Product: HULK
Publisher: Adventure International
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #69

The early text adventures followed a simple sort of formula. Move around a number of locations, picking up, dropping and using items to solve problems on a search for treasure. When you had collected all of the treasure you took it all back to the treasure room, off-loaded it and typed in SCORE. If you'd got it all, the game would end. But this was a bit of an artificial sort of scenario and a quick review of the Scott Adams series of adventures (released by Adventure International) shows just how quickly it was replaced. Scott Adams may have created Adventureland and Pirate Adventure with this formula as their base, but by Secret Mission it had changed from collecting treasures to defusing a bomb - and other variants such as bringing an elixir to an ailing king (Golden Voyage) and discovering secret plans in the world of 007 espionage (Mystery Fun House).

As you might expect, Adventure International, as the publisher of all of the Scott Adams series, and the eleven-strong Mysterious Adventures series (by Scott Adams and Brian Howarth) built up something of a cult following with this new form of entertainment. Its games were available on all manner of formats, on both sides of the Atlantic, and true devotees seemed reasonably loyal to the brand. However, the limited parser and the very obscure solutions to some of the problems must have meant software reviewers at the time were somewhat limited in what they could say about each new offering. 'Yes folks, it's another adventure with another two line introduction and another excuse to scratch your head for hours and hours... Or buy the Scott Adams hintbook, decipher all of the cryptic and not-so-cryptic clues, and get through it that way!'

Now why am I beginning this review with all of this history, you may wonder? Well, because I want to put The Incredible Hulk in its proper context. It is, by my calculations, Adventure International's 26th release for the Electron, and it is notable that Adventure International simultaneously released it, and all of their previous adventures for a huge swathe of home computers - the Vic 20, TRS 80, C16, C64, Spectrum, Oric, and what seems like a hundred others that have long since passed into oblivion. And because it was the beginning of its most spectacular third series of adventures, the Questprobe series; aiming to merge popular mainstream comic characters with the world of adventure games to bring the text only adventure to a whole new audience.

The Questprobe series ended up bankcrupting Adventure International and it only produced three adventures in the series: The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and Human Torch & The Thing. It was working on the fourth in the series, X-Men when the bailiffs came knocking on the door.

Looking at The Incredible Hulk, it's not difficult to imagine the disappointment anyone who bought it must have felt. It comes, firstly in a huge box with dramatic cover art showing the Hulk, a mysterious cloaked stranger, and two burning gems. It also includes a free exclusive comic book, and a lengthly foldout of instructions which introduce the characters present in the adventure. Its back cover blurb features a few screenshots from the C64 game version, which includes rather good graphics (for the era) of the Hulk and the game-play. In fact, nowhere at all does it state that the game actually is a text only adventure. Surely, the company realised that a game based on comic book characters needs to have graphics of them included to stand any chance of appealling to a market of comic book fans! As it is, the packaging gives the impression that you are getting a graphical extravaganza for your little machine. The reality could not be any more different.

On loading, you get cyan text on a blue background simply stating "THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Do you wish to load a saved game?" You are then given a blank screen and a command line cursor and told you are strapped to a chair and cannot move. With every move proving completely futile, then thank goodness for that big fold-out of instructions to help, eh? Well, no, because the instructions are in fact generic instructions of the ilk that accompanies all adventure games. Tagged onto the end of them however, are pages and pages of 'descriptions of Marvel characters you may meet', the information given being completely and totally irrelevant to any aspect of the adventure at all!! Does anyone really care that Bruce Banner has no former aliases, was born in Dayton, Ohio or that Ant-Man has a deceased first wife and an ex-wife called Janet Van Dyne?! No, because it doesn't get you anywhere strapped to a chair and unable to move, does it?!

Plough through them and, at the very end, after a blatant advertisement for the Scott Adams Hint Book, you get an encrypted solution to how to escape from the chair, which is the command BITE LIP (to feel pain and transform into the Hulk, who possesses immense strength and can therefore break the ropes that bind you to the chair). But the fallacy is plain to see - a comic book fan of The Incredible Hulk may of course be aware that the Hulk appears if his alterego feels pain, but he would be too miffed by the adventure environment to want to make progress; whereas a text adventure fan may not know the secrets of The Incredible Hulk's transmogrification so would, naturally, be searching the location description or the inventory, which reveal nothing.

Now onto the mundane plot of The Incredible Hulk which, unhelpfully, is not explained by the instructions at all. You have to collect gems, return them to a room and then say SCORE. Yes, we seem to have gone all the way back to the premise of Scott Adams' Adventureland and, by the time of this game's release (1985), this was incredibly outdated. And this is not to mention that the treasures have simply been replaced with gems. You do not even have the luxury of a bit of variety. You're not going on a hunt for jewel-encrusted swords, diamond bracelets or anything that, even in text form, may look endearing. When appropriate, you are simply told 'You can see. *GEM. *GEM.' Typing GET GEM and DROP GEM a zillion times is about as engaging as a meal of mouldy potato.

It really is as if Adventure International have deliberately combined all the very worst elements of all the adventures ever written in creating this monstrosity. The location descriptions are practically invisible. Where are you? 'In a field.' What can you see? 'Tiny holes.' Oh, and don't even get me started on the random room generator that moves on from the 'fuzzy area' where you have to leave treasures. Go SOUTH from this and you are transported to be in this bloody 'field' ... but it could be a field with a 'Large hole', 'Tiny holes' or no holes at all! You must visit each at least once, and dig holes - which you then need to enter and dig further down to uncover gems. How and why are never explained! Totally random nonsense...!

In one appalling sequence you need to stick wax on a circuitboard; in another you need to type REMEMBER NIGHTMARE in a certain location, and then again every other move; in yet another, you must fill your ears with wax and hold your nose then remember a collection of moves to stagger in complete darkness whilst covered in killer ants to rescue Ant-Man from a cage. You get absolutely no hints that this is necessary from the game or the instructions, and after you have rescued him, you don't even get a word of praise. In fact he and the ants just disappear. They might as well have waved a V-sign in your face before they did so!!

I have never managed to win this game. I've got a score of 94. I suspect probably there's some obscure gem somewhere I haven't found. Maybe it's hiding up the Chief Examiner's bottom and you can only get to by manufacting that same wax into an anal probe...! But I've died many, many times. Quite weirdly, death in this game is a location description and you are 'In a state of limbo' next to a sign that reads 'BAD MOVE'. A bit of investigation and you can escape from the room and continue the game! What the hell is that all about?

You have probably gleaned that to say I am not impressed with The Incredible Hulk is something of an understatement. The complete banality and lack of graphics, explanation, action and description can only provoke a lack of motivation. Perhaps it is tolerable on formats that contain graphics, but I doubt it. It is quite simply crap - and explains a great deal about why Adventure International went belly up shortly after it released it. In fact, it is so bad it could have been written in a few hours and it is fifty times more boring than the average text adventure typed in from a computer magazine (yet it retailed at £7.95!). In fact, it is actually worse than Flint Strikes Back - and that really is saying something!!

To end this review with a brief digression, I stated earlier that Adventure International fans were reasonably loyal to the brand. However, I should also point out that the Adventure International releases are the only ones that a collector once offered to buy directly from me for a whopping £500, so one can reasonably deduce that they are now exceedingly rare!