by Aaron Reed and Alexei Othenin-Girard
You are Nakaibito Morales, otherwise known as Knock, and your pickup truck has just gone kaput in the middle of the desert. What follows is an adventure of self-discovery (!) and mysticism.
Most of Sand-Dancer’s plot revolves around…
the belief in spirit animals. While the descriptions, backstory and prose are steeped in American cultural beliefs, I thought these ideas fuelled the plot, but didn’t add much to the atmosphere. Perhaps appropriate, since the player character (PC) lives a somewhat rootless life. And it is refreshing for once to have a non-WASPy PC!
As another reviewer commented, this game seems to aspire towards Andrew Plotkin’s Shade. We see this in the desert setting, the surreal-ness which leaks into the endgame, the introspective moments. And yes, this is a game with moments of loveliness. However, the game’s plot is mostly linear and leaves you with nothing but the illusion of choice. Important plot information is also presented as a infodump, and this gave the feeling of a lack of agency.
A major gripe I had was the under-implementation of almost everything. The help text suggests you take a closer look at surroundings with EXAMINE, but most of the time this only gets you a very unhelpful ‘looks normal’ or ‘about what you’d expect’. I also had to guess the verb a few times, most notably with the infamous can opener. Now that, that was a true puzzler. No, you can’t OPEN CAN WITH CAN OPENER. You can try USE CAN OPENER ON CAN, even DOWN CAN OPENER, but put the RUSTY TIN CAN in and nothing happens! These oversights made the game more frustrating than atmospheric, and a pity, too, because it could have been something like Ecdysis.
A caveat: I read the source code halfway through. I was stuck, I swear!