Written by  :  Nowhere Girl (3705)
Written on  :  May 10, 2013
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars

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Education through emotion

The Good

"Lost Secret of the Rainforest", or "Ecoquest 2", as I usually call it, is a very well made game. It has good quality VGA graphics - while mostly not as colorful as the underwater world of "Ecoquest 1" (especially places like the seaweed maze close to the beginning or the coral reef), the sceneries are beautiful and mostly realistic anyway. In this game Adam journeys through a larger variety of terrain - from a somewhat shaggy South American town through the rainforest, a native village with a magical tree (I immediately thought about this one when encountering another giant tree in "Quest for Glory 3" - it seems there was some level of "idea borrowing" between different Sierra developer teams), a camp in the middle of nowhere and, finally, ancient ruins. This makes the game more varied than its predecessor.
The music is also very good and contributes to the atmosphere of the game. The best example could be a series of melodies around the tribal village: when Adam first lands there (literally - he falls into the mud from a tree) and has a feeling he's being watched but can't see any people, the music is slightly disquieting. Later it switches to rather sad-sounding melodies when he reaches Forest Heart, the dying magical tree that called for him. When he returns, he discovers that people have returned to the village and the background tune is now happy, energetic ethnic music.
The controls are very intuitive, as usually in Sierra games. A slightly modified version of the classic Sierra icon interface is used. (However, what is the "classic version"? - I mean, there are probably more games with a modified version that with the classic walk / look / take / talk / inventory set... "Quest for Glory" adventure/RPGs also use additional icons for magic and statistics, "Space Quests" introduce the taste / smell button for some wacky comments, "Pepper's Adventures in Time" would be a very different game without its unique Truth button...) Two extra icons are introduced: the recycling bag (already seen in "Ecoquest 1") and a strange icon that looks like a bat which just gives some random trivia about the rainforest. The Ecorder, a minicomputer that Adam uses for learning more about the rainforest, is just an item in the inventory, but due to its meaning it could perhaps deserve a place as another additional icon - at one place it would have been more obvious that yes, you can and should use it now...
The game has a little feature I like, something I would call "ineffective copy protection". In the scene when Adam is initiated into the tribe in order to be able to participate in a ceremony inside Forest Heart, he has to choose a pattern to paint his face according to what the shaman says. However, it's usually easy to connect the patterns to their meaning (for example "You must be silent as the snake" - the design is a wavy line than looks just like a slithering snake) and you can keep retrying if you get one that is less obvious.
The story, while not free from inconsequences (see "The Bad"), is very tight and captivating. It doesn't feature much of "walking back and forth waiting for something to happen" (maybe apart from the beginning, where Adam has to wait for his father to find the Ecorder so that the game can move forward and how soon it happens seems to depend on the order of things Adam did before), you are constantly doing something. However what I like most is the game's emotional value. Adam's father raised him to respect nature and so Adam is able to feel empathy for everything - not just people, but also animals and plants. These creatures are anthropomorphic (anyway, they talk), but the game clearly isn't anthropocentric - a rare combination... It reminds me of a piece from my diary about "the hypocrisy of children's literature" (however, the starting point was one of Andersen's tales): "In children's literature the whole world is ALL-SENSING" (and to me it's hypocrisy because almost all children will later be told it was a lie). "Lost Secret of the Rainforest" presents the world like this in an honest way: all world feels because it's alive, it's not a mass of objects but a home to millions of life forms. Another remarkable thing: similarly to the game being able to portray animals and plants as anthropomorphic without being anthropocentric, it also smartly avoids the typical conflict between nature and science. While some technology can be harmful to nature (the greedy developers and the example of what they can do, fortunately still a limited one: the camp they cut and burned out within the rainforest), there is no inevitable conflict: Dr. Noah Greene, Adam's father, is a scientist working to protect nature. All this is remarkable: "Ecoquest 2" is more than just an educational game that sneaks in some information, it teaches through emotion, through identification with the protagonist and his feelings. And it presents an ecological sensitivity deeper than just "see what some people do to nature", something closer to the traditional wisdom of interconnectedness. It's a pity that in our Age of Reason such a message is often allowed just for children, as a sensitivity they are expected to outgrow (this is precisely what I call "the hypocrisy of children's literature"). There is a cut between traditional wisdom and tales for children, they become subversive only when one is able to question the "objective", instrumental, emotionless thinking taught on other occasions.

The Bad

I feel slightly strange writing this after my near-manifesto, but anyway the game does have its flaws. The Ecorder, such an important item in the game, is to some extent a wasted opportunity. The information it presents is very scarce. It isn't integrated with gameplay well - you get points for everything you discover, but only once is the information necessary to get further: in the scene when Adam has to distribute visas to refugee bats. Quite at odds with other entries in the Ecorder, this time the device presents Latin names for the various bat species and the visas are identified exactly by those names. Anyway, I found this one easy - I seem to have a good memory for Latin names of animals, plants and fungi and now I no longer have to look into the entries - I just remember which species is which. At a few places it's not easy to guess where you can find the object you can record. Two most obvious examples: first the scene when Adam falls into the mud and has to use fruit to lure a wild pig closer and a vine to use as a lasso so that the animal pulls him out. First you pick up the vine, than the fruit which was underneath... stop! if you want to get maximum points or at least every single entry in the Ecorder, you have to use the device on the fruit before picking it up. Later, around the middle of the game, Adam escapes the camp by making a canoe from a log and using a covered tennis racket as a paddle. He floats on a river along a sad landscape created by cutting and burning rainforest vegetation and it's an entry in the "Eco-Threats" category - however, it isn't immediately obvious that yes, the inventory is available at this point. Moreover, the Ecorder also acts like a spoiler - if the available entries weren't shown before being recorded, the player wouldn't have been sure what to look out for - however, this way you can guess what's coming next.
The Recycle icon has been "recycled" from "Ecoquest 1", but this time it is mostly just an addition not integrated with the rest of the game. OK, recycling seems basic to "everyday ecological thinking" and that's probably exactly why it's here because the game could have done well without it. You visit just a few places where tourists have already marked "their" terrain with littering. This time you get a point for every single piece of garbage you pick up (unlike "Ecoquest 1", where it was slightly more difficult: points were awarded for finding all garbage left in a particular place), but the funny comments from "Ecoquest 1" are gone. In one place you find a useful object, a magnifying glass, through picking up some empty packaging that was obscuring it, however the magnifying glass is an item you can do without: it is only used for points, comments and hints.
The whole story is not always consequent. Judging from the available data in the Ecorder, Adam and his father would have taken a similar route anyway. OK, Dr. Greene can't leave because his documents have been stolen. But why do the river otters kidnap Adam? It seems he would have reached Forest Heart anyway - I don't think the otters know he isn't able to leave yet (and so forcing him to leave alone really remains the only option).
I didn't like the scarce use of voice acting. I generally - untypically - usually don't like "talkie" games, maybe I'm just more a reader than a listener. However, this option - with just a few phrases being spoken in addition to being written on the screen - is the most irritating one. Why these particular phrases and not some others? Pretty much the only one I liked indeed was at the end of the ceremony, when dying Forest Heart whispers to Adam: "Remember me...".

The Bottom Line

"Lost Secret of the Rainforest" is a very good game, in my opinion yet better than the first part of the "Ecoquest" (mini)series. It's really a pity that more parts of the series were never made. It's not difficult, but doesn't become boring and can easily appeal to older players as well despite being meant as an educational game.