Adventure Game Field Guide, Part 3

Saturday, June 27, 2009
If Franz Kafka had made a video game, it would have been Bad Mojo. Transformed into a cockroach by a strange family amulet, your character, Roger Sams, is tasked with finding a way to return to a more human and less disease-ridden form before the dangers of the environment kill you, or you are discovered by the authorities and your stuff is held as evidence.

You see, you're not exactly the patron saint of adventure games here. You're an entomologist that's fallen on tough times and decided to embezzle money from a research grant and disappear. However, your landlord is still looking for that rent money you owe him. An argument leads you to the amulet which transforms you into the icky bug you'll play as through the rest of the game. You explore various parts of the bar that Roger lives in. The basement, the kitchen, Roger's room and even the bathroom feature as pivotal locations for the game.

Bad Mojo was a cult success in '96 when it was first released and the "redux" version released in 2004 dealt decent returns. The problem it ran into was that of several games of it's time. This was an entirely serious adventure game. One of the keys to having a successful adventure game is somehow managing to get people to play it more than once. Most adventure games allow the player to explore their surroundings to find clues to a puzzle or quest but when the game forces the same choice over and over again just isn't fun.

Bad Mojo tried to make up for it's shortcomings by having several endings. This method for expanding the options available to the character was made to increase the life of the game and provide a way for the player to feel more in control. The trouble was that all of the optional choices sprang up at the end of the game rather than interspersed throughout the game, giving the player almost too much to work through at the the end.

Still, the biggest error Bad Mojo may have made in it's development was the decision to make most if not all of the game so seriously toned. In fact, I cite this as one of the principle causes of death for the genre. In a game where you are encouraged to explore your surroundings, finding that your character was abused as a child (by a nun no less) is not exactly the kind of witty banter that keeps the player coming back for more.

This seriousness in the genre could very well be what has kept adventure games from making a comeback. Few people will play through an adventure game more than once, unless it's something like Monkey Island or Sam & Max. More than anything, the serious adventure game, while as good as any other, lacks replayability.

No other adventure game exemplifies this better than I have no Mouth and I Must Scream. Before we continue, watch this video. This is the intro for I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

As you can see, this is probably the most disturbing adventure game ever made. It's also one you've probably never played. This isn't surprising as it was never a terribly popular game, despite winning several awards.

The voice you hear is AM, a giant, incredibly intelligent computer that has captured the last five people left on the Earth. Each of these people caries a fatal flaw which AM uses to torture them . Your role as the player is to take each character through the "game" that AM has designed to torture the characters once more. However, it gives each character the opportunity to overcome their flaws by facing them directly within the game.

The player is free to choose how the characters interact with the world. Doing good acts increases your chances of defeating AM in the end while evil acts decreases it. The game is graphic and disturbing. It runs the gamut of taboo material from murder and torture, to rape and genocide.

IHNMaIMS (hell of an acronym, eh) was a very well made game, a very good game. Would I ever play it again? No. And that is my point. As much as I love adventure games, without a sense of humor, they're doomed to obscurity. If the greatest adventure games are those that survive the test of time, then Threepwood is king.