Friday, March 22, 2013

Brian Moriarty, Wishbringer (1985)

Ha!  That's TWO Infocom games I've beaten!  Now we're gettin' somewhere!  I chose Wishbringer because it's billed as an "introductory" sort of game, designed for children and halfwits.  I mean, A Mind Forever Voyaging is billed as "advanced," but that's clearly more for thematic reasons than for the mostly non-existent puzzles.  This seemed like a good opportunity to get into the swing of things.

And it is.  Kind of.  The setting of the game is sort of indistinct (though technically it's supposed to be part of the same world as Zork).  It's sort of fantasy-y, but it's also sort of modern-day-y.  The idea is that you work at a post office, and you have to deliver a letter.  Once you've done that, night falls and things get weird and you have to accomplish some somewhat indistinct goals that have to do with this "wishstone" that, well, grants wishes.  There's a whole back story about its origins, but we won't get into that here.

The real question here is the puzzles.  And, true to the game's billing, most of them are pretty easy--perhaps at times a bit TOO easy, but I felt vaguely satisfied solving some of them.  There are often multiple solutions, which is nice.  I didn't even mind the fact that you have a time limit here; I usually HATE those things, but here, it's far more time than you could possibly need, and in any case, the game's so short that even if you had to start over, it wouldn't be a big deal.  The problem I had was that, once you've done the delivery thing, your goals become pretty vague.  You do have an overarching goal, but to accomplish it, you have to complete various sub-goals, and it's not at all clear while you're doing them what these have to do with anything.  As far as adventure games go, I suppose Wishbringer is a fairly minor offender in this regard, but when you know you have a time limit and you're not at all certain why you're doing what you're doing, things can get needlessly stressful.  This is one of the habitual problems with the genre that Rob Gilbert pinpointed.

There are other irritations: as usual, you have very limited inventory space.  This doesn't make anything more difficult; it just makes things annoying, as you get to a place where you need an item and realize, whoops, gotta go back for it.  There are also these mischievous spirits that take your inventory items and scatter them randomly throughout the map.  C'mon, man!  No inventory tomfoolery unless there's a damn good reason for it!  Also, there are these guards patrolling the town, who will capture you and throw you in a cell if they find you, which you need to happen (I think) once, but which is otherwise best avoided.  It's not hard to avoid them; the game tells you where they are in relation to you and whether they're approaching.  It's just annoying: it's not challenging or strategic or anything; it's just a pointless hassle.  Why do these things?

The biggest problem, however, is, to me, really baffling: in a "beginner" game, acquiring the wishstone itself--which you need to win--requires you to perform a totally unmotivated action on an item that you have no reason to believe has any further use using a verb that you wouldn't expect to be implemented.  To be specific--SPOILER!--you get a "joke" can of nuts with a snake in it, only here it's a real snake.  When you open it, the snake slithers off; doing this at the right place solves a puzzle.  Once you've done this, you'd assume the can was of no further value and discard it, right, especially because of that damn inventory limit?  But no!  If you shake it after the snake is gone, you hear rattling, which I suppose is a hint of sorts, but first you'd have to make the REALLY dubious assumption that there was any reason to do such a thing, and then you'd have to "squeeze can" to get the stone.  Talk about obtuse.  I thought maybe me having problems with this was just my inexperience/stupidity, but the guy who wrote the faq that I ultimately turned to complains about the same thing (at the very end of the document).  C'mon, man!

Anyway, that's more than enough words about Wishbringer.  It had its moments, but I wouldn't say it exactly set my world on fire.  Time to try something a bit more substantial, perhaps...


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