A longtime reader commented on last week's The Dark Crystal post to remind me that Sierra released a simplified version of the game a few years later, using the same illustrations, called Gelfling Adventure. Since I'm pressed for blogging time this week, and its predecessor is fresh in my mind, this seemed a fine opportunity to see how this alternate version compares to the original.
Released in 1984, a few years after the original game and the Jim Henson movie that inspired it, Gelfling Adventure is aimed at younger players. Some of the darker story content is toned down, the map and plot are simplified to fit the game onto one double-sided disk, and it uses a simple choice-based interface, similar to Sierra's earlier Dragon's Keep. Almost all the artwork is reused as-is from The Dark Crystal, with numerous scenes dropped for space reasons, but the new title screen utilizes early digitization technology, which might have helped the first game out visually had it been available in 1982:
If you're going to play one of these two games, I'd recommend the original The Dark Crystal over this simplified edition, just because it feels more like a proper adventure game than this choice-based redesign. But feel free to satisfy your curiosity about this version with my playthrough notes below, which are, as always, certain to contain...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
As the game opens, JEN IS PLAYING THE FLUTE -- there's no need to find it by digging with a piece of shale, so this is closer to the film's opening. The Mystics are here referred to as THE OLD ONES, and as in the original game, we can't really do anything meaningful before one such creature arrives to summon Jen to the dying Ursu's side. We have some conversation options -- we can say HELLO or GOODBYE or take a nap instead -- but we're not allowed to say goodbye before saying hello, and if we choose to sleep we dream that we must rush to the cave of Ursu, so the message gets through anyway.
Since I've played the original game, I'll opt to navigate to the west and then take a detour to the north to see what might be different. In this version, Jen explicitly notices that the Valley of Stones casts shadows pointing to the top of a small hill, and there's no path here, just a tree which we're not allowed to explore at this time. We still have some freedom to wander and avoid our destiny -- we can visit the pond with the lily pads, though if we try to communicate with them, we're informed that the animals' mothers have advised them not to talk to strangers, replacing the Dr. Doolittle joke used in the original game.
There doesn't seem to be a time limit here -- the dying Old One hangs on until we reach him -- but we're also not really able to do much beyond visiting Ursu's cave. We do have the opportunity to glance at his bowl to see the image of the Crystal, and Ursu's advice is much simpler, replacing a few screens of text with the more direct "FIND AUGHRA. SHE HAS SHARD LIKE THAT ONE. USE IT TO FIX DARK CRYSTAL." (The puppet characters -- created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, so this was not technically a Muppet production -- all talk like cartoon cavemen in this version of the game, for some reason, while they were much more articulate in the movie and the original adventure.)
We don't have a lot of options for exploration in this version -- much of the swamp, mountain and forest map is cut out. After Ursu passes away, we are given the option of going straight to Aughra's dome... but that doesn't actually work, so we will have to explore a bit within the constraints of the reduced map.
That tree on the hill is being emphasized as we exit the cave, and now that we're past our visit to Ursu, Jen is allowed to dig at its base (with his hands, apparently) to find a shiny golden key. We can now talk to the frog-like creature in the swamp, though he's not helpful -- he tells Jen to "GET LOST," and Jen innocently says that he already is. We don't have to mess with the lily pads at all -- we can just wade north through the swamp to the location where the babbling brook was found in The Dark Crystal, but here it's just a dry patch of land with some shiny pebbles obviously visible.
When Jen touches them, we hear a loud crash of thunder, but he is allowed to take these "MAGIC PEBBLES" and there's no sling available in Gelfling Adventure. After doing this, Jen is lost in the swamp, and can choose to follow various passing creatures and sounds, some of which lead back to his starting point. I feel like I'm headed in the right direction as I head out of the swamp toward the mountains and we're advised that "TIME IS RUNNING OUT" to urge us along, even though there's no real time limit here. I wander into the northern swamp, where Jen finds himself trapped by some vines, and as in the 1982 title, Aughra rescues Jen. We don't have to answer a riddle in this version of the game; we can just tell Aughra we're looking for a shard, and she leads Jen to her observatory.
Here we only have three shard color choices, as compared to four in The Dark Crystal -- if we choose to play the flute, the melody is different, but the blue crystal glows as expected. I am surprised to discover that we are actually allowed to take the wrong crystal, but if we do we don't get very far before Jen "accidentally" drops it and we end up back at Aughra's, sparing young players the more substantial frustrations possible in the 1982 Hi-Res adventure.
If we pick the blue crystal shard, the Garthim soldiers show up right on cue, and we can "choose" to escape (we can try to save Aughra or fight the Garthim, but those don't pan out and we're given another shot at the expected action, i.e. jumping out the window.)
Now Jen needs to find the Dark Crystal; we don't need to do anything fancy, we can just head toward the Pod People village, where we can "ASK THE VILLAGE PEOPLE FOR HELP." (Perhaps Henson's whole story concept was just a metaphor for the ravages of disco?)
To meet Jen and Fizzgig, we have to intentionally head back to the east, get Jen lost in the swamp and select the CALL FOR HELP option. Jen and Kira are introduced to each other telepathically via Dreamfasting when they touch hands, and the text confirms that Jen and Kira are not close relatives, just surviving Gelflings, something that was left open to interpretation in The Dark Crystal.
