Closer Look: Legend of Brandonia

Good? Bad? Ugly? Brandonia is a divisive ZZT world and winner of a Featured Game award.

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Mar 1, 2021
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Acro isn't quite "long gone" just yet. I mean, he's still adjacent to the castle even.


But not for long. After a minor misunderstanding as to how "teleportation rocks" work, Acro animates in place and vanishes to wherever he's teleporting. There's something left behind when he does this, but since he's on top of some tiny plateau, Alex is unable to reach it yet.

There's another inaccessible object in the form of a red arrow pointing upward, directly at where Acro was standing. This is blocked by some trees forming a natural barricade, though it looks like there's a solution of just going around and coming back to this board from the next one.


The path back to the triangle is unobstructed, and the castle gives way for a thick forest that guides Alex to the south.

Riegs also introduces yet another new enemy here. These yen symbols turn out to be moose! They happen to be the most competent enemies yet as they wander aimlessly only until they align with Alex and then begin to charge in his direction until he gets out of the way or is rammed. Despite the improvements in enemy design shown here by not having them shoot each other to pieces or ignoring the player in favor of pacing around randomly, there's still no real threat of danger. All these enemies feel like filler at best.


Heading back through the trees, Alex reaches a "battle ram" tied to the tree. By untying it, it slams forward, destroying everything in its path, clearing a way out of the trees and up to the plateau.


It's a force stone! Another item we didn't know existed or that we needed until we have it.


Fancy as the stone might sound, it's going to be used as nothing more than a key for this large boulder that acts as a door. Without the stone Alex will just comment on how he needs something strong to move the roadblock. The item will never come up again.

Despite the fairly basic obstacle, I do like the way Riegs does these boards. It really captures that classic ZZT aesthetic of doing outdoor scenes with trees and mountains using only default colors. It's nothing particularly pretty, but it's functional.


Following the only path causes Alex to have another encounter with thieves. The board gently rounds itself off as the environment switches from bright green fields to narrow mountain caves.

This is where a more developed game would establish the scene or story with some details. It could be an encounter with a known group of brigands hiding out in the caves, some dialog or even small details like a campfire could add a bit of life to this board. Instead it's just more haphazardly placed objects.


The transition from outside to inside via board connections rather than a passage is a bit unconventional, though there's no reason the technique couldn't be used like it is here.

Another new enemy type, bats, are introduced here. They opt simply to always move towards the player. The darkness could actually make them a threat as the player won't be able to see them coming until they're pretty close. Alas, they run at the default cycle three speed, giving the player plenty of time to react to them appearing in torchlight.


What follows is a simple maze that takes up five boards. Bats are reasonably placed throughout, and every time the path splits one path is correct and the other leads to a dead-end like this one with some chests.

Riegs is sensible about it, with most of the dead ends providing at least one chest with torches. Ironically, the one way you might actually run out of torches in this cave is to pick only the correct paths. The cave isn't all that twisty and doesn't get too tedious to navigate, and there's some respect for your time by having incorrect paths lead to a net-gain in resources.

Again, none of this is revolutionary game design, ZZT or otherwise, but it's serviceable. Alex will shoot some bats, grab some gems and torches in these chests, and be outside again in short order.


Having reached the exit, Alex returns to sunlight just in time to catch a fellow contestant being attacked by a monster! The creature approaches and the contestant calls for help which Alex quickly offers.


The crog is about what you'd expect. They move towards the player, and sometimes stop to shoot in all four directions. They take five hits to defeat.

They move slowly and could be easily avoided if Alex wasn't required to defeat the monster to proceed.


Once defeated the contestant removes the large wall blocking progress forward, and Alex's quest can resume.


More new enemies. Wolves move... clockwise seek! It's different, but having that be the sole movement command causes some problems that quickly become apparent.


They're fast enough to make it to the top of the screen where "seek" resolves to west, and thus they just stop moving as they try to move clockwise from west and hit the edge of the board.

Unsurprisingly it makes them not very threatening and easy to just run around.

Riegs also repeats the earlier technique of having a portion of the board be inaccessible until the player turns around from the next one. This time there's somebody standing next to a river, possibly fishing?


