First things first, I focus on getting past the dragon. I approach him again and take stock. I can’t attack. How about bribery? I hand over a treasure and the dragon takes it to some hidden trove, but it doesn’t change anything. Do I have to give him something in specific? I try to talk to the dragon for clues but it seems that he is trying to brainwash me. I give up and leave, but something weird happens: he follows me. He turns back after one room but this must be part of the trick! I hand him another treasure and expect the same, but he doesn’t follow. Why not? Talking was the trick! When I chat him up, he follows for one turn. If I do it too much, does his brainwashing succeed? I can alternate talking and walking so he follows me even farther. What can I do with a fire-breathing dragon?
|Darwin Award Finalist!|
The north passage from the dragon leads to his lair, a treasure chest, and a princess. I check the chest first, but the thrall that the dragon must have had on the princess wears off and she leaves the room. I follow her-- the game helpfully tells us what exit she leaves from each time-- a few steps south, then through a secret passage in the Marble Room, and finally into the garden. She sits in the gazebo and seems to wait. I wait with her and am rewarded by the arrival of the unicorn. She tames the beat and rides off side-saddle but not before she hands me a golden key and a perfect rose. I solved two puzzles for the price of one! Even better, there’s a dragon statue back in the treasure chest. 205 points!
Behind the glacier was the volcano, just as I expected. I won’t narrate the whole thing (I devoted much of a post to it already), but it’s identical to the one in Dungeon. I emerge from my hot air balloon ride and safe-bombing with a ruby, zorkmid, stamp, and crown. Just like that, I have 255 points, but the lantern is fading fast. This may be a problem soon.
|I ain’t afraid of no shrub.|
That leaves the lizard-guarded door, the menhirs, and the baseball maze. I try the lizard first. Violence is not the answer-- I cannot attack either the lizard or the door-- but it will eat things that I give it. I work through my all my stuff to see what happens. The candy turns out to be the trick: when he ways it, he falls asleep. The door remains locked, but the unicorn’s gold key takes care of that nicely. I’m in!
Beyond the door is the Wizard’s Workshop, several interconnected rooms where our adversary does his take-home wizarding. Just to the south is a trophy room containing his wizarding certificate and an empty trophy case. I immediately think I’m supposed to put all of my treasures in there, but no… it’s closed and protected by spells. Do I need to find a way to open it? In a sly little nod at Dungeon, the wizard’s diploma was awarded by sending in a matchbook cover! The matchbook puzzle wasn’t in Zork I so it’s nice that it’s not completely forgotten. To the west is a workroom with three stands: ruby, sapphire, and diamond. Since I have both a red and a blue sphere, I’m going to guess that I need to be on the lookout for a white one. To the south of that is a room with a black circle. All four colors match the rooms I traveled through while dead so I must be on the right track, but nothing happens when I place the two spheres that I have. I’ll need the third.
|Giant lights so the players don’t get eaten by grues.|
To be honest, I doubt I would ever have solved this on my own. Figuring out that the puzzle was about baseball was easy, but I doubt I would have worked out the next step without having read about it before. This and the “Bank of Zork” puzzle are two of the least liked in adventure game history! I appreciate that the designer was trying to do a different kind of maze, but this could have used some more clues. Let’s keep going.
|Who’s a good boy? You are! And you! And you!|
The “do it all again but faster” puzzles have been a staple in all three Zork games that I’ve played so far, but I don’t particularly enjoy it. It’s part of the meta-puzzle for the game and an extra challenge, but I look forward to the first Zork game without a expiring light source. I work out a reasonably optimal path:
- I begin the game and immediately grab everything from the gazebo then head to the carousel. There’s no way to predict which exit we’ll take, but I’ll do whatever puzzles come first while I wait to get the Riddle Room.
- First attempt gets me to the Oddly Angled maze so I solve it and open the path to Cerebus.
- The next attempt gets me north so I destroy the dragon and follow the princess. That nets me the gold key and the rose. While I’m there, I also solve the Bank of Zork. I leave the volcano for later since I haven’t picked up the fuse yet.
- Third attempt lands me the Riddle Room! I solve all the way through Wonderland and the robot to stop the carousel spinning. Even optimized, I’m already getting messages about the lamp dimming.
- Finally, I grab the blue sphere and solve the volcano.
|It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarium!|
The remaining two rooms are the “Wizard’s Quarters” and “Aquarium Room”, just to the west of the sphere platforms. There doesn’t appear to be anything to do in his room but the aquarium contains a baby sea serpent. That’s one of the monsters from the topiary and so very suspicious. The aquarium is quite large and we’re able to climb into it, but the serpent eats us alive. I eventually work out that you can break the glass with the bat, but even then the dying serpent kills us with his final breath. Only by throwing the bat are we able to both kill the serpent and not get eaten ourselves. In the process, we find the white sphere! That’s a nice surprise because I was certain that it was behind the menhir.
Now that I have all three spheres, I place them in their color-coded stands in the Wizard’s workshop. Magic happens and we get a new black sphere, but this one contains a “huge and fearful” shape rather than a vision of a faraway place. Now what? I take it to the black pentagram just to the south-- isn’t it convenient that the Wizard had this all set up for us?-- and the demon is freed! He offers to grant us our heart’s desires… for a small fee: treasures. Lots and lots of treasures. The Wizard reappears and appears quite powerless against the creature, pitiful actually.
|Who holds the devil, let him hold him well; He hardly will be caught a second time. - Goethe|
I explore around a bit to look for things to cast spells on but the menhir stone seems like the best candidate, plus the giant “F” on it is a dead giveaway. I point the wand at the stone and say “float”, but that doesn’t do anything and the wand needs to recharge. That’s unexpected and I was sure that was the right path. I go through my notes for every spell the wizard ever cast against me. Float, Filch, Feeble, Fierce, Fence, Fudge… None of them do anything. What the heck am I doing wrong? I try to do spells on the dog and on myself and nothing works. It turns out to be a stupid parser problem. Typing ‘say float’ doesn’t give you any errors and seems to work, but in fact you have to type ‘say “float”’ with quote characters around “float” for the spells to work. Bad design! Once I work that out, the stone floats away and I can enter the next room: a kennel containing an oversized dog collar.
At this point, it’s almost too easy: I take the collar to Cerberus and put it on him. He immediately becomes a very happy dog! I pet him and can pass into the crypt. It’s just like the one in Dungeon except it’s memorializing the Flatheads rather than the Implementers, but I still know what to do: I close the door and turn off the lamp. Nothing happens. It doesn’t let me pick back up the lamp (because I cannot find it in the dark) so I restore and try again. This time I realize that the crypt is actually two rooms. I go to the second room, turn off the lamp, and a secret door appears. I walk through it and the game ends. Onward to Zork III!
Time played: 4 hr 20 min
Total time: 8 hr 15 min
Total Zork Marathon time: 50 hr 10 min
|Zork III: Oh No, More Zork!|
Rating this game is going to be tough. It is frustrating: fantastic in some ways but incomplete-feeling in others. As a guy that has passed 50 hours of Dungeon-derivatives, I’m really glad to see the new puzzles and a new world to explore. Zork I did a great job making its puzzles all seem naturally connected to its world, but Zork II feels more disjointed. Perhaps it makes sense why a dragon would camp out next to a bank, but if you can come up with a reason why there’s a baseball stadium near some menhirs that is blocking the route to a crypt then you are more creative than I am. The dragon puzzle was the most satisfying of the new ones while the “Oddly Angled” maze was an exercise in frustration. The introduction of Wizard was fun, but he’s not too much more than a different take on Zork I’s Thief. I vaguely remember being able to solve more puzzles with the wand, but I may be thinking of a different game.
I’m having a harder time pinning down why the game feels incomplete. It’s certainly less polished than Zork I with more parser issues (damn wand!) and strangely missing vocabulary. Trying to solve the topiary puzzle without ever using the word “topiary” was difficult! And, as it turns out, impossible because there was no solution. I even checked a walkthrough afterwards to see if I missed a puzzle, but no. We also never needed either the rose or the grue repellent. The latter is especially strange because you received it as a reward for discovering “Room 8”, but why make a big deal of it if you never use it? It would have been better to put the candy there instead. This game is also considerably smaller than its predecessors. Dungeon was a massive 210 rooms by my count, cut in half to 110 for Zork I. This sequel only managed 80. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but combined with the lack of polish and seemingly missing puzzle(s), it makes me feel less satisfied than I think I should.
That covers most of what I wanted to say; I’ll keep the ratings themselves brief:
Puzzles and Solvability - Weaker than its predecessor with two of the “worst” puzzles of the series. I struggled a few times. The volcano is still one of the best puzzle sequences so far so I’m glad it was kept in here largely intact. Score: 4
Interface and Inventory - The interface could have used more testing and vocabulary, especially around the end of the game with the wand. It’s still a solid Infocom experience, but less solid than its predecessor. Score: 4
Story and Setting - The antagonist is better defined and we had an interesting interplay between the wizard and the demon at the end. Unfortunately, “at the end” is the problem because we spend almost the whole game solving puzzles with no discernable goal. I also found the setting weaker than the first game. Score: 4.
Sound and Graphics - No graphics or sound. Several of the treasures had ASCII art in the original Dungeon but all of that was excised. I suspect Infocom hadn’t worked out how to do it on mixed-size screens. Score: 0.
Environment and Atmosphere - The lack of cohesiveness hurt my enjoyment of this chapter, but the wizard was fun and an improvement over the Thief of the previous game. I’d love to say that we had a lot of tension, but it never really materialized. Score: 3.
Dialog and Acting - Excellent prose with fantastic depictions of the wizard and demon with a limited amount of real dialog. We expect great things from Infocom and they deliver. Score: 4.
The final tally is (4+4+4+0+3+4)/.6 - 32! I don’t feel the need to add or subtract bonus points so let’s just leave it at that. It’s lower than both Zork I and Dungeon, but that seems right to me. That places it about on par with the original Adventure and I can get behind that. If they had spent a bit more time polishing, it might have scored much better.
Up next in our marathon: Zork III. I’m eager to bring our tour of the remaining parts of Dungeon to a close.