IF Comp ’10: Ninja’s Fate

Ninja’s Fate By Hannes Schueller

Blurb: Sent by his village elders to retrieve a stolen gold idol, a ninja finds himself in a Panksian world. Little does he know his true destiny is waiting for him here…

Expectations: Hannes Schueller wrote last year’s The Believable Adventures of an Invisible man, a game I thoroughly disliked. But word has it he went back and fixed a lot of the problems. That’s cool, more authors should do this. I haven’t played the new version but that Hannes was willing to go back and fix his old game gives me a lot of hope for this one.

I first read “ninja finds himself in a Panksian world” as Pakistan world. I didn’t know how I felt about that. Then I re-read and realized it’s Panksian. As in Paul Panks? Lord.

A word about spoilers: I’m of the opinion that to properly review a game there needs to be an open discourse. You can’t get to the heart of a game if you limit yourself to only talking about certain parts of it. Spoilers, I got ‘em! I can and will gleefully spoil all aspects of the game: from plot points to puzzle solutions to endings; I won’t hold back. Of course, I won’t do so needlessly. I’m not going to spoil a big twist just ’cause. But if it’s pertinent to my review I won’t kowtow away from it. You have been warned.

I’ve never played a Paul Panks game, but I’ve read a fair amount of reviews. They’re generally along the same lines: “you know what you’re getting here. Big open world with little description, randomized combat, shoddy implementation.” Not something I yearn to experience. The about text confirms that Ninja’s Fate is a tribute to Panks. You play as a Ninja tasked to retrieve an idol stolen from his ninja village. “Alright,” I thought, “get in, get the idol, get out. Let’s make this as painless as possible.”

Turns out that the idol is contained in a museum. That’s not a bad hook. Ninja doesn’t know about museums; hijinks ensue. Except that Ninja’s Fate isn’t just a tribute to Panks in style but also content. The museum is a museum to Panks himself. This sends the game into a realm of surreality that’s rather hard (if you’ll excuse the pun) to parse. Especially if, like me, you didn’t pick up on the fact that it was a museum to Panks right away.

Thinking it was still a natural history museum or something I wandered into a section called Westfront and was greeted with

Westfront
The dim light makes it hard to make out much of the shape of this room. This makes you feel safe and comfortable. Your cat-like vision reveals exits to the north, south, east and west.

You can see an exit sign, a kennel, a puddle of mud and a lion here.

Uh… so this is some sort of diorama? And the lion is stuffed? But what does it mean by kennel? Examining it just tells me that it’s empty. And then the lion attacks! I kill it with my ninja sword and it disappears like a hologram. What? What what what what? How is this a museum?!

Once I realized the museum was all about Panks I figured it out. Westfront PC was one of his more (in)famous games. And here is a collection of rooms from it. Great! I guess. But it this is an indication of what Panks games were like, I’m glad I missed out.

>x puddle
Just dirt.

Isn’t a puddle, like, the opposite of dirt? Does this sort of thing really deserve a tribute?

I had a really hard time separating the purposely bad parts from real errors (the fact that Hannes last game, at least the version I played, was kinda a mess didn’t help). Consider the following: a room full of frames, labeled by year, that display Pank’s works of IF.

Early Works Gallery
This is a long, narrow room with exits to the east and west. Computers standing on pedestals are lined up on one wall; frames are hanging on the other one.

>x frames
They are labelled with numbers which are most likely referring to years of the Gregorian calendar. They range from 1993 to 2005.

>x 1993
Which do you mean, the first 1993 frame, the second 1993 frame or the third 1993 frame?

>first
It is labelled “Adventure RD”.

>x second frame
Which do you mean, the second 1993 frame, the second 1994 frame, the second 2002 frame, the second 2003 frame, the second 2004 frame or the second 2005 frame?

Ow my brain. Is this an accurate example of Pank’s coding or is it just a painful bug? I have no clue, and I don’t want to find out.

I got the idol and escaped, at which point the ghost of Panks told me he was sad. I’m sorry I didn’t like your terrible museum to terribleness enough to discover all of its secrets, Paul. I found two of the game’s six endings. The hints say that the best of them is also the most simple to find, you just need to take the direct and obvious route. I tried to kill myself with the ninja sword. When that didn’t work I gave up forever.

With Ninja’s Fate I never felt like I had solid ground to stand on. I wish this game had been the Ninja bumbling around in a museum adventure I thought it was at first. I’m not sure how to go about rating this. People who are familiar with Panks might find this a worthy tribute to his legacy. And so, I will leave it to them. I’m abstaining from voting and move on to greener pastures; ones where the puddles aren’t made of dirt.

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