Reviews by mjhayes

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Zork Zero, by Steve Meretzky

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Has its ups and downs, March 29, 2022
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

I played this as the last story of the Zork Anthology. Computer games were getting more sophsticated, so if another Zork game were to be made, Infocom would want to utilize the latest technology. Beyond Zork was wonderful and would be a tough act to follow, so rather than continue the storyline from there, the idea was to have another Zork game retroactive to the original trilogy.

That was the first mistake, in my opinion. Movies or games that take place prior to the originals usually try too hard to tie loose ends together. We see that not only in the prologue, but in the endgame as well. I also didn't like the character Dimwit, or the various room descriptions that smacked of Dimwit's orders of magnitude.

The game is big in terms of number of rooms, which I normally would enjoy. There are over 200 rooms, not counting all the duplicate rooms that comprise the 400-story tower. But a number of rooms have no significance and seem to only have been added to pad out the game size. I also wish there had been more balance. The castle takes up a large percentage of the world map, and there is precious little time spent in places like Antharia and The Gray Mountains. I do like the little icons with mini graphical representations of each room though.

Given that the story takes place prior to Zork I, it does make sense that the object would be similar to the original - find all the items of interest and bring them to the proper place. Additional reliance on feelies is kind of a nice touch. You'll be reading through the calendar multiple times to learn a few clues vital to completion.

What adds to the challenge is the jester, who appears at random points, and quite a few non-random points as well. You'll depend on him for help and several items, a few of which he gives you randomly. This makes walkthroughs difficult to create as well as follow, because you then have to hold off exploring certain places as long as possible. I do like a couple of his appearances though, like in the Inquisition.

My biggest gripe is the presence of various puzzles which are simply tacked on to the quest. On the one hand, I can appreciate the graphical representations of such things as the Towers Of Hanoi and the "peg-jump" puzzle, but what are they doing in a Zork game? Further, the way some of them are presented is just ridiculous, like the parody of "The fox, the goose, and the grain". Others, like the Room Of Three Doors, I'm guessing people more likely "solved" through save-scumming, rather than figuring them out normally.

Finally, there's the ending. (Spoiler - click to show)All throughout the game, I expected to stop the curse of Megaboz. It took a long time to realize I was meant to fulfill the curse instead. The fact the castle shrinks into the white house from Zork I was just lame, not to mention that the jester turns out to be Megaboz himself, and dubs thee Dungeon Master, who would later torment adventurers in Zork III.

I'm glad I came across the Zork games in the mid-90s, rather than when they were first released. It must have been a disappointment for fans in the last days of Infocom to see the Zork series end the way it did, until Return To Zork came along.


Journey, by Marc Blank

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A departure from the standard Infocom parser, November 30, 2020
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)
Related reviews: infocom, menu-driven, graphics, point-and-click

I had played this game twenty years ago and enjoyed it, but I recall there was one place where I had to save-scum my way through. Recently, I gave this another try and figured out the apparent intended solution without cheating. Since no other walkthroughs adequately explained how to solve that puzzle, I created one of my own. It is now posted on gamefaqs, along with an in-depth guide for just the one puzzle.

As for the game itself, I liked it because the menu-driven system (making optional use of a mouse), which replaced the old parser, made it painless to play through multiple times. Combined with the beautiful illustrations and fantasy storytelling, this is a masterpiece that many players might have missed.

Gameplay is mostly linear with some path-branching. Getting through the entire game is mostly based on trial-and-error, particularly with respect to use of magic, since essence is scarce. There are some decisions you make early in the story that determine whether the game is unwinnable near the end (like (Spoiler - click to show)taking the spyglass and (Spoiler - click to show)collecting hawkbane), and some randomized apparently-mundane detail buried near the beginning of the story is essential toward solving the last puzzle. If you enjoy the story enough, having to play through multiple times shouldn't matter to you.

I wish Infocom had been able to complete the Golden Age trilogy, especially since the endgame leaves a mystery as to one of the characters you meet along the way. Perhaps the other two stories will be written someday.


Beyond Zork, by Brian Moriarty

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A good risk taken on an established franchise, May 16, 2019
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

Take a game that has had a successful trilogy, add a bunch of elements people might like, and hope it's received well. That seems to be what Infocom did with this addition to the Zork series.

I'll begin by saying the downside to this, just to get it out of the way since there's nothing else I don't like about it. To me, this game was a turning point. Future Zork games were just campy, with the exception of the radical departure that is Nemesis. Also, most interpreters I've used don't display this game correctly. Fortunately, I was able to play it again in all it's original glory once I started using Termux, a Linux environment for Android devices that doesn't require rooting.

