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Want to play Zork I again for the nostalgia value, but you've already played that one so many times that it's no longer a challenge? Try The Adventurers' Museum. Twenty treasures have been stolen from the museum's trophy case, and it's up to you to get them back. There's some nice puzzles, the writing is acceptable, and the programming is clean. The game encourages exploration and experimentation, and it doesn't insult the player. Yes, Virginia, an old DOS cave crawl can still be fun.
Let me expand on that. Early on, you meet the curator of the museum who gives you the mission, and then he wanders about the museum's rooms. You can go outside, look through one of the windows and see the appropriate room, including the curator in the description if he wanders in. It's little things like that that help gain a player's trust, and I was suitably impressed.
Modern players will have to adjust their expectations, of course. This game is from the era of hunger, thirst, and lightsource puzzles. You have inventory limits. There's no SEARCH. No ASK/TELL. No NW/NE/SW/SE directions. No X for EXAMINE. And most annoying: no UNDO. But the game does recognize VERBOSE, IT, and G for AGAIN and Z for WAIT. More than once, you'll wonder why it was never ported to Inform.
Also note: I rate this game as "Cruel" under Andrew Plotkin's Cruelty Scale. It's quite easy to make the game unwinnable without warning. Some puzzles have alternate, but less ideal, solutions. Death is common, but you will get resurrected the first two times. Still, the player is advised to make liberal use of SAVE and RESTORE if he or she wants to win the game.
-- David Welbourn
A very nicely-put-together old-school trearure hunt in a cave. Shows much Zorkish influence, but with more of a Tolkien wannabe vibe. Fun and not too difficult, with multiple solutions to some puzzles. My only complaint is that the program lacks many of the conveniences of a modern interpreter, such as a command history and "undo" feature. Features hunger and thirst timers, but food and water are plentiful.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
This game has it all; faultless spelling and grammar, fascinating locations, marvellous atmosphere, great plot (some would say "corny", but I'm sticking with "great"), and the ability to grab you right into a fantasy world and hold you there. [...] I particularly liked the many different ways of dealing with threatening or unco-operative characters; none of the usual "kill xxx with yyy" stuff, getting rid of troublesome creatures required a lot more subtlety than that. A few of the problems reminded me of classical old favourites like Zork 2, but that only added to the atmosphere, and gave me more nostalgia to wallow in.
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When I entered the first room in The Adventurers' Museum, I almost breathed a sigh of relief. It was a breath of fresh air to learn that the quest at hand was to retrieve all the exhibits that were stolen from the museum by a thievish imp. Through the actions of my anonymous adventurer, I was going to help restore the historical artefacts of the Necromancer-wars to their rightful place, for the good of future generations of schoolchildren and curious adults. My sociopathic and cleptomaniac tendencies would serve a greater cause.
I'm only half joking here. Although the gameplay of The Adventurers' Museum is the same as any old puzzle-&-looting romp, the task given to me by the old and wize curator of the museum had more importance, more weight than just treasure-taking to kill the Big Bad Bully at the end.
In his review for Baf's Guide, David Welbourn says: "Want to play Zork I again for the nostalgia value, but you've already played that one so many times that it's no longer a challenge? Try The Adventurers' Museum."
I haven't played Zork yet, but I have read enough to know that if you are eaten by a Growl in the dark and if your treasure gets randomly stolen by a thieving imp, I might as well view this game as a rehearsal for when I do tackle Zork.
The technical side of this adventure is more than adequate. There are many synonyms for verbs and nouns. Trying "wrong" things usually gives a response either why you can't do that or just lets you do them and see the funny consequences of your actions (plus it moves the game into unwinnable territory, but hey, save/restore right?)
There are several really oldschool features to this game, but it's as if the author put them in out of respect for past tradition rather than to make gameplay harder.
There's a limited lantern, but there's also an unlimited light source lying right on your path. Your hero gets thirsty, but a river runs right through the cave. You feel hungry, but the curator gave you elvish waybread on your third turn into the game. The imp keeps stealing your stuff, but you can get him off your scent quite easily.
The only thing left that can be annoying to (modern) players is the inventory-juggling, but all that does is make you take a trip back to the museum now and then.
It's probably best to put any frustrations aside and do a few exploratory runthroughs of the cave without worrying about unwinnability or the order of puzzles, just until you get a feel for the place.
Coming back to the Zork-comparison: I have also read enough that I think The Adventurers' Museum really has a special mood of its own. There is a very consistent, almost friendly fairytale-fantasy atmosphere throughout the entire game (except that one room...).
I found the layout and the feel of the map to be brilliant. The cramped cave-crawling of the cave entrance soon gives way to grand vistas of splendid underground halls, a fluorescent flower garden and subterranean pools. A nice big part of the map is accessible from the start, and already in this part the gamespace is layered in three dimensions, with sidepaths leading up and over other areas. Sometimes you get treated to an eagle-eye view of a lower area.
Puzzlewise, there is a wide variety. There's attentive exploring and spelunking, some references to pop-culture, clever time/turn counting,... And yes, sometimes violence is the answer.
Some solutions do require a completely (to me) unmotivated action, and at least one object has a use that was completely unhinted. A bit of let's-try-every-verb and see what happens. That was less fun...
The pacing of the game can be a bit tedious at first. Once you have explored the accessible map though, a nice interaction between puzzles solved, museum-objects in your inventory and bottlenecks opening sets a cascade in motion where you find tunnel after cavern after hall with treasure in rapid succession. Very rewarding.
Conversations are not implemented at all, so you only get to know the few NPCs by their actions and what they choose to say to you. I did find the old curator endearing. (And a bit intimidating. How can he get from his office to the top of the museum stairs to block your way so fast!?)
The Adventurers' Museum may not be innovative or especially creative, but I had a great time playing it.
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