Wednesday, April 12, 2023

ZZT: The Town of ZZT

ZZT is an interesting game from an episode perspective. It was straight-up built with regard to allowing fan episodes. As such some people, like myself, didn't play some of the original episodes, you basically had more than you could ever want for free. This weirdness also applies to this version of the original, there are a few fan episodes thrown in with the original. You also don't get any way of seeing what the order of the episodes are without going out of the game to check. So, while Towns of ZZT is the first episode, I didn't realize that until after I had already finished the second. This puts the difficulty of that episode in perspective. You can tell this one is the actual introduction since it bothers to tell you what everything is on the title.

Yes, this all makes so much more sense. We've got a little sign that introduces the game, along with a much more friendly, town atmosphere. A lot of the games on Best of ZZT started off like this, in a town. Guess it's lazy in a sense, but they're usually pretty neat. My first stop, the armory.

This is interesting, there's a shop in the upper right, gems for either torches or ammo, 1 gem for 3 of either. He also offers advice, which is just Led Zeppelin lyrics. The real attraction is the armory here, but the key is guarded by this guy who doesn't want to give it to me. Wait, those are blocks, and I can't enter there thanks to a spinner. Wait... push the blocks in? No, but upon reloading, the guy just pushes the key out. Guess it was a matter of timing.

Next up, the bank, only this is useless to me for now. It requires some kind of combination to enter, done through a combination of gates. I don't have that yet and there's no way to figure it out here except through brute-force. So I head south. There's a maze full of centipedes and keys, but mostly simple. This then leads to a prison, very dramatically.

Ah. I see we're doing the monster spawners again. Those funny lines up top are laser beams, not walls. I think they're lethal. Oh, and it's timed too. You also start from the beginning if you get hit or run out of time. No pressure. It's not as bad as all those factors would have you think, but still somewhat annoying. Because they're the red animals they aren't chasing directly after you, though you can't stop them from spawning with the blocks. Further, the inmate there is very useful, because he stole from the bank, and freeing him tells you where the combination is.

After getting out and continuing on the path, I head east on a fork. To the first purple key. Unfortunately, I didn't take a screenshot, but it's a big field full of destructible walls and little dots in the middle. There are purple things at the bottom are bombs, the things in the middle of those destructible walls shooting the homing missiles, and you get sent back to the start every time you get hit. Yeah, it's annoying. You might think that the bombs would all destroy each other, but this game doesn't work that way. I'm glad I haven't seen something like this before though. West is another sliding block puzzle, nothing worth mentioning, along with a sequence with tigers. It's amazing how much simpler it is killing these things when the game doesn't make you do it in the dark.

After unlocking the first purple door and getting back to the armory, I follow the hint from the inmate and discover...this. Walk into each musical note, and a few notes play. Is this the hint? Write down the number? Okay, 2, 2, 1, 4, 3? No. Maybe in reverse? No. Maybe I went to the wrong place? Aha! It was really an area of secret walls on the left side. And the number there was wrong too? What's the deal? I look up a walkthrough, since even though I assume this is a side objective it'd be nice to enter...and I missed a single invisible wall turning the five into a six. This gets me another purple key and a very disappointing number of gems.

West of the start is a wall of spinning guns that seem more difficult than they really are, the game gives you plenty of time to get through it. No, the problem is what's after it, a weird puzzle. You can't shoot here, so you have to move that bomb to the destructible wall. Only you have 9 seconds and you need that central gate moved. Instead you go delicately through the area on the left, putting a gate at the bottom of the big gate in the middle, then walk around, pushing the right gate, second from the bottom once, wait for the big gate to get loose, then push it again, preventing another gate from blocking your progress. Very tricky.

Back to the town, and then north. This screen makes me wish that Caves really was the first episode, because holy crap, this is sadistic. I wanna point out that the controls in this game are not much better than the 1983 fare I've been playing. You can hammer the direction key to run, or you can hold it down. Except holding it down causes a delay to occur just before you start running, which in situations like these is undesireable. You have just enough time to make it past the laser beams and the guns to safety.

So, the castle. Funny, I thought The Castle of ZZT was one of the episodes. Anyway, after bribing a troll through the dialog box, yes, there's a complex dialog system in this game, only mods take advantage of that, I'm in. Kind of bland, if I'm honest. Shooting tigers in the dark, again. Tim Sweeney can really lack imagination sometimes. Oh, yeah, there is the Room of Extreme Annoyance. Walk into all these invisible walls. Fun. There was a key on the left, opening the door where my dude is now. Which at the very least isn't the most annoying path possible.

All to a dragon's den. Kill six dragons. You know, a lot of Epic-related games at this point have dragons. At least the adventure games they published did too. Anyway, it's very tedious dealing with this because the yellow things are bombs, and naturally the dragons shoot at you. At least they move around randomly. Killing them all without ending up dangerously low on health required quite a lot of saves. This eventually allows me to reach...

The Throne Room. The most interesting thing here is that guy in the middle, press him twice and all the blue walls with holes in them move. I'm also interested in how this level requires you to really take advantage of the purple keys. At first I don't quite know what I'm supposed to do beyond get keys and allow that big gate to be moved, but after activating it the first time I eventually piece it together. I have to set it up so that the moving wall is above the gate after it's been moved.

Finally, east. A forest and some caves. The cave seems to be mostly irrelevant, with some annoying fights in the dark and a purple door I don't really want to explore beyond. I have to find a key elsewhere anyway, so what's the point? This section has a lot of screens where you're restricted to one bullet on-screen at a time, really annoying. Yeah, they can change between no shooting, limited shooting and unlimited shooting. And of course, that lovely bit, forcing the player back to the start of the screen when they get hit. Otherwise this is a tried and true screen, carefully cut through the forest to reach a den of monsters, and force them into a choke point.

After two screens of that I end up on the right side of the House of Blues. This time I can figure out what I actually have to do, solve a musical match game, not quite Simon Says. The real interesting bit is this screen. Here there's what looks like a giant pachinko machine, full of monsters and blue keys. The idea is to wait out the monsters and then slowly take the keys. I could go to the final area from here, but I guess I better try tackling that optional area in the caves.

I didn't miss much, just a few gems and another purple key. Oh, and an advertisement for a game I cannot buy anymore. The palace, on the other hand, is cool. Open the gate and slowly the walls in front of you fade away to music. Walk to the hole wall and another tune plays while a hallway forms to the west.

After another dark screen with tigers in it, I get this weird screen. Can't be bothered with capitalization, can we? Not really sure how I feel about this one. Despite many of the later fan episodes being derived from it, I can't help but think of those episodes as just being better. Next up, The Dungeons of ZZT.

This Session: 1 hour 40 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

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