Loom review

Wow, almost a month without posting anything! Again, I apologise for the lack of posts and reviews. My professional life has a way of slowly taking over my personal life, which includes all my hobbies (but someone has to pay the bills!) But now I’m back and to make up for my absence, let’s review one of my favourite graphic adventures of all times, Loom.

Loom is a graphic adventure made by Lucasfilm Games (AKA LucasArts) and originally released in 1990 for the Amiga, Atari ST, DOS and Macintosh. The following year it was ported to the FM Towns and in 1992, for the CDTV and the Turbografx CD. Also in 1992 it was re-released in CD-ROM format for DOS. In 2009, the CD-ROM version was re-released for Windows and the following year for Macintosh. And in 2015, it was ported to Linux.

But as always, let’s look at the covers:

782-loom-dos-front-coverThis is the iconic cover which everybody associates with Loom and as you can see, it’s perfect for any fantasy title with a lot of mysterious elements in it. I absolutely love it!

And the back cover is equally beautiful:

92695-loom-dos-back-coverThe medieval fantasy elements used here give a better understanding of what the game is about perhaps even better than the front cover. I also love the old-style border full of imagery found in the game.

The FM Towns version had its own cover, though:

217963-loom-fm-towns-front-coverThis cover shows Bobbin, our protagonist and some of the other characters. It lacks the mysterious elements from the original cover, but it’s not a bad cover per se.

And as always, it’s time to weave this draft:

The game begins with something not commonly found in most graphic adventures: a difficulty setting option. You can choose between Practice (recommended for beginners to the genre), Standard (the default setting) and Expert (only recommended for gamers with a good ear). I’ll come back later to the difficulty setting.

But before starting the game, I recommend first listening to the audio drama that came bundled with physical copies of the game, which is the prologue that introduces you to the world, backstory and the initial characters of Loom. The game begins where the audio drama ends, at Bobbin’s 17th birthday while being summoned by the elders of his guild. From there, the story takes an unexpected turn and Bobbin remains as the sole member of his guild (with an obvious destiny plot to fulfill).

One of the first actions you can do, the moment you take control of Bobbin, is to grab the distaff on the floor. This distaff is the only object you take and use throughout the entire game, believe it or not. You see, Bobbin is capable of casting spells (or weaving drafts, as the game calls it) with the distaff and it’s with these drafts that you solve the game’s puzzles.

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Believe me, swans are mean motherfuckers. I know from experience.

Each draft is weaved by playing 4 musical notes on your distaff. And this is where the aforementioned difficulty settings come into play. In the Standard setting, the distaff is displayed in the bottom screen and divided into several segments. Each segment corresponds to a different musical note and every time you hear a draft being woven, the musical notes played are displayed on the distaff. In the Practice mode, a box is added below the distaff showing the notes (and its order) as they are being woven and you can afterwards click on the full box to weave that draft. In the Expert setting, an empty distaff is shown without the notes displayed, meaning that the only way to learn new drafts is by ear alone (not great for people with bad hearing or without musical inclinations, like me). Also the Expert setting features an extra cutscene during the final act of the game, but it’s then featured in all the settings in subsequent versions of the game.

Also the notes for each draft are randomised in each new playthrough (except for one special draft) and if you reverse the order of the notes, the draft will have a reverse effect (e.g.: if you reverse the notes of the Open draft, it will become the Close draft). Of course, some of the drafts can’t be reversed. So, you need to write down every new draft you learn, either on a notepad or in the Book of Patterns that also came bundled with the game. Also, at the beginning, Bobbin is only capable of playing 3 different notes, but as the game progresses and you learn new drafts, you’ll be capable of playing new notes to a total of 8.

394139-loom-windows-screenshot-in-the-village

Exploring the village

Also, when interacting with the world, when passing the mouse cursor over a hotspot, a small image of it appears on the right corner of the screen. If you double click on the hotspot again or left-click on the small image, a draft is heard or Bobbin will describe the hotspot (whether it’s an object or another character). To use drafts, you need to click on the hotspots and then click on the notes of your distaff.

The game, however, it’s not very big and experienced players shouldn’t have too much trouble finishing it, which makes Loom a great title for newcomers to the genre (especially with its lack of inventory and mostly easy puzzles). But despite its short length, the story in the game is great with memorable characters, dialogue and moments, although one might get curious and yearn to learn more about this fantasy world.

