Nuclear Madman

Released
Jan. 8, 1996
Genre
Adventure
Size
25.9 KB
Boards
29 / 49
Rating
No rating

Closer Look: Nuclear Madman

By: Dr. Dos
Published: March 15, 2021

Recover the stolen nukes! Step one: Visit the water park

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The next path I went with was the waterslides! I love the design of these things.

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They're actually surprisingly intricate, consisting of several boards each.

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I love the surly employees stuck working here.

Paying the gems doesn't simply open the door, but rather causes the employee to tell the player the password to the gate which has to be entered. Maybe if they mentioned infinite rides on the waterslide, I'd have been more willing to pay up.

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Not that this game isn't weird already, but this is where it gets really weird.

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The other person climbing the ladder (which I only recognized as a ladder when the game tells you it's a big ladder in a moment) mentions the slide being shut down and hearing a weird scream. This could very well be the work of the madman or his henchmen.

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Instead some sort of... snake creature? appears and throws the tourist off the ladder!

The object is named lion, but δ is no lion.

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Ultimately this entire scene is one big non-sequitur. None of this had to happen and if you think that the strange creature that killed a tourist (and likely at least one other person) will be mentioned ever again then I'm afraid you're mistaken.

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Classic ruffian. Honestly, using just a single ZZT creature is such a bold choice.

At the top of the ladder is one last employee blocking the way to the slide itself which consists of conveyors to push the player along.

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More bitter employees. I guess there's a good possibility that the scream the tourist heard wasn't murder by monster but just death by improperly maintained waterslide and an uncaring staff.

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Tricked!

I'm not sure if that's meant to be the employee screaming or the player, but I do love the reaction either way. The surprise reveal of all the other ruffians doesn't make for a particularly interesting shootout, but it does a good job of catching you off guard.

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The waterslide's conveyors are actually set up backwards (which is likely what's meant by it being broken). Once the ruffians are all destroyed they change into conveyors of the opposite direction and the player is free to enjoy the ride.

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Oh.

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I'm glad there's a reason the sharks are able to speak. Otherwise I'd start questioning if this game was grounded in reality or not.

Good "man being devoured by sharks" animation as well with the object going from a smiley to a large circle to a tiny dot before disappearing completely.

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All of that was for the expected key.

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Of course there's still a second waterslide, which is hopefully a little safer from ruffians, critters, and (intelligent) sharks.

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Or not quite. This waterslide has multiple floors for the elevator to stop at. Each floor has a button to open one of the doors up top and some enemies to deal with.

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I probably do not need to explain to you why having a boss fight in a single tile wide corridor is not a good idea.

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The bosses take three hits each. The lion boss moves towards the player and shoots, while the centipede boss spawns in more centipedes. They are very pointless fights, made even more pointless by providing more than enough ammo to defeat the enemies on each floor right in front of everything. This is basically the minimum amount of danger the player can be in.

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The waterslide itself is A LOT MORE DANGEROUS.

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The player isn't the first one to have to deal with the danger. This person just waiting to go down the slide seems quite aware of the danger, but remains pretty aloof despite it. They immediately land on top of one of the guns and splatter some yellow fakes. In typical ZZT parlance, red fakes in this context mean blood and while far less common yellow is probably intended to be urine? Sorry to be blue, but I am confident that a ZZT game would make a joke about peeing in a body of water, even if it doesn't actually comment on it.

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The slide isn't quite as dangerous as it looks, but ought as well be. After the other guest tries to go down the slide, a message is sent to an object telling it to alternate between changing the water to walls which means there are brief moments where the guns can't fire and the screen clears up a little. I genuinely didn't notice this during gameplay and still lost a ton of health. The amount of time the walls are up is too brief to really try and play it smart. You're going to be in the middle of this thing when the guns begin shooting again. It mostly seems to be just a brief moment of understanding that the odds of getting through okay are really stacked against the player.

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Going down the slide leads back to the bottom of the slide where a crowd is happily swimming in the pool at the bottom. They're lucky to be alive.

For braving certain death, the player receives the blue key, which brought me up to six of seven with the last path leading north to the fun house still to be explored..

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I completely forgot about this guy that wandered in this direction at the very start of the game.

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I am a big fan of the structure of this board. It's clear that the player will go through the fun house, but then they'll do this zig-zag between connecting boards. It's not something you see all that often, and it of course would have been easy to just have the back of the fun house connect with wherever the path ultimately leads.

Making it like this add just a tiny bit of mystery for whatever that board to the north will end up being.

I definitely adore this board. Glowing eyes are quickly revealed to be a giant ghost and skeleton. This is some quality ZZT aesthetic.

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The next board is even better with a large painting on the wall whose eyes follow the player!

This dummy just grabs a magical artifact in the middle of a fun house. Nothing has been established as to what the wand does or why it might be important, but the player is pretty horrified about this. One might think they're upset because the lost guy may have been killed, but the lost guy is hardly the first guest to die at this park.

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The player is definitely more worried about the wand.

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This is a poor way to present this information no matter what, but if the scroll was at the start of the room before the little cutscene things would flow better.

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For once in a key collecting game, nearly all the keys have been collected before even finding out where the doors are. The fun house (which has had much more of haunted house motif so far) has one last giant set piece with these bats that have a two-frame animation of flapping their wings.

