Would I make a good mogwai? I’m always up eating past midnight and taking long showers, although I do shun the natural light of the sun. One out of three ain’t bad. And yes, my antisocial habits are relevant because today’s game is based on the classic horror-comedy movie Gremlins. Have your camera flashes ready and make sure your microwave is plugged in, because here’s the Commodore 64 version of Adventure International’s 1985 Gizmo-caca-em-up Gremlins: The Adventure!
There’s a gremlin now – in fact, it’s Stripe, the vicious “leader” of the gremlins. Did you know there are a bunch of “Mandela Effect” aficionados out there who are convinced that Stripe was originally called Spike? He wasn’t, and this game contains the proof. Of course, knowing this means it’s now almost guaranteed that I’ll accidentally type his name as Spike at some point. Also, Stripe was voiced by Megatron himself, Frank Welker. I feel a little bad saying that, because Frank Welker has voiced hundreds of things and to limit him to one role is rather underselling his range, but he’ll always be Megatron to me.
With no preamble besides the (rather charmingly illustrated) title screen, you’re thrown straight into the action of Gremlins: The Adventure. I’m assuming you’ve all seen the movie, or at least know the general outline? A young man named Billy Peltzer gets a cute lil’ creature as a pet, the critter gets wet and this causes it to spawn an army of destructive, murderous monsters – the titular gremlins. The gremlins then proceed to cause havoc in the quaint little town of Kingston Fall, and it’s up to Billy to destroy the gremlins and save the town. Gremlins: The Adventure kicks off at around the half-way point of the film, once the gremlins are loose. This makes sense: the first half of the film is mostly about Billy suffering the indignities of his crappy job and having an old woman threaten his dog, which might not make for the most engaging gameplay.
As you can see, Gremlins: The Adventure is, well, a graphic adventure. It uses the usual two-word text parser, so you can type in things like GET ITEM or OPEN DOOR and maybe something will happen that lets you advance. This first screen’s most notable features are the flashlight that we’re told is somewhere in the room, and the gremlin on the right who’s chucking darts at us. I know, I’ll use the LOOK command and hopefully Billy will spot something to help us out of this predicament!
Well, that didn’t work. I think that’s a brand new record here at VGJunk – an adventure game death in only one move! The gremlins are efficient killers, if nothing else. Although I wonder how the gremlin killed Billy by throwing a dart at him. Unless the horrible creature is a true master of the oche and possesses enough skill to hit Billy right in the eye, it seems unlikely that a single dart would be enough to cause instant death. Darts aren’t that big. This gremlin must have an arm like a goddamn cannon.
As it turns out, the solution is to immediately move “down” and into the living room. Any other action results in death by dart. At first I thought it was a little cruel that G:TA is so willing to kill the player so quickly, but on reflection it’s no more unfair than a lot of other graphic adventure deaths. At least “run away from the gremlin” makes sense.
Once you’ve arrived downstairs, another gremlin is waiting for you, but this one is unarmed so you’re free to GET SWORD from the wall and live out your Highlander fantasies by lopping its head clean off.
The gremlin’s head flies across the room and lands in the fireplace. The graphics are even updated to reflect this, a gruesome little touch that I really appreciate. Try not to think too much about what that would smell like.
Then it’s into the kitchen, where despite the obvious and very temping lure of a gremlin standing inside a blender like a big idiot, I struggled to figure out how to proceed. KILL GREMLIN didn’t work, even though it did on the previous screen, and the game didn’t recognise USE or TURN ON. The solution was to use the all-in-one mega-remote created by Billy’s inventor father, but even that took me a while to get to grips with because you have to repeatedly use the phrase PRESS BUTTON. Each press makes something different happen – microwave on, microwave off, blender on, blender off, laundry chute opens and then closes, the kitchen drawer opens and closes… fortunately the gremlins are content to stand there while you type PRESS BUTTON over and over, and by the end you’ll have one well-cooked gremlin, gremlin purée and a couple of open doors.
Inside the laundry chute is “cute,” “loveable” Gizmo, the unwilling father of this hideous gremlin progeny. His adorability levels have taken a knock during the transition to C64 graphics, his usual “walking cuddly toy” vibe replaced by a vague air of pugnacious threat, like he’d glass you in a Wetherspoons if you spilled his pint.
Once you’ve found Gizmo, he follows you around for the rest of the game although he doesn’t seem to do anything. Maybe I should have tested this further by leaving him locked up in the laundry chute, but as far as I can tell the only thing Gizmo does is add “GIZMO the little MOGWAI” to the description of every scene hereafter.
