This article comes courtesy of me. I opted to return to a game I recall always finding really appealing as a child that I could never make any progress whatsoever in: Adventure Part 1: The Adventures of David Daron (typically shortened to just Adventure). Despite the difficulty, its iconic town, variety of items and weapons the player could purchase, and terrifying monsters to fight made it one I would go back to again and again, never making progress even with cheats.
I think at some point in the past, I considered playing this one for a Closer Look, only to realize that the balance is not great. This is the kind of game that I suspect nobody ever completed without extensive cheating. I put it aside, and only just now decided to really sit down and commit to seeing the game through from start to finish.
I've returned to a lot of worlds over the years that I loved but could never complete. I went in expecting a challenge. I even expected Adventure to be outright unfair at times. This was definitely going to be a game whose positives were outweighed by the numerous frustrations the game inflicted on players. I'm no stranger to these sort of games any longer. The Best of ZZT Part 1, Sivion, and of course The Silly World of Dan Shootwrong. All games that should be some of ZZT's best (I mean, it's even in the title of one of them), and end up being extremely tough sells, nostalgia aside.
Author Tony Rivera is the latest admission in the Hall of Authors That Hate You with his immensely cruel Adventure. This one gives Shootwrong a worthy rival. Get yourself a stiff drink and brace yourself. The eastern cave beckons and no one makes it out unscathed.
David Daron! Seeker of fame, fortune, and a princess to be his bride, has just arrived on an uncharted island with nothing more than a backpack of odds and ends. He seeks adventure, and oh boy is he going to find it.
Your adventure... in Adventure begins at a crossroads, hearkening back to the open-ended starting point of Town. Despite the exits in all directions, players are corralled into the small village of Tre 'La, with the guards restricting access to the east and west, and a peculiar rock slide keeping players out of the canyon to the south.
The small village of Tre 'La, built alongside the Gold River is the primary stop for adventurers such as David. It's home to plenty of useful shops and the all-important guild of mercenaries for adventurers in need of some action.
The guild is the first stop, and a pivotal location to advance events in the game. The guild master doles out quests for all who are willing, giving David a reason to go to the places he does throughout the game. The first quest requires delving into the eastern cave that lies beyond the Forest of Mystery.
It would be ill-advised for any adventurer to not acquire supplies before an expedition, and David is no fool. However, he is the unfortunate victim of both poverty and supply-chain issues. The armor shop offers nothing of the sort! Perhaps as a way to get around ZZT's troubles with adjusting damage. Adventure is a game that uses a mixture of both objects and built-ins, with the latter being impossible to adjust the amount of health taken when they attack. While some games opt to just consider armor extra health, Rivera cuts the concept entirely, while still implying that this is a world where armor is a common purchase.
In order to make ends meet, the armor shop owner has to instead sell whatever he can. They take on the role of the local tavern with ale and also provide an essential resource: torches. Adventure quickly reveals itself to be a game where resource management is so critical as to nearly be impossible to pull off effectively. The ales are a flat health restoration where one gem converts into one health. The sort of pricing that players quickly learn isn't worth the money at all. Players can spend all their starting money on alcohol lose it in a single enemy attack.
This is a common issue with older ZZT worlds that offer few ways to restore health to ensure players don't have to just get through boards in one piece, but to do so gracefully. The intent is likely to keep players coming back to these worlds, slowly getting better at them, but ZZT's basic move-and-shoot action struggles quite a bit to make that compelling, especially in the modern day. Instead, players find themselves constantly saving and reloading if anything goes awry. Adventure isn't the first such game to go in this direction, but it is one of the cruelest.
In the southwest corner of town, "Collector Jim" allows players that uncover unusual treasures to exchange them, not for gems, but for score. These rare items mostly come down to players happening to step on invisible objects, making the potential exploratory aspect of the game nothing more than lucking into hitting the right tiles rather than rewarding those with keen eyesight searching out discrepancies. As they only provide extra points, it's very easy to just ignore them entirely. In fact, there are only two such items in the game! Even for players that stick around with Adventure to the finish (nobody), it's very likely that they'll never come across a single treasure.
The weapons store is where the game gets a bit more distinct from other early ZZT adventures, but that's not the first thing players will notice. The first thing they'll see is that one ammo costs two gems. Rivera is cruel, but fear not, this means "one ammo" in the sense of a single ammo pickup, so it's five bullets for two gems. This is still miserable pricing. After all, Town of ZZT's vendor sold three bullets for a gem, and that was enough to make the store feel useless to bother with. This manages to be slightly worse. Just not, the worst.
The other weapons are rather expensive as well. Even the hunting knife is out of the player's price range at the start, though this might be for the best since spending all of your money on one would mean no money for any extra torches later.
ZZT worlds are no strangers to melee combat where touching foes will attack them. This is likely one of the earlier examples out there, but by the late 90s when ZZT's pre-fab creatures were anything but fabulous, it became a staple of ZZT combat. Despite the fantasy setting of Adventure, the game is no dungeon crawler. Most enemies will be the usual cast of lions, tigers, and bears. Instead, the melee attacks are treated as dramatic strikes saved for battles against powerful creatures as we'll see later.
