I am more ambivalent about Lost Secrets of the Rainforest than any other game I've written about on the blog here. Most of the games I asked to write about were ones that I knew something about before I started, and this one is no exception, since it is the sequel to the cheerful Ecoquest. You might think that making a sequel would be easier, since some ideas or characters or settings get carried over from the original game. Yet I find that a sequel nearly always struggles to live up to the bar set by its original. What carries over tends to constrain the sequel rather than letting it be its own thing.
I could expand that into a thesis with examples, but we're here to look at Lost Secrets, so I'll focus on why translating Ecoquest into a rainforest setting didn't result in a similarly charming experience as the original underwater game. I wanted to like it, and some things I did like, but others I didn't.
Puzzles and Solvability
Most of the puzzles were reasonably straightforward; like Ecoquest, the story is pitched around middle-school age, so nothing is deliberately tricky, and there are no dead ends as far as I know. However, I really struggled with several puzzles that felt arbitrary. There was nothing in the first game that was tightly timed, so the sequence in the camp where the goon would catch you if you were in the wrong place too long was rather jarring. I spent the most time on that sequence, having to restart over and over to test where I could go and when in order to get things done. It was tedious at best.
|I saw this screen way too much.|
I'm not sure I can say any of the puzzles were particularly good, actually, although most were reasonable inventory puzzles. The most memorably interesting was the one about matching the bats with the leaves described by their classification names. Even this one seemed slightly arbitrary and/or dependent on external knowledge.
|Scanning was too easy to forget about.|
Interface and Inventory
For the most part, the interface, including the inventory window, was classic Sierra, and there's nothing wrong with that. The bright, clear menu icons and easy-to-use cursor modes are very familiar to anyone who has played a few Sierra games. The few devices (the scanner and Slaughter's organizer, mostly) were intuitive as well.
|The usual Sierra menu bar...and an invisible exit off to the right.|
I thought at the time that it was mostly a function of having to depict the three-dimensional underwater setting, but now I'm not so sure. There were no underwater screens in Lost Secrets, and yet I still had trouble with unclear exits in multiple places. In fact, on that very first screen, the exit to the right is not only invisible, it's invisibly split: walking along the plank is the only way to get to the fisherman on the other screen.
The category still scores well because once I knew what I had to do, I didn't have trouble actually doing it. The interface doesn't get in the way, but if I could improve it, I would have it provide a little more information about exits.
Story and Setting
While Ecoquest was a rather cliché "fulfill the prophecy" sort of story all the way through, Lost Secrets is more subtle about it. Well, on the one hand, it starts out similarly in the sense that Adam gets recruited by animals (this time literally kidnapped, in fact!) to help them with their problems. But then he has to go on a journey to find the treasure (Forest Heart's seedling, that is) on behalf of the human tribe as well as to help the animals.
|Everyone knows what this is already.|
About Ecoquest, I said this: "I also find the story less compelling because Adam himself, as the player character, has no particular character growth. He's already a precocious kid and knows a lot about the ocean and sea animals and the related environmental issues... If Adam weren't already this kind of person, he could never have fulfilled the prophecy. But it means the player is being encouraged to become more like Adam, so he's a role model rather than an avatar."
This is still true in Lost Secrets to some extent, albeit not quite as obviously because Adam doesn't give infodumps here: most of the information on environmental issues comes from the scanner, not from Adam. So Adam may be learning some factual information, but he's still already someone who will automatically help the animals and therefore has little character growth. The character arc would have been far more compelling if the main character had been someone who had had a bad experience with animals and started out fearful or angry, only to learn to appreciate them in the course of the journey and end up saving the day in the end, having seen the awful results of the destruction of their habitats.
In fact, the character with the most character growth here is arguably Llusti, the tribesman who upset the weaver and had to apologize to her. Adam is his usual friendly and helpful self throughout the game, while Slaughter and his goon are caricaturishly awful antagonists who are just there to drive the story forward. Paquita the bat is cute, but doesn't actually do very much, while Sinchi the shaman is the wise mentor.
|How does this magnifying glass even get here??|
Sound and Graphics
I found the sounds to be reasonably atmospheric, although the music ended up rather repetitive after a while, especially the ominous piece that plays during the escape sequence from Slaughter's camp that I had to replay over and over. That piece has a continuous high-pitched rattle, like an alarm, playing under the intermittent rhythm, which really got on my nerves. It was such a relief once the goon was gone because the awful sound stopped and the area was mostly quiet except for some water sounds.
