Although it seems like only yesterday, it was actually way back in 2012 that I wrote about one of the most bewildering games I've ever played - Adventure International's Questprobe Featuring The Hulk. That game was a text adventure which took the Incredible Hulk, the smashiest of all the Marvel heroes, and placed him in a puzzle-filled world where he had to use his brains rather than his massive green fists to solve the problems laid before him, a world where the Hulk was defeated by ants and he refused to smash things because he is no vandal. After two years, I think I've recovered enough to take on the sequel. That's right, in 1984 Scott Adams created a second Marvel Comics-affiliated Questprobe game, and here it is: Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man!
Well, the title screen's just as exciting as the first game's was.
I'll be playing the Commodore 64 version of the game, mostly because that's the version of the prequel that I played, but Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man was also released on quite a few computers including the ZX Spectrum and the Atari 8-bit line. The Commodore version is one of the more graphically punishing iterations, so my apologies for that, but it doesn't all look as spirit-sappingly dull as this screen. This screen at least offers some insight into which Spider-Man characters will be making an appearance. Doctor Octopus! Electro! Ringmaster! Hang on, Ringmaster? I assume he's a circus-themed villain, right? He's surely not going to be a hero, he's circus folk.
Okay, I'm ready to start. Where will we find Peter Parker at the beginning of this adventure? Swinging across the New York skyline? Battling with an alien symbiote? Watching his girlfriend under the bright lights of Broadway?
Spider-Man is standing around in a dingy office building. I like the description of the threadbare carpet, that really adds to the sense of gloom. Not a start that promises a wild adventure that captures the web-crawling thrills of the comics, but I know where I am, which is more than could be said for the previous game.
Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man is a text adventure, and I'm sure you all know what that entails: you type commands into the parser, things like GO NORTH or GET ITEM or PONDER FUTILITY, and hopefully Spider-Man will do those things. The engine seems much more robust than in the Hulk version: it can handle full sentences, and it's nice and generous when it comes to abbreviations and spelling mistakes. It was particularly helpful that the game knew what I meant when I kept mis-typing "cieling," as we shall see later. For now, though, let's head to that door at the end of the corridor.
Nice work describing Madame Web as an "item", Spider-Misogynist.
Madame Web, psychic, clairvoyant and bit-part Spider-Man character, is sitting in a room, waiting to tell Spidey that his goal is to collect the eighteen gems scattered throughout the game. Just like the previous game, in fact, which is good because it means I now know that some of them will be hidden in unmarked, nonsensical locations. To complete the game, just bring the gems to Madame Web, dump them on the floor in front of her and enter the command SCORE. I'd better start looking for gems, then!
Lurking nearby is The Lizard. I know he's an actual lizard-man, but "The Lizard" still sounds like the nickname of a frat boy from an eighties movie to me. Anyway, talking to The Lizard makes him respond by saying "You'll never get MY gem!" so now I know The Lizard has a gem. But how to get it? Reasoned argument isn't going to cut it, so I tried PUNCH LIZARD - it seemed like a sensible way to deal with the situation - but apparently "Lizard won't let me!" What do you mean, he won't let me? Is he whacking Spidey with a rolled-up newspaper or something? Trying to flush him down a plughole? I wasn't trying to get him to let me take the gem, I just wanted to knock him out and take the gem from his unconscious body, a sentence which in retrospect does not paint Spidey in the most heroic light. I tell you what, Lizard, I'll come back later when I have the item that I obviously need to take the gem from you.
The next room holds the villain Hydro-Man. I think I can take a decent guess at what his super-powers are. He's guarding an aquarium, which possibly doubles as his house. Again, Hydro-Man "won't let me" examine it, so I'll have to find some way to shift him. Maybe I'll pick up a wet vac, or an extremely large drinking straw.
A pile of sand lies on the floor of another room. Just let me check that list of characters from the title screen... yep, that'll be Sandman, then. For some reason, Sandman shares this room with a baby's crib. Did I interrupt his babysitting job or something? The poor guy's trying to go straight and Spider-Man continues to harass him. Now that I think about it, the crib might be some kind of Sandman / sleep joke. I'm just glad to see a room with something in it besides a Spider-Man villain who won't let me do anything.
