As well as making more money last year than most small countries, the Avengers movie also reminded us all that the Incredible Hulk rules, reaffirming his place at Marvel's top table and bringing back purple denim shorts as a viable fashion choice. You've watched the Hulk on the big screen, you've read the Hulk comic books, you've bought the commemorative limited-edition Incredible Hulk fine china plates. But that's not enough for you, is it? You want to become the Hulk, to find out what unknowable thoughts flicker through that rage-clouded mind, to lift up a big thing and throw it at another thing. Well, here's your chance: it's Adventure International's 1984 computer adventure Questprobe featuring The Hulk!
I'm sorry, that screenshot's an incredibly (no pun intended) dull way to start off this article. Here, let's try the loading screen from the ZX Spectrum version instead.
That's much better, they've really captured the vibrant colours and stumpy tree-feet of the comics, although I'm not sure what that red aura around the Hulk's head represents. I suppose "rage" would be the obvious answer, but as he doesn't really look that angry I'm going to say it's a manifestation of his utter bewilderment at the situation he has found himself in. As we'll see, it's a perfectly understandable response.
At the mention of Adventure International, some of the more senior amongst you may well have guessed what kind of game this is going to be, and it's probably not the kind of adventure you'd expect the Hulk to star in. You see, rather than an arcade-style action game or a primitive beat-em-up or something even vaguely suited to his powers or traits, Questprobe featuring The Hulk takes Marvel's punchiest, most smash-tastic hero and drops him into... a text adventure.
If you don't beat the game by entering the command "HULK SMASH" at every available opportunity, I'm going to be very disappointed.
Questprobe featuring The Hulk was released on a variety of home computer formats, including the Spectrum and the Apple II, but for the rest of this article I'll be using screenshots from the Commodore 64 version, mostly because the interface is a little clearer.
You might have noticed, had you bothered to read the text in the first screenshot (although who could blame you for ignoring it?) that Questprobe featuring The Hulk was written by Scott Adams, founder of Adventure International and creator of the world's first-ever commercially available adventure game. That's quite the pedigree, but being the first to do something rarely means being the best at doing something, so don't hold out too much hope of this game being a masterpiece. This is especially true given that it's me playing this game and I'm not great at text adventures, especially convoluted, opaque and baffling affairs that don't stick to the laws of logic by which we ordinary men run our lives.
The first step is easy enough - in the picture above, the Hulk's alter-ego Dr. Bruce Banner is strapped to a chair and cannot escape, his precious science-learnin' useless before the power of his hempen bonds. This being a text adventure, you need to tell Bruce what to do by typing in simple commands, usually two words in a verb-noun configuration. So: Banner is tied to a chair, he needs to get free, and he has the power of the Hulk inside him. All he needs to access that power and make this chair look as flimsy as a substantially less well-constructed chair is to GET ANGRY. Right, let's enter GET ANGRY and see what happens.
What do you mean, "how?" Just, I dunno, stop being relaxed or something. I tried entering REMEMBER REALITY TV and RESEARCH SOCIAL INJUSTICE, but Bruce remained steadfastly calm. Then I told him to struggle free, move around, SHAKE CHAIR, and that worked because he fell over, hit his head and became the mighty Incredible Hulk!
Terribly sorry, I meant to say that
The Incredible Hulk (TM)
And of course his ropes break and he's free!
Free to extract fearsome revenge those who imprisoned him, ready to confront his captors and show them the true power of his oh bloody hell now what?
"GAS," says the Hulk, and he's not kidding. Immediately after your transformation, gas seeps into the room and turns you back into Bruce Banner, but at least you've escaped from the chair and you can look around the large blue dome that you find yourself in. There's a mirror, a fan, a large ring in the floor that Bruce is too scrawny to lift and most importantly there's a sign on the wall that gives you some idea about what the hell's going on.
So I'm not really the Hulk, I'm just practising how to be him in a computer simulation? That must be the meaning, because why would the Hulk need to learn how to perform as the Hulk, whatever that means? Surely "learning to perform as the Hulk" consists solely of these two simple steps - "get angry" and "punch things." Figured those out? Good job, here's your grade-A certificate in acting like the Hulk.
The whole thing is a test, be it for you or for the Hulk himself, and your aim is to find all the gems scattered around the game and drop them off in a specified location. That part, at least is all very simple if a little arbitrary, and the Hulk picks up all the items in the room before travelling to the next screen. That's the real reason for his big purple shorts - they're where he stores all his inventory items.
The outside world! Sweet freedom! Ignoring the sign that warms of Hi Grav ahead, the Hulk dashes into the sunshine, eager to frolic and gambol and whatnot.
Except he's not the Hulk. The gas turned him back to Bruce Banner, and he is instantly killed by the strange gravitational field. Not to worry, the game gently deposits you at the top of a heavenly staircase, which you can descend to continue the game. Banner sheepishly returns to the mortal world and this time pays a little more attention to the tunnel with the warning signs and skull-and-crossbones on the wall, revealing a button that you can push. The button delays the effects of the un-Hulking gas, giving you plenty of time to get past the gravity field before you revert to your squishier human form. This means that I have to transform back into the Hulk, but this time I don't have a chair to fall off, so how can I get angry? The hint given in the manual is to BITE LIP, but I spent enough time in my youth getting hopelessly stuck in Shadowgate and abusing the player character that I instantly went for the option of HIT SELF. Banner socks himself good and hey presto, he's angry enough to transform. That makes sense to me - if some disembodied force made me slap myself about, I'd be pissed off too.
Newly grand and green, the Hulk steps outside and I get to put his most famous skills to the test.
See, we both know that's a lie, don't we? There you have it, folks - an Incredible Hulk game where Hulk Smashing is not only not an option but the Hulk doesn't even know what it is. I'm disheartened, I must admit, but let's press on and head north.
It's a fuzzy area. I could make a joke about a teddy bear's groin, but instead I'll let you know that this is the point in Questprobe featuring The Hulk where I completely lost track of what the hell was going on. The sign makes it clear that this is the place to drop off your gems, which is fine and dandy, and entering the command SCORE will show you your total up to that point. The problem is, this area acts as a warp point, with whatever direction you take (besides north) randomly transporting you to one of several different fields with domes in them that look almost identical. Now, I'm not good with games that don't have a map. Hell, I get lost easily in games that do have a map. I suffer from the unfortunate syndrome that is compulsive map checking. You should see me playing Silent Hill 2 - I've played that game so many times I could probably build a perfectly accurate scale replica of the town with no reference material and my fingers sellotaped together but I still have to check my map once roughly every seven seconds, and the constant rustling sound as I open the map is so frequent that it sounds like a bunch of squirrels having an orgy in a paper recycling bin.
You can see, then, how I would struggle with a game that not only doesn't have a map (to be expected of a text adventure, I suppose) but doesn't let me draw my own map due to the random nature of the locations. In short, I got lost. A lot. So, from here on out this article isn't going to be an in-depth, comprehensive look at Questprobe featuring The Hulk, but more of a guided tour through some of its more bizarre outpourings. Much like the teleporting areas, there's a lot that doesn't make much sense. For example, let's go back to the field with the dome.
There's a gem on the floor, so let's pick that up. There are also two more gems on this screen, but I defy anyone to find both of them without either consulting a guide or going through every single verb in the English language in an attempt to get the Hulk to do something. I actually got the first one myself, and I was momentarily proud of this until I realised that figuring out this game's bizarre logic was less a sign of a brilliant analytic mind and more that my brain isn't aligned correctly. Whatever the case, the odd (and by odd, I mean completely absent) sense of scale led me to tell the Hulk to LIFT DOME, which he dutifully did.
I can only assume that this gem's placement was a result of my captors treating the dome as a giant rug to sweep their refuse under. Still, it's nice to see a puzzle that requires the use of the Hulk's famous strength (unless you count smacking himself in the face, but that was more Bruce Banner's doing.)
So, there's one gem left here, but where is it? I tried LOOKing and EXAMINE-ing everything nearby - the sky, the ground, the Hulk himself - to no avail, although I did figure out you can use the mirror to remind yourself if you're in Hulk mode or Banner mode, thus preventing any further gravity-related deaths.
Hang on, does that means I've been carrying a full-length mirror around in my shorts since the first dome? No wonder the Hulk is VERY MAD. Anyway, I had to consult a guide to solve the puzzle... well, "puzzle" isn't really a fair description because the game gives you no hint that there's even anything else to do in this field. Looking at the guide, however, revealed that a simple command would yield another gem, and that command is DIG.
Look at him, he's like a giant green toddler at the beach. The Hulk digs a fine hole with his mighty, spade-like hands, but that's not enough to find the gem: you have to order him to GO HOLE.
I'll be honest, the description "Some obvious exits are: UP" made me laugh. Also, "Hulk Underground" sounds like it could have the name of an Incredible Hulk videogame from the late nineties, don't you think?
While the Hulk is underground, he can pick up the gem lying in the hole. Well, that all made sense. Certainly it makes more sense than the other hole you need to dig to find a different gem: oh yes, that sequence of hole-digging events starts off the same as the others, but once the Hulk has crawled into the hole there's no gem to be seen! Have I wasted my time digging for gems? No, although what you have to do to find the gem is even more nonsensical than deciding to dig a random hole in the first place. Once you're in the empty hole, and with no suggestion that this is anything but an empty hole, you have to DIG again. And again. You have to dig five or six times, each time with the game displaying the same generic "OK" message and with no glimmer of a hint of a clue that you're doing anything worthwhile, until you happen to find a gem buried in the ground. Buried about seven hundred feet in the ground, judging by the amount of times I told the Hulk to dig. If anyone ever tells you that the text adventure genre was killed off by the advent of graphical adventures like Monkey Island, don't listen to them - it actually drowned in a pile of its own bullshit.
If you head north from the fuzzy area, you don't get warped to a random field but instead always end up at this small underground room. There's a special "bio" gem that is destroyed if you die while holding it, making the game unwinnable, and next to it is a "Natter Energy Egg," whatever the hell one of those is. Let's take a closer look at the egg and see if we can't discover its mysterious purpose.
Yup, that's an egg. An egg sitting on a giant amoeba with chickenpox, but definitely an egg.
And then the egg explodes, killing Dr. Banner instantly. Say goodbye to that bio gem. Curiosity killed the Hulk and did a lot to sour my opinion of QftH, too - there's just no excuse for an adventure game, be it text or graphic, that kills you without warning for looking at an item, a possible exception being LOOK INTO LASER RAY or something similar. As a text adventure this should be about world-building, about the descriptions of places and objects creating a world in the player's head, not causing heads to explode without warning. Time for a restart, then.
This time, while I was wandering blindly through the miscellaneous areas, I pitched up in the office of the Chief Examiner. He may look like a cross between Spider-Man's Mysterio and the Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Strange but he's actually a new character, created for the Questprobe series of games. Yep, Questprobe featuring The Hulk is just the first of three Scott Adams text adventures based on Marvel comics, the other two being Questprobe featuring Spider-Man (where, judging by the front cover, Spidey actually does confuses The Chief Examiner with Mysterio) and Questprobe featuring 50% of the Fantastic Four (That is, Questprobe featuring Human Torch and The Thing.)
The Chief Examiner is the one behind the Hulk's computer-simulated predicament, and if you talk to him he gets angry about you "getting out of the computer" and warps you back to the fuzzy area. This is bad, because he has a gem on his desk that you can only find by examining his desk before doing anything else. If you talk to him or open the door or try to punch him in the head (my first action) you're teleported away and you can never re-trigger his appearance, leading to the gem on his desk being lost forever, or at least until you restart the game. You've probably figured out by now that this Incredible Hulk game has very few puzzles that are solved by punching things. It feels a little sacrilegious.
Speaking of Dr. Strange, he does pop up in the form of an astral projection. He's astrally projected himself into this computer simulation. I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if that is something that has happened in an actual Dr. Strange comic. So, what's the Sorcerer Supreme doing here? Not much, but he does give you a hint about REMEMBERing Nightmare, a dream-manipulating rapist demon and foe of the Hulk (amongst others.) From what I can tell, recalling Nightmare makes the Hulk even angrier, although I'm still not sure how it helps.
I don't know much about the comic book incarnation of Nightmare, but I don't think he was ever portrayed as a middle-aged man wearing a homemade moth costume.
Anything else from Dr. Strange? Well, he slips in a quick advert for Questprobe featuring Spider-Man before disappearing. Thanks, Stephen. Classy move.
This is my favourite part of the whole game, because it has all the logical flow of a bad acid trip and just makes no goddamn sense either in the confines of the text adventure genre or the universe of the Incredible Hulk. Also because it has quasi-giant ants.
If you faff around on this screen for too long, the Hulk is beset by a swarm of giant ants. I think they're giant, at least. I mean, they're alien ants so they must be huge, right? Although the text says they come from "tiny holes" in the ground. So, they're normal-sized ants from a different world, and that screenshot just makes them look huge because they're right next to the camera. See what I mean about the lack of scale in this game? They're definitely tougher than a regular terran ant, because if you try to attack them or move past them they go straight for the Hulk's eyes - yes, the Hulk's eyes, not Bruce Banner's - and kill him instantly. I know the power levels of fictional superheroes are continually fluctuating depending on who's writing that particular issue or whatever, but in this game, the Incredible Hulk is literally killed by ants. I don't care if they're space ants or robo-ants or ants from some Lovecraftian void that have seven heads and broccoli florets instead of feet, the Incredible Hulk should not be as vulnerable to ant attacks as an unattended picnic sandwich.
But he is. The ants are deadly, but you need to dig near them to progress. Let's look at this logically, then: the ants went straight for his vulnerable eyes. The eyes are the weak point. How can we protect them? Hmmm... I've got it! CLOSE EYES!
That actually works! The ants cannot get past the Hulk's invulnerable eyelids! Sadly for our green hero, they run straight up his nose instead and kill him that way, presumably by eating away at his brain. Okay then, let's HOLD NOSE, too. That also works! But the ants go down his ear-holes. Well, I picked up some wax during my adventure so let's USE WAX to PLUG EARS and pray that this works, because the Hulk only has one major orifice left and I really don't want to see a scene of him plugging that up.
Now that the Hulk has closed his eyes, shoved wax down his ears and is holding his nose, he is immune to the attacks of the space-ants. No, really. Just picture that scene for a moment and be glad that it didn't find its way into any of the Hulk movies. Once you're in this ant-proof state, you have to dig blindly to a chamber where the evil robot Ultron is conveniently holding Ant-Man captive, whereupon Ant-Man uses his mastery over all things formicidian to get the ants to attack Ultron in a scene which I'm sure would look really cool if I didn't have my goddamn eyes closed. Apparently you can actually see Ant-Man and Ultron if you head to their cave before luring the ants over there, but by this point my only chance of success was to follow a guide step-by-step and the guide I was using skipped that little tableau. With Ultron gone and the ants under Ant-Man's care I can collect any nearby gems and you know what? I've had enough. It's time to finish the game by taking all the gems to the fuzzy area, dropping them on the ground and shouting SCORE.
And that's your lot. The Chief Examiner gets his gems back and gives you a password so that you can boast to all your friends about how you used a guide to make your way through this baffling game.
Is Questprobe featuring The Hulk any good? Well, I don't regret playing it, but that's purely down to the entertainment I got from the game's more ridiculous moments, and I do quite like the chunky graphical scenes: they don't look half bad, especially for the ZX Spectrum. As an adventure game, though... no, it's not very good at all. As you can tell it's vague, illogical and occasionally downright stupid, as well as being very short. I was a touch harsh on the whole "random warping" thing, but that's more my problem and anyone with a bit more spatial imagination will figure it out fine, but it still seems kinda pointless. I will say that the idea of a text adventure starring the Hulk may sound stupid but really, it makes a lot of sense because the Hulk is one of the few Marvel characters that you might actually be able to envisage not knowing what a "FLOOR" is. Imagine if Iron Man told you he didn't know what a floor was. In short, though, Questprobe featuring The Hulk is pointless and not really much fun - the most interesting thing about it is that it really shows how far Marvel's non-comic enterprises have come, from crude text adventures like this to movies like The Avengers and where every videogame, if not always fun to play, has at least had some kind of effort expended on it.
I'll leave you with one final, poignant moment that might go some way to explaining why the Hulk gets so angry:
Heartbreaking, isn't it?