Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘Bad’ Category


Posted by Tracy Poff on November 13, 2016

Ventilator by Peregrine Wade is an entry in the 2016 ifcomp. You find yourself in an unbearably hot hotel room; perhaps the ventilator will help to cool you…

(The post below may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

This game aims for humor through absurdity and exaggeration, and it’s hit or miss–mostly miss. The game tells you in the introduction that “There are no flies in the air, but that is only because they have all passed out on the floor.”, and indeed when the game starts there are flies on the floor (which “look highly dehydrated”)–a nice touch. I was amused, too, that when the cat flies onto your face, your inventory describes it as “a cat (being worn)”. On the other hand, the description of the bar as “A minibar. Just a minibar. Not a spaceship. Not a portal to another world. Not… well, you get the idea.” falls a bit flat, as do most of the other jokes in the game.

When you leave the room, you encounter a “left-right corridor” (and can, indeed, go left or right) rather than the usual compass directions. That’s weird–what other directions would the corridor run? Up and down? I guess it’s an objection on the part of the author to the use of compass directions in IF; trying to move south at one point gives “You don’t have a compass.” It’s not consistent on this, though. Sometimes compass directions are accepted, and trying to run gives “You’ll have to say which compass direction to go in.”

On this point, I don’t think it’s a problem for IF to use compass directions. They are, after all, descriptions for the player, not the player character. I’d be much less happy if an IF game more ‘realistically’ forced me to move around by manually turning and walking forward. Tank controls in IF! Is it an idea whose time has come?

The puzzles, such as they are, aren’t very hard. There’s a timed ‘puzzle’ at the beginning–you must turn the fan on before you lose consciousness–and some of the later ones are probably timed as well, but the game is basically just railroading you into progressing through the game. There’s little enough to see and do, so I don’t suppose this really detracts from it.

After I got my bearings I examined myself and my inventory. The description of the shirt (“…just like Stephanie, before that stupid argument messed up everything.”) made me think of Adam Cadre’s 9:05 and I momentarily hoped that the events of the game might belie the tone, but it was not to be.

After beating the game, you’re presented with a list of suggested amusing things you can try, and I poked at a couple of them, but didn’t have any motivation to try them all.

Ventilator isn’t entirely bad. The implementation is generally competent with some attention to detail (e.g. the flies are gone after you turn on the ventilator–blown away, I presume), and there are a number of endings and optional actions. It just didn’t entertain me. Not recommended.

This review is based on 2016-10-20 version.

Play time: 18 minutes.

Posted in 2016, Bad, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ape Craze

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 16, 2016

I said in my review of Miner 2049er that clones were the order of the day in the early eighties. For proof, one need look no further than Ape Craze, a 1982 release for Commodore 64 by Mike Blackman, published by Comm*Data.

Ape Craze - title

What kind of game would you guess this to be? Does the name seem to hint at anything?

Ape Craze - 01

That’s not a trick question. It’s a Donkey Kong clone, though it does change things up a bit. In the first level, you begin at the bottom left, and must reach the exit at the top right. To hinder you, the ape constantly throws bombs across the top of the screen which drop and roll down to the bottom. If you’re feeling brave, you can collect the… barrels?… objects scattered around the level for extra points. I do not recommend that you do this, however, because the game is very hard. Let’s examine why.

First, there are a lot of bombs on the screen at once, leaving you with very limited options for reaching the top. Your best bet is to stand atop a raised section of girder, where the bombs can’t reach, wait for a gap between bombs, and then jump to another safe spot. If you just brush a bomb from the side as it falls, it’s game over. You can actually land on bombs safely (or stand atop the exit without the level ending) since it seems collisions are only checked from the side, but this is still quite difficult, because…

Second, the jump behaves very inconsistently. Sometimes, you’ll jump up a full level. Others, you’ll just make a short hop. Yet other times, you’ll seem to catch an edge on the way up, and sail right on up another level. This doesn’t seem to depend on how long you hold the button in (or, indeed, whether you hold it in at all or merely tap it). Considering that you’ve got to make precise jumps so as to dodge between waves of bombs, this is a pretty crippling flaw. And when you do jump, you’d better be very sure of your landing because…

Third, falling too far kills you. And the maximum safe height is only just greater than a single level, so if you jump, but miss and fall down a level, you die. Combine this with the unreliability of jumps and you’ll be doing a lot of dying. Oh, and…

Fourth, you only get one life, and when you restart, the level is randomized slightly. That’s actually a point in the game’s favor, but it does mean that you can’t plan out and perfect a route in advance–you’ve got to plan on the fly, every time.