I walked over peek in the crib, but stepping on the sand made Sandman say "ouch" and reassemble himself, blocking me from picking up the gem that I'm certain is in that crib. Here, then, is the first puzzle I figured out: if I can't walk on the floor, maybe I can walk on the ceiling? I am Spider-Man, after all, and entering GO CEILING did indeed make Spider-Man cling to the ceiling. In some of the other ports of the game, the screen is flipped upside-down to reflect Spidey's new point of view, a neat touch that is not present in the Commodore version.
Once Spidey's up there, he can take the gem from the crib without treading on Sandman. It is not a big room, and Sandman could easily pull Spider-Man down from the ceiling even if he didn't have magic shape-shifting powers, but he's content to stick with his impression of a beach so long as Spidey doesn't actually touch him and thus I collected my first gem.
The first thing you should really be doing is opening this elevator shaft. Once you've done that, you can use it to travel between the three floors of the building, plus the hidden penthouse room that you can only enter by using PUSH ELEVATOR when you're right at the top of the lift shaft. I had to look up a walkthrough for that one, I'll be honest.
Spidey's latest adventure, captured in thrilling comic-style illustrations!
The walkthrough also came in handy to let me know that by searching a few times in the elevator shaft, you can find a niche that holds a gem. Then you can do it again for each individual floor. Once was enough, I feel. Having to perform the same commands on each storey of the building rather smacks of padding, although you can just use LOOK NICHE now you know what's coming up.
With the elevator now fully accessible, the game opens up and Spider-Man can access (almost) every area of the office building he's trudging around in. It must be the Daily Bugle offices: I hope you're not upset by this shocking spoiler, but there are printing presses in the basement. There's also a portrait of J. Jonah Jameson in this penthouse suite, and the only person who would ever hang a portrait of J. Jonah Jameson is J. Jonah Jameson himself. Conclusion: this is either the Daily Bugle building, or Spider-Man has just broken into his boss' apartment.
The object in this room that immediately caught my attention was the thermostat, which Spider-Man can raise or lower as he chooses. I lowered it, as a mercy to Spidey: he must be getting warm after scurrying up and down that lift shaft in a skin-tight suit that covers his mouth and nose. Then I thought hey, maybe I can freeze Hydro-Man by turning the thermostat right down? That's got a certain text adventure logic to it.
Oh my stars, it totally worked. That is one hell of an air conditioning system. Now that Hydro-Man is a solid block of ice, I can pick up the aquarium, take it to another room, turn the thermostat back up to thaw it and get the gem from inside. Okay, so it was slightly more complicated than that because Spidey refused to just reach into the water to get the gem, but once I figured out that I had to empty the tank first I managed to collect the gem. That's two gems gained after solving two puzzles using something approaching logic - logic applied in a completely nonsensical situation, sure, but I figured it out on my own and so I can already state that this game is much better, or at least kinder, than Questprobe Featuring The Hulk.
I still hadn't found anything that seemed like it'd help me deal with The Lizard, so I went back to Madame Web for a chat. It turns out that she can SCAN characters, and doing so provides you with a clue - in this case, the chemical equation CaCo3 + HCl = CaCl2. It just so happens that in a room on the third floor I found some Calcium Carbonate, Hydrochloric acid and the wonderfully named "exotic chemicals". They must be from far Araby or something. There's also a chemistry lab up there, so let's get mixing!
The game seemed to be having problem here due to my cluttered inventory. In trying to fix this problem I discovered that "DROP ACID" is a perfectly acceptable command in Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man.
Eventually I managed to mix the chemicals and get some Calcium Chloride, which I think I'm supposed to throw at The Lizard.
Yep, that worked. The Calcium Chloride causes The Lizard to revert back to his peaceful Doc Conners state, who promptly falls asleep because the activity of protecting a gem from Spider-Man has tuckered him out, the poor little fella. I'm not sure why Calcium Chloride triggered this reaction, but it's probably related to the chemical's use as a desiccant. I dried The Lizard out, essentially, and as I slip the gem from the sleeping Doc Conners' pocket, I whisper to him that I'll be back for him soon - I have other uses for his sleeping body. That's for later, though.
Another room, another villain. This time it's the Ringmaster who, surprise surprise, is a circus themed villain. He's got a magic hat that can hypnotise people. The game seems to hold the same low opinion of the Ringmaster as I do.
Sounds like an accurate description to me.
The Ringmaster tells Spider-Man that all he must do to defeat him is turn the knob on the wall. However, if you attempt this The Ringmaster hypnotises you with his magic hat and forces you to leave the room. Did I mention he has a magic hypnotising hat? It's not the most unbelievable thing to ever appear in a comic book, but it's probably one of the lamest.
