Prof. Bleen (6_bleen_7) wrote,
Prof. Bleen

Toxic Ravine!

Just before I started medical school, I bought a Macintosh Plus. It was the best possession I’ve ever owned, including all my other computers to date (I’m on my fifth, 23 years later). Each new computer I’ve bought was more than ten times powerful than the last, but somehow less amazingly cool and magical. The Mac Plus kept me sane through my one year of medical school.

While I was visiting my family in Utah a couple months ago, the brother gave me a Macintosh Plus emulator, called Mini vMac, and a whole raft of games, and since then I’ve been floating neck-deep in a sea of nostalgia.

Here’s a semi-pictorial essay about Toxic Ravine—one of my very favorite games for the Mac Plus. (Warning: I may also cover one or two other notable games later on, just for posterity.) The game has a perfunctory Wikipedia entry, and a couple Mac reference sites mention it, but nowhere on the Web could I find a review that does justice to the game’s wonderfulness.

Your goal in Toxic Ravine is to clean out a canyon full of toxic waste, including discarded genetic experiments, and save the little genetically-engineered people trapped there. The people are called PANG Clones because they carry a recombinant Politeness And Niceness Gene, and they’re the most annoying creatures in the universe. Cloyingly cute and friendly, they’re like the biotech equivalent of Anne Geddes photos.

You pilot a dirigible, as an employee of Orlando Poon, Jr.’s Cleanup and Rescue Service, from which you destroy toxic objects and rescue the PANG Clones. You are armed with a rescue robot, an endless supply of bombs, and a few airborne “smart bombs” you can control.

I really like this guy’s smirk on the title screen. Is he Orlando Poon, or the player? Also chuckleworthy is the “Poon” menu—an unhelpful and vaguely suggestive name.

(Click on any screen shot for a double-sized version)

The poisons of the toxic ravines take many forms. Rocks may contain evil skulls or encapsulated PANG Clones. Beach balls roll around annoyingly when you hit them unless you can trap them somewhere. (Fortunately, the ravine floor is sticky enough with toxins that you can always pop beach balls on the lowest level.) The little packages, when hit, unfold into up to nine objects (possibly including more packages). Other items (including the evil skulls) take several hits to destroy, and anything that touches your balloon, except your robot and live PANG Clones, causes damage. Take enough damage and the game’s over.

You have to carpet-bomb the evil skulls as they quickly rise to menace you. After they take a few hits, they lose their brain-dead zombie stare and cloud of flies, and look up at you all sad and sort of reproachful, as if to say, “Why do you always gotta be bombing me in the head?”

Sometimes, bombing a rock will reveal a PANG Clone in its little cocoon.

A second bomb breaks the cocoon. The clone chirps “Help!”, and grinning maniacally, it flails its stubby little arms as though mad. Yes, I see you, you little asshole. It’s now exposed to the miasma of toxins, so you have to quickly send down your magnet-shaped robot and haul it up, or it’ll turn grey and stop moving. I’m tempted to let them, but I save them anyway, because at 150 points a pop, saving PANG Clones scores far more points than anything else in the Cleanup phase. (Your robot is also susceptible to toxins, but your airship has an auto-scrub feature that cleans them off while the robot is docked in the ship.) Even the evil skulls only yield 8 points apiece at the slowest dirigible speed. You can score more points by flying back and forth faster (you can’t stop, ever), but your accuracy suffers accordingly, and since the really big points depend on high-precision bombing (see below), and because the major score for PANG Clones is independent of speed, there’s no point in going faster.

(If you accidentally, or intentionally, bomb the active PANG clones, they promptly snuff it with an accusing “Ow!” Serves the little buggers right, but you might as well start over, since you’ve just lost a huge end-phase bonus.)

If you look at the basement level of the ravine, you’ll see five eggs. These contain an even nastier brand of animated cow skull, which I call the King Evil skull. Bombing the eggs, or taking too long to finish, causes them to crack open with a sickening crunching sound, and soon the King Evil skulls emerge with an enraged “WHOOOO!”. They charge upward toward your dirigible; you can keep them at bay by bombing them continuously, but it’s nearly impossible to do this and finish cleaning up at the same time. If the King Evil skulls touch you, they fall to the ground, quiescent for a while—after relieving you of about a third of your damage allotment. The only advice I have is, don’t hit them and try to finish cleaning up before they get impatient and start to break out of their eggs.

