There are, these days, far too many games to play. Well, there were always too many games to play. But only since the advent of digital distribution, have their numbers so wildly and obviously exceeded my capacity to get through them all. If I’ve heard of a game, the odds are I can have it on my PC in as little as a couple of minutes. It’s a wonder beyond anything I could have dreamed of as a kid, but it’s also a wonder I might not have wished for. A wilderness of sweets, as Milton oh-so-subversively described Eden.
When my family first had a PC, I was 11. It wasn’t a great PC, and games were expensive, so I didn’t get new ones that often. It was, somehow, actually possible to run out of games. So I played everything I could get my hands on. Demo discs from magazines. Chip’s Challenge. Fucken Encarta. But the real bonanza, however, came during the school summer holidays, when mum (who was a teacher) would bring home a grab-bag assortment of janky educational titles for me to beast my way through over the break. Enter, then Logical Journey Of The Zoombinis.
Zoombinis was way better than it had a right to be. You had a thousand-odd little blue fellows with different combinations of facial features, and you had to shepherd them, a few dozen at a time, across a landscape comprising ten or so screens, each of which was some sort of logic-based minigame. You’d lose some on the way, but once you’d dropped off the survivors, you’d start afresh with a new load, and the puzzles would be a bit harder, in a sort of game+ mode. I think you needed to get around half the zoombinis to their new home to win, so when the puzzles got really tough and your attrition rate soared, it was actually pretty tense.
Anyway, the best puzzle was the encounter where you had to use a big machine (with disconcerting fleshy lips) to make pizzas, in order to satisfy three tree stumps who were complete dickheads. I can’t remember what the rules were, but each of the wood-faced bastards would stipulate or forbid their own set of toppings, and you’d have to work out what pizza would please them all. It was way harder than it sounded, and I’ll still remember the petulant roar of “more toppings!” that the lead bellend would emit whenever he was displeased, because I heard it so many times.
Maybe Zoombinis was actually rubbish. Or maybe it was only good in the way that even the worst meal tastes amazing when you’ve not eaten in days. (It actually got updated and re-released a few years ago, and I haven’t gone back to check.) Either way, if Steam had been a thing back then, I never would have tasted it. It makes me realise how much I must be missing now.