Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Priority Adventure 5: Mystery Fun House (1979)

Blatant IP theft was much easier to
get away with in 1979


My catch-up run of Scott Adams adventures continues with his seventh game, Mystery Fun House.  The cover above indicates that this is another spy adventure, a genre that Adams has already tackled with Secret Mission.  And not only is it a spy adventure, it's one where you apparently play James Bond, agent 007 himself.  Did Scott Adams actually pay for the rights to use the potentially lucrative Bond franchise in his game?  Hahaha it's the computer game industry in 1979, what do you think?

Unfortunately, none of the above is readily apparent if you're just playing the game.  Boot up Mystery Fun House and you're seemingly a regular shmoe standing in front of the titular funhouse with no way to get in.  There's nothing to indicate that you're Bond, that you're a spy, or even what your mission is.  As you'll see, discovering what your mission is won't happen until you figure out a certain puzzle; this could happen early on, or it could happen right near the end.  For some players it might never happen.  Ah well, at least it's not another treasure hunt I guess.

Mystery Fun House was initially released in 1979 for the TRS-80 and the Apple II.  I played it almost a year ago on the TRS-80, but for this replay I've switched to the Apple II version.  I think I'll be playing the Apple II versions of these games going forward, if only for my own peace of mind.  I have grown sort of fond of the TRS-80 aesthetic, but getting games to run on that emulator can be a real pain.

The Man That Be Holdin' Gum

The game begins in front of the funhouse, with a ticket counter and a sign that read as follows: "PARK CLOSES AT MIDNIGHT. SHOES REQUIRED AT ALL TIMES. MANAGEMENT NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS!! CAUTION THIS PARK IS DANGEROUS!"  I was carrying some shoes, a watch, and some hard, dry chewing gum.  SCORE didn't bring up anything, and HELP simply told me to "try examining things".  Examining my watch told me that I had 595 turns until midnight, so the game had a hard limit. Time to get cracking.

Trying to enter the funhouse got me kicked out by a bouncer, so I went to the counter instead.  The ticket lady told me that tickets were a dollar, so obviously I needed to find some cash.  (Don't think I've ever seen a movie where James Bond gets stopped because he's not carrying any loose change.)

The only obvious exit was to the east, which led to a parking lot where I saw a dead tree, a rusty grate (closed), and a 5 dollar bill.  I quickly grabbed the bill and took it back to the counter, only for the ticket lady to tear it up, as "a $5 grocery bill ain't money bub!".  I knew that was too easy, but it's hard to be mad about being harmlessly tricked by a terrible pun.

Back in the parking lot, I started looking around.  The tree had a bare branch that I was able to take, and the grate led to a drain with a shiny coin at the bottom.  The gate was held shut by two big bolts, and my arm was too short to reach the coin, but the solution to this one was fairly evident.  I chewed my gum until it was soft, stuck it to the end of the branch, and used it to pick up the coin.  (I complained in Strange Odyssey about the tendency for adventure games to feature a difficult puzzle that blocks progress right out of the gate.  This is the opposite; progress is blocked quite early, but the puzzle to get through is simple and logical.  I much prefer this design: give the player an easy victory early to make them feel smart, then hit them with the hard stuff later.)

Cointaker

With the coin I was able to buy a ticket, but when I tried to go inside the bouncer still tossed me out.  I eventually figured out that I needed to wear the shoes I was carrying.  (Again, Bond going around barefoot?  Terribly out of character.)  This allowed me to get inside, but I noticed as I walked around that my heel was loose.  I've learned that nothing in these games is pointless, so I spent a while messing about with my shoes, trying to open the heel.  Eventually I tried REMOVE HEEL, and a short fuse fell out.  Obviously I was going to need to blow something up later.  I also found a letter, that read as follows: "James: we must get the plans back by tonight! We believe they're hidden within his fun house! Signed, M. P.S. Q says enjoy the gum!"  Okay, so I'm definitely playing Bond, and I'm looking for some secret plans that have been hidden in the funhouse.  I'm always happier playing a game when I know what the hell it is I'm supposed to be doing.

The first room of the funhouse featured a strange mirror, in which I could see distorted images of myself.  There was nothing I could do here, and breaking the mirror got me thrown out for vandalism (requiring that I restart), so I moved on.

The next area was the obligatory Windy Maze, with exits heading off in all directions.  This one only had four areas, and I was able to map it by dropping items with little difficulty.  At this point a maze like this feels like half-hearted padding, the sort of things that's included in an adventure game because it's expected.  At least here it's not out of keeping with the theme, I suppose.

