Missed Classic 71: Asylum – WON!* and Final Rating

From The Adventure Gamer

by Will Moczarski

Med Systems Marathon Overview:

(a) 1980 Summary
(b) Reality Ends (1980)
(c) Rat’s Revenge / Deathmaze 5000 (1980)
(d) Labyrinth (1980)

* with a little touch of “lost”.

On the Road to Find Out

So I solved the roadster puzzle. It took some gall, it took some nerve, I’m still not completely convinced that it’s fair but that’s what you get for playing 1981 adventures, I guess. The “trick” was to light the lantern with the matches and put it down with the nails. Either the light or the warmth of the lantern attracts the roadster and makes it crash (are we in the storyworld of Daniel Suarez’ Daemon now?). I’ve got some issues with this. Firstly, this is not the full solution of the puzzle. After having dropped both items (the lit lantern and the nails), I seemingly need to leave the corridor to unconfuse the roadster about whom it should attack. This took me some sweet time to figure out as I’d already thought that I was on the wrong track when it didn’t work after running to and fro along the corridor. Secondly, the roadster crashes in the corridor next to me (because I had to leave, right?) and still I become unconscious, effectively sleeping through almost the remainder of the game time. This didn’t bother me at first but it makes the following endgame incredibly difficult and completely unfair. You have all the time in the world to solve everything before the roadster puzzle and then suddenly it’s 30 minutes until lockdown. Talk about tightening the screws. Thirdly, the nails don’t simply deflate the tyres of the roadster, causing it to crash into the walls of the narrow corridor (which would be somewhat believable if it was going fast enough) but it disassembles straight away, leaving a trail of various ex-roadster objects along the corridor. It’s rich pickings: I find a crank, the steering wheel, the voltage deregulator, the headlight and the windshield wiper. Naturally, attempting to pick up all of the items in addition to those I’m already carrying exceeds the inventory limit. It would be no fun at all without a few more save and restore exercises, would it, game?

After the roadster puzzle, I can go back to the asylum proper using the copper key to unlock the maze door from the inside. It may be possible to save the roadster puzzle for last and go exploring with the copper key before entering the second maze for a second time (to gain some precious time) but for the moment I don’t feel like restoring back to before the maze. Instead, I prefer to keep losing the game – again and again. Thirty minutes of game time are really not that much, or, to be precise: 30 * 40 / 60 = 20 minutes of real time. Also, I feel a bit cheated after having tried the copper key on all of the remaining locked doors and coming up with one new room. One! In the room, there’s an inmate offering a wire hanger to me. It’s a similar situation to the one with the fisherman – there’s no box, just a verbal description of the item which has yet to appear. I deem it likely that I can trigger the item drop by trading in one of my items, however, trying to offer anything to the inmate by using my trusted GIVE verb tells me that he doesn’t seem to hear me. Do I not have the right item? I restore and try different parts of the roadster wreckage but no dice. I spend over an hour in this situation, perpetually restoring after twenty minutes as the guards come back (where have they been, anyway?) and catch me looking tired – me, the protagonist, but really also me, the player. After a well-deserved break from the game I decide to check out the manual once more as it has already helped me through some hard times. And what do you know? I can TRADE stuff for other stuff. In hindsight, this must be a reasonably well-known jail/asylum stereotype, and I come up with the right solution straight away after I’ve thus found out the correct verb: of course he wants cigarettes, just like the lockpicking inmate who had helped me before (I have to remember to throw some CAPs his way when all is said and done). I feel a bit stupid for not seeing this connection – cigarettes get me a lockpicker as well as a lockpick – but the game still has it in for me. Exploring with the wire hanger gets me nothing, nothing and nothing. I can’t open any of the doors with it, and the parser doesn’t even understand me when I try. At first I think that this is another parser problem but after EXAMining the hanger, something inside me dies a little. There’s a message on it telling me to get the passkey next time. The passkey? I’ve never even heard of this item. This is what Graham Nelson meant when he said a game shouldn’t expect you to have knowledge of prior (game) lives to solve a puzzle in his player’s bill of rights. Could I not trade in the hanger for the passkey, you ask? But that would be silly, wouldn’t it? No, I have to restore and trade the cigarettes for the passkey. My current ratio of about 100 minutes per puzzle remains stable.

