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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How morbid. The third door is just a closet with a dead body inside and no context whatsoever.


You can't actually open any of the stalls in either bathroom so the only thing to really do is just wander up to strangers there and strike up a welcome conversation.


Boy this guy lucked out.


Gem Hunter entering the women's room and talking to its lone occupant goes about as you'd expect.


In her rush to get away she drops the red key to the rest of the building.


Tseng does something incredibly nice here and includes another shop so the player won't have to walk... ten board to the gift shop in the Milda spaceport and then another ten back.


There's also a junk shop which sells a few arbitrary items. Each one allows Gem Hunter to get a gem in some weird way meaning that the player needs to keep some of their gold. I've got more than 300 at the moment so it's easy to just buy everything at once and not have to worry about it.


The hedge clippers get a generic message while the other two items provide a little more flavor. The latter gives a hint as to what its purpose is at least.


The second shop is more traditional. Ammo ends up costing more here and health is just a sliver less. The price differences aren't significant enough to want to run back to Milda at least.

The "Nitro Party Pack" gives 35 health and 50 ammo for 15 gold which will again speed up shopping resulting in this game having an interesting economy in terms of how to most efficiently spend your cash.

It's also nice enough to not sell torches when they won't be needed for the rest of the game.


Touch every plant you see.

Both paths upwards converge and lead to two passages that will also converge. These are elevators up to the next level.


Tseng does do a great job with these fancy building interiors. The visual effect of multiple levels per floor like this look great and feel right at home in some rich evil asshole's corporate headquarters.

The trend established by the previous floor continues with another locked door preventing access to the next level.


There's only one way to go this time, and it's really strange puzzle. Gem Hunter is instructed to stand above the block to create symmetry with the robot below.

(For the curious, "nmiaow" was a ZZT/MZXer phrase meaning "not meant in any obscene way". It shows up quite a bit in the second half of the 1990s.)


Once Gem Hunter is in position you get to play a little game of how to catch the red object that always moves opposite to how the player does. This requires finding a way to desync the object as the board symmetry otherwise makes this a little dance between the two where no progress is ever made.


The solution is to get either the robot or the player to bump against an invisible wall towards the northwest corner of the room that isn't mirrored in the southeast. This is arbitrary and neither challenging nor fun. You just run around until one of you stumbles across the solution. Shooting is also disabled on this board so no being sneaky and trying to bump the robot against a wall of bullets.

A better approach is to enforce the symmetry rather than breaking it. I know I've seen games before where you essentially have two objects navigating different mazes that both have to reach the end simultaneously. Something like that is the sort of puzzle you can actually put some thought into how to solve. This is just a weird diversion. (Benco's "Clone" in Ripped Off 2 is the closest I can find offhand to what I'm talking about.)


The reward is some gems and the key to the next level. Who could have guessed?


I feel like I need to play Todd's Adventure again soon.


These two are an interesting fight. Warlord (in red), despite the name doesn't directly attack and just spawns in built-in creatures. Showdown meanwhile is extremely aggressive and does fall into the cliché ZZT boss formula of just moving and shooting towards the player in an endless loop. Tseng's own strategy for the fight given by Mr. Blue admits that Showdown will likely "obliterate" Warlord for you. This really wasn't the case for me since Showdown has to sort of wiggle his way diagonally towards Gem Hunter while Warlord can very quickly become aligned and just start moving in a straight line.

With my usual habit of making object based enemies shoot each other to begin with, being told to do so as an intended strategy meant I was basically ignoring Showdown in hopes of getting him to do the work for me, but because of the large distance it did not work out at all and I found myself eventually in grave danger once Warlord finished closing the gap. Spawning a bunch of enemies that can't be ignored at close distances meant having to focus on those above all else.

Standing still to shoot at the remaining creatures after actually getting rid of Warlord led to an untimely death as by this time Showdown was also too close to dodge, and while my ammo was reasonable going into the fight, it was definitely not enough to win the fight by just holding down the fire button.


