Aotearoa: You give Hulk Hogan’s flanks a bit of a kick.

I am really off my game today.  Aside from an uncharacteristic near-total lack of stimulants (legal, jeez), I was bumper tapped earlier by a woman with a vanity plate reading “Arya 51”, who proceeded to get out of her car and accuse me of being a lizard person who was intentionally harassing her.  Apparently “stopping on the red” is a form of lizard-person harassment.  This is a true thing that happened.  I eagerly await the day I am harassed by normal people, for normal-people things.

Then my car radio got stuck on some kind of local npr-like station, which would normally be fine except the radio announcer was talking about artificial exo-skeleton technology in the most boring way possible.  You’d think it would not be possible to talk about artificial exo-skeletons in a boring way, but he managed!  It was like listening to someone read the ingredients list on a box of multigrain crackers.

So I zoned out, had a fantasy about walking through traffic in a bad-ass artifical exo-skeleton, crushing cars while the drivers screamed “No, lizard person!  Please, spare us!”.  And then I got home, which brings us to now.

For tonight’s amusement we have Aotearoa, a glulx game by Matt Wigdahl.  It is only through sheer force of will that I have managed to spell the game’s name properly up until this point, and I fear that this state of affairs may not long continue.  Blame David Icke and the crazy drivers who read his books.  For the misspellings, but also just in general.

Part One: The Playthrough

Okay, the feelie pdf is great.  I smell alternate universe.

This is an interactive fiction story that uses both colored text and special, non-English letters, specifically Polynesian vowels with macrons (horizontal lines) over them.
Man, I really appreciate this info upfront.  Just hope the author doesn’t expect me to type said Polynesian vowels, because my command over the unicode begins at “!” and ends at “*”.

I also like that the author gives us a choice about the colored text.  It’s something I find incredibly distracting and incredibly helpful at the same time, and I think we’ll skip it for now.

Gah, choice paralysis.  Tutorial or no tutorial?  Does the tutorial show me how to work these funky Polynesian vowels?  Let’s just go with tutorial.

Hmmm…. Polynesian gods and dinosaurs?  It’s a little early for my birthday, but sure!  Apparently I am a Young Kid are on a boat, who won some sort of science lottery to visit the island/continent/area of Aoteroro.  Once we get to Aotoproa, the Young Kid will be doing conservation work.  With dinosaurs.  Lucky little bastard.

> take feather
[Well, we can skip the entry on taking items, apparently!]
Awesome.

[If you want to get rid of something that you’re holding, you can drop it, like this: DROP SEABIRD FEATHER.]
But… but it’s mine, the precious!

Okay, I’m satisfied that I’ve seen enough of tutorial mode, especially after it stole my precious seabird feather from me.  Let’s turn that off.

You think you see something large moving on shore – could it be a dinosaur? You wish your binoculars weren’t stowed in your luggage.
> x large thing
That noun did not make sense in this context.
It damn well does make contextual sense!  I can see it, right there, on the coast of Aotercola!

I’m enjoying this trip through the ship, and talking with the salty old Maori captain.  For awhile I thought that all fictional salty old captains were a cliche.  Then I went sailing and found out that’s just how every single captain in the world actually is.  They are all cut from the same salty, short-tempered primordial mold.

He laughs as he continues, “Even the giant meteor that killed the dinosaurs all over the world couldn’t defeat the taniwha of Aotearoa!”
Goddamn, seriously?  How the heck did that work?  Did the dinosaurs build some kind of magic shield?

“Hey, māhunga wai! Here’s the small pipe wrench!” He tosses it down the ladder. You hear a yelp of pain, followed by a clatter as the tool falls to the deck. The captain mutters, shakes his head, and returns to work.
Nothing says leadership like causing potentially deadly head injuries.

So… crap, I already have to look at the hints.  Oooo, this section is gated so’s you have to look at all the stuff you’re carrying first.  Man, I hate that.

In the confusion, you lose your grip on what you were holding, and everything is swept away in the fury of the storm.
Nooooo!  My stuff I just worked so hard to look at!  And the crescent wrench I stole!

> swim to dad
You start towards Dad, but it’s too scary and you flail backwards to the safety of the shallow end, spluttering as cold, yucky-tasting water floods your mouth and nose.
This is STILL how all of my weekends with Dad end up.  The scary thing about that? Neither of us own a pool.

> x bucket
The bucket is made out of green plastic. Unfortunately, it has a small hole on the bottom. The bucket is currently empty.
Poor bucket.  Like me, you are not very good at much, and have a hole in your bottom.  I will protect you, bucket.

Woah, Eruera, didn’t see you under that pile of driftwood, man!  Hope you’re not gonna… y’know, die because I didn’t think to examine driftwood.

