Classic Game Review: Expedition Amazon

Ohio Smith writhed and twisted like the serpent itself as he tried to escape the near-fatal embrace of the anaconda. Dr. Spock quickly opened the medical kit and prepared to give him aid, if he could wriggle out of the reptile’s clutches. At last, the anaconda recoiled, leaving a weakened and frustrated Ohio Smith behind. Lt. Uherda cancelled her futile attempt to radio a helicopter and Rocky (Malibu) was unable to bash the snake with the uprooted tree in his hand. The expedition moved on and stumbled into a native camp.

Rocky Malibu threw a grenade which killed five of them. Ohio Smith opened up with his automatic rifle and dropped ten of them. Dr. Spock insisted that the bad-tempered natives were simply the result of poor toilet training and Lt. Uherda vainly tried to reach civilization over the static of the old fashioned radio. The above was an attempt to characterize the good-natured humour of Expedition Amazon (EA). EA uses similar mechanics to Sword of Far goal in that you explore the screen one step at a time. A major difference is that while Far goal randomly establishes the dungeon levels, Amazon uses the same ten screens, both above and below ground.

Each sector of Amazon is explored a square meter at a time by pressing keys that reflect the four major compass directions. In this way, the map is filled in one block at a time. Further, the process of mapping the sector as one explores reminds me of Seven Cities of Gold (Electronic Arts). There are, however, some major differences from the latter. In EA, there is no animation involved in attacks until one actually enters the Lost City of Ka, the elusive final goal of the game. Whereas Seven Cities has animation throughout the game. In EA, there are not randomly generated sectors to explore (whereas SCG has the possibility of creating entire new worlds). Still, the feeling of exploration is there. Further, don’t get the idea that it’s easy to explore the ten screens. The frustration factor in my first few expeditions was at least as great as during my first few tries at Far goal. There are some nasty little random encounters that can ruin an entire hour’s worth of adventuring. For example, how are you going to explore the Amazon River after the wily natives steal your boat?

What happens when you are just about finished exploring a section of the river and your boat hits a rock and sinks? Further, what if you should happen to fall into a trap which takes you underground, losing you your hard earned sector map and forcing you start over? I know, as it happened to me on at least three occasions before I wised up and started making detailed notes on my own paper (I defy that nasty program to steal those!) One of the most satisfying features of this adventure game was that by having four player characters, I could have a group over and play the game together.

We had great fun laughing at each other’s misfortunes; harassing one another for inept shooting; and generally suggesting mutiny toward whoever happened to be piloting the boat or leading the expedition. We would name at least one of the characters for someone we didn’t like and would absolutely refuse to give medical aid to them, regardless of what happened to them. This is cruel and holds the group back some, since that means that one of your parties is almost always going to be a first level character. It doesn’t really matter that much, however, since all you have to do is return to Flint University (the mobile home in the midst of the Texas armadillo ranch where all the fun begins) in order to get a replacement.

This game is full of some sparkling graphics and gags. The opening illustration of Flint University with its hit and run havoc should appeal to the “brutal” funny bone of many of us civilized savages and sly Pedro the Trader in Iquitos, Peru has a pun fully complete file of vile jokes and comments that can really bring out the groans from a group (“Joan of Arc didn’t quit, she was fired!” “Hitler’s mother didn’t realize she was raising such a fuehrer.”). These features are only good for two or three times, but they sure are fun to spring on new gamers.

My biggest problem with the game involves its rather poor documentation. One is not informed, for example, that the pistols which are supplied all the expedition members do not have any ammunition. Bullets must be bought at the trading post in order not to have useless guns. I realize that this is largely common sense, but I have seen novice gamers stumble over less.

The documentation suggests that the map sector can become a permanent part of the team’s map portfolio before the entire number of square meters in a sector is explored. It doesn’t make clear that one must explore every square meter except the traps in order to keep the map. Before the player discovers this, the player can lose numerous maps. In spite of these minor difficulties, EA is a very enjoyable game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. For me, it’s much more satisfying to adventure in this manner than to deal with a limited parser in a text only game. It is especially interesting to play with a group of three or four friends.