One of my favorite poems of all time is Edgar Allan Poe's Eldorado. Written on the last year of his life, Eldorado, perhaps autobiographically, narrates the despair of an aging explorer whose lifelong quest to find the legendary city of gold seems hopeless. It's difficult not to ascribe a philosophically pessimistic interpretation here - grand dreams are futile, and if you spend your life hoping to find something really cool at the end of it, you're bound to be disappointed.
With that bleak aside out of the way, just what is The Most Amazing Thing, and how would you know if you found it? Is it fabulous wealth? A potent narcotic? True love? God? Your firstborn child? Is it you all along? According to the included novella The Adventures of Smoke Bailey, it's a metal sphere roughly five feet in diameter, and contains the secrets and ultimate powers of the universe, and possibly the doom of whoever dares to crack it open.
Said novella, written by award-winning sci-fi novelist James K. Morrow, serves as backstory to the game, detailing preteen protagonist Terry Bailey's departure from a cow-filled life in the farmlands of planet Porquatz and reuniting with Uncle Smoke, now elderly, in the distant robot city of Metallica (eye-roll), and of his life and adventures that brought him here so many years ago. The novella, written early in Morrow's career, isn't exactly award-winning material itself, but I found it an entertaining read, and I've certainly read far worse ingame literature aimed at adults.
In his years, Uncle Smoke traveled far and wide, lived in alien societies, collected many exotic treasures, met The Most Amazing Being, and eventually acquired The Most Amazing Thing, but was forced to jettison it from his airship when he was caught in a sandstorm. Now it lies somewhere in the Great Darksome Mire, a continent-sized swamp of dark, bubbling ooze, thick marshmallow-like mists, and many other perils. You, as Terry Bailey, are to inherit Uncle Smoke's airship and a variety of knickknacks on a quest to recover The Most Amazing Thing.
After a long, boring intro animation where you jetpack past the title screen and into a hatch by the airship, you arrive in the city of Metallica.
First, I visited Smoke.
|But he grew old, this knight so bold|
Smoke naps a lot these days, and is woken up with a bit of keyboard prodding. He gave me a bent fork to sell at the auction house.
At the auction house, you can test the buyers with feeler prices, but once you put it to block, it either sells or you lose it. But it's not hard to deduce the item's market value, just laborious, and Smoke's supply seems limitless.
At the store, you can spend your chips on instruments for your airship, the B-liner. The manual flat out tells you which ones are useful.
- Dir-? shows your compass heading
- High? shows altitude.
- Home1 shows the bearing to Metallica.
- Storm warns of incoming storms.
- Fuelo shows remaining fuel.
- Autop returns to Metallica.
- Radar shows nearby huts.
- Hut1 shows a heading to the nearest hut, wherever it may be.
There's computer software too.
- Map-H shows all huts in the mire.
- CULTS is a database of Mire People cultures.
- DICTO is a dictionary for Mire People languages.
- MUSIX is song composing software.
- TRAC4 is mysterious.
There are a lot of useless things for sale too. In total, the useful things cost a total of about 100 green chips, though the B-liner already had some of them. After all, it got here. Each treasure sells for between 1 and 9, so I just got the auction phase over with and kept selling Smoke's stuff until I could afford everything I did not already have.
I left Metallica and jetpacked to the B-Liner. The controls for getting there are a little awkward.
Aboard, there are a few devices you can operate.
- The computer, a bit useless right now as most of the software requires you to input the name of a mire culture, and I don't know any.
- The bed, for sleep, obviously.
- The control panel, for balloon-related functions.
- The steering yoke, to operate the B-Liner as a dune buggy.
- The exit hatch to leave.
|The control panel|
Only a handful of instruments are useful right now.
|Fuelo - we're empty, which is why most things don't work.|
|Hut 1 - a long trip. 1 mile = 1 screen length|
Although the B-Liner can't fly without fuel, I can drive it on the mire surface. It's also a bit awkward, but unlike the jetpack it can be braked.
A mire popberry tree! These are your only source of food, and collecting is a pain.
After about five successful collections, and at least that many failures, I continued driving. And noticed a rock that wasn't there before.
It's no rock, but a dangerous mire crab! I am honestly not sure how to evade them - seems that they will eventually catch you, and the ruckus knocks you out for a few hours, during which Smoke will offer a piece of advice (same as when you sleep). It may also destroy one of your instruments.
No damage this time, and Smoke warned me in my dreams to never lie to merchants. I woke up next to a real rock, which marks the location of fuel deposits.
Next phase of the search - learning to fly.