From The Adventure Gamer
Written by Alfred n the Fettuc
One of the greatest things about The Adventure Gamer blog is that we have the opportunity to find out exactly how good the games we didn’t play back in the day actually are. Sure, it’s always great to read more about Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis or Monkey Island, but it’s the unknown games that really get my attention. Sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough, some unknown great game. For example, it’s thanks to this game that I finally got around to play Gateway and I don’t regret one second of it, it was a great game! Sometimes, time has just forgotten excellent games that you never took the time to actually play.
And sometimes not. Sometimes games are forgotten because they are utterly horrible garbage.
|Please tell me you’ve come to release me of my misery|
I don’t think a game has ever managed to piss me off so strong so fast. I’ve barely sunk an hour into it and it’s already shown me the a nice selection of cardinal sins of game design. This game got it all : stupid puzzles, interface nightmare, grating music… and I think I barely scraped the surface of it all… my dear friends, I think it’s going to be a long walk in the dark.
But first things first : Let’s start at the beginning. Last time we left our beloved hero, he was shackled upside down to a cell wall by his feet. My only hope is that the hero is actually delirious from the blood gushing into his head and he would wake up eventually into a video game design company and after shattering the fourth wall, the game would become good… Not a chance? Maybe not, but it would make a great premise for an adventure game, wouldn’t it?
So, let’s first talk a little bit about the interface. I think if you look widely at 2D adventure game interfaces circa 1992, we have three main examples of successful interfaces. First we have the “verb and object” SCUMM system of Lucasarts, which in my mind is the most well known interface at the time. Created for Maniac Mansion and perfected with each iteration of Lucasarts games (removing the excess verbs), it gives you freedom to do whatever you think of without guiding you too much. The other example is the Sierra interface (post-parser) where you choose an icon (take, talk, use…) and point at something on the screen. Add to that specific icons depending on the game series (I’m thinking about the tongue in Space Quest or the zipper in Leisure Suit Larry) and you have another perfect interface giving you freedom and letting the developers go wild with anticipation on your nonsensical attempts at trying anything on anything. The third one is obviously the simple “point, click and something happens”. It started with Gobliiins or Legend of Kyrandia (or anything more obscure) and would become the mainstream interface of modern adventure games. Less interactivity but much more simple. You just click on things and see something happen.
Now a little pop quiz : what’s the common thing between these three interfaces? Watch out, the answer is going to be a hard one : You point and you click. This is why our beloved genre is often referred to as “point and clicks”. It’s because you point your mouse at something and you click. You would think it’s the only logical way of playing a graphical adventure game, wouldn’t you? Well you’d be wrong. Here, things are a little different.
|e.g. : The shackles|
At no time can you move your pointer out of this menu and click directly on the screen. It seems not so bad when told like that, but you have a few other things going. When you click on something that does nothing, you get a simple thumb down. The look option only serves as a matter to see what’s around you considering there is no description whatsoever. And the worst comes when you’re pretty sure you could interact with something but you can’t (for example : the torch) or the other way around, where you can interact with something you never would have noticed (for example : the wall on the right beneath the water pool. No, I didn’t see anything special about it but the interface allows you to interact with it, so it must be special in some way).
|And now, my personal favorite : the submenu when you try to “use” stuff|
And then when you can interact with something, you have the “use” submenu, which is baffling to say the least. You have, from left to right, the options to : use a key in a lock, use a keycard in a slot (or let’s say putting anything in anything), pushing/pulling something, eating something, wearing something, throwing something, pulling? Or opening a drawer? And putting lego bricks onto each other. Okay, I admit my defeat, it’s time to open the manual. Turns out I’m right about most of these icons, except the second one (“insert”… yeah different icon than “unlock”), the seventh one which is “give”, and the last one which is “tie/attach”. I’m a bit bummed out there is no actual lego brick involved.
Finally, and then I’ll stop rambling about the interface because I feel a lot of you have already stopped reading, there is the “talk” option which only gives you two possibilities : Hi and Help. Turns out it’s also the solution to the first puzzle because you have to yell “help” for the guard to enter and yell “SHUT UP” (in a way that I’m kinda surprised it’s never been done into a meme) before exiting the cell and dropping the key by accident.
|My guess is that the guard’s voice was done at the end of beta-testing
by a guy who was listening at the music for a month too long.
|The guard’s animation is pretty funny, though. You can get
a glimpse of the key flying off on the left of the shackles.
So, let’s get going. I hungrily grab the key and free myself of the shackles with the “unlock” function (yeah I’ve tried, the “insert” function gives you the thumb down). Then, going through the cell highlights the right wall as usable so I push it to discover… a paper clip! (which I guess, must have time/space-traveled from the same place I did) What do you do with paper clips, boys? You unlock doors with them! Thank god Brad appears to be a typical teenager with unlocking/thievery skills as they all are.
|Thumbs up, Brad! You can now go break into the principal’s office!|
Exiting the cell, you enter a long corridor with some kind of weird one-legged monster jumping around, a locked door and a fishbowl. I knew from a first attempt at playing the game that you absolutely need the fishbowl in the third place you visit, so I tried going on without taking it… turns out the monster doesn’t let you pass! On one hand it’s always irritating to see two completely unrelated elements moving on the plot (the monsters leaves his spot because I take the fishbowl) but on the other hand, it seems this game doesn’t allow dead-ends! Thank you Almighty adventure games gods!
