Around the World in Eighty Days (1981)   5 comments

We’ve so far hit 5 months of the Softside Adventure of the Month Series (June, July, August, September, October) and this is yet another Peter Kirsch installment. It’s useful to refer back to his first game Kidnapped as well, as this runs roughly the same gimmick: a set of linked mini-adventures where each part is almost entirely separate.

It is based, as noted in the ad copy, off the “classic novel” of Jules Verne, the one where the ever-punctual Phileas Fogg makes a bet he can circumnavigate the globe in a mere 80 days.

The game doesn’t have you play as Fogg. It has you play as someone bragging they can do better.

Note the “exclusive men’s club” line, that will be important later.

Off you go, with a “Days” counter in the upper right that goes bizarrely fast while in towns and slow while traveling. Just getting out of the initial club and heading north to a “haberdashery store” eats up one day, buying an overcoat and using it to help a “lady in distress” takes most of another day (it says “day 2” below, but moving one more room changes the time to “day 3”).

Not doing this results in the “lady in distress” going “stop, balloon thief!” when trying to leave in the vehicle we are about to use. I’m guessing this is weird the slightly unsettling “cover art” comes from — perhaps the artist played the game, but only the first few turns up to that point, and decided that’s what they wanted to draw.

Nevermind: we’ll call the time acceleration a sort of abstraction, just like sailing across the entire Pacific in a handful of commands while playing Sleazy Adventure. The time limit is the sort of thing that would normally irk me, but the game is generally easy enough (some parser issues aside) that I didn’t need to worry too much about restarting and optimizing. Each location presents one or two puzzles at most, and objects almost never need to be carried over (that overcoat from above, for instance, you can just leave in the puddle).

Moving on, there’s a hot air balloon conveniently ready for takeoff; we can jump in, drop some ballast, and fly our way to Spain.

Specficially, we land near a desert, which means we’re somewhere in the south, despite the game claiming we’re in Barcelona.

Barcelona and the Tabernas desert north of Almería.

There’s little there except for the “dead pelican” and our “wrecked balloon” where we landed, a magnifying glass, and a “starving man”. This puzzle had a slight bit of interest because the pelican first seemed like scenery to justify the balloon crash, but it was an integral part of the puzzle.

Although COOK PELICAN took a while; I tried many permutations of PUT GLASS and MAKE HEAT and so forth.

Here’s the entirety of our visit to Marseille, France:

Again, I should emphasize, just like with Kidnapped, that the tiny-map gimmick really does work well — there’s not a lot of fiddly backtracking and even the parser issues that I had didn’t last terribly long because there wasn’t anything else to waste time with. (That is, if I fail to do a command enough times on an open-map game, I’m more likely to think I’m just barking up the wrong tree and veer off early.)

With France, the initial dilemma is a “bunch of knife-wielding punks” that start chasing the player. The left side of the map above shows you can just keep going in an endless loop, but in reality there’s no drama — you can hang around and wait and the punks never get you, they just prevent you from entering a train station. The correct answer is to find a DETOUR SIGN that you can turn to face the wrong direction.

Punks take your bait
and tumble down the cliff

Is our protagonist Bugs Bunny? That would explain the cocky attitude at the start.

In the train station you find out the train is leaving in 14 hours, so like a normal well-adjusted cartoon rabbit, or possibly human being, you take a ladder to a nearby clock and move the hands so it appears 14 hours have passed, because clearly people won’t notice it is daytime but not nighttime just by the sun.

(You can just WAIT if you want. This works! Changing the clock is an alternate solution that loses a little less time. You can still be well within 80 days even if you don’t solve the puzzle.)

Next comes a visit to Italy, where a piece of cheese needs to be dropped in front of a woman who is blocking your way and a mouse who has been scurrying around frightens her off.

Then it’s time to hop a steamship all the way to Bombay, India, where the train station for the next hop is right next the dock.

The situation above is another “optional puzzle” — you can just WAIT and make it through, simply losing five days. Alternately, you can take a shortcut heading north through the Taj Mahal:

There hasn’t been a good track record in the adventures we’ve seen of depictions of Asians, and this game isn’t going to be breaking the mold. Nothing like this happens in the book.

The spear can be combined with a rope to make a zip line of sorts from a high window of the Taj Mahal down to a place past the workmen in order to get in the train station.

The train is stopped and not running (for admittedly logical reasons, since nobody can get into the station) but you can feed coal into the furnace yourself and get it started. (You have to first open the furnace before you can GET COAL, otherwise you get a “you can’t get that” type of error, which had me befuddled for a while; again, the super-minimal map helped since there wasn’t much available to fiddle with.)

There’s a delay as each destination gets displayed, so it does convey a tactile sense of movement.

Next stop: somewhere. The train tracks end at a jungle. Not far in is an elephant pasture, and you can use a peanut (grabbed from a helpful peanut vendor on the train) to befriend and ride it.

The elephant stops further on in the jungle. Nearby there is a sacrifice being prepared.

This was in the book, approximately — it was regarding the practice of sati, where a widow sacrifices herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. There is an “unwilling” widow to be sacrificed, and the British talk in a very 19th-century-British-Empire way about it.

“These sacrifices do not occur in the larger portion of India,” replied Sir Francis; “but we have no power over these savage territories, and especially here in Bundelcund. The whole district north of the Vindhias is the theatre of incessant murders and pillage.”

A rescue happens in both the book and the game; for the game, we take our trusty elephant to a nearby lake, have it fill its trunk with water, then return to the fire:

After the rescue, we reach the game’s only nasty trick, at Ahmadabad. The elephant stop just west of a train station, where a sign says to “leave elephants here”. If you just go in the station, you get arrested; you need to go back, climb back on the elephant, RIDE ELEPHANT one more time, and then get off so the elephant is in the same “room” as the sign. I admit I originally thought the sign was just not to take elephants into the train station, which is logical enough.

Upon the train and passing through multiple stops, you arrive in Calcutta:

I admit I thought I was stuck, and thought the steamship departing already was a signal I took too many days before. However, just like the knife-wielding French, this is a “frozen in time” moment where you’re simply just supposed to JUMP.

The steamship then takes you (and the princess, who is still with you) to San Francisco, where no problems at all arise and perhaps the author was running out of puzzle ideas or disk space or just wanted the game to be over. Hopping on a train does result in one more odd puzzle:

You can GET TINKERBELL who sprinkles pixie dust on you and then FLY, and suddenly we’re in a crossover novel for some reason. Then there’s a handcar, where I hope you haven’t dropped the princess off yet (it just says you can’t go on with no clarification if you left her behind, but it’s clearly the kind operated by two people):

In New York there’s a steamship back to London and … victory? If you try to go back in the Reform Club, you are rebuffed:

Cromwell says, ‘Sorry, no admittance!’

I said at the very beginning the men’s-only club would be important. It is now. You have to DROP PRINCESS to be able to go in.

Cromwell: kind of a jerk. Not only the men-only thing, but him not giving the reason why we couldn’t walk in the Club and win at the end.

Issues I’ve mentioned aside, this ended up being one of the stronger of the Kirsch games. Many of the works from this era that fell down did so because they tried to be difficult yet the parser couldn’t handle it; here, the parser wasn’t any stronger, but the game itself stuck to simple enough structure both in map and puzzles that it was solvable.

I was also impressed by the optional “pass time to skip a puzzle” mechanic. I haven’t studied the source closely to work out if it happens more than once, but based on the finale message above, there’s a little wiggle room to sacrifice days in order to use that feature. It isn’t quite the very first instance of being able to skip puzzles (Acheton didn’t require you find every treasure, for instance) but it’s the first instance I’ve seen where the mechanism for doing so was very natural and intuitive.

Still not going to hang out in the post-game with those jerks at the Reform Club, though.

Posted July 2, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Around the World in Eighty Days (1981)

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  1. You seem to have duplicated one of your screenshots (the one about cooking the pelican).

  2. Not sure how the game spells it (or even if it uses the name), but the main character in Jules Verne’s novel is Phileas Fogg (with an L). A peculiarity that has tripped up many people since!

    Andrew McCarthy
  3. I laughed out loud in some of the game occurrences.


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