Added to the lair: 9/19/20
Master of Dimensions
Will you become the master?
Master of Dimensions is an interesting, highly creative, weird, and flawed game - just the kind of thing I'm into. It has a lot going for it, but a few elements bring it down a bit from being a true classic and relegate it to just being pretty good.
Things start in a normal enough fashion - you've come to visit your Grandmother's house only to find she's not there when you arrive; so you do some poking around and in relatively short order find a device that... let's you travel between dimensions?! You're informed by this device (it's sentient) that your dimension is about to be destroyed unless you step up to the task of travelling between a number of dimensions to reassemble the shattered staff of Merlin (yes, the Merlin). Okay, seems like your fairly typical "save the world" plot, nothing too interesting there... but the way it plays out is more interesting than you'd probably expect.
At this point you're left to travel between several different dimensions in any order you choose, so the game world opens up almost immediately. There's no real indication of where you should start or what you should be doing (other than your overarching goal of reassembling the staff) so you'll more than likely just pick one that looks most interesting to you and start there. While I appreciated this freedom, it creates a few problems.
The first issue is that if you happen to choose the space station dimension, you're greeted with a time-limited puzzle (puzzles - plural actually) which results in your death if you fail and you literally have no way of solving if you start there immediately. Oh, and if you leave and come back later the clock is right where you left it. This is handy in most cases since it means you can leave a dimension once you get stuck and try going somewhere else and, when you return, continue right where you left off. In the case of a time-limited puzzle though, this obviously presents a problem. So, my first and foremost suggestion is to 1) not go there until you feel like there's nothing else left that you can do in the other dimensions first and 2) save before going there so that you don't wind up in a no-win scenario. The fact that there's no way to know this upfront is a pretty questionable design choice in my opinion.
The second problem this freedom presents is that the game, despite claiming that the puzzles can be completed in "any order", ends up actually being fairly linear. You see, there are many items to be used in the game in various item-based puzzles, and these items are almost always used in a puzzle that takes place in a different dimension from the one in which its found. This means you're constantly looking around for items, progressing as much as you can in one area until you feel like you're stuck, travelling to another and doing the same thing, while using items from one dimension in another. But there's not really any way to know what you're going to need or where you're going to get it. So you're given a lot of freedom to go where you want, but the amount to which this matters is limited when you can't progress until you've found X item in dimension 1 to be used in Y puzzle in dimension 2. This basically just amounts in you stumbling around more than you would in most games in the genre, where they funnel you down a more confined path.
To make matters worse, the puzzles frequently employ some highly questionable logic. Sometimes this is so apparent that even the developers throw in a knowing fourth-wall-breaking remark about how it's completely illogical - this actually happens more than once. While I have a certain amount of appreciation for wink-wink-nudge-nudge, if you're admitting that you know it doesn't make sense couldn't you just... you know... make one that makes sense instead? It wouldn't bother me if this only happened once or twice but there are a number of puzzles that are completely non-sequitur illogical nonsense. It can also vacillate into pattern or symbol-based puzzles which more often than not left me completely clueless - and I'm a guy that likes the Myst games. This is a game I would not feel guilty about using a guide for (and that's exactly what I did on many occasions in my playthrough). The puzzles are my single largest complaint with the game; and considering the genre, that's kindof a big deal.
My second-largest complaint is with one particular sequence in the game involving a labyrinth. I've said this before, but I'm really not a fan of mazes in adventure games, and this one unquestionably takes the proverbial cake - it is absolutely massive. It's a minimum of 4 times larger than it should be. I ended up using a guide for this as well, and I honestly have no idea how you would manage to get through it without one. It's just mind-boggling to me. I honestly have no idea what they were thinking with this. I will say that it's played up to be this really big deal beforehand, and it's a case where the game isn't overselling it, even if they went completely overboard. It needs to be said however, that the ultimate payoff for this is actually really interesting, and takes things in a direction that I genuinely did not expect and I'm not sure that I've ever seen in a game like this. I actually thought that was quite neat.
I realize that I've been overwhelmingly negative so far, but I didn't hate the game by any means. If anything, it's more the fact that the game does a number of things really well that it makes it all the more unfortunate that a few other design choices bring the experience down.
Something the game really excels at is coming up with some really interesting and creative scenarios and worlds to explore. You can tell they had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for the different dimensions and it gave them a lot of freedom to do some very wacky stuff which I really appreciate. It has a very unique feel overall, which is noteworthy in and of itself considering the size of the genre. The game's generally pretty funny although this can be hit and miss, and your mileage may vary. It clearly understands how absurd it is, and it embraces it. And truthfully, the nonsensical puzzles I mention can often be clever in a decidedly illogical way. It's the kind of thing that reminds me of something out of a Monty Python sketch or something from a Douglas Adams book.
There are a number of events in the game that play out in interesting and creative ways that I didn't expect, and that in and of itself bumps it up a few notches for me. Not all of it sticks but a lot of it does. I guess that's the risk you take when you're as off the wall as this.
The production value, overall, is quite good in my opinion. The visuals shift styles regularly and this just facilitates the creativity I've been talking about. The sprite animations are very good overall. The video animations suffer from very heavy compression artifacts which are pretty standard for games of the time, unfortunately. The voice acting is pretty good, although there are some weak spots there - the Wizard of the North, in particular, is laughably bad. It actually sounds like a kid trying to do a "scary wizard" voice. It's particularly bad considering how much the character is built up in the story. The main character's voice acting is pretty good thankfully. Literally the entire game is voice acted/narrated as well, which is a nice touch. I would recommend enabling subtitles though, since there are times where the sound effects or music can drown out the dialogue.
Master of Dimensions is not a perfect game by any stretch, but it is a unique one. In a genre that's flooded with rehashes and tired ideas, it's refreshing to play something that's different, even if not all of it works. If you're at all a fan of this genre, I would definitely recommend checking it out.