"The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG,) based loosely on the Douglas Adams book of the same name, was the best text adventure from Infocom and likely will continue to be the best for all time. The puzzles were funny and clever. So were the ways to die, the side characters, the ways to lose points, and the hint book. It's free many places online, and some of them even offer graphics enhancements. But unlike some cheesy $30 three-level action game, it was worth the money back when it came ou..."
The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG,) based loosely on the Douglas Adams book of the same name, was the best text adventure from Infocom and likely will continue to be the best for all time. The puzzles were funny and clever. So were the ways to die, the side characters, the ways to lose points, and the hint book. It's free many places online, and some of them even offer graphics enhancements. But unlike some cheesy $30 three-level action game, it was worth the money back when it came out, too. It even came with cool feelies (novelty items thrown in with the game) totally useless but relevant to the game: pocket fluff, a plastic bag that held a Microscopic Space Fleet, and Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, which were more than just black construction paper. I was laughing before the game started.
And what a start. You, as Arthur Dent, are hung over and oblivious to what you were mad about last night. You need to stop your room spinning, and a look outside reveals a bulldozer, which will stop your room spinning and start it collapsing. Your friend, Ford, comes by and reveals he is a space alien. He takes you to a pub, where you must drink, but not too much. Then you use a hitch-hiking electronic thumb to get on board the Vogon ship that is ready to blow the Earth up.
At this point the game diverges from the novel. The puzzle for the Babel fish, which can translate any language, in your ear, is legendary among technical types. The InvisiClues hint book (for non-Infocom buffs: a book where you developed answers to game questions, and some questions not about the game to deter cheaters, with a yellow marker) entry for the puzzle ran a successful shaggy-dog joke.
Then in the Heart of Gold, you will need to visit different destinations and times and even become Ford, Trillian and Zaphod, your otherwise useless companions on the Heart of Gold. Ford's Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which gives you information on various objects and locations important to the game, is there for reference. Eddie the Shipboard Computer stops being annoying if you know your stuff, and if you can prove you're smart to Marvin the Paranoid Android, he'll help you. He won't enjoy it, but you'll enjoy him not enjoying it. If you're lucky, you'll open the ship's hatch and walk on the surface of Magrathea, the planet that makes other planets, in bold expectation...of a sequel that, sadly, never made it.
So HHGG is purposely bizarre and tangled. Why does it work? It finds simple, profound jokes and disguises them as puzzles, with slapstick intertwined for particularly silly mistakes on your part (lose points for drinking the wretched Advanced Tea Substitute or eating the Styrofoam-like burger, effectively ignoring the humorous warnings if you examine them) or better yet it just confuses you for the hell of it and leaves you needing the simple answer you eliminated immediately. As the solution to one of its puzzles implies, common sense precludes intelligence. Some puzzles forced you to note what wasn't there, and others had alternate solutions.
You see this with learned helplessness in the Dark, where all five senses fritz out. This made my sister and me beg my parents to buy the hint book. The game threw the solution and a sharp joke at you after eighty moves, but we always restarted after far fewer tries. We finished the game eventually, a bit disappointed we never got a save disk so we could try all the ways to mess up. Now, with the super-quick WinFrotz and online hint books and the World Wide Web, a supercharged version of the Guide (the item, not the game,) it's all a lot easier to win, or better yet, to explore the amusing tangential deaths and hidden jokes.
Adams couldn't have put them in another HHGG book, either, without rambling. He also let you do stuff Arthur couldn't do in the book: save the microscopic Vl'Hurg space fleet that died so tragically, or meet the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, who thinks he can't see you if you can't see it, or experience first-hand how broken the hopeless Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's products ARE. Then, he got to laugh at the player--some insults not polite person-to-person, were buffered by a computer that just fooled you doing the talking, and by the jokes offered everywhere else.
And in fact the lack of graphics allows for quick humor. Rendering the Thing your Aunt gave you which you don't know what it is would ruin the amusing confusion. Other items are worth reading for their descriptions. Even the parser's error checking is funnier than other games. If you say something by mistake, you'll be informed about standards of the Galactic Compendium of Interactive Fiction. Sentences crackle with apparent contradictions.
HHGG wasn't the only good Infocom game out there. The Zork series provided solid fantasy, Trinity was legitimately moving, and A Mind Forever Voyaging provided interesting science-fiction social commentary. Even the relatively lame ones, like Bureaucracy, brought the laughs. But HHGG laughed at you, made you feel silly, and mixed clever jokes with descriptions or key game passages. Then you forgot how hard it was and moved on. I know it forced me to read closely--even made me enjoy it--when I regressed too easily to speed reading. It also got my sister mad at me when I developed all the InvisiClues at once. I wanted to see the next funny bits, and she wanted to try solve the puzzles. While I never enjoyed that burst from solving a puzzle on my own, freeware versions of HHGG and the InvisiClues on the web let me come back every few years to enjoy again all the small jokes, solution details, and asides I can't quite remember, because there's too much to.
Community review by aschultz (June 12, 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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