“Aotearoa” by Matt Wigdahl
The Fish of Maui. 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…
So it’s The Lost World with a name I can’t pronounce. Whatever. I like dinosaurs. This could be good. Do the spoiler, spoiler…
I’ll just say it: “Aotearoa” is fantastic. I wasn’t sure I would like it at first, but as it picked up I found it to be a great experience. It’s also very, very polished and tuned for this comp: I played through the game once, and it took me 1 hour 54 minutes. Bravo Mr. Wigdahl!
In Aotearoa you play as a young man who’s been selected to study dinosaurs on the eponymous continent. You’ve been separated from your study group, and the boat that’s taking you to meet them is attacked. You wash ashore with Eruera, an injured man who acts as your motivation, hint system, and a rich source of extra knowledge about the setting. You explore the forest where you washed ashore, avoiding a group of poachers and trying to find help.
Most of the game’s puzzles involve manipulating the various animals (including dinosaurs) in some way. I found four different kinds of animals, and while two of them are simply item guards it was clever how they would interact with one another. The game also allows you to name animals, which I found both helpful and endearing. Instead of typing “notoceratops” over and over, I just named him “Notes” and the game referred to him that way as well.
This isn’t a difficult game. It uses the keyword system from Aaron A. Reed’s Blue Lacuna, and it really streamlines the experience to have key objects pointed out. The in-game hints were more than enough for me, and though I died once or twice toward the end, a quick UNDO got me back on track. Most notably, the end of the game is a pretty intense action sequence that never drops its intensity. I will be curious to replay this and find out what I missed, or how else I could have solved the game. I never did figure out what that pushable boulder was for, and the options at the poacher’s camp seemed endless – I wanted to get my stuff back, but never stopped long enough to do so. If I map really well, can I fool the poachers and circle back around them?
It’s not absolutely perfect. After I was captured by the poachers I somehow managed to call Eruera to discuss the notoceratops, even though I didn’t have my radio. I was also a little disappointed at the beginning when I was told I had a lucky rabbit’s foot, but “rub foot” only told me “You achieve nothing by this.” The game also ends somewhat abruptly – I didn’t realize that driving off in the speedboat would mean I had achieved my objective. But these are mere drops in a bucket of awesome.