Friday, 19 August 2016

Missed Classic: Mewilo - Won! (with Final Rating)

By Ilmari

Happened so far: Martinique isn’t a paradise, which is mostly due to the European settlers, who brought forcefully slaves from Africa to work in their plantations. The master and the slave populations had mixed, but this had not raised the status of Africans. Instead, the people who had even a tinge of African ancestry were considered part of the slave population, and like in a cruel joke, masters who had fathered these sorry persons named them with anagrams of their own names. Slave rebellion of 1831 had not changed the situation, and even the eventual abolition of slavery did not make the economical situation of Martinique any better - descendants of the European settlers still formed the upper class.

Social injustice has caused personal tragedies. During the slave rebellion, slave called Albrand had burned down the house of de Ronan family. Arnaud de Ronan, scarred by burn marks, died soon after the event, but not of any physical reason. He had done something horrible he had to atone for, and even his death by grief wasn’t enough - Arnaud’s ghost was left to haunt a bedroom in de Ronan mansion. The only document about the events leading to Arnaud’s demise was a letter he wrote and gave to a local priest for safekeeping. After the death of the priest, the letter had through various events finally found its way to the possession of one Minerve Doussaint.

Obtaining this letter would be important, since it might be the only clue of a recent appearance of a zombie, awakened by Arnaud’s descendants taking again residence in de Ronan mansion. Is there some dirty secret hidden in the fact that Nanor, grandmother of Anselme Saint-Just, a local politician with African ancestry, has a name that is clearly an anagram of Ronan? What could a local sorcerer, Gwanzong, reveal about the zombie? And how to reach him, when he lives in a land infested with deadly snakes? And who is Man Cécé mentioned in the manual, but never heard afterwards? It’s time to put on my colibri shape one last time and find out…


Yes, I am trying to find a letter, could you please give it to me?



Last time I faced an insurmountable obstacle - I was supposed to get a letter from Minerve Doussaint, but she wouldn’t give it. I finally managed to track down a walkthrough for the game and I found out it’s more of a feature than bug. The book which Minerve Doussaint is holding contains a small black dot. By pressing that small dot I could move on to the next stage of the game. I just love pixel hunting!

Minerve wouldn’t hand me the letter unless I identified the name of the victim, which Arnaud revealed in his letter. Now, the manual had already informed me that at one point someone would ask for a name of a person and I should answer with the name of the game - Mewilo. I guess the fact that I know the name is explained by me being a world-famous parapsychologist, because Mewilo it was.

I couldn’t just read the letter right away, but I had to go back to Parnasse plantation, where I had seen a magnifying glass. With the help of it, I learned the sad story of Arnaud de Ronan. It appears that in the wake of the slave revolts, Arnaud had become concerned that the family fortune would be plundered by the rebels. He put the fortune in a box, and with his trusted servant, Mewilo, he went to a place, twenty meters away from the source of river Balisier and buried the treasure. Due to some temporary fit of insanity, Arnaud killed Mewilo and assigned his spirit to guard the treasure (this is the zombie we’ve been hearing about). The dying wish of Arnaud was to release Mewilo from his eternal task and to give the gold to his own children, their children and anyone deserving it.

Now I knew what had happened in the past, but I still had no idea how to complete the game. Back to going through all the locations, then. Luckily, nanny Évélina had something new to tell me. Apparently she knew a descendant of one of the slaves of Arnaud de Ronan, and by coincident, descendant of a slave who happened to have disappeared during the rebel. Her name was Man Cécé - a person mentioned in the manual - and she worked at the port.


What a coincidence that you hadn’t that pet earlier

Évélina also had a pet - a mongoose called Zouzouffe. We all know mongoose are the prime enemy of snakes, and luckily I got a soursop, which was favourite dinner of Zouzouffe. It was time to face the snake again.