Ape Craze - 02

If you do reach the exit on the first level, you’re presented with this obvious copy of the rivet stage of Donkey Kong. Walk over the… bananas?… objects to make the girders collapse and complete the level. Since you mostly climb rather than jump on this level, it’s actually much easier than the first (and a good thing it is, given the one-life-only situation).

Ape Craze - end

Beat the second stage as well, and you get… the first stage, again. Actually, the US version of Donkey Kong did this as well, adding the remaining stages as you looped the game, but I believe these two stages are all Ape Craze has to offer..

Ape Craze is not a shining example of C64 gaming. I’d say it’s a tolerable substitute for Donkey Kong, but the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Intellivision ports of DK were released the same year (and perhaps they were released before this game), so there were better options available.

The contemporary reactions to the game were entertainingly varied. From Steven Darnold:

The game itself is interesting, but poorly implemented. The graphics are relatively primitive, there are only two different game sets, and a player has only one life.

The Midnite Software Gazette #13 had four reviews of this game. Selections:

Very nice music. Particularly clever synchronization between music and screen while changing to second screen. Recommended.–LW

Very hard to jump and only one try per game. Catchy, but tedious tune. Frustrating; not recommended.–Roy Wagner

Favorite at our house [. . .] Music is catchy and enjoyable [. . .] Highly recommended.–NR

The excellent use of music in the background of play still would not entice me to purchase the game.–JO

Count my vote for Roy Wagner. This isn’t a game anyone is likely to want to revisit, unless they’ve viewing it through nostalgia-tinted lenses.

Mike Blackman programmed three other titles released by Comm*Data (Escape MCP, Pegasus Odyssey, and Sketch & Paint), but that seems to have been the extent of his contributions to gaming–if I read his LinkedIn profile correctly, his further programming endeavours were restricted to more ‘serious’ software.

This is far from the last Donkey Kong clone I’ll be looking at, I’m afraid. Perhaps the next one will be better.

Posted in 1982, Bad, Commodore 64, Full Review, Platformer | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Naughty Mouse

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 8, 2016

Naughty Mouse is a 1981 collect-em-up by Amenip.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - title

First, a point of contention: Arcade-History describes this game as a platformer, and mentions that “The player has a single button with which to make Naughty Mouse jump over [enemies].” In truth, the game is no platformer, and, as far as I can tell, has no buttons. Okay, enough about what it isn’t. What is Naughty Mouse?

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 01

It’s a collect-em-up, like Pac-Man (and, apparently, runs on the same hardware). The player controls the titular mouse and must touch the eggs on each of the houses while avoiding the birds in order to complete the level, racing against the timer. When touching an egg, the player scores the number of points remaining on the countdown timer. When the timer reaches zero, or when the player touches an enemy, a life is lost and the level is reset.

In the first level, there are five eggs to touch and two enemies.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 02

In the second level, there are three enemies, instead.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 03

The second level is as far as I got, though. I was never very good at Pac-Man, and this game seems a bit more difficult to me. Also, I don’t really enjoy this kind of game, so I’m going to call 11,810 points good enough.

Amenip also released a very similar variation of this game called Woodpecker.

Posted in 1981, Arcade, Arcade, Bad, Collect 'em Up | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on February 3, 2016

Nearly ten years ago, now, I wrote a ‘first impressions’ review of Brickout! for the Intellivision; as it happens, it’s the only Intellivision game I’ve ever reviewed here. I was pretty hard on the game, and I’ve learned some things in the years since that review, so in the interest of fairness, I’d like to take another quick look at it.

The story of Brickout! starts with another cartridge, Triple Action, a multi-game compilation programmed by Rich O’Keefe, containing games inspired by Atari products, developed under the working title Some of Theirs. Originally conceived as containing six, and later five, games, in the final cut two more games were removed as being too similar to Atari games (thus inviting legal trouble), one a Pong clone, and the other–Brickout!.1

Unlike the Pong clone, which to my knowledge does not survive, the excised Breakout clone found its way onto the 1998 Windows and Mac compilation Intellivision Lives!, along with about fifty other games and numerous extras.2 It has since been included in other products such as the Intellivision Flashback reproduction console.

