Tonight’s descent into gaming madness is I.M. Meen, another title from Simon & Schuster Interactive, who also brought us the business-as-war FPS Forbes Corporate Warrior. The cover of the CD-ROM bills it as an “action-packed 3D learning adventure for ages 9 and up”. That’s all I have to go on.
When I examine the contents of the CD-ROM, I realize that this must be a DOS-based game (also, the game’s copyright date is 1995). This gives me the opportunity to properly configure DOSBox for this experiment. I had forgotten just how slick DOSBox is as I do not often have occasion to use it. The game’s audio configuration has no trouble detecting DOSBox’s Sound Blaster emulation facilities and I’m off and running.
This eponymous villain has the most curious pet peeve: He can’t stand the thought of goody-goody children studying. He’s a proactive wizard/mad scientist/librarian/whatever so he creates a special book that can trap children in a labyrinth. In the intro animation, Meen manages to trap two more children — a boy and a girl — in the maze-book.
When you begin the game, you select between playing either the boy or the girl (with no notable difference between their in-game abilities) and you can also configure the play and reading levels. You are then cast into a Wolfenstein 3D-style maze where you immediately run into Meen’s traitorous Gnome lackey, Gnick, imploring you to rescue the children imprisoned in this dungeon by solving some kind of reading puzzles. Offensively, either child can throw a right hook using the space bar. This turns out to be enough to dispatch the giant blue spiders that infest the labyrinth. The trolls shown below, wielding spiked clubs, can usually sustain 2-3 blows from an elementary school student.
The red meter under the boy’s face is the boy’s health. I have not yet figured out if there is any way to replenish this health. And facing off with the numerous trolls in the dungeon tends to hurt an awful lot. Fortunately, there are some other limited-use offensive range weapons to be found in the game, including a fire wand and explod-o-fruit. These are picked up using a right mouse click and dragged into one of the squares underneath the power meter. To equip a weapon, drag it into the hand icon at the bottom of the screen. As for the other icons, the Meen icon brings up the game menu, the compass icon is informational, and map icon shows the auto-cartography feature which is incredibly useful in a dungeon crawl like this where everything looks the same.
An interesting item about this FPS-influenced game is that it appears to be controllable completely by a mouse if the player so chooses. Granted, that would be a bit tricky. You can move the mouse to various sections of the field and the mouse cursor indicates which direction the player will move when pressing the left mouse button. Further, the right mouse button throws a left punch. This is a fairly violent game by educational entertainment standards. Still, I think the game could have benefited from a strafe-punch option.
So where does the educational aspect come into play? When you see a scroll on the wall, approach it, press the space bar, and find yourself confronted with such a puzzle:
Correct the punctuation errors to free a fellow child. It’s interesting to note that the screen resolution changes from 320×200 to 640×480 for the text editor, and that the text editor is quite decent in that it actually supports word jumping with Ctrl-left/right.
I know that video games, just like any other form of entertainment, necessitate some suspension of disbelief, and that I should not think too hard about any aspect of them, particularly the storyline. However, I have the worst time understanding what Meen could possibly have against studious children. Has he had to deal with one too many know-it-all, smarmy little brats in whatever his day-to-day dealings happen to entail? Was he pushed over the edge by all those “My child is an honor student at…” bumper stickers? If you examine the above note screenshot that needs its punctuation fixed, you will see that it is written by Meen’s paranoid gnome henchman, Gnick. Gnick’s paranoid disposition in the game is inconsistent with the insolent tone of the note. However, his level of English composition skill could be in keeping with the low levels of education that Meen desires in those around him.
It could be that Meen is insecure about his own intellectual prowess and seeks to incapacitate the learning process for young children so they can’t possibly grow up to expose him for the fraud he is. I think I know people like that in real life.
But if you wish to peer a little more deeply into his mind to understand Meen’s motivations, here is the entire intro video for the game: