Code Red

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4.25 / 5.00
(11 Reviews)
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*The* Classic ZZT Game

By: Zephyr
Reviewed: 2 years, 8 months ago (April 4, 2020, midnight)

Code Red has long been recognized as the most influential ZZT game ever created. This is true, and what is more, you cannot understand what it meant to be a ZZTer in the late 90s and early 2000s without understanding what Code Red meant to a generation of aspiring young game designers. Code Red was nothing short of revelatory. Tim Sweeney created the universe, but Janson was Sweeney's Michaelangelo, an artist whose transcendent work gave us a glimpse of just how vast and sublime that universe could be. I know that's bombastic, but it's true.

I recently replayed Code Red, navigating through all eight plots in a 24-hour period. I know very little about Janson and her process of creating the game, but binging the game this way reveals a lot. You can tell, for instance, when Janson was truly inspired and invested in her creation, and when she was just getting the job done. The toxic waste puzzle is a noticeable high point featuring non-default colors, flashing rainbow boulders, a well-thought-out and challenging puzzle, and a masterful song that sets the mood. The entire plot through Jay's house is a triumph, and in my opinion, the best pathway through the game. It shows Janson running on all cyclinders, with a richly detailed plot, clever programming tricks, a larger-than-life multi-stage inventory puzzle, and a genuinely surprising and melancholy ending. The file editor says this is the first ending, and I can't help but wonder if Janson lost a bit of steam after putting so much into it. Gameplay here still suffers from rooms that are way too big and a couple puzzles that feel tangential and forced, but it never feels not worth the effort.

The Funhouse, by contrast, is truly awful and not "fun" at all. The first board features way too many star-throwing enemies, making it virtually impossible to clear without cheating. The next board is a large invisible maze. The exhausted and frustrated player is then thrown into a giant and ugly teleporter puzzle. This board is followed by a an object-based ricochet puzzle that Janson was probably quite proud of, but by this point the player is so done with the tedium that the temptation to just cheat is overwhelming. The ironic thing is that the reward for enduring the funhouse is one of the better space stations in the game. This contradiction characterizes not only Code Red, but most "good" ZZT games in general. Very few ZZT games get everything right, but good ones have enough charm to warrant forgiveness. The space station after the funhouse is small, yet full of fun details and some classic inventory puzzles. One object in particular stands above the rest: an alien officer who, once incapacitated, offers a stunning supply of inventory items which, when selected, make beautiful ascii drawings appear in the text box. Three gems, a knife, a floppy disk, a pair of gloves, a ring, an id card, a badge, and a slip of paper with a secret code are all drawn lovingly and great detail, in a way appearing no where else in the game. These random moments of inspiration and magic absolve the games many sins.

It seems remarkable that Code Red became a sacred text despite being, in many ways, deeply flawed. Like so many other ZZT games, Code Red suffers from poor level design, occasional catastrophic bugs, and tedious gameplay. The action boards are particularly bad and rarely rise above mediocrity. So what makes Code Red special, and why did it have such influence?

There is a moment in Code Red that always moves me. In the space station after escaping Jay's House, there is an airlock leading out into space. After going through the airlock and heading south, the player enters a starfield. There are no ships, no planets, no markers of any kind--just the player in empty space surrounded by a field of white stars. Venturing further south the player finds a beautifully-rendered satellite containing a necessary object. It's all very simple--the player moves across two boards and returns to their starting point-- but I always feel like I've just traveled some unfathomable distance. And it is this feeling of vastness, of infinity, of limitless possibility, that sets Code Red apart from any other ZZT game and makes it such an enduring treasure. Code Red is not so much a game as an entire universe to explore at your leisure. It begins in a house, then stretches outward into a neighborhood, a zoo, a jail, a casino, an amusement park, the White House, a sewer system, a television network station, an airport, eight different space stations, the moon--in short, the entire universe itself. That this expansive spatial universe also showcases an equally broad and deep collection of ZZT-OOP tricks and one of the most ambitious and memorable soundtracks in ZZT's history makes it not just a "classic" ZZT game, but THE classic ZZT game. In Code Red, Janson introduced many ideas and pieces of code which would be referenced, copied, and blatantly stolen for years to come; its influence in this way is beyond question. However, more significantly, Code Red offered ZZTers a glorious vision of what ZZT, and what a ZZTer, could be.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about Code Red is that it exists at all. That most of us never came close to the scale and grandeur of Code Red, despite innumerable attempts, is a testament to its achievement. I have deep admiration for Janson for pulling off such a wildly ambitious project, the scope of which by all accounts should have doomed it to fail. And yet it exists, and we are all better off--more ambitious, more creative, and more joyful--because of it.


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Other reviews written by Zephyr

Code: Fun

By: Adamsk
Reviewed: 18 years, 4 months ago (July 31, 2004, midnight)

The best thing about this game has already been stated in other reviews: The eight endings. Spanning three games, Code Red can be different every time you play it. With eight different endings, half the fun is replaying it to see what else you can do to move the plot forward. The graphics are just fine, they get the job done, but there are quite a few boards that are nothing more than crossroads, with nothing to do. The superflous boards cost my rating of the game .5 points. The other .5 was lost due to the plot, which is really not all that interesting. Reguardless, this game is a blast to play and I definately recommend it for download.


Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Adamsk

Replay Value

By: Andrew Hartung
Reviewed: 19 years ago (Nov. 18, 2003, midnight)

This game can be played sevral times, each with a different plot. That's what makes this a great ZZT game. This was the first game I ever played after TOWN, etc. Although it's been in my hard drive for sevral years, I am still playing it and having fun.


Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Andrew Hartung

Required play.

By: JohnWWells
Reviewed: 19 years, 5 months ago (June 25, 2003, midnight)

This was the third ZZT game I ever played (after Town and Mission: Enigma), and it probably was responsible for convincing me that I could make a decent game myself. This was several years ago; at the time, I didn't realize just how innovative Code Red was. Now, looking back, I see how few games have managed to match its level of ambition.

Delivering varied, clever gameplay, nice music, multiple endings, and a really, really neat Rube Goldberg device, Code Red triumphs over a set of lukewarm (but, unfortunately, heavily imitated) plotlines to offer a throughly entertaining experience.

Every ZZT gamer has got to play this, really. It was probably responsible for a lot of what followed; it's definitely the single most influential ZZT game of all time.

On the subject of graphics:

Are the graphics outdated? Well, they were nice at the time, and we're talking ASCII here. I don't expect much, really, and Code Red is more than satisfactory on that count. I suppose I COULD pan Code Red for the graphics, but I would probably have to pan ZZT as well. I mean, it's A DECADE OLD!


Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by JohnWWells

Hey not bad maaaaaan

By: ZZDevelin
Reviewed: 19 years, 5 months ago (June 25, 2003, midnight)

Well here goes a bad review for a classic game i'm bored so i'l make this short

Pros Its a great game it is the first game to feature 8 endings etc...

Cons. Outdated (no STK) Bugs Barely any shading or fading Impossible to run away from gangsters in 1st episode (invisible walls next to house) it quikly gets very boring etc sorry you ol'bies but...


Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by ZZDevelin

Untitled Review

By: Skinny
Reviewed: 19 years, 6 months ago (June 3, 2003, midnight)

Code Red - one of the best classic zzt games ever. Multiple endings, cool puzzles, ZZT music. I had a blast playing all 8 endings over and over. The only negitave thing is that it has a bug or two that disable an ending.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Skinny

Code Red - RED ALERT!!!

By: Daft2
Reviewed: 19 years, 8 months ago (March 23, 2003, midnight)

Hot stuff coming through, if you want to play one of the best classic adventures available. I guess they didn't have STK back then, so I can understand that! :)

Cool Music, but there are some very small ones too, download the musicbox to listen to the biggun's! :)

Newbie's note: WOw!!!!11!1!!1!!!111 THIS IS SUM CRAZIE CRAP!!!11!!111!1 DOWNLOED MUSIK BOXX TO LISSEN 2 THA PREETIE MUSOIK!!!!!!1!1!1!11!!!!!

uh, Ignore that...

Anyway, i give this classic adventure a five. even though the cheaters can get round it...

Eventually...


Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Daft2

Go Red

By: Metronome
Reviewed: 19 years, 8 months ago (March 20, 2003, midnight)

multiple endings, cool characters, and simple graphics that sill are kinda good looking... yay! the variation of areas and personalities adds a lot of fun to it all, plus the way the player is allowed to choose his own destiny. what more can be said?


Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Metronome

Worth getting, definitely!

By: Flammable Monkey
Reviewed: 20 years, 1 month ago (Oct. 26, 2002, midnight)

This was one of the first games that really inspired me to start making my own. It was almost perfect, except for a few bugs that prevented some endings to be achieved. Other than that, it was great. If you don't have it, GET IT! It's a classic!


Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Flammable Monkey

THE ZZT GAME!!! Classic!

By: Sherlock Holmes
Reviewed: 20 years, 1 month ago (Oct. 24, 2002, midnight)

Undoubtedly one of the best ZZT games ever created. Fresh, innovative, exciting, funny, and really fun! Who would think of guarding the different parts of your game with a passport. Brilliant! I wish I could find more games in the vein of this undoubted classic of ZZT gaming. Who ever would of thought to do some of the remarkable things Gregory Janson thought up in this wonderful, amazing game! The game plays well, the graphics are good, and the puzzles are hard. What more could a ZZT fan ask for? The only slight problem I had was that Jay Lemonhead swears once if you get in his way after unplugging the Super Nintendo NES, an unfortunate event in an otherwise clean game! 10 pipes out of 10.


Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Sherlock Holmes

Code Red by GRegory JAnson (Rei-Chan)

By: Michael Gaddass
Reviewed: 20 years, 2 months ago (Sept. 4, 2002, midnight)

This was the first good game i ever played. Even now it's a great game, except the fact that it's outdated by the likes of Chronos Wars and N-E-O. This game was the first to feature more then 2 endings (with 8 endings). The only bad part was a few bugs that made it impossible to get some endings.


Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Other reviews written by Michael Gaddass

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