Gem Hunter 2

Oct. 3, 1998
64.5 KB
67 / 73
No rating

Closer Look: Gem Hunter 2

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Aug. 10, 2021

Creative boss fights and a non-linear urban exploration put this sequel ahead, but the flaws remain unfixed. Agh.

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Continuing my exploration to the northeast takes me to the parking lot for the Evil Weasel building. I like that this place is so important as to be a district all by itself. It's a 2x2 series of parking lot boards with the building being the only other place of interest.


The cars honestly look better when there are several of them in one place.


You can enter, but two guards prevent Gem Hunter from actually getting anywhere inside. You only need 27 gems to get in which is far short of the 42 total gems. The Evil Weasel building is the final area of the game and shifts Gem Hunter 2 to a more linear structure for the finale.


Another laugh from me. I just imagine this guard sounding so exasperated here.


Aric's shitty limo also got me to laugh, but I don't think Tseng wanted me to.

Perhaps funnier is that the leader of this evil organization and incredibly powerful figure who was important enough to be brought back from the dead couldn't actually get the best parking spot.


Because the Evil Weasel building is considered its own region in Austin Powers that means it gets to have a monument sitting in the corner of the empty parking lot.


See! It's empty.

I'm genuinely surprised that Tseng misses an opportunity to have a random character dunk on him for "being too lazy" to draw a bunch of cars.


Hanging out by the monument is another one of the guides who tries to make it very clear that Final Fantasy VII is a cool game and you better go play it. He provides some hints on how to beat Aric's new flying ship. Except you don't fight Aric's flying ship in this game which makes this statement quite confusing! Aric's airship is now the phrase meaning the opposite of Chekov's gun.


Finally, the monument. The rules say there should be a gem around here, but I'm not seeing one. Once again I'm left wondering if it's Tseng being inconsistent or if "near a monument" means a board away.


Still no real progress is being made. There's this huge open world and nothing for Gem Hunter to actually do other than hope to stumble across a gem.


Not every home can actually be entered. It's common to just make the entrances to these buildings not use the appearance of a regular ZZT passage. Tseng doesn't do this which means that players will touch every fake passage they come across in hopes of it being a real one. He uses this opportunity to make jokes about Hanson, a band that was popular to hate in their time. Today it just dates the game a lot more than being funny.

Gem Hunter 2 isn't even the only Tseng game to take the time to call out Hanson. November Eve's weapons include a "Sonic Hanson Blaster" and the DX mode available when you beat the game lets you collect Hanson ammo to instantly defeat bosses with. It was just... kind of a thing. How dare those kids Mmmbop. How dare they.


It's a short walk across McQueen Heights to arrive at a board with something to do again.


There's another inaccessible home that brings us our Tseng is lazy joke plus a reference to You Vs. Stupidity 2.


There's also this person just hanging out between the two taller buildings. His reaction to Gem Hunter is a sensible one and is pretty much the only way people will react to him if they aren't going to try and be tough themselves. It's aggression or cowardice with little in between.


Exiting McQueen Heights to the west takes us to "Diner Row" which quickly establishes itself as the best looking region by far. As parody, these places aren't exactly hard-hitting satire of fast food, but since they're all named places of interest instead of generic buildings they end up with far more personality to them, even if they're still very much all the same buildings with slightly tweaked decorations.


See, it's funny because the Taco Bell mascot at the time was a chihuahua and a line from Final Fantasy VI: "Agh. More dobermans", appears in countless Tseng games. It works on multiple levels.


Despite again, that Tseng's passages are all designed to make the player try to enter them Gem Hunter pipes up about the unusual lack of cars in the lot. This is some guidance to make sure the player checks it out properly, but I think it's unnecessary. Or maybe it's just supposed to be funny to imagine cars desperately lined up to get tacos.


After being spoiled by Overflow's beautiful backgrounds I feel disappointed to just have this interior be placed on a black void.

