Mini-Review: Jewels of the Oracle

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

Well, I broke down and bought it in the store (I was having a bad day.)

First note: the CD contains both the IBM and Macintosh versions, so if you're looking for it, you may have to look under IBM CD games rather than Mac CD games. A clever store (or catalog) will put it in both places, but not all are clever.

Ok, let's have a look at it.

There are (to answer my question from a few days ago) 24 puzzles. That's quite good. I played with it for about four hours, and found them pretty equally divided between

I played with it for about four hours, saw perhaps a dozen puzzles of the 24, and solved six. I'd say it's well worth the $40 store price -- for the (a) category, if nothing else. (And if I'd had the patience to wait for it to appear in MacWarehouse, with their lower prices, it would have been even more worthwhile.)

Most of the puzzles are independent, but at least one requires objects from other rooms, and there are a lot of mysterious wall markings which I suspect are important. Not having played the whole thing, or even seen half the puzzles, I don't know for sure.

There is no plot (other than "solve all the puzzles and see the ending.") You can work on the puzzles in any order, but if you leave a puzzle unsolved and come back, it gets reset to the initial state.

You can get small cryptic hints from the Oracle. Typically, the hints help you figure out the rules of the puzzle; actually solving the thing is left up to you. There is a "Decline" option which you can use to cheat through a puzzle you're totally stuck on; that will let you see the ending. Of course, if you've cheated on any puzzles, the ending you get to isn't as good as the real ending. (Or so the manual says.) (If you cheat on a puzzle you can go back later and solve it for real, removing the black mark.)

More pros:

The graphics are fantastic. Very detailed; there's a terrific sense of being in an old place; everything is worn and faded. They seriously put in the effort to make every transition smooth. Every place-to-place movement has a smooth animation. In a puzzle, if you're moving pieces around, you drag them and they slide smoothly instead of "jumping". If a puzzle has an object moving around in a three-dimensional space, by god they render an animation of every possible three-dimensional movement. The sounds and background music are also great. Lots of echoey grating noises as millenia-old machines come to life. Play it with the speakers turned up.

Aha, I hear you cry -- is it too slow? Mmm, it's kinda slow. There's a fast "Shaman" mode which turns off most (but not all) of the place-to-place animations; that makes moving around acceptably fast. (There are no important details in those animations, so you won't miss anything, although I recommend staying in slow mode the first time you enter each puzzle-area.) You can't do anything about the smooth animations within each puzzle, but those are all brief; there was only one puzzle where I seriously wanted to move faster than the game would let me.

It's a MacroMind Director product. This means that it's slower and more bloated than it really needs to be. (Hopefully, they'll take a clue from Journeyman Project and release a turbo edition someday.) I have an '040, 12 megs memory, and a double-speed CD drive, and I found it getting jumpy every now and then. I'm not sure whether the bottleneck was the processor or the CD; I suspect the CD. Anyone tried it with 3x or 4x speed CD drives?

If you've seen the demo, take note: the configuration has changed since the demo was released. (In fact, it's changed since the manual was printed; there was a big list of corrections included in the box.) Instead of 8-bit, 16-bit, and 24-bit versions for various memory sizes, there are only 8-bit color versions of the game. They're labelled "4.8 meg", "5.2 meg", "8 meg", and "10 meg"; you pick one depending on how much free memory you have. There are also a few shortcuts in the corrections which aren't in the manual. Read 'em; you'll want to know how to skip every transition you can.

Summary: Worth the price. Will keep me busy for weeks, although I suspect that half that time will be spent on a few stubborn puzzles.

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