The maze led to a small room, then another chamber with a low ceiling, where the door closed behind me   In this chamber was a skeleton, and three knobs on the wall (yellow, green and blue).  The skeleton collapsed into a pile of bones when I touched it, and I was able to take the bones with me.  There was an exit to the west, but pressing the knobs opened up other areas to explore:

  • Pulling the yellow knob allowed me to go back the way I came, through the maze.
  • Pulling the blue knob opened an area where I found a fortune telling machine and a sign saying that it was out of order.  Sure enough, the machine fizzled when I tried to activate it.  In another room I found a loud steam calliope and a merry-go-round.  Pressing the nearby blue button stopped the merry-go-round, but the calliope was so loud that I couldn't concentrate to do anything else.
  • Pulling the green knob opened into an area where I found a small trampoline I could take with me.  The next room was a shooting gallery, where I found a mounted gun pointing into a window with some clay pigeons on the other side.  I was able to shoot some clay pigeons to no discernible effect.  With little else to do here, I took some spectacles I found on the floor and left.

The west exit from the knob room led to a room with a water tank.  Peering through a window I saw a mermaid inside, waving at me.  I waved back, and continued up a sloping hallway.  Halfway up on a landing I came to a slippery slide, with a sign saying that it was for authorised personnel only.  A gentle blast of air was blowing up my leg for unknown reasons.  Figuring that getting back up might be difficult, I decided to ignore the slide for now and continue exploring elsewhere.

An eastern passage from the landing led to a "windy hall", which led back to the "windy maze", so I guess that explains the air blowing up my leg in a punny sort of way.  Heading further up a rickety staircase, I came to a ledge over a deep pit.  A ladder led down, with a sign that also indicated it was only for authorised personnel.

Ignoring the pit for now, I took a passage east and found myself in a rolling barrel room.  Here I found a comb and a match, but due to the rolling I was unable to get out as I kept falling flat on my face.  A ROLL command did the trick, and allowed me to get back out to the ledge.  (I was having trouble with my inventory limit at this point: having to carry the shoes and the ticket around at all times is a bit of a hindrance.)

Facefall

I decided to climb down the ladder into the pit, only to find that the ladder retracted and left me trapped.  In the pit were a locked door and a warm pipe with a valve on it.  I had no key for the door, and there was no handle to turn the valve, so there was nothing I could do down here at the moment.  Luckily I had the trampoline with me, so I was able to jump back up and out of the pit.

The only place I had left to explore was the slippery slide, which led inside the water tank with the mermaid.  Also here was a closed drain, some water, and a rusty key.  As I predicted, the slide was too slippery to climb back up.  The mermaid was described as "pretty, but with snarled hair", so I gave her the comb.  She thanked me and turned a hidden knob that opened a secret door that led back up to the landing.  (You can also open the drain, which lets out the water and the mermaid with it.  Doing this before giving her the comb puts you in an inescapable position though.)

A View to a Gill

With the rusty key I went back to the pit, only to discover that it didn't unlock the door down there.  So I was stuck, with no obvious path forward.  The grate, the shooting gallery, the mirror, and the room with the calliope and merry-go-round seemed like the best places to investigate right now, so I spent some time mucking about with those.  Eventually I hit on the idea of wearing the spectacles while looking at the mirror, and when I did the mirror showed me a hidden door.  The door in the mirror led to an observation chamber, where I found a valve handle and yet another locked door.  Frustratingly enough, my key didn't work here either.

With the valve handle I went back to the pit, and this time I was able to turn the valve.  It had no immediately obvious effect, but upon some more exploration I discovered that the steam calliope was now quiet.  Aha, that explains the warm pipe!  I was now able to get onto the ride, with a laborious sequence that involved typing GO RIDE, GO HORSE, and GO POLE.  On top of the ride I spotted a rope (to which I was clued in by a piece of hemp falling on my head), but it was a little out of my reach.  Alas, when I tried to jump the moving ride threw me to my death.  I guess I needed to stop it with that blue button after all...

After a reload I climbed the rope onto a landing where there was yet another locked door that my key wouldn't fit.  An exit east led to a storeroom, where I found a wrench and yet another locked door.  Thankfully I could unlock this one, and behind it I found some shelves and a flashlight.  There was also a red knob, but I have no idea what this one activated.

Armed with the wrench, I went all the way back to the carpark outside and was able to use it to remove one of the bolts.  After doing this I could move the grate to reveal an open manhole cover.  (This took a while to find the right command; MOVE and SLIDE GRATE both worked.)  This predictably led down into a sewer and through an open flood door, where I found a dark hole with a grate welded over it.

At this point, after much banging my head against various dead ends, I consulted a walkthrough.  It turns out that I needed to make a bomb to blow up the grate.  This was done by sticking the fuse in the gum, sticking the gum to the grate, and lighting the fuse with the match.  I'd thought of the fuse, but assumed I needed an explosive of some sort to attach it to.  That the fuse and the gum would be enough to blow up the grate never occurred to me.

Anyway, my problems weren't over when I did this, because a guard heard the explosion and shot me dead.  Time for another reload...  After some messing about I figured out that the flood door can be closed, and this was enough to blow up the grate without alerting the guard.  The hole led to a long tunnel, and a path upwards.  This path led into the room with the clay pigeons, next to the shooting gallery, but as soon as I entered I was shot dead by a mystery gunman.

The Guard Who Shot Me

I suppose I needed to disable the gun somehow.  I went back to the shooting range to try a few ideas.  First I tried shooting until the gun ran out of bullets, but that didn't work; I just kept shooting clay pigeons with a seemingly never-ending supply of ammunition.  Next I tried to break the gun, after which I was thrown out for vandalism by the bouncer.  At this point I figured that maybe I didn't need to go back inside, so getting thrown out wouldn't be a hindrance.  Even so, the mystery shooter was still able to kill me.  (I'm not actually sure if the bouncer throws you out after you break something, or if he does so before you can do the breaking, so I guess it makes sense.)

I was utterly stuck at this point, and when I looked up the answer I was both amused and surprised.  The trick is to take the OUT OF ORDER sign from the fortune-telling machine and drop it next to the gun at the firing range.  So the assassin thinks the gun's not working and he can't shoot you.  I'm not sure if this is the dumbest or the cleverest puzzle in a Scott Adams game, but it might just be my favourite.

Now that I was able to get into the clay pigeon room, I could make my way to a hidden lab where I found the missing secret plans.  Taking the plans earned me a short congratulatory message, and the game was over.  I'd won, albeit with a little help from the internet (as usual).

You Only Cheated By Looking at a Walkthrough Twice

So, another Scott Adams game down, and another solid effort.  It's impressive that he could churn out so many games and keep the quality up: this is his sixth of seven games in 1979 alone.  He slowed  down considerably from 1980 onward, and I suspect that he burned himself out with this prodigious output.  Even so, his work in 1978 and 79 was enough to cement him a spot among the most important pioneers of gaming's early days.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: The spy setting is still a novel one, and I have to give Adams some props for just brazenly making a game that stars James Bond.  There have been a number of games that committed IP theft before this, but I'd say this would have to be the most prominent to date.  The fun house setting makes sense from an adventure/puzzle game perspective, but it's an odd fit for the spy genre, and an especially odd fit for Bond.  None of this hangs together, really. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There's a bouncer, a ticket lady, a mermaid, a guard, and a mystery assassin.  As with most Scott Adams games they don't display any personality, although the ticket lady gets a couple of gruff lines in.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Puzzles: There's a logic to pretty much all of the puzzles in this game, and none are too frustrating.  I wouldn't have minded a bit more of a clue regarding the fuse/gum (is it meant to be explosive gum?), but otherwise I thought this game did things well.  And it earns an extra point for the OUT OF ORDER sign puzzle, just because I'm tickled by it. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Not even the switch from TRS-80 to Apple II can drag a terse text adventure off the bottom rung. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: Another adequately functional Scott Adams text adventure.  I didn't have much trouble wrangling with the parser, but I've become a bit of an old hand at these games by now. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: I think this one was pretty well judged: lots of mildly challenging puzzles early on with a couple of real head-scratchers at the end.  The OUT OF ORDER puzzle might be a touch too clever for its own good, but it's hard to ding it.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: The setting doesn't really work, but it is fun to explore and puzzle out.  There's only so much enjoyment that can be had from an ancient text adventure, but this one got about all it could out of the standard formula, and had a distinct lack of frustrating random elements. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0

The above scores total 18, which doubled give a RADNESS Index of 36. That is respectably high, just one point below Adams' first game Adventureland, and five points below The Count (his highest effort).  I'm not sure that it deserves to be six points higher than Pirate Adventure, Voodoo Castle and Strange Odyssey, but I do feel like it's maybe Adams' least-frustrating game to come to grips with.  Perhaps it just caught me in a good mood.

NEXT: The Scott Adams marathon keeps on rolling, with Pyramid of Doom.

3 comments:

  1. "I wouldn't have minded a bit more of a clue regarding the fuse/gum (is it meant to be explosive gum?)"

    I think your clue there is in the postscript at the end of the shoe-heel note: "P.S. Q says enjoy the gum!" Q's speciality is taking innocuous objects and turning them into killing machines, so this checks out.

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  2. In the days before the internet and walkthroughs these games must have led to some serious alopecia!

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  3. Those screenshot captions are absolutely Punderfall.

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