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Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 1999, Jim Aikin

Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina is a highly underrated piece of IF that slipped unnoticed past most gamers’ radar screens when it was released in 1999. The capsule review at Baf’s guide to IF Archive sums it up well about this underdog: “…You are a harried mother who has been given an impossible assignment: finding an incredibly rare toy for your daughter on Christmas Eve. The game begins as you arrive in the parking lot of the only mall left that still has one.

While most of the dozens of puzzles are fair, there are a couple of mathematical riddles and visualization puzzles that had me tearing my hair out. It also contains some cultural references that may make it difficult for non-native English speakers. Nevertheless, the game’s sheer density (and the strength of its adaptive hints system) make this the best puzzle game I’ve seen since Curses.”

NJAOB is indeed a very, very good puzzle-intensive game in the grand Infocom tradition. There are tons of shops in the mall you can explore, almost all of which have a unique puzzle attached to them, which in turn relates to another puzzle somewhere else. The difficulty level of the puzzles ranges from easy/medium to almost-impossible. Fortunately, the in-game hint system, as the capsule review suggests, is excellent. Since the game gives you gentle hints on the puzzle at hand but never outright solution, you will be motivated to solve the puzzles on your own without becoming overly frustrated. Needless to say, this is an excellent system that I hope more designers will use.

The plot isn’t the real star of the game (the puzzles are), but the designer still manages to stick in a few surprising twists and fantastical characters, including a depressed elf. The non-player characters aren’t given as much attention as I would have liked to see, but the game’s strong puzzles make this concern secondary. With a truly epic scope, solid hint system, and lots of ingenious puzzles of every imaginable kind, Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina is not just an ordinary game, but a true modern-day classic IF that every fan should play– especially IF experts looking for a truly challenging puzzle-fest. Two thumbs up, way up!

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