And finally, there's the inn. I have quite a few complaints about Adventure, but cannot deny that there are moments where Rivera excels. The inn takes on the expected role as a place to recover health, but Rivera wasn't content with a simple gems to health conversion, giving the building its own interior and a lot of personality.
It's not a very good inn. The clerk is found sleeping at the front counter in an otherwise empty lobby with hard chairs and a large number of coat racks. After waking them up, players are presented with their choice of three rooms that available: "Cheapie", "Frugal", and "Expensive". These rooms impact how much health is recovered from a stay, but each one is modeled as its own board, with the clerk providing the keys and players having to head upstairs to get some rest.
David's starting money is just enough to rent a cheap room, which will certainly cause the game to become impossible to complete.
With the town fully explored for now, and having signed up with the guild, David is now free to head east to the Forest of Mystery that sits between Tre 'La and the eastern cave.
For those unfamiliar with Adventure, so far it seems reasonable enough, if a tad pricey. To help calibrate one's expectations, take note that the path to the board to the east doesn't line up properly and so only one of the two tiles allows players to travel between boards.
The Forest of Mystery is the first foray into danger for David. This is where Rivera's oppressively strict demands will first make themselves known.
But it all looks so innocent, doesn't it? It's a forest with some pockets of monsters, a nice river, and a great looking broken down bridge. This board has charm, something Rivera injects into pretty much every board in the game that has the lights on. It's a very aesthetically pleasing world to explore! There are trees and red bushes dotting the landscape, and it looks perfectly playable.
Okay, so maybe you have to use a bullet to get off the path and into the forest, and maybe I'm already almost out of ammo before clearing out the pocket of monsters, but come on, there's more ammo right there. I'll have more than I started with afterwards!
The yellow objects in the corner aren't moving, which is a reasonable sign that they're friendly. They happen to be a group of beavers that are tired of all the monsters in the forest. If David can get rid of them, they'll rebuild the bridge that leads to the cave he was told to check out.
And that's when you notice it. After clearing out another pocket of bears, I have sixteen ammo remaining. There are twenty-five creatures left to be shot. Reviewing my screenshots up to this point, I have taken zero damage, and have missed just a single shot. This is a borderline perfect run so far, and I simply do not have the ammo to clear the board.
A trip back to town seems mandatory. It's not quite that dire yet, most of the enemies remaining are bears, which when led into breakable walls like the ones at the end of the path, will destroy the wall and themselves when they collide. So now the strategy is to lure the bears one at a time in order to destroy them without using any ammo.
Folks, it's not fun to do this.
Once everything is cleared out, I'm sitting at two of a possible three ammo. In order to have more ammo, I'd need to have less health.
But it's worth it for the happy beavers.
Sadly, there's no animation of them running off and patching up the bridge. Instead it just fixes itself with some objects that were hidden on top of the water doing the repairs.
As a reward, the bushes all turn into gems. When gems are picked up players get both the gem itself as well as a single bonus point of health. Any healing for nothing is a blessing here, as the feasibility of perfect shooting and dodging won't be sustainable for much longer.
David can also speak with a few of the trees for some tips. One guides players in the direction of a secret bonus that can be found by discovering a fake wall. It's in fact referring to a hidden treasure to sell back in Tre 'La, but it doubles as a hint for a hidden healing potion on the same level as well, which is much more important to discover.
The other trees that speak also provide some surprisingly useful information. They explicitly tell players that they won't need the hunting knife or the long sword to complete their quest which is a huge relief for David's monthly expenditures. All money can instead be funneled into the essentials: ammo, torches, and ale.
Did you believe that? If so, you're going to spend your way into an unwinnable game! Just because you don't need to spend money on fancy sword or simple knife, doesn't mean there won't be other mandatory purchases the player is aware even exist yet!
Oh, and if you touch the walls of the cave entrance it's revealed to actually be quicksand and you die instantly. Take care!!!
Instead players need to use one more precious bullet to shoot the rock up top in order to destroy it and create a safe path into the quicksand surrounded cave.
Welcome to the eastern cave! We're going to be here for awhile.
The eastern cave could really use a name, though it's going to be the only cave in this article so I guess "cave" is enough to describe it. This uppermost level is the only safe place inside, but even so because it's still a dark room so players will be quite literally burning up their torches exploring it. Become familiar with its basic shape quickly because if you want to have enough torches, you'll want to actually move around here in the dark as often as you can. The linear paths make this fairly do-able even if it's a very unreasonable request on the player.
In an actual dark room, which path is explored first is essentially random, as the only things visible will be the passages and the single torch that players start adjacent to. With the lights on, one's curiosity is drawn to the powder room which is where the quest items are deposited in order to accomplish the guild master's request of blowing up the cave.
To do so, David must find five sticks of dynamite on the various levels of the cave, (not counting this one,) place them into these kegs of gunpowder, and then use the detonator to start the explosion.
On the left side there's another weapons store. This one has the same abysmal ammo pricing as in Tre 'La, while offering a better deal on torches. Did you buy torches in Tre 'La? Better restart your game, idiot.
