Have Orb, Will Travel

by Jim MacBrayne (as Older Timer)

Fantasy Adventure

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And Travel you will... A LOT, December 15, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: ifcomp

Have Orb, Will Travel is an old-school style parser, where you play a wizard tasked to find an elusive orb somewhere inside a quaint cottage, to gain back the Council’s trust. With its custom system and Interface reminiscing of old Minitel pages, the game is a puzzle fest. Though you will not really reach a failed state, the puzzles are fairly difficult. The game includes hints and a walkthrough, both of which I used extensively.

Old-school style parsers intrigue me, in their implementation (often confusing for new parser players), their sometimes convoluted puzzles, and the sheer amount of work needed in the back-end to make things work. They require a lot of attention, out-of-the-box thinking to solve puzzles, and knowledge of the codes in interacting with elements. Reaching the end feels like an achievement.

But I struggled with it so much. I didn’t even exited the first room before I ended up opening the hint sections… which weren’t actually helpful in my case. Turns out, keys are not the only way to open a door. Who knew? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Still, I persevered, because I am not a quitter, and ran around the cottage, trying to interact with anything in my path. Sometimes it worked well, and I could unlock things just fine (and feel so darn smart about it), sometimes… it was a frustrating disaster (;-; mazes yall… that one broke me.).

For how interesting and new some puzzles felt (actually, the maze, as strange as it was) or how reined-in the clues were (not always helpful, but fun anyway!), there were quite a lot of friction when it came down to playing it. For examples: you’d need to type a very specific command to get things, not just take item; even if a thing is mentioned in a description (especially an item), the program might not let you examine it unless it is in your inventory, pretending even it does not exist; one of the first items available to you is a book, but you can’t read it completely unless you turn each of its pages… All of these little frictions do end up adding up, making the game maybe a bit more frustrating than it could be.

Most of the latter part of the game (which I reached only because of the walkthrough), revolves around manipulating different machineries that affects other bits of the map. So you end up going to some part of the map, interact with one thing, walk around the map to see if it affected it correctly, walk back to the machine (which is sometimes going the long way round because of one-way passageways), pressing some more buttons and doing it again… Damned if you enter the wrong combination, because the game has many rooms.

While you are supposedly a wizard, and can learn 3 spells in-game, you surprisingly use very little magic to solve puzzles - the spells being used at most 3 times in total. You spend more time walking around the cottage or manipulating buttons, dials, and handles. You do end up getting a wand at some point though…

For all the text the game has, it answers surprising little in why you need to find the orb, how it got there, what it does, or how important it is to the Council. The game is so focused on the puzzle, you mainly learn about the setting or context of the story at the start, with the quest of finding the orb handed to you. Just a little bit of nudging and framing would have helped.

I still found the game fascinating - even if it may have broken my spirit a little bit, resulting in finishing the game with the walkthrough opened next to the game instead of solving it all by myself. The interface is very playful and colourful (though the timed text gets annoying by the second use of the ring), and the use of background noise gave the game a lot of charm. The ding notification when solving something and gaining points was so darn rewarding!

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