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Black Sheep's Gold Reviews
Author: Driftingon
Date: 2003
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by David Whyld

Finally released after much delay on the writer’s part, Black Sheep’s Gold follows the adventures of a young girl called Maria as she embarks on a quest to find her great-grandfather Rupert’s hidden treasure. Rupert, it turns out, is the black sheep of the game’s title and the gold is the proceeds of a bank robbery some sixty years before, and while Rupert himself was arrested for the crime the location of the gold was never uncovered. Until now…

Black Sheep’s Gold has a professional feel to it throughout. Locations are very well detailed with most of the static items examinable and often containing either items or clues to help you through the game. There’s no hints system used here but then Black Sheep’s Gold doesn’t really require any hints. Most of the puzzles are straightforward and direct and are mainly a case of whether you have the right object for the right task. Even when you don’t have the right object it’s not difficult figuring out what you need and how to get it. There are very few instances when you really need to struggle to figure out what to do next.Where the game excels is in the writing which is excellent throughout. It’s mainly a light-hearted game and is enjoyable to play for the most part. In fact, the only really negative thing I could find to say about it involves the kidnapping of the little girl by a gang of thugs also after the gold and an unpleasant incident when one of them stamps on her wrist. Considering that Black Sheep’s Gold had been pretty much a cheerful and happy game up to that stage, the sudden kidnapping and assault comes as quite a shock and doesn’t seem to fit in well with the rest of the story. At times, it’s like the writer decided to combine two very different games and the result didn’t quite work.

Bad things aside, this is certainly a game worth playing. Mystery and Campbell Wild even pop up as characters in the main town (examining Mystery leads to an amusing comment about beta-testing which was probably the funniest thing in the game!) Unfortunately the rest of the characters aren’t particularly enthralling; conversation isn’t well handled on the whole, being just a simple case of “talk to [character]” and a set response. There’s no real interaction which is a shame because the game would have benefited immensely from this, especially in light of the hints in the magazine found in the first location which specifically tell you to talk to the characters.

A few rough edges - the kidnapping and assault and some truly bad guess the verb problems - let the game down but nevertheless Black Sheep’s Gold is certainly a decent game.

Logic: 9 out of 10
Nothing really illogical about it although when exits just mysteriously appear after a task has been completed when there was no sign of them before, it often leaves me scratching my head in confusion.

Problems: 5 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
Guess the verb – the dreaded bane of quite a few games – was out in force here. Getting through the wall in the cave was a nightmare even though I knew roughly what I should be doing but the worst problems hit with the bear. I must have typed twenty or thirty different phrases (all meaning pretty much the same thing) before the damn bear finally took the honey and left me alone – “feed bear” and “give honey to bear” failed miserably. It also didn’t help matters much that when both the snake and the bear had been dealt with the location description still has them listed as being present.

Story: 8 out of 10
Well written and interesting enough to hold your attention.

Characters: 4 out of 10
Better interaction would have been a great bonus as, while conversations with characters are possible, they don’t have a lot to say and what they do say generally doesn’t have much relevance.

Writing: 8 out of 10
Excellent from start to finish. Some of the darker elements of the story could have been toned a little though.

Game: 7 out of 10
Despite a few unpleasant moments, this was a great game overall and definitely bodes well for the writer’s future adventures.

Overall: 41 out of 60


Reviewed by Emily Short (originally in SPAG #37  http://sparkynet.com/spag/backissues/SPAG37)

[Obligatory disclaimer: I played this game on the MacScare interpreter,and it is conceivable that there were some differences between my experience and what someone would experience using the ADRIFT runner.From looking at other people's comments on the game, though, I get the impression that I am not the only one suffering guess-the-verb issues. I did not encounter anything in the playthrough that seemed like evidence of a definite flaw in MacScare.]

"Black Sheep's Gold", by Driftingon, starts as a slice of life piece about an eight-year-old girl who has to clean the attic; soon, however, she discovers evidence of a treasure hidden by a relative many years before, and goes off in search of it.

The young narrator is one of the game's strongest points. Aside from some character-breaking moments towards the end, she remains perky and distinctive throughout, putting a personal spin on the rather mundane house in which she lives. She's obviously a bit precocious, but there's
nothing wrong with that.

The game's prose is also quite decent -- I didn't find many problems or errors -- and the implementation (except for some parsing issues) seemed fairly strong and consistent throughout.

The NPCs in the game were varied; most only have one or two (not very interesting) lines to say, but a few are more interestingly fleshed out, including amusing in-joke cameos: ADRIFT's creator Campbell Wild appears as the rather odd owner of an aquatic pet shop, and at least one other name was familiar to me from the ADRIFT forum.

Other aspects of "Black Sheep's Gold" don't work quite as well. For one thing, I found myself faced with a number of guess-the-verb moments, and at a couple of key points could only get through with the help of a transcript. The game does alleviate some of these problems by putting correct action phrasings in italics some of the time -- but it doesn't do this quite consistently enough, and in a few places I was left high and dry. (It also italicizes the names of any important objects in a room, which is either a convenience or goofy and annoying, depending on how you look at it. It certainly draws attention away from immersion towards the user interface.)

The puzzles themselves (aside from phrasing difficulties) are extremely simple and obvious, too. Frequently the game quite blatantly tells the player how to solve them, with suggestions like "If I only had a rope ladder, I would be able to LOWER THE LADDER FROM THE WINDOW and CLIMB DOWN!". (Example changed to protect the innocent, though I'm not sure why I bother trying not to spoil puzzles that give themselves away like this.)

I don't know much about the background of the game, but I found myself starting to wonder whether it had been designed for younger players. That would explain the age of the protagonist, the not-at-all-challenging puzzle design, and the game's tendency to draw special attention to important nouns and verbs. The experienced IFpuzzle-solver is likely to find most of the puzzles too simple to be very interesting, however.

One final difficulty was the pacing. A fair amount of time is given to the prologue and to what I thought were opening stages of the midgame, so I assumed that the later portions of the plot would unfold at the same rate. But just at the point of the game when things seemed to be getting interesting and I hoped for high adventure, I was ambushed... by infodumps. There comes a point where you find yourself reading pages and pages of text about all sorts of interesting but uninteractive events. Then there are a couple more fairly obvious puzzles, and the game ends. And the ending -- well, it seems to me that the final few paragraphs break with the narrator's charming personality and go somewhat more
cynical and world-weary than suits the rest of the game. I was disappointed. A more obvious ending would probably have been trite, but I still didn't entirely like the effect of this, since most of what had carried me through earlier had been sympathy for the kid.

So overall I thought "Black Sheep's Gold" showed considerable effort, a fair amount of polish, and a mostly-charming narrator. On the other hand, it has some unintentionally frustrating moments, and does not offer much challenge as far as puzzles go. It might be suitable for
younger players being introduced to IF, but they would still probably need a little help with phrasing a few commands correctly.


Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.

 

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