Thursday, 25 April 2019

Curse of Enchantia - Ice Rage: The Meltdown

Written by Alfred n the Fettuc

We should really make a list of the seven cardinal sins of adventure game design someday (even if the list would probably be closer to seventy) but I’m pretty sure two sins would make the list pretty easily.
  1. You should never make a puzzle so obscure the only way to solve it is to stumble upon the solution by sheer luck or while trying something completely different.
  2. When you know the solution to a puzzle, you should be able to solve it without having to spend one hour trying to make the game understand what you’re trying to do.
What is interesting is that these two problems are directly related to the interface of the game. While the former is bound to happen again and again with the interface getting simpler with every game (for example I want to climb on a stool but my character ends up pushing it), the latter is bound to disappear for exactly the same reason. In ye olde text adventures you have to discover exactly the way the developer wants you to interact with the game, but with a one-click interface, you don’t have to figure out the logic, you just have to click on the item and see what happens.

What’s really great with Curse of Enchantia is that you have these two sins combined, which is something of a rarity. Add the fact maybe that “having only one music track for a ten-hour long game” might be one of the sins and you’re in for an unforgettable experience.


After a nice long chat with my friend the yeti, it’s time to get back to it…
When we left Brad, he was having some quality time with a yeti in the vast ice wasteland that’s hidden in the costume shop changing room. The first thing you notice is that the yeti swallowed some kind of green frog when you enter the place. I then pick up the snowball on the left of the screen and throw it at the yeti. It becomes enraged and runs towards me… but trips over the edge of the lake and falls face down, spitting the frog in the process.






Brad’s technique for dealing with any danger : let it trip over something.

The frog then jumps away and nothing seems to have been accomplished by this for now… Maybe I’ll encounter the frog-like creature later in the game but considering the randomness of the whole thing, there is a distinct possibility I won’t.

Searching for the vast area around me I find several things:
  • I pick up a wood board and something that looks like an oxygen-tank or a thermos.
  • There is a hole in the ice from which a fish jumps out regularly. I seem to be able to interact with the fish at a very precise moment but can’t catch it or do anything with it.
  • A nice little igloo with an eskimo guy is a bit farther on the east but approaching the eskimo gets him to fall on his face. Maybe he’s scared of me or something.
  • Some kind of shield seems to be trapped in ice in some place.
  • There is a huge seal in one place that just waves at me and when I come back there, he’s gone. Maybe he was a friend of the frog and was used as a roadblock.

May I interest you in some fine leather jackets?

I spend some time searching for every nook and cranny of the place but can’t find anything else. This is where I stumble upon a solution by sheer luck. I’ve tried a lot of random things everywhere I could for quite a long time. The fainted/hiding eskimo is notably an area where I try everything on everything: give him money, give him meat, try to use the paperclip or the magnet on the fishing hole, entering the igloo… I realize that the eskimo drops down every time I approach him too much. Entering the screen from different places seem to allow me to get closer before he trips but it doesn’t help me. This is when I try attacking the eskimo, then throwing the wood board at him.


Come on buddy, stop playing dead. I know you can hear me.

And it seems that throwing the plank was the solution, but not for the eskimo. When I do that, I get the thumbs up and Brad goes aaaaaaaaaall the way on the left (I’m talking four or five screens of scrolling) by himself and puts the wood board on the hole from where the fish is jumping.


Hmmmm… yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

I honestly don’t know what is worse: having a character walk for ten minutes by himself to do something you didn’t plan at all with the command you just gave him or having to be in the exact place where something is supposed to happen (Future Wars or Beneath a Steel Sky style). Well, no use rambling about it… I pick up the fish!

And another example of fine puzzle design happens a few minutes after that. Trying to do something with the oxygen tank/thermos/whatever that might be, I try every command on it and WEARING it works. Turns out the thermos was a deodorant bottle and that the eskimo was not hiding but fainting from the apparently horrible smell that was coming from my armpits.


