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About the Story
The Fish of Māui. The Land of the Long Cloud. Aotearoa. An entire continent of untamed wilds, and the last place on Earth where dinosaurs still roam. If only you'd come ashore under better circumstances...
1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 16th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2010)
Winner, Best Game; Winner, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Winner, Best Implementation; Winner, Best Use of Innovation - 2010 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Aotearoa is a children's game. (I suppose that everything for children of 6 years and older is called "young adult" by now, but as far as I'm concerned a young adult is approximately 20.) It tells the story of Tim, who has been chosen to visit a New Zealand that never was: it is a small continent where the Maori managed to more or less stop the English invaders by riding dinosaurs. O, yes. Dinosaurs. Not huge dinosaurs, but still, even a medium-sized dinosaur is fun.
After an opening scene that could use some tightening, Tim's trip suddenly turns into an even more exciting adventure. We're squarely into adventure stories territory, with Tim exploring a forest full of dinosaurs, befriending the local wildlife, and getting shot at by poachers to boot. All of which is good fun. The puzzles are fine, if perhaps at times a little too difficult for the younger part of the audience. The animals you will meet are very well implemented, with the right combination of being a real animal and being cute, and (as every reviewer has pointed out) you can name them. Every small male dinosaur ought to be called Henk. Believe me.
There is other good stuff as well, such as the keyword interface of Blue Lacuna, lists of conversation topics, and exits listed in the status bar. At times the author may have relied on these a bit too much: exits are badly described in the text, and nouns that are not highlighted are almost invariably not understood. But all in all Aotearoa gives a very smooth experience.
My biggest gripe is that unlike some other children's stories, this one doesn't have much to offer to adults. It's just a simplistic adventure story with dinosaurs, and the references to Maori culture, though intriguing, feel tacked on and fail to give any real depth. This isn't a huge problem, but it limits the appeal of the game.
There has been some discussion about whether the game is (inadvertently) propagating racial stereotypes. These discussions are always sensitive, and I'm not particularly eager to take up a position in them. I just want to state for the record that to me nothing in this game felt inappropriate. (Also: the game has the Maori defeating the English by cultivating a relationship with dinosaurs, and states that the fictional New Zealand conservation policies have been an inspiration to the entire world. So any white-boy-saves-the-natives plot seems to be balanced by a Maori-kick-ass-and-teach-the-world-about-environmentalism backstory.)
Aotearoa is a great game, extremely solid, though not enough of a mystery for me, a little too childish/educational. It clearly hit all the targets it was trying to, a great romp in a solid setting with a few extras (Spoiler - click to show)such as naming of animals. I thoroughly enjoyed how actionous the game was, lots of physical things to do, lots of energy and urgency. As it is, I've docked a point for it not being challenging/mysterious enough, and for some suspension of disbelief problems with the NPC(Spoiler - click to show) Eruera. Is he really happily telling stories whilst lying on the beach with a broken leg awaiting aggressive poachers? Those folklore bits might have been better in cutscenes as it messed with the urgency in places and thus the pacing somewhat.
There is an optional in-game tutorial mode which includes guidance about what commands to try and highlighting of keywords. I think we need some good beginner games, and the helpful nudges don't intrude on the awesomeness of the game itself, that is, it doesn't feel like a tutorial game, just a game with a handy guide in it. It also has a more forgiving and helpful parser than standard and so is going to be the game I recommend to people who want to start playing IF.
I've just learned how to spell it, still don't know how to pronounce it. I'm sure the blorb would stretch to a sound file :o)
Very tight, polished, obviously well-loved, gentle, warm, actionous, DINOSAURS.
[This review is for the competition release, IF comp 2010.]
Being from Hawaii and having read Whale Rider, "Aotearoa" was on my watch list once I was made aware of its existence. It plays much like "Blue Lacuna" in terms of parsing, so I adapted to the keyword system pretty easily. I like it, and definitely appreciated all the scenery and background information implemented. I mean, even down to a guardrail.
This game was so easy I did not need to resort to hints. There was never a case where I wandered around wondering what Iíd missed. I was also told explicitly what to do and why some solution or other wouldnít work. I really appreciate those sorts of feedback responses, so I know at least Iím on the right track and just need to fix whatever the problem is.
Again, being from Hawaii, I am familiar with Maui and some of the stories about him. I also recognized some words, like "tapu" ("kapu" in Hawaiian), mana (same in Hawaiian), and "taro" ("kalo.") Also, "atua" ("akua.") I appreciated the history and backstory implemented into the menus. Helped to flesh out the game world. And naming the animals was lots of fun. (Spoiler - click to show)Riding the Notoceratops and the scene where weíre staring at each other for magical, spiritually connected moments is something I wonít soon forget. Such a mighty, magnificent creature - deadly but also friendly at the same time. I named mine Boga, because it kind of reminded me of Obi-Wanís battle mount in Star Wars Episode III.
Characterizationís not that deep, but whatís there is very engaging. (Spoiler - click to show)I liked looking at Timís backpack and piecing together his backstory and getting to talk to the captain and Eruera about themselves. Speaking of Eruera, I really liked him. He was a great mentor for Tim and I could see him becoming an adopted dad, since heís got his aunt. Having Tim be the one to help Eruera and having Eruera encourage Tim with stories and tidbits of Maori culture really helped me to bond with him and made me feel empowered. It was also comforting to have an adult there who was calm and practical. The nanakia was cute. I confess I was laughing at the poacher when the nanakia was getting the better of him, and the end sequence being chased by poachers is really well done. Thereís not a move to waste, and a fair amount of ways to die. Adds to the urgency that thereís really no time to try to explore, but itís not exactly a timed puzzle that requires a lot of trial and error. Was rather fun to plow into the jeep and kill the poachers inside. I hope that dinosaur got away and destroyed the place. I think itís implied it did, but we donít see it conclusively.
I highly recommend this game. Good writing, enjoyable characters, and I appreciate that while this is a game that reads like juvenile/young adult fiction, I donít feel excluded or patronized. This sort of thing would probably make an entertaining cartoon. A great effort.
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