The weapons on sale in the underground are new ones, and both conspicuously unmentioned by the trees that warn players to not bother with the hunting knife or long sword just yet. The saber is going to become essential soon enough, leaving players with five gems to spend on ammo and torches. Running out of either will effectively bring the game to a halt.
David can also talk with the shopkeeper to get some information on what purpose weapons and powder kegs serve as well as how to get past the various barriers in the cave. It's all as you'd expect. Weapons are for dealing with dragons, worms, evil knights, and other horrible creatures that dwell in this cave. The kegs will make the dynamite explosions that much more massive, and the barriers are a broken system to make players hate this game.
"You must have a certain amount of
dynimite to get past a barrier. Here's a
list on how to do it..."
He hands you a yellowed paper. The paper
See if any ammo
"OOPS! Sorry 'bout that. Here..."
• • • • • • • • •
Again, you can't get too mad at Rivera when he's going for gags like this.
The actual information is just a clumsy way of saying that each floor has a stick of dynamite to collect, and that each floor after the first (again, the one the player is on doesn't count) has a barrier that can only be passed if David's collected the previous floor's dynamite. After opening the barrier with the dynamite, not by igniting it, but by simply possessing it, it can then be put into the matching powder keg.
While Rivera's little table makes things look a lot more complicated, the information at the bottom is what's really relevant. Since the dynamite is what's used to check if a floor has been cleared, it's possible to get a stick, put it in the keg, then head to the next floor, and no longer have the dynamite the barrier is looking for. It's another way in which Adventure will get players stuck, though this time I feel like it's more of an oversight than a deliberate design choice. Luckily for me, cheats made it easy to re-add dynamite to my items when I 100% put my first dynamite in the keg before opening the first barrier.
An additional item shop provides healing from potions, as well as some unusual rings whose purpose is currently unclear.
As with the other shopkeeper, they can also be chatted with, providing information about how the arrows you come across represent how deep you're descending to reach each level of the cave. This is a unique way of trying to communicate depth to players, adding a rarely seen sense of verticality to a ZZT World. It's hardly anything too exciting, as the arrows disappear moments after the player touches them, yet it does make the lead-up to each floor a little more foreboding. Not to mention, the levels of the cave have to be completed in order, which means the arrows serve as a way to tell let players know which passage to venture into next without having to put any signage.
To coax more information, David can flip the shopkeep a gem, and receive an aloof response until they really sweeten the pot with a second gem.
The info the shopkeep provides, is the sort of thing that you'd find listed in the manual of an Interactive Fantasies release. It costs two gems to learn about swords. Not worth it at all. What is worth it is getting to see Rivera's attempts at justifying why the shopkeeper has this information. He could have just swapped the information each shopkeeper has when spoken to, but creates a more fun world by taking the sillier arrangement.
After paying for the advice, I do what you should do in any game that charges players to see text: reload immediately after reading.
Here's one of those arrows we were told about, indicating that David isn't merely heading south-east. He's heading deep south-east. Rivera really commits to these elevation arrows. The inn back in Tre 'La has some pointing upwards to indicate when David is climbing stairs. It's definitely going to get tedious waiting for these arrows, especially in dark rooms with limited torchlight available. Still, I think it's a clever way of communicating an extra dimension. Since the arrows vanish after the first time, the delays are thankfully just one time occurrences.
The initial descent leads to what the game considers to be the first level of the cave, which is given the distinction as the safety of the upper level is now gone. Players awkwardly spawn on the passage in the middle of a four way intersection, demanding that players understand the arrows represent depth and that they have to head south as it's the least-deep level. If you weren't paying close enough attention, then you get your choice of several dead ends and with the time it takes to get rid of the arrows, probably run out of torches. Plus a lot of fumbling with the center passage taking you up a level only to have to immediately turn around and head back down. This passage really should have been placed somewhere else.
Playing by the rules of the game, I immediately ran into a tiger, fired my last bullet, and had it destroyed by the tiger, necessitating my first of so many retreats.
And so in total darkness I blindly felt my way to the weapon shop to actually commit to spending money.
I also made sure to purchase a saber. I didn't need the refresher text to know that having a weapon was the only way to make any progress. Better buy it now and then buy ammo and torches with the leftover money rather than hope I would find more gems below and buy later.
Insultingly, the shopkeeper offered up this insight after purchasing the ammo. Heck off.
Going back downstairs, I was able to get past the tiger, and a few others, finally discovering a cache of ammo, to which my response was not gleeful. I was worried that I spent too much money by buying ammo. Once.
For as miserable as Adventure frequently is, this is an unfair criticism. It's the equivalent of falling for a lie and defending yourself with "but you could believe it, and surely that says something". Rivera is atrocious when it comes to balancing this game, yet the sheer number of tigers here really do mean that you cannot get through without spending some cash. The lit board reveals that the four corners by the ammo are where the tigers are originally positioned with two more further down the hall. There is no option to dodge the bullets in this passageway. I did the right thing.
I did the thing so right, that prior to picking up the ammo provided here, I was down to one bullet once again, vindicating the purchase of the ammo. Now if I had bought ammo a second time, well, that would be foolish.