Zoombinis: Mountain Rescue – Guest review

I was so excited to try this game out, to see more of what the surely-lovely Zoombinis franchise had to put out after the first game.
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I was very disappointed. Mountain Rescue feels like a cheap knock-off version of the original game with everything that made it fun and engaging stripped out.

It’s the little things that get to you the most.

To begin with, the developers decided to jump on the bandwagon and “upgrade” the hand-drawn graphics of the original to full CGI. The result is…not as great as they hoped, I think.

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The backgrounds in Logical Journey felt busy, alive, and detailed. The levels in this game feel sterile and bleak in comparison.

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Almost every level is filled with dull rocks, sterile metals, and blank snowscapes. (It’s hard to make snowscapes look boring, but somehow they managed it.) Oh, and those cute little interactive bits at the campsites? None of that anymore. The campsites are dull as can be.

But there’s something even more important that these pictures can’t convey: animations. In Logical Journey, the style was extremely cartoonish, and so things were allowed to be extremely expressive. The characters all had exaggerated and frequent animations that gave them life and personality. Things fit together nicely. Here, everything feels stiff and awkward. The animations are downplayed and mechanical-looking, probably because 3D graphics eat up more budget so they couldn’t afford to spend as much time on them.

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It uses the same mechanic as in Logical Journey, too – you need to play through the levels a bazillion times to get all the zoombinis from point A to point B. I didn’t mind this too much in Logical Journey, though, because the levels were always fun and interesting visually. But here, they feel just feel tedious and dull, probably because the art style is just so bland. It’s like a world of vibrant and expressive colors was suddenly rendered down into grayscale.

The other thing that bothered me was the narrator. Logical Journey‘s narrator sounded older, spoke with more feeling, and just generally sounded like a real storyteller. The narrator in Mountain Rescue sounds much younger, and his tone just feels incredibly forced, like he’s reading aloud to kindergarten kids or something. In the previous game, I remember eagerly lapping up every new line the narrator made, but here it just made me roll my eyes. I dunno, maybe I only notice this because I’m older and their target audience of little kids wouldn’t mind, but it still bothers me.

The puzzles themselves were…eh. I felt there was much more random chance involved, and I also found some of them a lot harder than the first game’s puzzles. There’s one where, if you make even a single wrong move, it’s impossible to get a perfect, and it’s also possible to mess up and lose almost all your zoombinis. There are fewer puzzles overall – three in the first section, then a branch with two each, then two at the end. A few of them are rehashes of the first game’s puzzles, sometimes adding new ideas, sometimes not. There weren’t a whole lot that I really liked, but maybe that’s just the presentation issues getting to me.

Strangely, I think the thing that bothers me most about the puzzles relates to a story aspect. In Logical Journey, the puzzles could get pretty bizarre, but I felt that they (mostly) made logical sense in terms of a journey from point A to point B. But here, a lot of the puzzles just seem…weird. There’s one where the zoombinis are traveling through a cave, and suddenly see a wall of fleens on the wall, but only one fleen is real and the others are illusions, or something? But for some reason, the fleens are inexplicably blocking them and they can’t just keep walking? And in another, there’s a rehash of the pizza troll level where you have to make lunches for a bunch of giant monster things, but they’re on the other side of a counter and look completely unable to stop the zoombinis from just passing on through. And then in the final level, you have to…hit your allies with pinballs to make them happy? What is this I don’t even.

In Logical Journey the level layouts made sense – characters and obstacles were literally blocking your way forward. Here they’re just sort of…there. And I dunno, maybe all the other flaws of the game are making me less accepting of it as a whole, but the puzzles just seem a lot more zany and wacky for no reason. It’s a little jarring. There also aren’t as many characters – the only ones with speaking lines are the aforementioned pizza troll stand-ins, who are incredibly bland and forgettable.

The game also adds background music for virtually everything. Normally I would approve of this since I normally like music, but a bit of a problem arises from the fact that this is a puzzle game. Logical Journey only had music for the beginning and ending sections, as well as the map. Here, it’s given to every level, and it can be very distracting. It’s usually not too noticeable, but I still think it’s a bit of a questionable design choice.

The story aspect has been played up slightly. There are cutscenes and everything. The basic premise is that a group of zoombinis was exploring a cave when suddenly a lightning strike activated some machinery and closed a door on the cave (which I guess must have actually been some sort of mechanical construct then?). Your initial job is to venture out of Zoombiniville to rescue them (hence the name of the game), but when you arrive, you find that part of the group ran off deeper into the caves when they were spooked by the native inhabitants. Zoombini folklore apparently labels these creatures as scary monsters, but as the zoombinis continue, they discover that the creatures are actually perfectly friendly and, similar to the zoombinis themselves, are only lost and trying to return home. The last leg of the journey revolves around transporting these creatures back to their home, and if you manage to collect all of them, their mayor will come back and everything will be peachy.

…Or so they claim, I never actually finished the game. Maybe there’s a plot twist where their mayor is secretly evil, or doesn’t exist, or something. I doubt it, though – that would probably be unnecessarily complex. I guess it’s a good, if fairly cliché message about how you should help others and not be quick to judge. I think you could also get some mileage out of it by drawing parallels to the first game – the zoombinis are helping creatures that are in similar circumstances to how they were last game. Still, it felt kind of bland, and also somewhat pointless since you’re going to be playing through the same levels like a bazillion times, even though the plot is pretty much entirely resolved on the first runthrough.

So yeah. If you liked the first one, just keep playing it and try to pretend this monstrosity doesn’t exist. A sequel should build on the ideas presented in the first game, but this does nothing but dumb things down.

2 Comments

  1. Diana says:
    Dear reviewer:

    Are you me?! I bought this game entirely because I was nostalgic for when I would watch my sister play the old Broderbund game, and found it a complete disappointment for pretty much the exact reasons you listed.

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