Tass Times in Tonetown

by Michael Berlyn and Muffy Berlyn


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Almost-great classic of the commercial period, June 20, 2020

1986 is an awkward year in commercial adventures. Infocom and a few later entrants are still trying to stick with text-only. Sierra has made the leap from text/graphics to graphics-and-a-bit-of-parsing. And Interplay is leading the charge of developers who decide that what text/graphic adventures most need isn't better story or better graphics, but clunky GUIs that eat up more than one-third of the available pixels on already-limited displays.

No, no... and, again, no.

The wrongheaded interface choices aren't the only thing that keep Tass Times from a five-star rating. After a truly fantastic beginning (the worldbuilding and feelies are among the best from non-Infocom games of the period) the game falls into the trap a lot of straightforward adventures do. It doesn't take long to realize what the endgame is going to consist of and the rough framework of what you'll need to do. What remains is the rote frustration of navigating the precise (and occasionally padded) hurdles that are keeping you away from that climax.

But... yeah, that interface. The actual what-the-character-sees graphics only occupy about 40% of the playfield. That's a terrible compromise, because the worldbuilding is so rich and even with the restrictions some of the art and animations are quite clever! Meanwhile, the clunky clickable interface adds little to the game except for providing a handy way to identify interact-able items.

Had this game been done in the original split-screen ADVENT, or even with a hybrid system that wasn't so wasteful, it would have left an even deeper mark. The faux-hip world of Tonetown was never really an accurate picture of the 80s, but it was put on with enough of a smirk that I think it played well and ages just fine. But the documentation is absolutely essential to jumping in and enjoying it.

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