Zork Zero

by Steve Meretzky

Episode 5 of Zork
Fantasy/Zorkian
1988

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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.