Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Gremlins (1983)

I always like to be topical for the Halloween week, so it seems like a good time to tackle Brian Howarth's Gremlins - The Adventure, casting the player as teen-aged Billy Peltzer from the now-classic dark comedy movie written by Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante.  As the computer game industry matured, and visibility and revenue grew with it, legitimate licensing began to replace the "Space Trak" games of the wild-and-wooly early days, and so it was that Adventure International and Warner Brothers reached an agreement to produce an official Gremlins adventure game (Atari had a license as well, releasing more action-oriented titles for its 2600 and 5200 consoles.)

It's a traditional Scott Adams-format adventure game -- for visual appeal, I'm playing the Sinclair Spectrum ZX version with graphics by Teoman Irmak.  The artwork is rendered using character-mapped images, not vector-and-fill drawings as in earlier Adventure International games on the Speccy; they display much faster, but consume more memory, which may be why several locations lack illustrations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will here note that I am a big Gremlins geek.  This is currently gracing our kitchen:

Interested readers are encouraged, as (almost) always, to experience Gremlins - The Adventure firsthand before proceeding with my playthrough notes below.  The game is very tightly plotted and challenging, with only a few obtuse puzzles that can generally be figured out as other possibilities are eliminated.

We begin in immediate danger, as a GREMLIN throws a dart at us!  (The game's text tends to emphasize the registered trademarks of Warner Bros. Studios.)  We have only one move to react, and my decision to check Inventory (and find nothing there) proved fatal.  Restarting, we can DUCK to avoid the first dart, but a second one is shortly on its way.  The gremlin seems to have an endless supply, and we can't JUMP or CRAWL to find another way to avoid them, or GET GREMLIN to interfere.  Our only apparent option is to run DOWN the stairs to the living room.

Of course, there's another Gremlin here, but he seems unarmed and there's a tempting sword on the wall, as well as a PELTZER Remote Control (which, based on inventor/Dad Randall Peltzer's track record, isn't likely to be reliable or effective.)  We can GET SWORD and KILL GREMLIN -- the head lands in the fireplace.  (If memory serves, this moment was in the shooting script but portrayed less graphically in the actual film -- Gremlins was one of the PG movies that helped establish the need for the PG-13 rating.)

The sword is useless against the dart-thrower upstairs.  Venturing into the kitchen, we see a microwave oven, a closed laundry chute, and another Gremlin standing on the blender.  Can we START BLENDER?  No... but trying to OPEN CHUTE suggests we PRESS BUTTON... and when we do this, it actually starts the microwave and cooks a gremlin already in it.  Another PRESS BUTTON starts the blender, and we've blended that one into green goo.  The carnage is piling up fast!  A third PRESS BUTTON, and the laundry chute opens to reveal...

Billy's pal GIZMO, the little MOGWAI!   While the game's artwork is generally pretty good, the likeness of Gizmo leaves something to be desired -- he calls to mind an irritated Fred Flintstone in a bat costume:

It seems appropriate to GET GIZMO and take him along, for cuteness' sake if nothing else.  And we can also PUSH BUTTON two more times -- is this what point-and-click adventures started out like? -- to open the drawer and LOOK in it twice, acquiring a kitchen knife and a spark igniter.  Presumably further gremlin abuse lies in our very near future.

Leaving the house through the open front door, we arrive in the Peltzer driveway.  Heading north leads to a road into town; south takes us to Mr. Futterman's garage, where there's a snow plough (more common as a UK spelling) and a ladder.  We can GET LADDER; EXAMINE PLOUGH reveals controls etc., but we can't seem to do anything much here at the moment.

Heading into town, we find more evidence of the game's United Kingdom origins, as we encounter a Petrol Station to the east.  We can enter the station to see a service bay with a pit, containing a welding torch, gas bottle, valve & pipe.  I don't know if we need these, so we'll just make note for now.

Further down the road, we find Dorry's Tavern, where Zach's girlfriend Kate works in the movie.... though there are a bunch of Gremlins in here, and no sign of her.  We can't hang around too long before being savaged by the Gremlins.  There's also a gang of the creatures blocking the village square north of Dorry's?  No, they're just depicted in some locations and not in others once they start following us around.