We don't have to solve any puzzles around the beetle shell, but our heroes still use it to paddle downstream and return to the Pod People village. On the way downstream, we see a crystal bat flying overhead, and Jen is able to use Kira's slingshot to knock it out of the sky, referencing a puzzle that was apparently designed but never fully implemented in The Dark Crystal.
There's a continuity bug here, as the Pod People seem never to have seen Jen before despite our earlier visit -- they're suddenly afraid of him, whereas he seemed unremarkable just a little while earlier. But this is a minor plot point, as Kira smooths things over and everyone shares a meal.
The important thing to do now is to talk to the Pod People again; they tell us how to find the Castle of the Skeksis -- "GO WEST, SOUTH, AND THEN WEST FROM LANDSTRIDER HILL." We can't proceed to do that, though, until we opt to DANCE TO THE MUSIC and then flee the Garthim warrior that arrives (summoned by the deep throbbing rhythms of the village discotheque, no doubt.) We can opt to drop the magic pebbles we picked up earlier, creating a crash of thunder that frightens the beetle soldier away.
Continuing to flee, Jen and Kira discover the ancient Gelfling hieroglyphs, called GELFLING PICTURE WRITING here for the benefit of younger players, with no mention of the ruined village. We had to discover these on our own in The Dark Crystal, and the displayed image still depicts the flute, though it's not mentioned in the text.
Now Fizzgig is barking, and investigation reveals a Skeksis lurking nearby -- I think this is partially new artwork, as this scenario didn't occur in my playthrough of The Dark Crystal. He invites us to follow him, but it seems more prudent to flee to Landstrider Hill, climbing aboard the creatures and following the Pod People's directions to reach the castle, where Jen and Kira encounter a group of Garthim soldiers.
At this point, I make the wrong choice, jumping off the landstriders and allowing Jen and Kira to be captured by the Skeksis! The Crystal is left unrepaired as the three moons come together, and the game does in fact end unhappily! We are allowed to read either the good news or the bad news first -- the bad news being that we've lost the game, the good that we can try again. But there's no quick recovery offered -- we have to start over from the beginning, an unusual penalty in a game meant for younger players.
On the retry (from a saved AppleWin emulator state, in my case; the game has no save function as far as I can tell), I discover that, while we can wander around a bit on the landstriders, dead ends and the setting sun drive us inevitably toward the Castle of the Skeksis, even if we didn't learn about the recommended route earlier in the village.
Choosing to ride into battle on the landstriders this time, we experience a similar scenario to the one in the movie and the earlier game -- we are knocked off the landstriders, and our only real option is to JUMP OFF OF THE CLIFF. Kira's wings appear and Jen automatically grabs on to her legs, so there's really no choice to make until we hit the ground.
There are still some fatal scenarios possible here -- upon discovering the entrance into the castle, if we opt to SHOUT AND JUMP FOR JOY then our Gelfling heroes are captured and the story ends badly. Choosing to follow Fizzgig into the opening is more productive, and we actually do have to navigate a simpler version of the sewer maze to find our way into the castle.
As in the original game, a Skeksis appears and kidnaps Kira and Fizzgig, leaving Jen trapped by a rockslide, though there's a difference here as Jen is actually trapped under the rocks and must move them. After doing this, however, we skip some navigational puzzles present in the earlier design as Jen simply finds himself inside the castle.
We don't have to hide behind the curtain in the Skeksis' dining room, and Jen's not really in danger of being captured here, so we can listen to their conversation to remind us that Jen needs to heal the Crystal. And we don't have to hide in a closet to avoid wandering Skeksis -- we can just use the door at the end of the hall to find and free Aughra (actually, she won't let Jen free her, as there's "NO TIME FOR THAT!" This is allowed, but actually optional, in the original game.)
We're close to the end of the game now, and the story is very linear from this point on; any wrong move is either neutral or ends the game with Jen's capture by the Skeksis. To succeed, we must go through a big wooden door, unlocking it using the gold key we found earlier, then jump to the Crystal from a balcony, dropping the shard in the process. As in the earlier game, Kira throws it back, but in this toned-down version of the story, instead of being stabbed by one of the Skeksis, Kira is simply knocked fatally to the floor.
Jen heals the crystal using the blue shard, and some Old Ones arrive, merging with the Skeksis to unify both species into new creatures called the UrSkeks. The Dark Crystal didn't clearly incorporate this aspect of the movie's plot -- perhaps because a final puzzle was needed, requring a Gelfling kiss to wrap things up, or maybe the scripted ending was modified after the game was underway. At any rate, in this version, the UrSkeks restore Kira to health, as thanks for Jen's help.
We're offered an opportunity to see our score, and after a simple congratulatory message -- CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE WON "GELFLING ADVENTURE" -- we're told how many moves it took us to finish, 138 in my case, with 66 suggested as a target for improvement.
The existence of Gelfling Adventure suggests that The Dark Crystal itself was not a big seller, and this alternate version may have been designed to squeeze a little more revenue out of Sierra's Henson license, some while after the movie was released. But online sources suggest this remake was not marketed well, did not sell well (the movie's unspectacular box office results likely providing little support in these pre-VHS days), and is quite rare today as a result.
Still, it's a unique example of a studio implementing two different versions of the same basic adventure game design, and I'm glad I took the time to tackle it this week. It also reminds me that Sierra Online published several other menu-driven adventures for young players during the pre-King's Quest years, and now I'll have to try to knock those off my to-play list as well.