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.

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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).

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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!

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!

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure DOS review

Like I said in my last review, today let’s steer clear from action titles and into one of my personal favorite graphic adventures. And since I failed to review a Star Wars themed game this month’s fifth, let’s remedy that with another George Lucas’ former intellectual property. I’m talking about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure was made by Lucasarts and originally released in 1989 for Amiga, Atari ST and DOS. The following year it was ported to the Macintosh and released in CD-ROM format for DOS and FM Towns. The CD-ROM version was re-released in 1992 for the CD-TV, in 2009 for Windows and again in 2016 for Linux.

The original floppy version features EGA 16-color graphics and the CD-ROM version features VGA 256-color graphics, but no speech whatsoever, unlike other Lucasarts CD-ROM titles.

But before we start with the game, let’s look at the cover:

879-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-front-coverIt makes sense that a movie-inspired game uses one of the official movie posters as the box cover. For those very few who haven’t watched the movie yet, this cover features the two main actors in the movie: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (on the left) and Sean Connery (on the right) as Henry Jones Sr., Indy’s dad. One might ask why include Henry in the cover, but he actually plays a very important role in the game itself (just like in the movie).

And the back cover is equally awesome:

880-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-back-coverAs you can see, it features the Holy Grail, the Grail diary (very important in the game, as you’ll see) along with some still shots from both the movie and the game. I have to confess I like the back cover more than the front cover. Just add Indy’s iconic hat and whip and you would have an original cover more than appropriate for this game.

But it’s time to whip this sucker:

For those of you familiar with the movie, I don’t think I need to worry explaining the game’s plot. Apart from a few changes here and there, it follows the plot of the movie quite faithfully.

The intro’s based on the movie prologue, where young Indy is running along on top of a circus train carrying the Cross of Coronado, then it cuts back several years later, when adult Indy arrives at Barnett College with said cross and has a small exposition dialogue with his friend Marcus Brody. And it’s here that the game introduces the one element that wasn’t adapted from the movie: a peculiar self-referenced sense of humor that borders on fourth-wall breaking (more than once Marcus and Indy face the player).

While the comedy elements aren’t as big as in other Lucasarts titles, like Maniac Mansion or Zak Mckracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the game is still quite funny and it follows more or less the comedy staple that became synonymous with Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

10780-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The game was designed using the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine which, as one can see, uses a graphical interface in the lower part of screen where you can find a list of commands and below that, the inventory. Using the mouse, you click the action you wish to perform and then click the object in the inventory and/or the place where you want said action to occur. It’s a very intuitive interface that was used in all early Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

The interaction with the NPCs is through dialogs, where you choose which line to say and if the correct dialog tree is chosen; you can progress, gets hints, objects or solve puzzles. In some sections where you need to bypass Nazi guards, it’s possible to avoid any fights whatsoever if the correct dialog tree is chosen. But on one particular section (that can actually be bypassed in its entirety if you know how), there’s no way to sweet-talk your way out with the guards, so if they catch you, you have no other choice but to fight.

911798-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The very start of the game.

The fighting sequences (and the dogfight sequence) are the only action-oriented sections you’ll ever find throughout the game. But right at the start of the game, you can practice Indy’s boxing skills with a boxing coach. To fight, you use the numeric keypad, one set to attack, one to back away and the middle to defend yourself (it changes accordingly whether Indy’s is on the left or right of the screen). However, the fighting can be quite complex because there are two bars: one for health and another for punching power. If you start the fighting simply by bashing the attack buttons, you’ll lose punching power fast, so to fight effectively, you need to defend and back away when your opponent attacks and strike when you see an opening in your opponent’s defences. It’s easier said than done, so I suggest a bit of practice with the coach before getting on with the game because if you lose a fight with an enemy, it’s game-over. And your health bar recharges very slowly, so it’s very hard to fight all the Nazi enemies in the game.

But don’t worry about the dogfight sequence because there’s no penalty if you get shot down (remember that’s what happens in the movie). Even if you fight all of the Luftwaffe Air Force, your plane will eventually run out of fuel and crash.

