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Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz (Apple II) artwork

Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz (Apple II) review


"The Zork series spawned an impressive group of knock-off products which, although never destined to make a killing, made Infocom notorious. The packaging itself was always worth savings, with its jokes and going so far beyond the expected instruction cards(later it would provide a useful stab at copy protection.) The 'New Zork Times,' which later under threat of lawsuit was forced to change its name. And gamebooks that helped me score the most points I'd ever gotten in an Infocom text adventu..."



The Zork series spawned an impressive group of knock-off products which, although never destined to make a killing, made Infocom notorious. The packaging itself was always worth savings, with its jokes and going so far beyond the expected instruction cards(later it would provide a useful stab at copy protection.) The 'New Zork Times,' which later under threat of lawsuit was forced to change its name. And gamebooks that helped me score the most points I'd ever gotten in an Infocom text adventure. For people who remember Choose Your Own Adventure, I'll mention this book was very similar, but very linear. Bill and June, two likable ordinary kids, keep stumbling into Zork where Syovar, their uncle and king of Zork, has them go on a quest. You'd have a choice of what Bill and June would do next, with the wrong one usually being lethal, and there would always be a check for cheating('Did you find the magic sneakers...?') The books were great fun but they also provided hints to some Zork games, and I reaped a bonanza in Zork II through repeated careful readings. It would, however, have been a good game anyway.

Zork II starts out as the same sort of treasure-grab as Zork I, only after some exploration you find yourself interacting with potentially good and evil second parties, and treasure and mazes are much less evident--in fact, you rarely get a treasure without solving a complex puzzle, and the first few locations serve to provide a feel for the game as well as your elvish sword and thankfully recharged brass lantern. As in Zork you get three lives(although items scatter on your death,) but you have a weird afterlife scene that offers clues as to places you need to visit. The centerpiece of the game is a spinning room with eight exits that randomizes the direction you're heading. There's also a riddle you must answer to advance, and other classical fantasy elements appear, among them a dragon, a princess, a unicorn, and a wizard who casts amusing(especially when they fizzle) but never lethal spells that all seem to begin with F. The riddle itself is an 'I-should've-gotten-that' sort of groaner, not the less desirable type that feels like a mathematical word problem, but it is trumped in the end by a room with flashing lights on the floor where the wizard taunts you, a puzzle second only to Hitch-Hiker's Guide's dark. The clues are all there in Zork II to get these puzzles, but they're just not obvious.

Zork II's parser is similar to Zork I, and it likewise comes in an entertaining box and allows for saved games. The mechanics of the puzzles are largely different, as Zork II comes to rely increasingly on spells and less on mappings, although in each game you have a creative mode of transportation. Also, you will frequently need to order NPC's about or get them to go somewhere. In one instance you note a dragon is guarding a hoard, but you can't kill him, and if you get him to follow you and try to run past him, it's curtains. There are also other unforgettable images such as the snappish lizard face on the door or the animal-shaped plants that shift around in the gazebo. While Zork I took place in a cellar and seemed to prove it, Zork II made more out of its underground digs.

Zork II began to develop many of the more complex Zork in-jokes that Zork I only hinted at and that would help buoy up later, lesser Zork efforts. You read clues about a family of people called Flathead, the former GUE(great underground empire) rulers, and the peculiar anachronisms and bureaucracies applied to medieval fantasy provide though-provoking barriers to your quest(i.e. you find explosives in a stream, and you also need to rob a bank of a stack of zorkmid bills and a picture of J. Pierpont Flathead without setting off an alarm.) There are even a couple jokes about the game itself. With all this there is a nice, nonviolent way to depose the wizard, and although there aren't a whole lot of alternate ways to solve puzzles, I've replayed the game(with and without a walkthrough depending on how I wanted to test my memory) more than the others in the series. Only the puzzle where you need to get an item in the aquarium seems to fall short, and the wizard you must overcome is an entertaining adversary, except when he casts a weakness or paralyze spell on you.

This is probably the best game of the series, and it allows for plenty of room for error as you progress to a solution. With a lack of points for trivial tasks and the occasional nuisances of the wizard and Carousel Room, it also has a reputation for increased toughness. That is probably because the interactivity is a step up. However, I remember playing this game often on my Apple without having save disks, yet I still enjoyed going through it. With Windows's increased speed, Zork II is my favorite part of my occasional romp back through the original Zork trilogy.

I'll buy that for a Zorkmid!
--lots of puzzles, no silly easy points
--lots more magic to add to the treasure hunt
--funny antagonist can amuse you unpredictably
--exotic surroundings early on
--interaction with NPC's is fun
--cool after/between-life, even

Whose idea was this? Dimwit Flathead's?
--some maddening 'stopper puzzles'
--not quite as big as Zork I

Rating: 9/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (April 15, 2009)

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