Zork: Grand Inquisitor (ZGI) is a delightful departure from the standard gloom and doom play of most modern video games. Even better, it makes fun of some of them. It also pokes fun at Star Wars, Indiana Smith and a host of other pop culture symbols.
I don’t recall the original Zork being that funny. Maybe it was and I just have a poor memory, but ZGI is hysterical to the point that parts of the game made me laugh out loud, which is pretty impressive. What is particularly great about ZGI though, is not just that it’s funny, there are other funny spoof games out there, but that it is a big-budget-cool-graphics funny game. Most spoof games look like they were cooked up in the living room on someone’s old PC, not ZGI, it’s got grand vistas, beautiful detailing and you get to play a version of strip poker with Dirk Benedict. (sigh)
The overall theme of ZGI is that The Grand Inquisitor has taken over Zork and banned magic from the entire land. Anyone magical or just generally against the idea of the Grand Inquisitor is totemized, which is to say they are literally tossed into a machine and turned into a totem, which is like a thick coin or maybe a small metal hockey puck.
You are dropped into the game just seconds before the curfew takes effect for the evening. You start in Port Foozle, a seaside town full of cranky, frightened residents and a mysterious talking fish. From Port Foozle you must make your way to the Great Underground Empire. There you must bring together three magical objects to return magic to the land. Along the way you collect totems and release them to assist you in your quest. As is typical for games of this type, items are kept in the inventory screen and can be examined more closely with various tools. Along the way you will also need to gather spells, which you keep in your spell book. Some of the spells are what you would normally see, such as water spells, but then there are much more esoteric spells like the one to make purple things invisible.
Then of course, there are the puzzles. These are challenging but not so difficult you’re banging your head against the desk, but challenging enough to make you think and more importantly to save before you make your next move. I, for instance, early in the game made the mistake of venturing into the Great Underground Empire without a light. That was a big mistake. The game then dropped me into a text window where I was essentially told I was an idiot, which I do seem to remember from the original Zork.
As it turned out I needed a lantern that I’d collected to be repaired by Dirk Benedict’s character, Antharia Jack. Jack plays a big role in the game, sometimes working with you and sometimes against you. In spite of my early demise in the game, I recovered and moved on. It’s not really that difficult to avoid dying and while it can be challenging to finish, it can be done. The game has an actual closing sequence, which is quite satisfying.
My only real complaint about the game is the same complaint I have for other games like this, like the Myst series or The Dig or a host of other puzzle/quest type games. Once you’ve figured something out it is very slow moving through the game to get back to other points, even when there are short cuts, as there are in ZGI. Still that’s a small complaint and it is common in the genre so I give Zork: Grand Inquisitor four out of five GiN Gems for being tons of fun and a great addition to its genre.