Oh, is that what the fruit was for? Where did I get the fruit? Did I know this guy was lookin for it?
To me, the word that describes Ramble Planet is "bewildering". To fully explain it, I think have to dig up some history. One of Willy Electrix's previous games was a Privateer-like called Dreg Sector. In Dreg Sector, there seemed to be a very definite order in which you had to go about things, or you would die. Choose the wrong kind of ship and you're at a disadvantage. Spend your money on the wrong thing, disadvantage. Go the wrong way to start the game, disadvantage. It gave you the freedom to get your ass kicked, without giving you any feedback as to what you had done wrong. I put my wiener in that beehive like 5 times, got stung each time and gave up on the honey. Apparently there was a very good game beyond that prickly exterior, but a lot of people never found it. In a lot of ways, I feel like Ramble Planet was an attempt to correct that.
There doesn't seem to be a way to "lose" at Ramble Planet. There's no way to render the game unwinnable by losing items (at least that's what the manual/gamefaqs said), and there's no way to lose a battle. Indeed, there aren't even "battles", you're either high enough level to vanquish a foe and gain a tenth of a step to the next level or you're not strong enough and you automatically walk away. It's refreshing in a way, to have the freedom to explore, but the game also doesn't do much to limit your progress. The whole world is available from the very start and that's... bewildering. By not being locked into a certain section until you can appreciate it, you're never sure if the answer to a current problem is next door or across the world and it always makes you feel like you're lost.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, at the start of a game the player needs some hand-holding, ESPECIALLY if they're going to have a significant amount of freedom. Take the greatest exploration game ever, Super Metroid. When you first get to Zebes, there are no enemies. No way to die. You find out that you can shoot blue doors to open them, that red doors don't work that way, and that there's areas that you're way too big to get into. At this point all roads lead to the morphing ball, which lets you into those tiny places. From there you're almost certain to pick up missiles, solving the red doors. Combine those techniques and you'll find the bombs, the most important part of the game.
Super Metroid makes you walk past all the locked doors before it gives you the keys, which makes you feel all "Oooh, discovery!" when you go back through. It also doesn't introduce you to puzzles you aren't ready to solve yet, knowing that if there were a green door you couldn't open you'd waste all your time trying to get through it, to the detriment of the puzzles you are prepared for. Ramble Planet just throws you out into the whole wide world and expects you'll be able to figure it out. It does allow for some joy, I was thrilled to find my first level 0 enemy. That thrill was tempered by the discovery that I needed to find 9 more of them to be able to tackle even level 1 foes, and that I had run into level 8 foes on my way there. Finding a key isn't as fun if you already know you're gonna need 79 more.
(To be fair, I think that the game's equipment is the solution to some of this and that levelling up is fool's gold, but the game doesn't seem to give much feedback as to where equipment is or you'd go about finding it. You're just supposed to wander till it hits you on the head and then be grateful for the experience, I guess.
Willy's abstract graphics don't do much to help. It's frequently hard to tell what you can interact with and what you can't, which means most of the game is spent stumbling into things and not fully understanding what you did. My inventory is full of junk, most of which, according to the manual, is merely that: junk! In a tightly-designed adventure game it's okay to have a few red herrings, but Ramble Planet seems to have schools of them. The noise to signal ratio is tremendous, in virtually every department of game design. The music is great, but I can't even tell if it changes at random or as I enter different parts of the map!
Long story short, I can't even tell you what puzzles I've solved, I can't tell you what puzzles I'm in the middle of, there's no point of the map that I look at and think "Ooh, I wonder what's in there!" because there's just so much to take in at once. There's next to no feedback as to whether or not what you're doing is right or wrong, it's like he just stuffed as many random puzzles and things onto the map as possible and then judges you based solely on your persistence. There's a machine that transforms you into another race... but what does that do? I don't notice any immediate differences. There's a "puzzle" where you have to win at a slot machine and a roulette machine to get chips and tickets to trade for prizes but because there's no failure condition, you just hold up and enter on the machine until you get the "win" textbox enough times to trade for your prizes.
In hindsight, this area was obviously a casino! Hey, look, there's the dessert bar! The slot machines! The redemption thing! But walking through it before that, nothin. The fact that I randomly touched the wall that turned out to be a slot machine is nothing other than dumb chance.
I hate to shit on a guy with a unique style, but this is a game that could definitely benefit from more traditional presentation. It's a game that could benefit from locking you up a little bit and forcing you to understand what kind of puzzles the game is going to present you with. I get the feeling that if I followed a checklist from GameFAQs, I could solve the whole game in probably 15 minutes. But would that be fun? Dunno! So I wandered around on my own for 45 minutes and am left bewildered.
It's not Super Metroid, it's not Myst, it's not Stratego. It reminds me of Superawesomeric's T4R4D1DDL3, only not as pretty and maybe not even as well written. If you had to play one or the other, I would definitely suggest Ramble Planet because unlike T4R4D1DDL3, I'm sure that you can actually win at Ramble Planet. I do like it better than I liked Dreg Sector, if it's any consolation. This is an actual game, it's not a joke or a troll it's just... bewildering.
(And there's one of those damned "Invisible Wall" mazes in this thing! Has anyone, in the history of video games, ever actually liked those? At least there's an item that instantly teleports you out, but still!)