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Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies by Øyvind Thorsby [IF-Review]

[I originally reviewed this game for Mark Musante’s site IF-Review, in 2007.]

IFDB Page: Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies

Attack Of The Yeti Robot Zombies announces two facts right upfront. First, it is a “try-to-win-on-the-first-attempt game”, which means that while SAVE, RESTORE, and UNDO have not been disabled, players are honor-bound not to use them. Secondly, the game tells us that “Examine, look at, look inside, look under, look behind, look and search have not been implemented.” I was surprised to discover that the latter aspect threw me off much more than the former one did. It turns out that examining things is so ingrained into my IF approach that having that feature disabled made me feel like an amputee. Frequently, I would try to examine an item before being reminded: no, that limb is missing. Taken together, what these features present us with a game in which the crossword has decisively defeated the narrative, to use Graham Nelson’s terms.

AOTYRZ presents a world, but it’s only scraps of clothing over otherwise bare puzzles. The title monsters are a perfect example of this. What on earth could a “Yeti Robot Zombie” be? A cybernetic duplicate of an Abominable Snowman who was killed and then revived to be even more mindless than it was before? Is there any universe in which that makes sense? Aren’t “robot” and “zombie” mutually exclusive categories, since something that was never alive can’t be killed and brought back to life? The game doesn’t know, and it doesn’t care. It might as well be called “Attack Of The Generic Monster Placeholders,” because that’s all that the YRZs are. If you don’t believe me, just try examining one.

So, given that this is a puzzle game whose story is sputtering and gasping for breath, how are the puzzles? Mixed, I’m afraid. I took the “win-on-the-first-attempt” rule rather seriously, and ended up feeling quite disappointed at the number of times I had to learn the game’s mechanics by dying. Now, in its defense, AOTYRZ does go some reasonable distance towards making the game winnable on the first try. Similar to Wishbringer (though quite a bit cruder), it gives the player a resource which can be used as an alternative solution for all the puzzles. This resource can only be used a limited number of times — fewer than the number of puzzles — which means that some of the puzzles must be solved in order to win on the first attempt. That’s not too bad though, because some of the puzzles are pretty easy.

However, unlike Wishbringer, it is impossible to win the game (near as I can tell, anyway) without using that resource a couple of times. There’s no way to know this fact in advance without some outside information, which throws a serious obstacle into the path of anybody trying to win on the first attempt. The game chided me every time I used the resource rather than finding the cleverer solution, and after a couple of rounds of this, I felt the message was clear: there will always be a better solution available, so I should always figure it out and use it. Then, a few puzzles later, the game hit me with a situation for which there was no better solution. Even worse, this situation was so thinly implemented that it almost seemed to be a bug rather than a change-up. It was there that my first attempt at AOTYRZ ended in ignominious death.

From that point forward, since I had to restore, I tried some alternative solutions, and found that while some were rather nifty and scrupulously fair, others were impossible to use without either knowledge from a prior life or some pretty lucky guesses. Also, a note to game designers: if something is chasing me, and you block my path with something I can move, please allow me to use that something to block the door behind me. Thank you.

Once it wasn’t my first attempt anymore, I started having a lot more fun with AOTYRZ. Yeah, it’s a bare puzzle game, but some of the puzzles are pretty snappy, and the plot (such as it is) moves along at an enjoyable clip. In addition, while the game world’s implementation is necessarily sparse due to the absence of EXAMINE, what’s there is competently constructed — I didn’t find a single bug. The writing isn’t quite as flawless. There are a number of typos, some of which serve up some unintentional (but very funny) comedy. My favorite comes in a cutscene where the PC is receiving remote instructions from a guide:

“The teleporter worked.” you say in the phone.
“It did? Really? That’s great! Now walk up the stairs and you will find two doors. It doesn’t matter which one you take, both will lead to a roof.”
“Then what?”
“On each roof there will be a helicopter. I assume you know how to fly one?”
“Off course.”

Oh, well is there anybody there who can fly a helicopter without going off course? Anyway, those moments aside, the writing serves its purpose well enough. I can’t muster a huge amount of enthusiasm for AOTYRZ — it takes a pretty audacious approach and then fails to provide a sufficient follow-through. However, if you don’t mind an IF world with no depth and you don’t worry too much about really winning on the first attempt, the game can provide a pleasant diversion for an hour or two.

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