Wonderquest: General Observations

I’ve taken levels 11, 12, and most of 13 in a burst. Apparently there are fifteen levels in the main campaign (or “hold”, to use DROD terminology), “Master Orion”. A second hold titled “Dreams” is included in the package, and I’ll probably head straight on to that when I’m done, because I’ve clearly got a hunger for this stuff.

As much as I’ve been thinking of this game an inferior DROD imitation — or, to be more charitable, DROD without nearly twenty years of development behind it — there are things it does really well. The level design really takes advantage of large-scale structures that span multiple rooms, such as rivers or volcanic craters or just secondary pathways that snake and spiral through the whole map. Such secondary paths are one way it reuses individual rooms in different ways, but it also and more satisfyingly takes advantage of the different movement limitations of the different characters for the same purpose, changing what a given area means. One nice trick I’ve seen it pull multiple times: a secret passage leads to a linear sequence of rooms that you can’t solve on the way in. You just have to get through them to the innermost chamber, then fight your way back out through challenges you’ve already seen. It’s a nice way to create anticipation.

It must be said that many of the puzzles aren’t elegant — many are based around managing chaos on a turn-by-turn basis. And I use the word “chaos” in its mathematical sense here, of effects being entirely out of proportion to causes. (Appropriately, one of the chief sources of chaos is butterflies.) When one step can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and the room state is complex enough that it’s unreasonable to work out the consequences of your actions in advance, you’re not reasoning your way to a solution. Those puzzles are basically trial and error, with copious use of the undo button. And in contrast to most similar puzzle games these days (including later versions of DROD), you only get one turn of undo. This has been a serious barrier to enjoying the game fully. There are checkpoints, but not nearly enough of them. Sometimes you’ll get a room involving multiple distinct stages, essentially mini-puzzles that have to be solved in sequence, and a mistake in the later stages forces you to restart the room and go through the motions of the earlier stages over and over again.

But when the game works, it works really well. There are some really good “Aha!” moments where you suddenly understand how a room works.

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