Interactive Fiction Review:
Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It by Infocom

First posted in January, 2004

[Which sponge do you mean, your brother-in-law Bob or the blue sponge?]

I enjoyed 68.75% of this game, ±6.25%.

To be less specific but more clear, I enjoyed most of the game, but could have done without bits of Meet the Mayor, quite a bit of Shake a Tower and Act the Part, and would have been elated had Visit the Manor of Speaking been left out altogether.

Go to the Shopping Bizarre, Play Jacks, Buy the Farm, and Eat your Words were all very enjoyable. I think that, had I played it alone, I wouldn't have had quite so much fun. I played this with my partner, Sam, who's British and has thus been exposed to some turns of phrase that I as an American have not. There were times where I could solve a puzzle that he could not, and vice versa, based merely on our familiarity with various puns, figures of speech, expressions, etc.

The four enjoyable areas of the game mentioned above were all rather similar in approach, so when we hit Visit the Manor of Speaking, we were totally at a loss. This one had no word play at all, was extremely unintuitive, and made us rush for the hints rather quickly. A good thing, too, as we would never have figured out this section otherwise. I really wish it hadn't been included in the game at all, and I'm not exactly sure what the hell they were thinking to put something so out of joint into what was otherwise a surprisingly intuitive yet wacky game.

Shake a Tower, though it was like the majority of the game in that it involved a lot of word play, had bits that involved rather cruel one-way dead ends and instadeath which was neither fun nor appreciated.

Meet the Mayor, though similarly in tune with the rest of the game, was for some reason just not as enjoyable. I can't really explain why. I felt some of the puzzles were poorly implemented or not sufficiently clued; now that I go back and read through my transcript, however, I see that they really were done properly, I just didn't clue in, and neither did Sam most of the time, and we ended up going for hints a bit more than we would have liked.

Act the Part was fine, mildly amusing, and mostly intuitive with regard to puzzles, but like Manor of Speaking it just didn't fit with the rest of the game's feel. I think the game would have been stronger had these two bits been left out. They felt like ideas someone had that were too small to be games in themselves and so they were just stuck in here. Bad design, in my opinion.

Overall, I have to say that I was mightily impressed with the implementation. Sure, this was a for-profit Infocom release that had to live up to and perpetuate their reputation, but this was admittedly a departure from their standard release in terms of parser and libraries. I was, for the most part, extremely impressed that I could type in whole non-standard phrases such as rake Jenny over the coals or make a mountain out of a molehill. Most of the time, this was done very, very well, but when your phrasing wasn't just so it could make for real frustration.

Sometimes, such deviations from the solution were well-anticipated by the game designers:

"Not quite the right phrasing," says the piper.

Okay, fair enough. Thanks for the nudge:

"That's easy for you to say," says the piper, and with a sweep of his pipe, allows you to take away peppers.

At other times, the response wasn't properly parsed and the resulting response sort of gave us the impression we were on the wrong track:

You hear a man's voice from the other side of your front door. "Knock knock."


[You won't find the word "who?" anywhere in the script.]

It turned out that the question mark hadn't been anticipated...

"Ba ba ba, ba ba ba-ran...."

While at other times, the responses appeared to be properly parsed, but were unanticipated, which left us unsure as to whether or not we were doing the right thing:

You can't see any full frontal lobotomy here!

This was only a subtle deviation from how Sam had always heard: I'd rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy. Granted, this bottle was not full, so that word was omitted, but Sam was very used to this word being present in the phrase. So we were a bit uncertain as to what it was we were doing wrong. The correct answer, to refresh your memory, was:

You run the surgical-like instrument through the air an inch above your brother-in-law Bob's scalp. The crowd loves it. You've really got them eating out of your hand.

At any rate, in conclusion, I felt that two sections of the game, Act the Part and Visit the Manor of Speaking were inconsistent with the theme of the game, and would have been better left out, but overall I found the game to be challenging, yet intuitive enough to be enjoyable.