The original EGA 16-colour graphics are stunning and colourful (with big closeups of the characters during the dialogues) and the animation is equally great. The MIDI soundtrack is beautiful (taken from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Swan Lake) and complements the game perfectly, although the sound effects are merely adequate. The mouse interface is very simple and easy to use and learn.

394140-loom-windows-screenshot-the-village-lab

You’re not alone, Bobbin.

The CD-ROM version, however, it’s very different. Although it features beautiful VGA 256-colour graphics, a better quality soundtrack and well-acted voice over dialogues; in order to make room on the CD for all of it, Mindscape (who produced the CD-ROM version) had to cut down on the characters’ portraits, some of the animations in the cutscenes (while adding others), censored some of the gore and rewrote the dialogues, changing the game drastically (and also shortening it).

In conclusion, Loom is the perfect game to introduce anyone to the graphic adventure genre due to its simple interface, ingenious gameplay and great characters, story and setting. Yes, it might have some small shortcomings (like its length and the ending) but I still highly recommend it (especially the original EGA version over the CD-ROM version). If you’re interested, you can buy it here on Steam or here on GOG.com. However, both stores only sell the CD-ROM version without the audio drama bundled with.

The Amiga version, as far as I’ve played, seems identical to the EGA DOS version, as does the Macintosh version, but the FM Towns version seems to be the ultimate version because it combines the VGA graphics and the superior soundtrack of the CD-ROM version with the animation and other exclusive features of the EGA version (although there’s no voice over whatsoever and still a bit of censorship this time around).

394142-loom-windows-screenshot-trying-to-open-the-grave

Weaving a draft. At a cemetery. Necromancy or neck romance?

Loom was very highly received both by critics and the public and at least 2 sequels were planned but never made. For years, everybody thought that the sequels were cancelled due to poor sales, but Brian Moriarty (Loom‘s main designer) said in a interview that nobody at LucasArts was interested in working at a sequel, so the project was abandoned. However, a fan-made sequel called The Forge is being made (click here to go to the site, where you can download a demo) but there hasn’t been any updates since 2015.

So, what do you think of Loom? Tell me by commenting below and I still promise to review games, is just that I’m extremely busy during the week and only have some free time in the weekends. Anyway, see you guys next time and until then, keep on weaving and playing!

Space Quest II review

So, the new MCU movie, Captain Marvel, is on cinemas right now and as far as I remember, Carol Danvers isn’t in any video game whatsoever, so I decided to just review a classic sci-fi game set in space. And why not Space Quest II?

Space Quest II: Chapter II – Vohaul’s Revenge is a graphic adventure made by Sierra and originally released in 1987 for the Apple II, Atari ST and DOS. It was re-released the following year for Amiga, Apple IIgs and Macintosh.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

242965-space-quest-ii-chapter-ii-vohaul-s-revenge-dos-front-coverAs you can see, the cover is reminiscent of the previous game’s cover, but now featuring an asteroid and some guys in suits inside tubes floating in space (it makes sense when playing the game). And again it features the cool title from the previous game’s cover. It’s not a great cover, but at least the guys in suits do stand out.

But it’s time to boot this space sludge:

The game starts with the now familiar Space Quest theme and a text depicting what happened to our protagonist since the events of the first game, namely, he reaped all the fame he could until he was forgotten by the public and forced to work again as a janitor, but this time, in a space station orbiting his home planet, Xenon. When starting a new game, you can name the main character just like in the previous game. And again, if you leave it blank, the protagonist will be named Roger Wilco (which as we all know, became the protagonist’s canon name).

If you’re played any Sierra AGI graphic adventure, then you know how to play this one. You can use the directional buttons to move Roger and write any commands in the prompt below the main screen. It’s quite simple to use as long you don’t misspell any command. And also don’t forget to write GET OBJECT to grab the several objects you’ll find stashed in certain places or people (an easy mistake to make if you’re not used to this type of graphic adventures).

27396-space-quest-ii-chapter-ii-vohaul-s-revenge-dos-screenshot-start

At the beginning of the game.

The difficulty, however, was rammed all the way up. What do I mean by this? Well, to solve most of the puzzles (some of which are traps BTW), you need to die first in order to figure out what to do, load a previous save state and then use a specific object before encountering said puzzle. For example, you can enter a screen and meet an enemy or a trap that’ll kill you, but you use a determined object before entering that screen, then you can avoid that enemy or trap, but there aren’t any hints before that. But even with this trial-and-error method, the puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out the solution (but you still need to die to figure it out, though). Well, there are two sections, however, that’ll really test your patience.

