Beyond Zork (Apple II) review
"Being an RPG and Zork fan, I was thrilled to learn of Infocomís plans to combine the two in Beyond Zork (BZ.) You get levels and player stats instead of the usual points for a text adventure, but even crazier, thereís no elvish sword or brass lantern-and most of the gameís completely above ground! Finding your ultimate goal, the Coconut of Quendor, is exhausting, and even with a cluebook, BZ provides many dead ends despite a few too many puzzles that are little more than manual-based copy-protec..."
Being an RPG and Zork fan, I was thrilled to learn of Infocomís plans to combine the two in Beyond Zork (BZ.) You get levels and player stats instead of the usual points for a text adventure, but even crazier, thereís no elvish sword or brass lantern-and most of the gameís completely above ground! Finding your ultimate goal, the Coconut of Quendor, is exhausting, and even with a cluebook, BZ provides many dead ends despite a few too many puzzles that are little more than manual-based copy-protection. Still, itís more enjoyable and clever than I remembered, probably because I used the much quicker PC version, and itís worth trying several ways through.
Choose statistics, and wonder WHAT compassion is for, and youíre on your way. Youíll probably guess wrong early on and have to restart, which is a problem you donít see in other Zork games. Also, many sub-area maps are randomized, as are items you find there: you have a staff, a stave, a rod and a wand, and they have properties like Annihilation, Levitation, Eversion and Anesthesia. Scrolls that improve armor or attacking ability also get shuffled each game. So every game is markedly different, and you need more general plans to win the game. Thankfully, you get an auto-map for all this.
BZ being an RPG, youíll also enter combat beyond Grues eating you in the dark. Under twenty monsters challenge you, beaten monsters just yelp and run in pain, and you never get a figure for how much experience, but you get levels all the same. Theyíre all entertaining, too: evil Christmas trees sing Yuletide knockoffs like ďWinter Bozbarland,Ē the Cruel Puppet insults you, the Eldritch Vapor tickles you, and a monkey grinder uses his hurdy-gurdy to overpower your senses.
Theyíre also puzzles in their own right. Using brute force, youíll have to hack at enemies and reload your game several times, but zapping tough monsters with a special item can give you a big jump. A giant slug and dust bunny in a lighthouse fall with a bit of thought, or you can be unsubtle with the Annihilation item. Its three charges, win fights easily, so you can knock out tough monsters. Just hope thereís nothing tougher later.
Youíll also have miscellaneous items that raise attributes, in addition to your armor and weapons. Three shops located in the towns of Gurth, Accardo, and Grubbo, give steep trade-in prices-and while there is no right set of combat items to win the game, youíll probably wind up confusing puzzle and pure-treasure items along the way. The gameís a bit vague here.
Itís also vague on what compassion and luck are needed for, until you start solving more typical Zork puzzles like rescuing animals or a village. If youíre clever, youíll find amusing ways to lose them. Other acts of kindness give you items or even the thanks of a pterodactyl who gets you past the amusing Zenoís Bridge. Text adventure enthusiasts probably know the paradox, but itís a delightfully maddening substitute for ďYou canít go that way.Ē You also get to meet up with the Implementors, the big names behind all those text adventures, and they kick around some fourth-wall jokes before blaming you for everything going wrong...then giving you an important item. Generally BZís humor is esoteric like this, though itís fun to see how mad people get if you use Levitation on items they wonít give you yet.
Because only half of BZís NPCs are evil, it has an un-Zorkian flavor, but it works well. Every good guy can snap at you for saying something stupid, and people offering you an item for an impossible-looking task often donít like giving it up. A gondola conductor droning through his tour lecture wonít notice if you jump off, but if you try for two trips in a row, he gets annoyed.
And with so many different areas and puzzles to solve, BZ works well as a game you can save many ways. Unfortunately, thereís no way to avoid a nasty trick at the end: a rocky wall and a shady wall (also rocky) lead to the final confrontation with an Ur-Grue. You need to reflect a chain of mirrors through a randomly drawn cavern, but if you can go northwest twice from a room with a mirror, you canít reflect anything there. Only one square northwest. Itís trickier than Zork IIIís Guardians of Zork even without these weird bugs, and itís a small dent in an exciting finale where you must use many bizarre, insignificant items on the most powerful enemies.
BZ is a tricky, complex game worth playing over, because it jumbles so much each game you play, and it allows several ways through many puzzles or fights. Often how you assign your statistics can make one puzzle trivial, and this is the first time Infocom awarded planning ahead. While some puzzles are incomprehensible, and some seem arcane-thereís a time travel at the end thatís iffy-BZ is worth sitting down with and tackling.
Community review by aschultz (April 15, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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