I’ve waited for this moment


The sorcerer accepts my gift (black chicken)

Gwanzong, the local sorcerer, revealed to me then my final mission: I should save the souls of both Arnaud and Mewilo, locked in a sense by the pot of gold. To do this, I had to know the first names of their eldest living descendants. With Arnaud, the choice was clear: Nanor was probably older than either Anselme or Genevieve. Of Mewilo’s family line, I had heard only of Man Cécé. Perhaps it was time to visit her at the port.


Luckily she is willing to talk to me, because I have a mongoose of her dear friend

Before Man Cécé told me anything, I had to tell her the secret Martinique ingredient that wasn’t included in the calalou recipe in the manual.This was a bit difficult thing to google, so I just read the answer from the walkthrough (GOMBOS or okra). Man Céce really hadn’t anything new to add to the fate of Mewilo, but she did mention that her eldest brother was still living in the de Ronan plantation. While she didn’t mention the name of her brother, it couldn’t really have been anyone else, but Papa Echevain, whom I had met at the beginning of the game.

Now that I knew the two eldest persons of the two family lines, I would just have to somehow trigger the ending. How to do that? After a little bit of wandering from place to place, I gave up and just looked at the walkthrough again. Apparently I just had to guess that I should go to a secret place, where Arnaud had killed Mewilo. Once I knew I had to find the spot, it was easy to place it on the main map - it was near the source of the river, as Arnaud’s letter had told. Still, I felt this puzzle was a bit of a cheat, since all the other locations in the game were so clearly marked in the map.

So, then I just told the zombie the names of Nanor and Echevain and I had solved the game?


Not really

All right, I probably missed some clever nuance that told me I should only care about MALE descendants of Mewilo and Arnaud, and so, instead of Nanor, I should have thought of Anselme (I just don’t understand languages with gendered words). Even so, the game was pretty nitpicky about the exact phrasing you had to use, and eventually I just had to look at the walkthrough for it (ANSELME ET ECHEVAIN).

After telling the zombie these names, a hole appeared in the ground and I (presumably) shared the treasure with Anselme and Echevain (or then I just transferred the money to L. Ron Hubbard, in order to raise myself to the next level).


Everyone is happy, time to score the game!

Final rating

Puzzles and solvability


Mewilo resembles Cruise for Corpse in that the mystery to be solved is the primary puzzle, while most of the game time is spent in walking around and finding the next trigger to advance the plot. Luckily, Mewilo has a smaller game area with less things to look at, so it was relatively easy to go through all locations (and in some cases the game even hinted where I should be going next).

In addition to walking around, the game did have real puzzles. There were traditional adventure game puzzles, but these were mostly very simple and not very original fetch quests (he wants rum, so go find rum). Riddles are always a bit of a double-edged sword, since they can be sometimes too devious, but at least I managed to answer two of them easily, so I guess they weren’t that bad. And I’ve already said that the seemingly unfair trivia questions were not too big a deal, when you consider that Coktel Vision provided the answers in Minitel (and googling the answers certainly made me appreciate the game setting more).


I just have to find a way to introduce “vesou” (sugarcane juice)
in conversation to show my expertise in French

If the variety of the puzzles is a slightly positive thing, there are also clear negatives. Mewilo makes kind of a record in having both parser problems and unfair pixel hunting. Without these problems, I might have settled for 3, but now I think I must give a lower score.

Score: 2.

Interface and Inventory

In principle, Mewilo has a perfectly simple interface, in which you just click around to activate the hotspots. In practice, it is perhaps a tad too simple, since it doesn’t really allow the feel of a true interaction - most of the time, it felt more like I was passively reading a story than actively engaging with the environment. Especially the inability to engage in dialogues and ask some questions is a bit unforgivable in a mystery game (then again, the game would have been far easier, if I could have just, say, asked Man Cécé the name of her brother).

