If you enjoy "old school" role-playing games (RPGs) like Aveyond or Eschalon but find the combat aspects of the games a bit of a drag, then Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda might be for you. In terms of depth and length it doesn’t hold a candle to the meatier RPGs out there, but the fact that there are no random monster encounters or tedious level-grinding make it an interesting alternative.

The star of the game is Bipo, an anthropomorphic red panda who, for reasons that are never really explained, is living in a village full of humans. When Bipo’s (adopted?) grandfather passes away leaving Bipo on his own, the panda realizes that he’s going to have to find a job and start earning money. On his travels he stumbles upon a magical necklace and a mysterious hooded figure who seems determined to get the trinket back.

Picture a traditional role-playing game stripped of all combat, experience points, weapons and armor and leaving behind just the adventure and puzzles. That’s Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda in a nutshell. Using the arrow keys on the computer keyboard, you’ll control Bipo as he explores locations like the town, the sea cave and cliffs, and a magical forest, which are all tied together in an overhead World Map.

Like other role-playing games, you can talk to other characters to gain valuable information about what to do next, and investigate locations for important items to add to your inventory. A couple of the characters speak in recorded voice clips, which helps to flesh out their personalities.

The game’s lack of combat is quite refreshing, as I’ve often found myself wondering why typical role-playing games expect you to fight everything that moves, even down to little woodland creatures. If Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda was an experiment to show that a role-playing game can thrive on plot and puzzles alone, then it has succeeded.

The challenges are fairly engaging, with examples that include having to wear different outfits to access certain areas, helping a farmer plant her vegetables in a specific order, and snapping "incriminating" photographs by clicking the shutter at just the right time.

That said, the game is not without its little niggles. There are only eleven locations to visit, which is low by RPG standards, and the locations aren’t particularly elaborate. Dungeons typically have only a handful of rooms in them, and although you’re encouraged to investigate items, doing so rarely yields any reward or message.

Once you’ve made it to the goal inside a dungeon, you have to backtrack all the way out again, which is a little bit annoying since most RPGs have some way for you to automatically warp out of a dungeon once you’ve finished with them. Another issue some people might have with the game is that it’s a completely keyboard-centric interface with no option to use a mouse.

Also, don’t expect a 20 or 30 hour epic here. Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda is good for a few nights entertainment, and the linear tale is not going to offer much variety if you decide to play it through additional times (unlike, say, Aveyond 2, where you can experiment with having different characters in your party).

Bipo: Mystery of the Red Panda is a little rough around the edges, and as a result it comes across as a strong first effort, but one that could use some refinements and a little more depth. Either that or the game has been deliberately designed for younger players or newbies to the RPG genre – neither of which is a bad thing.