Once again, I wish I was kidding.

Not trying to make too much sense with this puzzle that would be more in its place with a Leisure Suit Larry game than a fantasy one, I manage to approach the eskimo to talk to him. He asks me for the fish and gives me his fishing pole in exchange.


I mean: the guy lives alone in the middle of nowhere with no bathroom,
eating fish and wearing a huge parka in the sun and I’m the smelly one?

I try once again to do several logical things with the fishing pole like attaching my magnet or my paperclip to it or trying to throw it in the different fishing holes that I see but it turns out you have to ATTACK the shield taken in ice with it. Brad then breaks the pole in two and uses it to make a fire.


Again: sheer luck

The fire makes the ice melt and it’s revealed the shield was not a shield at all but some kind of green goblin (that I want to call Bob for some reason) frozen in ice. Maybe it was the frog-like creature that had been swallowed by the yeti but it doesn’t look like it apart from the color green.


I am as surprised as you that it worked, little buddy.

Trying to interact with Bob, I can’t seem to do anything except picking up the ashes from the fire, which I do. Exiting the screen and coming back again, I see that Bob has disappeared. I walk endlessly in the ice wasteland for a moment before realizing that a crevice that was in the northwestern section of the map is now occupied by what seems to be the seal from earlier.


He’s not a very good “hide and seek” player

I cross the crevice and try to yell “Help” for him to react but it does something else entirely. A saw appears in the wall and carves a tunnel. It’s my new friend Bob! He shows himself and tells me to follow him.


Kids, never follow strange frog-like creatures you don’t know.

Okay, I’m sorry but I have to pause here. Nothing I’ve done since the beginning of this play session has been done on purpose. I stumbled upon every solution without really understanding everything. This area is very short when you know what you’re doing but I spent the better part of an hour blindly stumbling from stupid puzzle solution to stupid puzzle solution. And even playing through it a second time doesn’t really make more sense. What is the trigger of the seal for him to help me? Is he a friend of the frog? Why am I supposed to use the ATTACK command on the ice cube with the fishing pole? Was it really Bob inside the yeti’s mouth? Was the whole ordeal only to grab some ashes for later? Is it still worth trying to make some sense out of this game?

Then again, all of this would have been made much easier and much more fulfilling with two very simple things: LESS COMMANDS (just having a “use” command would have made everything better than having to play “guess the verb” like it’s an obtuse parser interface) and MORE DESCRIPTIONS (just have a way of telling me the air tank/thermos is a deodorant can and I will gladly try to wear it).

Anyway, I go through Bob’s tunnel and arrive a beautiful shore.


This costume shop closet is definitely bigger on the inside.

I jump on the boat and start to cross the channel… but something hits it in the middle and the boat explodes, throwing my into the icy waters. Brad doesn’t seem to be sensitive to cold because he just swims back. I then throw my ashes in the water (don’t ask me why. At this point I try just everything on every item I have in my inventory before I try to think) and a huge sea dragon offers me a ride.


Is the sea dragon that eats ashes also an obscure UK reference?
Did Nessie eat exclusively roasted fishing poles?

The sea dragon then brings me to the entrance of a huge ice palace. It definitely looks like an endgame location but unfortunately, the completion percentage in the option screen is only at 54…


The penguin family lightens the mood of this place though.

The solution for opening the door is pretty straightforward for once. I pull the stalactites in order from the longer to the shorter (as shown by the penguins, or… you know… the first order I would have tried anyway) and the door opens. I enter the castle and I find a hall with a broom and a table with some dices on it.


Maybe I surprised the janitor while he was having a break playing dices?

I pocket the broom (as any adventure game protagonist with regular-sized pockets would do) but picking up the dices closes the door. I have to throw them again on the table (I see the result of the roll every time) for the door to open again, which makes me think that every throw leads to a different place.


Bim! Craps! Yahtzee! Okay you got me I don’t know any dice game rules.