As I'm supposedly controlling Spider-Man, my first thought was to try and move the knob from further away by shooting it with my webs. The only problem with that solution is that Spider-Man doesn't have any web fluid. Right, what are Spider-Man's defining features? He does whatever a spider can, for starters: shooting webs and climbing walls. He's got super-strength and agility. He makes a lot of bad jokes. He's kind of a dork. And which of these have we experienced in Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man? Well, I climbed onto the ceiling, and I did spend some time in that chemistry lab so that's the "dork" part covered, but there's no wisecracking, no swinging, no clobbering villains and no webbing, which seems to me a pretty integral part of the whole Spider-Man experience. You do eventually make some web fluid - that's what the "exotic chemicals" are for - but Spidey says it's only a "partial success" and you can't use it on villains or for swinging from a thread so I'm afraid it doesn't really count.
Using your web on the knob isn't the correct solution anyway, but having played the prequel I know how to overcome this challenge: by closing my eyes. It's a technique that protected the Hulk from angry ants, and it comes to the rescue again here - The Ringmaster's hypno-hat can't scramble Spidey's brain-eggs if he's not looking at it, so all you have to do is close your eyes and fumble around in the dark until you can find and twist the knob. If you want to add a "that's what she said!" to the end of the previous sentence, feel free.
Once the knob is turned The Ringmaster disappears, leaving behind a gem and giving Spidey access to the computers in this room. As it happens, these computers operate the printing presses, but the presses must be loaded with 950 pounds of paper before they'll start. I'd better go and find these presses, then.
That means a trip to the second floor, where Spider-Man finds himself on the outside of the building, doing some honest-to-God wall-crawling. This is also the first time we've seen Spider-Man, despite the game having "Featuring Spider-Man" right there in the title.
I got a bit stuck here, as Spider-Man can't move anywhere except back the way he came: trying to move up, down or around the building brings up a message telling you that something's in your way. Every now and then a different message pops up saying "I see MYSTERIO ran by!" That'll be why I can't get anywhere: Spidey's trapped in one of Mysterio's illusions. I broke free of Mysterio's spell completely by accident when I told Spider-Man to climb onto the ceiling again before heading back into the building.
That puts you above the brain-altering gas, which lingers around at floor level. If only Mysterio had added some helium to the mix, I'd still be trapped in his illusion now. As it stands, I've now got two options: drop down into the fog, or climb through that duct in the ceiling. I'm going for the first one. I want to see Mysterio. He could have a gem, and his ridiculous appearance is always good for a laugh.
There's old fishbowl features now, waving cheerily at Spider-Man, who is practising his cartwheels. Mysterio might look like kitchen scourer wrapped in a purple curtain, but of all the characters in the game I think he turned out the best in the looks department. I suppose it's easier to get a good likeness of Mysterio than of everyone else, what with his head being a lightbulb.
Mysterio doesn't attack or anything, giving Spider-Man plenty of time to look for gems. Thanks to the walkthrough I learned that by using the FEEL command in certain directions while you're down in the mist you can find a few gems, and once those gems are in Spidey's possession I can got back and check out that air duct.
There's a fan in the way. To slow down the fan, you have to shoot it with your substandard web fluid. Not once, though - you have to use the exact same command five or six times to gradually slow the fan's speed, because typing SPRAY WEB, AT FAN once was so much fun that doing it six times will surely propel you to heights of ecstasy previously unmatched in human experience. Once the fan's slowed down enough, you can web-shoot a button behind it to turn it off. That's the only time I managed to use my web shooters in this, a game supposedly about Spider-Man.
I found the printing presses! I also found Electro and Doctor Octopus. It's a good job they are named in the description, because I think I would have struggled to identify them based solely on the visual clues.
Hahaha, Doctor Octopus and his man-boobs look bad enough, but seeing Electro here has made playing this game completely worthwhile. The accident that gave him his powers also removed the bones from his legs, turning them into bendy, unstable protuberances, and above those legs he's got a pair of childbearing hips. Then there's his face, and the artist must be commended for capturing such a look of total emotional desolation in just six pixels.
I shouldn't mock: Electro's the only villain in the game who shows any desire to beat Spider-Man, and if you spend too long in this room he'll throw a bolt of electricity at Spidey, killing him instantly. The text does warn you when this is going to happen by saying that your Spider-Sense is tingling, and you can enter DODGE to avoid the bolt, which I thought was pretty cool.
