Tag Archives: Not all licensed games suck

Star Trek: Judgment Rites

Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Interplay
Year: 1993
Platform: DOS

Review: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Interplay obviously took this to heart when creating the sequel to 25th Anniversary. They changed virtually nothing about the setup, and once again were able to get all of the actors from the show to reprise their roles.

However, Judgment Rites elevates to legendary status with a few key additions. First, while the fighting interface remains difficult, it is now optional, a sigh of relief for those who dislike action or mediocre controls. Second, while the story begins a little slow, the plot has been tightened and leads to one truly satisfying end game. It is difficult to find a flaw in this adventure.

Sidebar: Doesn’t Majel Barrett have space’s most beautiful voice? She provides the voice of the Enterprise computer and I searched extensively for every computer entry just to hear her. As a bonus, the computer references plot points from the prequel and from the original television show.

Contemporary RatingHigh. While the battle system would annoy modern gamers, it’s entirely skippable, and there’s nothing in the rest of the game that isn’t awesome.

Cruelty RatingPolite.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1992
Platform: DOS; Windows; Amiga; FMTowns; Macintosh

Review: One of the first adventure games to utilize the concept of plot branches, this Indy title presents an intriguing story while staying true to the canon’s charm and style. With the help of professor Sophia Hapgood, you take Indiana Jones on an adventure through Africa and Europe to locate the mythical sub-aquatic city.

The introduction is absolutely stunning, as you guide Indy through some silly hijinx at the university while opening credits roll.  You really do feel like this could be a movie were it on the big screen. But what really grabbed me was the voice acting (on the CD version, which is a must have). Doug Lee, who plays Indy, does a marvelous job at capturing his quiet, yet cocky bravado. He doesn’t quite sound like Harrison Ford, but one couldn’t ask for a better job here. And Jane Jacobs, who plays Sophia, is also fabulous, eliciting a sexy and smart personality from her pixelated heroine.

Gameplay is fairly standard for a LucasArts game, intuitive with moderate difficulty. What raises the bar is the branch at the halfway mark, where you can decide upon three different paths to reach the ending (with two of them having Indy ditch Sophia!). And like the Last Crusade, aggression is an option for those truly wanting the game to match the intensity of the movies. The separate paths cross often, though puzzles are modified to fit the circumstances, and the endgame is the same no matter what. Still, when the gameplay is this engrossing, it takes few excuses to get me play it again, which I have done once already and hope to do so again.

While a couple sections drag on for a spell, I can really find nothing negative to say about Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Sadly, it appears to be the last true adventure for this beloved character. But what a way to go.

Contemporary Rating: High. None of the frustrations of the prequel.

Cruelty RatingPolite.

Death Gate

Publisher: Legend
Developer: Legend
Year: 1994
Platform: DOS

Review: The first Legend game to eschew typing and implement strictly the point’n’click interface, Death Gate succeeds admirably in creating a captivating and moderately difficult fantasy adventure that almost anyone can enjoy. Based on the Death Gate Cycle short stories by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the game designers managed to take many elements from those stories and use them to create a foundation for their adventure. Never does the game feel like a translation, and you certainly do not need to read the stories to enjoy the game. Following is the summary from Moby Games:

Two thousand years ago, the Sartan split the world into five realms. The mensch races – the humans, dwarves, and elves – were split between four of those worlds named for the four elements, and your race, the Patryn, was banished to the deadly Labrynth. After those two thousand years, some of the Patryn have found their way through the Labrynth’s exit. It is your job to sail through the Death Gate into each of the other worlds to find each world’s seal piece, so that your race may reconstruct the planet and have revenge on the Sartan.

The story is one of revenge and reunification and there are many plot twists (though mostly obvious) along the way. Magic is used extensively and often in very clever fashions never seen before in adventure gaming. Most puzzles range from easy to fairly challenging, though none are unfair and are usually interesting in their own right, and fit within the context. Rarely do puzzles feel contrived or pointless. While no puzzles have multiple solutions, you are often given appropriate feedback as to why your solution is not the correct one, with a pat on the back from the designers for your thoughtful try. I never felt insulted by the game’s interface, which is very easy to use but often requires critical thinking. One puzzle near the end of the game that involves conquering your own double had me absolutely giddy when I solved it, and is one of my favorites of all-time.