Some of the jungle screens have more cheerful, bouncy songs. Inside Forest Heart, there's a rhythmically harmonious song with bright percussion that sounds almost like a xylophone. Parts of the Lost City itself have a sort of abandoned, jangly sound, like wind chimes and squeaky doors, while the final island with the pool has music with a beautifully contemplative melody. That one was good, but I think my favorite was inside Forest Heart.
Graphics are generally bright, a bit cartoonish, even, and quite detailed. Adam himself isn't nearly as cute as in the first game. He's clearly older and his portrait is more detailed. Many of the animals are at least slightly anthropomorphized by wearing glasses or clothes or other human items.
|Is this not the cutest thing ever?? (Adam from Ecoquest)|
|Cute, but not as cute.|
|The most depressing area of the game.|
Environment and Atmosphere
Lost Secrets has plenty of atmosphere, but it isn't always a pleasant atmosphere. I mentioned Slaughter's camp, which is oppressively bleak due to his clearcutting and harsh destruction of the area. Even the starting location on the edge of the city of Iqitos, Peru, is pretty ugly, but later we get into the rainforest proper, and things look more interesting.
|Only two buildings for an entire tribe to live and work in?|
|So many different types of birds and animals living in this one tree.|
Dialog and Acting
Nearly everything has a clear description, and I didn't notice any grammatical or textual errors in the text. In fact, a few objects have as many as three descriptions: a normal one triggered by using the eye cursor, a detailed description accessed by scanning it to identify its name and then looking up the name in the scanner, and an alternate description triggered by using the magnifying glass.
|The only actual use for the magnifying glass.|
|One of the few voiced lines.|
The environmental issues seem well-researched and realistic. Lost Secrets is less directly preachy than Ecoquest was: we see the effects of the problems more directly. As I mentioned, any extra information is generally provided by the scanner rather than by Adam.
That adds up to a final score of 3+6+5+6+7+6 = 33/60*100 = 55.
So in every category except Puzzles, Lost Secrets ended up similar to or nearly as good as Ecoquest. The interface was the same. The story was less cliché but had more plot holes, so it was a wash. The music and graphics were good but not as pretty (the camp area was especially awful for both); the atmosphere was less silly but still intense; and the writing was similarly strong. But the puzzles were definitely weaker and the overall effect was just not as fun.
I really enjoyed Ecoquest and didn't have any trouble finishing the game, whereas with Lost Secrets, I had to force myself to push through the camp section and finish. I'm glad I did finish, because there are some great moments here and there, like flying on the eagle, and seeing Paquita's baby, but it was a slog to get there. Despite my troubles, I hope you enjoyed reading about Lost Secrets, and I should be back at some point in the future with Gateway II: Homeworld, which should be a much smoother experience.
EcoQuest CAP Distribution
100 points to Reiko
- Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging through this game for our enjoyment
- Classic Blogger Awarg - 50 CAPs - For blogging through Zombi for our enjoyment
- True Companion Award - 10 CAPs - For playing Lost Secrets along with me
- Villain Stupidity Award - 3 CAPs - For describing exactly why Slaughter is a stupid villain
- Goblin Comparison Award - 2 CAPs - For noting that the tiger puzzle was similar to one in Gobliins 2
- Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of Lost Secrets
- Aquatic Biologist Award - 3 CAPs - For knowing that Amazonian river dolphins are a real type of dolphin
10 points to Alex Romanov
10 points to Lisa H.
- Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of Zombi
- Thorough Fan Award - 10 CAPs - For writing her own walkthrough for the game
- Puzzle Assistant Award - 10 CAPs - For providing hints on the timed camp puzzle
- Puzzle Assistant Award - 10 CAPs - For providing hints on the poultice puzzle
- Paint Expert Award - 5 CAPs - For providing info on paint used for background art
- Scanner Watchman Award - 3 CAPs - For warning about missable points with scanning
Haven't played either game, but it does seem that most people consider the second game to be slightly inferior to the first.ReplyDelete
The rating breakdown makes sense, although for my own tastes I feel the graphics in Ecoquest 2 are overall more sophisticated than 1, even if at times depicting a depressing subject matter. Speaking as an artist myself, the point is sometimes to make you feel something the artist has chosen you to fell, not necessarily to make you feel good about everything you're seeing. And the contrast to more lush or exciting scenes makes those all the sweeter. The harsh look and sound of the scene is, however, aggravated by the fact that it's a difficult, multi-step sequence that takes a while to escape (even for those of us checking a walkthrough). A few edits to the puzzle design there might have been a wiser choice for the devs.ReplyDelete
Nice one! I kinda wanna play this now (and definitely have to read the coverage of the first one!). ThanxReplyDelete
Being picky and annoying here, but: "Secret", singular. It's only right at the top of every screenshot ;)ReplyDelete