A better plan is to hide behind the only cover available and just wail on Warlord since Showdown will almost certainly reach the bottom row and be unable to hurt you. Then popping out and spamming bullets will be effective as you can shoot first knowing that he'll move into them and his code means there's a small pause after being shot allowing him to be stun-locked.

These two are a little bit too basic compared to the far flashier bosses seen throughout the rest of Gem Hunter 2, which makes them being such a late fight being even more of a disappointment. They do the job but are hardly memorable.


After they've been dealt with Gem Hunter can have a second encounter with Espionage! As the best boss fight in the game this was definitely the character I was most excited to get a round two against.

ESPIONAGE: Impressive. But you must defeat
Sheng Long to stand a chance.

GEM HUNTER: Enough wise cracks, Espionage.
Where's Aric? I have a surprise for his
sorry ass.

ESPIONAGE: Good for you.

GEM HUNTER: Where's your crappy armor?

ESPIONAGE: Oh? That? I got rid of it. I'm
really tired of trying to beat you with
that thing.

GEM HUNTER: Good. I'll have an easier time
kicking your ass.

ESPIONAGE: Think again.

But if Espionage doesn't have his armor, how will I shoot his foot when it makes a centipede?

He's got some new tricks this time and suddenly disappears in the middle of the cut-scene.

GEM HUNTER: The hell? Espionage! Where the
hell did you go!?

ESPIONAGE: Oh, I'm still here.

GEM HUNTER: What... the... fuck..?

ESPIONAGE: Bwah hah hah! This is my true

GEM HUNTER: That's another cliche...

Espionage reappears as this giant monstrosity that flickers between various yellow walls. I was so confused as to what the two little bits at the bottom were supposed to be as I was still reading the shape as a bipedal creature, but no, he's gone feral.


Gem Hunter's reaction of utter confusion is valid.


This second form really doesn't look like much of anything except possibly the mutant doberman boss from November Eve which coincidentally also has the protagonist Kim complain about how it doesn't look anything like what it's supposed to.

But apparently it's a woodchuck.


It also has that November Eve flavor to it, and in a bad way. Two guns line the sides of the arena and move up and down while firing into the center, but they're completely nullified by just standing in the bottom row. Tseng even starts the player along the bottom so you don't even need to get to a safe position.


The bottom row doesn't completely nullify his attacks. His limbs also shoot bullet straight down, which again are just dodged by moving out of the way. The only attack you can't just freely avoid is that he spawns centipedes from his fangs. Unlike the ones made by his armor, these tend to not connect to each other as they run at cycle one while the centipedes run at cycle two. This causes them to not have time to connect with each other.

I was curious if the centipedes working properly earlier was a lucky coincidence, but no, the first fight slows down to cycle two when it's spawning a centipede in and reverts back to cycle one when finished. It's very strange that Tseng is aware of the importance of this to get the technique to work but just fails to actually do it here. Looking back, even the original Gem Hunter Espionage fight gets it right by just adding more idles between each piece being created as well.


To actually inflict damage, you need to just shoot this disco ball hanging in the corner to blind him with the flash or something? This means that the fight is just take a few steps to the left and shoot north until you win, maybe stopping for a moment to shoot a centipede that actually manages to navigate the mess of bullets being fired to get near Gem Hunter. The bullets need to be fired slowly as there's a little animation that plays when it's shot and show invisibles flash to create the illusion if a disco ball lighting up the walls. Espionage has a lot of health so this gets to be pretty tedious.

It's another flop whose only real saving grace is not being the Stealth fight.


I had to genuinely double check and see if Todd says "Cool." a lot in Todd's Adventure.


Espionage explodes into a red slime that's turned into blood once he's killed. Finally it's time to head to the roof to rescue Kim and deal with Aric.

GEM HUNTER: ...Aric.

ARIC: Huh? Oh. You. Y'know, I'm really
getting annoyed by you. You killed many of
Evil Weasel's top executives.


ARIC: Shut up.

GEM HUNTER: What're you gonna do with Kim?