Once you’ve picked up the knife from the kitchen drawer, you can go back upstairs and kill the gremlin on the first screen by entering, well, KILL GREMLIN. Presumably the extra confidence that Billy gets from holding a massive knife means he’s now able to avoid the gremlin’s previously lethal darts. It’s like Dumbo’s magic feather, only stabbier.
And then it’s out onto the streets of Kingston Falls, where you can explore the town and begin trying to establish a mental map of the various locations. They’re mostly familiar if you’ve seen Gremlins the movie, with Billy being able to visit the YMCA pool, the department store, the cinema and noted gremlin hang-out Dorry’s Tavern, which is where we’re going first.
Ye gods, the gremlins are smoking cigars and spitting! Disgraceful. Is that more uncouth than murdering people? Maybe. Spitting is pretty terrible habit. The gremlins are having a rare old time, getting paralytic and being uncouth, and I have to give a special mention to the gremlin at the back swinging from the ceiling. It’s a very simple sprite but it’s so charmingly sketched that it does a great job of getting across the innate anarchy of the gremlin species.
Less charming is the flasher gremlin behind the bar, and sadly there’s no Phoebe Cates in this game to kick the flasher gremlin across the room like she does in Gremlins 2. Weirdly, no human characters show up in G:TA, and I’m just assuming we’re playing as Billy because he’s the main character, although he’s clearly taken on the roles of the movie’s other characters – for instance, it’s Billy’s mum that microwaves a gremlin. G:TA is one of those movie tie-ins that tries to adapt the plot of the movie fairly literally rather than using it as a springboard for something like an action platformer, which is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to solving the game’s puzzles. If you’ve seen Gremlins, some of the solutions are going to make sense like here, where you can get a camera from behind the bar and use its flash to scare away the gremlins. But then later solutions play out differently than in the movie, simply because there aren’t that many things in the movie that could work as computer game puzzles.
Here’s something that definitely is in the movie – the local cinema, which is playing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I appreciate that the artist on this game went to the effort of just including the very bottom of the words “The Seven Dwarfs” on the marquee when it would have been easier to crop it out entirely.
You can head to the projection room and start the show, and upon doing so the gremlins will all gather together in the cinema for ninety minutes of classic wholesome Disney fun, although you do worry that the film’s going to give the gremlins ideas about poisoning apples and carrying pickaxes.
The cinema is vitally important to your success in G:TA, because if left to their own devices the gremlins will eventually gang together and start following you around. Waste too much time by making the wrong moves while trying to figure out the puzzles and the gremlin swarm will descend on you, killing Billy and condemning the wider world to the scaly green menace. The cinema, then, acts as a distraction, clearing the streets of gremlins for a while as you try to accomplish your goal of… wait, what is my goal? Killing all the gremlins, I suppose. In the movie most of the gremlins are destroyed when Billy blows up the cinema, but that’s not how things work here.
Then I stepped out of the theatre and got run down by a snowplough. Game over. I loaded my save game, tried going somewhere else, made it a screen or two and then bam, run over by a snowplough. Aargghh!! I’m DEAD! Indeed. Everywhere I went, the relentless snowplough chased me down and grit the road with my smeared entrails and that was no fun, let me tell you. I ended up doing what I always do when playing old computer adventure games, and that’s finding a walkthrough.
It turns out I managed to miss the snowplough in the garage next to Billy’s house. Whoops. After a certain point in the game – possibly after you’ve made a set amount of “moves” - the gremlins will steal the snowplough and good luck getting around Kingston Falls after that’s happened. To prevent this, you have to make it your priority to find some welding gear in a nearby petrol station… but you’ll also need the igniter, which is in Billy’s kitchen drawer. However, the igniter only appears if you search the drawer twice, and of course the game doesn’t tell you that there might be something else of note inside once you’ve searched it the first time. But if you manage to collect all the gear and figure out the specific process for opening the torch’s valve and lighting the flame, you can weld the snowplough’s controls and render it gremlin-proof.
Now, I’m not good at graphics adventures. Never have been. I definitely perform better in more action-oriented games, where my lack of problem-solving skill are less of a stumbling block because the problems are usually “aliens” and the solutions are almost always “guns.” That said, I feel like most people would struggle to figure this out because welding the snowplough to make it inoperable seems like such a weird solution when you could steal the keys or pour sugar in the petrol tank or hang a “No Gremlins Allowed” sign on the door… and this isn’t even the most baffling puzzle in the game.
