Aotearoa

Matt Wigdahl (2010)


Aotearoa is a big game that feels much more like an interactive novel than an interactive game. In it you play Tim, a 12 year old boy setting out to see the island of Aotearoa for the first time, an island of lost dinosaurs. Not big dinosaurs, small ones, but theyíre the only ones that have survived Chicxulub impact.

Whatís here is going to take you some time to play through; it took me 50 minutes to get through the setup alone. Itís not the easiest of reading. But it does tell a deeper tale than most games Iíve seen, touching on the characterís past and pulling on your heart strings a little.

Some of the standard complaints I have about games are here, like useless ďcanít goĒ routines. But here itís more than just a standard default response. While you play through the game, rooms you havenít been in highlight there direction red in the status line, but after youíve been to the room the red highlights stop. With no help from the canít go routines, red highlightís dropping off, and poorly constructed room descriptions for directions, getting around the game can be a challenge and I ended up mapping out the island so I could get around easily. Thereís no reason for something like this in a game thatís this small.

There also seems to be some generic responses that can trip up the player, things like: That noun doesn't make any sense in this context for "I don't see that here." The first time I saw this I was really scratching my head. Or trying to swim across the stream when it says you canít enter the water. Is that a generic response and there really is a way to get in the water. Small things like this would help it play out a little smoother. You can never have enough testers.

One good thing the game did was give the player the choice of available topics when talking to an NPC. It can be frustrating trying to figure out what an NPC will talk about, but thatís taken care of here with the available list echoing out if you ask one of them something that they donít know. Itís an interesting approach, and Iíll have to consider it for my own game thatís coming up.

In the end this really is a great game. There are some minor things wrong with it, but thereís a rich story going on as you try to get off the island. It might take some time to get through it, but I think that itís worth the effort in something as well written as this. But Iím harsh. I scored it an 8.