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The Riddle of Master Lu


Release date: 1995
Developer/Publisher: Sanctuary Woods

Game language: English

RSAC: Violence – Humans killed

Boxshots


 

A review by  MaryScots   4th March 2005

 

‚The Riddle of Master Lu’ is the first adventure recognised by a wide audience Lee Sheldon wrote the story for and it is the first (and only) adventure produced under licence of ‘Ripley’s – Believe It Or Not!’. Though it was planned the development of another Ripley-game was doomed to fail when Sanctuary woods had to close its doors.

 

Licence

From 1930 until 1940 the real Robert Ripley travelled to over 200 countries and amazed his radio-audience by live-reports aired from the remotest and most peculiar corners of the world, e.g. snake-pits, underwater, up high in the air or caverns. All along he was looking for unbelievable stories, people with the most outrageous abilities and mysterious artefacts to be displayed or documented in his so-called ‘Odditorium’, a museum dedicated to all kinds of curiosities. The adventures of this remarkable man - lately nick-named ‘the real Indy Jones’ – virtually scream for being made the topic of an adventure game and Sanctuary Woods heard that call resulting in the development of the game on hand.

 

Background

The place of eternal rest of Qin Shi Huang Di - China’s first emperor after whom the empire was named – is located in today’s Chinese province of Xi’an. The tomb - now being one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites - became world-famous for its army of 7000 terracotta soldiers. Farmers discovered the tomb by coincidence in March 1974. Until today archaeologists managed to excavate only a quarter of the entire site. It would certainly have been a huge success for Robert Ripley had he of all people discovered this monument of history in 1936 already but this adventure is the brainchild of Lee Sheldon – Believe It or Not!

 

Story

The year is 1936. Robert Ripley, world-famous comic artist and collector of all kinds of curiosities narrowly escaped two hooded men and is now safely back at his New York Odditorium. Safe? Well, almost. Somebody has been there before Ripley, has tied his trusted employee Feng Li to the office chair and left the large and dangerous King’s cobra on the desktop as a "guard". After Ripley has secured the snake and freed his friend the latter explains that two men have attacked him and rummaged the office for Ripley’s file on the tomb of China’s first emperor.

Ripley had already done some research on this tomb, which was built, provided with some protective traps against tomb raiders and finally sealed hermetically by the scholar and architect Master Lu. Last but not least these protective measures also serve to safe-guard the Imperial Seal, a large emerald, said to possess untold powers. Now, action is the keyword as more than enough megalomaniacs would be delighted to be able to lay their hands on the Seal and by that take on world domination.

Along with his partner Mei Chen and the few hints he was able to collect up to now, Ripley hits the road for Peiping, better known as Beijing, where he hopes to find out more about the tomb and its master builder. Alas, Ripley is not the only one and he’s running out of time. His persecutors always only one step behind we join Ripley on a journey around the globe. To uncover the riddle of Master Lu we also fly to Danzig (Gdansk), Peru, the Easter Islands and the Himalaya. 

 

Installation/Technical issues

‘The Riddle of Master Lu’ is ‘served’ on a single CD in a jewel case and packed in a nice big cardboard box along with a detailed manual and a hint folder.

In order to evade all possible difficulties I didn’t even try to install this already aging game on my new state-of-the-art machine, although we now have such neat programs as DOS-Box, which would have made it possible. At least DOS-Box did a very good job in making the screenshots.

Anyway, on my old PC the installation ran smooth as silk. I only had to fiddle a bit with the sound card settings and then the game identified everything else automatically by one click on ‘Detect Settings’ in the setup window. Let’s get going!

Oh well, there was still one problem with a bug just before we get to the final puzzle. Each time I tried to send Ripley on into the sanctum of the tomb, the game returned to DOS.

Installing the patch did help but let me give those of you who want to play this adventure on a machine equally antique as mine some advance warning. Even in compressed state the patch has 920 KB so you better take care that that PC has a ZIP-program installed. After unpacking the files simply overwrite the game’s EXE-file with the one from the patch and on you go.