Here’s something that makes a bit more sense. The gremlins reproduce via water, so draining this swimming pool before the gremlins find it will probably help. I had to drop all my items before I could enter the water and pull the plug, which added some pointless busy work but did reveal that Billy’s been running around with a lit welding torch in his pocket since I fixed that snowplough.
With the snowplough deactivated and the knowledge that, like a bunch of rowdy four-year-olds, the gremlins can be kept busy by putting some cartoons on, I can get on with the job of designing a death-trap for the little buggers. The department store will be my killing field, because I noticed that when using the camera to scare away the gremlins they run into the ventilation shafts…
...and there are lot of suspiciously weld-able looking vent covers throughout the building. So, weld most of the exits shut, scare the gremlins into the vents, seal the last exit and then blow the whole place up. Simple enough, except I don’t have anything to weld over the holes. I need some metal plates! That’ll do the trick! And so I scoured the game world, looking for some sheet metal that I could use to trap the gremlins and… nothing. Couldn’t find so much as roll of tin foil. Back to the walkthrough, then, where I was presented with a frankly astonishing solution.
You have to find this mailbox. Stripe the gremlin is hiding inside; notice that it says “Stripe” and not “Spike” right there, Mandela Effect forum posters. You can get rid of Stripe by mailing your flashlight. Then you simply have to cut the mailbox into metal plates.
I don’t think this is necessarily any stranger than a lot of other graphic adventure puzzles I’ve “solved” over the years – is it any more nonsensical than the Incredible Hulk plugging his ears with wax or using a rat to short out an electrical machine? Probably not, but dismantling a postbox is going to going to live long in my memory as a puzzle it would have taken me a long, long time to figure out on my own.
Most of the rest of the game is spent welding the mailbox chunks over the department store’s air vents. I must admit I did not expect to spend so much of this Gremlins-themed adventure doing metalwork. Please don’t do what I did, and get so carried away that you thwart your own plans by sealing all the vents before the gremlins arrive. You don’t even get the consolation prize of seeing the flash-blinded gremlins run head-first into a freshly-welded metal plate.
Once all the gremlins are trapped in the air ducts – the WAIT command was very helpful here, because I had to wait for the latest screening of Snow White to finish before the gremlins would reappear – you have to find some pipe, drill a hole in the nearest vent and start pumping gas in before retreating to a safe distance and WAITing for the town of Kingston Falls to receive a fun new crater and a comprehensive, inch-thick coating of green slime.
But wait! Stripe has escaped the carnage, so there’s one final gremlin to deal with before the game is over. Desperate to spawn more of his gruesome brood, Stripe runs for the nearest source of water and dives right in…
...however, you might recall that I already drained the pool. Now I’m really disappointed that G:TA doesn’t have more animation, because seeing Stripe hurl himself head-first into the deep end of the empty pool would have been a) hilarious and b) very much in keeping with the Looney Tunes-inspired nature of the Gremlins movies.
With Stripe “dazed” (read: concussed, possibly brain-damaged), I had one more stumbling block between me and victory. The game told me that the sun had risen, so I assumed I’d just have to wait for the sunlight to do its work and kill Stripe. Apparently not, because waiting allowed Stripe to regain his composure and run off to find a different source of water. I bloody well bet he checked what he was diving into this time.
No, you can’t wait for the sunlight to come to Stripe – you have to take him to the sunlight by picking him up while he’s dazed and going outside.
Stripe melts into “putrefying remains,” Billy celebrates the death of all the gremlins and Gremlins: The Adventure draws to a close. My biggest disappointment? No C64 version of the Gremlins theme tune. I’m only being a little flippant there, because I suppose Gremlins: The Adventure is a perfectly acceptable example of the genre, no worse or better than many of its contemporaries. Chopping up a mailbox still seems like a ludicrous puzzle to me and while having to distract the gang of roaming gremlins is a fine idea in concept, regularly breaking off from whatever you’re doing to walk back to the cinema and turn the projector on again gets a bit wearying. I’m trying to see it from a 1985 perspective, when I would have been willing to spent more time figuring out the intricacies of the game, perhaps writing down the solution as I went and trial-and-erroring my way through it – but I definitely don’t feel bad about turning to a walkthrough so quickly. I know deep in my heart that here in 2018, I was mostly playing Gremlins: The Adventure so I could see some low-res pixel art of gremlins, and on that front it delivered. I got my gremlin fix, so now we just sit back and wait for the inevitable Gremlins reboot that I’m sure will be along any day now.
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