The seating looks very reminiscent of Burger Joint, though I think it's less homage and more that Madguy got fast food restaurant seating design correct enough that it was destined to be the standard. (And I can't even begin to verify if Burger Joint even originated it in the first place.)

Somebody's at the counter which blends in with the wall design too much to easily be read as a counter rather than another wall, and most importantly of all, there's some ammo present.


A nearby scroll provides some advice from Tseng himself which betrays the weakness of what is going to be a boss fight. By having to outright give the solution to the player it's clear that the puzzle element in how to attack the boss isn't particularly well-designed.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
STEALTH: Gem Hunter... your journey ends

GEM HUNTER: Please. I've heard that so
much that I've developed a chemical
reaction to it.

STEALTH: Damn that Tseng, stealing Cosmo
Canyon quotes whenever he feels like it.

GEM HUNTER: Just die.

STEALTH: Haw! I'm invicible to your shots!

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Stealth is the opponent here, and after a brief diversion to accuse Tseng of plagiarism and Gem Hunter's own great reaction to finding out he can't just shoot Stealth the fight can begin.


Stealth paces about horizontally firing a steady stream of bullets that are effortlessly avoided by just not being anywhere near him. He does occasionally throw out a star (which is the white line pictured here) so the player isn't completely safe on the side with the ammo.

Hey speaking of ammo, it's behind what I assume is a glass display case which is functionally a wall.

This is how the player is intended to finally get some ammo and be able to start kicking various asses from here to Junon. However I am not the typical player and was entirely oblivious to the distinct fake walls on the right here which lead to a hidden side path and let the player actually get the ammo. Perhaps it's because I played this game on a tiny tablet rather than on my desktop. Perhaps I'm just bad at seeing things. Probably both.

So unfortunately for me, this meant another unfightable boss where I was trapped inside and had to reload to desperately desperately search for some free ammunition.


Back outside another guide reveals some helpful advice for tourists and one of the more bland restaurant names. ...Unless it's a Good Burger reference, in which case it's awesome.


This monument makes its gem pretty obvious as it's literally on top of the monument.

Another great name and appropriate for the region!


Tseng is at least classy enough to try to come up with something better than "Pizza Butt". There's another free gem nearby and the restaurant is simply closed. No jokes at Tseng's expense here.


There's still more in Diner Row, but I left the area to head into the dangerous "Moronix" region. This one is definitely more bland to look at with nothing but these same cylindrical towers repeated for the entire region.

They also have these weird missing rooftops.


Naturally I immediately run towards the person standing beside some ammo. Give me. Please.


It's the obligatory homeless person of ZZT.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting to learn that Tseng did switch things up in his remake of the original Gem Hunter. This guy managed to get cut despite being the source of a gem in the original just like he is here.

Of course I don't have any gold to give him because if I had gold I'd be spending it on ammo so once again I am stuck.


There's still this whole mess of people to talk to at least.


They all share the same code here to get aggressive when Gem Hunter speaks to any of them. It makes for a very horizontal structure where any gangster can be in charge of telling the other gangsters to attack.

Gem Hunter meanwhile could not care less about these people and just wants to get his gems and get out of here. His momentary regret at angering them has more of an impact when you're still exploring Austin Powers without any ammo.


Their behavior is a simple loop of moving and shooting towards the player. This at least makes it easy to take cover and get them to shoot each other for you.


That guy in McQueen Heights wasn't lying! Moronix is not a safe place at all. It's the only region in the game where you'll run into hostile enemies while outdoors.


The Moronix tourism budget has been slashed to bits. This giant pinwheel has no sign explaining what it is or city guide to offer some information on it. There's not even a gem here!

Instead there are just more gang members. Unlike the ones in the previous board, these ones are hostile immediately. It's not a case of angering somebody and then all of them in the district going aggro. They just hate you regardless and Tseng is counting on the player touching all the smiley faces on the initial Moronix board before they explore the rest.


