The Cliff

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3.00 / 5.00

Closer Look: The Cliff

By: Dr. Dos
Published: May 15, 2019

The cliff has killed another! Find the saboteur before they strike again

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The Cliff

By: John Shipley
Released: November 11, 1997
Download | Play Online | View Files

Another quick win on the poll. This one won me over pretty quickly with its laughable, yet still well made title screen. I was unfamiliar with the name John Shipley, but apparently no stranger to his games, with some fond memories of playing Secret Agent ZZT as a child.

The database dates the game as a 1997 release, and despite the title screen, I do believe that it's technically accurate. A few of these early 1992ish worlds by Shipley have a late 90s date with some indication that the games were updated years later to remove information about things like paying for registration or obtaining hint sheets. So congrats to him for actually removing his mailing address from a game years later.

What we have with The Cliff is a child wanting to do a drama, and not really having any idea how. The end result is that this game is nothing but fetch quests and occassionally getting some information via the news, but it works rather well. It's very reminiscent of later (than 1992) titles like Cyber-World, OakTown, or most strongly the fellow 1992 release of Crime Ring. What it shares in common with these other games is a general structure of meandering around a small town searching for clues and talking to citizens to uncover what's happened.

The title screen, as I said is fantastic. A small car goes offroad, falling off the titular cliff, and is promptly discovered by a police squadron that get out of their cars and appear as tiny dots. "The Cliff has killed another!"

It's very cheesy, but sets the tone of a mystery and is presented in a fun way. Joshua Fury, our protagonist, will be the one trying to solve what happened and uncover the truth behind The Cliff.


From that name, I expected another hard-boiled detective type like Jean-Pierre who we met last month in The Forests Will Echo With Laughter. The opening board seems similar as well with the protagonist waking up and starting their day, but Joshua is not an experienced private eye, but just a kid!


A scroll gives the necessary info to get started, and reveals right away that the car crash was no mere accident. Somebody sabotaged the road. It does a nice job of getting the player on track right away, and reveals its hand that nearly the entire game is just unraveling a few chains of fetch quests, finding Item A to give it to a person to get Item B, so you can give item B to someone else and get Item C.


There's still plenty to explore in Joshua's home, and thankfully no pizza delivery person outside waiting to use lethal force in this game. The house has plenty of things to examine, but the rest of the game is significantly more streamlined as far as what can actually be interacted with.

Going clockwise around the room from the top-left, Joshua has a lamp, a stereo, a bed, a trash can, a desk, and a poster hanging on his wall. Most items offer little more than an explanation of what they are, but some are a tad more interactive.


By far the most notable of these is the stereo, which lets you choose one and only one cassette to play.

Gonna Rap to my woman, yeah... I'm gonna..

Yuck! I hate rap!

Sickening! Positively sickening! But
better than rap!

The first two each have some really short keymashing for music.

The other two are so abhorrent that Joshua refuses to even play them. This poor kid has four cassettes and isn't a fan of any of them.


Joshua is more into metal. His father's name is Qiopawen which I thought was pretty wild before realizing that Joshua is supposed to be the son of a protagonist from another one of Shipley's games. I mean, it is still kind of wild since those games are very much high fantasy with ogres and snake lords and magic artifacts compared to this early 90s average family.


The desk also has some options, including a jokey chemical analysis option which reveals the papers on the desk are in fact made of paper.


The scroll at the start explaining the sabotage is one thing, but this is just an unsigned note providing the same information within in the fiction of the world. I have no idea who this is supposed to have been written by, but "People have died on this road, and I don't want any more to." is an excellent line.


The next two rooms here have Joshua's unpettable dog, Spot, and this oddly placed television. Again there's a one-time choice with what to watch:


So of course I went with 1992 era MTV. It's Joshua and his father's favorite band!


Rather unexpectedly, Joshua's father actually gets up from the living room and runs over to yell at him. His dad is kind of a jerk, but it is a cool level of added interactivity by actually having an object move before yelling.

Hey, The Simpsons are on! Bart just
told Homer to eat his shorts.
"Hee, hee, hee, Snort snort!!!"
I guess Family Matters is on.
Hey, there's that guy in the pudding
commercials. He has his own show?

The other TV stations are quick windows into 1992 American television with amazing depictions of The Simpsons, Family Matters, and The Cosby Show.


The furniture here is very abstract throughout this game so I had no idea where I was headed next. This room turns out to be the bedroom of Joshua's parents.


Joshua gets some opportunities to be a brat here, stealing, breaking, or otherwise being gross with his father's important belongings. The weird juxtaposition between has father being the star of some fantasy series and his son existing in this average modern small town makes everything seem a little silly. I'm so used to these kind of games making the protagonist's father a banker or accountant or just a generic office drone.

Sadly, as of writing, we don't actually have Sword of Fury, the game in which you play as Josh's dad, but we do have its two sequels, Caves of Fury and Final Quest of Fury.


Even the narrator is afraid of this guy who hears a sneeze and decides to investigate. This time, Joshua is penalized with a game over. Whether he's killed or simply grounded is left up to the reader.


The picture hanging on the wall definitely gets the sort of loving description that to me means it was somewhere in John Shipley's actual childhood home.


In addition to the map on the desk, there's also a framed map that Josh's father is very sentimental over.


Whoops, Joshua forgot about how his dad routinely checks on his map apparently. His dad chooses this very moment to get up and make sure things are alright.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"Hey! Where is my picture!?!?!?!"
He looks at you and glares...
"You wouldn't know anything about this,
would you?" he growls.
You gulp and mutter,
"Is that mother calling me? I better go."

He stops you.
"Not so fast, young man."
Uh oh, I better go. This doesn't look too
good for you, Joshua. Why do these things
always seem to happen to you?
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Another game over! Strangely, despite so many of the choices presented to the player here, declining to get yourself a game over tends to get a response from the narrator about how boring you are.


After learning how scary Qiopawen is, I had to check out the living room where he rests, waiting for his child to sneeze or turn on a TV.

He doesn't even respond if the player touches him. The only things he can do are yell at or end the adventure of his son. This guy is depicted as an awful father.

The living room itself is pretty sparse, with a TV, another picture, and yet another desk.


By this point, the importance of saving before messing with the TV while Josh's dad is actively watching it should be apparent. But he shows Joshua mercy here, content to just scream at him some more.


Similarly, snooping through your dad's papers while he's in the same room and looking in your direction is not only safe, but reveals some information. Evil creatures live on the cliffs! Perhaps they sabotaged the road?


Destroying your dad's stuff may at least be ambiguous about what fate befalls Josh, but messing with an old radio is much more clear. "Well, you're in flames now."


There's this fur coat as well on the opposite end of the hallway. I'm going to guess that Norvaks are a monster fought in Sword of Fury.


Lastly we have the kitchen, where Josh's mother has been diligently pacing back and forth this whole time. There's very little actually here: a green spice rack in the corner, a lot of cabinets, and a sink. Shipley seems to love the ◘ character. None of these things can be interacted with in any way or have any meaningful description.


Interacting with Josh's mom is no better. She's just endlessly washing the dishes.

The house is an odd one with this rapid shift in how much there is in each room, and just how many sources of death there are on the game's starting board. There's also no bathroom which is a ZZT crime.


The upstairs attic is fortunately a lot lighter to explore. One corner is just a mess of (seemingly) identical boxes, an old lamp, and an old pipe which can be taken. (Pipe as in smoking pipe, hence the choice of the δ character.)

Look at that, an entire floor covered in one screenshot. With the house explored thoroughly, Joshua can head outside and begin his investigation.


The outside world screams ZZT game from 1992 with its white sidewalks, and yellow mountain backdrop. It looks nice though, and the board gives Joshua a few options on where to go with three exits via the streets and a store to enter. The shading on the grass is also worth taking a moment to look at since shading in a game this old is pretty unusual. Most games of this vintage would flood fill with normals and call it grass. Shipley is doing some fine graphical work for an era without STK graphics.


There's also this sign which I thought was a street light at first, but it's a nice added detail and small enough to not really get in the way of the player while they travel across the board.


The first place to check out is the store, which is locked up. There's some sort of security system in place as well as in the corner an object is shooting an endless stream of bullets.

The shelves are full of generic objects, and there's what appears to be some controls on the far-left side, but it'll be a while before Joshua gets the key and can find out for sure.

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