As for the upside, I like everything else that's new in this game so much that I wish it was done for more IF game sequels. It's obviously heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, with the avatar creation, turn-based fighting, character growth, barter system, randomized maps, and randomized item placement. The screen is divided into four main sections, which is why it's necessary to play this in a text-based environment. In addition to the usual Status Bar at the top, there's a pseudo-graphical minimap, with a window to the left containing room descriptions, and below all that is the usual call-and-response text parser area.

Many of the scenes were ridiculous, like the ripoff from The Wizard Of Oz and part of the ending ((Spoiler - click to show)a magic spell to turn granite into fettucini), not to mention some throwbacks to other Infocom titles. Some puzzles were just too convoluted as well, like getting the helmet. But all that was eclipsed by the immersion into this world with the game's new features. A couple scenes were touching too, like the interaction with the Minx. The reaction of the Implementors when they become aware of my presence was a very nice touch too, in addition to the easter egg: (Spoiler - click to show)trying to open the mailbox pictured on the wine bottle's label. Messing around with the various magical items was a lot of fun, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment too when I achieved the highest level in the game.

While I was playing through the game though, I couldn't help but think that the audio tracks from the CD-ROM version of Return To Zork would fit here. Imagine the Morpheus Nightmare music as a backdrop in the tavern cellar, the Whispering Woods music in the jungle, or the forest music in the ... forest. Event-driven tunes would include the creepy "abandoned hardware store" music when finding the Circle in shambles, the Troll Fight music when an enemy appears, and even that pretty little tune from the intro when you open the Sea Chest. If I put some effort into it, I could probably modify the stand-alone PC-DOS executable file to make the game do just that.

That leaves me with a couple questions. First, what does the game look like when played on a VT220? Second, are there any Android apps out there that display this game correctly?


Cow V: The Great Egg Quest, by J. Suchman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Obviously a satire piece, May 13, 2019
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

Whoever wrote this was most likely learning to program Windows 3.1 games and decided to start simple, with a throwback to Colossal Cave or something, but with only a handful of rooms and a very limited lexicon. It's good for all of 30 seconds or so. If you read the included instructions, you will realize the author wasn't taking this game seriously at all. All the more so because it's described as "HippoWare." For fun though, I took a little time to see if the other games in the "Bovine Software Cow series" actually existed. This game could use a good MiSTing.


Kaged, by Ian Finley

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Not what I was expecting from a Dystopian piece, January 8, 2016
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

I entered into this story, expecting an interactive story not unlike 1984. It certainly seems to start off that way. You play as a minor bureaucrat working in a huge government tower. People have been going mad lately, most recently your immediate supervisor - and the story begins with your having an appointment with the Grand Inquisitor.

Sounds interesting when you begin, and there are a few interesting puzzles, a couple of which I thought were a little unfair. The first is (Spoiler - click to show)what it takes to get into the Bureau of Records - (Spoiler - click to show)there are two solutions, both of which remind me of the kind of tough puzzles commonly hurled at players back at the time this piece was written. The second is (Spoiler - click to show)sabotaging the security system for the prison doors. In all likelihood, you'll have to backtrack at least once for an important clue or item, leaving someone waiting. To be fair, the author did write the story to make it impossible to get into an unwinnable state, and does give the player ample opportunity to avoid death, so you don't have to worry so much about save scumming.

At one point, you're faced with a choice whether to continue the story or let it end. If you slug it out to the end, you'll discover (Spoiler - click to show)there are no good endings. You can either die or spend the rest of your life in a mental hospital, where you will receive regular electroshock "treatment." So having ended the game halfway through is really the closest thing to a good ending there is.

What I was hoping for in a true story of the Orwellian genre, was a large back story about how oppressed the citizens are and how thoroughly corrupt the government has become. There's hardly any of that here. Instead, you ultimately learn that the spreading madness (Spoiler - click to show)is fabricated by the Inquisitor himself, who is implanting people with Augmented Reality gear and projecting sounds and "three-dee" images that only one person hears or sees, and then using that as "evidence" of their loss of sanity and putting them away in the State Hospital. All that because (Spoiler - click to show)attendance at the public execution trials has been declining lately, and so all the time you spend in the latter part of the story, (Spoiler - click to show)breaking out of prison cells and running away from guards, was all staged in advance. You had become an unwitting contestant in a game show of life-or-death.

If the story had been advertised for what it is, and didn't lead me to believe it was an actual interactive struggle against a totalitarian regime, then I would have liked it better. The length of the game is just right in my opinion, not too short and not too long, and there aren't too many puzzles. It's worth a couple hours of your time, and that's all.


