Questprobe feat. The Hulk, Americana, Commodore 16
A disappointing port of what was already a frustrating text adventure. While some compromises understandably had to be made to fit the game into 16k, too much has been lost leading to gameplay sacrifices and other issues that impact on the overall player experience. The core game is still there, but it feels like a half-hearted experience.
User Review( votes)
I won’t go in to too much detail about the plot or the background of this first title in the Questprobe series from adventure writer Scott Adams. We’ve already looked at Questprobe feat. The Hulk for the Commodore 64 recently, so that review will give you a good indicator of the general gameplay and the story itself. Instead, I want to focus here on the experience behind this specific port to the Commodore 16 on the Americana label…
The Hulk… only Pint-Sized
When I looked at the Commodore 64 version of The Hulk, I mentioned that there were two versions of the game and that the Americana release was the cut-down release with poorer visuals to ensure that it fit into a single load from cassette. Now, bearing in mind that compromises had to be made to fit that into 64k, it was obvious that sacrifices had to be made to bring it to the C16…
The first thing that you notice straight away with the C16 version is that the graphics are missing. For a game based on a visual medium such as comics, I do wonder if this isn’t too much of a sacrifice to make. Trying to turn a comic book into a text only game is quite a major compromise, and for some perhaps it’s a stretch too far for the Marvel franchise.
So with The Hulk being dependent on its text to drive the narrative forward, you would expect effort to be put into refining this. Sadly that hasn’t been the case and in fact the location descriptions are just as sparse as before. In fact, many of them have been trimmed slightly, having occasional words removed, presumably to save memory. The meanings stay the same, and so do the descriptions of locations, but by losing some of the text it seems more simplistic.
At the same time, the display now looks cluttered. With the Commodore 64 version the screen refreshed regularly as you moved to new locations, examined objects and so on. Now, the text, especially the text entry panel, flows continually and it becomes harder to read. Also, location descriptions have become condensed where sentences and paragraphs are all grouped together into a single block. Again, this is all part of a larger memory-saving exercise, but it hurts the user experience. And the less said about the colour scheme the better…
Sadly, the cuts to the game don’t stop there. The other versions of The Hulk used quite a simplistic parser, only utilising one or two word commands. It was frustrating playing at times, trying to figure out exactly what commands were available at your disposal especially when they seemed like common sense instructions to use. But, as with most adventures of the time, you were also able to use abbreviations for key commands. For example typing INVENTORY would display a list of everything you are carrying at any given time.
In this, and most other adventures, you can also type I or INV to do the same thing. But for some reason, the abbreviated forms don’t work on the C16 port. This may be a minor irritation to some, but having to type a word out in full when a single letter would suffice becomes extremely annoying for adventure veterans.
Searching For Limbo In All The Wrong Places
What made the original versions of The Hulk unique was the lack of a permanent death in the game. Instead of that, you were transferred to a state of “limbo” with your game status intact, keeping your score and all your inventory. All that happened was that you were placed in a temporary holding location before being physically returned to the start.
Unfortunately, what was a key part of the gameplay and one that helped to avoid player frustration has been removed completely from the C16 port. What happens now is that whenever you “die” in the game (and this happens a LOT and often without warning), it’s game over. You then have the option to start over from the beginning or load a previously saved game.
To be frank, this is probably the worst aspect of the C16 port. One of the great aspects of Limbo was being able to retry parts of the game as many times as you needed until you found solutions to problems. Here you’re effectively being forced to save after every successful action just incase moving to the wrong location kills you off.
I really wanted to enjoy this C16 conversion, I truly did. It was Scott Adams’ cartridge-based games on the Vic 20 that introduced me to text adventures so his games condensed into 16k shouldn’t have been a problem. So truthfully I was really disappointed with what was presented here. I don’t know if it was the compromises made, the perma-death, or what but maybe playing this after the C64 version was a bad idea.
If I hadn’t seen any other versions of this game I may have been more forgiving, but as it stands it’s far from being one of Scott’s best and I’d look to one of the other systems if you want to experience the first in the Questprobe series.