The passkey gets me into a couple more rooms. I can enter the cell of an inmate who threatens to kill me and obligingly follows up on this when I let him out. Furthermore, I can enter the cell of an inmate who has been giggling foolishly from the beginning of the game. Also, if I wear the uniform, I can enter a room with a computer (neatly boxed, as usual, although they made the box on the table sort of look like a computer) in the administrative wing of the asylum. I don’t know what to do with either of them and don’t have a clue what else I should do before I get caught. So far I haven’t seen even the slightest hint at an exit. I am very close to checking out the official hint sheet as issued by Med Systems back in the day but before doing that, I examine every item I’ve got and see if that might tell me anything. Indeed, one of them sticks out: the gold I found in the second maze appears to be “fool’s gold.” It may belong to the giggling inmate. I also figure out that I can pick up the computer but I don’t know what to do with it. The game doesn’t know the verbs USE, TURN ON or TURN OFF and I’m kind of at a loss about what the computer might be useful for. But first things first: If I hand the gold over to the inmate who’s giggling foolishly, he’s very happy about it and leaves his cell immediately, yelling “gold”. Who’s the greater fool now?

So I should listen to the killer but not to Renfrow?

The End of All Things

It’s exam time again. If I pick up the computer first, I can actually examine it, too, which tells me that “it is an alarm!” That is my first, very indirect hint at some sort of exit but I’ll take what I can get. Another brute-forcing session sees me use all of my vocabulary with the computer but most of it doesn’t work. Only “smash computer” returns a follow-up question: “with what?” It must be the bat. I restore and bring the bat to the computer room this time, trying to smash it with the bat. Success! The computer crumbles to dust (I’m surprised it doesn’t disassemble) but I am caught as the noise attracts the guards right away. That’s fair game. If I take the computer back to one of the empty cells, I can smash away at it happily.

Back to the fool and the killer. I try to free the killer once more wearing a uniform but that changes nothing. I visit the guru to maybe get a clue from him how I should proceed but zilch. The fool is my only real open thread, so I examine his room again more carefully. It is outrageously empty. Maybe he will help me with something later after he ran away with my (his?) gold? The next hours are very tiresome. I go through many rooms again, restoring frequently due to the time limit. I focus on the hand grenade and the various parts of the broken roadster, as I haven’t found a use for either of them. Nothing works. After a long, long time I find out that I can open one more door with my new passkey. I am ecstatic about it! However, it’s just another empty room.

I read the manual again. I find the verb “charge” but that doesn’t work at all in the game. There is also a suspicious-looking example: “put the box under the bed.” Why would anyone want to do that? I spend the next hour or so putting things under beds and am shocked and amazed that they just disappear. If I “put copp(er key) unde(r) bed”, it’s gone! I try to look under the bed, pull the bed, examine the bed (“I see nothing special!”), lie down and sit on the bed which gives me a curious reply: “Forget it for now!” As I don’t have any other hints to go on, I do the same with every bed in all of the empty rooms – the one next to Renfrow’s, the one I can now open with the passkey – and always get the same reply: “Forget it for now!” Well, maybe it was all for nothing. When I try to sit on the fool’s bed, “a fool prevents this.” Being fed up with him, I simply attack him but he rips me to shreds. But wait – I know how to get rid of him. Because I’m curious, I also try to lock the door to prevent him from escaping (the same way I tricked Renfrow way back when). Doesn’t work. A fool still disappears. However, if I sit on his bed after he’s gone, the alarm sounds and I’m caught. Is this what I have to do?!

Well, I already know where I can find the alarm and how I can destroy it. I restore back to after the second maze and get the passkey, get the computer, smash it and get rid of the fool by making him an offer he can’t refuse. I sit down and … bloody hell, it’s the endgame. Was there some hint I overlooked? How was I ever supposed to guess this without brute-forcing it? CAPs for anyone who might be able to enlighten me what I just did. Is there some kind of idiom (a fool and his bed are easily parted?) I’m not aware of?

Beloved meteor!

And what do I get for being lucky? Another maze. Maybe I’m not as close to the ending as I thought I was although the time limit suggests otherwise. Mapping is incredibly tedious as I have to restore time and again. Finally, I only discover two rooms and they’re both locked. The maze is not nearly as large as the previous two. Unlocking one of the doors lets me enter a strange room with a professor sitting behind a desk. On the desk there is some sort of contraption that looks like two model mountains, possibly. I can’t talk to the professor or ask him for the exit. However, I can give him stuff. He takes everything and nothing happens, as communicated by the game: “He takes it – and nothing happens.” Apart from being another nasty way of dead-ending the player (as I shall find out a bit later), this is essentially guesswork. It seems likely that the broken roadster will come in handy at this point, though – maybe the professor needs a variety of its parts for that thing on the desk? I try all of them and the voltage regulator does the trick. “The last piece for my time machine!”, he exclaims, resetting the game clock to 5 pm. Did the game just give me a break? I can hardly believe it.

However, there’s no need to celebrate just yet as I can’t find a way to unlock the second room and there’s no other way out of the maze. The passkey doesn’t fit, neither does the steel key, the copper key or the silver key. When I restore back (in anger) I see that I have all but forgotten about the ancient key although I had previously remarked that it felt like an endgamish item to me. I seem to have been right all along. The ancient key unlocks the final door, leaving me alone with a(n invisible) catapult.

