From the Database of Home of the Underdogs
GAME DESIGNER:Gayla Wennstrom
Copyright 2005, Gayla Wennstrom
Finding Martin is a huge, clever, and fun “old-school” puzzle-fest text adventure that harks back to the good old days of Zork. Despite some (admittedly long) moments in which I felt clueless as to what to do next, due to lack of sufficient “gentle nudges” by the game, I found Finding Martin to be a refreshingly fun game that Infocom fans will gladly sink their teeth into. The thorough review at IF-Review says it all:
“Finding Martin is not particularly large room-wise, but it’s crammed full of puzzles. These are of wildly varying size some are short and require just manipulating a single object, while others are elaborate and require bits from literally a dozen rooms (I am thinking here in particular of a time-travel puzzle that puts the chute in Sorcerer to shame). They’re also of varying quality many of the puzzles range between fun and delightful to solve, but there are also many others that are either too trivial or require extensively reading the author’s mind/walkthrough.
Another important setting consideration in a crazy house is what sort of other areas the PC travels to that aren’t directly in the house. Crazy house games tend to be both be defined by and fight against the structure of the house. Finding Martin is a perfect example here, sending the PC to shopping malls, outer space, and someplace near Bora Bora, all as part of exploring the house. The curious thing is that these sort of excursions don’t make it feel like the PC is exiting the house on the contrary, they make it feel like all these places are contained within the house, which just becomes the bigger for it. Another classic house trope is to extend the travelling to going across time, and, though it’s no First Things First, Finding Martinn makes strong use of this convention too.
The next crazy house measuring point is one that’s close to my heart and clearly close to Wennstrom’s heart as well. I speak, of course, of the quality of the gadgets in the house. Or, in other words, how awesome would it be to be twelve years old and live in this house? To back up my claim that it would be completely awesome to the infinite power, I need say nothing more than that there is a train track that runs through the house that enables a little model train to move things from room to room, and in fact deliver room service from the kitchen. And this isn’t even getting into how you get water in the bathtub, or how Martin opens his closet, or what exactly is in the upstairs bedrooms. I haven’t played Hollywood Hijinx, which I understand is also quite strong in this department, but I would still say Finding Martin is a strong contender for Best Crazy House Gadgets Ever.
The last things on my priority list, as is only appropriate for the genre, are the plot and NPCs and backstory and so on. These frankly aren’t that important, but Finding Martinn does a perfectly serviceable job. The main trick here is for the author to convince us that the plot isn’t a thinly put-together excuse to put in a bunch of puzzles, and Wennstrom does that just fine. This game actually has a slight twist on the genre, since the house was not built by Martin it was actually built by his dad, and Martin’s entire family plays a real role in the plot of the game. The game also does some interesting things with cutscenes. Many games try and keep cutscenes short and to the point. Finding Martin has revealed to me that the real thing to do with cutscenes is be bold and take great leaps the game has no compunction about using a cutscene to take me from flying through the air to locked up in the hold of a pirate ship while a battle rages all around, and it totally works. As long as it’s entertaining and fast-paced I am totally willing to be dragged along for the ride. The one problem I had with the plot is I’m afraid the endgame is very weak. It’s extremely short, for one thing, and it seems almost purposely designed as a two-step process to defuse any sort of climax. But the upside of it being short is that it’s over quickly, and I could get on to the satisfaction of having completed the game.
There’s …the issue of player guidance, or lack thereof. This won’t be a problem to die-hard puzzlers of the old school, who will happily pound on every object in the game repeatedly until they discover what they can work on next, but more modern players will probably be turning to the walkthrough for some kind of hint as to what area to work on next. You can definitely do exploring on your own, but the fact that the game can be made unwinnable made me nervous about relying on it too much. I suppose both of these point to a certain lack of beta-testing, but on the other hand I didn’t find any actual bugs as such, and the loving attention that was obviously lavished on the game shows it can’t have been too neglected.
If you’ve read this far, it should be pretty obvious if you want to play Finding Martin or not. It’s not a minor commitment, but if you haven’t played a game this size in a while, and you have a few weeks (and ideally a friend to play it with), I definitely suggest picking it up. There’s a whole lot of game here, and all the effort it calls for won’t go unrewarded.”