|Source // MobyGames|
I have never read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I've seen the film once, for sure, as well as clips of it and the TV show. I know that the number 42 and a day dedicated to towels is related to it. That is, more or less, the extent of my knowledge of the book, which is a big problem when it comes to the game, as it almost necessitates you having read it before you play.
I'm playing the 30th Anniversary edition from the BBC, but many versions exist across the years, and all of them, as the BBC describes, are 'a bit mean'.
Whatever could they mean by that?...
I think I have a love/hate relationship with text adventures. I love that they can put you anywhere in the world, or in another world, or in no world entirely, with just the power of clever writing. I love that they often have a sense of humour, perhaps based on the fact that the various text parsers aren't perfect and throw up some funny moments, as if you're really talking to a dumb computer that's just trying to understand you. Perhaps it's because they were just well written, with the funnier ones living longer in the memory.
With a story like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in a time of computing that is the mid 1980s, there was only ever one way to do justice to the novel, and that is a text adventure. Not just any old conversion from novel to game though, but a dedicated game written by Douglas Adams himself. It's like there shouldn't be any possible problem with this title...
Except of course that it is a nonsense text adventure with brutal puzzles of ridiculous difficulty that actively tries - and succeeds - at killing you very, very often.
That's where the hate part of the love/hate relationship comes in. I hate not having a clue what I need to do. I hate puzzle solutions that almost expect you to have known exactly what to do at the first glance. I hate when things get in the way of the story I want to participate in.
Of course there's an argument to be made about hand holding and invisible walls guiding me through babbys first video game, and I get that. I get that things ought to be challenging, or get challenging as the game goes on, but to die after 19 turns of fumbling inside a room, getting used to what the text parser is capable of, all because of an event you had no control over instakills you is a tad irksome to new players, is it not?
At the very least, when you do die to something stupid you may well get a couple more turns to find out what happens to you after you die. It's still unforgiving, it still killed me out of nowhere, but at least I wasn't unceremoniously dumped back at a menu or something. The story - as with life - goes on, just without me being there to change things.
The writing is as you'd expect, but the puzzles probably aren't. I've had to watch The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy instead of playing through again and again and again, trying and failing and trying once more to get anywhere. I simply don't have that kind of time.
I've got the time to watch an expert, but then what am I doing? Isn't that just like reading a book, only an interactive book that you're not interacting with? Wouldn't the best thing to do in that case be to just read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy instead?
That's difficult to say. From watching the game I can tell that there's something different from the likes of Planetfall, even with its designer, Steve Meretzky, working with Adams on this title. Is that because the writing of this game is different, or because I know that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made it all the way to TV and film, whereas Planetfall didn't?
If you can put up with the puzzles, and know a decent bit about the book but haven't played the game yet, then you should. It's available in all manner of formats, online and off. However, if you're like me, and don't want to bash your head against both the writing and the text parser, then maybe The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy isn't for you.
It is quite the challenge. Are you up to it?
Despite listing its difficulty as 'Standard', Infocom would sell T-shirts that read "I got the Babel Fish!", in reference to one of the earlier puzzles difficulty.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, developed by Infocom, first released in 1984.
Version played: 30th Anniversary Edition, 2014.
Version watched: DOS, 1984 (Day-Glo Buffalo)