Closer Look: Legend of Brandonia

Good? Bad? Ugly? Brandonia is a divisive ZZT world and winner of a Featured Game award.

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Mar 1, 2021

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The mushfolk switch from messages of fear to generic NPC dialog once Alex is made a citizen. The only thing notable is that Alex is the first human to visit the kingdom implying that Acro was unaware that his maze had an exit? It's not like it's hidden behind a breakable wall or anything.


The first board of the kingdom is pretty lackluster, so I was glad to see that Riegs wasn't getting burned out or anything. The town itself is a bit more of what this game leads the player to expect.


While Brandonia is quite generous with providing supplies to the player, I was glad to see an inn. Alex has gone quite a way without getting a chance to heal, being stuck relying on health gained from rare chests that contain food. Some of the enemies use that system where they leave a corpse for health behind, but it seems to have been mostly forgotten.

By this point, since combat in caves is a lot harder to avoid, Alex is going to have quite a few gems he can spend.


The building with some chests offers up still more supplies, including ammo which is definitely in more demand.


This other building has some counters and a knife. Alex grabs it because yeah why not, he's only the first human these people have ever seen and he immediately steals a potential weapon from them.


Now, aside from the homes, there are two NPCs to interact with on this side of the river. Both of them look slightly different from the mushroom folk elsewhere, and honestly, the one that's just a pipe character can easily be mistaken for an item.


Up top there's this cool mushboy. Two caps...




Unsurprisingly this child is not happy to actually be attacked like this. He fights back, and if Alex doesn't want to ignore him, he can just straight up kill the mushboy. Nobody else in town reacts to this event.


Well, except for the capless mushboy who is okay with receiving this "replacement" cap.


He's so happy that he creates a bridge so Alex can talk to the last mushfolk who gladly provides him with a key. Possibly to avoid whatever retribution would lie in store for him otherwise.

Riegs, all you had to do was say one child stole the other's cap. You did not need to include a knife and cutting in this scenario. Instead you get this absolutely bizarre sequence of events that doesn't fit Alex's personality whatsoever.


Nevertheless, a red key is a red key, and with it Alex can enter the last building and leave this kingdom to never return.


Remember the beast of Blackwood? The game comes full circle as Alex escapes from the underground and makes it back to the surface.


He's immediately assaulted by "badmush" enemies. These fellows move and shoot towards Alex and do nothing else, making them line up and shoot each other if Alex just stands still for a moment.


The forest gets more dense as Alex heads in and meets yet more bandits. This board is rather odd in that all the bandits begin in the top left corner of the board rather than being scattered around like enemies typically are. You won't even have to try to avoid them if you happen to enter the board from the right side


After a second bandit board (with more standard enemy placement), Alex reaches a river and very rough looking waterfall. It is animated, but the colors between ZZT's default water colors and the blue terrain don't make it look all that great visually. There's also no real sense of elevation change. It took me a bit to figure it out that it was even meant to be a waterfall in the first place.


For the issues Brandonia has, I do like how it tries to create a cohesive world like this. Having the riverboy return makes the character feel more like an actual person than an obstacle to pass once and forget about. The game is far from deeply designed enough to have a coherent world map if you try to connect the boards, but the thought is there.


On the next board, Alex just happens to find another magic stone. These things don't seem all that rare actually. Acro could have just checked out the river and not had needed to kill Alex's father or any villagers.


Of course, the stone isn't a direct warp back to Brandonia to wrap things up. It's used to cross the river one last time, showing off an early instance of ZZT quirks being turned into features.


This is the old teleportation via player clone trick. Once Alex reaches a certain spot on the right half of the bridge, an object on the other side places a player clone. The next time the player moves ZZT will tick on the player clone, see a key was pressed, and move the first stat element next to it, warping the actual player to be next to it. This "sticky" property of clones comes from the assumption that the first start is always a player and is the only player.


Finally, a third object sees when the player has jumped to it, and has the object that made the clone shoot it, which harmlessly destroys it and allows gameplay to resume as normal.


The game's pacing gets odd as Alex makes his way to another town. After such a large gap from the early towns and the mushroom village, this one feels rather abrupt.

But it's worth it for the surprisingly nice looking castle and moat here.


