It was the year 1990 and a small development team called Weltenschmiede (World Smiths) aspired to become the German Magnetic Scrolls. Text adventures had never been a big number in the German speaking part of the world – but nevertheless, they wanted it to work with graphically illustrated ones now (better late than never?). Today, we know how successfully this went.
Thematically, the player is presented with typical fantasy genre material: in an alien universe, magical artifacts have to be collected in order to re-align time itself which has come out of joint.
Not only thematically, but also regarding its gameplay, Das Stundenglas recalls the beginnings of the genre. The extensive, open game world is made of numerous landscapes and interiors. It is populated by a string of characters who will sometimes give more or less helpful hints, but usually take the function of providing new objects – of course, only in exchange for other things. Or they are actually enemies guarding objects or blocking the way. Which is not really something very much different.
Interacting with the characters, the parser shows a grave weakness which, unfortunately, won't remain the last one. There are different ways of addressing characters, all of which are accepted by the game and met with seemingly useful reactions – if only they weren't completely different ones for the same subject depending on the phrasing. This may cause the "wrong" variant to be accepted by the player, leading to all sorts of dead ends.
Similar issues occur all over the course of the game. Objects have to be referenced with their exact names as listed in the descriptions. No synonyms are accepted. Sometimes, even the causal link between the player's input and the parser's response is not clear. Small anecdote in this regard: I tried hitting one of the first persons I met. The game claimed something along the lines of violence not being the answer, though the guy actually also started talking afterwards. So was it because of violence after all, or would that have happened regardless? Then, there is also the unusual handling of objects: refering one which cannot be seen in the current location, the game will disclose not only that such an object does exist, but in which location is will be found – although it has not actually been found yet. Due to the parser's insistence not to accept synonyms, this will happen more often than you would like.
Finally, there are the graphics illustrating the scenes. Unfortunately, even those don't leave an unanimously positive impression. Quality varies wildly: some pictures look like somebody's first attempts with some unprofessional pixelling application, others, however, are quite moody. In spite of the old-fashioned restriction to 16 colours, this wouldn't have been too bad still. Though there is even a gameplay impact, as each illustration is used for several places, sometimes not even fitting ones. This causes some disorientation. Last, but not least, it would have been nice if objects would disappear from the illustration after being picked up by the player. After all, Sierra managed to get this right already ten years earlier.
To sum up: you will need some time to get into this one and the hurdle for today's spoiled players will be even higher than it was already back in 1990. After getting used to the quirks, it plays rather well. In the absence of a developing plot, the semi-ironic writing style will keep you playing. And there are even some good design decision to be found, for example when later on, the game does its best to effectively avoid boring routine work – for instance when being forced to travel from one side of the world to the other.
Once you accept the fact that much of the player comfort Das Stundenglas claims for itself is nothing but pretense, and that it is rather rooted in the early 80s, it is not all that bad, even if not groundbreaking. Maybe we just have to see it as a young team's first attempt while it was still fine-tuning its style and building up its technical expertise. So today's conclusion is really simple: not a must-play, but also not one to strike from the list prematurely.
Extrinsic observation: these days, the game is often classified as belonging to the science fiction genre. This is because those "reviewers" don't bother to play further than the first three screens. They mistake the disguised copy protection (the very first puzzle can only be solved by consulting the manuals) for the actual game. Das Stundenglas shares this fate of broad misclassification with other fairly big German titles, such as Rings of Medusa 2.