So, does this history lesson change my opinion of the game? Not really. The ball is still tiny, the collision detection is still bad, and the lack of a paddle controller is still disappointing. It’s more forgivable in an unreleased prototype, though. The video game market was already well on its way to the surfeit of low-quality clones that preceded the great video game crash, so it’s in some ways comforting that this game was kept back, even if it was for pragmatic rather than artistic reasons.

So, my prior recommendation stands: if you want to play a Breakout clone, Arkanoid is a much better choice. But, maybe, if you’re in an academic mood, it wouldn’t hurt to take a glance at Brickout!, too.

  1. This history is thanks to Intellivision Productions
  2. Which is still available for purchase in an updated edition, and which was also ported to PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. There was a compilation under the same title for the Nintendo DS, though I believe it included only games, and no historical extras. 

Posted in 1981, 1998, Bad, Breakout, Intellivision | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 6, 2015

It’s October, and that means IFComp! Naturally, therefore, I’m reviewing… not interactive fiction. I’ll get to that Real Soon Now. Instead, I’m continuing my (announced and immediately ignored) series on independent (doujin) games.

The game we’re looking at today is Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru (花見の酔っ払いを抑える), meaning (very roughly) Stop the flower-viewing1 drunkard.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru title

The developer was attempting to make a game in the style of old handheld games, and in my judgment had absolute success.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru 01

The player character, on the left, must reach the drunk, on the right, while avoiding the thrown bottles.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru 02

Reaching the drunk successfully adds points to the player’s score.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru 03

Failing to avoid the bottles costs the player time.

It’s hard to tell from the screenshots, but the bottles are moving from position to position like they would on a Game & Watch or other LCD game. A video will show it better:

I only played the trial version of the game (available on DLsite). I’m not sure what might be different in the full version. This isn’t a great game, even for 108 yen. For a similar, and rather better, game, you can play Dave Baskin’s Bouncing Babies for DOS, itself a clone of the Game & Watch title Fire.

  1. For the cultural significance of hanami, see Wikipedia

Posted in 2015, Action, Arcade, Bad, Full Review, Windows | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Spring Thing 2014: The Adventures of a Hexagon

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 15, 2014

The Adventures of a Hexagon by Tyler Zahnke is an entry in the Spring Thing 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is a CYOA-style story, implemented as a set of HTML files, about a day in the life of a hexagon. Geometrical shapes, we learn, can escape from textbooks when no one is looking and go off to have their own adventures.

Hexagon is very short. There are only 38 pages, each containing at most a few short paragraphs of text, some of which are extremely similar. I completed every path in about five minutes.

The story is also extremely lacking. Essentially, the PC, a hexagon, can choose to go to either the Museum of Geometry or the Polygon Village, either with his friends, Pentagon, Heptagon, and Octagon, or, in the latter case, alone. Ultimately, if you choose any option other than joining with a group of other hexagons, the PC is killed. If you try visiting the village with your friends, the only path to a good ending is for the PC to abandon his friends to the tender mercies of a gang of polygons, and find a group of other hexagons to join with. If there is a theme to this story, it is that one must seek out others like oneself–that those who are different are not to be trusted, and one cannot be happy among them.

But I fear I’m giving the game too much credit, saying that. A sample of the game’s text should illustrate it better. If the PC goes to the museum and, through a series of pages which basically amount to ‘specify your path’, chooses to look at the triangle exhibit, you are presented with:

You take a closer look, and you realize that the triangle has a little needle point sticking out of it. But it’s too late! BLZZZT! It sticks the needle in you, leaving a great big hole in you. Game over! I guess you can never trust a triangle!

That’s it. The end. Pick the pentagon exhibit, and you get:

You get your six sides together and hop up on the ledge. The five pentagons say, “You have one side more than all of us! Har, har, har!” You hear a sound like that of a broken record as you are dragged to the wave-pool. Broken record sounds are always a bad sign in a dramatic scene. You are now being dragged underwater by the fierce five-siders. You have been drowned by the pentagons!

