Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!: The Riddle Of Master Lu

Ripley's Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu DOS Front Cover

Publisher: Sanctuary Woods
Developer: Sanctuary Woods
Year: 1995
Platform: DOS; Mac

A rare adventure game by Sanctuary Woods, The Riddle Of Master Lu does a decent job of capturing atmosphere and flavor while sadly being mediocre in many game elements. You play as Robert Ripley, the real-life entrepreneur and collector of oddities. Chinese terrorists are on your heels to stop you from discovering the secrets of Master Lu (and also use those secrets to take over the world, naturally). You’ll travel to many exotic locales, including Peiping, Easter Island, and Sikkim trying to unravel the mystery, save the world, and save your neck. All the while, of course, collecting rare artifacts to help profits for your Odditorium back in New York.

Live actors are used, and are shot in front a blue screen and then are integrated on beautiful pre-rendered scenes. There are also several small, brief, FMV sequences. While the acting is fine, it seems rather pointless, as pre-rendered characters would have fit more seamlessly into the background and not detracted from the game’s realism. As it is, the actors look and feel tacked on (though model/writer Tara Moss adds a little spice during her brief appearance). At least the voice acting is above average.

Ripley's Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu DOS Ripley with Mei Chen during their airship flight from Egypt

Play is standard point’n’click fare, and fairly simple to manipulate. Long walks across the screen can be circumvented by pressing a key, a brilliant move that ultimately kept me from quitting the game halfway through. Sadly, the puzzles just miss the mark. The game begins with a quick, timed puzzle that has alternate solutions, and I was ready for a similarly filled game much like The Fate of Atlantis. But that was the last such puzzle in the game. There are several devilishly clever obstacles to overcome, though the frustrated gamer will likely not have the patience to complete them. Part of that frustration may come from the maddening pixel hunting missions one must endure. And by far the worst idea in this game comes in the form of possibly the genre’s largest maze. Ever. Not only is it large, the maze itself is not even a puzzle. Not scary. Not difficult. Just big. And a perfectly good waste of an hour.

Some prominent gaming sites consider The Riddle of Master Lu to be one of the best adventure games of all time, but I just don’t see it. While the story is interesting, it’s hardly fascinating. The characters are only mildly engaging. And the brilliant puzzles therein are scarred by the terrible ones. The few game crashing bugs (which can be patched) are merely an afterthought. Puzzle hounds will likely enjoy this game for its finer moments. Those more interested in story and pacing are better left to other adventures.

Ripley's Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu DOS Rope & tree bridge over breathtaking waterfall in Moca Moche

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4 thoughts on “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!: The Riddle Of Master Lu

  1. As i recall i think the use of real actors in games like this was something of a gimmick to promote the disk based technologies of the PC, Playstation and Saturn which were emerging in 1995 the year this game was released. Some of them, like you say, could have done without them. The one i remember the most was Wing Commander III with actors walking through pixel walls. Its interesting how these days the practice of real actors is rare.

    • I think it’s just cost prohibitive. So many FMV games in the 90’s lost tons of cash. It’s easier to get high quality voice acting and 3-D artists than A-list actors, and having live actors with action games doesn’t make a lot of sense. As adventure game companies don’t have a lot of money these days, live actors ain’t gonna happen.

      It didn’t help that a lot of the early FMV games, like Phantasmagoria, were terrible.

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