> make splint
You don’t have anything suitable to make a splint with.
Okay, it is AWESOME that the game responded to this.  I know it’s not a default response because then I said “make helicopter” and got bupkiss, which is sad.  Anyway, I have a fracking stick and a ratty bit of tent, that’s enough for a splint, isn’t it?  No?  Eruera, gimme that damned board!  You don’t need it, you’re gonna die anyway!

This game is a smorgasbord of nonstandard commands.  Make splint, pull leg, swim to dad… it’s kind of awesome.  Ooo, I found me my first dinosaur!

[You’ve encountered an animal that may figure significantly in the story! This story gives you the ability to name such animals…
AWESOME!  I dub thee…. Snowcone!  What?  It’s my damn female oviraptor, I’ll name her what I like.

> pet snowcone
You try to approach Snowcone, hoping to look at her more closely and maybe even pet her. But the little dino explodes into hostile screeches and scrabbles away from you so desperately that she looks as if she’s having a seizure.
I own chihuahuas!  This is nothing!

Ooo, wait, before we go any further…

> name bucket Wilson
You can’t name that.
Worth a shot.

Oooh, another animal I can name!  Sweet!  I will call you… Nanapoo.  …Shut up, peanut gallery. My monkey/lemur/bat-thing, my name.

Eh, can’t figure out how to get across the stream, time for another peek at the hints… Oh, that’s actually very clever.

Hey guys, what’s a good name for a huge flightless bird that could kill me with one good kick to the chest and makes forlorn noises?  “Ann Coulter”?  I thought so too!

Still wandering around the island/continent of Aotterpop… the descriptions are pretty solid ’round these parts…

Something very like a battle ensues, quick jabs of the dinos’ heads as they peck at each other almost faster than you can track. Snowcone seems to win the fight, pinning Hot Dog down and chirruping at him before releasing him to stand again. From there they move into some sort of complicated mating dance. From the intensity of their concentration, it seems almost everything else in the world takes second place to the performance.
Ahhh, young love.  Tim, take a lesson from this, because this is exactly how it works for humans, too.

Wait, before we go any further, I smell some opportunity for comedy.

John Ritter and Suzanne Sommers continue their flirtation, although the presence of a bored and mischievous Don Knotts keeps their mating dance from taking their full attention.
Ehhh.  Comedy silver at best, but I just managed to recreate an early 80’s TV Guide entry with small dinosaurs!

Snape and Harry take their courtship up a notch, Snape’s movements becoming more confident and hypnotic as he’s able to concentrate more fully on his dance.
There we go.

Hmm… more exploring, dinosaur scratching… man, Tim, if you’re terrified of dinosaurs, maybe you should’ve visited a different island for the year… captured by bad guys, zany chase, Nanapoo saves the day! And then:

> ride hulk hogan
Woooo!!! Childhood dreams fulfilled via weird commands!

And we’re done.  The island/continent/area of Aorta is safe once more from poachers, thanks to the courageous efforts of 12-year-old Wesley Crusher Tim.

Part Two: The Rundown

I am terribly biased, being a big fan of Polynesian mythology and dinosaurs, but I liked it.  The UI was very well implemented, seemingly taking some hints from Blue Lacuna and similar, which is not a bad thing at all.  And as I said, the subject matter and setting are great.  Alternate history where the Maori managed to stand against the British via dinosaurs?  Awesome, and original.

The puzzles seemed well done.  As I said at the beginning of the review, I’m off my game today, so I had to refer to the hints quite a bit to make it through the game in less than 2 hours.  But the puzzles were logical after the fact, and I managed to figure out one of the tougher ones all by my lonesome! (Big round smooth boulder? That bitch is made for rolling!) Also appreciated that said tougher puzzle had multiple solutions.

Oh, and like everyone else playing this game, I loved the “name the animals” bit.  Gives it a personalized feel, and for me it brought back old memories of Beyond Zork (along with rolling the boulder around).  I actually hope that more authors *don’t* add that feature, since it might make it less special otherwise.

There were a bare handful of “you can’t see anything like that here” moments, an example being the text referring to the ship controls as the “console”, which the parser then does not recognize.  These are few and far between, though, and only stand out because the rest of the game is so polished.

Main “complaint”, and this isn’t the author’s fault at all, is that I’m juuust a touch too old for the “young boy from technological west visits magical land, befriends the inhabitants, gets magic powers, saves said inhabitants with said magic powers, and becomes accepted as a local” trope.  Or maybe I’ve just seen it too many times, so that I couldn’t get into the protag’s shoes properly.  This is definitely a game I would recommend to youngsters and young adults, although I worry the puzzles might be a touch too hard for some of them.  The tutorial is fantastic, though.  I genuinely hope this game gets some classroom time, somewhere.

So: good game, great polish, great theme/setting, not quite my demographic anymore but I won’t hold it against the game.  And I got to ride a dinosaur.  Woo!


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