There and Back Again, a Gamer’s Guide: Part 2 – Do What Now?

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about how starting a new game+ in FEZ led me to discover the crazy antics of video games published by Sierra On-Line. While tumbling down this rabbit hole, I began to find games all over the publishing spectrum that asked players to do the impossible in order to complete the absurd. Prepare for your piss to come to a boil as I walk you through some of my favorite frustrating video game puzzles and quests. And I’d like to start with the game that inspired this series of articles.

Often considered to be a crowning achievement among the indie community, FEZ is a puzzle-platformer developed by Polytron Corporation and was initially released on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2012. The story of FEZ begins with a little sprite named Gomez, waking up in his blissful, two-dimensional plane of existence. Gomez finds a letter left to him by an elder, Geezer, imploring our protagonist to meet him at the top of their village. Once you ascend to the summit, a bunch of shit happens, most important of which is the fracturing of all space and time. Fuck…

Afterward, Gomez receives a red fez that grants him access to the third dimension. He’s told by Geezer that it’s his turn to save the universe. In order to fix spacetime, Gomez must collect cubes that have been scattered throughout the world, now using the third dimension to manipulate his surrounding environment, opening new paths to places previously unreachable.

I was all in. Imagine how awesome it would be if Ian McKellen told you that the fate of the universe relies on you, and you got his helmet from the set of X-Men (or his hat from Lord of the Rings—take your pick, nerds!) which revealed to you the fourth dimension. We’d finally be able to fight back against those asshole, fourth-dimensional beings who are always fucking with us (just kidding (no, I’m not)).

FEZ is brimming with clever puzzles, some (a lot) too clever for its own good. Sure, there’s enough reasonable riddles for an average player to solve unaided and roll credits (even someone below average, such as myself), but completionists will have a hell of a time deciphering the language and learning the number system.

It was after seeing credits that I gave in and began scouring the internet for help solving all the other puzzles that I failed to finish the first time around. I tried to avoid straight-up solutions and stuck with helpful hints instead. I was making good progress too…until the clock room. Despite becoming more familiar with the game’s puzzle patterns and methods, the clock room still left me stumped. So, straight-up solution it is! I tapped out after reading what it was.

There are four anti-cubes to be revealed by this massive, mysterious clock. The cubes are color coded and only appear when the clock hand hits 12:00 at certain times of the day. Seemed simple enough, but then I read further and discovered that for one of the colors, it takes 24 hours for the clock’s hand to read 12:00. I suppose I could just leave the game running all day so Gomez will be there when the cube materializes, but then I read about the last cube only appearing every seven fucking days!

No problem, the internet says. Just go into your system settings and change your time and date.

Internet, you’re talking to a guy who buys games digitally so he doesn’t have to get up to put in a disc. Yeah…I had my fun with FEZ, but it was time to move on.

FEZ Clock
Get it? Time to move on?

Having to manipulate your console’s settings is one thing, but the actions that X-Men for the Sega Genesis requires you to take is fucking ridiculous.

Developed by Western Technologies Inc in 1993, the story of X-Men takes place inside the Danger Room after becoming infected by a virus and had all simulation safety protocols disabled. The X-Men must survive the onslaught of deadly combat scenarios until they can locate the virus and purge it from the Danger Room’s operating system.

Cool premise… It would be nice if it wasn’t one of the most difficult games to play! Not even with the help of the Co-Op Kid could I make it past the first stage. It was bad enough with the tough to reach enemies, overly challenging platforming, and near unbeatable bosses, but the real kick in the dick was the second to last level (which I obviously only ever read about).

With the computer terminal destroyed, Professor X tells you to “Reset the computer now!” You can jump and button mash all over the screen, but you won’t find any option to “reset the computer,” and that’s because ol’ Chuck isn’t talking about anything on screen or any other place in the whole goddamn game for that matter! No. Professor X wants you to consider the years you shaved off your life from the stress of getting this far and take a gamble that pressing the reset button on the actual Sega console won’t do what it’s there for and reset your Genesis.

In order to beat the level, you need to press the actual reset button on the console itself. If by some miracle I did make it to the second to last level, there’d be no way in hell that I’d go anywhere near the power switch or reset button and risk losing all that hard-earned progress. I probably would’ve kept the game on pause until someone at school told me what you to do (which I wouldn’t have believed them enough to try), or my television screen burned out.

X-men Reset
It was the last time Beast let Bobby touch the computer

Don’t get me wrong. Living in the time of YouTube and Reddit, the idea of imbedding a puzzle’s solution in the real world seems like a cool concept, but back in the days of Genesis?!

Well, fuck me. Apparently, game developers have been pulling these shenanigans well before I ever unwrapped that slick Sega console for Christmas.

StarTropics was an action-adventure game developed and published by Nintendo for the NES back in 1990, and features what is probably my favorite nigh-impossible video game objective one could encounter.

The story begins with a young lad named Mike Jones on his way to the tropical location of C-Island to visit his uncle, the world-renowned archaeologist, Dr. Steven Jones. Upon his arrival to the village of Coralcola, Mike discovers that his uncle has gone missing. Dr. Jones’ assistant, Baboo, grants Mike access to his uncle’s submarine (fucking awesome) to search the nearby isles of the South Seas. To defend himself on his adventure, the village chief arms our young protagonist with a special…yo-yo? I think the chief might have Mike confused with Michelangelo (for younger readers, don’t waste your time watching Secret of the Ooze to get that reference).

Mike soon stumbles across a message left by his uncle explaining that he has been abducted by extraterrestrials—no doubt, to learn all about Earth’s history of the dinosaurs. Mike has to navigate perilous terrain, survive vicious monsters, and interact with intelligent wildlife, in order to find his lost uncle.

Halfway through the game, you run into Baboo again, and he recounts the doctor’s last words before being kidnapped.

“Tell Mike to dip my letter in water…”

How cryptic.

Baboo then tells you that the aliens used a spaceship to abduct your uncle. You must hurry and save him! Back in your uncle’s submarine, Mike needs to enter a three-digit frequency code into the Nav system in order to locate Dr. Jones. What could the code possibly be? Maybe it has something to do with your uncle’s last words…

Spoiler—it does. But you won’t find any letter or clever water-dipping game mechanics within the virtual world of C-Island. Oh, no. What Dr. Jones is referring to is a physical piece of paper that comes packaged inside the StarTropic retail box that is in the form of a letter.

StarTropics Note
Don’t eat the paper, but go ahead and assume you should dunk it water

When said letter is dipped in water, the secret three-digit code appears beneath the text. How cool is that! Well…I guess not so cool for the people who rented the game.

Renting video games isn’t much of a thing now, but back in the day (Christ, I feel old thinking about this), it was a common way to experience a game. However, most games didn’t come with any of its original paperwork. It was this unforeseen dilemma by Nintendo that makes this my favorite example of developers damning gamers. All the pain and frustration was palpable, reading through the numerous anecdotes of kids resorting to brute-force tactics, entering every conceivable combination until finding one that worked, because they could only rent the game.

Admittedly, even if I owned the game, I probably wouldn’t have thought to dunk any of the video game’s literature into water. I kept all my manuals pristine, baby! Nor would I have the patience to systematically try every possible combination until guessing the correct frequency.

Speaking of patience, I’m sure yours is wearing thin after making it this far into my article. So, there you have it! Hopefully, you’re a little more sympathetic next time you see someone asking for help in a forum. But our journey isn’t over yet! Join me back here in two weeks to conclude There and Back Again: A Gamer’s Guide, with Part Three, A Noob’s Walkthrough for History.

In the meantime, it would be awesome if you posted in the comments below about an area, puzzle, or quest you’re currently struggling with. Don’t worry, we won’t judge you.