The taller buildings here also make it awkward to navigate as they take up so much space and are just walls. Sure the illusion of depth means that there's road behind that building but to ZZT this is all just walls and fakes with no concept of "behind".


Gem Hunter has a reputation apparently.

Famous rappers Cubed Ice and Dr. Erd are kind of just dropped in here. They're not in the special edition of the original game, and while they do appear in the first release it's a single appearance in a secret room that just has characters from other Tseng games.

So that feeling most people get seeing Tseng's hundred characters and having no idea who they are is an incredibly natural one.


The duo almost immediate head into this building where there will surely be another boss fight and no ammo.

I have to stress that at this point my ammo woes are entirely on me. See those gray bits on the bottom? That's the rest of the two buildings from the Moronix entrance. All I had to do was go down that middle path and I'd end up on the other side of the fence(?) with the bum and be able to get a bunch of ammo, and that's not even counting the obliviousness to the fakes in Taco Doberman.


But you know, I still had to try because I was oblivious. Maybe this would be the one that just gives Gem Hunter ammo without any fake walls involved.

It's not.

There's obviously some sort of reference to Todd's Adventure, MadGuy's first ZZT release that I'm just not getting. There doesn't appear to be any giant robots in that game. Still, it reveals that Tseng's love of MadGuy's games goes well beyond being in Damage Inc. with him and being a fan of his notable works. Todd's Adventure is far rougher of a game than MadGuy's hit RPG War-Torn which made him a name to keep an eye on. Then of course there's Burger Joint which promptly elevated MadGuy to being one of the most well-regarded ZZTers of the era and beyond.

Namedropping Todd sends a signal that MadGuy was a formative inspiration for Tseng and not just a name whose respect was earned via the hits.


Needless to say there was no ammo in there and I reloaded so fast that I didn't even take a screenshot of the boss prior to being able to fight it.

Have a gem.


And this is where the tall buildings of Moronix get moronic. It's one thing to make it a bit awkward to get around these buildings, but this board is genuinely cut in two. Since it's a clear dead-end there's not much reason to explore whatever half the player isn't able to get to when they enter this board, with the only motivation to do being the possibility that one of these gangsters will drop a gem when killed.

Ugh, I'm going to have to kill everybody in Moronix just to check for gems aren't I?


The tall building from the previous board is actually just really tall.


So there is a guide, and arguably this is the monument rather than the pinwheel, but then what the heck is the one random out of place pinwheel all about?


I'm not sure if this or the dish is my favorite.

The fact that the characters just outright reject such a place is fantastic.

Come on Tseng, I thought you liked Final Fantasy VII you coward. (Content warning for the r-slur in this video.)


Gem here. So the Really Fucking Tall Building is our monument?


But then, a breakthrough. All these enemies give gold when they've killed and since they all kill each other I have money. Money which can buy goods and services.

First I buy the gem off the beggar, and then I walk all the way back to the spaceport to do some shopping.


My thoughts exactly!

Suddenly, the game is playable! I stock up on a little bit of everything and take solace in knowing that wherever I go next, I'll actually be able to deal with whatever is there.

Tseng tried. I missed out on two opportunities to get ammo earlier than relying on something as clumsy as enemies killing each other with their own bullets, but I still am unhappy with how this situation was handled. Gem Hunter 2 only offers up ammo in the back alley of Moronix, in the fight with Stealth, and by getting money from the gangs of Moronix. This is an open-ended game, and until the player happens to go to Taco Doberman or Moronix's alley they will not have ammo. A huge portion of the world can be explored without the player being able to actually make real progress in it.

Just give Gem Hunter some ammo at the start of the game! That is literally all it would take to let players actually get started. Instead you're basically unable to get anywhere until you decide to go explore the western two regions of the map, and even then you might just happen to explore in such a way that you don't see Taco Doberman right away even when you do head to Diner Row.

