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Played On: 10/09/04 (9:20 AM to 9:45 AM and 10:30 AM to 11:35 AM)
Unofficial Score: 9.0 (8.5 base with +0.5 skew)
This is another nearly flawless game. I made a short list of small things to improve, but this is more nitpicking than an actual bug report. I enjoyed this game, even though it wasn't my first choice in genres. The writing is very vivid, and I do enjoy descriptive nature scenes. Mingsheng earns a bonus half-point for expanding this to include "listen" and "smell" everywhere, and because the goal of the game was to improve the main character by what was learned. I was stuck only twice, resorting to the walkthrough. The first time, I had the right idea, but abandoned the line of reasoning when it didn't work. I overlooked the clue indicating that statues can be referred to by "right" and "left" designations. The second time was again my own lack of attention. I abandoned the box without a further glance, after obtaining what was inside. I shouldn't have.
As bugs go, these are minor. If attempting to unlock the gate, I was asked the traditional "with what?" question. Having nothing in inventory that might present a solution, I attempted to head south instead. The resulting "(first taking the south)" assumed I was answering the question instead of pursuing a different course of action. Another minor thing: "x flies" at the lake sees no such thing. I found green moss in one location. An attempt to "get moss" actually revealed the red moss as being nearby, too. Finally -- and again, a real nit-pick -- the vine is still dry even after taking a trip along the sea.
What puts this game above others of a similar type is that the author seems to know history and legend well enough to weave it into the game. As much as I enjoy science fiction, what you generally find in sci-fi is that nothing is based on research; very little requires a firm knowledge in anything except wild speculation. In a game like Mingsheng, you really have to give credit for putting real knowledge to work.
I found no ways to put the game into an unwinnable state, although I thought (at first) that losing my items to the rough sea was one. But, not only does the author provide for this, it actually presents a clue for a later puzzle. This was very well done. Actually, every puzzle in the game was well done, and because these challenges drive the story instead of merely interfering with your progress, it's difficult to consider any of it as arbitrary. I believe that this game illustrates the right way to introduce puzzles. Give them a point for existing. Put some logic and purpose behind it. This game does that.
With the skew, Mingsheng gets an unofficial 9.0 from me. It is very well written, the puzzles are good and not overly obscure, the story presents a journey of self-growth for the main character, and it was a nice setting to explore. Well done, Deane.
FOLLOW-UP: Browsing the official game list at www.ifcomp.org today (10-11-2004) turned up an interesting thing. I don't know if it's a recent change, or if I just didn't notice before, but this game is credited to Rexx Magnus. I've updated the review title to show this. And, to revise my closing comment, Well done, Rexx!