The graphics are mostly well-drawn still frames, though there are some decent movies. The voice acting is superb; however, the dialogue gets stale in many places and sometimes goes on forever. Despite the simple writing, the story behind it is consistently engaging, more than making up for its faults. The ending is a little weak, but on the spectrum of adventure game endings, is not all that bad.

You do not need to be a fan of fantasy novels to enjoy Death Gate, and any adventure game connoisseur should have this one in their library.

You get to play as a dog, too!

Contemporary RatingHigh. The game tries really hard to be accommodating to all players.  It was obviously beta-tested really well.

Cruelty RatingPolite.

The X-Files Game

Publisher: Fox Interactive
Developer: Hyperbole Studios
Year: 1998
Platform: Windows; Playstation; Macintosgh

ReviewNow this is how a full-motion video game is done.

In fact, this is more or less an episode of The X-Files (taking place sometime during season three) that is ported to the adventure game medium. You play as Agent Willmore, whose job is to find Scully and Mulder, who have gone missing while investigating a case. Along the way, you work with your partner and team up with a local detective in order to crack the case. 

The production values are amazing, in line with that of any prime-time television show. The acting is exceptional for a video game, Duchovny notwithstanding. Mulder, Scully, Agent Skinner, The Smoking Man, and a couple others reprise their TV roles and do so with the same conviction as they would for television. But the new characters are also well-acted and well directed.  The story, by Chris Carter, feels no different in tone than his regular writing, and like any good story, the plot develops in layers as the story progresses, with intrigue and suspense along the way. 

The game mechanics are nearly flawless. Moving about is simple, and map shortcuts are a blessing. Puzzles are fairly straightforward and relevant to the case; there is no goose-chasing to be found. If you get stuck, your boss is there to provide suggestions. There are also multiple ways to approach most of the game’s major events and conversations, with various consequences as you progress. The overall story remains the same, but the choices you make affect your relationships with your boss, your ex-wife, and the female detective (nudge, nudge). There are also, thankfully, a few action sequences where you must either use your gun or think quickly in order to escape a deadly fate. They’re not particularly difficult, but they provide the tension necessary to make you feel like something is at stake. And even if you screw up, the game will gladly restore you to a point just before your fatal mistake.  Finally, the end-game is quite marvelously done, with multiple endings depending on how you tackle the last few decisions. 

Replay value exists, not so much from the multiple paths, but just from the sheer awe-inspiring production. The only reason the game didn’t make the top-ten is that I wasn’t exactly moved by the plot, which is uninspiring and has a couple of holes in it. But if you’re at all interested in playing a full-motion video adventure, make it this one. Whether or not you have seen the show, or even like it, this game should appeal to nearly all adventure gamers and possibly even casual gamers.

Contemporary RatingMedium. Disc swapping, and one obnoxious puzzle at the beginning are the only issues, but that could be enough to turn off some.

Cruelty RatingMerciful. As I mentioned, even if you die, the game restores for you.  You’ll still want to keep save files, though, if you want to explore alternate paths.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Interplay
Year: 1992
Platform: DOS; Macintosh; Amiga

Review: One of the few true adventure games that Interplay had produced, they struck gold with this license. With characters lifted perfectly from the TV show, the game is a pleasure to watch (let alone play) if you even moderately enjoyed Star Trek.

Interplay did an adequate job of incorporating the four icon system into gameplay. At times you must combine items in your inventory and manipulate them, and the designers came up with some inventive uses for the phaser! The graphics are excellent, and the sound is even better than on the original show. Imagine what 25 years can do for production values.

