by Matt Wigdahl on 4 October 2010 at 5:13pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item