Tuesday 8 May 2018

Inspector Gadget - Send in the Clones

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back! Last week, we successfully helped Inspector Gadget rescue our first UN diplomat, Caroline M’Bega, who was trapped in a life of making secret sauce for an tofu-but-evil fast-food corporation. We also learned an important lesson about… er… polystyrene containers? Smog? Fast food? Something? I’m pretty sure we learned an important lesson, but I can’t remember what it was now. I ended last week saying that my next stop would be New York, proceeding on the map from west to east. When I arrived, I was essentially told that there was nothing going on there (yet) so I picked my next destination instead, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! For the soundtrack to this post, I recommend that you stick with my childhood memories: “Welcome to Rio” from the 1979 album, “Mickey Mouse Disco”. For no discernable reason, the tracks on this album have stuck with me for nearly four decades despite only hearing it a few times while sleeping over at a friend’s house. You can listen to this enjoyable tune while reading here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3rcmrRtnIQ

Last week, a reader asked if Caroline M’Bega was a reference to… wait. Hold on a second. I just noticed the signs. The first sign is “Aero Puerto” which you are probably thinking is just fine, but no. That is the Spanish word for “airport” and here in Brazil, they speak Portuguese. The correct spelling should be “aeroporto”. Do the developers not know the difference between Spanish and Portuguese? Or is this the real way it is spelled in Brazilian Portuguese? Even worse is the “U No Parko” that is just an offensive parody of the language. I believe in Brazil they used a crossed-out “E” symbol for “proibido estacionar”. Will we have to deal with offensive caricatures of language in every country we visit? Sorry. Maybe no one cares about this stuff, especially in a kids game, but this is practically offensive.

Há espaço para apenas um médico na Enterprise...

Where was I? Last week, it was asked if Caroline M’Benga was a reference to Dr. M’Benga from Star Trek. Unless you are a super-fan, you probably have no idea who that is: he’s the second-in-command doctor under Dr. McCoy on the Enterprise, appearing in two episodes. There are surprisingly few recurring characters on the original Star Trek, but I didn’t remember him. The opening scene to the game showed the Chief dressed as Captain Kirk, so I am going to guess that someone was a fan. As I have been unable to track down any of the original developers, I doubt we will ever know for sure.

With my quick detour to New York out of the way, we arrive at the airport in Rio and immediately discover Gadget’s stolen Gadgetmobile. He did remark that his “gadgets” were stolen, but I didn’t expect that to include his car. Gadget leaves, but he quickly returns… and again… and again. In moments, there are three Gadget duplicates. Which of them, if any, is the real one? What am I supposed to do?

Socorro! Estou preso em um carro com meu falso tio!

We talk to each of the “Inspector Gadgets” in turn. The first doesn’t recognize Penny, so he’s right out. The second can just say “Of course I am, Penny.” over and over again. That’s not very convincing. The third one is much more convincing: he knows Penny and Brain and even has Gadget’s sense of ego. He lets us into the car and we drive away.

Once in the car, we make small talk with Uncle Gadget. He says that the case is doing well and that only “delivery” remains. We ask what he is delivering and he reveals that he’s delivering the “niece and canine”. That’s us! We’ve been bamboozled! Now that we are captives, he no longer needs to pretend to be Uncle Gadget. That opens up more dialog options. I can try saying that I need to pee, or even that I am going to be sick, but neither do the trick. I try telling him that Brain usually sits in the front seat and “Gadget” agrees that would be okay. It doesn’t matter where we sit as long as we are trapped in the car.

With Brain in the front seat, we get a new option: we can “use” the “ejector seat”. When we do, Penny opens up her computer book and (with a sly wink to the camera), triggers the car’s computer to eject the occupant. Brain goes flying. Moments later, we arrive at yet another M.A.D. prison for Penny, this time looking like a mechanic’s garage. The Gadgetmobile is parked here, but Brain is nowhere to be seen.

Eu estou preso em uma garagem estranha! Pelo menos, meu cachorro escapou.

Searching through the room, there is not too much that I can do. There’s a wrench in the tool cabinet and I can use it to raise and lower the Gadgetmobile. I am also blocked by a locked cabinet and garage door, plus a strange door on a catwalk above that I cannot reach. I switch to Brain, but he cannot do anything until Penny tells him where she is. I call the Chief and he tells me that the door above is to the office, but it’s too high to reach. Knowing that is where I should focus, I discover that if Penny “uses” the car, she can climb onto the hood. From there, she can use the wrench on the switch to cause the car to rise up like an elevator. We can reach the catwalk!

Olha, é um mapa!

Once in Dr. Claw’s office, I start searching. There’s a key on the desk which I snatch, only to find that it unlocks the filing cabinet on the left. That is an insecure place to leave that! Inside the drawer is a file and a second key. Actually picking them up is harder than it should be because we cannot see either object through the metal of the drawer, yet we have to mouse over exactly the right spots. It’s pixel-hunting but without any visual clues. It sucks, but I get both soon enough. Reading the file, I find that Dr. Claw will be at a toothpick factory today. That seems useful, but not immediately. I use the new key and find that it opens a different cabinet across the room. That one contains a map, conveniently labeling our current location, as well as another key. There are no more filing cabinets so I assume that the last key is used for something else? I try to go and check if that opens the tool chest, but Penny refuses to budge until Brain arrives. She really should be more assertive… I call up Brain and tell him where we are. That lets him access the Rio map, revealing both the the repair shop and a toothpick factory. We hit the shop first.

M.A.D. Oficina de Reparação Automóvel

Outside the “M.A.D. Auto-Repair” shop, Brain discovers another Gadget robot-- or could it be the real one? We also find a wig and a trench coat so it’s no problem for him to disguise himself as yet another (slightly less realistic) Gadget robot. Brain-as-Gadget has no problems fooling the guard and slipping past.

Once Brain is in the garage, we have a little puzzle to get Penny down: we have to switch to her while the car is still raised, have her climb on, then have Brain lower the car. It’s tiny and hardly worth mentioning except it’s the first “real” collaboration puzzle in the game, the first time we have to use the two characters in concert. It reminds me, ever so slightly, of the collaboration puzzles from Maniac Mansion and hope we get more like that. With Penny down, we can use the final red key from the office on the storage locker, revealing the keys to the Gadgetmobile as well as the Gadget Bandsaw. Using the keys on the car gives us a cute scene where Penny reveals that she doesn’t know how to drive… so Brain will have to do it instead. The car speeds away, leaving a car-shaped hole in the garage door. Oops!

Ele dirige por toda a cidade. Brain o cão de condução!

The scene changes immediately as Brain pulls the car up next to the toothpick factory. The “Gadget” outside the factory seems to be the real one as he chastises Penny for driving the car… although he seems surprisingly okay with the idea that it was Brain instead. The security guard asks Gadget if he is “M.A.D.”, and Gadget replies that he is quite mad at Penny and Brain for taking his car for a spin. The guard misunderstands and lets Gadget into the factory, but we remain stuck outside.

At this point, we should be quite used to these “puzzles”: there is a tee-shirt and beanie on thr ground and Brain whips up a costume to get past the guard. Why exactly does Brain think dressing up like a kid wearing a beanie and a shirt that says “T.T.” on it would help? Why does the “disguise” need us to carry around a corncob? I have absolutely no idea, but at least it works because he lets the two of us pass now. Better not to think about it, I guess.

A fábrica de palitos.

Once inside, Gadget approaches Brain and wants to interview him. His “costume” is apparently the uniform of a “toothpick tester” and Gadget thinks he can reveal the secrets of the facility. Of course, Brain never talks so I have no idea how this will work out for him...

Você fala "cachorro"?

Like usual, there seem to be more things to interact with than there actually are. Here, the button for example doesn’t seem to be more than painted-on decoration, but the table saw at least seems like you can interact with it. After a few minutes, I give up and head straight into the adjacent mechanic’s room.

Uma árvore inteira só por um palito?

In that room, we find a worker diligently converting entire trees into single toothpicks. How wasteful! Operating the machinery is none other than Winona Smotherincreme, one of the missing U.N. delegates! We try to talk to her, but she seems to be hypnotised. After some experimentation, I discover that Gadget can use his recently-recovered bandsaw attachment to clog up the machinery with wood pieces. With the rhythm of the machine disrupted, Winona wakes up very confused. She doesn’t even realize that Gadget rescued her. With her back to her usual self at least, we head back to the airport. Two down and several more to go. If I keep traveling east, my next stop will be London! I’ll head there next week.

Eu tenho que continuar falando em Português?

I do not want to harp on it too much, but this episode has underscored a lack of polish in the game engine. Although I did not complain of it much in the narrative, there were multiple issues where hotspots seem to be slightly off or where we had to pixel-hunt in order to find things we knew were in the room. The search for the colored keys in the desk was the worst, primarily because they were so small and because you couldn’t actually see the keys-- all you could do is move the mouse slowly around the front of the drawers until you found their hotspot. While the game does have some excellent animation, the whole interface feels sluggish. Walking across the room takes forever and it’s pretty clear now that the game is practically 2D: there is only a band a few pixels wide at the bottom of the screen that Penny and Brain can walk around in. Even as the backdrop suggests more, usually you cannot break out of that bottom-of-screen mold. Mix that with the signs not being in Portuguese and the whole thing feels barely complete.

Narratively, this is the idental setup to last time: Gadget and the team arrive, Penny gets kidnapped, Brain gets free, Penny figures out where she is trapped, Brain rescues her, then we finish up to rescue the delegate. It’s fun, but it is repetitive. Do all of the missions go the same way? If so, I can fast-forward through a few, but even with the repeated pattern I am having fun with the plot and humor in each one so far. What do you think? Fast-forward if the pattern repeats? Or keep documenting the missions as they come?

Time played: 1 hr 15 min
Total time: 2 hr 40 min
Gadget Inventory: Flashlight, Gadget Bandsaw

Penny’s Computer Book

Aparentemente sim.

This week’s environmental lesson is on the destruction of the rainforest. Unlike last week’s, the plot and the lesson actually lined up okay: Dr. Claw’s insidious plan to turn the rainforest into toothpicks in an especially inefficient way is just the type of corporate crime that Inspector Gadget can solve. I am reminded of the “Evil, Inc.” from the first Austin Powers movie somehow in the way that M.A.D. in this game (and in the series? I do not remember) seems more like a large evil international conglomerate than a evil spy network. M.A.D. appears to operate perfectly legal logging, automotive, and shipping infrastructure in the two cities that we’ve been to so far.

Tudo graças ao Google Translate!

Like the pollution issues of last week, this is another case where the real world seems to be improving. After reaching peaks in 1999 ands 2004, deforestation in Brazil is on the decline. Still, the 6238 km2 that was removed in 2011 is twice the size of Rhode Island, but it’s a fraction of the problem at its worst.

Next week: London! What kind of insidious pollution epidemic affected that city back in 1992?


  1. I know this is not the most important part of this article, but I feel the need to say this...

    While sometimes inconsistent in the reviews on this blog, I think we mostly agree that the time period of a game has to be taken into acocunt - the period in which it was released.

    When this game came out, we were not nearly as over-sensitive about mild, harmless jokes in foreign languages. The "U no parko here" sign was most definitely meant to be funny and not intended to demean, it was just acceptable humor of it's time. The target audience was youth of that time period, which were definitely not fluent speakers of Portuguese, although some of them likely took a year of middle school Spanish by that point. So for a reviewer to make such a big deal out of it, it seems unfair.
    The average person playing the game (young or old) would not have understood the "no parking" sign if it was in the correct language, and even now, few would take the time to Google Translate the words. This was a humorous attempt to fill the screen with a sign on what would have been a blank wall.
    Too big of a deal made over nothing.

    < /end rant about over-sensitivity in the current era >

    1. I would always be willing to take the time period into account regarding the technology, the graphics/sound etc. or even the relative simplicity in this case for what is a game aimed at children.

      But I wouldn't regard it as "over-sensitive" to point out that they're getting the language wrong and making what even at the time would be a dumb joke.

      Each reviewer brings their own views to it, and it was a single paragraph (and some picture captions) in amongst an entire post, so I don't think it's making too big a deal about it at all.

  2. That said -- I'm enjoying this review regardless. :)

    1. I am glad you are enjoying the review!

      Honestly, I've of a mixed mind about this. Even in 1992, I expect it wouldn't be "nice" to be flippantly ignorant of the culture and language. This is a kids game and is intended to be at least partly educational; having a more realistic depiction of Rio could have helped with that. In addition, you are going to have at least a few kids from Brazil who are excited to see their country represented in an adventure game and might be disappointed or upset to have it depicted so flippantly. You are right of course that the times then were different and it might have been harder for the designers to make a better portrait of Rio. Does it matter? No.

      Honestly, it doesn't bother me that much, but doing this slightly better in what amounts to only two screens couldn't have been that difficult.

      Overall, this game is pretty fun for a kid's adventure. Far from perfect, but enjoyable in its way. I probably spend more time complaining about this detail simply because there isn't that much else that they did wrong.

    2. I highly, highly doubt any Brazilian kids would've reacted in any other way than "cool, you can go to Rio in this game". If Norway got represented in any way in children's media back in the early 90s, it was either by portraying Norwegians as stereotypical vikings or by portraying Norway as a land with permafrost where polar bears walked around in the streets. No kids ever got upset or disappointed by these depictions, we just thought it was cool that Norway got showcased in the first place.

    3. Generally, I feel it's just natural if our reviewers state right out that some details of the games played contradict modern sensibilities and feel awkward or even wrong nowadays. Good case is Alex's mention of the use of blackface in his Larry 5 review.

      As to the case here, I'd say we'd really have to know whether USA has e.g. somehow exploited Brazil, before we could say that this instance is an insidious form of cultural mockery. Adamant's point about Norwegians beings portrayed as vikings - or the Swedish chef in the Muppets - is harmless, I feel, because relations of America and Norway/Sweden have always been neutral or even amicable.

      Then again, if I imagine Russians in the 90s doing a game where streets of Finland were filled with street signs in Cyrillic alphabets that might have felt even threatening for two reasons - firstly, during the time when Finland was an autonomous part of Russia, the street signs were changed into Russian in order to "russify" the Finnish population, and secondly, just after the collapse of Soviet Union there appeared Russian supremacists (like a party called ironically Liberal Democrats) who demanded the reinstatement of the borders of the old Russian Empire. It wouldn't have felt as a bad joke, but more like propaganda for returning Finland to Mother Russia. So, it's all about context.

    4. Somehow, I think my comments are being taken far too forcefully. This is something small which I felt was in poor taste, but not too much more than that. This is a game that purports to be educational that got some basic details wrong in a way that was potentially a *tad* offensive. Would anyone care in 1992? I have no idea because I'm playing the game for the first time now.

      I am glad that I have (by accident) sparked this debate. It's been fascinating and helps to remind me where MY biases are, especially as a New Englander living in 2018.

    5. Joe, as someone who grew up in Upstate New York, I'm basically your neighbor, so I understand. :)

      I guess my feeling is, at the end of the day: if I was playing Carmen Sandiego, I expect historical and cultural accuracy. Inspector Gadget, on the other hand, was at heart a parody and mix of so many different older investigation and spy shows, you expect humor and irreverence. It's no accident that the voice of Gadget was Don Adams, perhaps best known for the classic TV series Get Smart -- where he played an agent that used numerous inventions (ahem, GADGETS) as he bumbled his way to solving crime. This was just the kid version of that show in so many ways. So I don't expect any accuracy or sensitivity -- I expect everything to be fodder for ridicule. Remember that, in every episode, the main target for ridicule is Gadget himself, a white American, who is inept, accident-prone, and clueless.

  3. Winona Smotherincreme... that is SUCH a dirty joke. XD

  4. For some reason the word bamboozled always put a smile on my face, I don't know why though.