Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Bit of Fleen: Logical Journey of the Zoombinis

When I look back on my favorite games as a child, I start to see a trend—the games that I loved required puzzles, intelligence, and...gasp...learning. Chrono Trigger, Secret of Monkey Island, The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain and, yes, Zoombinis, were all logic games deeply immersed in puzzle solving and riddling. This seems, to me, a pretty far cry from games that we have nowadays, but I guess that is the sign of things evolving and me becoming older. Anyway, if you are one of the few individuals of my generation that has not played Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, here's a breakdown of what you missed.

Zoombinis are these weird amorphous blue jelly-bean shaped creatures that have algorithmized features of sunglasses, different kinds of eyes, and different kinds of hair. The goal of the game is to guide groups of these Zoombinis across their home island that has since become infested by evil creatures that are threatening their previously existing peaceful way of life. At the end of your journey, the Zoombinis begin founding a new home land across the ocean. You do all of this with 16 Zoombinis at a time (with the goal to get to 625 Zoombinis in the new homeland, Zoombiniville) which are being used as currency for your failures in potential puzzles. What I mean by this is if you mess up a puzzle too many times, one of your Zoombinis will be sent back to the beginning of the game. The game is built out into 12 puzzle stages that get progressively harder each time you bring a group of Zoombinis through—pretty ingenious structure if you ask me, but then again this is a game built for "ages 8 and up."

Allergic Cliffs—the first puzzle is one of the easiest, obviously. Your Zoombinis come to a set of two bridges spanning a cliff face with two literal faces in it. The premise is that each of the faces are allergic to something, and if something comes close to them that they are allergic to they will sneeze and knock off one of the six pegs holding the two bridges up. If all six pegs get knocked off, the Zoombinis on the other cliff face are left behind, and you have to continue with the ones that did get through. This puzzle is, obviously, solvable through trial and error, as the game cleverly leaves the Zoombinis that pass over each separate bridge in groups together so that the player can see commonalities.

Stone Cold Caves—Another puzzle of commonalities, in this game there are four pathways that are each blocked by a stony, mossy, mushy guardian. Each guardian will only let Zoombinis pass if they have facial characteristics (generated by algorithm in the beginning of the game) that appeal to them. If too many incorrect pathway choices occur, the guardians cause a rock slide that blocks entrances to all the remaining Zoombinis.

Pizza Pass—I think this was probably one of my favorite puzzles in the game. Whether that be because of my predisposition to pizza, or because I like the annoying tree-stump guardians of this level, I'm not sure.  The player is in control of a pizza machine on which they have to make pizzas to appease the taste of the guardian. If the pizza fails, the guardian essentially punches the Zoombini out of the game. When the guardians are satisfied, the player is allowed to move forward.

Captain Cajun's Ferryboat—This level seems easy in theory, but definitely gets harder as you progress. In this, the Zoombinis are tasked with crossing a swamp. The ferry driver is more than willing to take them, but only if they sit next to another Zoombini with which they share one characteristic.
through the game.

Titanic Tattooed Toads—I am reminded of Bejeweled or some phone game when I think about this level now. As the Zoombinis travel down the river, they come across a section which is traversable only by crossing lilly pads on the back of giant toads. The catch is that the lilly pads and toads are each tattooed, and the toad can only travel across lilly pads that have the same shape, color, or pattern as itself. If they take the wrong path, the Zoombini and toad both remain stuck in the middle of the river, and you have to continue on without them.

Stone Rise—Another level where Zoombinis have to sit with others that share their likeness, in this one there are stone benches that have a certain characteristic carved into the back of them. You must organize your Zoombinis in pairs, and once they are all sorted the benches kind of magically rise out of the mire so the Zoombinis can continue on their way.

Fleens!—I was talking to one of my coworkers about designing icons for a new feature that we have coming out when the Fleens were brought up. These guys are the nasty, rebellious, machinated versions of the sweet innocent Zoombinis. In this level, the Fleens have chased the Zoombinis up a tree, and can only be drawn away if they see a Zoombini with a similar characteristic to the one that they've chased up in the first place. Just like the other games, this has a six failure caveat, after which point you'll start losing Zoombinis.

Hotel Dimensia—Definitely a weird level, but in this one your Zoombinis are greeted by a somewhat demented, musical, hotel-running squirrel who is starting to close up shop. The Zoombinis must find a room based on their individual qualities, which you can test through trial and error. Each time a Zoombini picks the wrong room, they fall out of the tree in which the hotel is nested and 5 minutes pass on a giant clock. If the clock reaches midnight, only the Zoombinis who have found a room will be allowed to continue onwards.

Mudball Wall—I think that the sound effects in this level were my favorite from the whole game. Weird thing to remember, right? In this, your Zoombinis have been stuck in a giant swamp, and need to fire mudballs at certain locations in a stone wall in order to be launched over it via catapult. The placement at which the mudball will fire is determined by a grid of different colors and shapes, so the player is tasked with choosing wisely to fire at the correct panels. If the mud in the mud machine (that makes the balls) runs out, the Zoombinis not successfully catapulted over the wall will be left behind.

The Lions Lair—I am pretty sure that I always failed this one. In this level there is a huge chasm with a stone-by-stone path across it leading up to a giant lion statue. Zoombinis are able to fill certain stones based on their characteristics. If selected to be on the wrong stone, the Zoombini is magically teleported to the correct spot, but one of the stone pegs next to the exit gate (behind the lion) pops out, and the gate comes closer to closing. Once all of the pegs have fallen out, the gate closes and any Zoombinis that haven't gotten through are lost.

Mirror Machine—In this, the Zoombinis are faced with panes of glass on which certain matching characteristics have been etched. When they are paired, the two are projected onto a large pendulum. If the pendulum stays even (and the two match), the Zoombini is allowed to pass, if not, the pendulum tilts, dropping the Zoombini and losing it from the game.

Bubble Wonder Abyss—This is the last level of the Zoombinis' journey, and is a somewhat elaborate maze. The Zoombinis are put in a bubble machine that generates a giant bubble around them, and are asked to choose a path through a maze. If they choose the path correctly through toggling, the Zoombinis pass over the chasm completely, if not, their bubble pops, and they are lost.

The Zoombinis that survive all of these tests are then bought to Zoombiniville, safe and sound. With each 16 new Zoombinis that join the population, a new building is established such as: a clock tower, bowling alley, fire station, windmill, general store, and others. I never got as far as to complete the entire game with 625 Zoombinis, though, as I didn't have the patience or mental capacity.

Whew. That turned out longer than I wanted it to be! Unfortunately, I have not really been able to find any online versions of the game to play, but if this seems fun, you can download ROMs, or even buy the original game CD on Amazon. Happy gaming!

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