And here we are. The third and least recognizable entry in the ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS trilogy. Lucas really has a way with trilogies, doesn’t he? He made the awesome Star Wars trilogy, then he made the sucky Star Wars trilogy, then there was this, and now he’s experimenting into mindfuckingly obscene territory by making a trilogy with FOUR titles (Indiana Jones). George Lucas has completely re-envisioned the term “bastard” from an unplanned, unwanted child to an entry in a renowned series that throws away every element of the original in favor of ideas and behavior that were born out of licking empty Absinthe bottles.
And that, ladies and bastards, is why the third entry in the ZAMN trilogy is a level-less, wandering, beat-’em-up through the Greeklands starring Hercules. Lucas couldn’t have created a bigger bastard if he was dating some chick he met on MySpace and sent her a vial of his sperm to impregnate her with a lovechild before he actually met her in real life and discovered that she was actually his maternal grandmother. This game has so little to do with ZAMN, yet resembles and references ZAMN so much, that one can’t help but wonder if George really WAS his own black, Jewish nephew that day.
For those who felt that Ghoul Patrol really didn’t feel like a LucasArts venture, this game makes up for that in quite a few ways. Herc’s Adventures has all the little touches of the original team (who are quite present). There are items and wild weapons spread everywhere among hidden passageways, and many of them have the functions you would expect them to have from ZAMN. The music is just as pleasing and insane, and dotted along all the valleys and forests of Greece are stragglers who resemble the team from the ZAMN Credit Level. Even enemies who break through walls and enemies who resemble the Giant Babies are waiting for you to clobber them.
On top of that, the game is a creative take on ZAMN’s template. You have hit points as well as strength points that you’ll need to move large objects out of the way. Choosing a character really makes a difference this time, as they differ in strength and so forth. Creativity and humor are the key items here, and you’ll be chuckling whether you want to or not (and if not, what the hell’s wrong with you? What kind of person doesn’t like to laugh? Were you molested as a zygote?). There are many, many obstacles and traps and assaults and problems to get through, and at no point will you feel that the programmers were too lazy to touch up the area you’re in. The level of detail and care, not just in the details themselves but in the whole progress of the game, is remarkable.
So good, in fact, that it really drags the game down. The developers spent so much time making sure every single trek to and from important areas is well-guarded that you can’t comfortably move anywhere. It takes about 15-20 minutes to get from one makeshift town to any other point, and you’ll probably die. Dying’s not that bad in this game, as you get to fight your way out of Hades to get back to Earth…the first five times. Each time you die, Hades is harder to get out of until you can’t make it out. So if you somehow managed to get through the first 95% of the game and have died five times already, one more death makes the 20+ hours you spent getting there completely worthless.
Nothing in this game gives you a fair shake. You need to meet with the Gods to get an idea (and little more) of where to go next. But how do you get there? I don’t know, and neither will you. The map you get is a functionless item that doesn’t deserve the select button or whatever you press to bring it up. Fighting (as Hercules, anyway) is a terrible chore, because all of your enemies have better hit detection than you. It’s easier for them to hit you than you to hit them. The only way to get through the game is to exploit a screen trick where getting far enough away from an area that the music changes means the item has regenerated. You have to do this like 80 times to be able to survive, and that’s no way to play.
With bad directions, infuriating pathways, and adventures that take way, way longer to get through than you thought (many of them have you get to a remote area to accomplish your goal, only to have to go through three or four more events just to get back and deliver the item you came for), the game’s design is so painful that it sacrifices fun for challenge. Harp on Ghoul Patrol all you want, but it still had the foresight to be fun instead of needlessly challenging.
So who comes out the victor in the endless quest to see who will carry on ZAMN’s good name? Which illegitimate son wins the crown? Ghoul Patrol, the brother from a different mother who didn’t deserve the name but still made good on its own, or Herc’s Adventures, the son raised from day one in the kingdom but clearly inherits the merits only?
King George: “We shall have a tournament, and which ever of my two bastards wins the crowds shall take my place at the throne when I have gone.”
Jester Meteo: “Sire, it’s not a tournament with only two combatants and one match….”
King George: “Very good. Begin!”
Jester Meteo: “Sire, the audience cares not for either. They do not recognize your two children in the least. To them, you are childless….”
King George: “Then that is how it shall be done! I will rule the kingdom forever! GAAAAAKKKK!”
(Jester Meteo slices the King’s throat and the King rolls on the ground to stage right.)
Jester Meteo: “No you won’t….”