Chock full of brainteasers, cheap deaths, instant “get stuck” situations, lots of cheezy FMVs, whimsical dialogue, and lots of laughs, Return to Zork is a game you’ll come back to again and again, but ultimately will probably need an FAQ to truly make any real progress. It’s fun, funny, has lots of great one-liners, and will easily satisfy your oldschool need for adventure gaming.
Available For: FM Towns, Mac, PC (reviewed), PC-FX, PS1, Saturn
Release Date: 1993
Wow, what can you even say about a game like Return to Zork? This was one of the first adventure games I ever played, even before the likes of Myst. I actually tried REALLY hard to justify putting this in my top 3 list instead of Myst, but Myst won hands down for being more visually impressive and doing more for the genre itself.
This is especially sad because RtZ is easily one of my favorite adventure games. It’s not my favorite because of the puzzles, though. Actually, that’s one area where this game can go die in a fire. While yes, there are some clever puzzles and equally clever solutions, as would be present in most older adventure games, there are far more obscure, ridiculous puzzles that you’re only going to figure out through trial and error, constantly saving, or just giving up and getting an FAQ.
In fact, that’s how I eventually had to beat it. There’s one part where you get a mosaic puzzle (and GODDAMN do I hate those) and the worst part is it was based on a paragraph rather than a picture. I couldn’t figure it out at all. The FAQ helped make sense of it, but then I felt like a dumbass because usually when it’s just a basic puzzle, I can totally figure it out, most likely because I kicked ass at games like 7th Guest.
In any case, I mostly love RtZ because of the characters, environments/ambience, music, and the ridiculous dialogue. For example, one of the first characters you meet is an absent-minded lighthouse caretaker that gives you a huge spiel about needing a secret password in order to enter his lighthouse, but during his long ass monologue, he thinks you may have already given it, so he lets you in.
There’s a drunkard you encounter that shouts the famous line “Want some rye? SHHHHHURE ya do!” Even the game manual (The Abridged Version of The Encyclopedia Frobozzica) comes complete with all kinds of back history and the copyright protection checks are in the forms of pun jokes derived from it. There isn’t even one character in the game that isn’t interesting or unmemorable, easily making it one of the best adventure games of all time…at least for me.
So why didn’t it at least place in the top 3 for Adventure Game of the Year 1993? Let’s take a look at those that did win. First, Quest for Glory 4 and Gabriel Knight. Both of these were developed by Sierra and really didn’t feature FMVs, movies, or whatever. They concentrated on the core gameplay, had great puzzles and characters, excellent writing, and great production values all around.
RtZ, for all it’s merits, had confusing or frustrating puzzles, lots of trial and error, and the FMVs…oh the FMVs. Check out that youtube link above and you’ll see what I mean. Myst won because it effectively did everything RtZ did, BUT…the production values and tech at hand were incredible. RtZ also never really went anywhere, meaning that yes, there were further Zork games, but they weren’t as good, memorable, or necessary in most cases.
Myst went on to have Riven, which is well enough to earn many accolades. The other Myst games are just…alright…but even they have great production values and use the finest tech. I’m not trying to be a downer, but there’s only so much a DOS game can do. And before you take that as a crack on DOS gaming, I encourage you to read my other GotY articles.
I grew up on DOS. That shit was epic. Hell, I learned to program in GWBASIC before I could even type proficiently! I played Return to Zork alongside games like Maniac Mansion 1 and 2, King’s Quest 6, Quest for Glory 4, the original Sam & Max, Dragon’s Lair, and so many others. Truth be told, I miss DOS and that’s why I screw around with DOSBox on a regular basis, essentially reviving many classics I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with.
Return to Zork is a classic, no matter the games that surrounded it in 1993. I honestly can’t think of anymore to say about it other than you absolutely must check it out. How you’re going to get it to work is anyone’s guess, but DOSBox may be a good start. As I said, it’s fun, funny, has lots of great one-liners, and will easily satisfy your oldschool need for adventure gaming.