Untold Riches (Jason Ermer) presents itself as a straightforward, self-consciously tropey treasure hunt. You’re the sidekick to an eccentric adventurer, stranded by pirates on a tropical island; your objective is to find the treasure and then get rescued. It reads very much as though it’s intended as an introduction to parser IF for children; and, indeed, it was developed for use in a middle-school classroom.
Both elements of the premise – hapless sidekick who gets by in the absence of a mentor, trope-conscious Indiana Jones adventure – are thoroughly well-trodden ground in parser IF, and Untold Riches makes no attempt to do anything novel with it. The unifying puzzle – providing power to a lighthouse in order to signal for rescue – is firmly in the Myst idiom, requiring you to set up a water-wheel and then follow a line of junction boxes to route power to a final destination. There’s a puzzle where the light-beam marks buried treasure, a rusty door that has to be oiled, and an animal that must be lured with food. (None of this really constitutes spoilers, given that the puzzles cry out the solutions they require.)
Because its puzzles are so familiar, Untold Riches makes for very quick play. It also offers very strong pointers. Meta-game, there aren’t really any red herrings either in inventory items or in the world: at one point I had acquired a key but didn’t have anything to open with it, but I knew there had to be something around somewhere, and there was a pretty small list of areas with obvious unsolved puzzle elements, so I quickly figured out where to look. On the other hand, its built-in help is relatively light; there is a basic hint menu, but nothing like the kind of “here is how the parser and basic world mechanics work” instruction that some intro-to-parser works have adopted. That makes sense, if it was originally intended for a supervised learning environment.
Narratively, Riches pulls much the same trick as Spodgeville Murphy and the Jeweled Eye of Wossname: it expands its story by oblique reference to a host of previous adventures that you’ve had. None of this forms any overarching narrative, and the protagonist isn’t characterised beyond being a resourceful teenager, but it provides some decent amusement. The writing, again, does a solid, unflashy job, keeping things brief without feeling too skeletal; the environment is nothing unexpected, but has enough detail to feel immersive.
This is all pretty light stuff: the threat of pirates (or, for that matter, of being abandoned on a desert island) never feels particularly scary, and the young protagonist doesn’t really have any motives or cares in the world other than finding treasure and having adventures. There’s a little bit of eye-rolling at the Professor being hopeless and leaving all the important work to you, but even this has a lot less edge than it could easily have. This isn’t the tone of a world-weary employee cleaning up after an incompetent boss, or even of a neglected kid having to grow up fast to compensate for a hopeless parent; it’s a child’s fantasy of out-adulting the adults.
So, this is very much not a game targeted at me, but it appears well-crafted to its purpose, and – largely because that purpose means not outstaying its welcome – I had a pleasant enough time.