Wonderquest: Riddles

In addition to the new (access to) character abilities, Dreams has added one mechanic not seen in the base Master Orion levels: Riddles. Or codes, as the game calls them. There are little shield-like tokens that, when stepped on, bring up a text prompt, and usually some other text items nearby that give hints about what to type. Type in the right thing, and all the monsters in the room instantly die — and I have yet to see a riddle in a room where there’s any other way to kill monsters. Usually there’s a monster completely out of reach, which also means that it can’t reach you, and the only reason you have to kill it with a riddle is to open a room-clear or level-clear gate. But that’s a pattern deeply baked into both Wonderquest and DROD.

The whole notion of “token that kills everything in the room except you” had been brought up before, mind you. Master Orion had a handful of rooms with “Pandora’s Box”, which is the same thing without the riddle part. But that made it the basis for puzzles about reaching the box, typically fighting monsters on the way. You were using the same mechanics as the rest of the game, but the instant-win of it meant that instead of the typical in-room progression of clearing away opposition and making things easier as you go along, the room could just keep on making things harder and harder until your last desperate grab for the box. Riddle rooms, on the other other hand, generally don’t have anything going on other than the riddle. Which is probably a good thing! Imagine solving a difficult mechanical puzzle but then being unable to complete the room because the riddle at the end stumped you.

Nonetheless, the way that the riddles, in effect, temporarily replace the game with a different one is one of the reasons I dislike them. Another reason: The lack of flexibility. The prompt is looking for an exact string; if you use different spacing or punctuation, or type out a number in words when it’s expecting digits or vice versa, it’s rejected. And so, in contrast to the rest of the game, I’ve been cheating pretty freely on the riddles. The text is pretty easy to extract from the level files, it turns out — the characters are all just decremented by 1, which suffices to prevent people from reading it accidentally, but can be decoded by a very simple script.

I kind of see what the author was going for, though. The content of the riddles more often than not concerns the story. It asks questions about what you’ve seen in the story text throughout the game. So it’s an attempt at making that into more than just flavor text, and making it relevant to progress in the game. But it still winds up separated from the real gameplay. Instead of a division between game and story, we wind up with a division between game and (story plus riddles).

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