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 (

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.


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


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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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!)


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.


As would be Mike Arnautov’s 770 point version of the original Advent (476 locations). This is a great version in which you can examine virtually everything.

The great (in both senses of the word) Acheton has 403 locations.

The somewhat less than great Weird Wood II has over 500 locations but a lot are empty maze rooms and the general room descriptions are often monotonous and threadbare as well as having dreadful grammar and spelling.

The original mainframe Zork has 191 rooms but the database is big.

The Lost Crystal by Epic software has 400 locations but I tend to fight shy of graphical / text adventures. You can turn the pictures off but the horrible font sends me for the Ibuprofen.

Hezarin from the same stable as Acheton is now only available in its Topologika version only as the mainframe version is lost but this may be at least as big as Acheton as well.

And Gorm for the Archimedes has at least 300. Now that is an obscure game.

I am sure there are some others.

The large number of locations (and the admittedly excellent parser) was a major selling point for the Epic games, but most of them were empty and repetitive, as I pointed out in my review of Kingdom of Klein. The Lost Crystal even had an extra command, “c” for “continue”, which meant “move as far as possible in the direction last entered”.

Yes I find the Epic games rather sterile JJ. I know they were made in an era when a large number of locations was a selling point but so much of them are comprised of such banalities as “you are in a rocky east-west corridor” for about a dozen moves each way.

By the way have you considered a sequel to Goldilocks is a FOX? Now that would be worth playing! The return of the creaking old would be thespian the wolf who is my favourite NPC character in the whole IF canon would be most appreciated.

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Wow, that’s quite a compliment, thank you! I loved writing the wolf and I have indeed considered making a Three Little Pigs or Red Riding Hood game with him as the PC. It never got further than a handful of notes though - perhaps I should revive it!

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Oh definitely. The lupine equivalent of darling Johnny Gielgud. I can imagine him with several pairs of tights hanging from hooks in the hallway and some black and white photographs of less than great repertory performances in pride of place on the mantelpiece.

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Nobody should be put off Mike Arnautov’s version of Adventure 770. It is truly enormous but sensitively adds puzzles and environment seamlessly. Very humourous and you can examine almost anything in the location you are in. If you are lucky you may meet George the bane of those who drop litter as well as a large jelly and a secret way back from the island and an imp with a story book to tell.

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I spent three weeks on it, with occasional hints. Three weeks of fun.

That’s exactly what attracted me to text adventures back when three weeks were just three weeks to spend, and not 0.06 % of my entire life span. :frowning:


True Grueslayer. I spend far too much time playing IF but I love it. Although where a hobby becomes an obsession I’m not sure. At least it’s safer than crack cocaine or tombstoning (although the Phoenix games may be close to mind and body shattering).

I hadn’t noticed this thread. Thanks for the kind words! It was my first game, and at the time I honestly didn’t know that people don’t like mazes.

I did include an interactive Help system, which I hope alleviates some of the pain. This was an I6 game, of course, so the help was all hand-coded, no menu system or anything.

The sequel, if I ever get around to finishing it, is at least twice as large. It’s a return to Stufftown, only now Samantha is 17 and in desperate need of a replacement prom dress, the prom being mere hours away. If you think getting your hands on the ballerina doll was hard work, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


I liked the premise and the setting of this game. Related to this, one thing I found kind of offputting was the puzzle early on where you shoot the gun to distract the guard. It just isn’t something I would even think of doing in this situation in real life. Or at least I would waste time looking for other less drastic ways to accomplish it. Not sure if this comment is helpful at all… :slight_smile:

I hope you don’t let this guide you too much in your work on Ballerina 2. Innovative mazes are still very cool (to me).

I loved finding the solution to the mirror maze in NJAOB. Hard and simple at the same time. And when it clicks… fireworks in my brain!