[Herr M] It is time again: Equipped with the classic fedora and the good old whip in your hand, you are standing in front of an ancient temple to figure out one of mankind's best kept secrets. If you are now thinking about a well-known leather jacket salesman, I am afraid that you are mistaken: We are not talking about the escapades of Indiana Jones, but about Tex Bonaventure on the search for the water of life.
[Mr Creosote] Though honestly, if the licence could have been financed, we certainly would have met Indiana Jones here. 'Tex Bonaventure', on the other hand, is a wordplay on 'Text Adventure', of course, which already gives us an idea of what's to come.
A Text Adventure? Just like in the old days?
[Herr M] This being a text adventure in its original form: A bunch of randomly organised rooms full of devious traps and also home to a pack of really obscure creatures. Oh, yes, and at the very heart of the temple, the desired goal: a treasure of immeasurable value.
[Mr Creosote] You could say that we will now set out to explore the adventurous, treasure-filled traditions of the genre once more! Let's see how many deaths we will die in the process…
[Herr M] Yes, death was an issue in old text adventures. Often, they were a bit merciless. One thoughtless action and all of a sudden, you had to decide whether you wanted to restart, restore a saved game or quit. Tex Bonaventure is quite similar in this respect: You can already die right in the very first scene and even if you manage to get past the 'guardian', you will still have a very good motivation to actually reach your goal. And things don't become easier after this.
[Mr Creosote] However, this is also the first major deviation from the truly classic treasure hunts: When Tex dies, it is immediately apparent. You will never drink a liquid only to find out 100 turns later that it was poison and now kills you. If you're dead, you're dead; you can undo your last action and you know what it was that caused your death.
[Herr M] Granted, these deaths are always traceable and therefore a lot more avoidable than in older games. There are certain modernisations which really improve the gameplay experience. Though at the core, it is still very traditional: A lot of traps and how to get around them. It is even commendable that the game is thorough enough to include the protagonist's death, because things become more suspenseful.
[Mr Creosote] Although I have played and enjoyed quite a number of 'unfair' treasure hunts, I am thankful for small mercies like this these days. Also, the puzzles about circumventing the traps and getting along in other respects are not nearly as absurd as common in past times.
[Herr M] You think so? I found some solutions a little far-fetched. It can always be guessed quite easily what roughly needs to be done (especially since it is often a little clichéd), but the final implementation of some puzzles can be uncommon at times.
[Mr Creosote] I certainly don't want to claim that this is the summit of human logic. However, I have hardly encountered any puzzles which are all about finding hidden objects – I lost count of how many hours in how many games I spent just digging through the ground in every damn room, just to actually find new objects all of sudden. Also, the temple is relatively small, so even just trying everything out is quickly done.
[Herr M] This is only an argument based on limited possibilities, not on good puzzle design, though. Especially when it comes to searching the ground, a certain puzzle comes to my mind which almost made me despair. There, something was lying on the ground which was not discoverable, although I already suspected it would be there. The ground's description made no reference to it.
[Mr Creosote] Sure, as I said, something will only become clear in retrospect, but at least you get that much. Complete nonsense like a rod scaring a bird (Adventure) which really makes you bang your head on the table, you will simply not find in this game. Sure, admittedly, it is possible to find some fault with every puzzle. Whether it is a hidden object (which is of another quality, though, because the object is just hidden in another recursion level of examining everything; it is not completely invisible) or a wrongly labelled object (this piece of armour). Still: I never truly got stuck, the game flow worked quite well for me.
Actually, this game really showed me how organically this kind of puzzle integrates in this kind of genre, as opposed to putting them into other kinds of stories where they always appear a bit forced.
[Herr M] With the mentioned exception and the ending (where I had to look up the solution which I consider extremely far fetched), I also found the game flow quite good. I was just a little annoyed in some places where the implementation was not quite up to par.
[Mr Creosote] In general, I had a more than solid impression of the implementation. I encountered some technical issues with climbing up through the trapdoor, but other than that?
[Herr M] I also had a switch which I could only work with 'flip', but not with 'push' or 'pull'. Especially with climbing, the game was quite picky and I could only get through said trapdoor by abusing a bug. But to avoid to come across too negative: The better part is very well made, it's just that there are a couple of rough edges which could have been avoided, in my opinion. None of them is so bad that it would make the game unplayable.
[Mr Creosote] I can't refute any of those details, but at least, the game will always allow the player to use the wordings which it uses itself. At the lodge, for example, the necessary verb is given away in the description. Of course, it would have been even better if alternate ones had worked, too, but I'm ok with this basic level of fairness. In particular, I think the game has been marvelously implemented aside from the actual puzzles: A lot of actions which you will certainly not need for the final solution will just give you funny answers instead.
Maybe there a little bit more after all?
[Herr M] But it's not just those: In general, there is a lot of humour in the descriptions which sometimes go several levels deep. From the location description to an object to a detail of the object and sometimes even further. I would just like to recommend examining the temple entrance very closely, this should already give you a taste.
[Mr Creosote] So you are rewarded for exploration and sometimes even absurd actions – explicitely through points (one of my first attempted actions in every game, for example, is to sing, but I rarely ever received a point for it so far), but (even more importantly) also implicitely, because you are being entertained. The game is delightfully ironic about itself and it rewards those players who play along with it in this vein.
[Herr M] Apart from the additional depth and the very high replayability, this encourages some amusing experimentation. My test case is to try and go to sleep in every game, an action which this game actually answers. And with that, I mean that you get a comment which goes way beyond a simple 'You are not tired!'
[Mr Creosote] Exactly, such things are just a lot of fun! The game virtually screams not to take it too seriously, but just to have fun – which is a welcome change in a time of almost sullen seriousness. In this genre, this goes as far as games not wanting to be called 'games' anymore, because their authors consider that a derogatory term. Tex is the exact opposite and that is refreshingly 'different'.
[Herr M] It is also important to mention that Tex does have a certain standard to its humour, though. Games which just want to be fun, in my view, still exist in volumes today, but it is rare that they try this through wordplay and well-done satire. It is almost funny that this game would not have been anything special 20 or 30 years ago. Although there is a bit more than back then, even if it is only the allusions to modern pop culture.
[Mr Creosote] Interesting, I would have interpreted this exactly the other way around: Tex goes a fairly easy route with its humour. It is hardly subtle, but as you said, it lives from allusions to pop culture. This is humour defined by connotation and you could even call it adorning oneself with borrowed plumes. Not that I have anything against this, but it is a lightweight sort of humour which you don't have to contemplate for days to get the joke.
[Herr M] There are much more sophisticated pieces for sure and maybe it does depend a little too much on quotes, but at least it was my impression that there is a certain wit to it. Well-done allusions are also not trivial and I think this game succeeds pretty well. If I had to chalk something up, it would be the main character who is based too much on the old cliché of the archeologist without fleshing this out in the game.
[Mr Creosote] As I said, I don't even want to criticise the humour in this way. I actually had to laugh a couple of times! Though your observation about the characterisation is exactly what I wanted to get at: Without the connotation of the well-known, this would not work at all. The connotations sometimes being more (Indiana Jones), sometimes less obvious (jokes about Twine – it will be interesting to see whether anyone will still understand this in a couple of years).
[Herr M] Yes, some are quite specialised, though they are not always embedded in our current times. Those who cannot make anything of 'xyzzy' or 'west of the house', will still not get it in a couple of years. Yet, consistently done, as it is the case here, these quotes really work well.
[Mr Creosote] Also, the game never falls into the trap of considering itself all too clever with its allusions. This sort of thing, I can't stand at all! And after solving the unsolvable final puzzle, you are even rewarded with another big bang which does pay off for the temporary frustration.
[Herr M] I'm afraid that in the end, the frustration went a nudge too far for me, it did not balance out all the troubles. Although I have to admit that in its entirety, it does fit into the genre. At least I was immediately reminded of some Infocom games (particularly Infidel).
[Mr Creosote] Just to hint at the epilogue quickly (strictly speaking a prologue): The game begins right in front of the temple's entrance. How did our hero get here? And the question, as in Infidel, is, whether he should have known better.
[Herr M] You could discuss quite a bit about the answer after seeing both endings. Just that where Infidel is very straightforward and with that unsubtle in my view, Tex leaves some space for interpretation. Maybe the conclusion is not mind-blowing, but it is also not too shallow.
[Mr Creosote] Well, you said it before, and I have to agree: The humour does get the impression of a good amount of wit and intelligence across and that is of course particularly true for the ending. Though I also believe that we would not be acting in the humorous author's best interest if we were to over-interpret it.
[Herr M] This is probably right, even though I would appreciate it very much if it was intended to some degree. No matter how you look at it, it brings the story full circle and delivers a successful punch line.
[Herr M] And with that, we have to ask the question: How does it look on the whole? How well does this homage to good old 'text adventures' work?
[Mr Creosote] Saying it very bluntly: It was great! Sure, there were a couple of rough edges here and there, but none of them really swayed my overall impression. Especially because those little weaknesses are all easily solved on a technical level in a later release. Conceptually, there is nothing I would even remotely consider weak.
What surprised me the most, though, was when I researched who is hiding behind the pseudonym 'Truthcraze' in retrospect: It is the author of The Test is Now READY, a well-intended game which turned out to be a little too moralising, from last year's competition. Compared to that, what we have here is an unbelievable quantum leap quality-wise and also a surprising change in the game's tone.
[Herr M] Well, at least the author has already fixed a couple of bugs in Tex (for example the gauntlet mentioned earlier). If he also irons out a couple of more complaints, I would unreservedly recommend this game to all text adventure fans. It hits the zeitgeist (absurd traps and monsters, treasures as a means for everything) of its predecessors astoundingly well while using some allusions to modern times to stay fresh, so that it is probably a little more accessible than the really old spelunker adventures.