Deftly incorporating all facets from the show, Kirk and his crew must solve each of seven missions efficiently and in accordance with the prime directive. In other words, don’t mess with the natives! After each mission, an admiral from Starfleet will give you a rating representing how well you accomplished your goals. The higher the rating, the more powerful upgrades you receive for your weapons, shields, and flight control. These resources are key if you want to stand a fighting chance during the battles. Several times you will be confronted by either the Romulans, Klingons, or Elasi pirates, and unless you become a master of the controls, you’ll need all the help you can get!

Part of your rating relies on your demeanor towards native populations and to adversaries. During conversation, you are presented with several choices of how to respond. You can pick the funny, brash, or sarcastic comment, but these will get Kirk in trouble most of the time. Not only do you have to be a good adventurer and fighter, you have to be a good diplomat as well.

A few of the missions are a breeze, but watching the characters interact is such a joy that I am glad the game wasn’t extremely difficult. However, there is one excruciating mathematical puzzle which I could never solve. Several years after pounding my tricorder against a wall, aided by an internet walkthrough, I acquired the answer. I think I could have sat there for decades and never solved it.

Perfect characterizations (aided by the voices of the real-life actors on the CD-ROM version), combined with a fluent story, moderate challenge, and excellent graphics and sound, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary should be played by every adventure game aficionado, regardless of your personal affections (or lack there of) for the source material.

Contemporary RatingMedium. While most of the game is intuitive, the battle system is pretty clunky.  There’s also no way to skip it, which can be a beast for the game’s final battle.  If you haven’t done well on the missions and received the best upgrades, you might as well restart because there’s no way you’re seeing the ending.

Cruelty RatingPolite.  Many ways to die, but no ways to get stuck.  My kind of game.

Back to the Future: The Game

Publisher:  Telltale
Developer: Telltale
Year: 2010
Platform: Windows; Macintosh; Playstation 3

Review: When I discovered this game was a thing, I immediately bought it for the wife and I to play. Like with most Telltale games it was released in agonizingly slow chapters. Each time a new one came, we’d knock it out in a day or two and then wait a couple of months. But as evidenced by my score, it was definitely worth it.

I was a bit hesitant as every single game that has ever been released with this license has made as much sense as a screen door on a battleship (e.g.  killer bees!). But Telltale has yet to screw up a license, or any game for that matter. For starters, Bob Gale was consulted on several story elements. And not only did they get Christopher Lloyd (who was also great in Toonstruck) and Claudia Wells(!) to reprise their roles as Doc Brown and Jennifer, they held a worldwide contest to see who would play Marty. Enter A.J. Locascio, who sounds so much like Marty McFly that if one didn’t know any better, you’d swear it was Michael J. Fox.

Of course, the game has to be more than its voice talent. While some of the chapters are better than others, the overall story is entertaining. It has countless paradoxes and is unendingly silly, but no more so than the second movie. It doesn’t have the dramatic impact of the first or third movies, but it’s funny enough to make up for it. One chapter in particular had us laughing out loud time after time, as the script writers were not afraid to go blue on several jokes.

As for the puzzles, they’re generally straightforward and easy. Only a couple of mindbenders are in the game, and there are unfortunately a few annoying lock & key puzzles that are not obvious.  But one should never get stuck long.

The ending leaves things open for a sequel, though one certainly isn’t necessary. If they do, there is no doubt in my mind the wife and I will drop what we’re doing and play it.

Contemporary RatingHigh.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  There is no way to die, which does take some of the drama out of a few puzzles.

Blade Runner

Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Westwood Studios
Year: 1997
Platform: Windows

Based on the cult-classic movie of the same name–starring Harrison Ford–this cyberpunk adventure is one licensed title that doesn’t disappoint.  I unabashedly feel this is better than the source material. Being as that the movie is currently ranked #123 at IMDb, I am sure to be in the minority.  Good news is if you liked the movie it is doubtful you’d be disappointed by the game.

In the future, where buildings rise above the city, crime is rampant, and man has colonized the moon, a mega corporation has developed replicants, super-humans with a predetermined lifespan. Naturally, some of the more advanced replicants have begun to become self-aware and are pissed that they have been essentially subjected to slavery for moon colonists. And some of them have come back to Earth in order to meet their maker with the intention of reversing their fate. Blade runners have been employed by the city to terminate all replicants before the bloodshed spreads. However, it’s not so simple, as determining who is and who isn’t a replicant is not a foolproof process and there is considerable sympathy for the replicants. It’s even possible some of the blade runners are replicants and don’t know it!

This premise is the same for the movie and the game. The designers of the game were smart in creating a new storyline, sharing only a few characters from the movie made fifteen years earlier (of which Sean Young and William Sanderson reprise their roles!). Not only does this keep the game from becoming stale, I felt the movie’s story was plodding with poor dialogue. To be fair, the plot of the game is no Oscar-winner, but I actually did enjoy the script significantly more, feeling the characters on my desktop were more sympathetic than the wooden personae on the silver screen.  They did, however, keep the Voight-Kampff testing, and you can whip that out whenever you feel it’s appropriate.

I keep discussing this game as if it’s a movie, which is only because that’s what it feels like. There are very few puzzles and it is incredibly difficult to become stuck. Atmosphere and exploration rule the game, with gorgeous sights and beautiful sounds lifted straight from the movie. There is certainly detective work to be done, but a significant portion is optional, shedding a light on the finer points of your case. What gives Blade Runner the feel of a game (and not just an interactive movie) is that there are multiple paths, stories, and endings dependent on several factors.  Every time you start a new game, character motivations change, which in turn changes some puzzles, dialogues, and eventually plot branches. In addition, whether or not you decide to terminate or sympathize with the replicants will also change the story.  If you like this sort of thing, you’re in for a treat. Personally, I did not have a desire to replay the game multiple times, but I did reach a few endings on my own before downloading some save files to see the others. Blade Runner has incredible production values and it is worth trying to find everything there is to see.

Oh, and you can use your gun. Good times.

Contemporary RatingMedium. Some modern timing issues in action-scenes.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite.  You can die, so saving is necessary.  If you “screw up” the worst that happens if you take an alternate path through the game.

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon

Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Developer: Legend
Year: 1997
Platform: DOS

ReviewLegend might have raised the bar with this game. They had to tap into many talents to make the game as good as it was. They certainly did not lounge around while this was in production. Inn fact, you could say they put more effort into this one more than any other. I’m even confident enough with that opinion to go pub-lic with it.

And if you could stomach that pun-filled synopsis, you might want to try Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. Based off series of books by Spider Robinson, you fill the shoes of Jake Stonebender, a reserved man with a haunted past, witnessing and partaking in the strange goings-on in the titular tavern. You’ll run into many fascinating friends, ranging from vampires to aliens to talking dogs to time travelers and even some regular ol’ drunks, who all respect one another’s privacy and can’t go three sentences without starting an all-out pun war.

The overarching plot is that our universe is about to be eliminated by an intergalactic council because there is nothing unique about it, thus being labeled a tax on resources. The creator of our universe is allowed some time to make a defense for his project, and decides to head to Earth to see if anything pops up. Oblivious to the fact that end of the world is near, you (as Jake) must traipse through many other hurdles (such as preventing an alien species from sucking all the testosterone from Earth) and help out your friends (possibly by heading to the future to save a certain cacao plant from extinction) in order to pass the time. Meanwhile, the universe’s creator is keeping a close eye on your adventures.

The game starts with the player attempting to win a contest at the saloon by solving various riddles of a pun like nature. The theme for the night (which becomes soon obvious) is classic rock bands.  One clue is “Slender Projectiles + Legend.” In other words, “Arrows + Myth.” Thus, the answer for that riddle is Aerosmith! I absolutely love word puzzles, so this game hooked me immediately. The rest of the game is based less on word puzzles than on quirky inventory-based puzzles that make sense only in the bizarre environment you encounter through your adventures. On several of these adventures, you will have a partner (from the bar) who comments on your predicament and even helps out on occasion.

Your enjoyment of the game will highly rely on your taste in humor, as the personalities and subsequent jokes by this crazy bunch of characters is the heart and soul of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. There are some logically satisfying puzzles, but many are contrived and feel like busy work. Meanwhile, the game includes responses (in full speech) for thousands upon thousands of actions. While this attention to detail is appreciated, most of the game is spent listening to the narrator drone on about various tangents. Some of the commentary is amusing, but it eventually feels like a chore. I zipped through the first half of the game, but the redundancy slowly bored me right up until the final chapter, when I was happy to see the plot finally moving along.

The other highlight here is the four solid folk songs interlaced throughout, written and sung by Spider Robinson himself. The Drunkard’s Song is fantastic, and the author has released a CD of his own.

I laughed out loud a couple dozen times during my playthrough, and was pleased to see many unique features (and gambles) taken by the developers. But when all was said and done, there were too many flaws to give this game a high ranking, though I would still recommend it to fans of the author, of Legend games, and puns.

Contemporary RatingHigh.  Intuitive game, easy interface.  Though, if you’re not a native English speaker, the game would be difficult at times.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  You can die, but there’s no need to save as you’ll get taken right back to where you were.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1989
Platform: Windows, DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, CDTV, FM Towns, Macintosh

Review: One of the first adventure games by LucasArts filled me with great anticipation as it is based on one of my favorite movies. I was optimistic as the game was by one of the great software production companies, but hesitant because movie licenses are often botched horribly when turned into games. However, it works here for a few reasons.

For starters, the adventure movie the game is based on feels more like a collection of great scenes than a seamless, timeless story. There are many great set pieces and fun action sequences that take precedence to the father/son subplot and symbolic undertones. One can debate the effect this has on a movie audience, but it’s simply bread and butter for a game. Creating a solid flow to a game with a progressing, engaging plot is very difficult when you must often halt the experience with puzzle-solving. LucasArts never had to worry about this.

Secondly, much of the movie’s charm came from the wacky, slapstick humor and numerous in-jokes to Spielberg and Lucas fans. The producers and writers of the game took the exact same formula, changed many of the jokes, and hit dead on with quite a few of them. They even made fun of their own material, breaking the fourth wall if the joke works. For example, take the scene near the end of the movie where they enter the palace near Iskenderun. In the game, as in the movie, Indy sees a decapitated head roll in front of him. Here, he turns to the “camera” and says, “Yep.  This is the right place!”


Lastly, the puzzles have been changed just enough to not be automatic for those who have memorized the movie, yet still fair and sometimes challenging. Many puzzles have multiple solutions, and the game can be made much easier (or difficult!) depending on who you make friends with and who you can trick. Even the obligatory copyright puzzle includes game elements that can make the puzzle easier or harder depending on your adventure skills. There are also four different endings to obtain, only one similar to that of the movie.

And if you get stuck? Forget puzzle solving and fight Nazis using your bare hands! There is almost no puzzle that can’t be solved by fighting, though it is difficult, not all that intuitive, and hard to keep your strength up after five or six fights.  Thankfully, there is no puzzle that requires you to fight.

My only major gripe with the game is the conversation trees. Many of the puzzles revolve around Indy using his wit to fool Nazi guards into letting him pass by without a fight.  Many times, this is done simply by saying the right things. Unfortunately, there are usually no clues as to what may work and what will get you a right uppercut. What will fool one guard will not work with another, even though their is no discernible difference between the two personalities.  So at times it becomes a “guess-and-check” routine, saving and restoring until you exhaust your options and make it past.

Oh, and there is a pointless maze.  @!#?@!

While the game feels dated due to the limitations of the engine used at the time, it is still likely to warm the heart of any true Indy fan. Those who have not seen the movie, or any of the Indy movies, will likely miss many of the jokes and get frustrated trudging through an otherwise mediocre puzzle adventure. I fit into the former and felt it was well worth my time.

Yes, you can punch Hitler. 

Contemporary RatingMedium.  The random conversation trees and frequent need to save and restore would definitely turn off some.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite.  You can die frequently, and you must therefore save frequently.  But you can’t get stuck.