Shades of Gray (ShadesofGrey.zip with an e for the filename, but referred to as Shades of Gray with an a in every other instance?) is the first release by Flimsy Parkins. I mused on him before when I played Sixteen Easy Pieces (https://kjorteo.dreamwidth.org/417765.html). If Shades of Gray was his first game, then from it we can discern that he was, uh, kind of always like that.
However, at the same time, Shades of Gray is almost the exact opposite of Sixteen Easy Pieces. Sixteen Easy Pieces is a pure puzzle game made entirely out of premade assets in basic ZZT colors, whereas Shades of Gray is an STK and object-filled special effects extravaganza used in the service of a Town of ZZT-like action/adventure.
In fact, "Town of ZZT-like" is what drew me to this title, and why I'm using my Hauksness icon for this post. Flimsy has taken the actual Town of ZZT and corrupted and deconstructed it, in perhaps a foreshadowing of the infamous Flimsy's Town of ZZT edit (which I'm still hoping someone will someday explain to me.) Shades of Gray is Town of ZZT after the end: someone or something has invaded Town and stolen all of its colors, leaving everything a gray, depressing ruin. Your job is to investigate and find out what happened.
At first, it's an after-the-end nostalgia trip that reminds me of an even bleaker version of Ruins of ZZT by Dr. Dos, the "Ancient Technology" Ludum Dare game that used ZZT's status as an antiquated memory as the basis of the plot. It takes every location you knew and loved and mercilessly shows you what they look like after age, decay, and loss of color. The Three Lakes are a pale shadow of their former challenge now that the lakes have partially dried up and most of the spinning guns no longer function. You may have hated being stuck on the Rube Board when you were younger, but when all the difficult puzzle parts were all but destroyed before you even got there... well, there's something sad and pitiable about that. This game makes me feel sorry for The Town of ZZT.
Once the player acclimates to the melancholy, though, the second notable and striking thing about Shades of Gray is the way its decay shuffles Town's progression around. Just like how some parts that used to stop you are now almost entirely non-factors (RIP Castle of Lots n' Lots of Evil,) other areas that used to be straightforward paths have caved in, requiring some creative shortcut or alternate route. As an example, you still need to access The Mixer at one point, but the path from the central town hub through the forest has collapsed. Instead, you must now take the once-mostly-useless secret passage from the Armory to the space behind the notes in the House of Blues, as one of the notes collapses to let you through when touched.
It's brilliant, but (much like Sixteen Easy Pieces,) it is perhaps inaccessible to newcomers. Shades of Gray is meant for people who know Town back and forth, the kind of people who read that previous paragraph and instantly knew what I meant without having to look it up. The game certainly doesn't tell you that there's a secret passage from the Armory to the House of Blues. Why would it? It's Town, you should know that already. And even then, some of the secret passages--which are for required plot items that you need to complete the game, mind you--are hidden perhaps a touch too well. I still needed to go through the Museum's board viewer on two occasions. (Thank you [i]so much[/i] for the Object and Fake Wall highlight views, Dos. You are a lifesaver.)
Still, if you can put up with the, uh, arcane Flimsy nonsense, then Shades of Gray is a very worthy way to look back on the foundational bedrock of ZZT. It even calls back to what is perhaps the most time-honored tradition in the history of the ZZT community: ending on a cliffhanger to be resolved in a future game, which was never made.