Wednesday 23 May 2018

Inspector Gadget - I Escaped a Crane Down in Africa

Written by Joe Pranevich

The voice of the people have spoken! Although I had considered fast-forwarding through the remainder of the episodes, you have convinced me to savor the events as they come. As such, I expect there to be three most posts before we get to the ending: Moscow, Hong Kong, and (presumably) New York. I could be wrong since I haven’t played this game before, but it’s probably a good guess. Part of me is looking forward to getting back to the Infocom marathon, especially as Hitchhiker’s Guide is next, but I can wait a few more weeks.

By way of warning, most of this post was written while running a fever so if anything seems more off the wall than usual, just blame the Tylenol. There’s also a major “political correctness” issue in this episode which I will want to talk about after the gameplay. I already know the pitfalls of bringing 2018 ideals into a 1992 game, but in this case I think there’s a good debate and I’m honestly curious for your views. I’m not quite as upset about it as the fake-Portuguese, but I’ll let you try to figure out what “it” is before I get to the end. Ready? Let’s save another U.N. ambassador!

I hear the drums echoing tonight, but she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation.

Although this is the fifth post, there is one important fact that we have not discussed yet: in the Gadget universe, there is no New Zealand. Also, I am fairly certain that Iceland is in the wrong place. I spent part of my honeymoon in New Zealand a few years back and nearly got arrested for riding in an under-licensed hot air balloon that accidentally drifted over a military base. It was a crazy day! Fortunately, it all worked out, although we did have an unmarked black fan follow the balloon until it landed and that was a bit scary. I didn’t want to be deported on the second day of my honeymoon as that might have been a bad omen. The point is that I’m not comfortable that someone could get rid of New Zealand so easily. Was this all part of Dr. Claw’s doing? Maybe we would find out in Inspector Gadget II: The Search for New Zealand.

She's coming in, 12:30 flight. The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation.

I’m kidding, of course. No, not about the hot air balloon; that was all true. Did I mention that we didn’t have a working radio? And that we landed in a fenced-off construction site? And that government agents in the aforementioned van helped us to land the balloon? All that is true, too. We even had a lovely picnic while our balloon “pilot” chatted with the agents and we waited for a van to come to pick us up and take us back to our rental car. Someday, I really should tell this story. I seem to be extra distractible today, but the thing I haven’t been mentioning is that there are brief arrival and departure cutscenes in each of the locations. In Nairobi, it’s a nice view of lions on the savannah. In L.A., it was a beach and the Hollywood sign. If this game had not been released before The Lion King, you just know they would have referenced that. As it is, it is pretty cool, especially as I have Africa on the brain thanks to Alex’s playthroughs of Quest for Glory III.

I stopped an old man along the way, hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies.

We arrive at the Nairobi airport and are greeted at the gate by Parlin Merkins and his caged gorilla. We can talk to him and Penny expresses her love of primates, but he doesn’t seem very conversational. He tells us that the ape isn’t his and that he’s only taking care of it, but he doesn’t clarify who he is taking care of it for. A zoo? Talking to Gadget gets a brief conversation where Penny is impressed and saddened that M.A.D.’s reach extends all the way to Africa. Evil Doctors Without Borders? After a little while, Gadget asks us to wait while he makes arrangements to start his investigations here.

He turned to me as if to say, "Hurry girl, it's waiting there for you"

Once Gadget leaves, there is not much more for is to do. Penny can try to talk to the ape, but she doesn’t understand ape-talk (to use her expression) as well as she understands dog. Penny and the Ape have some back-and-forth attempts to communicate during which the game makes rapid-fire references to the Librarian from Discworld, “Gunga Din” by Rudyard Kipling, and even (I think) Desi Arnaz from I Love Lucy. It’s all little stuff, but I like how the game does things that go over kids’ heads and even make adults scrable for a search engine. If only they had somehow managed to reference Planet of the Apes, it would have been perfect! Speaking of which, Discworld had already published a dozen books by the time this game came out. Is it too early for me to call dibs on the Discworld adventure games? The first one is coming up in 1995. I’ll have to wait my turn like everyone else.

It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you. There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.

Since I fail to talk to the ape, I try talking to Mr. Merkins again. He reveals that the ape’s name is “MAD Bobo” and, as if on cue, the ape grabs Penny! She is taken away, leaving both Brain and Gadget behind. Brain gets a moment of puzzled animation as he doesn’t seem to know what to do. He starts heading off screen to towards Gadget, but then he just stops and scratches his head in confusion while the scene fades to black. After making such a big thing about how the game follows the same pattern in every location, it is ironic that the next place I go to breaks the cycle. We do not get a vehicle scene as we did the previous three times, but instead we find ourselves trapped in the ape’s cage, suspended by a crane.

