Ninjas_Fate: Mo’ ninja, mo’ bettah

We’re going to start off with ninjas_fate, a z-code game by Hannes Schueller.  Having been a child in the 80’s, I’m a sucker for anything with “ninja” in the title.  Seriously, try to sell me something with “ninja” in the title.  Right now.  Do it!  It can be anything, as long as it has “ninja” in the title.

Did you try to sell me a ninja thing?  Did I buy that ninja thing off you?  I’ll bet I did.

Not sure how much filler text to add before the spoilery- bits, nor how to truncate my RSS feed so that I don’t have to worry about that.  So to be on the safe side, here’s a haiku I just made up:

spoilers incoming
likely regarding ninjas
right about nowish


Part One: The Playthrough

Am I a ninja?  Check.  Am I ostensibly on a quest for revenge?  Check.  My bratty, ninja-loving inner child is satisfied for the moment.

Okay, so… right off the bat, I’d like to say that I am grateful to the author for putting a bolded reminder to visit the ABOUT section at the beginning of the game.  The IF world would be a happier place if more authors did that.  Particularly in the case of games with odd commands.

Mind you, there are no odd commands in this particular ABOUT section.  There is, however, a long dedication to Paul Allen Panks (r.i.p., Paul), someone who was an occasionally controversial figure in the IF world.  I’m familiar with him, but not with his works.  So the fact that this is a tribute has me a bit worried that I’m not going to understand a whole lot, but I’m game to try anyway.  Onward, towards that large building!

> x top part
The letters belong to the Roman alphabet. You are not very proficient with this western language, but you can make out the individual letters: “M”, “U”, “S”, “E”, “U”, “M”.
Okay, I’ve got kind of a sneaking suspicion, based on the Paul Panks dedication (and the fact that the title refers to this game as an interactive tribute), of what kind of museum this will be.

Even so, this bit is the seed of a pretty sweet idea.  I mean, imagine you’re a ninja, hunting down this idol, right? And it turns out to be in a museum… but you have no idea what a museum is because you’re a freaking backwoods ninja, and you slaughter a whole bunch of people in an increasingly hilarious misunderstanding-spiral about the nature of western culture and language… that would be pretty sweet.  Think Wodehouse with a confused ninja running rampant.  I do not know if this game is that game, but if not, someone needs to make that game.  I digress.  Back to the mysterious building that I don’t know is a museum!

Sure is locked doors out here.  Before I go the obvious route, let’s try doing some ninja-y clever shit and see what happens.  Pulling off the bars or sneaking through the bars, no.  Unlocking the front gate with my ninja clothing, no (not like I expected that one to work, but still).  Throwing the grappling hook…

> throw grappling hook
Dropped.
Poor “throw” command.  One day you will be freed from the tyranny of the “drop” command and become a Real Boy.  Until then, the mental image of a 90-lb. wuss-ninja heaving and grunting while trying to throw a grappling hook, only to see it land at his feet… priceless.

Okay fine, I’m done being obstinate.  Let’s try the obvious plan.

> unlock door with kunai
In a swift motion, you jam your trusty kunai into the lock. Of course, this puny safety device can’t withstand your powerful tool and your skillful fingers!
I am, in real life, also renowned for my powerful tool and skillful fingers.  Of course, said powerful tool and skillful fingers weren’t enough to open the main gate at the front of the museum, but that gate was a frigid bitch anyway.

[Your score has just gone up by forty-two points.]
Woah.  For geting past a locked door?  Apparently there’s been some sort of point inflation since I was a child.

Ooo, a mystery canister.  You are my new best friend, mystery canister.  But I mustn’t drink you, that never ends well.

Jeez.  Powerful tools, skillful fingers, shelves “dominating” rooms, examining busts… either the author needs to get laid, or I do.

Okay, on in to what looks like the main area… gonna try to be obstinate again:

> throw grappling hook at trap door
The trap door is closed, so the hook won’t hook anywhere.
Holy crap, go “throw” command!  I knew you’d make it one day! …even though you’re not exactly helping me at the moment.  Let’s check out some of this stuff over on the counter-like-thing…

[Your score has just gone up by two hundred and three points.]
Gnah!  Many points for looking at a thing!

Okay, some rooms later in some place labeled as “Westfront”, I have finally found a guard.  Holding a lance.  Do museum guards normally carry those?  Uh oh, he is getting uppity.

