The Great Infocom Replay: Zork Ⅱ

In my memory, before I “came back” to adventure games in the mid-nineties, Zork Ⅰ was an important classic and Zork Ⅲ was the serious, thoughtful capstone to the trilogy. Zork Ⅱ was, in my mind, an afterthought. It was something I had to get through before I could get to the trilogy’s endgame.

Having played through Zork Ⅰ and Ⅱ in the last week, I can say that my childhood view was dumb.

The first thing I found was that the map made much more sense. I could keep the whole thing, more or less, in my head. Only a bit of the northern ledge confused me reliably. The Carousel Room made for a really useful hub, and helped me keep things divided into memorable segments. I found its puzzles much clearer, except for the widely hated two: the Bank of Zork and the Oddly-Angled Room. Even the Bank of Zork didn’t bother me so much, except for the really lousy description of the Small Room.

The Wizard was much less annoying than the thief, but he still irritated me. Actually, it wasn’t that he irritated me, it was that his spells were more trouble than I felt they should’ve been. More than once, I thought I’d made it through the duration of a spell, only to trip and fall, fatally. Oops? Still, he didn’t scatter the contents of the dungeon far and wide, and that’s worth something. I liked that the wizard had more personality than the thief, and the eventual interaction with the demon, who was also fun. It made the whole game feel a bit more story-oriented than Zork Ⅰ.

I enjoyed the robot, although every part of the robot puzzle was of the “you will have to die to figure this out” variety. The button puzzle, like the button puzzle in Zork Ⅰ, was tedious, and to be solved much in the same way as a maze. Its pay-off was much more enjoyable, though. I felt cleverer, and making the Carousel Room behave normally was a real win.

One thing I never understood in Zork Ⅱ: what’s up with the underground volcano? What does that look like? It’s still pretty gonzo, and my brain rejects it. I know this is my problem and not the game’s, and it’s silly since I enjoy old-school D&D, which is pretty rife with gonzo nonsense, but there it is.

Finally, I think the princess is a pretty underrated character in this game. Who is she? How long has she been stuck in that dragon’s lair? Where does she go? Who are her parents? Why does the Wizard of Frobozz care about her?

I hope she gets her own game, someday.

Written on February 3, 2013
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