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The only place in the park left unexplored is the right half of the fun house.

In so many worlds I've covered, games which seem to be doing alright, stumble and fall apart at the end. Nuclear Madman is a rare exception where this final segment is definitely its best. Admittedly, the non-linear structure means that this is only the case because I happened to explore this part last, but it really changes my overall thoughts on the game.

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It starts off with one last bit of simply having fun with ZZT-OOP. A hall of mirrors offers an opportunity to see some goofy reflections.

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This is such a simple thing, but I adore it. There are a lot of ZZT worlds that have mirrors, which usually just consist of a single object turning into the smiley face character if the player stands adjacent to it. Some go the extra mile and will track how far away the player is, using smaller and smaller circular symbols as the distance increases. These are all sort of meant to be showoff-ish or add in some "realism".

Cane is just having fun. There have been worlds where I've felt it apparent that the author got bored by the end or worlds where the author was proud of what they accomplished (sometimes to a fault), but Nuclear Madman feels like a game where the author was enjoying themselves the whole time they were making it, and this hall of mirrors in particular exemplifies that best of all.

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Of course, this fun house isn't all fun, and hitting the switch in the corner opens up part of the wall and also reveals a column of objects that begin shooting across the screen, just like a waterslide.

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The final confrontation with the henchman (who I'm only just now noticing shares their appearance with the lost guest, perhaps indicating said guest was tricking us all along) takes place in a secret room in a fun house in a waterpark. It's very Saturday morning cartoon honestly.

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I of course pick the line about the cappuccino, and the game lets me run with it. Plenty of ZZT worlds let the player be snarky, often breaking the fourth wall to talk about how the key is needed to finish the game or having the villain (or even the game's author) chime in to say that a line wasn't in the script. Cane plays it completely straight.

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The henchman is tucked away in the wall where they can't be harmed, and starts by changing a row of fake walls into lions. You can probably figure out where this fight is going.

(This same style of fight showed up back in Police Quest, but here the numbers are more manageable, and it's much more clear that you're supposed to defeat the creatures and not just shoot the object that spawns them.)

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Everything is in good fun, and the villain seems more and more desperate with each set of enemies.

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You can't not love this. This honesty that maybe bears are not a challenge at all in this format, where they just slowly march towards the player when aligned.

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Everything is just smiles and nods. It's so lighthearted.

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It's just perfectly goofy.

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Finally, all the ZZT baddies are defeated and the henchman will fight the player one on one.

I'm a little sad there wasn't a gag about fighting sharks that just stand there and create a perpetual stalemate until the henchman gets bored and gets rid of them.

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It was all going well. The actual fight is a let down thanks to an overuse of stars. He doesn't take too many hits, and each time he's shot he'll complain more and more about getting weaker. If this game had been generous about health this fight could have worked out by asking the player to be aggressive and just tank the stars, but instead it turned into having to cheat just a little bit more to do exactly that.

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And then Cane brings it back! Sadly the player doesn't get their caffeine, just the last key.

You know... that magic wand never came up again.

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Key opens lock, lock leads outside, outside leads behind the fun house to reveal...

They key! You know for... something. (Those teleporters way back at the start of the game actually, but you'll have forgotten all about them by this point.)

And that's how it all ends. More fun with a colorful credits sequence and promises of a sequel that isn't known to exist.

Final Thoughts

Okay, so Nuclear Madman isn't all that great of a game, but I like it? I might not like it as strongly as other games of questionable quality like the eternal cinematics of November Eve or the endless boards full of lions and tigers that make up Link's Adventure, but there's something to this game that makes it feel just a little bit different.

I'll go easy on Nuclear Madman because it does the most important thing a generally mediocre ZZT world can do, and that is: be a reasonable length. There's not actually all that much to this game, and that makes an overall uneventful game be a little easier to swallow. What the game does best is in its humor, and to be fair there's not even a whole lot of that. Crane is very clearly making everything up as he goes along, which is hardly uncommon for ZZT worlds. It falls into the all-too-common trap of being presented as a multi-game epic that never actually gets completed, but it's structured in a way that it feels cohesive. It wouldn't take much to make this fulfill the overarching plot about stolen nukes, just replace the henchman with the madman and say the nukes are in the waterpark. That however, would destroy the natural hook for the sequel that Cane chose to go with instead. I don't doubt that he had grand ideas in his head and fully expected to make a whole series out of this.

Though the game has some goofy humor, and plenty of moment where you can tell the author is having a ton of fun making it, I can't imagine it holding for several more worlds of similar length. A lot of what is memorable about this game comes from its setting. ZZT waterslides, fun houses, and carnival sideshows work great with the chaotic designs of making whatever in a way I can't see "Amazon rainforest" accomplishing. I think I could enjoy a little more of the off-beat humor this game offers, but I don't think that setting would lend itself nearly as well to it. This is a cute little game that struggles with providing enough health. It's no classic, and there's good reason why ultimately I forgot it for all these years, yet I did enjoy myself overall. It's a solid C+ of a game that's tough to try and sell somebody on, but won't leave anybody who plays it feeling like they wasted their time.

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