Posted 29 April 2000 to rec.games.int-fiction
J.D. Berry's Chico And I Ran is a zany whirlwind tour of the past three decades of American television and pop music. Thanks in large part to an outstanding hint feature, you could probably win the game without having watched much American TV, but you wouldn't get any of the jokes.
Upon starting the game, the player must choose one of four characters to play. The characters have slightly different goals, but they all need to do pretty much the same things to achieve them. Each character (a television executive, museum curator, actress, and talent agent) has a different reason for wanting to explore the world of 1970s sitcoms. The main section of the game consists of four chapters in which the character enters the worlds of "Bewitched," "The Brady Bunch," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and "Three's Company." In each case, the character has been transformed into a character from a different sitcom (Niles from "Frasier," Phoebe from "Friends", Al from "Married with Children", and George from "Seinfeld," respectively). Much of the humor in the game arises from the reactions of the '80s and '90s characters to the '60s and '70s sitcom world. Niles' reaction to Aunt Clara's stole and Phoebe's first meeting with Carol Brady, for example, are both wonderful, and really capture the "culture shock" of characters removed from their normal setting.
The puzzles are mostly easy, although not trivially so. The best sections ("Bewitched" and "The Brady Bunch") have several puzzles available at once, along with some that are dependent on solving other puzzles first. Dealing with Gladys Kravitz was, for me, one of those puzzles that just clicks -- one of those times where the solution isn't obvious, but once you think of it, you know it's the right answer. The Marsha Brady puzzle, on the other hand, was the game's supreme "huh?" moment. It's not a Bank of Zork type "huh?" -- the puzzle and its solution are actually pretty straightforward -- more of a second season of "Twin Peaks" type "huh?" There's either a joke I didn't get, or J. D. Berry is just weird. Possibly both.
Once the four chapters are done, there's a brief end game where the player can choose one of three different final puzzles, at least two of which lead ultimately to the same ending. One of these is a very clever example of the puzzle that looks like a maze but isn't a maze.
Throughout the game, many locations mention that music is playing. If you "listen," you're treated to parody lyrics (more-or-less germane to the current scene) to a popular song from the 1980s. There are at least three of these songs included as "easter eggs" -- that is, they're not mentioned in room descriptions and appear in response to commands other than listen. It's probably no surprise that "xyzzy" is one such command.
As I mentioned before, the built-in hints are very well done. In response to "hint" (or sometimes "hint <object>"), there is a "Momentary Split Screen" in which characters from another show ("Happy Days", "The Partridge Family", etc.) make some comment about the current situation. These do tend to vary in explicitness, from gentle nudges to flat-out telling the player what to do. Some of them are quite funny as well, leading me to spend some time getting hints for puzzles I'd already solved.
My only major complaint with the game is that it got worse as it went along. The "Bewitched" and "Brady Bunch" chapters weren't perfect: they had their share of empty rooms and unresponsive NPCs, but those weaknesses overwhelm the latter two chapters. As far as I can tell, the "Three's Company" chapter has no non-scenery objects in it.
If the whole game had been like the "Bewitched" chapter, I'd recommend it unreservedly. If the whole game had been like the "Three's Company" chapter I'd just as unreservedly recommend against it. As it stands, I recommend this game for people who watched a lot of American TV in the 1970s and listened to the radio a lot in the 1980s.
This article copyright © 2000, Steven Howard