Pentari Prequel (IF)

Howard Sherman, for Malinche Entertainment, 1997. Release 7. Inform 6.


This game is fairly much in line with what I expected after playing Azteca. More old school than new, with adequate descriptions, some interesting attention to room, not quite enough attention to objects, a couple of red herring descriptions and a time or two where you have to figure out what precisely is being looked for. Howard Sherman's IF game, here, owes as much or more to Scott Adams' Adventureland as to Infocom's Zork; and owes far more to the two of them than anything else which has came out since the late 80's

Sherman has a style that will either appeal to you or not. It is classic adventure text. The hero is strong and unflinching. The wizards are mysterious. The enemies are ancient and back from the dead. The puzzles are largely knowing which spell to cast on which item, finding the key, and locating a weakness sort. You interact with named objects (the objects that have a description outside of the description of a room). Objects without names might have some description, but nothing more than a sentence or two on average. You imagine the room. I enjoy it (mind you, I have yet to play any of his longer games at this time), as well as completely opposite styles of interactive fiction, but one should not expect what could be termed "new school". This is going to probably be the biggest single factor as to whether you like the game, how much you like the old stylings. It would not do this game injustice to say that it feels and flexes more like something from 1984 than 2007, and all that implies. I would say that is one of its selling points, at least to the people that are going to like it. And well, opposite for opposite, if you catch my drift.

This game, the Prequel, is not very big. I would rank it in the just over tiny size. There are only about 19 rooms, and not all of them are stuffed with things to do. Those that have stuff usually have limited stuff. Of actual events (puzzles, mostly, and discoveries), there are maybe a dozen. Interaction is mostly about reading description and interacting with an object every other room. A couple of objects are just pure treasure. At least one object suggest to me that there is more than one way to peel an orange in this game.

There are a few bugs and weird implementations. Neither are as bad as the specific way certain things must be worded. There is a game design issue of "enter" in a few places, where you get inside of something to accomplish something. Somehow this did not quite work. It felt clunky. Outside of this, though, most of the game flowed for the thirty or so minutes it takes to complete.

What does hurt the game, though, is Sherman's use of uneven description. I have hinted at it more than once in the review and I feel it needs to be. You will read of an object, which feels as though it should have some importance, that shows up nowhere to be found. You will get a description talking about a feature of an item, but attempts to get information are pointless. You will find an item that seems valuable to your quest, only to have no more than its rough title as a description. This brings up memories that crappy moment in Zork 1, where you found a folded piece of plastic. This sort of thing breaks your ability to stay in a game. The only way that it does not derail Pentari: the Prequel is because never quite invites you in to begin with. It always says "solve me" rather than "live me".

I would imagine the sequel is half demo for Penatari: First Light and half, considering the year it was made, Sherman getting his chops. It does make me want to play Pentari but that is kind of under the assumption that the depth of the game is higher and a few of the weird implentations are cleaned up. The world is classic and appears to have a huge fun potential. I'm going to one day give Pentari a try and see how it turns out.

Recommended, with reservation. The multiple ways to finish make it higher than Azteca in my book, though the programming flaws feel bigger. Not as big or as wide in scope as some of the games that Sherman is known for, but a quick and fairly fun little flashback to older IF (and currently free if you sign up for it at Malinche).

Final Scores

(0-100, 50 = Average)

Interactive: 40*

Fiction: 50**

Reviewer's Tilt: 50/60***

Final Average: 47/50

*: The straightforward style is marred by both a few interactions like "Sit in chair" "You can't sit in one of those" and by a couple of puzzles that require several guesses to get on the right track.

**: The story hinted at might be much higher, but the piece you see here is marred by its brevity.

***Read the FOLLOW-UP in the "How I Did" section to see why there are two scores.


How I Did

Saved the day, scored the points. There was no girl to get but probably would have gotten her, too. One part looks like it has more than one solution. Will probably replay it in a couple of days and try out different ways.

FOLLOW-UP: Have replayed now, twice. Have found two different endings available. Have a couple of other paths I want to take. Having multiple endings that are not multiple deaths (so far, despite my best efforts, I have only found one way to die) caused me to release a "with this in mind" addendum to the score, above.

BONUS NOTE: Once you have beaten the game, it takes you all of about 45 seconds to get back to the end.

Hints, Suggestions and Mild Spoilers (for what they are worth

"Ask Morden for need" (there may be other ways to word that but that took some guessing.

The room with the fireplace actually requires you to go north to be by the fireplace. This held me up for a few minutes

Written by W Doug Bolden

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