Ecoquest: The Search for Cetus
Ecoquest: Lost Secret of the Rainforest

Review by Scout
May 2003

All right, kiddies, quick, over to the computer screen. It's time to talk of Forest Heart and Cetus, the King of Peace, of an underwater paradise fouled and a virgin jungle despoiled. Rule number one: Man is bad and Nature is good. Got that? Okay, cut up Dad's empty six-pack ring and toss it in the recycle bin, mute CNN and turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees. Gather 'round. Shhh ... let the grumpy grownups sleep, it's Eco-Play Time.

Here's Adam

Released respectively in 1991 and 1993, Ecoquest: The Search for Cetus and Lost Secret of the Rainforest chronicle the adventures of a blonde, blue-eyed, environmentally enlightened boy, Adam Greene. As in most entertainment geared to kids, the parents are introduced early and then ushered off stage for the duration. It's parent singular in this case because Adam has no mother. He mentions this fact in passing in The Search for Cetus but doesn't go into detail. That's just fine because the games aren't really about Adam. They're about being aware of what you do, about paying attention to detail and about listening to others and being responsible for your actions. Adam is the ultimate every-kid, the model boy, the perfect child every parent wants. Despite his shiny veneer he's an open-hearted good kid, eager to please and fun to be around. Do I sound surprised? I am. I was. Let me explain.

Ecoquest: The Search for Cetus

Adam and his Dad (Hmm ... Noah? Adam?) are hanging out at the ocean lab, cleaning oil off seagulls and discussing Adam's shyness issues when Dad realizes he is due for a meeting. He leaves but not before instructing Adam to feed and exercise their latest project, a baby dolphin they rescued from a drift net. After a little Frisbee action, Adam and the dolphin, Delphineus, find they can talk to each other. Delphineus tells Adam that he was hurt while searching for the missing Cetus, majestic alpha whale and king of the underwater city of Eluria. Adam lets Delphineus back into the ocean to continue his search. A week later the young dolphin returns with bad news. Cetus is still missing and there is trouble in Eluria. The two friends head off on a quest to put things right and learn a little something along the way.

That's the extent of the story in the first installment, and the rest is pure edutainment. Playing as Adam, you scuba-dive to Eluria, a sunken Greek city now populated by every kind of sea life imaginable. You solve puzzles and improve the local environment. You learn about the destruction of coral reefs, the overabundance of algae and what that means for the food cycle. You see firsthand what a massive dumping site the ocean really is.

The puzzles are very basic and straightforward, befitting a game for children. Most items you need are a few screens away, and your inventory never gets out of hand. The music is a delight, and there was voice dialogue on the CD version I played. Some of the voice actors were a bit unpolished, but for the most part the dialogue enhanced the gameplay. The interface is classic: the eye, the hand, the dialogue balloon, the movement icon, all tucked away in a bar menu at the top of the screen for your purist adventuring pleasure.

The visuals are easy on the eyes, colorful, whimsical and rendered in deep saturated blues and reds and oranges and greens. The writing is witty (Jane Jensen had a hand in this one, her first game for Sierra) and full of the kind of silly puns kids giggle over for hours.

The supporting characters are drawn with broad strokes and simplified to the point of stereotype. There's the snobby painter fish with the bad French accent, the slow, fat drawling country hick walrus, the egotistical bureaucrat (aptly named Superfluous), the stoner teenage fish, the reclusive spinsterish spine fish, the stodgy academic Anglophile fish.

The voices of Delphineus and Adam were obviously recorded by young kids and for the most part were very serviceable and kind of sweet.

There is a point system in constant view at the top of the screen for you to gauge your progress. One way to gain points is by clicking the recycle symbol over trash. Another is to help people solve their problems.

Adam and Delphineus are a team throughout most of the game, though there are places where Adam has to forge ahead on his own. There was one puzzle I tripped over but only because I had overlooked an important location. I don't think it will spoil anyone's fun if I say that by game's end Cetus has been found, things had been set right and all was well in Eluria.

Lost Secret of the Rainforest

Two years later Sierra released the second and final Ecoquest game, Lost Secret of the Rainforest. While the first Ecoquest had been labeled as Ecology for Ages 12 and Up, Lost Secret of the Rainforest was Science and Ecology for Ages 10 and Up. Kids must have gotten a lot smarter and mentally tougher in the years between '91 and '93 because this game is longer and harder and darker. There is a bad guy. Several bad guys, in fact, and a large part of Adam's job in Lost Secret of the Rainforest is to elude them long enough to help his new friends restore balance to their fragile, put-upon world.

The game opens as Adam and his father, Noah, are making their way through customs in Iquitos, Peru, ready to head out into the Amazon jungle. The bad guy is in line with them. You know he is bad because he sneers a lot, bribes the customs agent to let him through, then promptly announces that he thinks the whole place is a sewer. The thing is, he has a point. Adam and his father follow close behind, but before they can even set out, problems arise. Something is amiss with the expedition's supplies, and while Noah Greene and the expedition guide go over the list Adam saunters over to spy on the bad guys at the far end of the docks. When one of the heavies snatches Noah's suitcase containing his passport and disappears, Noah and the guide head for the consulate to put things in order. Adam is left to watch their supplies. He decides to take a nap in a waiting canoe, and while he sleeps two otters chew through the rope and push boy and canoe off into the jungle.

