One advantage of being a ZZTer in the 2010s and beyond, and more specifically in the Museum of ZZT era, is that one can look at games and judge them more on their merits rather than what the community in the past would have judged aesthetically or thematically pleasing. We can go back to older games, see what 'peak ZZT' was in the pre-zzt.org, pre-STK era, and better take in the ambition and playability some of these games.
Quest for Coronation: Quest for the Golden Tiara is an impressive game, and is one of the most ambitious 'old-school' ZZT games prior to Code Red, period. While the file is dated 2001, text in the game suggests it was made late 1992 and probably released in 1993. Looking through the Museum, some of its contemporaries were bigger than it in terms of board counts, but at nearly 300kb, it's second only to the Silly World of Dan Shootwrong-which is much less enjoyable-in terms of file size.
The game puts you in the shoes of the son of the late King Abednego II. Against your will, you have to retrieve six keys to retrieve the Golden Tiara for his late father's High Imperial Guard. The latter wants to use the Tiara's power to rule your kingdom, but at the same time your imminent coronation would complicate things...but these threads were meant to be resolved in a sequel that was never released.
Each key quest is nearly a self-contained game within the world, with little crossover between key quests. The game normally updates you on your progress at the end of each quest so you have a feel of how far you've gone beyond just 'Okay, I got key number x'. As you move further and further away from the starting palace, these become more epic in scope. The quest for getting the next-to-last key could have easily been a self-contained ZZT world.
But what of the quests? The gameplay is standard ZZT fare with mostly action boards, a slider puzzle or two, a few invisible wall sections, dark mazes (one of which contains a nasty trap), and an arena section. These things are kept fresh and diverse for each quest so you never feel like the author simply used the same template with some cosmetic changes for each key. There are a few boards with elements lifted from older, well-known ZZT games, like the Best of ZZT's multicolour 'layered' transporter maze, but these are few and never feel like rip-offs. Even if I call it 'standard ZZT fare', it is very well-done fare, like a good tub of vanilla icecream. Apart for some water-and-sharks bits, there were no real boards that made me sigh, grit my teeth and just get on with it. At some points, gameplay elements seem to be added just because the author wanted to stretch things out, but this is not something he does frequently. When the game uses its own objects, I do not remember any serious bugs which rendered the game unplayable. Kudos to the author.
Even more fortunately, everything looks fresh and interesting. Quest for the Golden Tiara must be one of the best-looking games made up to that point. The castle where you start in and serves as the hub is one of the most gorgeous pre-STK locations made, with tapestries, a coronation chapel, a throne room with your late father lying in state (R.I.P), stables, a garden and, charmingly, a bedroom with your teddy bear. It 'looks' like a castle like several games before and after don't. A village you see later in the game has an impressive level of architectural variation which would put Gem Hunter to shame. The game clearly takes visual cues from older games, but builds on them fruitfully rather than just copying them.
The game takes a few interesting design choices too, but one I thought was bold and done successfully, was that you start the game in a dark board. This would not be the best way to start things, but you soon hear an alarm clock and you realize it's dark because you're in bed and the lights are out! In a nice bit of design economy, the board's darkness hides other secrets you access from other points in the game. There may be the first ZZT crossover here, with characters from ZZT's Revenge turning up in parts of the game!
Kudos to Mr. Pallett-Plowright, for not using purple keys, but not so much for making you get one more. Why? The key quest is very linear and becomes very sequential later on. This leads to a lot of tedious backtracking as the game progresses as no shortcuts to the castle hub are provided. Not surprisingly, a player will run out of patience if trying to beat the game in a single setting. Fortunately, there are no boards which are unpassable after beating them one way.
A more serious problem which can prevent you from finishing the game properly is the fact that flags used in fetch quests and side adventures are not always cleared once they're no longer needed. Since the game uses more than 10 flags, some essential flags set early in the game can get rolled over later on. This effectively softlocks the game. Presumably there is a 'best' way to play it to only reset non-essential flags but not everyone has the patience for it. With the Reconstruction of ZZT, it might be possible to have a new executable that raises the flag cap and let people enjoy the game without worrying about this issue.
This game is a must-play for anyone interested in old-school ZZT adventures and who isn't put off by the length and linearity. As Commodore sez, it will ream your old-school ZZT. Would it have been worth the 10 bucks for hints and future game the author asked for? This is left as an exercise to the player.