Now this board is cute. The river flows into the ocean where a boat is docked. A small red bridge lets Alex cross to the other side of the river and speak to the person upstream. This is what graphics in ZZT frequently look like with just the default editor's colors.

For a fun comparison, Dragon Woods also has a board that features a river reaching the ocean with a bridge to cross from one side to the other.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
RIVER BOY:  Woe is me, woe is me.

ALEX:  What's the matter, boy?

RIVER BOY:  I lost my boat to an old
shark, and now I can't get home.

ALEX:  Well, where do you live?

RIVER BOY:  Just up river.

ALEX:  Looks like all you need is a new

RIVER BOY:  Yeah, but I need some wood

ALEX:  I have an axe!  You could cut
planks with it.

RIVER BOY:  Really!  Can I have it?

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The river boy has lost his boat to a shark and can't make it back home. The solution here is to give him the axe from the lumberjack and I guess put him to work building a new one.


The reward seems disproportionate.

Legend of Brandonia being what it is though, you can probably already guess that the pearl is going to be necessary to pay for passage on this boat.

The sheer size of the boat makes it a little difficult to read it as one. Instead we get this perfectly rectangular ship that looks more like a building than a sea vessel.


The captain blocks the way on deck and we learn that the pearl was actually his. In gratitude for returning it however, the captain offers Alex to come aboard.


The boat's interior is extremely lacking. A few members of the crew walk back and forth performing their duties, but it's a very bland scene overall.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
CAPTAIN:  Argh, me maties!  We be headed
east to da port of Reb-Neone, weirdest
place I know.

ALEX:  Why's that?

CAPTAIN:  Them people there, they seem to
live of no water at all!

ALEX:  Huh?!

CAPTAIN:  They live off the sea, but it
be all salty.  Me mate, John Beed, tried
to live there, and he died with in an

ALEX:  Well, why are you going there?

CAPTAIN:  Its said, that beyond a certain
desert, there is a certain cave.  In that
cave is treasure, more than you ever
dreamed of.  The only problem is that
it seem only them weirdos can make it

ALEX:  Oh.

CAPTAIN:  So, where 'r you goin'?

ALEX:  I'm on a quest to find some dragon

CAPTAIN:  Argh!  Your on that dragon
contest too?!  Some other guy came for a
ride just before I lost me pearl.  Said
he was on that same quest.  I droped him
off at Reb-Neone.  Good luck to him.

ALEX:  That's where I wish to go.

CAPTAIN:  Ok!  We're just about there!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The lack of creativity in the ship's interior is made up for by the far more intriguing tale of where the boat is headed. "Reb-Neone" is apparently inhospitable to those who aren't from the region, and it sounds like another contestant was already headed that way.

Once Alex finishes talking to the captain, the ship arrives at its destination and its time to disembark. The passage out isn't actually blocked, so the player can leave at any time, but doing so without talking to the captain will result in the ship just being out at sea rather than ready to dock. It's a nice touch, and reminiscent of Baloo's heavy usage of this kind of passage connection to advance time. Here though, it's incredibly easy to miss that you can step on the deck even if there's nothing to do there prior to arriving at Reb-Neone.


Back outside the only hint that there's more to the board are some red objects in the water. Legend of Brandonia doesn't use STK colors, but the ZZT editor will actually let you place an object on top of water resulting in it gaining a light gray background. This may legit be the first time I've ever seen it come up revisiting an older ZZT world.


Once Alex talks to the captain and then to the other crew-mate, the ship begins to dock which is simulated by having those hidden red objects in the water start building out a dock. The visuals work well, making it easy to read as the ship approaching a dock rather than these objects approaching the right side of the board.


Alex arrives just in time as it turns out that the inhabitants of this land are actually zombies! Like with the crog before, Alex needs to rescue this fellow contestant before being able to proceed. A convenient chest nearby provides another 50 arrows and the battle begins.


As you'd probably expect, they move slowly and alternate between random and seeking directions. They're fairly strong foes, taking five shots each, and deal a massive 25 damage if you do manage to get bit. The pattern continues though and just keeping your distance and shooting into the group is enough to take them out safely.