At the east end of our small town is a Department Store, a Cinema, and the same bunch of Gremlins.  Just like in the movie, the cinema is showing Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (though this is only hinted at in the artwork and never explicitly stated in the text, probably because the license did not include permission to use the Disney property.)  It seems we're being pursued by trouble now, as the gang of gremlins is still following us around, and as we go into the department store we hear an engine start.  We'd better get out, as we shouldn't be near the movie's ending yet.  (This proves to be a bad assumption on my part, anyway, as unlike the movie, the game does not end in the department store!)

In the cinema, we can access the projection room and START PROJECTOR to disperse the gang of gremlins as they go to watch one of executive producer Steven Spielberg's favorite movies.  Unfortunately, as we exit the theatre we are instantly killed by a Snow-Plough driven by Gremlins.  Is this a timing device?  Is that the motor we heard starting earlier?

Backtracking to an earlier saved game, we can go to the west side of town to visit the Y.M.C.A -- things are quiet now, but there's likely to be a Gremlin population explosion here soon, courtesy of the swimming pool where everybody can get themselves wet after midnight.  We can head this possibility off by GOing into the POOL and GETting the PLUG, draining the water away.  Good, I hope.

In town, to the north, we find a mail box, but can't seem to do anything with it.  And I get hit by a gremlin-driven snow plough again.  So... it seems like the puzzles aren't really too difficult here, if one is familiar with the movie -- the key is to do everything as quickly as possible!  Let's check out the department store before we start over for efficiency's sake.

The Hardware Department has an electric drill, a hacksaw, a smashed bent, a display counter, and a power mains outlet (i.e., a standard wall socket.)  There's some jointing tape on the counter if we look there.  There are also some stairs leading up, and a spare room with a smashed vent and, in my playthrough, a returning gang of gremlins who pursue us from room to room as before.

The second floor has a reception room, with another smashed vent.  The third floor has corridors, with doors; we can access a few small offices, where we see more smashed vents.  Are we supposed to be closing these vents or something?  The fourth floor has a corridor with a locked door, and there's a trap door in the ceiling.

Running back downstairs with the gremlins in hot pursuit, we see nothing much of use in the sports department, and a toy department where I was hoping to find a little car for Gizmo to drive (as seen in the film) but came up empty.  I grabbed the jointing tape from the Hardware department but was unable to FIX VENT or REPAIR VENT with it.

So it seems we've mapped out most of the world -- what to do next?  We can get the welding equipment from the petrol station, but the snow-plough is rampaging around already.  Time to start over.

This time, I stop by the station and liberate the welding equipment before going to Dorry's.  We need to figure out how to use this stuff as a weapon.  OPEN VALVE turns on the gas.  IGNITE TORCH uses the spark igniter to light it.  But can we FIX TAPE or FIX TORCH to finish the job? 

Hmmm... if we DROP GIZMO in the department store, he jumps into the Vent system.  Maybe he has something in mind?  With the ladder, we can enter the trapdoor in the fourth floor ceiling to reach the roof of the department store.  But eventually the gang of gremlins arrives and we're dead if we are spending too much time trying to figure things out.

So... what else?  We can WELD CONTROLS to keep the snow-plough from getting out of the garage, that should help.  And we already know how to occupy the gang of gremlins when it manifests.  With that done, we are out of immediate danger, but what to do?  There doesn't seem to be anything to do on the roof, and we haven't dealt with the gremlins at Dorry's yet.

We can't BURN TAVERN, and eventually another gang of gremlins arrives -- actually, the movie ended, it appears, so we can return to the cinema and start the projector up again to occupy them for a while.  It seems we should be moving the story toward some sort of climax now, but how?  And what about the mailbox?

Hmmmmm.  What haven't we tried?  There's still one live gremlin at the house.  We couldn't kill him with the sword, but the kitchen knife works and we can now acquire the flashlight (the empty gremlin pods and leftover chicken scraps are beyond my Power to carry, apparently.)  It's interesting that this Howarth game contains both a torch and a flashlight, I have mistaken the European usage of "torch" both ways while playing his earlier games.

Can we find some stationery in the department store office and send a letter to the Chinese shop where Mr. Peltzer got Gizmo in the first place to summon help?  Apparently not; adventure games are usually much more concrete than that idea would require.  Can we mail anything else?  Most items produce a slightly misleading I don't understand you response, but MAIL FLASHLIGHT produces an evil giggle from the mailbox?