Other choices end with the hexagon killed similarly suddenly. Only choosing to view the hexagon exhibit doesn’t end in the PC’s death:

You approach the hexagons, and they all say, “Hello, Sixling!” The other five hexagons then open the door, and you enter the building just as they do. A late 1990s dance song starts to play as the hexagons hit the dance floor. You join them in a disco-style up-beat dance.
Congratulations! You got to dance with some polygons! You finally found a path that wouldn’t get you smashed to pieces by other polygons! You won!

The other ‘good’ endings are almost exactly the same, having the PC dancing with other hexagons.

The whole game is just a set of menus leading to the PC either being killed or joining other hexagons and dancing. It’s a story, generously speaking, but the non-ending parts of the story would probably fill less than half a page.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is not worth the few minutes it takes to complete.

Play time: about 5 minutes.

Posted in 2014, Bad, Freeware, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 13, 2014

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure is a 1978 text adventure by Greg Hassett (who was, as I understand it, only 12 years old at the time) for the TRS-80. I played the Commodore PET version, ported by S. Prenzel.

When the game begins, you find yourself in a ship which has crashed. A computer screen informs us that ship’s “fribulating gonkulator is burned out.” I hate it when that happens.

What follows is a rather standard exercise in exploration and treasure-gathering. The game’s map contains about three dozen rooms, including two–thankfully very small–mazes (with a reference to the Colossal Cave Adventure: “I’m in a maze of twisty little passages.”). The game uses a two word parser, with only the first three letters of a word being significant.

Wandering randomly around in the game are bugs. If you encounter one before you have found the sword (which is very likely), you’ll be killed, and have to load a saved game. Bad luck for you if you saved in a place where you’ll inevitably be killed.

The game is completed when you have found both a replacement fribulating gonkulator and the tools with which to install, but there are over a dozen treasure to collect, some of which are necessary to progress, and others which only add to your final score. I managed 170/175 points, and I cannot imagine what I must do to get the last five points.

The world is a bit incoherent. You’re apparently deep underground, so rooms like the ice cavern or cobblestone hallway make sense, but others, like the Arabian Room or Al’s diner (!) just don’t fit. In addition, the game is very poorly written, with many spelling and usage errors (“I can here chirping nearby.”, “and fall into the lava ??? Fat chanche !”). On the positive side, the game does include some unique responses for flavor. For example, attempting to eat ruby results in “I think that a large ruby would give me indigestion, and I don’t have any Pepto-Bismol.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure doesn’t measure up to many of its contemporaries, and it certainly can’t compare to modern interactive fiction, but it’s still an interesting part of the history of interactive fiction.

Posted in 1978, Bad, Commodore PET, Full Review, Interactive Fiction | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Apple Panic

Posted by Tracy Poff on December 30, 2012

Apple Panic is a 1981 clone of Space Panic for the Apple II, created by Ben Serki and published by Brøderbund.
Apple Panic (19_000000001

Since Apple Panic is a clone, the gameplay is nearly identical to the original: you climb ladders, dodging the apples and digging holes in the platforms. If an apple falls into a hole, you can beat it over the head to make the apple drop down and die.

Apple Panic (19_000000009

One difference I noted is that in Space Panic, when an alien climbs out of a hole, it ‘levels up’ to the next type of alien, and must fall an extra floor to be killed. In Apple Panic, there doesn’t seem to be any negative consequence to allowing apples to free themselves.

Apple Panic is inferior to Space Panic in several ways. First, it’s not nearly as pretty–a minor detail, I admit. More importantly, it’s very difficult to dig a hole in Apple Panic. As the instructions indicate, if the player character’s feet aren’t in the right position, he won’t dig. Unfortunately, it’s relatively rare for his feet to be in the correct position, making it very hard to dig exactly where you want. This can be fatal, if an apple is coming at you and you hope to dig a hole before it arrives.

If you want to play this kind of game, you should play Space Panic, instead.

Posted in 1981, Apple II, Bad, Full Review, Platformer | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

IFComp 2012: Signos

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 8, 2012

Signos by Mauricio Diaz Garcia is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp in which the player seeks enlightenment.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

I had a great deal of trouble with this one. The version I was initially playing didn’t function at all correctly–the pictures weren’t displayed and the sound didn’t play, among other problems. These problems were resolved by playing a more recently updated version.