Mirk, as the town is called, offers up the usual accommodations. There's a place to heal up, and some treasure to loot. A few NPCs wander around. By this point in the adventure you know what to expect and Riegs isn't really offering much in the way of surprises for places like this.


What is new, is a building with somebody's identification on it. After the events that happened underground, perhaps assuming a new identity could be a wise decision.


Lastly, there's this castle/dungeon that can't be reached. A winch is there for the drawbridge, but the one it's connected to is on the other side.

Also the spelling is really inconsistent as to whether it's winch or wench.


This is Alex's defining moment.


The morph stone, last seen in the cave with the dragon eggs actually comes into play again. The rope is uh, morphed and melts away, lowering the bridge.


You can often tell when a ZZTer is getting sick of making their own game. I feel like we've hit the point here as the game shifts to some big empty rooms for a bit.

There's one wandering NPC here who sells arrows. I wound up spending 120 gems for 120 arrows since these opportunities to buy are few and far between. The ammo situation isn't bad, but Alex is so loaded by this point that the only reason not to spend any money is out of a fear that a bunch of money will be needed eventually. Luckily, Brandonia has nothing of the sort, with the only mandatory purchase being staying at the inn in Ever Green Falls, and that had a free voucher to prevent any soft-locks.


The drawbridge wasn't enough security. Benry here wants you to show him your passport, or some other form of ID.

Remember way way back at the start of the game how a chest in Alex's room had his passport? Well, any body would have almost certainly grabbed it and have it on them to show. If not, that ID in Mirk will have to do.


Of course, if you grab both, the guard defaults to acknowledging the ID over your passport, which just so happens to have belonged to the guard. It's honestly a pretty good joke, ruined by already having the passport and no reason to not show that instead.

Once the guards see the stolen ID, they begin to attack. Interestingly, they can't be killed!


Just talking to the guard will calm things down. I love this scene, and honestly think the passport shouldn't even be an option. This should be mandatory.

If Alex doesn't pick up the ID and just has his passport, the guards will simply move away from the entrance to the castle dungeon.


One might expect a dungeon to be a dangerous place with tough enemies to deal with. Perhaps yet another dark maze, but no, it's just one more big empty room with a lot of dead bodies. Again, Riegs shows some restraint and the one body that needs to be interacted with is a different color. However, do contrast this towards the cafe at the start of the game where there were a bunch of unique lines of dialog for all the objects there. By this point Riegs is really trying to hurry things up and the quality is dipping, which in turn makes the player want things to hurry up as well.


The odd body has a pocket to examine and produces the key to the next room.


What follows is three boards like this. Just passages leading to passages. It's intended to represent climbing up one of the castle towers, but there's nothing to lead the player into figuring this out prior to the end other than intuition, which makes it easy to just be a weird series of small rooms.


Some nicer visuals return with Alex reaching the top of the tower and getting a chance to look at a far off castle in the distance via a telescope.


At least Alex's home is in sight! This adventure is almost over.


After a long walk back down the tower, through the dungeon, and out of the castle. Alex returns to Mirk where he can now tell this guy who has access to a teleporter where Brandonia is relative to his current location.

At this point in Brandonia, teleportation is hardly anything out of the ordinary, but I get the sense that this method of transport was chosen here particularly to speed things up with getting Alex back to his kingdom.


His guess as to just how far away Brandonia is were a tad off, but it's a good start at least. Aside from yet another big wall in the way, and this time there's no contestant to help or monster to defeat to get past it.

Instead there's just "man".


With a last minute surge of energy, Riegs decides there's got to be more game.


The man has no other information on where to find such a hammer, but I suspect red castle on top of the hill is a good place to check when it's the only place Alex can go in the first place.

To get inside, he needs to get past a bunch of rock monsters. They slowly move towards Alex and are immune to bullets. Touching them will kill them, but also result in losing 20 health from the attack.


To defeat them safely, Alex can shoot them with an arrow to make them drop a bomb. The explosion will take them out no problem.


Again, Riegs is putting some effort into his game. An explosion over the castle won't destroy the breakable walls there like it will with the border as those walls are actually objects. The castle remains intact (and there just aren't enough stats to spare the breakable wall border or I suspect it too would have been made out of objects).


The castle is the shortest "dungeon" yet, being just this one board. There are a bunch of "statues" which are pretty obviously going to start moving when Alex snags the hammer and places it in his inventory. Even if it's predictable, I'd say it's a reasonable thing to include, it's just that the fact that Alex was just fighting these same enemies outside kind of means that Riegs already showed his hand.

In his defense, I'm a sucker for things to pick up in ZZT games that are made up of multiple objects. I love the hammer.


Alex grabs the hammer and the statues spring to life!!!

Despite Brandonia usually having some solid programming, the statues can be manually woken up by shooting them causing them to drop a bomb as always and jump to their main attack loop. It's very much possible to bomb a bunch of rock monsters and instantly defeat them while they're still in statue form in this way.


Ah, so you smash with the hammer. I see. I see.


The wall is instantly destroyed and Alex can hurry things along. He's almost home now!


Apparently Alex loved to play near the snake-infested river. These enemies aren't poisonous, and move rather erratically. Alex still had a wide berth and can pretty easily avoid them. Oddly enough though, the board has shooting disabled on it. In this case it means that running away is the only option, but I can't imagine why the shot limit would have been adjusted in the first place.


Finally there's some familiar territory! Alex has wrapped all the way around Brandonia and arrived northwest of the starting castle.


Touching the distinct tree will get the lumberjack to cut a path for Alex and let him return to the kingdom.

...or at least that's how it should work.


Instead, the lumberjack destroys two trees, turns invisible, and when you touch him afterwards you get this "normal tree" message.

I could hijack the tone of this article and get into an in depth explanation of what the heck is happening here, but I'll put that somewhere else later. Needless to say it's yet another previously undocumented ZZT glitch or perhaps a variant of the #die-move bug?

I mean, We looked into it a bit on Discord and got sidetracked by the realization that when you touch a statless object, it sends the second stat on the board a touch message, even if that object is locked and should be unable to receive messages. It's weird. What's going on here needs some more detailed analysis outside of this dragon egg game article.

Good news though. You can consistently avoid the glitch by having a message displayed. Touching one of the other trees, trying to light a torch on this bright board, or getting the message for stepping on a fake wall for the first time (if you load a save on this board and restart ZZT) will all let the lumberjack do what he's supposed to.

The amazing thing is that the player's location by default on this board is a few steps away from this tree you need to touch, which to me makes it incredibly likely that Riegs tested this object interaction out, but did so with a message displaying so it worked just fine. It's a wild coincidence.


After that fiasco, the only way to proceed is to just ?ZAP through and act like nothing weird ever happened here on the short trip from here back to the courtyard where the contest first began.


Once Alex arrives Acro is there and the king is quick to disqualify him. Problem solved.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
ACRO:  Probably that Alex person.  He was
on my case the whole time.  Now, Brandon,
what if I told you that it's not true.
You have to concider the possibility that
he could've been lying.

KING:  But he's my most trusted...

ACRO:  If he was lying and you did
disqualify me, then he would win.

KING:  How are you sure he would win?
What about the other contestants?

ACRO:  Well, umm, he's better than the
rest of them.

ALEX:  Acro!  Stop this nonsense!  I
found the other contestants.  You set
them all up.  And I wonder... Look,
around his neck!

KING:  It's a beast charm!

ALEX:  He must've used it to lead the
beast of Blackwood into Ever Green
Falls, and the Crog to the cave exit!

ACRO:  No!  I'm innocent!

ALEX:  And what about those dragon eggs?
Remember how you transfered them to a
parallel dimension?!

KING:  He did what!

ALEX:  That's right!  He got rid of the
other eggs so that he would be sure to
win this contest.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The ending really captures the silliness of this whole game. Acro tries to defend himself by deflecting the accusations onto Alex, but the king isn't fooled. "He did what!" is such a good reaction to sending dragon eggs to a parallel dimension.


Finally the big reveal? Alex can't lie? The king loses his train of thought and asks Alex to repeat himself and has another great reaction. This whole conversation is gold and I love it.


The jig is up and Acro does indeed flee the board, forcing Alex to give chase.


It's back to the weird building with a pig statue, except this time Alex has a magic hammer and can smash it in order to open up the passage to who knows what.


And I suspect we never will know as the game comes to a sudden cliffhanger of an ending.


Despite Riegs really seeming to be getting tired of this game by the end, a sequel is immediately brought up. Some last minute plot hooks are used to entice the player into looking forward to how the story ends, but Alex's inability to lie will never be explained and live on as just a very convenient way to shut down Acro's accusations.

Final Thoughts

So that's Legend of Brandonia. And the verdict? It was fun.

The medieval fantasy game is one of the most saturated genres in ZZT. You've got Sivion, King's Quest ZZT, Quest for Glory ZZT, Quest for the Immortals, Ned the Knight, Ezanya, Adventure Part 1 and 2, Fred! Episode 2... I could go on all day. If you're looking for a medieval fantasy game to enjoy, you can do so much better than Brandonia. There's little substance to defend the game with. Brandonia is a very primitive adventure with green tree walls and bright green fields. The enemies offer nothing. The story is absurd. The locations you visit are pretty samey. This is no Ned the Knight. In that regard, no I would not recommend you play this one.

But! Legend of Brandonia is a game clearly made by a young ZZTer, and if your criteria is checking out the kinds of games that were produced by kids with a new creative outlet, then Brandonia absolutely shines. Riegs wants to show off everything he knows about making a game, and he does a remarkably capable job. I'd much rather this game be an easy adventure than full of drawn out combat. Riegs understands the need to provide the player with enough resources to be able to get through the game. He deftly avoids all the common pitfalls you typically see in games made by a younger author. There's care that the player can use the inn in Ever Green Falls, even if they spend all their gems. There's the realization that if the player missed exploring Alex's room and picking up his passport that you can't go back and get it (or that if you could, just how long and miserable that would be). The game offers a unique combat system where you can touch enemies after defeating them to regain health. It's not implemented in a way that matters all that much, but the idea behind having to take a risk to defeat enemies in order to heal up when injured offers a reasonable risk-reward system. This system never gets a chance to shine since most combat is optional, so you'd be risking yourself to get health so you can risk yourself in combat later on. Some more structured dungeons or caves could do a lot more with the concept. Many enemies also don't use the system at all, just turning into fakes when they're defeated. At a glance, I think this might be intended as Alex won't touch the corpses of say bandits, will with animals like moose. It might be a streamlined case of hunting and eating the animals as food?

Riegs is really giving it his all here though. The colorful cast of characters will always leave you wondering who you're going to run into next. The writing is goofy, but endearing. It's hard enough to take most "serious" ZZT adventures all that seriously, but with Riegs you'll be smiling with every strange interaction you have (unless it involves mushboy). Really the strangest thing is that he took music from Music Box, probably got the door opening sound used by certain chests from ZZT Sound Effects, but ignored STK entirely.

Alex's journey is a fun adventure to go on! The visuals aren't anything spectacular, but you do get a sense of location as Alex travels through forests. fields, caves. deserts, perilous underground magma caverns, and mountaintop fortresses. If you're willing to exercise your imagination, Riegs has created a fun little world to visit. There's a reason that those who played it as children remember it all these years later.

It is unfortunate that there's that one bug with the lumberjack at the end, otherwise you'd have a straightforward relaxing adventure from beginning to end full of curiosity as to where Alex will head next, who he'll help, and what bizarre plot contrivance will come up next. The ending is unfortunately abrupt as the game falls into the trap of immediately promising a sequel, and the lack of answers the game provides about some of the stranger aspects of the game such as Alex's inability to lie make it pretty easy to feel as if the game was just made up as Riegs went along. Compare Legend of Brandonia to Chowder, and you'll see two examples of kids making ZZT worlds. The reputation Brandonia has with its detractors of being vastly inferior to Ned the Knight isn't an undeserved one, but the fact that the game invites that comparison at all speaks volumes about the impact this game had. Most kids making ZZT worlds are happy to have their creation hung up on the refrigerator for everybody to politely praise and encourage. Riegs was able to go so far as to try and get into an art museum. It would certainly feel out of place there, but there's got to be a happy medium that embraces what Legend of Brandonia offers against relegating it to the trash because it can't reach the heights of the masters.

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