Are you absolutely positive?

Now this is where I finally have to give up which is why this WON! post genuinely feels like a LOST! post to me. So far I have brute-forced or guessworked every last stupid puzzle but this final bit of parser-wrestling eludes me. Also, I wouldn’t have brought the necessary item in a thousand years, I guess – I should have brought the crank from the roadster to wind up the catapult. But more importantly even, I don’t figure out how to work the catapult. At all. After way too much time, I decide to finally give in and consult the official hint sheet. Question no. 20 is “Are you at the catapult?” Damn straight, sheet! I decode the first hint: “Sit on catapult with crank.” All right. I restore and take the crank into the third maze but typing “Sit on catapult with crank” simply doesn’t work: “That sentence is beyond me.” I try some more options and then decode the second hint: “Burn string with match.” Which doesn’t work either, as I’m not on the catapult with the crank just yet. Even the hint sheet doesn’t help me! Just sitting on the catapult (“sit on catapult”) works. Checking the inventory tells me I still have the crank but if I burn the string prematurely that doesn’t help at all: “The catapult wasn’t wound!” At least I now know the verb, and I already looked up what I need to wind it with, and the syntax of “sit on catapult”, “wind catapult with crank” and “burn string with matches” works. I am greeted with one of the barest and most cynical ending screens in adventure game history. Stay tuned to find out whether it was all worth it.

Session time: 6.5 hours
Total time: 17 hours


Asylum is generally a pleasant game but it also proved to be really, really hard and pretty long compared to the other three Med Systems games I’ve previously blogged through. For my PISSED rating I tried to consider my ratings of Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000 but also Joe Pranevich’s review of The Wizard of the Princess which is from the same era and I happen to know it reasonably well. It’s similarly promising and similarly flawed which is why I’m quite happy with the similar rating.

Final Rating
Puzzles & Solvability: It took me 17 hours to beat Asylum and I actually gave up very close to the end. This is a hard game and by no means easier than its predecessors – on the contrary! It does have many more actual adventure game puzzles than Labyrinth, though, and the fact that the titular asylum is slowly opening up with every key you find is pretty satisfying. The mazes are even harder than the ones I’ve encountered before but in the puzzles area it certainly exceeds the other two games by far. Solvability…not so much. Many situations would require better hints and the endgame is just absurd. But even before I stumbled on many solutions by accident and I am still unsure how I actually got to the third maze. By 1981 standards (compare the equally ludicrous The Wizard and the Princess which came out the previous year) that’s kind of normal, though, so I’ll be a little lenient here and say: 5.

Interface & Inventory: The parser has improved a little and the VOCAB command does a lot of good, so there’s some improvement. The inventory limit is a little less strict this time, too. Apart from that the interface is more or less the same as the one in Labyrinth. Compared to that game, I’ll have to say: 2.

Story & Setting: The story may still be “escape from x” but the Asylum setting is so much more interesting than both the deathmaze and the labyrinth. There are too many stereotypes for it to be believable (or even remotely politically correct by today’s standards for that matter) but I can absolutely see the pulp appeal of the whole thing. Also, this is a populated gameworld with inmates and guards, some of which even have their own agenda(s), definitely adding to the flavour. I’ll go with 3.

Sound & Graphics: Still no sound and still respectable graphics for 1981. The asylum even provides some nice new touches like visible doors, inmates, desks, beds. Many items and foes – like the catapult and the gorilla – are still invisible but all things considered it’s an improvement: 3.

Environment & Atmosphere: Being caught by guards or tricked by inmates all the time may not spell fun but it sure creates a sense of urgency. In the same way, the time limit is a major pain yet it serves to make the endgame feel like a grand (if frustrating) finale. The asylum metaphor works better than the ones they used before, and it’s not surprising that this was Med Systems’ most successful (and well-known) game (series): 4.

Dialogue & Acting: There’s no acting, of course, and only some dialogue, but a little more than in the previous two games. The writing is terse and simple but gets the job done. It’s functional and a bit absurd at times, in a likable way. Let’s say 2.

Well: 5 + 2 + 3 + 3 + 4 + 2 = 19 / 0.6 = 32.

That seems about right. Asylum improves the formula of its predecessors in almost every way but still manages to hate the player quite a lot. It’s also much more elaborate than Reality Ends. Was it more fun than my previous Med Systems experiences? Definitely, but also much more tedious. I’m looking forward to playing Asylum II as it’s supposed to be the best of the bunch – however, the next stop in my marathon will be 1981’s Microworld by Arti Haroutunian who is, incidentally, also the author of a later C64 game called Juice which, if I remember correctly, one of our admins has a soft spot for!

Original URL: https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2019/08/missed-classic-71-asylum-won-and-final.html