MEGABOZ the wizard, wearing a zap-me-quick hat, has cursed Lord Dimwit Flathead's Great Underground Empire. Your task is to remove the curse and claim a reward of half the wealth of the kingdom. After casting the curse, Megaboz disappeared in a cloud of smoke, leaving behind nothing but a scrap of parchment. Written on the parchment, which is contained in the pack of goodies that comes with the game, is what you need to do to remove the curse.
The pack forms the nicest kind of protection system you will find. The disc itself is quite unprotected and can be copied easily. But without the pack you will never be able to complete the adventure. One item is a Flathead calendar for the year 883 GUE. This contains all sorts of hints and tips such as: "Bottomless pits are the second-leading cause of death in Flatheadia". Needless to say you have to negotiate a bottomless pit, but make sure you have a light or you might get eaten by a Grue.
Grues are familiar things to anyone who has played an adventure written by Steve Meretzky, the 32-year-old New Yorker with a penchant for melted cheese. Who can forget his pizza in the toilet in Leather Goddesses of Phobos? Did you ever try to eat it?
In Zork Zero Meretzky has written an adventure which is light hearted and at times excruciatingly difficult. It takes a certain type of mind to dream up some of the puzzles. At one point you need to show the Jester something that has never been seen before and will never be seen again. The answer is to show him a walnut and then eat it. But to open the walnut is a different matter. With a magic wand and a lobster you should be able to find a way.
This is a new departure by Infocom into graphical adventures. The company always said it would never add graphics to games until it could do the job properly. In some adventures the graphics bear little relationship to the story, but in Zork Zero they are part of the puzzle.
There are several little games to play which rely on graphics. One such is Double Fanucci, a card game with weird rules. You play against the Jester. If the Jester discards the Three of Fromps, should you ionize your Two of Lamps or muttontate it instead? Do not forget, you have to win at this game!
To anyone who has played a Zork adventure the Jester will be a familiar character. He sometimes helps, sometimes hinders. He is fond of riddles and will often stop and give you one to solve. If you cannot fathom it he will not let you pass. An example of one of his riddles is:
One night four men sat down to play /
They played and played till break of day /
They played for money; not for fun /
With separate scores for every one /
And when time came to square accounts /
They all had made quite nice amounts /
What were they playing? I will give you a clue: They were not playing cards.
Graphics have been used to great effect throughout. At the top of the screen is the compass, so instead of tediously typing letters you can click on the direction with the mouse. This idea is carried further with an on-screen map.
Apart from adding graphics, Infocom has made improvement to the parser. It has always been a cut above the competition, but now it is even better with even more useful features.
One thing I am not too happy about is the on-line help. Type "hint" at any time and you can get full solutions to all the puzzles.
Infocom does suggest you do not make too much use of this feature, but it is all too easy to give up on a problem at an early stage. The first Infocom I played - Planetfall - took me more than six months to complete; I finished Zork Zero in less than a week.
It is hard to criticise Infocom adventures. They are so good. This one could do with more graphics and a better plot. Nevertheless, I enjoyed playing Zork Zero very much and have no hesitation in recommending that you buy it.