We can GO BAR inside Dorry's -- there are beer pumps with a half-inch diameter plastic pipe attached, and a camera.  GET CAMERA, PRESS BUTTON, and the flashbulb causes all the gremlins to flee.  We can CUT PIPE using the hacksaw too.

Returning to the YMCA to take care of the pool, which I hadn't done yet in this, my umpteenth attempt, I realize that the DROP ALL command is handy, but each drop actually consumes a turn, so if we try to do that while there's a gang of gremlins around, we die after the third drop!  Oops.

Recovering again, can we open the mailbox?  Do we want to?  While trying to do so, I end up using the camera too many times to ward off roaming gangs -- it apparently will only flash twice, so it fails as a gremlin-dispersing tactic after that.  I should probably restart and save that second flash.  We can't OPEN MAILBOX or KNOCK MAILBOX or CUT MAILBOX or SAW MAILBOX.  Ah -- but we can CUT MAILBOX with the welding torch, except An arm whips out from box and closes valve!  And does so repeatedly.  Hmmmm.  Can we tape the valve open?  Apparently not.

Oh, here's an idea that will force me to restore to a point prior to my error -- what happens if the flashlight is lit when I put it in the mailbox?  That makes more sense.  We now see that  STRIPE the GREMLIN jumps out and runs off!  And now we can use the torch to CUT MAILBOX... into little metal plates?  Ah, maybe this is how we cover the vents all over the department store.  That's going to be quite a job.  We'll UNLIGHT our recovered FLASHLIGHT in case we need it later.

Gangs of gremlins continue to appear, so we repeatedly have to play projectionist to keep them occupied.  I'm feeling like I don't really want Gizmo to enter the vent system, as it feels like the idea is to trap the gremlins in the vents.  And then maybe pump gas in?  Now the tools in the hardware store make sense.  (This possible ending differs from the film, which gave Gizmo a much more prominent role.)

Back in the store's hardware department, we have to PLUG DRILL, then DRILL PLATE; it drills a hole in the plate on the wall, not one of the plates we have in hand.  Hmmmm.  We can't TAPE PIPE to the plate.  JOIN PIPE seems to be recognized, but I can't do that just now.

What else?  There's still that locked door on the upper floor -- ah, Gizmo does need to go into the vent system to open the door for us.  Now we can weld that vent shut, and seal all the other ones, leaving the one on the roof open; wait for the gremlins to arrive; use the camera flash to scare them into the vent; and WELD PLATE one last time to seal the gremlins inside the vent system.

Now what?  We can DROP BOTTLE, GET TAPE, JOIN PIPE... nope, still can't join it. If we CUT PIPE... all the Gas escaped!  I don't stand a chance now! I'm DEAD!!  Remembering to CLOSE VALVE first works better.  We have to INSERT PIPE, also, so that we have a Pipe from bottle to plate visible onscreen.

Have we rounded up all of the gremlins?  They're not in the movie theatre anymore, and I haven't seen the gang turn up for a while.  I'm glad I had gone outside looking for a way to ignite the gas, as in fact it's just a matter of time before... Boooommm! Gas exploded! I destroyed all the GREMLINS except... STRIPE the GREMLIN knocks me down!

Fortunately we have drained the YMCA pool, so the boss gremlin's last attempt to produce a new army fails, as he jumps into the empty pool, and the sun comes out just in time to fry him.  But the game isn't quite over yet... do we need to go back home?  Fortunately, it seems Gizmo is okay with the sun out -- bright light isn't bothering him at this point... wait, what happened?  STRIPE recovered and reached water, you say?  And we're dead again, with the town overrun by gremlins?  How did that happen?

We can't leave Gizmo at home -- he follows us around, so it's probably safer to carry him.  Restoring and waiting for the explosion again... okay, I see what I missed.  Stripe has thudded into the pool, but he isn't dead yet, just dazed.  We have to drop everything, GO POOL, GET STRIPE and carry him outside.  And as soon as he hits the sunlight, victory is ours!

Mr. Howarth maintains a tight sense of urgency in this game, with some threats that can be contained and some that must just be dealt with, and it makes for a challenging but not unfairly frustrating experience.  It's interesting to see a few differences between the game and the film, especially the substantially different ending, which helps keep the experience fresh while preserving some of the key moments fans will remember from the movie.  We still have a few Brian Howarth games to tackle -- he produced this and several more games after his Mysterious Adventures series ended, and I'm sure you'll be seeing more of his work featured here in future.

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