To add insult to injury, one of the first NPCs in the game warns the player to stay out of Moronix with Gem Hunter's response to this being to get offended that the man might think he would head that way. This is the sort of thing that can drag out the game significantly, and this is a Gem Hunter so of course it goes without saying that eventually I'll hit a point where I've gotten all the gems I was able to find myself and have to revisit everything scouring for the more absurdly hidden ones.


Now I'm annoyed and have to go do cleanup everywhere to defeat Espionage, Cubed and Erd, plus Stealth.


And then somehow Tseng immediately makes it up to me by having the Espionage boss fight on the second floor of Francine's home actually be really fun and satisfying!

I normally try to record my playthroughs so I can revisit specifics if needed, but was unable to do so playing on a crappy tablet so you'll just have to take my word for it. Like, I was shocked at how well this fight played. It was genuinely one of the best boss fights I've seen in a ZZT world. Tseng had a reputation for creative boss fights and the battle against Espionage is a great example of how he earned it.

Up top the accented "o" characters pace back and forth shooting at Gem Hunter if they're aligned with him. They're well coded and jump to different labels depending on where they are in their movement code which keeps them from getting stuck on walls.

Espionage's armor will sometimes throw stars, but the attack happens infrequently enough that you're only ever dealing with two at a time. This keeps the player moving and the sensible thing to do is to keep your distance so they can burn out at a distance. At the same time though, Espionage will sometimes do a large area blast attack where several of the objects that make up the armor will fire several shots in a row all at once. There are two narrow gaps for the player to safely avoid them, but since the stars will be constantly moving in the player can't simply find a safe spot and sit still. Instead you're forced to frantically make a run to a gap but the stream of bullets makes this risky as poor timing or a misstep can cause the several to hit the player. This means you get to also weigh the choice of just accepting a single hit from a star.

To add yet more chaos into the equation another piece of the armor will sometimes spawn in a centipede. This is a great effect where it will place a centipede head, wait a moment, and then begin placing some segments so everything ends up attaching correctly. The centipede means you've got something else to avoid, and while it's long enough that it can potentially block the various bullets flying by it's not so long that it's reliable to do so.

Perhaps the one Achilles heel of the fight is needing to know to shoot the foot when it's making a centipede to actually do damage. Having Espionage usually be invincible turns this into a defensive battle with limited opportunities to actually deal damage. That aspect actually works great and makes for a really satisfying experience. My complaint is that the player will have a very hard time actually discovering this information for themselves. The guide with boss information will outright tell the player how to win, and it's a shame to me that it's very unintuitive otherwise.

Oh, also since you have to shoot the foot during a brief window you'll also likely shoot a centipede in the middle and divide it up leading to even more obstacles that's tougher to deal with than just one lengthy centipede.

In the end though, everything comes together. It's very difficult to make a fun and fair boss in ZZT, especially with the restrictions imposed by making a boss consist of more than one object like this. Tseng should really be applauded for this fight which instantly turned my sour mood about the ammo situation around and made me eager to fight the other bosses. This is a real high point for the game to be sure.


Admittedly the outcome of the fight feels a bit anti-climatic with little more than an "Okay bye" from Espionage when defeated. Also I don't get why this dialog was put in the left arm object when there is one on the board with the name "Espionage" that was speaking before and could just as easily have been sent to another label to do this text.


All the bosses leave behind a gem when defeated. Since you don't actually need 100% of the gems to beat the game (though you do for the best ending) this also is nice in that you can skip a frustrating boss or two if you're dedicated to finding some of the more annoyingly hidden gems instead.

And not to bring up November Eve for the billionth time, but this boss really felt like a boss out of that game, but much better balanced. November Eve had a weird habit of overlooking safe spots on the board where you're just invincible, which to some extent is because it's an engine that has the player maneuver an object rather than the player directly so things like stars and centipedes won't work. It's just odd to me that Tseng is capable of something this impressive, but then fumbles the concept in the next game after this one.