Furthermore, while having a colibri cursor might sound like a fun idea, it was actually pretty difficult to hit the right spot with it. Combined with the game’s reluctance to give any hints when some hotspot might be activated, the interface was a source of a constant frustration. Add to that the fact that there’s no in-game save ability and you won’t get a high score. Inventory was a bit simplistic, so that won’t result in more points (although the pictures of the six items in the game were reasonably nice).


Except the cage, which didn’t really look like anything

Score: 2.

Story and Setting

This is where Mewilo shines. Once you get past all the interface problems and bad puzzles, you get to the meat of the game, that is, the story. You could summarise the essence of the plot in one sentence: find out how to appease a zombie. Yet, entwined with this simple mystery premise we have tales of many families, of love and hate and all the other passions that moved them. And all of this emotion and intrigue is tightly embedded in real historical events - the colonisation of Martinique, slavery, rebellion, the eventual abolition of slavery, which still did not lead to equitable society, and the impending threat of an erupting volcano. Add to this the fact that the supernatural elements of the story are firmly grounded in the local traditions and you’ve got yourself a winner.


The meat of the story summarised in one letter

Score: 8.

Sounds and Graphics


To get the feel of how to score this dimension, I took a look of what scores did the other games in 1987 get - Police Quest and Larry got both 5, while Maniac Mansion rose to 7. I have to say that when it comes to music and other sound effects Mewilo clearly shines over what Sierra and Lucasarts had to offer at the time, mainly because Atari ST just had better sound capacities than PCs. As for the graphics, there isn’t as clear advantage - I think that Mewilo could have been imported to EGA. This means that it is difficult to say which of the games had best graphics, but at least Mewilo is as good as Larry 1 was. It is also good to point out that Mewilo has some animations, but mostly the game is quite static. All in all, I’d say Mewilo has a slight advantage over Sierra games of the era.

Score: 6.


My favourite image was the ghost of Arnaud
Environment and Atmosphere

The game successfully creates the impression that you are moving through historical Martinique. I was especially thrilled by all the hidden notes about the geography, biology and culture, which really helped me to form an idea of what the whole island was like. In addition to small size of the gameworld, the only real criticism I could think of is again the nature of the game that forces the player to visit all the different locations again and again, thus making the gameplay itself a bit boring.

Score: 4.

Dialogue and Acting

When I read the story in manual and heard that the same person was responsible for the dialogue in the game, I was afraid I wouldn’t even understand what the game was saying. Thankfully, the in-game text is not as poetic, so I had no problems in understanding French. Even though the in-game text was simpler, you could still see that it was done by an experienced writer - different persons had different ways of speaking and different vocabularies, depending on their social status and personal history. All in all, another quite strong dimension.

Score: 7.

2 + 2 + 8 + 6 + 4 + 7 = 29, which divided by 0.6 gives 48.




Now this is a score I hardly expected, when I started playing the game, yet, it does make perfect sense - what the game does well, it does extremely well, although it does have its flaws. Unfortunately, the weak elements of Mewilo make it not very entertaining as a game. In fact, I’d rather call it a graphical version of interactive fiction or a visual novel. I just hope that despite the language barrier more people would have the courage to get to know this hidden gem.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent! I wonder how many more of these hidden gems we have out there that we've missed out on so far. This is our #3 best Missed Classic. (Only "Witness" and "It Came from the Desert" are scored higher.) And it's in French! Who would have thought?


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    1. I think many Infocom adventures would rise to same scores, although they would obviously lose points because of their lack of graphics.

      Mewilo certainly deserves the award it received. If only the interface were a little bit better and some of the nastier puzzles were removed and it would have risen above 50.

      The only question remaining is how could they (Coktel Vision and Muriel Tramis) have produced Emmanuelle after this?

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  2. A missed classic is the first one to get an 8 in Story & Setting! Who would have thought?

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    Replies
    1. What can I say - it clearly doesn't hurt if you have a professional writer in your design theme.

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  3. That was an interesting journey into an adventure game I'd never heard of. Thanks, Ilmari.

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