The reason for this increased difficulty might have been the fact that the game isn’t actually very long with just two major acts. And the story is quite simple but still effective with the trademark humour common to this series with several references and winks to popular sci-fi classics, and even some parodies here and there (although I think the game missed some great opportunities for it near the end).

743085-space-quest-ii-chapter-ii-vohaul-s-revenge-dos-screenshot

Man, five minutes in and your boss is already calling you.

The graphics are okay for an AGI title, nothing special but more or less colourful. The animation is also pretty average although the sprites do look a bit more detailed than in the previous game. The music is spectacular, especially if you’re playing the game on a Tandy computer (or emulating its sound system), although there aren’t many tracks throughout the game. The sound effects, however, are also average. The control system is okay and the directional buttons are responsive.

In conclusion, Space Quest II not might be the worst game in the series but it isn’t the best one either, due to its increased difficulty, trial-and-error puzzles and small length but it also has the same solid gameplay and humour that made the series a classic. So I recommend it, especially for fans of the series or the genre. You can get it here on Steam along with the rest of series, or here on GOG.com along with the first and third titles of the series.

743087-space-quest-ii-chapter-ii-vohaul-s-revenge-dos-screenshot

Better not to ask…

As far as other versions go, the Amiga version is just like the DOS version but the Apple IIgs version has superior sound effects (as in all AGI Sierra titles). And there’s even a VGA fan-made remake, made by Infamous Studios, that features a point-and-click mouse interface, voice over and extra content. You can download it for free here.

Well, I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed the review. And I know it’s not related to the Captain Marvel movie in anyway (or any other movie for that matter), but I just wanted an excuse to replay this game. Also, I would like to apologize for not making any references to the International Women’s Day. I promise next year to write a special article or review dedicated to it. And for the next review, let’s keep it a bit down to Earth, shall we? Until then, keep on shooting the stars and playing.

The Secret of Monkey Island review

Welcome one and welcome all to the second anniversary of Retro Freak Reviews! It’s hard to believe that two years have already passed since I started rumbling about retro computer games. And to celebrate such magnanimous occasion, let’s take a look of one the best graphic adventures ever made (and a personal favorite): The Secret of Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure made by Lucasfilm Games (before changing its name to Lucasarts). It was originally released in 1990 for the Amiga and DOS (both the EGA and the VGA versions). It was re-released the next year for the Atari ST and in 1992 it was ported to the FM Towns, Macintosh and the SEGA CD/MEGA CD. Also in 1992 it was re-released in CD-ROM format for DOS.

Both the FM Towns and the CD-ROM versions featured an updated interface and CD Audio quality music tracks but no speech whatsoever.

And as always, let’s first look at the cover:

43341-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-front-coverThis is probably one of the most famous video game covers of all times and I can see why. It’s colorful, full of great imagery (that actually appears in the game) and it could perfectly be a book cover or a movie poster. It’s that good! The only nitpick I might have is that someone might get the idea of this being a serious game. But a closer look at the use of bright colors at least give the impression of a light-hearted game, in my opinion.

But it’s time to boot this scallywag:

As you can see in the video, you take the role of Guybrush Threepwood (not the weirdest name you’ll find throughout the game), a wannabe pirate who travels to Mêlée Island (somewhere in Caribbean Sea) in order to become a full fledged pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. And during that particular quest, he finds himself embroiled in a ghost story that will take him to the eponymous Monkey Island.

The gameplay is just like all the other Lucasarts’ SCUMM graphic adventures: the main screen where the action occurs and the bottom screen where you can find all the action commands and the inventory. To perform any action, you simply click in a command, then click in any object on the main screen and/or in your inventory. If you’re familiar with any point-and-click graphic adventure, this interface is quite intuitive and the mechanics are just like in any other such game: grab whatever object isn’t nailed down to the ground (or if it is, find a way to unnail it) and use the objects with people or other objects in order to solve the puzzles or to get more objects (to solve other puzzles).

The FM Towns and CD-ROM version feature a graphic inventory with icons instead of words that would later be used in the Special Edition of the game.

62718-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-any-monkey-island

The very first line in the game and our hero’s initial motivation.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing (apart from the graphics and the excellent music) is the tongue-in-cheek humour. From puns to anagrams to physical humour, The Secret of Monkey Island is widely famous for his irreverent comedy. And using a sea pirates theme, somehow makes it more funny (and no, this isn’t a parody of Sid Meier’s Pirates, although I understand the confusion since both games were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean park ride). My favorite part of the game is the sword fighting, which instead of programming simple fighting mechanics, introduces a witty insult system where you have to not only learn insults but also the correct responses to each specific insult (I still remember most of the insults and respective replies to this day).

