From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. This week, a tale of true love and high adventure! No, wait, sorry. It's the casual game version that offers neither, unless you really get off on time management.
The Princess Bride Game
Introduction to the 3rd Anniversary Edition. Not by William Goldman.
It's still my favourite casual game in the world. And more than ever, I wish I had designed it. Sometimes, I like to fantasize that I did, that I came up with the idea of relegating one of the most entertaining battles of the 1980s to a quick, badly animated cutscene, that my imagination replaced its awesome, quotable banter with a trivia game that wouldn't challenge a sub-standard chimp.
Alas, Goldman remains swimming naked in his money, and I must be contented with the fact that my novelisation of the game of the movie (though burned by librarians to keep it off their shelves) at least brought this to a wider audience. What is stronger than childhood memory? Nothing, at least for me. I still have a recurring dream of the time I swallowed a live wasp. I believe it is this memory, more than anything else, that empowered me with the ability to write the words you are about to read.
This is my favourite game in all the world, though I have never unlocked the demo.
I am not, after all, a complete moron.
Extracts From The Princess Bride Game: The Book Of The Game Of The Movie Of The Book: A Tale Of True Love, Epic Adventure, And Mad Confusion If You Don't Know The Plot
Chapter One: As You Wish
The year that Buttercup was born, the most beloved casual game in the world was an American ball thing called Peggle. Peggle worked because it was simple yet complex, and it did not escape the world's attention that it was awesome. This was something that would never be said of The Princess Bride game. Buttercup of course knew nothing of this, and if she had, she would have found it totally unfathomable. What she liked to do, preferred above all else really, was ride her horse, and make the farm boy do stupid, tedious chores to test his Diner Dash-honed time management skills.
The farm boy did whatever she told him to. Actually, he was more an avatar now, a badly drawn sprite whose voice sounded almost but not entirely unlike Cary Elwes, when he spoke at all, which was rarely. More often, his lines were simply given in subtitles to save on filesize, as were hers.
"Farm boy!" she would say, and give him a silent task.
"As you wish."
That was all their voice actors had bothered recording. "As you wish." Fetch this, Farm Boy. "As you wish." Water the carrots, Farm Boy. "As you wish." As the clock ticked away, the Farm Boy made the carrots grow and chopped wood for the fire, constantly distracted by the prattling of his master's daughter.
"I'll let the lad do something interesting after 10 more levels," Buttercup's father was fond of saying. (They had not seen the later chapters, and as such still had some sense of optimism that this would get more interesting at some point. Their deaths would come as sweet release.)
"You'll spoil him," Buttercup's mother always answered.
"He's slaved for many minutes; optimism should be rewarded."
Then, rather than continue the argument (for even a few megabytes on the download could have scared away the infamously fickle casual gaming market), they would both turn on their sprite-based daughter, and dream of the day she might star in a free-to-play RPG, ideally a really profitable one from Korea.
"You didn't pad your bra," her father said.
"I did, I did!" from Buttercup.
"You must pad your bra, Buttercup," her mother joined in. "The boys don't like their girls to not look like they'll topple over in the slightest wind. You'll never hook people into your Item Store like that."
And in the yard, the Farm Boy continued slaving away in the hot sun, harvesting carrots in the hope that, just once, Buttercup might appear at his door with a kiss, or a smile, or something other than more pointless chores for him to do against the ever-ticking clock that was his only true companion.
This never happened, but over the years, her shrill bitching digging into his tortured soul still apparently turned into something else. Something beautiful. Something called... True Love.
Apparently. It's not like it was any more convincing in the movie.
Chapter Five: The Battle of Wits
Inigo never panicked—never came close. But he decided some things faster than he would have hit the A button in a QTE. The man in black kept attacking. "You are most excellent," he said. His left foot was at the cliff edge. He could retreat no more.
"Thank you," the man in black replied. "I have worked very hard to become so. The time management skills I learned on the farm were vital in organising my... but no, 'tis not important."
"You are better than I am," Inigo admitted. "At Empires and Allies as well."
"Then why are you smiling?"
"Because," Inigo answered, "I know something that you don't know."
"And what is that?"
"There is no swordfighting in this game!" Inigo replied, and vanished until his next cut-scene.
The man in black blinked, and looked around. "No swordfighting? No interactive version of one of the most entertaining duels of the 1980s? Do I not even get to face the giant?"
"Only non-interactively," rumbled Fezzik, politely lying down on his mark to be defeated.
"Then what," demanded the man in black, "am I doing here, exactly?"
There was a cough. He turned. "Welcome!" Vizzini cackled, knife pressed up against the blindfolded Buttercup sitting placidly by his side. "Now it is down to you. And it is down to me."
The man in black squinted. "You actually sound like Wallace Shawn."
"Unlike your actor, THEY COULD AFFORD ME," screeched the Sicilian. The hunchback pressed his knife harder against Buttercup's throat. "If you wish her dead, by all means, break that forth wall."
The man in black froze.
"Better," Vizzini nodded. "I have no doubt you could kill me. Anyone who can get by Inigo and Fezzik, even in a cut-scene, would have no trouble disposing of me. However, has it occured to you that if you did that, then neither of us would get what we want—you having lost your ransom, me my life."
The man in black looked at the unimpressive hostage situation, which he clearly had the skills to resolve in roughly 17 ways without either breaking a sweat or endangering the increasingly bored-looking Buttercup. But that would have been dishonourable, or something else that made sense.
"We are at an impasse then," he lied.
"I fear so," said the Sicilian. "I cannot compete with you physically, and you are no match for my Ferengi lobes. Brains. I meant brains. Damn you, I'm a respected character actor!"
"In that case," said the man in black, "I challenge you to a battle of wits."
Vizzini had to smile. "One split into a million stages to stretch out the longevity of this bit?"
"Just so," acknowledged the man in black.
The Sicilian threw down his dagger. "I accept!"
The man in black was silent for a good long time. "You're shitting me, right?" he finally answered, rubbing his hand against his sweaty mask in abject disbelief.
"The battle of wits has begun!" cried Vizzini. "It's so simple! All you have to do is deduce, from what you know of me, the way my mind works. Am I the kind of man who would give you a question that would not lightly trouble a dead cat, or is there some trick to it you are not seeing—"
"No. There isn't. It's—"
"For example!" continued the Sicilian, "You are a cultured man, so you would obviously know that liquid goes into a bottle! But! In being cultured, your tastes are refined and higher than a mere prole, so you would not know if the common folk were now using bottles to store their potato chips in the name of longevity, therefore, you cannot choose the sane answer that is obviously correct. But—"
"It's the first one. It's obviously—"
"I'M NOT FINISHED!" screamed Vizzini. "But, I hear you thinking, why would a man as brilliant as myself insult you with such a ridiculous question? Might there be other uses for these crisps that you, as a foreigner to these shores, would find strange and unusual? Might they be crunched up to be sprinkled on salad, or used as a cheap form of cologne for those who cannot even afford a supermarket brand Lynx knock-off? Or am I bluffing, knowing that you know that I know what I know you know to be true? Or not! All these fiendish conundra and more are even now rattling through your tiny brain as my question takes flight, therefore you cannot in all conscience choose the answer that is—"
"I'll take my chances," said the man in black. "Upon my life, the answer is the first one."
The Sicilian's face darkened. "Yes," he conceded. "But now you have fallen into my cleverest trap! For you see, by answering correctly, you have only foreshortened your doom—" He paused.
"I'm not saying the line," said the man in black, arms folded sternly.
"Spoilsport," sneered Vizzini. "Where was I? Oh, yes! You may have bested me once, my friend, but I assure you, this next fiendish question will be the very harbinger of your doom!"
The man in black stared at him. Slowly, he reached for a thermos flask. "Your throat sounds sore," he said. "Would you care for some of this delicious orange squash I just happened to have with me?"
Also Chapter Five: But Later, In The Fire Swamp
Westley led the way. Buttercup stayed just behind, because she was a girl and therefore had no particular skills to offer here except looking pretty and jumping a little bit higher to collect the gems floating in the air. The main thing, she realised, was to forget your childhood dreams of being tough and awesome like Lara Croft, for only Westley had a sword, and it was her role to merely lower vines that he might clear her path. The odour of the miserable controls, which at first seemed almost totally punishing, soon diminished through familiarity and boredom. The sudden bursts of flame were easily avoided because, even before they struck, they'd seen them go off enough times to learn the patterns.
Westley carried his sword in his right hand. "To tell you the truth, I'm almost disappointed," he told her. "This platforming is bad, but it's not that bad. Don't you agree?"
Buttercup wanted to, totally, and she would have, but she'd played The Lost Vikings and a million other platformers that revealed this as the substandard drivel she feared would now make up the whole rest of her time as a playable character. How long had she been jumping around in this forest? Minutes, it seemed, and she was in pain just keeping her eyes open. "You must collect gems until we get on the high score table," her Westley had said. But how much more tedium could she possibly suffer?
Westley stood, buckled on his sword, replaced his long knife.
"Come," he said. "We have another 10 levels to go."
"Not until you tell me," she replied. "Why must we endure this?"
Westley sighed. "Alright," he said finally. "I'll explain. But first, lower that vine for me. Anchored out in the deepest waters of the bay is the Great Ship Revenge. The Revenge is the sole property of the Dread Pirate Roberts, of whom I am he."
"I don't think that's grammatically—"
"Shut up. I am often surprised at life's little quirks," continued Westley, stabbing a ROUS to let her past. "For the last three years, I have been conducting myself as the world's most terrifying pirate, yet those adventures were not deemed of any interest for a mini-game. I was thinking perhaps something like Sid Meier's Pirates, or treasure hunting. But no. There were insufficient hidden objects to find, you see, and though the Dread Pirate Roberts of course fears no man, I dared not go up against Nancy Drew on Gamezebo. The focus groups were most clear on this. I'm sure you can understand."
Buttercup nodded, though she did not.
"Then," Westley continued, obvious as that should be, "I was summoned here. A full platform game would never wash in the casual market, of course! But as a mere fifth of one's minigames, there to give the illusion of actual action in a game based on a film that everyone secretly knows becomes more than a bit rubbish after this scene, would serve well for the trailer. It would hint at actual adventure, when really all that awaits us if we continue working through this travesty of a license is—"
He fell silent, missing a jump by a pixel and running into a ROUS.
"Are you hurt?" whimpered Buttercup.
"Only my pride," said Westley. "Also my balls." And so they stumbled on, until eventually they saw the great ship Revenge, far out in the deepest part of the bay. Westley, still within the confines of the Fire Swamp, sank, beaten, to his knees. For between him and his ship was yet another badly animated cutscene that would skip through almost every potentially interesting bit of the entire film, including his torture, wedding preparations, Inigo and Fezzik doing stuff to rescue him, the Zoo of Death that was only in the novel but might have been fun, and finally his death. Or his nearly-death, at least, in which state he was ultimately destined to be dragged to the doors of the one they called...
Chapter Seven: Miracle Max
Max opened the door a peek's worth. "Just so you know, my house is a hidden object game," he told the strangers outside. "You'll have to give me a minute while I trash the place and dig out the four-foot high pen to put by the window and find my special tennis racket that looks like a teapot."
"Oh," the smaller of the two strangers said. "In that case, I believe we shall wait."
"Wait for what?" demanded Max, as the two dropped the mostly dead body to the ground like a sack of spuds and began staring intently at their wristwatches. "Fifty eight," rumbled the giant one. "Hate."
"That is right, Fezzik," said the smaller one, smiling with relief. "Fifty nine. Fifty nine and a half—"