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The last Zachtronics game, Last Call BBS is out now in early access

And it's on PC Game Pass

The most prolific indie studio of the last decade are preparing to bow out, with today bringing the early access launch of "the last game from Zachtronics", Last Call BBS. It's a puzzle-o-rama firing up a mysterious old computer to download pirated software from a BBS, letting us play everything from logic puzzles of circuits and flesh to a model kit-building simulation. I've played a wee bit and am keen to explore more, even as someone who is the absolute worst at Zachlikes.

Last Call BBS takes place inside the desktop environment of a 1990s PC. Dialing into an old bulletin board system, named Last Call BBS, we're downloading pirated software and learning a little about the history of fictional software and fictional people. It packs eight games and so far I've grown flesh and bone in a biomechanical horror puzzler, plopped down conveyer builts and connected logic circuits to prepare food in industrial kitchens (a game made in-fiction by 'Zachmatics'), built an anime robot kit and painted it poorly, instantly noped out of designing microchips, and—of course—played some solitaire.

A weird fleshy horror game in a Last Call BBS screenshot.
Great vibes in meaty puzzler X'BPGH: The Forbidden Path

It's an interesting one. I always enjoy Zachlikes having stories to uncover alongside the puzzling, and this sprinkles mystery across the BBS and the computer. It's a nice simulation of a computer too, with a good hard drive burble and screechy modem. And it captures the vibe of pirating software, from warez groups and crackers leaving obnoxious messages with shout-outs to the challenge of trying to figure out a strange game or software without a manual. Some are friendlier than others, mind, and the BBS's operator helpfully attaches difficulty ratings. Games take several minutes to download too, and after each you must wait 15 minutes for your download quota to refresh. I was weirdly delighted to fire up solitaire while waiting for my first download to finish.

Greetz on the splash screen a cracker added to 20th Century Food Court

While I'm no good at puzzle games (I have never finished a Zachlike and I likely never will), I'm enjoying poking around this collection. I will continue to poke.

Last Call BBS is available now on Steam Early Access for £15.49/€16.79/$19.99, as well as through a PC Game Pass subscription. Zachtronics expect to launch the full version in a month or two following some tweaks, polish, and new content. They usually take their games through early access in this way so I trust this will be another smooth journey.

Playing a pirated game in a Last Call BBS screenshot.
This one technically isn't a game, it's professional software

While this is billed as the last Zachtronics game, they do have one more release to follow. Later this year they're planning to launch a collection of the many good solitaire variants they're slipped into other games as minigames. And for all the drama, this does seem to be more the death of the Zachtronics brand (which was bought by Alliance Media Holdings in 2016) than founder Zach Barth's final work in video games.

Barth had once planned to wrap up Last Call and Zachtronics then get a job teaching high school computer science. Timelines didn't work out that way so he's actually already taught a year by the time Last Call launches—and not enjoyed it as a glimpse of his future. While it's not yet clear what he and his crew will do next, a 'return' to games seems likely.

"I was hoping that I'd really like teaching and stay with that for a few years, but I learned that's definitely not the case and I'm having a hard time imagining anything other than games in my future, in some shape or form," Barth told Kotaku last month.

Playing a pirated game in a Last Call BBS screenshot.
The kit-building sim lets you export a GIF of your finished robot, and I expect to see very cool models painted with the masking and decal options.

"What we do next as individuals or collaborators is a question we are very actively discussing right now. I'm particularly interested in freelancing and weird side projects, while other members of the team are drawn to the idea of a stable job with more growth potential than a small indie studio that makes what's essentially the same game every year."

While Zachtronics are best known for the genre of logic puzzle which bears their name, Zachlikes (a term I coined in 2016 and Barth embraced for the title of his book), they have made plenty more. Over the years they've also dabbled in turn-based tactics and strategy games, so much solitaire, and even a great visual novel. I'll be curious to see what the Zachtronics crew do next, whether together or individually.

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