This week, we're playing a fairly obscure Atari 400/800 text adventure -- the game's stylishly simple (and misspelled) title screen announces itself as menagarie:
I believe this is the game otherwise known as SoftSide Adventure No. 16: Menagerie. SoftSide Publications put out a popular print and disk magazine during the 8-bit home computer era, publishing monthly adventure games for several years. The author is uncredited, and while the BASIC code is similar to other SoftSide games, the storytelling style seems unique (among the handful I've played.)
The plot begins, as so many escape-the-UFO adventures do, as the player is drawn involuntarily aboard a mysterious spacecraft just in time for lift-off; we must explore the onboard zoo, and use the unique abilities of the various creatures kept there, to plot an escape.
menagarie is not especially difficult; there are a few stumpers, but it's a fun little adventure and worth trying on your own. In other words, if you plan to play this one yourself, you may want to do so before continuing here. Because there are going to be thorough...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
The opening sequence is almost completely non-interactive; we just have to hit the RETURN key a couple of times, without even the illusion of choice. The game's writing is imaginative but amateurish, with misspellings and grammatical hiccups showing up almost immediately, as we are told that you see a strange vehicle what appears to be a spacecraft of some sort.
The initial location only has one exit, and it's dark in there. I (not INV or any of the other standard variants) reveals that we are carrying a BOOK OF MATCHES, and LOOK MATCHES reveals that there are 5 left. A lit match temporarily illuminates the room, then goes out before we can move again, so we should take note of our surroundings while we can.
In the first dark room, we can spot a flag pole on the wall. LOOK POLE indicates that There's a red marsian flag on top (marsian looks like a misspelling, but who's to say what the indigenous population of Mars actually calls itself?) If we try to GET FLAG, You can't reach it, but if we try an obvious gambit and CLIMB POLE, the parser tells us I don't know what "CLIMB POLE" means. We actually have to GET POLE, at which point Something falls off and blows away. (There is actually a reason for this, though the necessary air movement is apparently not otherwise noticeable.) After this happens, LOOK POLE still insists that There's a red marsian flag on top, but the FLAG is no longer an available object, so we'll have to hunt it down later.
The design here almost guarantees that we'll have to replay a bit to map the early stages, as our limited store of matches gets used up quickly, but we can save on sulphur by navigating in the dark once we know where we're going. If we take a wrong turn with the lights out, however, we are likely to step on something undesirable, so called because running into it is fatal. Even though we can't see any details in most locations without light, we can somehow see a snake poised, readt [sic] to attack, with red beady eyes. The snake blocks half of the six exits from this room, and can't be killed, so this presents our first puzzle.
The nearby Hall of Mirrors shows the player an image of him/herself as a stowaway. We can BREAK MIRROR here, which in a break from tradition is not bad luck; doing so creates a hole, and we can GO HOLE to a room where It's getting windy... It continues to get windier as we progress, and in the next room down the way, we learn that Your torch just blew out! This message occurs even if we're not carrying anything resembling a lit torch, which provides an accidental hint -- if we LIGHT MATCH when we are carrying the flagpole, it turns it into a torch, or we can LIGHT POLE for greater precision. Fortunately, just as our torch is blown out, we can use another match to discover a LIGHT ROD in this room, and we will want to LIGHT ROD, as the burning pole eventually becomes (HALF BURNT) and a BURNING STUMP before giving out altogether.
With a more reliable light source, we can discover that the red flag has blown to the room northeast of the snake's lair. We can also GET MIRROR to take a LARGE PIECE OF BROKEN MIRROR from the Hall of Mirrors. If we SHOW MIRROR to the snake, Snake is hypnotised by the mirror and we can walk casually past him, but the effect is temporary; we must SHOW MIRROR again any time we need to get past the snake.
The game doesn't put a lot of pressure on us, but I like the way it depicts the passage of time. There's a robot work room onboard, where we find a robot lettering a sign. At first, we can see that So far he has painted E. Later, ... he has painted EARTH. If he gets all the way to EARTHLING, we have become a permanent resident of the alien zoo.
The ship is strangely deserted, and we're not really given any explanation for this; perhaps it's run entirely by robots and reptiles, but there's a meeting room with a set of keys on the table, and a control room with a lever and an empty battery clip. These seem to be humanoid (or bipedal creature-ish) artifacts, and they are, at least, convenient for our puzzle-solving purposes.
The menagarie itself lies on the ship's bottom level, where we encounter a variety of alien creatures chained up in their stalls. Some are punning inventions, like the VENUSIAN METAL EATERUS, while others are variations on familiar animals: the SATURNIAN PEACOCK, NEPTUNIAN TERMITE, and the intriguingly-named MERCURIAN LAZY CLAM (how can the alien taxonomists tell?) The GALAXIAN WISE OWL will dispense a few semi-cryptic hints if we TALK OWL; one such tip is "ask the cat," and when we find the JUPITORIAN CAT, ASK CAT yields "bring me a pearl and I'll tell you how to escape."
Most of the puzzles from this point on are nested, so most of the work involves trying various possibilities until something works and provides a clue to another puzzle. Some animals can be released using the keys found in the meeting room, while others yield only That key's not on the keychain if we try to UNLOCK CHAIN.
