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Minos' Island?, May 23, 2022
Opening up The White Bull, I was immediately drawn into the setting by a short musical score that helped set the mood. Important turning points in the story are similarly backed by an atmospheric musical piece.
A very promising intro: your girlfriend, a student of archaeology, wants to test her hypothesis that Minos' Labyrinth is not on Kreta, but on another small island in the Aegean Sea. Funded by her rich best friend, she has set up a private mini-expedition to investigate.
The White Bull is firmly divided in two parts: free exploration first, then a linear end-rush.
The first part has everything I adore in text-adventures. A large map which rewards careful exploration with wide vistas and seaviews. A diverse set of locations (beach, village, scrubby forest, rocky ridge,...) that still feel connected and natural. A few historical flashbacks/hallucinations to more clearly paint the context. And a few easy puzzles ((Spoiler - click to show)except DRINK FROM POOL to summon the Naiad; that was really underclued that give the player an early sense of accomplishment.
The objective in this part is gathering all the equipment needed for the next part. There is ample time to poke in all the nooks and crannies, get to know your fellow amateur archaeologists and enjoy bathing in the mythological atmosphere.
Having found all the requisite pieces of equipment triggers nightfall, the abduction of one of your friends and the switch to the second part (cue music).
Here you must enter the famed Labyrinth in search of your friend and rescue her. This part is mostly a linear series of one-room puzzles where you need the objects and the knowledge you gained from your previous exploration of the island. There is some truly exquisite and evocative writing here. Several rooms left a lasting visual impression with me. ((Spoiler - click to show)Ikaros Bound and Weeping.)
Despite all these great points, I found The White Bull to be disappointing. Partly, this is because my expectations were perhaps raised too high by the archaeology theme (Ancient Greek Mythology. Lemme at it...) and the game didn't quite deliver.
I also do think that there are several more objective criticisms.
The characters are underdeveloped. They remain hollow and flat. I had a hard time telling their voices apart. What depth the author tries to give them is through telling the player that they may have unseen qualities, without ever showing this in their actions or dialogue.
There is one brilliant puzzle in the Labyrinth-run ((Spoiler - click to show)The Cavern of Catwalks). The others are mostly straightforward applications of the objects you found in the first part. I felt almost as if I had been searching the island for a collection of coloured keys to unlock a series of coloured doors in the Labyrinth.
Disappointing puzzles and characters.
But also: very strong atmosphere and tension. Adventurous exploration of a great map. An interesting potpourri of Greek myths.
And some memorably vivid, evocative location descriptions.