ARIC: Oh? Her? I was planning to drop her
in a pit of Dobermans.

GEM HUNTER: As Tseng would say... "Agh.
More Dobermans."

ARIC: I knew he'd fit that in somewhere.
So... did you actually find some gems, or
did you think you could pull a fast one
and save your friend?

You'll notice that once I went inside the Evil Weasel Building I kind of just assumed I'd get the rest of the gems there. Not quite. If you have less than thirty-seven of them (haha I have thirty-six) you get the worst ending.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
ARIC: Oh, I'm sorry, that's not enough

KIM: Ack!

Of course, Gem Hunter guns down Aric
after this sequence, but after Kim is
killed, Gem Hunter quits the Gem Hunting
biz and starts hunting Viagra. Today,
he's called the Viagra Hunter, an
adventurer trying to forget the loss of
girlfriend. (blah, this is too melodrama-
tic. let's just end the fuckin' game
right now)
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Okay it's been long enough from me playing this and writing up the article that I got to laugh really hard at this ending again.

So yeah make sure to get some gems lest you become known as V​i​a​g​r​a Hunter.


Bad news though! Because of the cut-scenes you're locked onto this path once you get to Espionage.

Thanks to new teleportation cheats though escape was far simpler than in previous days. Time to consult the guide again...


"26. the statue of no point in the evil weasel district"

Monument. Gem.

Verdict: It's invisible so the only way to find this is to scour every tile in hopes of finding one on a monument board. If you do this at the Moronix windmill or the Triple Towers twin pools you'll waste you time. It works here though!


Speaking of touching every tile, there's a secret passage next to the player here!


Do you know who hangs out in secret areas? Tseng does.


"38-39. talk to me in the secret area."

Verdict: Also bad. Is the intent that the player will open these games in ZZT's editor, see this board and that the passage leads to the Evil Weasel shops and they can find it from there? Should I be flood filling the parking lot to find the gem that was there? This game predates any external editors or other tools to make finding these things any easier.


And yeah he says it. No need to sneak it in with Aric's plot to kill Kim.


So this secret room that's mandatory if you want to get the good ending also has two objects that give 9000 health and 10,000 ammo?

I think this might make the final fight against Aric go a bit more smoothly than it otherwise might have.


"31. buy the license plate, go to aric's limo and change it."

Ha ha Aric now your limo says "h4x0rz"! The perfect crime.

Verdict: Barely acceptable. You had to buy a license plate so surely it was going to be used on a vehicle in some way. A little subtle guidance would've been nice. Give all the other cars a half-block object on the backend so you could see the other license plates and realize that for some reason the limo was different or just let touching the limo from any spot let you notice the license plate and I think you'd have something reasonable here. As it is, this is a "find the right tile to touch" puzzle but one with a far smaller pool of options than the other gems that go in this direction.


"32. take the smash mouth cd, go back to the boys in blue hq, and talk to false leader."

Verdict: The trash vendor specifically says that False Leader loves Smash Mouth when you buy the CD. If anything that makes this too easy, but that's a blessing compared to some of these.


After all that, we're still one short, and it's entirely my own doing. Consulting the list here at the end of my game I thought I had gotten everything and that the missing gems in the monuments were to blame, but of course I hadn't. I bought those hedge clippers and didn't use them!

Back in McQueen Heights this board with the Hanson CD trapped home is an odd spot in its fence. Use the clippers to cut through them and you can reach the Milda Spaceport district.


30. buy the hedgeclippers, go back to mcqueen heights, and clip the broken gate. collect the gem.

This is a better way to deal with a glistening gem. You'll have to make a mental note to yourself that there's another gem on this board that can't be reached from here. — Me, at the very beginning of this article

Verdict: I uh, did not make a very good mental note apparently.


Returning to Aric this time with all the gems will let things actually proceed.

ARIC: Hmm... not bad. It's enough to keep
your friend alive. But I'm still overall
pissed at you. I think we'll fight anyway.

The dialog is the same here if you hit the minimum thirty-seven threshold or get every last gem. However when you get all of them a flag is set for later.