Entering the door with any combination still leads to the same corridor, though, but with different doors openings on the sides. In the beginning of the corridor I also see a weird jigsaw-like contraption which involves a gun holster as a counterweight.


Spooky

At the very end of the corridor there is a big window. I can look through it to see Bob waving at me. I guess I have to open the window somehow but nothing I try works.


Hey little buddy! Want a shot at sidekick of the year?

Searching in the rooms I opened with my natural 18 on the dices, I find a piece of stalactite I break by ATTACKING with my broom, a magnifying glass and a very accurately drawn gun on a shelf I manage to grab once again by ATTACKING with my broom…


Why don’t you keep the gun for the final battle now, Brad?

Using the gun as a counterweight in the main corridor lowers the dish that was suspended out of my range (which, surprisingly enough, I don’t reach by ATTACKING it with my broom) in which I find a glass piece and some kind of suntan lotion.


But I’m suspicious now. It might also be fire starter or yellow paint.

Despite the fact that the glass piece looks like it would perfectly work to complete the magnifying glass that seems broken, I can’t do anything with it, nor can I wear or drink the suntan lotion. I go back to the dice room and try a few more times to roll the dices, which opens new doors apparently without a lot of coherence or reason. I’m sure there is some logic behind the rolls and the doors opening but I don’t have the patience to try and look into the developers crazed minds.


For example, an 8 closes all the doors… makes perfect sense.

After at least fifteen dice rolls (I’ve never been a lucky dice player), I manage to open enough doors. I put my grubby hands on a megaphone, a big ice cube and a hydraulic jack, keeping the tradition for random items strewn across the game world. Going back in the main corridor, I stumble upon a whistle simply lying on the ground. I take it and I am a bit surprised to see I manage to despite the fact that my inventory was full five seconds ago… Looking through it I realize that my magnet on a string has simply disappeared… Maybe I did use it inadvertently? It seems I didn’t and the game simply decided to get rid of it for no other reason that I won’t need it later on. I can picture the game developers in their office:

-“Hey if we add an item here, the player inventory will be full”.
-“Who gives a hoot? Just remove one of the randoms items we make him keep for the last five hours, nobody will mind”
-”Yeah, you’re right. If they had the patience to reach this point of the game, their brain is probably already dead anyway. Let’s do some more drugs and create more puzzles!”


At least the inventory is more colorful now than when it was full of rocks.

So I’m guessing now that the magically appearing whistle announces that I found every item I needed because I can’t take the dices anymore to open/close any more doors. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to use the megaphone somehow in order to talk to Bob outside. I try to break the window with the stalactite, the megaphone, try to open it with the jack, blow the whistle, etc… nothing works. The “Trying everything on everything” is much harder now that I have ten distinct inventory items in my pocket. Turns out the solution involves COMBINING the whistle and the megaphone and then ATTACKING the window with this combo.


Seems obvious in retrospect now but remember half a dozen other
commands could have worked for the same result.

This here is the example of cardinal sin I was talking about in the beginning of the post. I spent several minutes trying to make Brad understand I wanted to break the window somehow and several more minutes (okay let’s be honest, not so much but it felt like a long time) trying to make him blow the whistle/megaphone thingy. I needed to use the ATTACK command but why couldn’t I use the COMBINE command? The USE command? The UNLOCK command? Even the EAT command could have been considered a way to put the whistle in my mouth. If you have to use a dozen commands for your game, at least consider having two different solutions for a puzzle?

Anyway, jumping through the window unfortunately doesn’t result in Brad plummeting to his death but allows entrance to another ice room. Which makes me ask: where is Bob? He really seemed like he was waving at me from far away, possibly from the exterior of the castle. And why are two rooms connected by a window and not a door? Every little detail like this really work against the coherence of the whole game and make it seem like a dream (or more accurately, a nightmare) to go through. But then again, the whole land is called Enchantia, so everything can be resumed by: you know, it’s magic!