I escaped a crane down in Africa.

To make things worse, Penny’s watch has been damaged! She cannot contain Brain for help. I guess we’ll have to get out of this situation on our own. (Strangely, we can still use it to contact the Chief, but I’ll just chalk that up to wanting to be sure that the kids can still ask him for hints.) We are in a cage above the ground; the door is open, but we are far too high up to get down safely. There is a nearby panel that we can just reach. The crane that is holding us up is empty and some M.A.D. agent has left his comic book behind. We pop open the panel and discover that Gadget’s coat has been stowed in there; like every other time in the game, there’s no reason for M.A.D. to hide a gadget there but let’s just take that for a given. How do we get down? I think at first that it has something to do with the comic, but Penny refuses to do anything with it, calling it “escapist fantasy”. From here, we can just make out the cover, “Captain Magnet and his Little Sidekick, Northboy”. The magnet! We have a special magnet in our computer book which we haven’t used since the game’s introduction. I am able to use it here to pull on the gears controlling the crane, lowering it safely to the ground.

The comic book geek in me had to know if there was really a “Captain Magnet”, but honestly I am still not sure. There apparently may have been such a hero in the pages of a 1940s UK comic book series, “Super Duper Comics”, but I’m not convinced that is a “real” 1940s comic and it may just be a modern comic done in a “golden age” style. All of the references I can find to it are recent and none from reputable sources. If anyone knows anything about this so-called “Captain Magnet”, or if he was ever mentioned in Inspector Gadget the series, I’d love to know.

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.

Back on the ground, we can explore a bit. I try to get back to the crane in the background to pick up the comic book, but once we leave we cannot return. I assume there’s nothing more to it than that “Captain Magnet” reference, but it seems funny for an adventure to drop an item like that and then not let you pick it up. We seem to be in some sort of construction site with a “Keep Out” sign and I won’t even complain about that because English is one of the official languages of Kenya. (Plus it’s a M.A.D. construction site and M.A.D. agents probably don’t speak Swahili.) Scattered around the site are broken animal cages, not unlike the one that we were trapped in. That will probably be important later. We also find a sledge hammer that is too heavy for Penny to lift, plus a crate containing a screwdriver. Penny happily announces that she can use it to fix her watch… and then we need to pixel hunt. Just like in the M.A.D. auto garage, we have to find the tiny pixels of the screwdriver while only being able to see the outside of the crate. This involves moving the cursor very slowly over the crate until you find the tiny spot where the screwdriver is inside and “using” that. I had thought that the event in Rio was just the designers being lazy, but doing it more than once is a design pattern. It doesn’t take me long to find it, but it is annoying.

Ba-dum Da-dum-dum-dum

With my watch requiring only the careful attention of a screwdriver, Penny decides on her own to explore more of the site to get a fix on her location. She ends up telling Brain that it is just “a construction site”, but I’ll use my imagination and make believe that she told him more specific details. We find the exit blocked by another M.A.D. (presumably?) workman. He could be a subcontractor, but no matter what Penny refuses to talk to him. She’s just going to hide behind these crates until Brain arrives. On the bright (?) side, we are back to the episode routine! We may have missed the car segment, but Penny still had to be rescued by her dog.

The wild dogs cry out in the night.

As soon as Brain arrives, the construction worker completely ignores him. I suppose stray dogs aren’t that uncommon, but this one is standing on his hind legs.We find all of the component of a worker’s uniform and put them on, completely fooling the M.A.D. agent that was standing there the whole time. He declares that Brain is “Bruce”, his relief, and he’s heading off to lunch. The lot is now unguarded and Penny and Brain can leave. I’m disappointed there were not more puzzles here. In a nice parallel, Brain tricking someone into leaving for his lunch break also happened in the L.A. episode. We head to the city map and find the only other place to go: the zoo. I guess that was what all the animal cages are for! Are they smuggling endangered species or something?

As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company.

At the zoo, we discover Gadget has already arrived. He is outside and using his elongated neck to search inside. He retracts his neck when we try to talk to him, but he brushes us off because he needs time to think. We cannot go into the Zoo as the zookeeper at the door says that no dogs are allowed. What if Brain wasn’t a dog? As you would expect by now, there is a set of clothes nearby that we can use for a costume, but Brain cannot get changed while Gadget is looking. (M.A.D. agents seem to be dumber than Gadget in this respect. Maybe that is why Gadget consistently wins…) I have Penny hand over Gadget’s coat (which isn’t he wearing already?) and he decides that he needs to explore further inside. With him out of the way, Brain can put on his new disguise: trash collector. No longer looking like a dog, we march inside unimpeded.

I know that I must do what's right.

Once inside, Gadget immediately mistakes Brain for a zookeeper. Why? I have no idea because he’s even carrying a litter scoop. With her uncle distracted, Penny can explore the environment but there is not much to see. It’s clear that the animals in this zoo are mistreated and given cages far too small. How does that connect to the broken cages at the construction site? I have no idea. Although the lion looks very unhappy in the art, Penny doesn’t mention that when we “look” at him. In the end, the only thing we can do is press further into the zoo.

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti...

Deep in the heart of the zoo, we discover Vladimir Brakovsky, one of the U.N. climate ambassadors. He’s busy feeding the elephants, although he complains that they do not always eat. Unlike the other hypnotized ambassadors, he has a lot to say. His job is to make the elephants as big as possible as fast as possible by feeding them over and over again. Of course, the elephants do not eat as much as he would like. He wishes that he could just snap his fingers to make the elephant larger. (Given recent events, that probably isn’t very wise.) He even seems protective of the elephant, fearful that it will catch a cold! Naturally, we need to do something to snap him out of it, but there are not too many options available. Exploring around, we discover that he’s not even properly feeding the elephant peanuts, rather “corn chips and sodapop”. M.A.D. needs to hire better veterinarians!

I seek to cure what's deep inside…

Without many things to try, I experiment with everything. It doesn’t take long to find the solution: Penny uses her computer book to trigger Gadget’s now-returned coat. (I suppose the one he was wearing before didn’t have all the usual gadgets? Maybe it was his spare?) The “gadget” of his coat was that it fills with helium and causes Gadget to float in the air! I’m sure if I had seen the show in the last two decades, I might have remembered that. Vladimir mistakes Gadget for a flying elephant (shades of Dumbo?) and that wakes him out of his stupor. He realizes that it must not be an elephant because elephants do not wear fedoras.

Frightened of this thing that I've become.

Suddenly, the zookeeper arrives and yells at Gadget and Penny for disturbing the zoo’s workers. He asks us to leave, but the elephant picks him up with his trunk and drops him head-first into the bucket of food. Everyone has a laugh. Vladimir at first doesn’t want to believe what happened to him or that he ended up in Kenya, but if the “famous” Inspector Gadget tells him so then it must be true. Our reputation precedes us! (That’s why we’re not late for appointments?)

(Repeat chorus.)

We head back to the airport, excited for our next adventure. My next stop will be in “Moscow, C.I.S”. I hope we’ll get some solid cold war or James Bond references in that one!

Before I talk about the environmental message, I want to talk about the thing that is bugging me about this episode: racism. Or rather, how carefully the authors did or did not tiptoe around that. Am I viewing this game through a 2018 lens when I should be using a 1992 one? More than likely. But here’s the thing: there are no black people anywhere in Kenya. One of the U.N. delegates, the one that we found in L.A. was black, but absolutely no one in this episode. As this game doesn’t really have background characters, there may not have been much chance, but it seems strange that neither the man with the ape, the construction worker, or the zookeeper were of African descent. What do you make of that?

On reflection, I suspect the developers were in a bad place either way. Given that the only people that Gadget interacts with in this episode are ostensibly M.A.D. agents, making any of them black might have been worse than none at all. We can also reasonably expect that as an “evil” Russia/Germany-style organization, they naturally would have mostly Caucasian agents. Does that make it okay that an episode that takes place in Kenya would have no Kenyan characters? Not really. But like the Rio episode, the developers aren’t thinking even moderately in depth with any of these locations. I consider that a negative mark in a supposedly educational game, but it is what it is. We’ll see how they deal with the fall of the Cold War next week.

Time played: 1 hr
Total time: 4 hr 40 min
Gadget Inventory: Flashlight, Bandsaw, Binoculars, Drill, Coat

Penny’s Computer Book

Endangered like the entirety of New Zealand?

This week’s valuable environmental lesson is on endangered species. I don’t claim to know more about this than a few minutes of Googling, but it appears that we have almost three times as many endangered species as we did back in 1992. Estimates seem to vary widely, but something between 200-2000 species go extinct each year. It’s a sobering fact that we are still losing our biodiversity and one that I wish the game had addressed better.

Within the game itself, there was very little to connect Gadget’s adventures to extinction problems. Vladimir’s desire to feed his elephant to prevent it getting sick could potentially be connected, but in that case it seems that M.A.D. might be on the side of the angels for once. In fact, zoos (even M.A.D. zoos?) are a great source of environmental education and conservation programs for kids. Was it the construction site that was the problem? Is the idea that building more destroys habitats? Perhaps, but the site was in the middle of the city and hardly prime real estate for grazing. Unlike with the deforestation episode, I really don’t see how these events connected at all with the problem they were ostensibly trying to discuss. It’s still a valuable environmental lesson, but it seems like the developers could have done a bit more to link it all together.

Next week, I’m off to Moscow for some “C.I.S.”-style espionage!


  1. I think these are things that Westerners have currently been sensitized towards, and you'll go wrong no matter what you do, because people react to these things on a kneejerk level. When Resident Evil 5 came out, there where people complaining when there were black people in Africa. Personally, I think it's nationalistic to be overly concerned about whether or not this-or-that is presented on a prestigious manner, even if the motivations are supposedly "good" (whose aren't?), and as such is counterproductive to any efforts to actually get along on this globe. I wonder if anyone in Kenya even cares...

    But then again, I'm not really into applying moralism into works of fiction in general either. But what I do think is that it's plain lazy if your "Kenya" looks like wherever, so no points for artistic effort there.

  2. Replies
    1. I don't know anything about this. Is it developed by Al Lowe or any of the original guys? The guys behind reloaded? What is the story?

    2. The developer appears to be this German firm:

      And the publisher appears to be whichever subsidiary of the company that bought the rights to all the LSL games, they're now listed as developer on all the LSL titles on Steam.

      I doubt Al is involved -- he would have been excited to tell us about it.

    3. I am both excited and concerned by this news. I am glad that the LSL property warrants another game, but disappointed that it might not be in great hands. We'll have to see how the game works when it comes out.

      In the era of "incels" and "#MeToo", a LSL game just isn't quite the same.

    4. The original series did sometimes have problems with these things (Larry's attempt to drug Faith in the first game is an obvious example), but if done respectfully and with good taste, the new game could work. Of course, there's a good chance it will be just a horrible incel fantasy, but let's not jump to conclusions, before we've even seen the game.

    5. The character artwork looks better than Reloaded, in that it's drawn by a moderately skilled artist(s) who understands principles such as "straights against curves", but on the other hand the use of colour is dreadful. Tacky cyan and pink all over the place? At least they're limiting themselves to SOME kind of colour scheme.

    6. Having not been a big fan of Leisure Suit Larry the only emotion I have to this news is "The more adventure games, the merrier"

      I'm more interested that a comment section about an Inspector Gadget game ended up discussing racism and sexual harassment.

    7. Ilmari, actually, Faith wanted to drug herself. She dropped hints about wanting a stimulant, and then when she gets them, she knowingly takes them herself (for her boyfriend, instead of Larry). That's a big difference. It's not unethical, just unhealthy. (Spanish Fly was found to be really bad for you)

      That said, and also Joe -- most of a LSL game by Al Lowe, the joke was always played on Larry. And if he tried to get fresh with a girl too soon, usually that was when he lost. It was a lot friendlier to women then many remember it to be.

    8. More info found today:

    9. Michael: It appears it has been too long since I played LSL 1, since I didn't remember that bit. Thanks!

      I agree with you that I don't remember Larry being portrayed as a harasser type, but as a person who due to his own clumsiness, lack of social graces and unfortunate accidents fails to find the love he is looking. There still are questionable elements in some of the games, like the whole premise of LSL 5 (videoing sex with women without their acceptance) and a certain puzzle with a similar theme in LSL 6.

  3. Re: Racism, I think you got it. The zoo was run by MAD agents, and you don't see many other characters... and MAD is a bunch of bad white guys, established from the beginning of the TV show. Why make people of color the bad guys?

    Also, looking through the rose-colored eyewear of the past, I think you're right, at that point in the 90s in America, were were at approaching a racially-sensitive point that filmmakers were purposely making sure the bad guys weren't black. I remember TV shows of the era that started to insert women and minorities into stories without making the characters fit, because they were being pressured to do so. It was a changing time. Now, the characters make sense and are written well -- but at that time, it was just forced. (NYPD Blue, for example, one of my favorite shows of the era, fpr most of the last few seasons, had carefully measured equality, with female and minority detectives always half or more of the squad. I enjoyed it immensely, but it was far from realistic and often caused some sub-par writing to cover up for it.)

  4. Soo... I take it you like Toto?

    1. Some days, the captions seem to write themselves!

  5. Being curious and throwing "Inspector Gadget Kenya" at Google, I learned that:

    1. The cartoon was rebooted in 2015.
    2. Netflix describes the second half of S1E12 as "Gadget, Penny, and Brain go on a Kenyan safari." Episode title: "She Got Dangerous Game."

    Might be worth a watch to see how far the subject matter has (or hasn't) advanced in depicting an African setting.

  6. Now, Hitchhiker's guide. I always struggled with it. Just me or does it have a lot of arbitrary dead end scenarios? I look forward to it.


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