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About the Story
Once upon a time, our Kingdom was much larger than it is now, reaching across all ten islands of the Alabaz Archipelago. But then a terrible curse fell upon us. A thick, gray mist covered the sea, hiding each island from the others, cutting us off from our neighbors. Every ship that ventures into the mist becomes lost. No one knows where the other islands are or what has happened to the people there. For years we have studied the mist, hoping to discover some way to break the curse. We had almost given up hope. But now, we have discovered a secret that could solve the mystery of the mist once and for all. And we are giving that secret to you...
Responding with an edit since there isn't a direct comment option for news. I've had no issue downloading Release 1 from http://www.springthing.net/2011/. The website link here for Release 2 is defunct, but Release 2 is still available at http://www.ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXgamesXglulx.html. -Floating info.
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Related reviews: Spring Thing 2011, children's, fantasy, large map, easy games, casual games
A just-so story: an author has some small children. Every night, at bedtime, he sits down with them and invents another installment of an ongoing story. The children chip in with suggestions. The story they tell has a lot of problems -- exactly the sorts of problems you get with stories told off the cuff. It's mostly a series of fragmentary set-pieces, it's heavily derivative, it lacks cohesion, there are a lot of loose ends that never get tied up; the stories are mostly unified by a broad setting and recurring characters. The children don't care about any of this, because they're sharing a story by their dad. Later, the author assembles some of these stories into an IF game, designed to be accessible to children. Whether this actually represents how Alabaz was written is irrelevant: it's very much how it feels.
The plot: you are an Everyman child hero, tasked by the fatherly but inert King of Alabazopolis to reunite an archipelago-kingdom sundered by mists. To do this, you must take your child-crewed ship, explore the islands and recover magic pearls; there's more than a touch of anime about the scenario. Its strength is in its set-pieces, which include plenty of strange and striking imagery. (Some work much better than others.) The novice-friendly design is a more questionable virtue; the influence of casual gaming is obvious, with heavy-handed pointers and showers of achievements, and a character whose main function is to follow you around dispensing tutorials.
Despite this, Alabaz is consciously old-schoolish; it's a substantial size, and there's a lot of Zork and Myst here. As a game for children, its worst structural flaw is that it's a big-map game that's designed in ways that make travel very tedious, even when you've solved all the relevant puzzles. Apart from this, the puzzles are solidly designed and appropriately easy; but I think that this was intended as a game to be played over many evenings, which is hard to do with easy puzzles. The tedious navigation fills that gap.
In terms of content, there's a sort of uneasy dissonance that a child might or might not pick up on: it's a world where adults behave like sulky children and children behave like responsible adults, and it's also a world that promises heroism but fails to deliver, because heroism requires real monsters, and in Alabaz all apparent monsters quickly turn out to be paper tigers. The game seems designed for very small children -- too small to cope with very much conflict in their fiction. I can't say how well it'd work for its target age, but there's a great deal that makes this translate poorly for adults.
I suspect that children’s literature is best written not by a doting parent -- someone who primarily wants a safe, clean, improving world for their children -- but a crazy uncle, someone who wants to entertain, inform, subvert.
This game is really interesting. By the author of Little Blue Men and Anchorhead, it is intended for children and comes with a great set of supplementary materials.
There is a sort of tedious opening with a ton of hand-holding before it opens up to a wide world. I enjoyed the islands, especially the junk and dark islands.
I felt like the author was holding back a bit on some descriptions that could have been made biting and/or sad. But the sparseness was fun.
One of the last islands seemed like a big buildup to an anticlimax.
Overall, I have to say I enjoyed it, because I couldn't put it down, and couldn't wait all the next day to play more. So that's a good sign!
One thing that can seemingly lock you out of victory:
(Spoiler - click to show)The icefruit seed doesn't respawn correctly.
So I suggest that, to be safe, you save (Spoiler - click to show)before using it.
You'll know you did it right if (Spoiler - click to show)Something dramatic happens.
The Lost Islands of Alabaz is a fun and energetic travel-adventure. It's aimed at children and has the feel of the "boy's adventures"-books I used to eat up by the dozens as a child. (For all I knew then, girls had books about knitting and princes. Except for my cool girlfriends, who also read the boy's books... Sign of the times...?)
At the beginning of the story, you get to choose a name for your protagonist, which was a great draw-in for my son. We decided on his own name. After that, he let me do all the hard work and asked about status-reports on his quest each evening.
There is a detailed tutorial in the game in the form of Trig, your best friend NPC. He breaks the fourth wall to tell the player directly what to TYPE. Children playing their first IF might not notice, but for a veteran with several dozen games under my belt, having read numerous threads and essays about Player-PC-Narrator-Parser-relations this made me feel unbalanced at first. I concluded that the aforementioned essays were taking things much too seriously...)
One morning, you, a young knight, are called by the king to go on a quest. The ten islands of the kingdom have been separated by a cursed mist for dozens of years now and there is no sign that it will lift of its own accord. The people are suffering under the lack of trade, food and communication with friends and relatives.
The king gives you one magic pearl to guide you through the mist to one island. From there, you're on your own. Find the cause of the curse and lift it, and find your way back home.
Not the most innovative of premises, but an engaging one. I did feel an obligation to fulfill this quest for the good of all the island-dwellers of Alabaz. (And to my son...)
The premise of the ten islands makes for a great sense of space. You're a seafaring adventurer exploring the unknown!
The islands themselves all have small maps (five locations or less, except for the mazy one...) At first, I thought the author was using a Gateway-like technique, each island a self-contained puzzle-space in the bigger whole. The first islands of The Lost Islands of Alabaz are like this. The more islands you have encountered and explored though, the more it becomes necessary to revisit previous islands, making for a web of relations between the islands that has to be kept in mind.
The puzzles themselves are easy to medium difficulty.Most of them are simple fetch-quests and/or straightforward use-appropriate-object-here obstacles. To get them right however, the player needs to pay close attention to the information he's given in conversations and in the out-of-game Almanac.
That's right! With your download, you get an Almanac about the islands and how they were before the mist. It's a nice 15-minute read, almost like an historical tourist-brochure. Embedded of course are many clues on how to solve the problems in the game.
Actually, the Almanac is just one of three hint-systems for the game. You also carry a journal, in which your progress is recorded along with reminders of puzzles you have yet to solve. And there is Trig. You can ask Trig about all the puzzles, repeatedly. He will start with giving you a nudge toward the first step of the solution, and give more explicit guidance after that.
There are a whole bunch of NPCs to whom you can talk. I found them to be well-characterized with a few strokes of the pen. They talk about many things, and to avoid confusion the author puts suggested topics that pertain directly to the puzzles between parentheses. All conversations use the syntax TALK ABOUT, although you can use ASK ABOUT too. I didn't find any differences.
The Lost Islands of Alabaz plays very smoothly. There are many synonyms for nouns and verbs. The descriptions change in tune with the actions you perform on other islands, there are nice responses to "failed" attempts. The player can feel at ease that the game will not misbehave.
This game turned out to be a lot longer than I expected from the first play-session where I breezed through the first two islands. I spent a few evenings on this quest for the hidden magic pearls. Very enjoyable evenings.
Light adventurous fun. Go play.
Oh, as an extra incentive: You can compete in the Zeppelipede-racing Derby on the Island of RazzMaTazz! Yes, you can. In fact, you must!
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This is version 13 of this page, edited by David Welbourn on 1 October 2019 at 8:59am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item