A non-spoilery review of...
Aotearoa: An Interactive Adventure (Aotearoa.gblorb)
A Glulx game by Matt Wigdahl
In many respects, I very much enjoyed Aotearoa. It was perhaps the closest I've ever come to experiencing the comforting old skool feel of a Choose Your Own Adventure ported to interactive fiction. The PC, the plot, the things that happen... it feels like something straight out of a good CYOA by Packard, and I mean that as a high compliment.
The game grabs you right away with a strong prologue that is appropriate to the story and gets your mind ready for an adventure set in the land of the Māori. The writing is strong and sure. But once the player is given the volition to move about and do things, some of the gaps start to show. I hate to point out those gaps, because Wigdahl has done some very, very good things here, but I found myself pretty frustrated.
The frustrations varied. One example: items mentioned in scenery descriptions that sounded useful for the current puzzle sometimes weren't actually implemented. In another instance, a very plausible alternate solution was unaddressed; I had everything I needed to solve the puzzle but the game said I didn't have the necessary items (I had a straight stick, when what the game thought I needed was a board). There was a lot of rail roading and quite a few triggered events that were very difficult to figure out unless you got lucky and stumbled upon them or went for a hint. The conversation menu topics were pretty limited, and often avoided things that would have been very useful in favor of things I wasn't too curious about.
That said, I enjoyed quite a bit about this game. Some of the puzzles were quite clever and fun, and there were a fun command that allowed you to name the critters you encountered in the game. There was an element of backstory and character development lovingly crafted for this game that you don't often see in this sort of game, giving it an element of depth you wouldn't otherwise expect in this genre. The scenery descriptions were generally quite beautiful, with a definite sense of having been written by someone who spends time in the natural world.
Unfortunately, the greatest frustration of all was that I'm pretty sure I encountered a show stopping bug. My husband was one of the testers, and he took a look at my predicament and agreed. Sad way to end the game, seemingly about three-quarters of the way through, and before what I suspect was an interesting climax. I've sent the author a transcript, but have to vote and review and move on. I hope to revisit the game and finish it later.
Basically, this is a pretty awesome game that was about 90% ready for the comp. Just not ready enough.
As per my well-established rating scale, I gave this a 7.