Adventure characters don't come more legendary, stupid, or dead than Lord Dimwit Fathead The Excessive. The latest in the line of Zork adventures, Zork Zero, opens with his execution - for building a statue of himself of proportions so gigantic that its big toe overshadows the favourite forest of the all-powerful and well-narked Wizard Megaboz.
Not only that, but the malicious wit has cast a demonic curse to obliterate the Eastlands. The onset of the curse has been delayed for some time - ninety-six years to be precise - but that time has elapsed and now, at the eleventh hour, you come into possession of the wiz's secret parchment which sets you off on the quest - and a chance to reverse the spell.
Zork Zero has puzzles a-plenty, and they come in three distinct types: traditional adventure puzzles, riddles of pure logic and mini IQ-style tests. So, respectively, you could find yourself asking what use is a live lobster, what do you say for a last request, and how do you remove the last stone from a pile.
For the first time in an Infocom game, the graphics play a part in the adventure itself. The screen is bordered by arches of different design, depending on whether your current location is indoors, outdoors, or underground. Full screen graphics are displayed as a result of a READ or EXAMINE command, and the map is a particularly good, mouse-sensitive example of its kind.
The hint system is pretty neat - not to say comprehensive - and surprise, surprise, can be accessed by typing in HINT. But a game for the impatient this is not: there may be as many as fourteen levels of hint for the same problem, starting with the least helpful, and revealed one at a time on request.
Zork Zero is a superb adventure, packed with problems of varying difficulty. It's very funny. Check out the fickle-natured jester to see what I mean. Here's one character who's sweet as pie one minute, the next he'll try to smother you to death with a huge red rose! Don't forget to read the Flathead calendar. It's pretty wry stuff, and jam-packed with clues.
Written by Steve Meretzky, author of Planetfall, Stationfall, Sorcerer, Hitch-Hiker's Guide and the high-selling smutware game, Leather Goddesses, Zork Zero is an essential addition to the collection of any serious adventure player, and equally recommended as a first time adventure to those who wonder what all the fuss is about.