A well-known magazine publisher recently appeared via holographic transmission in my cave to ask my opinion about Leather Goddesses of Phobos, the latest release from the almost Divine Infocom company of Hitch-Hikers, Sorcerer and Zork fame.
What did I think, he timidly enquired, of this game? Had I actually discovered any... "rude"... bits?? What had I done with the Female Gorilla? Finally, and most significantly, he asked whether I thought the game was any good.
That's significant because people don't often wonder whether Infocom games are any good or not. They just wonder whether to give them 95% or 96% and try to decide which superlative adjective to use - 'Brilliant' 'Astounding' or perhaps 'Scrotnig' if they read 2000AD. The fact is that there is rarely any doubt about an Infocom title, but in this case doubt emerged so the Wiz rushed out, bought a copy and loaded it up. The privileged reader of this Zarjaz Mag will now hear the Wise One's opinion ...
The game is Brilliant, Astounding, and Scrotnig.
Here's what it's all about. You - and you can be male or female in this game, thank goodness, so for once I can address the whole population of the UK and not just the men, as is unfortunately the usual case with UK adventures - have been captured by the Leather Goddesses of Phobos who invite you to take part in their scientific research program.
If you've ever seen pictures of those unfortunate monkeys in labs with horrible looking tubes coming out of their ears, then you might get some idea of what the Leather Ones have got in store for you, except that the tubes come out of certain other places that we shall not mention and the game, mercifully, only hints at. Obviously, therefore, the aim of the game is to manfully (or womanfully) resist the temptation to join in the fun and escape, saving the rest of mankind in the process.
The game has you and your companion (a fellow escaped prisoner) zipping about the universe, by means of some very convenient black holes (which are just painted on the ground), collecting objects and trying not to get killed or otherwise inconvenienced.
The ease with which one can move from planet to planet in this fashion certainly makes for plenty of variety in the landscape, but in fact I found this the weakest aspect of the game. I like adventures that stick to one geographical location and then go into it in great detail, thereby helping to generate a compulsive and vivid 'sense of being-there'. Not that the Leather Goddesses Of Phobos' locations aren't vividly described - I just found being on Mars one moment and a billion light-years away the next rather unsettling. I'm sure that one of the strengths of games like Colossal Cave and the Price of Magik is their concentration on one overall geographical framework with many parts, rather than many frameworks with fewer locations in each one.
Of course the parser on Leather Goddesses Of Phobos is up to Infocom standard with all the trimmings, including OOPS and complex input parsing. No-one has yet matched this parsing system - I'm afraid it's still light-years ahead of our own attempts in the UK, with the possible exception of The Pawn. You won't have much trouble making yourself understood in this game, that's for sure.
I think what I found most impressive about Leather Goddesses Of Phobos was that the author has not allowed the temptation of being simply rude or risque to weaken the structure of the game itself. The puzzles are every bit as good as one would expect and there's enough logical gameplay here to keep you busy enough to justify the usual high Infocom price tag.
The combination of an experienced and highly skilled game designer like Steve Meretsky plus a rather risque scenario makes for a game with a number of unusual twists, but at heart Leather Goddess Of LGOP is just another excellent adventure in the traditional Infocom mode.
You must locate eight different objects in the game and these are:
- A common household blender
- Six feet of rubber hose
- A pair of cotton balls
- An 82 degree angle
- A headlight from any 1933 Ford
- A mouse
- Any size photo of Douglas Fairbanks
- A copy of the Cleveland Phone book
Locating these objects isn't that difficult, but like in the Scott Adams games, actually getting them into your possession is extremely tricky. And then, perhaps they aren't going to do you any good after all! Would YOU believe a moronic keep-fit maniac who handed you a matchbox with those items scribbled on it, announcing that with that equipments he/she could save the world??
Okay, so some of the passages in this game are just a tiny bit naughty. But that really is as far as it goes and there's nothing here that would shock my grandmother. Whether that's a relief or a disappointment to you depends on what sort of person you are.
The three levels of play, "Tame", "Suggestive" and "Lewd" have two main effects on the game. The first is in what the program will print out on the screen. "Tame" gets you briefer descriptions and nothing that could possibly be construed as rude (unless you've got a dirty mind). "Suggestive" is practically the same as "Lewd", but hesitates a bit over the more intimate details.
"Lewd" gives you the full treatment (which isn't, in fact that much) and often offers rather lengthier descriptions. For this reason, even if you're a Vicar, I'd recommend playing in Lewd mode all the time.
However, the second main effect on gameplay that changing levels has is to increase the vocabulary accepted by the parser. In "Tame" mode, certain words will simply not be understood. In "Lewd" they almost certainly will be, though whether entering these (unspecified, in this family magazine) commands will get you much excitement, is open to debate.
Hand-in-hand with this last point goes the fact that "Lewd" will also change the interpretation of certain words. For example, if you EAT the apple in "tame" mode, no problem. However, if you EAT the apple in "Lewd" mode, I would advise you check that it is over sixteen first.
The blurb at the beginning of the game suggests that the program may raise some reaction from the Moral Majority. Frankly, I think that that is highly unlikely. Quite apart from the fact that I can't see what's wrong with a bit of healthy sex in a game anyway. As it is, everything in this game's healthy and there isn't any real sexual activity to disturb the under-aged. Buy with confidence, parents.
There is a lot of humour in this game - inevitably, since Mr Meretzky, author of Sorcerer and Hitch-Hikers, is a man game for a laugh. I'm glad to say that much of the humour does not rely on dirty jokes or innuendos (although some of these, in "lewd" mode are very funny). For example, what other game would give you this variety of responses:
It's a good likeness of a pussy, but is it art?
That was just a rhetorical question.
You sound rather negative.
Who am I?
Where is the toilet?
But the brass bikini is so becoming!
Or this really absurd response:
Tie the hose to the switch
"You've tied the rubber hose! In the third quarter, with 40 seconds on the clock, the score is rubber hose 17, player 17!!! But seriously, folks, you can't tie the rubber hose."
And if you tire of the responses, you'll still find that the continual tongue-in-cheek humour of the location descriptions keeps you on the ball. One of the Wiz's favourite bits is when:
"... You feel uneasy as the Mad Scientist locks the door behind you and dissolves the key in a vat of acid."
I'll say you do!!