 

Controls/Menus

After finishing the setup we can start the intro movie from the main menu where we also begin the adventure and later save, continue or restore our game.

This 3rd-person-adventure is completely mouse-controlled although it is also possible to play by keyboard as explained in the manual. The cursor in the shape of a simple cross turns into a circle containing a magnifying glass as soon as there is something to be examined or a pointing finger if we can use an exit from a scene. Before we can take or use an object we first select the appropriate symbol in the bottom area of the screen then aim it at the desired object. All actions are performed by a left-click of your mouse. If you are not inclined to watch Ripley’s deadly swagger from point A to point B just click on the spot you want him go and then beam him over with a right-click. Next to these cursor-icons you’ll find the inventory in the disguise of Ripley’s trunk which you can open and close. Handling the inventory items is as easy as can be. Just click on the item you want to use then drag & drop it on another one in the inventory or on one of the numerous hotspots of the locations. The magnifying glass allows us a close-up examination of things or if it’s a text it will be read to us aloud.

A map of the available locations as we know it from a lot of adventure games is missing here because we only have to walk into the nearest travel agency to book a passage across the world map not unlike the one we already know from ‘Indiana Jones’. In the left corner of the screen we find another icon with a pointing finger through which we have access to the save menu or to exit the game into the main menu and also directly back to DOS.

 

Puzzles

The Riddles of Master Lu are not meant for impatient individuals - just to get that straight from the start! Those of you who found more recent adventures such as ‘Syberia’ or ‘Broken Sword 3’ to be too difficult already are better off leaving Master Lu on the shelf. To all the others I would highly recommend this genre treasure as you will be entertained by a lot of great puzzles for at least 30 hours or even more depending on training, experience and way of approach. Although I do belong to that tenacious group of people I couldn’t do without a walkthrough twice and again this was caused by my not opening my eyes wide enough.

The puzzles are not linear and we are free to travel to and fro as often as we like. It’s not important to solve the tasks in a specific order – the main point is gathering all the information we need to find the mysterious tomb and get inside.

Usually the classic adventure gamer is ‘descended’ from the hunter-gatherers and therefore has an ‘innate’ propensity for cleptomania – a characteristic peculiarity we can indulge in without restraint (aside from one small exception) in this game.

About 85-90% of Master Lu’s puzzles are inventory-based which means we collect everything we find and pick up in order to employ it in one way or another somewhere else. More often than not we also have to use some creativity as we won’t always have the suitable item at hand. Discovering the items and sometimes even the place where we have to apply them comes with a lot of pixel-hunting which isn’t necessarily caused by difficulties in spotting them but first and foremost by the very number of hotspots.

Not everything we see we can use or even take. We will, however, receive a more or less detailed explanation for each of the hotspots. I very much liked the comments given by Ripley about the curiosities in his ‘Odditorium’ or the inscriptions on some of the gravestones which made me laugh, like this one for example ‘Here lies Johann Jiest – Pardon me for not rising’ – yep, I like sick jokes. ;-)

This enormous degree of interactivity mainly determines the high difficulty level of the game for genre newcomers. I would like to explain this using a fictitious example.

In a lot of recent adventure games an inventory-based puzzle for example looks like this: protagonist discovers a well visible, locked door and automatically draws our attention to the fact that we need a key or a tool to open the lock and will possibly also mention where and how we can find it. We will encounter similarly easy puzzles in the ‘Syberia’-games.

In older adventures the same situation appears different, i.e. like this: the lock is not presented on a silver tray, first we have to search and get to know the game world thoroughly before we find it. Then the script dictates that we find out on our own that we should open it and how. Usually the search goes on now in the course of which we will have to master further obstacles until we discover something useful. The last time I experienced something like that was while playing ‘The Moment of Silence’, although the number of hotspots there wasn’t as high.

Some people might impatiently roll their eyes now and claim this to be too difficult and too much trouble, but in fact you will immerse yourself deeper in the story and game world. The result simply is more game for your money.