Like I said before, the game follows more or less the movie plot, although it expands some parts (like the Venice part, which is probably my favorite part in the game) and reduces other parts (like Hatay and Salim, that aren’t even mentioned in the game) but it’s still well written and very faithful to the movie’s spirit. As far as game length go, if you go to every area you’re allowed to go, the game has a proper length. But if you bypass certain areas (by solving the right puzzles and/or having the correct object), the game might appear somewhat short. Besides, apart from one hard section (which I’ve already mentioned), there’s practically no reason to avoid areas (especially if you want to follow the movie’s plot as close as possible), unless you’re trying to finish the game fast.

911800-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The adventure starts…

This game even takes a page from Sierra’s graphic adventures and introduces a score points system, called IQ Points. But unlike Sierra’s games, to get the maximum score of 800 points, one needs to replay the game several times and choose different outcomes and solutions for the puzzles. It gives the game poor replayability value because, although I do like the different solutions for certain puzzles, it doesn’t change the plot all that much and there’s basically just one ending with some mild variations here and there based on your final actions. There’s actually no need to replay the game unless you want to see everything this game has to offer and/or you’re a completionist.

And talking about the puzzle structure, the puzzles themselves aren’t too hard nor too easy, just the perfect amount of difficulty. Although in the Venice section, you have to do a bit of pixel hunting at the beginning, but the rest of the puzzles aren’t as frustrating. The most important object (just like in the movie) is the Grail diary (diaries actually), which the in-game version is essential to solve some of the puzzles, while the physical version is incredibly important to solve the final puzzle (whose solution changes randomly in every playthrough). It even features some Indiana Jones’ lore, including some references to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series. In fact, as games extras go, the physical Grail diary must be one of my personal favorites game items of all times and for me, it’s more probably faithful than the movie replica lorewise.

545652-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

Ah, Venice…

As far the graphics go, in both the EGA and VGA versions, I think the graphics look great with detailed sprites and good range of colors (even with just 16 colors EGA graphics). The animations are more or less fluid and all the characters have a good range of movements, even during the fighting sections. And both the mouse and the keyboard controls are quite responsive, especially during the action sequences.

The sound effects are okay and you can tell the designers tried to provide a good atmosphere with the sound of footsteps (even muffled and splashy footsteps, depending on the terrain), but just the sound effect without any musical score sounds weird to me. And talking about the musical score, I think the quality of the MIDI music it’s okay, even the iconic Indy theme. If you manage to run the game with a Roland MT-32 soundboard, the soundtrack should be even better but unless you have said soundboard, the only way to truly appreciate the soundtrack in a modern PC, it’s to run the game either through Dosbox or ScummVM along with a Roland MT-32 sound emulator (like Munt). I simply wish that there were more musical themes, although the few that are present, are actually good.

So in conclusion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a very good graphic adventure, perhaps even one of the best made by Lucasarts at the time, but it quickly got eclipsed by other Lucasarts graphic adventures, like the Monkey Island series and The Last Crusade own sequel, Fate of Atlantis (both of which we’ll review at a later date). Needless to say that I highly recommend it for both Indy and graphic adventures fans.

545651-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

No, this isn’t Castle Wolfenstein.

The Mac version is very similar to the DOS version, except for a smaller resolution and better menus and there’s practically almost no differences in the Amiga version. I haven’t played the FM Towns version, but it’s considered the best version due to having not only having VGA graphics but also a CD audio quality soundtrack with some of the themes taken directly from the movie soundtrack.

You can buy the modern re-release here on GOG.com or here at Steam. But I don’t recommend the Steam version because although it is the VGA version, the soundtrack is in MIDI format and it doesn’t bring the Grail diary in PDF format.

So, are you a fan of Indiana Jones? Which is your favorite movie and/or game? Tell us by commenting below or by following us on social media. Next time, let’s move genres again but not very far away. Until then, put on your hat, grap you whip and keep on playing!