Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu is a point and click adventure game based on Robert Ripley, the creator of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. It was developed and published by Sanctuary Woods in 1995.
Set in the year of 1936, the player assumes the control of (a fictionalised version of) Robert Ripley. The game starts in Thebes, Egypt, where Ripley is pursued by two men. They steal his sack and are about to execute him, when they are terrified by sounds from the talking Colossus of Memnon and run away sports team uniforms. On his way back to New York City he finds that the same two men have ransacked the Odditorium, attacked his assistant, Feng Li, and were looking for any documents concerning “Master Lu”. He surmises that they are after the Emerald Seal of the tomb of China’s first emperor, a powerful talisman which could be used to unite all Asia under a single power, on the eve of World War II.
The adventure starts in Peiping, where Ripley believes he can find more about Master Lu in the Hall of Classics. It is there a priest tells his history: Master Lu was the sage of Emperor Qin, traveled to locations such as Easter Island
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, Sikkim and Peru to discover the Elixir of Life for the Emperor. After designing the Emperor’s Tomb, he used Rongorongo, Sikkimese and Peruvian hieroglyphics to conceal the secret to open it; he believed that only after the peoples of the world reach a certain point of peace and cooperation, they would be able to use joint knowledge and understand it. The priest also mentions that Twelvetrees came before Ripley, and two men tried to steal the tablet. However he will allow Ripley to study the tablet if he finds the key to solve the riddle.
The first location visited is the Free City of Danzig, and the fictitious “Ace of Spades castle”. Baron von Seltsam has died and his son Albert allows Ripley to investigate his father’s documents and discoveries. Ripley there can find the Romanov Emerald, and a letter from professor Jorge Menendez, who discovered four ancient cities belonging to unknown Pre-Inca cultures in “Mocha Moche”. In one of those cities, some findings suggested a connection with ancient China. Ripley will manage also to enter the late Baron’s tomb and recover a key to Lu’s tablet.
Near the end of the adventure, Ripley reunites with Mei in Peiping and manage to solve the riddle on Master Lu’s tablet. On that instant, they are assaulted by the two thugs. Ripley and Mei succeed in neutralizing the assassin, Shen Guo thermos funtainer drink bottle. The couple then goes to Mount Li (in the game it is described to be man-made) and meet a peasant who has uncovered pieces of clay statues from his cellar. The couple find a way to the Emperor’s Tomb through this cellar. The Riddle of Master Lu is actually a combination that will open a door leading to Qun’s Mausoleum.
Ripley recovers the seal and on their way back, it is revealed that Baron von Seltsam was the mind behind all this, having followed Ripley to lead him to this point. On their way back, Master Lu’s last trap is activated and the Baron falls in poisonous mercury.
The epilogue shows Ripley and Mei in a Zeppelin discussing how he managed to safely transfer her grandparents from Peiping to London, to escape the Second Sino-Japanese War. However, the Second World War erupts.
Master Lu is a typical point and click adventure game meat tenderizer sauce. Robert Ripley travels in several parts of the world. A common feature of all locations is the “Posh Express” office where Ripley books his next destination, and also exchanges mail with other characters of the game; the advancing of the backstory narrative is revealed through mail that arrive to Ripley in each station.
Each location also hides a “bonus” quest. Ripley also has a journal in his inventory. The player is enabled to find out which locations are important enough where Ripley can draw his Believe It or Not! cartoon, and thus keep track of the progress in the game. Furthermore, in some screens there are artifacts that Ripley can find. These can be mailed to New York, and each time the player visits the Odditorium he can see these artifacts on display. Gathering those items neither affects the story nor rewards the gameplay but is supposed to make the business wealthier.
The Riddle of Master Lu received mixed reviews. GameSpot gave the title a 5.7/10, saying the amount of infotainment delivered was impressive, but that they were unable to recommend the game due to an “unforgiving interface”. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B-, praising the game’s visuals but lamenting the lack of humor and mystery elements. Maximum commented that “as well as the extensive storyline, what really makes Riddle stand out from the crowd is the way that it looks and sounds.” They also commented positively on the “brain bashing puzzles” and concluded, “this game keeps you vexed for days at a time.” They gave it 4 out of 5 stars. A Next Generation critic also gave it 4 out of 5 stars, and said “it may be one of the best graphic adventures this year.” He praised the storyline and graphics, elaborating that “The tasteful use of video and digitization gives the game a fully realistic feel, and characters have such personality that you begin to care about what happens to them.” It maintains a 77% rating on GameRankings based on 5 media outlets. Master Lu also received a 91% rating from “PC Gamer” and “Coming Soon” magazine, and a 90% rating from “PC Games” and “PC Player.”
Master Lu was nominated for the Computer Gaming World Premier Awards as best adventure game of 1996, commended as “satisfying and even charming” approach, depending “on strength of writing and interaction with characters to win.” PC Gamer nominated Master Lu as its 1995 “Best Adventure Game”, although it lost to Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity.