Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Oppose the Grand Inquisitor and his quirky dictatorship in this epic Zork adventure.

In June of 1977, a couple of twisted guys at MIT put together a text-based adventure game that would one day be Zork. Under an ordinary White House lies the Great Underground Empire, a subterranean kingdom in which you, the adventurer, match wits with the game designer via an all-text interface. Twenty years and a dozen or so sequels later, we are presented with Zork Grand Inquisitor, a game that attempts to trace the spirit of Zork back to its roots.


Magical mischief at the prestigious GUE Tech.

The two previous Zork titles, although more or less highly acclaimed, were criticized for having failed to do just that. Return to Zork, although humorous and Zorkish, is very far removed from the history of the Great Underground Empire; and Zork Nemesis is a very dark slice of the game universe, devoid of any humor. Although technically related to Nemesis, Grand Inquisitor is a completely different game. It’s so clever, well-designed, visually compelling and goofy that it tops as the best game of the series, and it’s one that even newcomer adventure gamers should pick up and have a hearty laugh while they’re at it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Who is the boss of you? I AM THE BOSS OF YOU!” These words accompany the game’s introductory newsreel, a satire entitled “Propaganda On Parade.” The year is 1067 GUE. After embarrassingly failing the magic courses at GUE tech, Yannick, now known as ‘The Grand Inquisitor’, has banned magic throughout the land on the threat of torture and execution. Why? Because “I AM THE BOSS OF YOU,” he shouts, forever cementing his fate as the funniest fascist dictator joke since Chaplin’s ‘Great Dictator’. A curfew was established, the Underground sealed, and anyone caught in defiance of the smug little bastard is Totemized. We don’t know exactly what that is, initially, but it involves scary looking machinery and we’re told it’s really painful.

You enter the zany world of Zork: Grand Inquisitor as a humble Frobozz Electric Perma-Suck machine salesman. As if being a door-to-door salesman wasn’t bad enough, you find that curfew starts in five seconds, and you quickly find yourself all alone with only propaganda-spewing loudspeakers to keep you company. The game’s pacing is quite brilliant, initially involving easy-to-solve puzzles which eventually lands you into the Great Underground Empire, where magic (and good humor) reign supreme. You find a lamp imprisoning the spirit of Dalbozz, a whimsical Dungeon Master who becomes your guide and alter-ego as you explore the world.

Most folks who have played the early Zorks will probably be satisfied with the game’s visual translation. Descriptions of locations from the text adventures are nicely represented by their graphical counterparts. The eccentric-looking White House is properly barricaded, Hades bears its requisite “Abandon All Hope” sign and Flood Control Dam #3 is complete with colored buttons. While it’s certain that everyone’s imagination painted something different during the text games, nobody could argue that the game suffers as a result of its graphical style. The only exceptions occur during the full-motion video sequences, which are well acted but overtly compressed (resulting in grainy-looking low resolution footage).

Antharia Jack (a takeoff of Indiana Jones), who runs the Port Foozle Pawn Shop, is played brilliantly by Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Gallactica and The A-Team). He is the most frequently encountered character and is certainly the least forgettable. Rip Taylor, looking for all the world like a double for the Gatekeeper at Emerald City, is Yannick’s henchman, Wartle. Y’Gael, blithe spirit of the underground from whom you acquire your spell book, is a wonderful character as well.

Nuts, Bolts and Spells


Clever little jokes like this are common in Zork. Now if you could only find a hammer…

But the main gist of Grand Inquisitor are the puzzles and lighthearted humor. Puzzles start off easily but will later require some careful insight to solve, and are of varying difficulty interspersed with unrelenting humor. Integrating magic spells into puzzle-solving is where the game really excels at. You will find magic scrolls on your journeys, which will then be stored in your spellbook. They do useful things like open doors, cause vegetation to grow or turn purple things invisible. The puzzles are air-tight this time around, meaning you won’t get irreversibly stuck, but doing foolish things WILL get you killed (with a subsequent endgame message concluding your ridiculous demise and final score).

On the retro side is a delightful text adventure, Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, a prequel to Grand Inquisitor, written by none other than Marc Blank (one of the creators of Zork) and Mike Berlyn (another Infocom writer), a really terrific bonus for those who loved and still love text adventures, an introduction to those who have never played them, and an anachronistic relic to others! You can grab it for free at www.resonant.org/games/infocom.

Zork Grand Inquisitor is a funny, solid, well crafted, well-written, well-acted adventure. There are a few technical issues, such as random crashes and problems adjusting the camera speed, but these are overall forgivable considering the final package. It might not be a five-star adventure, but it completely won me over through sheer fun and laughs. If there’s just one Zork adventure you’ll ever play, or if you’re new and eager to get into the series, then Grand Inquisitor is a must-have.

System Requirements: 90 Mhz CPU, 16MB RAM, 50 MB Free Space, Windows 95

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