IFDB page: Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza
Final placement: 19th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition
Before I begin, let me make it clear that I’m a fan of silly, absurd humor. I’m a loyal Monty Python watcher. I think The Jerk and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure are two of the best movies ever made. I gave last year’s competition entry Phlegm an 8.5 because it cracked me up. Consequently, I had high hopes for any game that would title itself Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza (hereafter called PPQP). However, I was disappointed. PPQP certainly wants to be a funny game, and it does have some genuinely hilarious moments. Unfortunately, much of the game is buggy, error-laden, and tedious, and nothing saps my sense of humor more quickly and completely than those three things. In addition, the game seems to have caught the same disease from which Laura Knauth’s Travels in the Land of Erden suffers (perhaps I’ll start calling it Erdenitis): a great deal of swelling and very little focus. The walkthrough goes on for 17 screens. This isn’t a two hour game, folks (see my review of Erden for further comments on this.) Even setting aside the game’s size, it has both surface problems (lots of grammar and spelling errors, a number of serious bugs) and deeper ones (badly designed puzzles.)
There are some things that PPQP does right. For one thing, it made me laugh out loud several times. My favorite has to be when you come upon a butcher who is described thusly: “Gunnar is burly, scary-looking brute. But he has the heart of a lamb. He has the heart of cow, too. He has many hearts in a pile on top of the counter.” That was hysterical. [PUZZLE SPOILERS AHEAD] I also enjoyed killing a vampire by driving a fatty steak into his heart before he arose from his coffin. As he dies, he exclaims “Too much cholesterol. My arteries can’t take the torture.” [SPOILERS END] In addition, many of the names chosen for places and people strike the right note of humor. In fact, many of them are strongly reminiscent of the Unnkuulia series (for example, “Mizztik Island”), which in my mind is a good thing. These moments of mirth prove that the author is definitely capable of writing funny moments. Unfortunately, the game proves unable to sustain the humor, a task made no easier by its bugs and errors.
I won’t go on for too long about these, except to say that the game clearly should have had some intense playtesting before it was released to the public. Playing it reminded me of the old New Zork Times playtesting article with the story of how initially in Dave Lebling’s Suspect it was possible to carry Veronica’s corpse around the party and not have anyone react to you in any way. In PPQP I was able to solve a puzzle or two without ever having found the items necessary to do so, and to add an unconscious dwarf to my inventory after I tried to take off his vest. These things were funny, but I don’t think this was quite the type of absurdity the author was aiming for.
Prose: At times, the prose works beautifully, delivering funny lines with good pacing and diction. Other times, it feels a bit over the top, trying too hard to be funny and falling short. The conclusion I came to after two hours of play is that the author is probably quite funny, and is working on the craft of distilling that humor into written form. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I look forward to his future creations if he continues to develop his comic voice.
Plot: Well, play a silly game, find a silly plot. The idea behind PPQP is, quite predictably, a treasure hunt. This particular variety of treasure hunt asks you to chase down all the ingredients necessary to make a pizza as demanded by Phred Phontious (not the main character, surprisingly enough), the court jester who is your boss’ boss. You, the lowly peon, must traverse the faux fantasy landscape to come up with the sauce, cheese, mushroom, etc. It’s a silly, shopworn device that nonetheless serves its purpose. Of course, I didn’t come close to finishing the game in two hours so I don’t know whether the pizza ever actually gets made, but that’s not the point anyway.
Puzzles: This was one of the weakest areas in PPQP. A number of the puzzles are highly dependent on each other, and a few are not as well clued as they should be. [SPOILERS AHEAD] I found myself completely stuck after exploring for a little while, only to discover that I was supposed to pull a hook in the kitchen. I didn’t see anything suggesting that the hook should be pulled, and the prose led me to believe that the hook was in the ceiling and (I reasoned) hard to reach. Turns out the hook was in the wall, and pulling it opened a secret passage to a wine cellar which held a bottle of wine absolutely necessary for any progress in the game. [SPOILERS END] This struck a sour note with me, and I found myself using the walkthrough repeatedly after that. I still didn’t come anywhere close to finishing in two hours.
Technical (writing): There were quite a few mechanical errors in the writing.
Technical (coding): As mentioned above, the game was quite buggy. It definitely could have used another round or two of playtesting.
OVERALL: A 4.2