And now a magical raygun I’m guessing I’ll have to absorb using my suntan lotion.

The solution to this room is straightforward enough (which is kind of a relief compared to the rest of the game). You have to put your reflective items in the holes to redirect the laser ray. A bit of trial and error is involved but you have to put in that order: the magnifying glass, the ice cube, the stalactite and the glass shard. The laser ray then goes back to its source and blows it up.





Magical explosion!

 I now can go use the jack on the hole in the door in order to open it. That seemed like a lot of work considering the laser didn’t seem very dangerous in the first place (I didn’t even have a nice “electrified Brad” animation going through it) but I won’t complain: I did have something to blow up and that’s always nice in my book.


The most discreet heist ever

In the next room I find myself in front of… the Enchantress herself! Could it be the final battle? The ultimate showdown? The war to end all wars?


What is your throne made of? The whale’s tongue from KQ4?

The enchantress throws blue light balls at me that freeze me on the spot. I have to jump with the right timing in order to avoid them. It’s simple enough and just when I’m in front of the enchantress, possibly with finally a chance to get rid of my nemesis and restore peace in the galaxy… Brad climbs the stairs, sits on the throne and he’s ejected by a big cushion on a spring.




Boing

Well that was anticlimactic… I land in another nondescript room in the ice castle with only one door. I try to go towards the door. Suddenly, a huge hand appears from nowhere and grabs Brad!


Hand of Fate foretelling or Zelda’s Wallmaster reference?

I had a rare moment of fun here because I suddenly understood what I had to do AND managed to make the interface do my bidding without ten tries. It seems like nothing but after a few hours in this piece of crap game, I was overwhelmed by a wave of relief. I WORE the suntan lotion (or cooking oil, or lubricant) and it worked! I became slippery and the hand let me go!


I’m afraid it might be the best puzzle in the whole game

I go through the door and arrive in front of two doors. Then I go through the left door and arrive in front of another door. Then another room with two doors… Oh no… Oh my goodness. Please tell me it’s not true. Not… *shivers*... a MAZE?


Brad is hiding his tearful eyes away from the camera.

Turns out it looks like a maze alright but considering you can retrace your steps, I just went through and spent some time going through doors completely randomly, and it seemed to work. At some point I find a box of matches and finally arrive in a room that’s unlike all the others.


Not the screenshot of the year, but it comes after twelve lookalike rooms so it’s already something.

After this wannabe labyrinth, I find another place that looks more like an ice cave than an ice palace. There is a big rock sitting in a corner next to… a fire extinguisher! One of the items the giant parrot asked me to find (I’m pretty sure that the sentence “I need to find a fire extinguisher because the giant parrot asked me to” has been previously said by at least one serial killer in history).


There is also a pattern in this game regarding orcs wearing tutus.

I try to push the orc (or at least his foot, because it’s the only interactive area I can find), scratch a match on the foot, prick it with my paperclip, give him money, but to no avail. Interestingly enough, when I try to go through the door behind him, the eyes of the orc follow me. I try hiding behind the ice pillar and it works! The orc falls asleep. However, going back near him to try something wakes him up everytime. I try throwing a match at him. I try a lot of other stuff. But the solution is : you have to wait for the orc to fall asleep then ATTACK him with the matchbox. Then Brad walks next to the orc and… I don’t really know… scratch the foot with the scraper part of the matchbox? The result is that the orc yells and jumps through the ceiling.


I have no idea what’s happening here.

My best guess is that Brad scratches a match on the matchbox and uses it to burn the foot. However the fact that you have two inventory items (a match and a matchbox) makes you want to use the match in some way. But no: you have to attack the foot with the matchbox for whatever reason. This is once again another example of the sin of knowing what you want to do but can’t find a way to do it. I knew the solution would involve burning the orc’s foot in one way or another, but I spent way more time than I should have trying to figure out once again the crazy logic in the developers’ minds…

Anyway, I pick up the fire extinguisher and Mr Benn appears out of thin air to bring me back to the town.


