Town of ZZT

The Portal
UFO
Per-Bast
@ Make WWW Great Again
Mount Paozu
Mystery Mansion
☺ Town of ZZT
Observatory
Quarry
Library of Babel
Red Forest
Haunted House
ë Macula's Maze
Reptile House
π Wildcat Den
The Scratching Post
α The Dock
The Portal
UFO
Per-Bast
Make WWW Great Again
Mount Paozu
DOS/Win9x Game Shrines
Town of ZZT
Observatory
The Quarry
Library of Babel
Red Forest
Haunted House
Macula's Maze
Reptile House
Wildcat Den
The Scratching Post
Dock
The PortalUFOPer-BastMake WWW Great AgainMount PaozuDOS/Win9x Game ShrinesTown of ZZTThe ObservatoryThe QuarryLibrary of BabelRed ForestHaunted HouseMacula's MazeReptile HouseWildcat DenThe Scratching PostThe Dock
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ZZT Game Reviews

Although the ancient DOS game ZZT is incredibly obscure in the modern age, its golden era, stemming from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, spawned an incredibly diverse cornucopia of creative games that pushed the ZZT engine far beyond anything its creator ever envisioned. Despite its limitations, the grand versatility and ease of use of the ZZT game creation system (GCS) attracted many young and talented creatives who took advantage of the game's capabilities to forge many timeless worlds.

The library of ZZT fan games includes everything from genuinely profound tales, to impressively complicated engines that turn ZZT into an entirely different game, to works of utter psychedelic lunacy. On this page, I will give my personal opinions on many of the most important and most majestic of these creations.

Due to the fact that I have enjoyed long-term friendships with a number of legendary ZZTers, and because, as an autistic, I am quite prone to polarised thinking and struggle immensely with rating things in a more nuanced way than "I LOVE IT!" or "I HATE IT!", I have chosen to forego giving numeric ratings here to avoid bias. I will also only be reviewing games that are genuinely of very high quality and/or have notable historical value.

Since there are very few ZZT websites that are still receiving updates (although quite a few abandoned ancient gems and one other still-thriving website), I will also occasionally sprinkle in various historical information about the ZZT community when it is related to the game in question.

Virtually all of the ZZT games that have been released can be downloaded, as of this writing, from either Exploited Chaos or z2.


Edible Vomit

Author: Drac0
Genre: Adventure
Date released: March 1999

Title screen screenshot.
Title screen.
Although Drac0 is known for a number of other excellent games, including Teen Priest 1 and 2, and for being the inventor of the ALL CAPS phenomenon, Edible Vomit is undeniably the spectacular jewel in the crown of his prestigious ZZT career.

The protagonist of Edible Vomit is Freddy the Ferret, an addict who has injected himself with an unknown potent drug and entered a trip of epic proportions. Now fiending for even more powerful drugs, he runs amok trying to find a dealer known only as Jimmy the Rat.

Additional screenshot.
An eerily beautiful garden featuring trees with animated glowing fruits.
Taking place in a psychedelic world spawned from Freddy's intoxicated mind, Edible Vomit features a beautiful and unique art style and a whimsical world full of odd collectibles (including the Moon itself!) with equally odd uses. Yet underneath all of the playful craziness, the game carries a constant air of melancholy, as Freddy continually runs into one tragically ill-fated person after another, all brought to bleak ruin through the same path of self-destruction that he himself is fervently racing down.

I am a very big fan of unapologetically lacing over-the-top comedy with dark subject matter, and this is another area that Edible Vomits shines in, constantly injecting classic Drac0 humour to lighten up the otherwise morose tale being told. One excellent example is Freddy's hallucination of the houses in his neighbourhood being giant mushrooms, which is referenced in his tear-jerking heel-face turn where, in the middle of describing a heart-wrenching list of the tragedies he has encountered during his adventure, he laments the fact that his friend is stuck living inside of a mushroom due to drug-induced poverty.

I may be a tad biased due to having had a close friendship with the author during his life, but I am hardly the only person to believe that Edible Vomit deserves the title of greatest ZZT game of all time. Between the timeless story, the incredible creativity, the lovely unique art style, and Drac0's legendary humour, I cannot say enough good things about this game.

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Frost 1: Power

Authors: Zenith Nadir and MadTom
Genre: RPG / Cinema
Date released: August 2003
Title screen screenshot.
Title screen.

All sorts of praise can rightfully be heaped on Zenith Nadir's prolific ZZT career. Beyond creating many of the most well-received games in ZZT's history, he has also been a pillar of the community who has done everything from lending his talents to finish and improve other ZZTer's games (including Drac0's On the Wire, Dr. Dos' Mooseka Rules With an Iron Fist, Viovis' Sedimental Worries, and John W. Wells' Evil Sorceror's Party), to organising and doing much of the work for many of the ZZTV channels that serve as such invaluable time capsules of ZZT cultural history. Yet, in spite of all of his accomplishments, Frost 1 always seems to be the first thing to come to my mind when I think about Nadir.

Additional screenshot.
A majestic giant purple squid assaulting Penny in an equally majestic swamp.
The first game in a sadly-unfinished whimsical series taking place on an alien planet, Ilititoa, populated with cute bipedal animals, Frost 1 centers around a young girl named Penny, who is banished from her homeland after an accident where she inexplicably murders one of her fellow students with what appears to be a subconscious magical attack in self-defence.