Let’s get back to ‘Master Lu’. One of the altogether three timed puzzles is Feng Li’s rescue from the Cobra in the very beginning of the game. I think, this is a good time to mention that we can die in this adventure. But don’t panic, first of all, one such as Robert Ripley will not let something like that stop him from enjoying his adventure until the very end and that’s why the game always restores us back to the start of the dangerous scene automatically and secondly 99 save slots are at our disposal. A little more tricky indeed is the labyrinth we have to get through – it’s one of the most confusing I have ever came across. We will have to solve one mathematical task which is quite a brain teaser and one or two puzzles where we have to find out the correct sequence of objects, all of them woven well into the story. And it can never be a bad idea to have a sketching block handy both your own and Ripley’s to enable him to write down his own notes.

Finally, being the sociable adventurers that we are we should chat with everyone crossing our path – you never know what you will learn! However, there aren’t any real dialogue-puzzles with multiple choice answers.

 

Graphics/Sound

‘The Riddle of Master Lu’ possesses an unusual graphical design. While the backgrounds which to some extent strongly resemble the real locations are presented in charmingly drawn 2D the characters are portrayed by real-life actors. Sometimes this is not so easily discernible from the ‘distance’ but during dramatically important scenes the faces as well as action-sequences or some of the hints will be shown as close-ups in an overlapping frame. Appearance, gesture and facial expression of the actors often reminded me of Woody Allen’s movie ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’. Or maybe it was the slightly exaggerated way Robert and Mei Chen cast sheep’s eyes at each other, then again it could also have resulted from Ripley’s proper explorer-outfit complete with a topee, who knows – in any case the costume have been chosen suitably and with great care.

Although the game cannot be compared with today’s adventures graphically it doesn’t have to hide its face. For me the picturesque scenery has its own special charm. Sometimes it is even that detailed that we easily overlook one of the things without which we would hopelessly get stuck. We won’t find a great number of animations in the game most of them belong to NPC’s, water or small animals, but also to some of the objects in the museum. Things like that usually annoy me but often the respective game then lacks other features and therefore I try to keep my eyes busy.

This smaller shortcoming is compensated by the sound effects. Our ears are occupied constantly, be it by the birdsong, the roar of a waterfall or the rattle of the jellybeans in Ripley’s enormous sand-glass turning itself without a pause in his exhibition. There isn’t any soundtrack to speak of with the exception of the Asiatic theme which backs up the menus.

The voice-actors are very well chosen and particularly the one who speaks Feng Li’s part manages to convincingly sound like a Chinese. The natives in China only speak Chinese but Mei Chen will translate everything for us. The voices don’t belong to the screen-actors apart from Karen Yip who plays and speaks the role of Mei Chen. Some of the voice-actors took over the parts of several characters but I would like to emphasize that unless you pay real close attention you won’t notice it. I only learned it myself while watching the end credits. Author and designer Lee Sheldon himself appears in a very small cameo-role – he took over the part of one of the monks in Sikkim. But you will only see his eyes.

 

Summary

By my personal definition a graphic-adventure must include at least three ingredients – a good story (the essence), appealing graphics (preferably from a 3rd-person point of view) and a variety of inventory-based puzzles (well, I do like to look for things). Regarding these aspects ‘The Riddle of Master Lu’ is a direct hit. In order to be able to fully enjoy this game, though, one should possess a little experience in the genre and above all in pixel-hunting, as I said it is not a game for beginners who will most likely become frustrated soon if it’s their first adventure. I got on very well with the English version (which unfortunately doesn’t provide subtitles) but as the German version is also available nobody here has to feel excluded. As often as I drew comparisons with today’s games in this review which are well ahead of ‘Master Lu’ at least graphically I have to say that this game now holds a very high position on my personal ranking list. I highly recommend it to every fan of classical adventures

 

Rating: 80%

 

 

Adventure-Archiv rating system:

