WARNING! This review spoils some of the puzzles and plot points of the Infocom game “Wishbringer.” If you intend to play this game yourself and/or wish to go in completely blind, then stop reading right here.
Here is a conversation I had once. A friend of mine, who is normally very bright but prone to those kinds of mood swings that sometimes deny common sense, was trying to defend people who judged games based on their graphics. At one point, he said “You wouldn’t play a game that had no graphics at all, would you?”
To which I unhesitantly responded, “Yes I would. Zork is actually pretty fun.”
And I wasn’t just being flip, either. Back when I first played the original Zork my initial thought was “an all-text game? Well, might as well have a whack at it…” and I didn’t stop playing until I had not just beaten it, but found what I thought was the quickest path to all the treasures. Too bad I can’t remember any of it and wasn’t in the habit of writing stuff down.
Which brings me to Wishbringer. When I got The Lost Treasures of Interplay Volume II (I had Volume II before Volume 1) for some reason this was the game I was most interested in playing despite knowing almost nothing about it. If I had to guess, I’d say that since I hadn’t touched a text adventure (or even a point-n-click adventure) in years by this point, maybe it just felt safer and more familiar re-baptising myself with a fantasy-themed game that I had heard had some connections to Zork. Better to see a movie with an old friend than with a stranger (or even alone) I guess.
Wishbringer stars You as a post-office worker in the little town of Festeron, where one day you are told to deliver a special message to Ye Old Magick Shoppe before it closes. This part is timed but fortunately the time limit is quite generous and you can explore a bit first, finding lots of items, most optional, but at least one will be required later in the game.
Incidentally, in stand-alone prints of the game, the envelope you’re delivering (and the message it contains) was an actual physical printed object in the game box which you would open when the game tells you to. There was also a postal codes map which is necessary later on. In Lost Treasures II both of these are in the manual.
It turns out, somebody called “the Evil One” has kidnapped Ye Old Magick Shoppe lady’s cat, Chaos, and holds her hostage in exchange for “the stone.” Thus, your quest: Rescue Chaos. As a cat-lover myself, I was completely sympathetic. One additional complication is thrown your way though: Festeron has been turned into an evil town called Witchville. It’s sort of like Silent Hill except far sillier and without that whole “manifesting your inner demons” nonsense… unless the Evil One has some really bizarre things going on in her head.
(Incidentally, this quest is also timed, but the time limit is so generous that you’ll never exceed it unless you make a determined effort to do so)
I beat this game completely without a walkthru, scoring a full 100 points, although I didn’t do it on my first try.
See, when I play adventure games, I don’t save my game on the first attempt (autosaves don’t count). The first time in, I’m just “easing myself in” and messing around, not being too serious but instead experimenting to see what I can and can’t get away with. That way, on the second playthrough, I can be more time-conscious because I know what to do and what to avoid doing, and likely have figured a fast sequence for all of it.
Adventure games are pretty much the only genre where you have this luxury. In an RPG or an FPS, you might always fight Battle X in Level Y, but maybe you’re having a sugar crash or your cat jumps on the keyboard and thus you end up doing worse than normal, or other times you do exceedingly well, so you pretty much have to save afterwards. With adventure games tho, once you know “press B to Blow at Point X” then blowing at point X will always work, with pretty much the same results, every single time. I’ve only seen a few adventure games that are exceptions. So really, saving is almost pointless because if you die or mess up its very easy (albeit somewhat tedious) to retrace your steps, and I only start saving once I’m hooked and determined to see my quest through to the end.
… Or when I want to find some way to keep the mailbox.
Yeah, one of the damn cutest sequences in Wishbringer is there is this little mailbox that comes to life, and then starts rubbing up on you like a loving kitten, following you all around Witchville. And yes, you can pet it, say nice things to it, hug it and all that, and it very much likes the attention.
So it saddened me when I realized you probably were supposed to use it to solve a puzzle somewhere, which probably results in it either leaving or being destroyed, and after this realization I found the only thing you could do with it is make it fight another mailbox, which doesn’t seem to have a point. I’m going to go ahead and spoil this now because when I found out, I leaped for joy: The little mailbox turns up, alive and well, at the end of the game, even if it fights the other mailbox.
Okay, so how does one judge an adventure game? Well, I later learned that Wishbringer was intended as an entry-level game for newbie adventurers, and indeed I found most of the puzzles fairly straightforward. There was only one treacherous one, and this leads into another funny story.
Okay, so the Magick Shoppe woman asks you to save her cat. The only thing she gives you to help this mission is a metal can, which I quickly learned had a rattlesnake in it that you could scare a troll with. I noticed though that after using it like this, you could pick the can up again. Now, in most adventure games, once you use an item, it’s gone, so if it’s ever not gone that’s usually saying “there’s something else you can do with this.” So I picked it up, got a message that there was a rattling in it, and just assumed that the snake regenerates so I can scare more people with it. It was only when I tried this very tactic later on that I was told “the can is already open” and was like “huh?”
Looking inside the can revealed a false bottom, which you could open by squeezing the can, and out pops a stone…
Okay, I had spent three-fourths of the game thinking the eponymous Wishbringer was hidden somewhere in the game world, and ignoring the possibility of using a wish to solve any of the puzzles because I simply didn’t have the stone yet. So imagine my surprise when I found out that I had it on me the entire time! Although, it was just as well, because honestly going by the description in the manual, most of the wishes are borderline-useless (and one of them is an out-and-out trap which will result in an instant game over) and there’s a more practical, non-magickal solution to all the puzzles that a wish would solve. As long-desired items of great power go, the Wishbringer is honestly kind of lame. It at least serves other functions though: It’s a light source in dark places (making the candle redundant) and it’s used to solve the final puzzle, though not by making a wish.
One thing that might be a pain to some people (mostly babies) is that this is an adventure game where you have limited inventory space, so sometimes you will have to drop items to make room for others. There are also a couple of “heavy” or “bulky” items that require you to either carry them and almost nothing else, or else can’t fit through some narrow openings–altho in at least one such case, its actually a puzzle where you have to think of a way to take the object in question with you through said opening (a puzzle which I figured out right off the bat).
If this sounds daunting, its not. The fact is, if you “drop” an item somewhere, it will still be there when you come back to claim it… though I must admit I NEVER dropped stuff in the vicinity of NPCs or where the Boot Patrol was likely to go. Also, most of those “heavy” or “bulky” items have usually just one intended use in the game and its usually easy to see what it is, and once you’ve figured that out then you can dump it wherever. It’s really only these “bulky” items that will be a snag, as smaller items will pretty much always fit in your pockets. Really, I think only like seven or eight items in the entire game are absolutely essential to success, and only a few of those are of the “keep on hand at all times once you’ve found them” variety.
In addition, Wishbringer likes to warn players whenever their passing a point of no return, by saying something like “You better SAVE now.” So if you go into a place where you find out you need a specific item, don’t have it, and don’t have an earlier save to reload to, then its your own damn fault. Hey, the game warned you!
So, basically, did I like Wishbringer?
Yes, yes I did. It was by no means a revelatory experience but it was a satisfying and fun one that woke up long-dormant parts of my psyche and challenged my brain in ways it hadn’t been challenged enough recently, although only lightly so. As an “introduction” to text adventures it very much accomplishes its job.
It gets bonus points for having that adorable mailbox.
So now, the question is, “which text adventure shall I embark on next?” I’ve been sort of easing-into Colossal Cave Adventure, The Lurking Horror and replaying the original Zork, but as yet, nothing is definite. Maybe I’ll do something completely different.
Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?