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About the Story
The first interactive mystery to use the world-famous criminal lawyer created by Erle Stanley Gardner. It also represents a major breakthrough in interactive fiction: the cooperation of the characters and jury changes as a direct result of your interactions with them. In addition, you can do virtually everything a court-room laywer can do, from cross-examining and introducing evidence to consulting privately with the judge.
The Digitial Antiquarian
So, no, The Case of the Mandarin Murder doesnít entirely work as game or as courtroom drama. Yet itís nonetheless kind of fascinating for what it tries to do as well as for the way it tries to do it...Itís implemented in depth rather than breadth, loaded with details to be uncovered and secrets to be discovered...Better are the moments here and there when the parser does understand you for a few turns at a stretch and you really do feel like Perry Mason up there jabbing and feinting at the witness and playing it up for the jury. Those moments, if not quite enough to make it worthy of an unabashed recommendation, are more than enough to make me toast its ludic dreams and ambitions nobly striven after if ultimately unfulfilled.
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Yes, there were good text adventures during the 80ís not made by Infocom. This is one fine example.
You play Perry Mason, of course, and must defend your client who has been charged with murder. The first part of the game is rather pointless, where you check out the crime scene looking for clues. The illustrations were poorly-drawn (and were in four colors, no less), which made this part of the game more or less save and restore until you got it right. The Apple II had slightly better graphics, while the Commodore was much better. However, the MSX version is gorgeous, with actual pre-rendered photos. If you can play that version somehow, do so.
But the game really shines during cross-examination. There are about five or six key witnesses that both you and the prosecuting attorney will question. When your adversary is up, you must object to improper lines of questioning to aid your case. When youíre up, you must probe each witness to elicit facts that puts holes in the D.A.ís case and exonerates your client. Logic truly dictates the outcome, and the ability of the game to remember past actions in determining the verdict was fairly impressive for the time.
The parser is rather limited, but with enough trial and error, Perry can get his point across. However, the gameís most frustrating element has the D.A. objecting to your line of questioning. This would be fine if the D.A. objected to improper questions. However, he also objects to ďguess the verbĒ issues. In other words, even if you are on the right track, the D.A. will object to your question if the game doesnít understand your verbiage. The result is the judge getting ticked off and your case going down the tubes.
But for those with a little patience, the game can be very rewarding when you make progress. There are at least three different endings, possibly more, ranging from life in prison for your client to complete acquittal. Itís a shame that there arenít more games based from the courtroom, as the drama and fascination created by the justice system (or, perhaps more accurately, television shows about the justice system) translates well onto the PC. Perry Mason, while good, is merely a drop in the bucket of that potential.
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