I'll get the elephant in the room out of the way right away; Frost 1 features artwork so spectularly well-drawn that it becomes hard to believe that one is looking at something cobbled together within the constraints of a 1991 ANSI DOS game. The art quality in Frost is usually the first thing anyone who has played it will mention, and it's not because ZZTers are a superficial bunch -- it really is just that good. Despite being limited to an assortment of ANSI characters in a mere 16 different colours, Nadir has somehow convincingly painted everything from dreary swamplands, to an animated starscape, to, perhaps most impressively, fully-drawn adorable anthro characters.

Beyond the artwork, the writing in Frost 1 is excellent, with a number of likeable characters, and Nadir does an excellent job at keeping things sufficiently light-hearted, even during the otherwise depressing scene of Penny saying goodbye to her family and friend during her exile. Despite the game not taking an overly long time to beat, I did manage to get attached to a number of the characters by the time it ended, so there is that.

Frost 1 also features a fantastic (albeit small) soundtrack by ZZT music legend MadTom, which serves as a fine icing on a scrumptious cake.

The gameplay is nothing world-shattering, but it's certainly entertaining. There is an interesting sword-based mini-game early on and a well done "run for your life" sequence in the swamp where you have to frantically run around gathering keys and opening doors before your health is depleted by an unending swarm of zombies and giant blood-sucking insects.

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PPDV

Author: Viovis
Genre: Viovis
Date released: February 1999

Title screen screenshot.
Title screen.
It can be said that there are two kinds of people in the world: the ones who would react to PPDV with either disgust or terrified confusion, and the ones that react by squeeing with laughter and glee (guilty as charged). This divisiveness is to be expected. Viovis is a legendary ZZTer, known foremost for his prolific catalogue of utterly bizarre games, all marked by a distinct style of depraved surrealism that arguably warrants defining a unique ZZT genre after the man's namesake (a genre that not only encompasses games made by Viovis, but also by imitators such as Voighdt and myself), and PPDV is arguably the oddest and roughest game that he has ever put out.

Additional screenshot.
This makes just as little sense in context.
While its magnificent sequel, PPDV2, does make a (beautifully peculiar) effort to be profound and impactful, PPDV is a chaotic mind dump of complete unapologetic Viovisian lunacy. A psychedelic journey through a world of cackling zombies that assault English letters and die when they're reminded that they're not yellow, a conspiracy to manufacture bird cages for humans, and a sentient coffee mug that likes to read newspaper comics. The game has no plot whatsoever, and rarely even maintains any semblance of logical consistency from one board to the next.

The game is most certainly not without its negatives -- it's noticeably rough around the edges even by the author's standards, with the art being largely a bunch of bare bones ANSI scribbles instead of the creative graphics that Viovis is known for. Yet, in spite of everything, it is far from being without its charms, having spawned a number of amusing catchphrases such as "THINKING IN THE DARK GIVES YOU THE INABILITY TO SEE". If you want to spend 10 or so minutes worrying about whether a stranger slipped LSD into your ZZT, PPDV is more than worth your time.

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PPDV2

Author: Viovis
Genre: Viovis
Date released: March 2001

Title screen screenshot.
Title screen.
If a rift in reality ever opened around me, and some all-wise ten-dimensional eldritch philosopher came through and started explaining their worldview to me, I think the experience would feel an awful lot like playing PPDV2. I'm not sure I have ever experienced anything that made this little sense, yet nonetheless managed to feel quite so deep and profound. If I didn't know the man well enough, I might suspect that this was some very deft practice towards starting a cult.

At its very core, PPDV2 is the story of a "box enthusiast" named Crimmy H and his cat taking a trip to the store, a destination that PPDV2 affectionately refers to as "Da Sto", recruiting various oddballs he encounters along the way who become inspired by his mission and decide to tag along. What would otherwise be a mundane errand turns into a majestic journey rife with philosophical quandaries and bizarre tangents.

Additional screenshot.
A dramatic scene in a very surreal side-story.
While its predecessor was a proud rampage of sheer nonsense, PPDV2 does maintain a coherent (by Viovis' standards anyway) overarching plotline. The bulk of the game is centered around a board where the player alternatively receives dialogue from Crimmy H, Baron Cat, and friends detailing their progress in their grand voyage, and gets sent to a series of side-stories. These detours are incredibly diverse, featuring everything from "gangsters in Beethoven wigs" to anxious pondering over whether the world will end because the author accidentally said the word "mop". There are even multiple sophisticated mini-games, including an interactible ant farm!

In summary, if you play any of Viovis' games (and if you have any interest in ZZT, you really should!), PPDV2 should absolutely be one of them. Everything that makes the man's games legendary, from his creative and completely unique art style, which shines in this game more than in any other that he has ever released, to his odd yet irresistable humour, to his even more curious attempts to be philosophical, are in top form in this one.

There are numerous unskippable "musical breaks" in PPDV2, but since Viovis is one of the greatest musicians to ever put notes to ZZT, I'm sure you won't mind.

Some interesting trivia to anyone who has played both PPDVs: PPDV2 mentions a police officer chasing someone known as "the kite bitch" late in the game. In an unreleased "Special Edition" version of the original PPDV that I had the privilege of testing, the murderer that the unnamed police officer in that game is pursuing is directly named as "the kite killer". so it turns out that as incoherent as these two games are, there does exist some odd sort of continuity between them.

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