By this point, seeing the fight with Aric is just a regular old move and shoot boss battle is a little disappointing. This is actually the same fight wholesale from the previous game. I feel like this is misunderstanding what people would want in a Gem Hunter sequel conflating the appeal these characters had with the ZZT community with the actual fights against them.


The absurd amounts of health and ammo given from the secret room also mean that there's no effort required resulting in a fight with little appeal.


Francine isn't the only one with this ability. Now that I know the two are related I wonder if that's just some special power only they have and whether or not short range teleportation is available to the masses.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Go to the plant outside of Austin Powers.
I'll be waiting for you...


GEM HUNTER: This plant place, eh? Heh heh.
He's gonna get his ass kicked from here to

KIM: Hey! Are you going after Aric?

GEM HUNTER: Yeah. Meet me outside town. I
don't think you want to see what I'm gonna
do to Aric.

KIM: I don't doubt it. I've had enough
excitement for one day.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

If you've gotten all the gems, Aric leaves behind this note inviting Gem Hunter to the true final fight. Tseng seems to be really proud of his Junon line.

This opens up a passage to continue which is kind of handled strangely because Kim is still frozen in place until you talk to her.


If the player hasn't gotten all the gems you just get to rescue Kim here and a different passage opens up to the credits. If you've gotten 100% of the gems then you get to either awkwardly just ignore Kim or awkwardly tell her that Aric got away. A little restructuring of the dialog here would be welcome to actually reflect the player's commitment to touching every fence.


And if you're not paying too much attention, when you talk to Kim and the regular credits passage also opens you'll get to have this moment of "wait, which one of these is the one that goes to the Aric fight again?"

ARIC: I didn't want to have to try this.
But you'll have to understand... NO ONE

GEM HUNTER: ...That's the most idiotic
line in this game so far.

ARIC: Dammit. Don't you get it? I'm going
to show my true form.

GEM HUNTER: Ewwwww...!

ARIC: Agh. That's it.

And just like with Espionage's second fight there's a flashing transformation into when I'm going to guess is supposed to be an evil weasel based on the name of Aric's corporation but again it likes more like a spider. Nobody calls the graphics into question at least so you're free to just enjoy the spider boss.


And after several fights in a row of just shooting smiley faces, it's kind of nice to see a return to something a little more distinct. Though we've seen by now that just because Tseng can come up with an interesting idea for a fight against an oversized boss, that doesn't necessarily mean any particular boss fight will work out.


On the offensive side, Tseng does a decent job. The limbs firing bullets are pretty pointless, but the main threat comes from the fangs. These will throw a few stars which get turned into tigers changing them from an indestructible threat to ZZT's most dangerous creature. The center dot in the mouth will sometimes erase every bullet on the screen before shooting a single bullet out. This bullet then gets turned into slime and after a moment to let the slime spread the outer slimers will be turned into more tigers while the inner breakable walls become ruffians.

This is still on the worse end of boss design as the spit attack (or so I assume that's what it's meant to be) can produce some pretty heavy number of enemies rapidly.


All the while Gem Hunter has to figure out what all these white things do to find a way to properly hurt Aric who is immune to bullets.

The lone button on the left will spawn a boulder up top that gets pushed out by some hidden conveyors.


But then we start running into bugs!

The intent is to have the player push the boulder into the other device with the three white objects which will then turn the boulder into a bomb and push it out of the device so the player can light it and push it in Aric's direction.

The order of two labels are backwards so you don't actually have to push the boulder inside. Having Gem Hunter stand there and blocking the object will also work as it checks if there's a boulder to transform and jumps to that label, bypassing the line that makes sure that the player isn't the element blocking the objects.

That's minor, and would just speed up the fight.


The real problem comes from the object that's checking for that boulder to turn into a bomb not returning to its main loop. This means you can only ever get one bomb and thus the fight is impossible!

So uh, do not go for 100% because it is not worth your time.

Even if it worked this fight would not be all that great what with the 17,000 health I have. Wait. How'd I get even more health than that secret room gave me?

