In this puzzle, you need to hit the
buttons to move the crane. The big center
button will shoot. You will only get one
shot! To win, kill the Beast 'o Blue, and
move the Sliders out of the way. Your
reward will be the two keys located in
the spa. If you get shot, you'll need to
For Real Final Thoughts
Oh, I adored Overflow. There is no mistaking it, this is absolutely a classic. I'm surprised it never showed up on my radar before.
The game does have a Classic Game of the Month award from 2000, and a rather late review from 2008 by Rob P. that praises it quite a bit. I tried searching through some more of the era ZZT magazine worlds and could only find two mentions of it. Firstly Futureware 2 which has very little in the way of content, but does give it a 97% score in graphics. Second, Futureware 3 where it's name-dropped in an interview with Jeff Conroy (who... wrote both magazines actually) where it's listed as one of his favorite games. Hey me too dude.
When covering these long forgotten games for Worlds of ZZT, it's always a great feeling to come across a wonderful game that I haven't played before. I've played more than my share of well known classics, but it's games like this that demonstrate to me the importance of this work. Overflow has a well respected author's name attached to it, but seems to have fallen by the wayside not long after its release. When z2 first got its review system implemented, users flocked to the classics to give them the 5 out of 5 ratings they deserved. Nobody came back to Overflow and it's an absolute shame.
From start to finish Drelick is constantly impressing the player with these backgrounds unlike anything I've seen before. Even excluding Nick's funeral scene, Smuggler's Shanty is quite possibly the most visually distinct location I've seen in a ZZT game. Overflow isn't a game that's just about looking pretty though. Drelick repeatedly manages to make the most of what ZZT offers with its numerous dungeon sequences filled with intolerant zoo animals. The all too common sprinkling of creatures in ZZT action games without the slightest thought of what fighting them will be like is what led to the late 90s rejection of these enemies in the first place. Drelick demonstrates here just how capable these assets can actually be. Fights never feel unmanageable, ammo and health is provided in abundance, and the player's job as Charlie is simply to blast their way through in a laid-back tropical environment.
In modern times games tend to be played specifically to be completed, and it's easy to forget the earlier days when more demanding games (sometimes too demanding), more freedom to play for the sake of play, and just being bad at video games at a young age meant that finishing any game felt like a huge accomplishment. Overflow's non-linear structure would absolutely have been a boon to the audience of today playing it 20+ years ago. Nowadays the non-linear aspect doesn't have as much of an impact. The areas, while they do vary from each other, never really get too wild from the others, but I can imagine somebody who struggles with the action genre loving the opportunity to see that much more of the game in multiple play-throughs even if they never finish them.
Today that non-linearity still offers up the benefit of being able to balance not the difficulty of the game but of its highs and lows. I keep coming back to Smuggler's Shanty for a reason, and if the game was nothing but "My friend Nick was shot by pirates so I'm going to climb this tower and beat them up" I think it would be a winner with that area of the game alone. Overflow shines so brightly because its level design is willing to throw out any sense of being in a realistic structure and focus entirely on providing a fun room for the player to fight through. Its weakest moment by far is when it's most tethered to geography with Treasure Isle's forced 3x3 grid layout. I don't think there's a bad way to play through this adventure, but some paths may result in the game dragging itself down for longer periods of time than are necessary. You'd probably best enjoy things sandwiching Treasure Isle in between Palm Tree and Smuggler's Shanty. Native's Isle isn't anything special, and the Ruins provides some comic relief in the bizarreness of the segment, but those two don't make the game stand out like PT/SS or fall flat like TI.
Again this game is 100 boards long, and just the fact that it can hold your interest for that long should tell you what kind of quality we're dealing with. At some point I had the epiphany that while Overflow says it's Chrono Trigger with the serial numbers filed off, perhaps a more apt comparison would actually be towards Rotaj J. Russel's Link's Adventure trilogy. Both games are heavily focused on completing these dungeons full of built-in creatures. Link's Adventure has been a favorite of mine since I was a child, and I still love it dearly to this day yet it's really hard to defend that love to those who didn't grow up with it. That game features plenty of empty boards with rectangles of lions and boss fights with the strategy of holding down fire for so long that the stars in the way disappear. It turns out that when I play Link's Adventure, the game that I'm playing in my head with all the nostalgia filters on is Overflow. Overflow does what Link's Adventure is doing but in a way that you can earnestly recommend to others. The action is designed, the locations are diverse, and the environments are beautiful.
Overflow's 1997 release date paints it as a swansong to the classic ZZT adventure that defines the earliest days of ZZT. It's got just as much Town in its DNA as it does Link. Multiple paths to collect five key(card)s each with mix of action and puzzle. It definitely skews more action, but if you were asking the pioneers of ZZT's earliest years what a ZZT game from 1997 would look and feel like, it would undoubtedly be Overflow. The rejection of ZZT's bestiary in the years following is a misunderstanding of what those creatures mean. The idea that a cluster of tigers was amateurish but a cluster of objects that acted similarly but shot each other constantly is a false belief that the misuse of these elements necessitates their exclusion rather than attempting to learn how to use them properly. It's the equivalent of games whose yellow borders are replaced with blue borders. The issue isn't the color choice, it's the lack of understanding of what having a border means when a board is set in space among a starry background. ZZT games filled with objects that just loop
#shoot seek betray that the lesson that was learned wasn't the correct one.
Overflow offers the opportunity to actually see what's possible with ZZT when you stop for a moment and think about how to enhance the experience. Its objects and its detailed backgrounds serve to enhance the player's experience in a way that the "standard" approach of objects and say the Interactive Fantasies boulder blend (not to pick on it as the only such style) simply can't because they're focused more on making life easier for the programmer rather than the player. That thoughtfulness for people playing ZZT is catching on more now, but to see it 20 years before Benco's Ana makes me wonder what could have been.
I think I've gushed enough here so I need to try and come up with some complaints. The obvious is of course that Treasure Isle is an utter flop compared to the rest of the game that plays to none of Overflow's strengths. The object based enemies Drelick includes function and mostly avoid the friendly-fire syndrome that plagues most other action games that use them, but there are dozens of them and the player never gets to really understand how they behave. They offer up variety but you won't finish this game and be able to tell the difference between 90% of them from one another. The game's bosses are also a joke, basically just giving regular object-based foes a few hit points and maybe setting the cycle to one.
The story exists as window dressing at best and the characters have no development. Except for Nick who goes from alive to dead. The original plan for an absurd 10 chapter game was scrapped but enough remains of it in place to squander the plot. Charlie seems to be very familiar with a lot of these characters. (Although I thought he was flung through time to get here?) The player however is not, and Drelick doesn't provide anything to get the player to make the connections to the other characters that Charlie already has before the game even starts. Very rarely does one expect anything out of ZZT writing, but an attempt isn't even made in this case. Some kind of narration or inner monologue or something to provide a connection to these characters would have been very welcome. Instead we prank call them and argue about RPGs while quoting Ghostbusters.
Lastly, it is still pretty long. I loved this game, but it did not need to max out ZZT's board limit. I suspect that during development Drelick saw himself approaching that limit and did it to be able to say that he made a game as large as it could be. Internally the fortress segment begins with the entrance, then immediately goes to Captain Kurt's fight, the reactor, the Epoch, and the cameo bar. Drelick gets what he needs to include to create a finished segment and throw a nod to Mono and Scott. Afterwards all the floors of the fortress are created with board #100 being the sound test. In a post Code Red world, making a game as massive as possible absolutely would have been a bullet point for promoting the game, but today it feels like the game is stretched a little more than it should be. The sudden reliance of plain blue backgrounds towards the end are evidence to me of wanting to just be done with it.
Probably the biggest instance of "why is this even here" comes from the alternate ending path which were it just a fight with Achalon and then celebrating a victory would count for something, yet somehow it has to extend itself into the warring kingdoms of Salkin and Dalkin. The Achalon fight is fine (if comically easy) and the giant space bug background shows that Drelick's abilities with these backgrounds goes beyond the Margaritaville environments of the flooded world. The "fight the final boss early" serves as a Chrono Trigger reference that for some reason keeps going.
But these complaints are just a few drops in an ocean of a flooded future Earth. Luke Drelick's Overflow is straight-up one of the best ZZT worlds I've ever played and I regret that I didn't do so twenty-something years ago. I'm extremely thankful that Hydra recognized it in 2000 so that it already shows up as a featured world on the Museum because this is absolutely a must-play. This game does so much right that other ZZT games of this era got wrong that it's startling to me that it wasn't held up as a pinnacle of the action genre in its own time.
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