  • 80% - 100%  excellent game, very recommendable
  • 70% - 79%    good game, recommendable
  • 60% - 69%    satisfactory, restricted recommendable
  • 50% - 59%    sufficient (not very recommendable)
  • 40% - 49%    rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
  • 0%  -  39%    worst (don't put your fingers on it)

 

Minimum system requirements:

  • DOS 5.0
  • 100% IBM compatible PC 486/25er (486/33er recommended)
  • 8 MB RAM
  • 2x CD-ROM drive
  • SVGA / VESA video card
  • Sound Blaster or compatible sound card
  • 8 MB space on hard drive
  • Mouse

Played on:

  • DOS 6.2
  • 80486er (586er) 100 MHz
  • 12 MB RAM
  • 4x CD-ROM drive
  • S3 Standard VGA/VESA video card
  • Creative Soundblaster 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © MaryScots for Adventure-Archiv, 4th March 2005

 

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In the beginning there was the start menu...
In the beginning there was the start menu...


Click on screenshots to magnify

Ripley must act quick before Feng Li’s light extinguishes
Ripley must act quick before Feng Li’s light extinguishes

The Odditorium is a home for such weird things as the mummy whose hair still grows
The Odditorium is a home for such weird things as the mummy whose hair still grows

The quest for the solution starts at the 'Hall of Classics’
The quest for the solution starts at the 'Hall of Classics’

The inscription on the tombstone reads: 'Here lies Johann Jiest - Pardon me for not rising’
The inscription on the tombstone reads: 'Here lies Johann Jiest - Pardon me for not rising’

Ace of Spades Castle near Danzig - the noble residence of the von Seltsam’s
Ace of Spades Castle near Danzig - the noble residence of the von Seltsam’s


In the old Baron’s secret laboratory Ripley has to prove his technical talents - and of course we have to prove ours!
In the old Baron’s secret laboratory Ripley has to prove his technical talents - and of course we have to prove ours!

In Sikkim high up in the mountains of the Himalaya the gate-keeper doesn’t really believe Ripley to be a ‘seeker’
In Sikkim high up in the mountains of the Himalaya the gate-keeper doesn’t really believe Ripley to be a ‘seeker’

Ah, what the heck - let’s fly to Peru first! - Is it just my imagination or did Indiana Jones have a similar map?
Ah, what the heck - let’s fly to Peru first! - Is it just my imagination or did Indiana Jones have a similar map?

Anybody here who loves puffins?
Anybody here who loves puffins?

A trip to Mocha Moche is not something John Q. Public tourist would dream of
A trip to Mocha Moche is not something John Q. Public tourist would dream of

High up in the Andes something is of such a great importance that it was protected with a strange mechanism
High up in the Andes something is of such a great importance that it was protected with a strange mechanism

Boy, don’t we go to extremes to save the blissfully ignorant mankind!
Boy, don’t we go to extremes to save the blissfully ignorant mankind!

Ripley draws sketches of his findings in his journal
Ripley draws sketches of his findings in his journal

Blimey! - a 'forest’ of statues!
Blimey! - a 'forest’ of statues!

The Japanese again - why don’t they just leave us in peace?!
The Japanese again - why don’t they just leave us in peace?!

Sikkim - second try: let’s do it the Buddhist way and go around the Stupa
Sikkim - second try: let’s do it the Buddhist way and go around the Stupa

The 'Hidden Way’ is hidden very well...
The 'Hidden Way’ is hidden very well...

We’ll meet again at Posh Express™, our trusted travel agency
We’ll meet again at Posh Express™, our trusted travel agency

Now they got us!
Now they got us!

Or didn’t they?
Or didn’t they?

The tomb of the first emperor...
The tomb of the first emperor...

...has been well prepared by Master Lu. Who knows, some might want to break in.
...has been well prepared by Master Lu. Who knows, some might want to break in.

Something must have gone wrong. I don’t like this gravestones - let’s try again!
Something must have gone wrong. I don’t like this gravestones - let’s try again!

 

More screenshots