...because of an otherwise blank scroll that's on the board where you fight Aric on the roof. It gives 7000 ammo and 9000 health. The version of this game in the Anthology release also has this so if it's a debug leftover (and it's got to be) it was likely placed by Tseng himself.

Well, if you could win this fight Aric wouldn't say anything and you'd get to exit to the final ending screen.


Kim sits on a park bench trying to wait politely but getting a little worried.


She isn't alone for long as the stooges of Absentminded show up. Perhaps they have a monopoly on bench sitting.

S-PAC: God dammit, Moron. Now look what
mess we're in now. The Space Port's closed
and we can't get a ride to IOU.

MORON: thank you for speaking the obvious,
side pocket.

NIMROD: Dammit all ta hell. Dis be tha
last time we be playin' poka' wit' Qwerty.

KIM: Hey. Any of you three see Gem Hunter?

S-PAC: You know that maniac?

GEM HUNTER: Now now, Side Pocket... watch
who you're calling a "maniac".

I couldn't even tell you who these three are in the context of Tseng's little universe. Just more people to cause trouble and make snide remarks at Tseng.

KIM: Hi, Gemmy.

GEM HUNTER: ...Quit calling me that.

S-PAC: Heh heh... "Gemmy".


NIMROD: S-Pac. Shut yo' hole, foo'. Dis
guy be `avin' a really bad day.

GEM HUNTER: Understatement of the year,
Nimrod. Well, Kim, we'd better get going.
I'm not hanging around this damned city
any longer. I don't think I want to come
back here for a while.

KIM: Okay.

It's incredibly non-committal of an ending? Gem Hunter kills Aric (again) and has nothing to say about it other than wanting to hurry up and get out of Austin Powers. Kim is pretty flat here and really doesn't get to do anything other than constantly call Gem Hunter "Gemmy". It's really not adding any closure or humor or hinting at what to expect in Gem Hunter 3 or much of anything. I guess it fits in with the good ending for the first game which consists of being told congratulations and go take a vacation.

MORON: think we'll see those two again?

NIMROD: Hell if I be knowin'. I think they
be tryin' ta get off dis planet.

S-PAC: Hey! Let's follow them! They might
give us a lift to IOU! (nmiaow)

NIMROD: Fo' once, yo' be `avin' a good
idea. Lez go.

The stooges also walk off and the cinematic ends with a passage to the credits board which is also where you'll end up after fighting Aric on the Evil Weasel building's roof normally.


A few names get to appear on the board proper for the major players in making Gem Hunter 2 happen.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
--==/+ more special thanks +\==--
madguy - for burger joint kicked ass. no,
this has nothing to do with gh2's
production whatsoever. but i thought i'd
make this clear. or something to that

kev carter - who made three quarters of
gem hunter 2's soundtrack. he took time
out from co3 (not that he was working on
it to begin with. ^_^) to work on this
game's rather awesome soundtrack.

chronos - more stk, and its useful text
thingies that i used to perfection early
in this game's production.

xabbott - for agreeing that the weapons
engine that was originally going to be
used in this game sucked really badly.

darkmage - for not firing me from damage
inc. yet.

the usual guys (tim sweeney and alexis
janson) - take one god damn guess.

and you - because stone cold hanpan said

             beta testers
kev carter

thanks for playing. even though you prolly
didn't enjoy this game, or anything. if
you haven't done so, try to find all 42
gems. or i'll break your legs... and you
might get a good ending. yay.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

For once the credits actually do offer up some interesting insights! Apparently there was originally going to be a "weapon engine" which I'm rather curious about. All the enemies in this game that aren't bosses die in one hit. This engine was apparently bad so I can't imagine that what was implemented was just something like ?+W to pick a gun that would do more damage to each boss. I'm really curious what it was exactly.

Also oof, that's a lot of beta testers for a game with a busted final boss. I'm guessing a gem list wasn't provided and thus nobody got to fight Aric's final form. Rough break.


Final Thoughts

Close but no cigar. I went into this with two expectations: Firstly, that since this game was probably the title that really solidified Tseng's status as a respected ZZTer that it would be a solid experience. Secondly, that there would be demonstrable improvement from Gem Hunter: Special Edition both by virtue of not being tied to the format of an earlier title but also by just being made when Tseng had more experience under his belt. Gem Hunter 2 starts a little slow while the player has to scrounge around for ammo, but once you have the ability to fight things do improve. Exploring Austin Powers can be a bit slow but the layout of the city with McQueen Heights as a central hub generally works. It takes quite some time before you run out of new places to navigate your way to and the city itself is fun to explore.

I'm so used to the enjoyment curve of ZZT games usually starting strong and either slowly or rapidly deteriorating. Gem Hunter 2 breaks the mold in having a weak start and end but a pretty solid middle. I have a lot of respect for the boss fights in this game and am willing to forgive the weaker ones just for the overall uniqueness. (The fight with Kamakazie being a notable exception.) The fight against Espionage is undoubtedly one of the best fights I've seen in a ZZT game and proves to me that the oversized boss battle can work. Espionage makes a similar appearance in the original Gem Hunter and is oddly missing in the remake, though the fight is definitely more refined here. Espionage alone makes this one worth at least checking out for a little bit.

The bosses towards the end of the game definitely don't hold as much weight. I'm unsure why Tseng pivoted back to the more traditional boss design seen in ZZT games which isn't particularly exciting. Showdown, Warlord, and Aric aren't bad fights by any means, but Tseng has shown us by this point that he can do better. They're much more forgettable obstacles that are just kind of there to be boss fights which is a disappointing change from Espionage, Stealth, and even Cubed Ice and Dr. Erd.

Things get a bit dicier though once the city of Austin Powers has been explored. Like its predecessor you're going to find yourself hitting a wall of missing several gems that are neither fun nor fair to hunt down. Most gems don't strike a balance between giveaways and nigh-impossible to discover naturally. Glittering silver gems that litter the city are fun at making sure the player hits every board in a more open world than the original, but they come off as just busywork while searching out the meat of the game in its various boss fights. Secret walls and invisible parking lot gems do nobody any favors, and I can't think of a better way to prove it than to have Aric's second fight not working be missed by a team of eight ZZTers of the era. In my playthrough of GH1SE I had the idea for some kind of item to indicate if there are any gems on a board still and I think that would still work out here.

Really though this one needs to tone down the requirements period. The previous game has a nice split where you can collect all the gems and proceed to an extra area or continue onward to the standard ending. The roadblock in the Evil Weasel building means it's very easy for a player to just be stopped without using a guide or cheating. Tseng actually regressed here. Having the bosses scattered throughout Austin Powers give keys to the building instead of gems to let the player keep going would smooth things over quite a bit.

Lastly, if you are going back to find any missed gems that generally means long walks across boards with nothing to do other than reach the other side. If you're playing with a modern ZZT fork like ClassicZoo, then using cheats to change boards can speed things up quite a bit. This is a frustration that should have been recognized back in 1999 though and I really think a taxi system or something to go quickly from one district to any other would help out quite a bit. (Heck, have it so beating the boss of a district lets you fast travel there if you need to return.) As it is, this problem can be mitigated today but it shouldn't have had to come to such a thing. There is of course a Special Edition of this game as well, but it doesn't look like it addresses anything other than the outright bugs and overhauls the graphics.

So Gem Hunter 2 has its moments to be sure. The idea behind it lends itself well to ZZT and for the most part you'll find yourself enjoying playing the game. Until you don't. If you're playing ZZT games not to finish them but just to check them out as was often the case at the time of the game's release there's certainly reason to give this a try. By making sure to head to Moronix or Stealth first to be able to get ammo early you can head straight to the good stuff offered up by Gem Hunter 2. Like its prequel though, once you hit the point where making progress starts to feel like work, don't be afraid to end it on a high note or at least bend the rules a bit to make the experience not spoil too badly.

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