If you can teleport like that, why didn’t you send me in this fraking room directly?

And this is it for this play session. I’m back in the town center with a match and a fire extinguisher. At least I feel like I’m making some progress, but it’s far from a smooth ride. The worst thing is that this whole part had a few interesting puzzles but everything is drowned into poor puzzle design and madcap logic. Let’s meet in the same place next time to see if I can find a way to disguise into a pig in order to pass the beetle guard and find an electric fan for my friend the giant parrot!

Session time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Inventory: Paperclip, Bag of money, Match, Fire Extinguisher
Score: 306
Percentage complete: 64%

20 comments:

  1. Good, next part is also full of nightmare puzzles. Good luck ! you are 2 parts from the end

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  2. We should really make a list of the seven cardinal sins of adventure game design someday

    I think most of us recognize Ron Gilbert's 2004 list as the definitive starting point for that, although your examples should be added it. ( https://grumpygamer.com/why_adventure_games_suck )

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    1. There had already been some discussion on what makes good puzzle design almost a year ago, here: https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2018/05/discussion-point-what-kind-of-game.html

      It's a little broader than simply listing puzzle design flaws though.

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    2. That list is actually from 1990 or so, when Ron Gilbert was working on the first Monkey Island. He just posted it on his blog in 2004.

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  3. >Is it still worth trying to make some sense out of this game?

    >I had a rare moment of fun here because I suddenly
    >understood what I had to do

    Good! You're well into you way to a͞lt̴er̨nat̶i҉ve͡ ̕tḩi̷nk̨i͟n̴g̸. Incidentally, let me ask you this, Alfred: Are you sure it's not YOU that's the illogical one, rather than the game? Maybe you've bee̵n ͝in̶s̷a͏n̴e ́you̸r ͠wh͘o͘le ͡life and̷ th͘i͞s ga̸m̨e͜ is̢̮ ͈͎̱̕ỵ͢ou̦̝̹̜̥͎̼͞r̴̟̥͈͍̯̹ ̙̦̗̝̬̲f̷̪̥i̺̯͚͔̪͕̤r̸̪͎s͓̹͕͎͘t̘͚̤̥̠̪̀ ̪̭̘̺e͎̙̭͖͚n͉̤̞̯̳͟c̞̱̦͎̀o͏͕̩̻̮͉ͅu̵̠n̵͎̦̠͉̠̥̻t̤̫͕͉̩̩̭e̵̖ͅr̰̻̼̟͍̱ ҉w̬̬͖ḭ̫̮̙̹͞ͅth̢̳ ̦̼̀s͎a͍n͈i̡̳t̫̩̭̯͇͉y̞̫̜͖̟̥̪?

    Allegedly, that witch is a different one from the one from the intro.

    I think you managed to put a match between the troll's toes and lit that (that's what happens in a playthrough I saw on YouTube), but Brad was in the way and you couldn't see it.

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    1. Damn you Brad!

      Considering my own sanity, I confess that I now have some doubts. I have probably been dreaming my whole life I've been playing good video games. Maybe all these Lucasarts and Sierra games were the bad ones and the real great logical and fantastic games we should all be playing are Enchantia and Hugo games. Maybe we should reverse the whole PISSED scale.

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    2. Truly, Pac-Man would be the epitome of great adventure design. You learn by dying, the puzzles are timed, there’s no clear plot or storyline, and to win, you need to manipulate a bug in the display on the last menu. Also, technically, I suppose each level is one big pixel hunt.

