IFComp 2019 review: Treasure Hunt in the Amazon (Kenneth Pedersen and Niels Søndergaard)

Played 7th October
Download version played in ADRIFT Runner
Playtime: 70mins, including 1hr first playthrough and 10mins second run

Treasure Hunt in the Amazon is an hour-long ADRIFT parser game, originally written by Søndergaard in 1985 and translated by Pederson for IFComp. In this game, the player has 10 days to find a jewelled crown before the Amazonian area the game is set in floods. However, this timer and other features can be disabled at the start of the game.

If you’re going to translate and re-release a 34-year-old game, this is the way to do it. The features you can disable are basically a list of all the classic text adventure challenges which died out because they weren’t actually very fun: you can disable the timer, a hunger daemon, the inventory limit, and/or random item placement. I really appreciate that these are completely optional – Treasure Hunt is a short game now, but I suspect it was a lot longer if you had to contend with these back in the day. (I disabled all the challenges for my first run, and then did a quick second run with the time limit and hunger enabled – I cut it pretty close with hunger, even knowing where to go, and I bet that randomised items would make the game virtually impossible on some runs.)

The translation seems very good, not that I have any knowledge of the original Danish. I don’t recall seeing any typos, and there’s no phrasing that struck me as being particularly awkward. Room descriptions are barebones but well-implemented – I didn’t see as much of “you can’t see any x here” as I have done in other parser games. The game is spruced up with some lovely little cartoons by Steffen Vedsted, with an explorer who looks like he’s the main character of a newspaper comic which has inexplicably been running for 70 years, and soundtracked with some of Eric Matyas’ compositions, enough of them so that repeat songs don’t get annoying. It’s some of the best presentation I’ve seen in the competition so far this year.

This is primarily a puzzle game, as many 80s text adventures were. It’s fairly straightforward. There are no red herrings, and most items have one use, so that it feels like a series of keys to open doors. (There are a few literal keys as well.) There’s a maze which Pederson warns you about right off the bat, but it’s completely benign, as he reassures the player – it has a neat little solution, and you can’t even enter the maze until you’ve found the clues you need. There are no striking or beautiful puzzles here, but there aren’t any clangers either.

I do want to address the game’s colonial theming a little bit, since it bothers me. Exploration narratives are risky because of their historical connections to imperialism – here’s the white explorer heading into wild spaces to map space and enlighten natives, that kind of thing. Treasure Hunt in the Amazon is relatively benign, as these things go. There are natives, presented as friendly and willing to help (the rationale being that they need to raise money for after they evacuate the flood area) – I am curious how truly happy they are to help us storm into the rainforest to steal the ancient treasures and eat every animal like Naked Snake. I am also uncomfortable at a sequence from the endgame which sees hired natives fleeing from a totem that we can breeze right past – without being able to ask them what the problem is, it smacks of “unenlightened natives” a little bit. (To be clear, I don’t accuse Pederson or Søndergaard of being malicious or racist here, especially since there were plenty of stories like this in the 80s and before. I know a little of the history of British imperialism and exploration, though, enough to know how truly gross and damaging these ideas can get when they are employed maliciously.)

Treasure Hunt in the Amazon is not breaking new ground, of course. It’s so old it’s got a Kilroy Was Here joke in it. But it’s competently done, bug-free as far as I saw, and it’s nice to play an old-fashioned text adventure without the old-fashioned obstacles. The colonialism is a big caveat that comes with recommending this, but I’d still like to see more classic adventures updated in this style.

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