Andromeda Apocalypse Extended Edition, by Marco Innocenti

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Not only meets but exceeds the expectations set for an Andromeda sequel!, December 11, 2015
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

I played this game immediately after playing Andromeda Awakening. To be honest, I didn't have very high expectations for this game, because Awakening had set the bar so high. Awakening was about one of my favorite concepts: bearing witness to The End Of The World and being one of the only survivors. Apocalypse picks up where Awakening left off, so it could only continue the concept with this premise: TEOTW has already come and gone, and you're probably the only sentient being left - now what? Precious few games and movies touch upon this idea.

The first thing that bears mentioning is the emotional impact of the game. Barring all the derivative titles and focusing only on Awakening and Apocalypse, there are two possibilities here. Either you will play this game first, or you will play Awakening first. Either of the two choices will have a different effect on you, and neither one is better than the other. If you play Apocalypse first, the flashbacks to Monarch will hint at happier times, with the ominous oncoming storms presenting you with a mystery as to how it all ended. The beginning, where you are sitting in the hyerotrope, hurtling through space, with nothing to do but look around, gives you a chance to see the growing supernova which is all that's left of your home planet. There is also the room which is described as a spitting image of a boulevard back home that you remember so well, now devoid of traffic or life.

In my case, I had already played through Awakening, so I was disappointed at first when the hyerotrope came to a stop after crashing into some sort of space station, and I walked around in no immediate danger for the first time. This was a contrast from the constant struggle to survive through a landscape that was succumbing to a neverending series of earthquakes. Was this one of the mechanostations? It couldn't be, since the nebula would have devoured them all by now. My disappointment changed though, once Logan came onto the scene. I knew right away this was the substitute for the e-pad which I once had had during Awakening, and which I enjoyed using because it gave the player all the background material one desired to illustrate the galaxy. It would be a spoiler for me to disclose more about Logan.

There are a few things implemented here that seemed new to me for an IF game: an embedded title screen image and an accompanying tune. The tune seemed to fit, but I chose to mute it out and listen to Dona Nobis Pacem by Peteris Vasks instead: it did a much better job for me of setting the right mood. Whereas you could get a list of possible directions in Awakening by typing "exits," now the list of exits is given right in the Status Window, so you don't need to ask. Directions you haven't explored yet from each room are highlighted in all-caps, negating many of the navigation woes common to IF games. The world model is pretty simple, but I found the lower-tier rooms to be confusing to follow on the included map, although I like the way it's illustrated. That's another thing that adds to the mood: the feelies. It's worth your time to download these as well.

The best new feature in my opinion though, is the modernized scoring system. Now there is a list of achievements, which you can access by typing "score." Quite a few of the achievements are for (Spoiler - click to show)finding creative ways to die, but be warned: using the UNDO command or restoring your game will affect your achievements list, so you might want to just start over from the beginning each time. The game is short enough and so enjoyable that you probably won't mind. Another feature is the built-in hint system, which is why there are no walkthroughs posted as of this time of writing. This electronic throwback to the Infocom InvisiClues provides only solutions that are relevant at the moment. One criticism though is that no hints were available after I had forgotten (Spoiler - click to show)how to get the countdown sequence going, and "Fat" help you if you forget the destination from the nav-pod, based on an earlier conversation with Logan.

There are a couple of imperfections that bear mentioning for people who have finished the game already. (Spoiler - click to show)If you know the right thing to say to Logan, you can access the pathway to the Central Processing Unit, which then is written as if the countdown has already begun. Asking Logan about the sparkling crack in the Air Duct will present you with a question as to whether to have it jettisoned. If that question can be answered, I haven't figured out how yet. You also will be stuck in the Reliquary, since you're not ready to finish the game and since the nav-pod isn't there. (Spoiler - click to show)The countdown is 40 minutes, but travelling from one room to the next is often described as taking longer than a minute, such as the 15-minute ride on the train between the two active terminals. There is also a "-- long --" walk between rooms within the Hanger and the Docks. But the countdown varies between one minute per turn and one minute every few turns.

There is one derivative title worth mentioning, and that's Dreaming. There are a couple references to Dreaming within Apocalypse, such as (Spoiler - click to show)the name Gettare Rinors and (Spoiler - click to show)the fact there are four other people still alive somewhere, adding promise to another sequel. If you're new to the Andromeda saga, I suggest playing them in this order, despite their listed order on IFDB:
1. Awakening
2. Dreaming
3. Apocalypse
Then, if you want more, try out Tree and Star, Ascending, Genesis, and 1983, the last of which is a rewrite of Awakening as a throwback to 1983 IF computer games.


