LucasArts Time Machine: Loom


I have been aware of the existence of Loom ever since meeting the pirate in Monkey Island wearing an “Ask Me About Loom” badge who is otherwise monosyllabic, but who spouts flowery ad copy for the game at you if you Ask Him About Loom. A more serious, fantasy-themed adventure game from the same people who made one of my favourite games ever? Sounds great, sign me up! Unfortunately despite first hearing about Loom in 1995, I was not actually in a position to play Loom until 2009, as the game had almost immediately disappeared from UK shops and wasn’t available on digital distribution for another twenty years, and by that point I had all but forgotten Loom existed. Not only that, but so did nearly everyone else; it seems that despite the generous advertising plug, the release of Monkey Island in the same year massively overshadowed that of Loom. LucasArts were known as the Monkey Island studio afterwards, not the Loom studio1, and while Loom is more fondly remembered than, say, Zak McKracken, it remains little more than a footnote at the bottom of the list of LucasArts’ greatest achievements. Yet there remains a cult following of people who talk fondly about Loom, and not just because they’re characters in a game who have been explicitly written to advertise Loom, and so I was genuinely interested in experiencing Loom for the first time as part of this series just so that I could see what it was about.

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  1. Now, you might wonder why LucasArts weren’t known as the Star Wars studio at this point since they were part of Lucasfilm and should have had easy access to the IP. The answer is very simple: the rights to make Star Wars video games had been sold to Atari years earlier, and so the first titles from LucasArts had to be based on original IP — this is why we got Maniac Mansion, Zac McKracken, Loom and Monkey Island instead of a cavalcade of Star Wars tie-ins. LucasArts didn’t get the rights back until 1992, with X-Wing appearing the following year.
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Thoughts: Möbius Front ’83


If you go back and read one of my earliest reviews on this blog, you might notice a slightly different tone from the one I try to take today. Back then I took bad games rather… personally (this was before I’d formulated my Bad Game Theory1) and if I played a bad one I had a tendency to lay into not only the game in question but also the developers behind it, and with quite a bit of venom, too. Now that I’m older, wiser, and a little bit calmer, I can see now that this was unreasonable and unfair. Making videogames is hard. There’s any number of reasons why a game might not come together in the way it should, many of which are wholly or partially out of a developers’ control — not enough budget, truncated schedule, interfering executives, key personnel leaving, and so on. Nobody sets out to deliberately make a bad game, and so these days while I’m perfectly happy to continue giving bad games the kicking they so richly deserve, and while I might still have some choice barbs for the corporate aspect of game development, I try and give the individual developers themselves the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t come together for them this time. Maybe it will next time. There’s no reason to get nasty about it.

Or so I thought, until I played Möbius Front ‘83.

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  1. Which is that playing bad games is sometimes necessary in order to understand what a good one looks like.
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LucasArts Time Machine: Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders


Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders. For something with such a mouthful of a title, and especially for something produced by LucasArts, it is surprising that I had never even heard of Zak McKracken until it was added to GOG in 2015. Nobody talks about it — or at least if they do, they don’t talk about it anywhere near as loudly as the later classics like Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle.  Even Maniac Mansion sometimes gets a mention just for being the first modern adventure game (not to mention the entire thing being included as an easter egg in DOTT) but Zak McKracken? Might as well have been lost to history until GOG rereleased it.

This seemed strange considering how well-loved all of the other LucasArts games are, but after having played through it now I completely understand why nobody ever talks about it. It’s because Zak McKracken sucks so badly it deserves to be thrown into the memory hole and never spoken of again.

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Thoughts: Cloudpunk


I really, really want to like Cloudpunk. You’re playing Rania, the driver of a flying car in a cyberpunk city on her first day of work for underground delivery organisation Cloudpunk. You drive around the city, taking packages from point A to point B, while people talk to you over the comm about the city, the world, corporations, identity, AI, androids, the rich getting obscenely richer, the poor being trapped by debt and prejudice and left to die the moment they’re not economically useful — all of that classic cyberpunk shit that’s becoming uncomfortably real as we hurtle headfirst into a capitalist dystopia of our own. Where modern “cyberpunk” properties tend to co-opt the look but not the themes, Cloudpunk at least understands what cyberpunk should be. It’s clearly a labour of love made by real people who have been on the receiving end of some of this stuff themselves, and unlike certain other big-ticket cyberpunk releases that are scheduled (for now) to come out this year, Cloudpunk’s heart is definitely in the right place.

I just wish it was a better game.

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LucasArts Time Machine: Maniac Mansion


I haven’t been playing much that’s new recently, so after a gap of several years I have decided to do another one of my concept pieces whereby I play through an older game series to see how it evolves over time. Unlike my prior attempts, because we are currently in the middle of a pandemic, and more importantly because I have half of the games already played and written up, I’m 90% sure I’m actually going to finish this one. The series in question is the point and click adventure games made by LucasArts in the late 80s and early 90s, and the reason I decided to do this is because I haven’t actually played most of them — I haven’t played anything before Monkey Island, and I haven’t played Full Throttle, or Sam & Max, or Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis. So this is going to be just as much a learning experience for me as it is a trip down memory lane, as I fill in some missing gaps in my gaming history and hopefully learn a little something about the evolution of adventure games in the process.

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Thoughts: Spelunky 2


Spelunky 2 poses a problem rarely encountered by videogame developers: how do you follow up a game that’s already perfect?

Note that by “perfect” I do not necessarily mean “the best”. Art is subjective, and not everyone likes Spelunky, and that’s fine. However, I struggle to think of a game that hits all of its design goals with the unerring accuracy that Spelunky does. Everything in Spelunky meshes together so well to create an endlessly replayable dungeon-delving platformer roguelike, and there’s no wasted effort on extraneous, unnecessary features that bloat the game and don’t contribute anything to those design goals. Doing the usual sequel thing of adding new levels, items and features is going to be like adding a fifth wheel to a car, while taking anything out to make room for those new features is just going to create the dreaded Reliant Robin of games.

Having to make a sequel to a perfect (or almost-perfect) game is not something that happens often; of the few examples that do exist, the one I’d point to is when Nintendo had to follow up Super Mario 64 with a launch Mario title for the Gamecube. Mario Sunshine was a decent game which tried some new and interesting things with its water-spraying mechanics but which, ultimately, did not come together anywhere near as elegantly as the dead simple 3D platforming mechanics in 64. That’s fine. You can’t make every game a classic, and Mario Sunshine is still a lot of fun to play and a very worthwhile experience even if it ended up standing in the shadow of its predecessor. I think I would have understood if Spelunky 2 had ended up being the Spelunky series’ Mario Sunshine; I would have been a little disappointed, sure, but I would have respected the attempt and probably, eventually, enjoyed the game for what it was, just like I did Mario Sunshine.

Instead, what Derek Yu has made here is essentially Kaizo Mario 64. It’s the same game as before, but with all of the dials turned up to 11, and then turned all the way around again until the dial breaks. It’s Spelunky 1 for streamers and speedrunners; it’s Spelunky 1 if it were squarely targeted at the 1% of players who think Hell runs are too easy. It’s Asshole Spelunky. And I do not like it.

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