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    3. To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Curse of Enchantia. The worldbuilding is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of illogic most of the solutions will go over a typical player's head. There's also Brad's absurdist outlook- his personal philosophy draws heavily from Charles Lutwidge Dodgson literature, for instance. The fans understand this stuff; they have the intellectual capacity to truly appreciate the depths of these plot twists, to realise that they're not just confusing- they say something deep about LIFE. As a consequence people who dislike Curse of Enchantia truly ARE idiots- of course they wouldn't appreciate, for instance, the humour in the costume shop owner's stereotypical attire, which itself is a cryptic reference to a classic of British TV animation, "Mr Benn". I'm smirking right now just imagining one of those addlepated simpletons scratching their heads in confusion as Rob Toone's genius wit unfolds itself on their DOSBox screens. What fools.. how I pity them. ��

      And yes, by the way, i DO have a Curse of Enchantia tattoo. And no, you cannot see it. It's for the ladies' eyes only- and even then they have to demonstrate that they're within 5 IQ points of my own (preferably lower) beforehand. Nothin personnel kid ��

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    4. I finally understand how right you are and I've done my own research : turns out that orcs in tutus represents a huge part of Sigmund Freud's work on the subconscious. And the giant parrot in the cave asking for a fire extinguisher is obviously a reference to Soren Kierkegaard's take on the existential despair.

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    5. A few days ago I noticed that John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness had popped up on Netflix, so I took the opportunity to revisit it to see how it's held up after all these years. Pretty well, I think, but now I'm a bit freaked out by this unexpected, potentially sinister link with Curse of Enchantia. At this point it wouldn't surprise me that much to find one "Sutter Cane" in the game credits. Maybe you should just skip the ending, Alfred...

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  4. The pathing for using the board on Mr. Igloo is pretty weird. It seems almost like a bug, like it is treating Brad as being at one location when he's actually in another. Does it also work if you just use the board on the hole where the fish is in the first place?

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    1. Actually the igloo is far away on the right of the hole but it's technically the same screen (albeit with a long scrolling between the two). When you know what you're doing, throwing the board near the hole works as well, and I'm actually kinda relieved about that bug. Considering how nonsensical and stupid the puzzles in this game are, it's actually helpful when you stumble upon a solution by accident : at least you can make progress!

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    2. Which creates another conundrum: Did you actually manage to solve all the puzzles or did you you just inadvertently exploit some bug that happened to work? With the logic they apply either one could be true.

      What I really don't understand is why the Eskimo would give you a fishing rod for a fish? Surely if you have a rod it would be more sensible to fish for yourself, especially in an environment where that would be a primary food source? Have we doomed the man to slow starvation by destroying the last renewable source of food? I mean there's walrus and frog as well but only one of each so that's just delaying the inevitable.

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    3. This game is readable on so many levels. After the revelation it's a study on how remarkably clever you have to be to appreciate the philosophy under an apparent nonsensical plot and puzzle, you tell me that it's ALSO a critic on the state of the planet and the unsustainable exploitation we, as human beings, do of the raw resources of our environment? Mind. Blowing.

      I certainly hope we will see the look of the walrus and the frog's children before the end of the game (and I also hope for the frog's sake he is the male in the couple)

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    4. You did notice the obvious commentary on climate change? Melt the ice and you'll awaken the green creature (clear symbol of environmental movement).

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  5. The really bewildering thing about this is reading the contemporary reviews from the Amiga version. There's one which says how this is so much better than Monkey Island 2 and all the puzzles are just right. Insanity or shenanigans! People complain about the moon logic in the Sierra games, but this is pure lunar-madness.

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    1. I'm not sure "Moon" covers it. This is like... Neptune. Or one of those TRAPPIST exoplanets.

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  6. So, you gave a fish to a man who already knew to fish, just to feed him for a day. In return, you took away his only means he had of feeding himself for the rest of his life.

    I sense an urge of forcing the capitalist way of life to the poor eskimo, whereupon he will now have to pay dearly for what he already had for free, albeit at a slightly higher risk. Now he will have to find another job, probably in some office.

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  7. I looked at some playthroughs on YouTube and the magnet-on-a-strings seems to disappear when you arrive to the screen where you have to throw the ashes into the river.

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