Andromeda Ascending, by Truthcraze

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Another game that tried to expand upon the Andromeda storyline, December 10, 2015
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

No doubt players of Andromeda Awakening would know the bar was set very high. Andromeda Dreaming was by a different author and was short, but managed to capture the spirit of mixed wonder and helplessness as to why everything was coming apart. This is another derivative work by another author, but whereas Dreaming plays like Photopia, Ascending plays like Chicks Dig Jerks. The dialog, once again, is multiple-choice, and the story seems to be composed of two halves which are a bit sloppily joined together. The main character, who turns out to be a well-respected gang leader, also fits the CDJ mold.

As with the other derivative titles, there are multiple outcomes, which adds a little to the replay value. The game is mostly puzzle-less, save for one long maze which you may or may not have to navigate through, depending on the path you chose. The addition of this maze takes a lot away from the storyline and was entirely unnecessary. The story itself is a bit of a disappointment too. I was hoping since playing Awakening that I would have a chance to visit the old mechanostations and see what life was like there while they were still inhabited, but I had expected something different altogether. Instead, I had hoped to witness either the beginning or the end of civilization up there.

As with Tree And Star, play this game if you just can't get enough of the Andromeda saga. Just don't expect it to live up to the others.


Tree and Star, by Paul Lee

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Too detached and unpolished, December 10, 2015
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

I had played this game with high expectations after playing the other games in the Andromeda series. Whereas Andromeda Dreaming added some interesting backdrop material for fans of the series, this piece feels dispensable. It has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors, which suggests that it was rushed. Gameplay is linear and suffers from a severe case of "guess the verb," which all but strips any enjoyment from the story. After I played all the way through and learned I could achieve a better ending, I started playing again, only to quit when I forgot the exact commands necessary to complete the first sequence in the computer lab. It just wasn't worth the aggravation.

I did like the interplay of events between the main character and his wife, plus the old man who is a central figure in the plot. There was a lot of action & suspense (gratuitously) written into the storyline, which takes place before the events of Dreaming and Awakening, and which made the game feel like "Star Wars: Episode I." I just feel the saga was better without it.

If you're a huge fan of the Andromeda series, don't mind having to install Hugo, and are not irritated by major design flaws, then feel free to give this a try. Whether you feel it belongs with the rest of the Andromeda games is up to you.


Andromeda Dreaming, by Joey Jones

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, puzzle-less, and a good addition to the Andromeda storyline, December 10, 2015
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

Since I only recently discovered the Andromeda games, I had no idea about the competition, or about the supposed controversy the original game had generated. I played through this piece only after completing Andromeda Apocalypse, because I wanted to play through them all in what I thought was the proper order. Looking back, I wish I had played this immediately after Andromeda Awakening, because parts of Apocalypse would have made a little more sense, like the reference to Gettare Rinors.

Progress through this story is very much like Photopia, only you play as the same character the whole time, going in and out of dream sequences. Choices you make during conversation will affect the final outcome though, so there is a little replay value. The story takes place concurrent with the events of Awakening, but with a different character in a different place. Overall, the story adds a nice backdrop for fans of the Andromeda games.


Andromeda Awakening - The Final Cut, by Marco Innocenti

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Just what I was looking for in an IF game, December 10, 2015
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

One of my favorite concepts in novels, games, and movies is that of a world that is falling apart despite the main character's best efforts. Games like Riven tried to capture that feeling but fell far short. In this game, that is the central premise.

I should begin by saying I have only recently discovered this game and have only played the Final Cut. It begins with a terse room description and from there quickly builds up the mood and then the atmosphere. You immediately learn that your colleague has just been assassinated in an effort to keep secret what is in your scientific research notes, and you have a sense of urgency to share your findings with the University. Only you never make it there because (Spoiler - click to show)the first disaster strikes which threatens the solvency of the planet. Shortly after that, you realize there is an even greater danger than that.

The mood is adequately set by having the player - a humble, nerdy, non-athletic scientist - break down in tears more than once on the way to the next train. Adding a friendly, reassuring character was a nice touch, (Spoiler - click to show)although I wish it had been a little longer before he had been killed off. I do like the plot twist when you discover (Spoiler - click to show)the First Initiative, and it would be nice if there had been more like this. The one journal you do find isn't enough, and actually feels disconnected from the rest of the story.

Consulting many different topics in your e-pad gives you an opportunity to learn as much or as little about the game setting, which also sets the right mood. I like that it isn't necessary in most cases to look up much of anything, especially if you're playing through for the second or third time. There are also subtle references to other IF, such as the description of the e-pad as a "Guide to the Galaxy." The ending is the best part in my opinion, but I won't give anything away here.



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