This was another puzzle where I was saved by the walkthrough: I had figured out basically what I was supposed to do, but I didn't realise things had to be done in a very specific order. This is finally a point where Spidey's ability to beat people up comes into play, and so I grappled Doc Ock, only for Electro to zap me. The trick it it is that you have to GRAB Doctor Octopus and then hit Electro so that Electro's bolt stuns Doc Ock - I guess Spidey used him as a corpulent human shield - and then Spidey clocks Electro before he can charge another blast. End result: two stunned villains and two new gems for Spider-Man. Don't worry about these two ne'er-do-wells, they'll stay stunned for a long time. Forever, in fact. There's a decent chance Spider-Man has killed them.
The room next door is where the paper for the printing presses is loaded. There's some paper down here, but if you recall that computer said the machine needs 950 pounds of paper to start working. The whole floor in this room is a scale. What can I use to weigh down this scale and fool the presses into activating?
Hello again, Doctor Conners. You and I are going for a little trip.
Yes, in a situation so gloriously ridiculous that it seems too daft even for the adventures of a man with the powers of a spider, Spider-Man returns to the enemies he has previously incapacitated, picks them up and puts them in his inventory. Doc Conners, Electro, Doc Ock, the frozen Hydro-Man - Spidey carries them all up the elevator shaft and through the air ducts before dropping them in a heap on the floor. How is he doing this? I know he's got the proportional strength of a spider, but it's the physical size of these "objects" rather than their weight that's the problem. Has he shoved them all in his pocket? I thought he might be pulling them all along using a web rope, but then I remembered that I could only manage to make inferior web fluid and it definitely wouldn't hold up to the task of dragging Doctor Octopus' fat carcass around. Even if that was how I was moving them around, to make sure I had enough weight to activate the machine I also went and picked up the desk and the couch from JJJ's penthouse. There's no way I hauled a sofa through an air duct, so I'm going to have to offer up the usual Marvel excuse of "Pym Particles did it."
Once every object and character in the bloody game are piled up on the scales, Spider-Man can print a newspaper. "Questprobe fever sweeps nation!" screams the headline. Symptoms of Questprobe Fever include illogical thoughts, sweating and the unshakeable feeling that every action you take makes no goddamn sense.
There's a gem inside the freshly-printed newspaper. Sure, okay. Once I've collect that gem, there's only one more to find, but the last one is a little different.
Here sits the Bio Gem. Next to it is something called the Natter Energy Egg, because we've apparently run out of cool names for things that will kill you if you so much as look at them funny. The puzzle here is that doing anything in this room will cause the Egg to explode, killing Spider-Man unless he immediately exits the room and destroying the Bio Gem. I played this game several times, and on each occasion I either triggered the Egg by trying to get the gem or by accidentally entering the room, both of which remove the Bio Gem from the game for good. All the other puzzles in this game have been nonsensical at worst, but this one is just pointlessly nasty and rather infuriating. You wanted to see what was going on in this room? Tough, now start the game again. Thanks, Questprobe.
The solution is to use your web to grab the Bio Gem from outside the room, but I never got around to doing that.
This is all you get for finishing the game, and the only difference between dropping off one gem or all of them is your final score and (if you manage to collect every gem without being killed by an exploding egg) a password that I'd guess was going to be used in later Questprobe games. A whole series was planned, but only one more was released after this one before Adventure International closed down, so we'll never know if going to the trouble of collecting every password would have paid off in the end. I sincerely doubt it would have.
That's it for Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man, and what a ride it was. It was definitely far superior to Questprobe Featuring The Hulk, I'll give it that much: between the improved technical aspects and puzzles which have some level of logic to them, it's a much more enjoyable experience on just about every level, bullshit of the Energy Egg not withstanding. Having The Amazing Spider-Man plod his way around an office building, not really fighting enemies or cracking wise, might seem like a pointlessly dull use of the character, and it is. It really, really is, but to be fair to Scott Adams he did the best he could within the confines of the text adventure genre. At least Spider-Man is a character more inclined to engage his brain than The Hulk, and him running out of web fluid is something that might conceivably happen in the comics. The basic idea of a superhero-based text adventure is flawed a basic level, that's the big problem here. Which superheroes would work in this context? Batman, maybe - he could at least do some detective work - but not Spider-Man, and with that thought I'll draw this article to a close. I'll see you next time, true believers, but for now I'm off to test the feasibility of shoving a sofa through an air vent.