Time to celebrate with some tacos.

Sadly, Tseng does fumble things here. As the clunky scroll explained on my first visit, you need to shoot to the left. Some hidden ricochets will deflect Gem Hunter's bullets along the top of the restaurant and hit spikes that will fall when shot.


Unlike with Espionage, the Stealth fight does give the player a spot to hide from the stars so it's mostly a matter of popping out to fire at the ricochet and then just hoping that Stealth gets hit by a spike.

Stealth's movements are way too erratic, just randomly moving left or right forever. Since the spikes are always hit from left to right it's very easy for Stealth to just hang out towards the right where the player can't even begin to try and line up a shot proper. The movements Stealth makes are also one space at a time so often he won't even be underneath a spike in the first place. Not that this really matters because he moves so fast that the delay of travel time for the ricochet bounces means he could be anywhere by the time a spike is shot.


The good news though, is that Tseng was smart enough to not actually have the spikes be destroyed when they fall. Instead if they miss their target they turn invisible and wait a moment before walking back to the top and appearing to respawn. As long as you have the ammo you can keep on shooting spikes endlessly.


Finally manage to hit him and you'll get a "Dammit!" and nothing more from him before he leaves a gem behind.

Now, you can stand under the spikes yourself and just shoot up, bypassing the ricochet, but because of the tight spacing I imagine this approach would take a lot of health. I suspect this is what the ricochets are about. They feel like an official cheese strategy to be able to win without getting hurt even if it takes a lot longer. Maybe testers unaware of the ricochets (or playing a development version without them) were finding this one a bit too frustrating when fighting Stealth directly.


Still, let it be clear that the typical ZZT boss fight is traditionally so low quality that even something as flawed as this is enough to give Tseng that reputation for cool bosses. This one is messy, but I'll take a unique if imperfect concept over holding down the fire button to win before the boss can flood the room with stars any day. This one would've felt stronger if I had gotten the ammo the first time and played it before facing Espionage.

Also I finally noticed the fake walls at this point.


And then noticed the way to the ammo in Moronix on my way to fight Cubed Ice and Dr. Erd.


That is a cool robot actually.

The rappers delight in firing barrages of bullets, but again the player is mostly safe if they stick to where they need to be. This one's a little nicer in that you can maybe figure out the gimmick without the help of Mr. Blue's explicit instructions to shoot the blinking blue light and then the red core. There's no feedback for hitting the blue light though, and it takes a few hits before the core becomes vulnerable.


The general strategy is to just stick to the bottom here and once the gun is jammed to fire a shot at it. This is a little tedious in that you can only hit it once per jam so my big row of bullets here isn't going to amount to much.

You're not entirely safe either as the robot's little claw arm will sometimes throw a star, but if you're quick enough with shooting the two targets you can essentially stun the robot enough to never get a chance to throw one. This might be for the best since while Espionage had a long arena with room for the player to dodge a star or two, Gem Hunter is really stuck here.

Where is here anyway? I thought this was supposed to be Gem Hunter on top of the building and happening outside, but there's a wall running along the entire top of the board. I could accept them as clouds, but if we're outdoors it would be easy to just use some dark blue on dark blue water for the background to be the sky.


When the window for attacking the core is closed, Cubed Ice has this to say.


Defeated, the whole board flashes blue for a moment before being erased entirely.

Don't worry, despite the other bosses leaving an actual ZZT gem, time time you're given one directly in code.


Some more credit where it's due, after that rough start with ammo, I really appreciate having a ZZT game where I actually buy things at a shop more than once. Gold flows freely enough that you can pretty safely resupply after each fight or two. I'm always able to be adequately equipped and to get this far in a ZZT action game from the 90s without the need to cheat for health or ammo is a breath of fresh air.


You know, I never did finish exploring Diner Row. What could this golden arch of an "M" stand for?



This is a good joke by ZZTer Tseng McQueen.

Sadly it's also closed.

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