We can unlock the chain of the VENUSIAN METAL EATERUS and take him along; thinking I could use this creature to bite through another animal's chain, I tried to DROP EATERUS near the clam, which yielded Not here, implying that there's a correct place to drop this creature. This is one of a series of such hints, and it turns out that the only place we can drop this particular critter is in the room with the metal wall. Befitting its name, the Venusian Metal Eaterus eats through the metal wall, leading to another room with... a wall of plywood. We can now go back and fetch the NEPTUNIAN TERMITE, enjoying a few comical sound effects as each of these creatures goes about its business.
A tank of water in one stall has an electric eel in it -- picking it up isn't fatal, but we need to find and WEAR GLOVES before we can successfully take it along. We can PUT EEL in the battery clip in the control room, and PULL LEVER to disable a force field that will be an obstacle later on if we haven't done this.
The meeting room also contains a map, with oddly simplistic compass settings for a spacefaring intelligence: MARS: N, EARTH: S. These details will also be important later.
There's a PIECE OF HALF-EATEN CHEESE in one stall, where an EMPTY MINITURE [sic] CHAIN hangs. We can't EAT CHEESE, which is probably a good thing, but we can use it later on to lure a JANUSIAN MOUSE into our grasp.
We can also GET FEATHER from the peacock, and TICKLE CLAM to get a PEARL. This game isn't a treasure hunt, so we can GIVE PEARL to the cat, who claims we can escape on Mars, and that the ship will make a stopover there in approximately 25 turns. If we ASK CAT again, it asks us to bring it a mouse to learn more.
However, it soon develops that the cat has given us bad advice -- if we try to step out of the ship after it lands on Mars, we are immediately gored by an alien bull. On my next attempt, I tracked down the mouse first, and instead of bringing him to the duplicitous cat, I heeded his pleas for mercy and let him go. Freed, the mouse suggests that we need to reroute the ship back to Earth, which does seem like a much better idea.
The wise owl hints that "diamonds cut glass," and the PLUTONIAN DIAMOND-HEAD WOLF seems like a useful animal in that light. Beyond the plywood wall lies a sheet of unbreakable glass - DROP WOLF doesn't work here, as the beast just sits there, but holding the wolf while we CUT GLASS does.
Beyond the glass wall is an even more solid stone wall. To get through it, we have to wait out the ship's Mars stopover. If we're near the entrance, we can see that a MARSIAN BULL comes aboard and disappears, ending up in one of the western stalls on the zoo level. Despite being fatally gored by just such a creature in another life, it turns out that we can simply UNLOCK CHAIN and GET BULL like the other animals. If we DROP BULL in front of the stone wall, then WAVE FLAG toreador style, he will oblige us by breaking it down (and conveniently disappearing afterwards).
Like some of the other SoftSide adventures, menagarie has no QUIT or SAVE GAME commands; we must succeed, or die trying and start over. Or, as a meta-solution, use an emulator with save-state capabilities.
Beyond the various walls we finally discover a navigation chamber with a compass, but the dial is missing; its needle is currently pointing N for Mars, per the map in the meeting room. The dial is nearby, in an alcove; we can now take it to the navigation room and PUT DIAL to install it on the face of the compass. A quick TURN SOUTH, and we are headed back toward Earth.
Of course, now a SENTRY ROBOT appears, blocking our path to the ship's exit. The dial can't be turned back to deactivate the guardian machine, so we have to find another way out. I tried at first to MOVE CARPET in the navigation room, because it looked suspicious, but learned only that It's stuck. Subsequent experiments established that the Venusian Metal Eaterus won't eat the sentry robot, either.
I finally dug into the program code and discovered that at some point the carpet becomes a hole in the floor, so I knew I was on the right track. Further play confirmed that we have to MOVE COMPASS, then GET CARPET (as MOVE CARPET still says It's stuck). Going through the hole, we emerge in the western stall area, and can now navigate out of the ship successfully (if we disabled the force field earlier.) If we've been too efficient here, the game becomes a bit annoying, as just before we wrap it all up, we have to wait around until the ship gets to Earth and opens its door.
Exiting the ship, we find ourselves back on an imperfect Earth, with what may be the least congratulatory ending message I've yet encountered:
I enjoyed playing menagarie -- it's a quick little old-school adventure, and the SoftSide Publications games are not well-known today, so the series is well worth exploring. I'll be taking a look at more of these as time goes on, I'm sure. I didn't find a published walkthrough for this one, so mine is below the fold; it's also been made available at the CASA solution archive.
Well anyways, This adventure is over.
***** WALKTHROUGH *****
[Hit RETURN] (2X)
W, NW, NE
W, W, S, W, W, SW
U, NE, E, SE
NW, W, SW, NW, W, SW
NE, E, SE, D
D, N, NE
S, S, U, E
D, S, SE
NE, N, U, E, E
D, E, E
W, W, U, E, E, E
W, W, W
D, W, W
YES (in answer to cat's question)
E, E, E, NE
SW, W, U
U, NW, W, NW
SE, E, SE, D, SE, E, E
(The ship's door should be open when you get here. Have to kill some time here by moving E/W -- two things need to happen:
-- When JANUSIAN MOUSE scampers up to the CHEESE:
-- After MARSIAN [sic] BULL is escorted aboard, which you may miss seeing, the door will close again; continue)
W, W, NW
D, W, SW
NE, E, U, E, E, E
W, SW, SE, E
E, U, SE, E, E
(Have to wait in this area again, for a considerable time until the door opens to Earth)
GO DOOR (to victory!)