Overall Score 85%
Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda
Bipo is a young red panda. He lives on an island inhabited by a number of both humans and talking animals. His grandfather has recently "left" - this is open to some interpretation - and Bipo misses him. Told by a nun on the clifftop that his grandfather has gone to join his grandmother, Bipo decides to get a job and earn enough money to sail after them.
Your task is to guide Bipo through his adventure, in which he becomes a photographer for the local newspaper - and uncovers a mystery. What is going on in the mysterious manor on the hill? Is it really haunted? Who is the strange cloaked figure that keeps pursuing Bipo? And what is it about Birdie's cupcakes that makes them so delicious?
Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda is a role playing adventure in very similar graphical style to previously reviewed "Aveyond 2". This should come as no surprise - they were created with the same game engine. Yet, unlike Aveyond, Bipo is a simpler game - there are no parties of heroes, no battles with enemies and no levelling up. You do have an inventory, however, and you have to earn money to buy the items needed for your adventure. This is a little hindered by Bipo's empty piggy bank at the start of the game!
Controls are entirely keyboard, and consist of moving Bipo with the arrow keys and confirming actions with the control key (C, though the spacebar also works). You can access the game menu via the X key, though I didn't figure this out until my second game. Instructions are fairly minimal. You can save your game at any playable point, and the game will usually warn you when you are entering a dangerous area. Occasionally you will be expected to manipulate a puzzle or even take photographs, and these too are operated by keyboard.
Graphics, as mentioned, are of the same ilk as the Aveyond games and this actually wrongfooted me for a while. Once I realised that the game was more adventure than RPG I quickly adapted! Everything is clear enough, though exits from screens are sometimes not. Some locations feature a different look - Birdie's bakery and the Expensive Taylor are examples of this, with actual speech given (and lip synched!) by the central characters. Sound is rather more varied than graphics, and includes the aforementioned speech (curiously Bipo speaks only in Panda, which seems to be clearly understood by game characters while we need subtitles!) as well as sound effects in appropriate places and a range of suitable background tunes.
This is a very easy game (this aging reviewer managed to complete the full version in just a couple of days) and is clearly aimed at a younger audience. Puzzles are not complicated - often the clues are plentiful - but some of the subgames are tricky. I took a few attempts to get the hang of photographing the ghosts, for instance, and the final puzzle before the big showdown had no explanation whatsoever. Very young children may benefit from adult guidance but there is nothing unsuitable for children in the game.
Clearly this is not a game with a lot of staying power - there's only one ending, for a start - but most of the intended market would take much longer than I did! I'm a little concerned as a writer that the plot exposition was largely in one chunk at the end of the game, and that the final showdown largely involved magical duels and little explanation of what was going on. The moment when I was asked to say who I thought the cloaked figure was took me completely by surprise but it seems there is little difference in getting this right or wrong!
On the plus side, Bipo is a charming game - and it's not over yet. Bipo and his friends are already appearing in a sequel, in which they hope to rescue the Stone Maiden. Chapter 1 of this is available online for free play - there is no word yet about the full game but, from what I've seen of the first chapter, I look forward to it.
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