Adam sleeps through the night and awakens in the morning to discover that he is once again assigned the task of making things right with the world by cleaning up other people's messes. Literally cleaning up the messes. As in the first Ecoquest game, you gain points by picking up all of the garbage that litters your way. You learn all of the ways modern civilization's castaways hurt the fragile environment. You meet creatures large and small. This time Adam's sidekick is a little golden bat named Paquita, but she doesn't enter the picture until halfway through the game. First Adam must navigate his way through the forest canopy to a troubled village where everyone seems to have a problem. It's the same formula as in the first game: Solve the native inhabitants' problems and gain their trust. Along the way Adam learns of the approaching demise of Forest Heart, the maternal uber-spirit of the local tribe. Forest Heart exists in material form as a gigantic hollow tree. Forest Heart is dying and needs a successor. But man's blasting and cutting and general forest-shaking devastation has killed the little seedling meant to become the new Forest Heart, and only Adam—as predicted in the prophecy (did I mention there was an Adam prophecy in Eco 1? No? There was.)—can find a new seedling.

Gameplay is almost identical to that in The Search for Cetus, but this time you have the Ecorder, a handheld device you can use to click on the flora and fauna, recording it for future playback. Clicking on stuff gives you even more points and lets you learn forest facts. There was at least one puzzle where I had to play back information stored in the Ecorder to find the solution.

There was no CD version for this game and thus no voice dialogue, but I didn't miss it a bit. Apparently plans were in the works for a CD version, but they were scrapped. I did find mention of a CD in the game documentation, but as far as I know one was never released. The sound was serviceable but not especially impressive, though to be fair I played this game on an old system with a bare-bones SoundBlaster card.

The graphics were more impressive than those in The Search for Cetus and in several places really quite good for the time. Freed from the constraints of an underwater world, Adam finds himself in some pretty spectacular settings—a magical lake guarded by a gigantic golden serpent, teetering high atop the jungle canopy surrounded by rainbow-hued birds, in an enchanted island grove and deep inside a dank bat cave. In contrast to all this sugar-coated goodness were gasoline spewing freighters, burnt-out forests and the ugly Cibola Corporation's camp, with it smoldering, clear-cut fields, black-market tropical birds lying dead in cramped cages and oil well pistons pumping away in the background.

In fact it was in Cibola camp that the developers served up what proved to be a game-stopping puzzle. I seriously doubt any 10-year-old could solve this puzzle on his or her own. It had me scratching my head for a good day before I finally consulted the detailed solution provided in the accompanying hint book. Probably the developers meant for the parents to help out here, or maybe they just couldn't resist throwing one of their infamous Sierra curve ball puzzles. They certainly took a lot of effort to explain this one in the hint book, even giving it a special four-page section called "Gonzo's Got Me." In retrospect the solution was logical, but after the relatively easy gameplay leading up to it, it was like running into a wall. Once out of the camp, things return to normal difficulty level and Adam begins to make progress again. Some of the best puzzles and most spectacular scenery are reserved for the ending.

This Ain't No Disco

I think it's important to note that Sierra was serious about making these games an education as well as an entertainment. They enclosed Adam's Eco News, an informative tabloid about the game's subject, in each game box. There was also a booklet with The Search for Cetus game titled "I Helped Save The Earth," where you get an award stamp each time you accomplish a small task like "Avoid Using Paper Towels or "Turn Down the Water Heater." On the back of the boxes a guarantee was issued to the purchasing parents that if they had any problems with the educational value of the game they could have their hard-earned bucks back.

The games are short and, for the most part, easy. It took me about six hours to finish The Search for Cetus and about 12 to finish Lost Secret of the Rainforest, though I had to have help to advance in the second one. I would recommend these games to anyone interested in early, old-school adventure games. Because of their simplicity, they function as a sort of primer for adventure gaming. Despite this or maybe because of it, they have style and grace and most of all heart. While the lefty politics of Ecoquest 1 and 2 are unmistakable and might raise an eyebrow in these more cynical, no-nonsense times, it's all good clean fun, especially after you've taken the time to pick up after those less thoughtful ones who came before you. Oh yeah, and save the world while you're at it. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Sierra
Publisher: Sierra
Release Date: 1991 (The Search for Cetus); 1993 (Lost Secret of the Rainforest)

Available for: DOS Win3.1

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Screenshots

The Search for Cetus

 
 
 
 
 

Lost Secret of the Rainforest

 
 
 
 
 

System Requirements

The Search for Cetus

2 MB RAM
DOS 5.0
386 SX
VGA
Sound card with DAC
Mouse
(Windows version requires Win 3.0 ME or 3.1)

Lost Secret of the Rainforest

MS-DOS/Windows 3.x
3.5 high-density drive
286-16 or better
640K RAM
VGA-256 or EGA-16 color, Tandy VGA only
Hard disk
Mouse
Supports standard sound cards of the era

Where to Find It

PGI (The Search for Cetus Original Diskette Version) 59.95



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