Once defeated the contestant thanks Alex and the barriers lower opening up the path into the desert the captain spoke about.


I'm generally fond of this game, despite its simple story and lack of challenge, but the desert is definitely a low point. It is of course a maze of large empty boards filled with yellow fakes.


Some cacti at least exist to make the boards distinct, so navigating the maze is more tedious than difficult. The player is also in danger from another new enemy, scorpions, that just constantly move towards the player. The open nature of the boards means it's easy to line up a shot, but you're always at risk when you move from one board to the next that a scorpion might actually be close by.

Getting stung poisons Alex, something plenty of ZZT games have implemented in different ways before. In this case there's not a lot to it. Getting stung makes the scorpion stop in place to run the poison code which drains health in increments of 10 over time until 50 has been taken away. It sounds scary, but because the poison is handled by the scorpion and not another object on the board, shooting the scorpion will kill it instantly and end the poison damage making it unlikely to lose more than 10 health to an attack.


The desert itself isn't too big. It takes up six total boards including the entrance and this exit board which are clearly identifiable. There aren't any hints to navigate the maze, nor are there penalties for being out in the sun too long. It doesn't take too much to get through it and arrive on the other side where yet more bandits await, once again outside a cave entrance.


Unlike the first cave, this one is completely linear. Bats are now cave bears, but behave exactly the same. The only difference is they take more shots to defeat and take fifteen health on a hit rather than ten.


The cave itself is also a lot shorter. The path winds a bit, but only has one dark board. Towards the end it opens up into a larger room with cave bears in each corner, though by the time the player reaches it they'll be grouped up from trying to reach the player making the surprise ambush fall flat.

The important thing about this room which stands out from the rest of the cave is this other magic stone lying on the ground.


It's a "morph stone" and its description is pretty vague as to what it can change and what it can change things to.

Acro at least seems to be the stone guy so he can't be too far off.


As usual, shortly after acquiring the item is the object to use the item on. In this case the back of the cave has a river of magma running through it that requires the morph stone to change it.


And it changes it into nothing. Perhaps calling it a water stone would have been better.

More importantly, Acro is here and so are the dragon eggs! Acro is unaware of Alex's presence, monologueing to himself as Alex approaches.


Acro's fiendish plot is revealed. He's not just going to cheat his way to victory (before he gets disqualified). He's going to... send the other eggs to another dimension so that he'll be the only person with a dragon. Rude.

Alex gives away his position to yell at Acro who quickly runs off yet again.


Acro does succeed, and the other eggs do vanish. Alex is then shoved to the south by Acro's movements forcing him deeper into the caves.


Acro plans to simply ditch Alex in his maze, letting him wander for long enough that he can get away with his plan. This is yet another maze, but this one is a little different in that it's entirely on one board, and it's much more cramped.


The actual maze is dark, but it's worth getting a look at the entire design. The only danger is running out of torches, though the chest where the player starts contains another five. The rest all offer up gems continuing to reward the player for exploring, even if that exploration doesn't actually move things along.

It doesn't take very long to navigate, which is a good thing. This brisk nature of this maze is definitely more enjoyable than the one in the desert at least.


Things get a little weird outside of the maze though.


The mushboy runs off in fear to tell the king he was attacked by a monster. This could be bad for Alex who doesn't really have any way to establish his innocence to this previously undiscovered race of underground mushroom folk.

Alex is a pretty nice guy though, no doubt he'll make a good impromptu ambassador for mankind. Right?

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
MUSHKING:  What ARE you?

ALEX:  What are YOU?

MUSHKING:  I'm the king of the mushmen.
Now, answer the question!

ALEX:  I'm Alex... Um, a human.

MUSHKING:  Never heard of it.

ALEX:  We occupy the over world.

MUSHKING:  Well, then, what are you doing

ALEX:  A man named Acro sent me here.

MUSHKING:  Yeah, a likely story... ...
... ... Well follow me.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The king doesn't seem interested in Alex's story and Alex is forced to follow him into the center of the room where the king sits.


And the tension is immediately resolved. Alex can stay. Or go. It doesn't matter.

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