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Firebird

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Bonnie Montgomery

GAME DEVELOPER:Freeware

GAME PUBLISHER:Freeware

Copyright 1998, Bonnie Montgomery

One of the most unknown gems on the great IF archive at GMD, Firebird is a unique, original, and enjoyable game based on one of the most beloved Russian myths (which is also one of the best known outside Russia, thanks to Stravinsky’s classical music The Firebird Suite). Duncan Stevens elaborated the merits of the game in his excellent-as-usual SPAG review:

“For what it’s worth, you’re the third son of a tsar, and you’ve been chosen to bag the Firebird of the title, which has been stealing the golden fruit from your father’s orchard. Once you do catch the bird, you get sent on a Quest to defeat the Evil Nasty Guy, overcoming scary obstacles along the way and even getting Useful Social Guidance as well, namely that you should be kind to animals. (Moreover, everything seems to come in sets of three, a common number–along with seven–in these stories.) Russian folk tales are not, it appears, drastically different from those of Western Europe, such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, certain not in their hallmarks. But there is also plenty of humor along with the stock scenes and characters, fortunately: a series of dimwitted guards, even if repetitive (you defeat all of them with the same ploy), is sufficiently comic to make the idea feel fresh. There is plenty of absurdity as well: you get help from an army of Japanese cooks at one point, who attack with pepper grinders (really), and kissing a frog turns it into…an axe murderer. The humorous bits and the small size of the game keep the game moving along despite the more time-worn elements.

The authenticity of the references to actual Russian stories cannot be verified, but judging from the bibliography and the footnotes sprinkled here and there, the author seems to have done plenty of homework along the way, which helps reduce the sense that this is a generic fairy tale. At one point, you encounter two peasants swapping jokes which, somehow, feel just bizarre enough to be real Russian jokes; at another, you encounter “three times nine” knights, which, as the author explains, really means, in Russian folk tale parlance, 27. There is more than enough of this sort of thing to keep the story feeling fresh, though it’s more the author’s wit than the stories themselves that gives the game its appeal. (My favorite reference of all, actually, was the Firebird’s tendency to “whistle the greatest hits of Stravinsky.”). The writing is excellent, though there’s rather a lot of it at certain key points, often several screens’ worth, and several descriptions are a bit on the skimpy side–though most locales are standard enough that they don’t need extensive writing to come across. Moreover, as with most good fairy tales, the scale starts small and then builds–you start out doing menial tasks for your father–so that, when the author does lay on superlatives, they don’t feel tired.

As noted, the puzzles are straightforward enough that they shouldn’t slow the player down much, though there are some slightly unfair bits–notably, having to wait around for 15-20 turns before someone comes along and drops an item that turns out to be useful later on. There are some clues to the possibility of that event, but they’re not particularly strong. There are some other bugs, but not many, and they don’t impede the game all that much, and the end of the story is appropriately climactic and easy to figure out. The relative ease of the puzzles also makes this an appealing possibility for younger players, though some of the references–such as the baba yaga–might require explanation. The real fly in the ointment is a large maze; it doesn’t seem like the game would lose much if it were cut down or eliminated.

Though the plot won’t exactly throw anyone for a loop, Firebird is a quick, enjoyable game that might herald something new, namely IF grounded in a specific cultural tradition.” Highly recommended, especially to beginners to IF who want a nice story-based game with forgiving puzzles. Fans of The Last Express will also enjoy the charm of Russian motifs that are similar to that CD-ROM classic. Two thumbs up!



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