> kill guard with katana
You slash the guard in two. The body dissolves into thin air.
Do… do museum guards normally do that when hit by a katana?

Okay, now there’s a troll.  The troll also dissolves into thin air when killed.  Man, the janitor at this museum has it EASY.

Alright, I think I’ve got the hang of this wing.  If I go east or west, I end up back in the antechamber.  If I go north or south, I get a guided tour of what appears to be the movie Mulholland Drive.  It is at this point I remember that Westfront was a Paul Panks game noted for having a gazillion rooms.  Let’s go look for the idol somewhere else.

Okay, I’ve gone into another wing, and this room… this room is just weird.  How weird?  Well, there’s this joke: “What do you call a room with nothing but a naked pirate, a wolf, and a plastic palm tree? (Conceptual arrrt)”.  This room is exactly like that joke, except there’s a dragon playing games on an outdated computer, a wall painting, and a glass box chock full of idol.

> x wall painting
It’s a crudely painted picture of the silhouette of Tokyo. You’re sure the person who painted this has never been to Japan!
I can tell it’s Tokyo even though it looks nothing like Tokyo?  That is some zen shit, game.

> kill dragon with katana
The creature looks up: “If you want a fight, let’s fight on this computer –  let’s play Space War!”
Okay, I’m going to log this moment, because I’m going to talk about it in a minute or two.  In the meantime…

Dragon disappeared in a puff of obsolesence, got the idol, let’s check some other rooms out.

[Your score has just gone up by ten thousand points.]
Okay, I get the significance of the “finishing the unfinished work” as a ham-handed statement of the author’s intent and his feelings about the reception of Panks’ work… At least that’s my read on this puzzle… But this is ridiculous.  At a certain point, numbers don’t mean anything anymore.

[Your score has just gone down by ten thousand points.]
Fuck you, unseen forces!  I take back what I said about numbers being too large!  Give me my points back!

> paint walls
You realise the futility of this action when you tried last time. The forces in charge simply don’t appreciate improvement.
This is no time to get existential, wuss-ninja!  Man up, paint those damn walls, and get me my ten thousand points back!

Eh, fuck it.  Stupid unseen forces can keep the 10k points and kiss my hairy ass while they’re at it.  Let’s get out of here with the idol.  Which I would do… except now the disembodied ghostly head of a dead IF author is guilt-tripping me into staying in the building*.  I want to leave, but I don’t think I have the heart to turn him down.  Let’s see what the Help menu says about this.

…the Help menu says “Error: Overflow in VM_PrintToBuffer.”  That means my game is kaput, so I think we’re done for now.

*This is a sentence I never thought I would have to say.

Part Two: Thoughts

The Good:  I only saw one or two standard responses, and one of those was when I tried to unlock the front door with my ninja robe (and if you’re going to do shit like that in an IF game, you should expect a standard response).  I mean, seriously, there were descriptions on everything and reasonable actions had custom responses.  It’s a little sad that this still qualifies as “good” instead of “the new standard”, but we take things as we find them.  Seriously though, kudos to the author for filling in all the blanks.

Also, the puzzles were easy, which is probably a good decision if you are trying for more of a showpiece game that you want people to see all of.

The Questionable: I don’t generally care for showpiece games, which a tribute to a dead author’s work would generally fall under.  There must’ve been some way to reference a bunch of Panks’ work and still made a coherent game or narrative.  This game didn’t really have that.  And I’ve never played a Paul Panks game, so a lot of the time I had no idea what the bloomin’ onion was going on. And when I did know what was going on, the metaphors and personal opinion of the author felt clumsily delivered.  I felt like it could have done without some of that.

I did like the dragon, though.  Intentionally or not, and totally outside of discussion of the merits and opinions of Paul’s work, I found the dragon’s response to be rather sweet.  I mean, the man made lots of games and tried to share them with people.  That’s worth a tribute, even if I didn’t understand all of it.

EDIT: I have since had an offline discussion about this game with someone else playing through the Comp games, and their take was that the game is in very poor taste, particularly given the clumsiness of execution.  I could possibly agree with that, except I am the type of person who would be delighted if, after I died, someone released a game with my ghostly disembodied head in it.  So on the grounds that I have a weird take, I’ll leave the discussion of propriety up to someone else.

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