Posted 25 June 2000 to rec.games.int-fiction
The Frenetic Five Vs. Mr. Redundancy Man
Interactive Fiction by Neil deMause (1999)
Reviewed: Version 1.2
Reviewed by Dave Coleman
Welcome to another Interactive Fiction Review Conspiracy Review of Fictive Interaction, and hello.
The Frenetic Five Vs. Mr. Redundancy Man is the sequel to The Frenetic Five Vs. Sturm And Drang, an entertaining competition entry from a few years back. If I were any less lazy I'd look up exactly which year and post a link. But alas.
The Tick. Ambush Bug. What the--. The superhero genre is an easy one to parody. Perhaps a bit too easy. It takes something special to go beyond the 'laugh at the ridiculous names and costumes' level. At the same time, the superhero genre is a hard one to write a decent game in, for the simple reason that the range of actions available to your typical superhero is pretty broad. How do you code for a character who can fly anywhere, faster than a tall building? (You may argue that this was done successfully way back on the Atari 2600, so why can't we manage it now? To this I say, 'Quiet, you.') So most superheroic games tend to belong to the parody category, borrowing the trappings of the comics but reining in the action by limiting the player to barely extra-human characters. The Superheroic League of Hoboken played this card, as do the two Frenetic Five games by Neil deMause.
Doesn't mean they aren't good.
FFVMRM (abbreviated as FFVM from here on) does an awful lot of things right. It's funny. It's clever. It has a couple of really good lines in it, and a whole lot of better than average ones. It has no time limits, no way to die, and no penalty for exploration, regardless of how absurd your actions are. This is something I like in most games, but it's especially crucial for a comedy game - you don't want to penalize the player for trying to find the buried treasure jokes. You want to encourage it, and FFVM (abbreviated as FF from here on) does this.
And FF is short. So short you'd hardly believe I spent six months reviewing it. But I took a break in the middle to watch some TV. I seem to have an affiinity for being assigned these short games. FF has about half a dozen rooms, and roughly two puzzles, although one is pretty complex, or at least lengthy.
Another nice thing: in FF you're in charge of a team. It's nice to play a game where you aren't the usual lonely adventurer. You can't go anywhere in this game without your cronies following you around, unless of course you ask them not to. Their spontaneous banter is one of the better parts of the game.
So what does F5VM do wrong? A couple of things, some relatively minor and some relatively major.
First, I think that the game could do more with the rest of the FF team. Perhaps it's relying on the assumption that the player is familiar with the earlier FF game. But I think that this one doesn't really provide enough information about the other team members. Examining them gives a quick, clever description. But after that you're on your own. An example: Lexicon's ability is to know the meaning of obscure words. Fair enough. But I imagined that the joke would be continued by being able to ask him about various words and getting clever responses. This never seemed to work, even though the word "Xerography" comes up pretty quickly - a seemingly perfect opportunity to test his powers, or at least to get a mild joke. The other characters, aside from The Clapper, have even less well-defined powers. Overall I think the team needs a little better introduction, perhaps a little physical description, and a few more hints toward when and how they might be useful to our hero.
The primary puzzle in the game involves a copier machine. It's not a bad puzzle - broken up into lots of little parts, each of which isn't too terribly hard. The bad thing is that the parts have to be solved in a particular order which doesn't make a lot of logical sense. Doing things in the wrong order seems to confuse the game a bit. I blundered around for a long time trying to solve one puzzle and making no headway until realizing that I had to solve another puzzle first. This happens all of the time in adventure games, but usually there's at least a tenuous logical reason for the sequencing - "Now that I've defrosted the freezer, I've got the magic asparagus that I can use to prove the convict guilty". In this case solving the first part resulted in no new objects or information which could be brought to bear on the second part - it's just that the internal invisible game state advanced to the point where other stuff started to happen. A little like the old Kings Quest games, where the dragon didn't bother to show up until after you'd picked the mushroom, even though the two events didn't have anything to do with one another.
FF features an in-game hint system which obviates the need for a separate invisiclues-type thing. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it breaks mimes much less to just ask the NPCs about stuff. But if I'm using a hint system I want to know that I'm using a hint system. In FF talking the NPCs is sometimes a way to get extra "hint" information, but sometimes its required to solve the puzzles. If I'm going to cheat, I want to know I'm cheating. Instead I ended up asking everybody for help all the time, hoping either to get a funny response or to advance the game engine so I could move on with my life. Then when the puzzles became easy, or even trivial, I didn't have much of a sense of satisfaction at solving them. I'm not sure what the solution to this problem is, but it left me feeling a little squicky.
Looks like I've spent much longer on the bad stuff than on the good stuff. That shouldn't be taken to mean anything. The bottom line is that I enjoyed the game - it filled a fun two hours, and it'll probably take you a lot less time than it took me. If you're looking for a comic game, give it a shot. If you liked the first one, give it a shot. If you're more interested in discussing politics than IF, go get shot. Ahem - was that out loud?
As an added bonus, I've compiled a list of every superhero and supervillian name I could find in the game, just 'cause I thought they were funny. If you've no intention of playing, feel free to scroll down and read 'em. I suppose that some people might consider the list spoiler-ish, so I'm including some extra blank space.
The Fool Who Rushes In Where Angels Fear To Tread
The Human Hydraulic Press
The Defenestrator (my personal favorite)
Old Doc Gizmo
The Origami Master
The Time Being
The Instruction Bookworm
The Atomic Bulldozer
Stupendous Tweezer-Fingered Girl
World Wide Webster
The New Dealmaker
This article copyright © 2000, Dave Coleman