Anyway, another weird thing about this game starts in this corridor : you have obvious dangers for your health that you can try to avoid (said monster for example, chases you with an axe, and giant knight statues try to crush you with their weapons) but it doesn’t seems there is any consequence for getting crushed several times in a row. You still can’t die, maybe points are being subtracted from my total but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Add to this the fact that the corridor is full of gems and gold coins to collect for nothing else than added points and the whole thing seems like a very slow and pointless action-ish sequence. I go to the other end of the corridor trying to avoid the weapons of the knights and grabbing as much loot as I can, just in case it shows any use later on.
|This is where I use my famous Latin skills and compliment the use of comic book onomatopoeia.|
The other end of the corridor holds a door that opens on emptiness, Roger Rabbit style. Brad hovers a bit mid-air, then looks at the camera and shows a “HELP” sign before plunging into the waters below. For now I have to say that the cartoon slapstick comedy kinda works so let’s hope it keeps going.
|Fifty years after The Road Runner show and it’s still funny.|
Brad then finds himself underwater, which is the famous scene I was never able to pass as a kid. He starts turning blue immediately but wearing the fish bowl on his head makes him breathe underwater (don’t try this at home, kids!) I didn’t have the patience to wait ten minutes in order to see if he could beat Guybrush Threepwood in a snorkeling contest.
|The fact that I don’t have anything in my pockets doesn’t really explain why I sunk
directly at the bottom of the ocean though… it must be a really heavy fishbowl.
I proceed to free the fish from its trap because that’s what an nice adventurer would do and I explore my surroundings. I find a suspicious patch of dirt and burrow through it to find… an earthworm! Score! At this time the freed fish comes back to me and gives me a seashell. I’m reassured. I thought this action would remain altruistic and unrewarded! This is not the adventurer’s way.
|Thumbs up Brad! You now have an earthworm in your pockets!|
A few more steps to the left and I find some kind of shop (including neon signs and all) that seem to sell an oxygen tank. Saying “Hi” to the shopkeeper shows that he wants an earthworm for it. So far so good. I give him the worm and… the shopkeeper swims away with the tank! What? Have I been conned?
|So long and thank you for all the worms.|
I’m sure that if I don’t give the shopkeeper the worm, something completely unrelated would block my progress later in the same area but I really don’t get what happened here… Anyway. I keep going and find myself in front of a nest of electrical eels with a big turtle hovering near them. My first try is to use the “jump” option on the turtle but despite a few tries, it doesn’t work. I then try to give the turtle the seashell and it works!
|To infinity and beyond!|
The next obstacle on this VERY linear path is a huge shark coming from the west and pushing me away. I try a few things, including fighting it with the paperclip but to no avail. I try to look around a bit more which is pretty fast considering there is not much space to scan between the eels and the shark and I find a… weapon of sort… I want to say a flail? In a very obvious spot that doesn’t bode well for pixel hunting later in the game.
I use it to fight the shark (which requires a few tries considering you have to use the “fight” option at a very precise moment when the shark charges you) and the shark is electrified!
|So I guess it’s more a taser than a flail… my bad.|
A few more steps and… you know it… another obstacle! This time it’s a huge oyster blocking the way. I try to put the taser in its mouth. But no, this time you have to jump over it. And if you’re unlucky enough to choose the “jump” option when the mouth of the oyster is open, it simply doesn’t work. Your timing has to be right for it to work.
|Another problem solved!|
Finishing this long path, I find myself in front of a huge bathtub plug. I can unplug it with my flail/taser/stick and I’m sucked into a cave. Ready for more adventuring!
|Pictured : the lack of common sense and self-preservation
of the average adventure game protagonist.
And with that I think it’s a good place to stop. Sorry about the short gaming time but I feel like my explanation of the interface already made this post way longer than expected. A last piece of rambling before you go… The underwater section is obviously made as a tutorial of sorts. You take a few steps, are in front of a problem and are usually handed the solution pretty easily. However, little Alfred never managed to get through this section. Maybe little Alfred wasn’t too bright, which is a distinct possibility. However, my guess is that the game doesn’t do a good enough job to give you incentive to keep going and that little Alfred’s tastes were already honed by games like Monkey Island or Space Quest to not see the trainwreck of game design this game so blatantly is.
In these two short sections, we’ve already seen nonsensical scoring options, avoiding unnecessary dangers that don’t do anything, one incomprehensible reaction from a NPC (the fish getting away with the tank I thought I just bought), pixel hunting, timing issues with the shark and the oyster, same grating music loop again and again… If these sections were supposed to show you a panel of what the game will have to offer you, I think we’re in for a good time!
|Finally taking my revenge on the underwater section after 25 years!|
Anyway, see you next time, folks! And I promise more adventuring, less rambling!
Session time : 45 minutes
Total time : 45 minutes
Score : 54
Percentage complete : 11%