metzomagic.com Review

Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina

Developer/Publisher:  Written by Jim Aikin
Year Released:  1999

Review by Karen Tyers (2000)

I downloaded this game from the ftp.gmd.de archive after seeing an announcement on the rec.arts.int-fiction newsgroup and as soon as I read the introduction I knew I was in for a real treat :-)

It's Christmas Eve. Rather late on Christmas Eve. Just this afternoon your darling 7-year-old daughter Samantha announced that fully a week ago she mailed a letter to Santa Claus asking for Sugar Toes Ballerina, the unbelievably sought-after, impossible-to-find fad doll of the decade. Unwilling to see little Sam heartbroken on Christmas morning, you frantically phoned every toy store in town. Miraculously, you found a shop that claimed to have a Sugar Toes Ballerina in stock!

But that was two hours ago -- before the flat tire. Now it's getting dark, and icy weather is closing in. The address you were given, on the outskirts of town, has proven to be that of a dilapidated and disreputable-looking shopping center -- not a modern chrome-and-neon strip mall, either, but a hulking two-story structure that looks to be the ill-favored offspring of a fairy castle and a canning factory. The shopping center is tucked well back from the street among brooding skeletal trees. Other than a few dim yellowish lights that show no trace of holiday spirit, the building is shrouded in gloom, and yours is the only car in the parking lot.

Although my own kids are grown up now (well they think they are...) I can well remember the fad toys that were always (and still are) hyped at Christmas, and how kids are made to feel they are missing out if they don't have one. So, with great nostalgia I embarked on my quest for the Sugar Toes ballerina doll.

The first impressions are great. The dark, apparently deserted shopping centre, hardly a sound anywhere, and freezing cold. Wandering around I found I couldn't get very far as seemingly the power was off, and my hands were too cold to do very much. I found a security guard almost immediately but fortunately for me he was sound asleep. Unfortunately his elbow was leaning on a very interesting looking key and I couldn't obtain it straight away as he kept waking up and frogmarching me out of the building. However, there is a way to get hold of it and after much messing about I managed to do that very thing, and then found I could unlock most of the locked doors in the complex. However, that didn't solve the problem of no power, therefore no lighting. One other problem to over come initially was the series of security monitors covering the entire centre from the office where the guard is. Eventually, after much pulling out of hair, I did manage to disable them all and find a power source, so was able to explore at leisure.

Perhaps leisure is not the right word here, as there are three floors to the centre, plus the roof, so I found my map sprawling over several pages. There are loads of shops and almost all of them have a unique puzzle attached to them, which in turn relates to another puzzle somewhere else. The difficulty level of the puzzles ranges from easy/medium to oblique/!**! impossible. Well not quite impossible, but some of the hardest I have come across in a very long while. A couple of them put me in mind of Steve Clay's Taxman series some years ago, but don't let that put you off. The game has an in-built gradual hint system so if you find you're really stuck you can use that.

I have to say here that I am not sure I am in favour of the in-game hint system, as it makes it too easy to cheat if you are weak willed. I managed to be very disciplined and only resorted to the hints three times, and given the difficulty of the game, I was quite pleased with myself.

On your quest you will come across such things as a depressed elf, a homeless man, the security guard and a rather nasty, very large dog, plus one or two others.

I have to say I haven't enjoyed a game as much in a very long time. It's one of those that keep pulling you back for just one more try. On more than one occasion I found myself looking at the clock to realise it was past two in the morning, and that doesn't happen very often.

The writing is excellent, with very little in the way of errors. Of course, you have to allow for the difference in spelling (eg tire instead of tyre), but I have no quibble about that. The game runs smoothly, and solving one puzzle seems to lead right into another without any let up. I lost count of the number of objects to be found - 63 at the last count, and every one has at least one use. This will give you some idea of the size and complexity of the game.

I haven't quite finished it yet. I have found Sugar Toes, but haven't yet managed to pay for it (I'm very honest you see). This last puzzle has me climbing the walls - I know what to do and I have the necessary items (I think), but will have to put a lot of time and effort into solving it. There appears to be no built in hints for this last one (deliberate?) so I may well e-mail the author and ask for help.....

To close I would say that this is an unmissable game, and you know me, I don't say that very often.

(This review was originally published in Adventure Probe, UK, edited by Barbara Gibb. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the author).

The game is available for download from the ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/inform game file ballerina102.z8.

For more information on Adventure Probe contact:
Barbara Gibb (ed.)
Adventure Probe, 52 Burford Road, Liverpool L16 6AQ, U.K.
Telephone (UK) (0011 44) 0151 280 5616

Copyright © Karen Tyers 2000. All rights reserved.