The puzzles can be slightly tricky (especially the ones involving puns) but with some trial and error, you shouldn’t have much trouble solving them because it’s impossible to get stuck in any situation where you can’t backtrack for a necessary object to progress. Everytime you start a new act, you should already have some of the objects needed and the rest are located in that specific act. Which brings us to next thing you’ll notice: there’s also virtually no game over! And apart from a very specific situation (in which you’ll have to actively pursuit it in order to happen), it’s impossible to kill Guybrush. Ron Gilbert (the game’s main designer) said that he wanted The Secret of Monkey Island to be more focused on the story, characters and exploration than in the gameplay or the puzzles. And although this practice was originally introduced in Loom, it become a common feature in most Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

3164-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-the-scumm-bar

The SCUMM Bar.

Another feature that was originally introduced in this game is the ability to select several different responses (that range from common to funny) during dialogues. And each different response will elicit a different reply with whoever Guybrush is talking to (most of the time at least). It makes the game a bit more varied and replayable as most players tend to choose different responses in subsequent playthroughs just to see all the different reactions from the characters.

The humour, like I said, is the true highlight of the game. From the dialogue, to the physical humour, to the puns, to the references to other Lucasarts’ titles, to the zaniness; The Secret of Monkey Island oozes with comedy throughout and I challenge anyone to play this game with a serious face. It’s impossible, I tell you! The comedic gameplay is also another Lucasarts’ trademark since Maniac Mansion and most, if not all, Lucasarts’ graphic adventures would continue that tradition.

3166-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-important-looking

Guybrush meeting some seemingly important-looking pirates.

Now with the technical aspects. The graphics, whether you’re playing in EGA or VGA, are gorgeous and very well detailed and the animation is extremely fluid. And the character sprites, especially during the closeups are incredible (although both me and Ron Gilbert prefer the original EGA closeups over the realistic VGA ones. They mesh better with the rest of the game). The first two acts might not look very colourful (that’s because they occur during nighttime) but the rest of the game (especially the second half of the game) it’s more colourful. The music is another great highlight of the game, whether you’re playing it with an Adlib or MT-32 soundcards, or even with a PC-Speaker, the music is simply memorable. My personal favorite tracks are the title theme and the SCUMM Bar theme. The sound effects are also quite good, especially if you’re playing the CD-ROM version with a Soundblaster soundcard.

Like I said before, the point-and-click mouse interface is very easy to use and intuitive. Even if you’ve never played a graphic adventure before, it’s extremely easy to pick it up and understand its mechanics and interface. With five acts, the game is more or less long (it depends on well you play it), although I personally think that the last two acts are a bit short by comparison.

62801-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-the-best-part-of

Sword fighting!

In conclusion, I’m going to join the masses and proclaim The Secret of Monkey Island one of the best graphic adventures af all times! From the humour, the memorable characters and dialogue lines (“Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!”), the graphics, the incredible music, the puzzles, etc. The Secret of Monkey Island is a true classic that is not only a great introduction to the genre but it’s still a very influential game. Lucasarts stroke pure gold with this one and cemented their position as a powerhouse among videogame developers. Needless to say that I highly recommend it.

The Amiga version has better music and sound effects, although it doesn’t look quite as colorful as the VGA DOS version and the Macintosh version adds a filter that smooths the rough edges around the sprites. Still I think the DOS CD-ROM version is the ultimate original version of the game (Monkey Island fans still argue to this day which is the best version).

740775-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-act-iii-takes-place

Finally arriving at Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island was remade in 2009 for Windows, iPhone and Xbox 360 and the following year for Playstation 3, iPad, Browser and Macintosh as a Special Edition. You can buy it here in Steam. It simply updates the interface and the graphics, adding speech and new sprites while maintaining the gameplay and everything else. Some fans don’t like the new art direction but I personally think that it meshes well with the game’s humour. And if you want to play with the original VGA graphics you can simply press F10 anytime during the game to switch to those graphics. Or you can go here to download a program that allows you to play the original VGA version with the speech from the Special Edition (A great shoutout to my friend Florin who told me about this).

This game spawned a quite popular series that peaked with the second title, Lechuck’s Revenge, despite a small controversy (which we’ll tackle on when we’ll review it).

So, what did you think of the anniversary so far? I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on our social media. Until then, keep on buccaneering and playing!