The premise is that the PC has created the environment of the game within his imagination to search for answers to the big questions in life, such as “Why am I here?” and “What’s my purpose?”. Attempting to answer those questions in an IF game would be pretty ambitious! Signos is not that ambitious.

For a game with such a lofty premise, Signos is remarkably simple. If the game would provide better responses to guide the player as to what is useful and what is not, it could be beaten in ten minutes by anybody. There’s nothing to it: imitate a few NPCs and use some items in the obvious ways and the game is done.

But the game is a little bewildering. The PC begins the game wearing a mask, and carrying a bottle of essence and a book, which is initially blank. Performing certain actions, such as removing the mask, will add a page to this book, on which is written the name of some vice, like “PRIDE”. If you perform none of the actions, you can hand over the bottle of essence to the buda you encounter, and win the game with no points. If you do perform some such action, you must start a fire and burn the pages before the buda will accept your bottle of essence. What exactly is the meaning of all of this? I guess that the PC is letting go of his vices by burning them, but why can you win without experiencing and renouncing all six?

The actions you have to take to get all six pages are sometimes quite obscure, too. In order to get page 4, “GLUTTONY”, you must drink water twice while in the lake, but not at the lake bottom. And just drink won’t do. How are you meant to figure this out? To get page 3, “WRATH”, you must yell at the buda. Why would you do that? If there are clues in the game to do these things, I missed them. Even guessing that the missing vices should be wrath, gluttony, and envy (which actually isn’t featured in the game), it doesn’t make it any easier to figure out what you’re supposed to do. I even had tried to kill buda, which seemed the thing to do when I met him, to no avail. The walkthrough was necessary.

Besides the general obscurity of the game, it had some other problems. It was generally underimplemented, missing many objects mentioned in the scene descriptions, and really needs synonyms–wake should do the same as wake up, and drink should have worked for drink water when swimming in the lake, for example. Furthermore, the help command just gives generic how-to-play-an-IF information, the hint command was useless, and the walkthrough command isn’t mentioned anywhere–I just guessed that it existed. Games should really always implement about, too, in my opinion, but I suppose that one didn’t really impact the gameplay.

I hate to be so negative. I do think that the idea (as I interpeted it) of experiencing and then letting go of vices could have some potential, but it wasn’t realized in Signos. I enjoyed this one even less than Murphy’s Law, so I fear I must give it only 1/10.

Play time: about 45 minutes for two playthroughs, counting time with the broken original version.

Posted in 2012, Bad, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

IFComp 2012: Murphy’s Law

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 7, 2012

Murphy’s Law by Scott Hammack is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp. The player character has one last payment to make on his mortgage, but things keep going wrong.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

As soon as I saw the title, I had a good idea what to expect, and the game didn’t let me down. You spend Murphy’s Law trying to send in your final mortgage payment, but problems keep cropping up that you have to deal with first. You get a papercut and have to bandage it, then you have to get a stamp, then your mailbox is destroyed so you have to drive to the bank to make the payment, but your car won’t start… and so forth.

On my first playthrough, I actually bled to death from my papercut before I managed to get the bandage on. That amused me, and I hoped that the rest of the game would be similarly over the top. Unfortunately, this hope was not realized. If I had to describe Murphy’s Law in a word, that word would be tedious. You must complete every boring step of every boring thing in order to complete the game. For example, when your car won’t start, you must use an emergency jump start kit to start it. To do this, you must pull hood lever and pull trunk lever, open trunk, get kit, open hood, put red cable on positive terminal, put black cable on negative terminal, and finally start car. Of course, you also have to remove kit and close hood before you can go anywhere. That’s just way too much work.

I suppose that the tedium was probably intentional. It shows that you have to go through so much, just to make a simple payment. But it was boring. There wasn’t nearly enough humor to make up for it. The game could have been much better, had it been funnier, or if it hadn’t insisted on making the player actually go through with all of the minute details, but, alas, it was not to be.

The game mostly worked as expected, but I did experience a bug when trying to start the car:

>start car
You’ll need to get inside first.

>enter car
But you’re already in your station wagon.

I got it to work, eventually, though.

This one gets only 2/10. I might have given it another point, because of the general competence of the implementation, but I only gave Escape From Summerland 3/10, and I liked it much better than this. Being boring is a bigger sin than being buggy, I fear.

Play time: 20 minutes for two playthroughs.

Posted in 2012, Bad, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »