Dream Zone is a graphical adventure for the Apple IIgs that I was never able to complete when it was originally released in 1988. I managed to get about a quarter of the way through the game before I was stumped by one of the game’s unfair puzzles. Now, twenty years later and with a little help from the Internet, I have managed to beat the game. These pre-Craft of Adventure era games can be pretty brutal and a walk through will come in very handy. Now, this is about to get fairly spoiler-y so if you want give the game a try before I go on, you can play Dream Zone in your browser right now. It’s worth trying out.
As much as I love these text/graphic hybrid adventures, they all seem to suffer from the usual “guess the verb” problems. Dream Zone does a fairly good job of avoiding this most of the time with its click interface. But the click interface is deceptive because on at least three occasions you are required to come up with the specific actions yourself when a simple “use” action would have sufficed. The worst puzzle, and the one that stumped me back in ’88, is dispersing a crowd from in front of a bar. No game object works. No clickable action works. The solution is that you are supposed to say “free beer” to make the people scatter. How anyone was able to figure this out on their own is beyond me. The other horrible puzzle is one in which you are required to cuss in order to be sent to a room of punishment. Eventually you will find the room, but the solution to the puzzle requires you to visit the room twice (and again involves that pesky crowd outside the bar).
If you can manage to survive these cruel puzzles without throwing your monitor out the window, the rest of the game is rather enjoyable. The idea that this is all dream allows for some rather fun and creative moments like the giant bureaucracy staffed entirely by pigs. The art is cheesy and somewhat amateurish but it really fits the surreal theme of the game. The music is also wonky but appropriate. The whole production has a very homebrew quality to it and it’s obvious they are using off-the-shelf software like Paintworks Gold and The Music Studio to create their game assets. But’and this may just be nostolgia’I really liked this game and wish there were more 16-bit era graphic adventures like this. I mean, check out this insanity:
This game has been lying dormant in a plastic bin in my basement for more than a decade. Back in the nineties I made many attempts at completing this game but I always would get stuck about a third the way through the game, usually because of the frustratingly unfair (even for a Sierra adventure) whale puzzle. Mind you those were the pre-Internet days, when your only hope for a hint was Compuserve, a BBS or the official 900 number hint line. At some point in around 1996 I made the switch from my Apple ][gs to a Windows 95 machine and the game got packed away with the rest of my Apple stuff. But today, thanks to DOSbox, ScummVM and walkthroughs I can finally finish my questing.
Rather than suffer through the insane 15-20 second room load times on my actual ][gs, I played this using the ScummVM emulation system. As I’ve said before, the graphics and animation for these Sierra games are great masterworks of pixel manipulation. KQ4 is unique in that it was created using Sierra first adventure game system (AGI) but very soon was replaced with the visually enhanced SCI version:
For the most part, the SCI version is still incredibly pixelrific. However, there are some close up screens that just look hideous in the newer engine. This cut scene image from the SCI version looks like art of the criminally insane, or, even worse, a Superchunk record cover:
In the end, I settled with playing the SCI version because ScummVM cannot yet emulate the ][gs music engine (The SCI emulation in Scumm isn’t perfect either. There are a few doors that you can walk through which are supposed to be locked). This is too bad because, in addition to the great music on the ][gs, that version also features sampled audio here and there. The peacock screeching would be dearly missed.
Technical matters aside, this is a fairly solid adventure game. This sequel continues the King’s Quest tradition of incorporating fairly tales into the story. My eight year old daughter was able to get me past one puzzle with her more recent memory of the tale of the Frog Prince. Beyond the aforementioned whale puzzle which I finally got past, I managed to get stuck only three or four times. The solution would usually be something that I was trying already but wasn’t quite standing in the right spot or using the right verb/noun combination. But this is to be expected in these old Sierra games.
Shall I go onward to the parser-free KQ5? Now, if I can find a copy. I sold my Mac version on eBay when I discovered it was incompatible with my Centris 610.