Review: Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina

(I had suspended my playthrough of this game when IFComp kicked off. Turns out I was actually very close to the end. Bury yourself in an atmospheric and well written avalanche of puzzles: Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina - Details (ifdb.org))

Doll? What doll? Oh right!

Just saying, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of your ultimate objective in this game.

Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina is a beast, a mountain, a leviathan of a game. There is nothing that would resemble a plot, no matter how vanishingly vague your definition would be. There is naught but the flimsiest of framing story to get you going, but I frequently had to remind myself that my end-goal had something to do with that short intro from way back in the beginning.

This is not a story-oriented game. It is an unapologetically hard and big barrage of puzzles.
There is a large variety of puzzles, and they are all logical/common-sense in hindsight. There are no solutions randomly pulled out of the author’s hat that would make you say “No way!” even after finding the solution (or looking it up). This changes nothing about the fact that this game is hard .
There are different reasons for this:

  • The pure huge scale of the game-map and the amount of objects, puzzles and clues in it. The sheer amount of information that gets thrown at you is mindboggling. It’s a real challenge to keep a list of puzzles and their clues in your mind while playing, even with a notebook. Add to that the objects that are not always used straightforwardly, and the heap of information is very big.
  • The author has no scruples about throwing out-of-game anagrammatical and mathematical puzzles at the player. I could almost hear his whispers: “You signed up for this out of your own free will. Now let’s see you cope with this .”
  • Four mazes. In two of them I could use my inventory objects and some real world problem-solving to make sense of the order, the other two bamboozled me into cheating (David Welbourn’s walkthrough is excellent).
  • There are a good number of more traditional adventure game puzzles. The solutions however depend on non-traditional use of objects, timing/turn-counting and meticulous attention and analysis of the descriptions of locations and their relations to each other.

Without a plot to keep the interest piqued, Ballerina must rely on the internal motivation and curiosity of the player. For me, this worked all through the game (3000+ moves). There is just so much there, and so much just around the corner that I had to tear myself away from the screen on many evenings. Luckily, this often meant that I had found new ways to tackle an obstacle the next day.

Another thing that holds this game together is the excellent descriptions of the setting and the pervasive atmosphere of the abandoned shopping-mall.
Never truly scary, but always consistently creepy.

An excellent classic game. Take your time when you engage this. I spent three weeks on it, with occasional hints. Three weeks of fun.

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This game provoked the ragiest rage-quit ever in me. I think I stamped my foot, even.

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My my, such temper.

I found Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina to be an excellent excercise in losing, regaining and preserving my sanity. And fun!

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Gotcha!

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That’s…a lot of pastrami. Would you consider this the largest game you’ve played?

– Jim

It’s definitely way up there. The only ones I’ve played so far that are in the same league are Finding Martin and T-Zero. (Both very good games too!)

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I have also wandered around 1893: A World Fair as a tourist many times, without even trying to solve it.

I’m putting off really playing it until I have at least two weeks to fully devote my attention to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it tops even Ballerina.

Having played both I think Warp may be larger, however that is a mainframe game. I suspect Warp’s endgame is bigger than 99 percent of text adventures on its own.

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