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Nominee, Best Puzzles - 1999 XYZZY Awards
Despite the off-putting title, Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina is an absolute treasure for puzzle-lovers. You are a harried mother who has been given an impossible assignment: finding an incredibly rare toy for your daughter on Christmas Eve. The game begins as you arrive in the parking lot of the only mall left that still has one.
While most of the dozens of puzzles are fair, there are a couple of mathematical riddles and visualization puzzles that had me tearing my hair out. It also contains some cultural references that may make it difficult for nonnative English speakers. Nevertheless, the game's sheer density (and the strength of its adaptive hints system) make this the best puzzle game I've seen since Curses.
-- R. Serena Wakefield
On the whole, then, Ballerina fits its genre admirably, and the player who doesn't ask it to be more than a puzzle-fest will not be disappointed. The puzzles are difficult, but largely fair, and they boast a wealth of originality. It has some minor flaws, but it's worth checking out.
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The writing is excellent, with very little in the way of errors. Of course, you have to allow for the difference in spelling (eg tire instead of tyre), but I have no quibble about that. The game runs smoothly, and solving one puzzle seems to lead right into another without any let up. I lost count of the number of objects to be found - 63 at the last count, and every one has at least one use. This will give you some idea of the size and complexity of the game.
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
This is a Christmas-themed game with the same gameplay style as Curses or Zork. The character explores a very large shopping mall after hours, trying to get a Christmas present. The feeling of loneliness mixed with wonder gives a nice atmosphere to the game.
The puzzles range in difficulty from very easy to very hard. You should assume you will use the hint system, which is wonderful. Puzzles include mindbenders, find-object-use-object, and some big mazes.
I enjoy games that are too difficult to completely beat on your own, but are large enough and non-linear enough to give even casual players hours of entertainment before turning to hints. This is such a game.
The endgame puzzles are frankly too difficult with too little reward. The game was very fun right up to the time you get (Spoiler - click to show)a ball from Santa. Everything after that felt like work. It may be because I relied so heavily on the walkthrough at this point.
Great game for someone who like Curses and wants a similar experience.
Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina has a lot of the elements I enjoy in an IF game. It is well-written and atmospheric, and I found myself still thinking about it when I was done playing. The comprehensive hint system and walkthrough built into the game were extremely useful and, for my part, needed.
The puzzles in the game range from fairly simple logic and common-sense - finding and applying appropriate objects to one another, for example - to very challenging. More than once I needed to tap the depths of the hint feature to get through a tight spot, and there was one particular puzzle that I would never have solved without help. Still, gameplay is easy, the descriptions are well done and there is a lot to explore and discover.
There was only one real downside to an otherwise great game. When I finally did resort to the full walkthrough (due to a computer error that kept me from restoring saved games, I had to restart after any mistake that couldn't be fixed by typing UNDO. I gave up after a couple of hours) I discovered that I had already messed up in three different ways over the course of the game. I had been wandering around in ignorant bliss, solving other puzzles, and having no idea that I had already lost. That was probably the most frustrating moment.Over all, I do recommend the game to anyone who likes a compelling atmosphere, tricky puzzles, and a fair amount of freedom to do as you please. But I would also recommend saving frequently, because you never know when you'll find yourself suddenly stuck because of a common action without any warning.
This has to be one of the most challenging puzzlers I have played--and I love puzzly IF games. Especially multi-level games, although NJAOB is not multi-level in the strict sense--the mall in the game actually has 4 levels, which makes it kind of resemble a multi-level IF. You will want to make a map. There are a number of fiddly map connections, where, for example, 'north' won't get you back after going 'south'. And despite there being a capacious bag, there are a number of take-able objects that will not fit into the bag, and there is an inventory limit that may bedevil some who aren't used to the old games. To be fair, this limit is quite high, and if you are not a hoarder like me, and drop items after using them for a score increase, you may never reach the limit. All the same, it's a good idea to keep an object list, next to your maps. Some objects will be needed more than once.
I think the main drawback of this game is that it is so expansive as regards play area--from the very beginning. You will want to make a map for each level. I spent perhaps my first five game sessions--and I have long sessions--mapping the play area, taking notes, and just listing the takeable objects, and only tentatively solving puzzles. At one point, (Spoiler - click to show)suddenly, I was able to unlock all the shop doors, got the lights turned on, and foiled security--MORE MAPPING! Plus, there are no less than FOUR mazes.. While I don't see this as a 'drawback' as far as enjoyment, it kept me wondering 'what objects and clues are available to me now, what things can I do, and what do I need to know now?' because I didn't want to keep struggling with a puzzle over here on the Main Level, when the object/solution/clue is fully available on the Upper Level, or somewhere else that I hadn't mapped yet. So count on spending your first several sessions just taking it all in, mapping, examining and taking notes.
Also, there are about a half-dozen red herrings, in the form of takeable objects and clues. To be fair here, some of them are parts of alternate solutions, but you still wonder if they will be useful somewhere. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, I never found a use for the angel's wings--they were an alternate solution in one of the mazes, but you would still have to find your way back through that maze. And at least one puzzle was just downright abstruse; (Spoiler - click to show)it was a code puzzle, where the clues seemed sprinkled here and there through the mall. You had to unscramble a number of words--for some, the letters of which could have just as easily spelled other words--and then take a letter from each of these words to spell one of the code words. What I didn't understand about this was, why have six words, all of whose letters were known, scramble them, only to have the player find an additional word from one each of these groups of letters? Why not have just one scrambled word? None of these six words had any other meaning or use in the game. And the clues to the scrambled words were placed on the opposite side of the mall, on a different level--those clues were so incredibly obscure and esoteric--and, I felt, were clues to something completely superfluous, as I mentioned before. It just seemed like a lot of verbiage for the sake of a code word to put into a computer in a shop in order to get a couple of things. Also, I think the author put a number of 'stubs'(situations where there might be a puzzle) into the game, but then changed his mind, and just left them in.
But on the whole, I thought the concept, the story, the characters fit together really well. I rated it 4 stars because it is a well-put-together game, the author put a lot of thought into every location--there are no less than 19 shops in the mall--each one had something useful--and that's just the shops! There are plenty of mathematical and code puzzles to keep you busy and thinking outside of the game session. I gave it only 4 because of the problems mentioned above. It took me 11 sessions, and an average of about 5 hours a session. I do agree with some other reviewers, in that the ending was a bit tepid--I think he could have added quite a bit more--maybe even make it more challenging to leave the mall--but it didn't faze me much, because I really did enjoy playing this game. There is plenty of humor, a lot of what I call 'daring ridiculousness'(particularly what the PC does vis-à-vis the security situation, reminds me of what I often put into my own games), and thematic situations (cultural references, you get to meet a ghost, a homeless man, plenty of toys, Christmas tree, etc). A lot of color.
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