One other thing: The base of the ravine is saturated with unbelievably disgusting and dangerous substances. If you should happen to bomb the valley floor, a torrent of black ghosts called “toxic wraiths” issues out, until the hole seals itself up. I imagine that the wastelands of the planet in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has the same sort of problem.

When you’ve cleared away all the toxic substances except the five eggs, the King Evil skulls ascent to various heights and stop, dangling small bonus prizes—and Phase II begins. (Note the tiny Mac Plus at bottom center.)

Here, you must build a path out of elevators and stone blocks out of the ravine, so that you can rescue the remaining PANG Clones hiding in their underground bunkers (the two bumps in the bottom corners are the sealed entrances). It’s not all that easy: the elevators can’t be placed directly adjacent to each other, and the skulls are far worse obstacles than they look. Bombing the skulls or dropping things on them causes a ghost skull to appear and rise to your level. These ephemeral cow-heads disappear after a short while, however, and even if they hit you they cause only a pixel or two of damage. The real problem is that you can’t build anything underneath them, except for stone blocks that unfold from the rescue supply item that looks like a tiny Rubik’s cube. Also, elevators can’t be placed on top of them, and they can’t be built into the rescue path because they disappear when the clones collect the prizes they’re carrying.

Luckily, you have a powerful ally: the smart bomb. These are useful in a structural as well as explosive capacity: you can build them into your escape route. Also, they come in handy when you need to expand a Rubik’s cube underneath a skull but want to keep a space open for PANG clones to pass underneath.

Here’s one solution for the configuration of skulls from the previous screen shot. I’ve enclosed a smart bomb underneath the uppermost path so I can open the left-hand PANG Clone bunker without dropping a bomb and then having to fix up the bridge before the clones reach it and fall through. More importantly, the largest end-of-game bonus is awarded for rescuing all the PANG Clones without dropping any rescue supplies after the bunkers are opened.

I’ve scattered a few apples around, because the PANG Clones are really dumb, and given the chance they’ll pointlessly dash back and forth until they run out of energy. Then they complain, “I’m hungry!”, and sit there, inert and stupid, until you dismantle your carefully built escape route and drop an apple on their head. Nearly always it’s necessary to include one possible loop, so as to pick up a particular prize, as in the lower right corner of this game: a clone at the top of the elevator at lower right can either exit to the left, on its way to the top, or to the right, picking up the money bag and returning to the bunker. Of course, once the prize is picked up, the clones will still take the loop with about 97% probability, just to irritate you. That’s why the other elevators have a floating stone blocking one of the exit paths.

When you’re all ready, (smart) bomb the cave openings—and wait. For some reason, the PANG Clones sometimes take forever to realize that they’re free, and begin to emerge from their bunkers. (The brother and I speculated that they might be getting caught at, um, an inopportune moment.) Eventually they issue out of the caves and zoom about, collecting the prizes and climbing the elevators.

A little later in the process, and we can see that the clones had chomped on a couple apples. They don’t so much run back and forth as skate, or perhaps moonwalk.

When the last PANG Clone climbs out of the ravine and thanks you, the game ends abruptly, without any fanfare whatsoever. Bonus points are awarded for certain accomplishments, including at least some of the following. I’m not sure about the items marked (?).
  • Saving all the PANG Clones revealed in Cleanup
  • Rescuing all the PANG Clones in Rescue
  • Extra points for each smart bomb not used during Rescue
  • Finishing Cleanup without cracking any of the eggs
  • Picking up all the prizes dangling beneath the skulls in Rescue
  • (?) Winning without ever taking damage
  • (?) Finishing without ever bombing the valley floor
  • (?) Finishing Rescue without dropping anything on the levitating skulls
  • (?) Using only one smart bomb
  • Rescuing all the PANG Clones without dropping any supplies after opening the caves
The instructions specifically name the last as a major source of bonus points, but only hint at what else might score extra.

See how the score allows for six digits? It’s a sham—at least in the version I used to play. Once I started with a ravine chock full of packages and PANG clones, and did everything perfectly. I don’t know what my total score was, but it showed up as a negative number, around –32,000. The score was clearly tracked using a signed two-byte integer, and when I passed 32,767, it rolled over to –32,768 and kept on going. I’m kind of proud of that; evidently the programmer didn’t think anyone was going to score that high. Not sure I can repeat that feat: the best I’ve done with the Mini vMac version is about 26,000.

What amazes me the most about Toxic Ravine is that it’s still just as fun as it was 20 years ago. The graphics, though simple, are clever, and the play is deceptively challenging. A month after firing it up for the first time, I still find time for a quick game most evenings.
Tags: nostalgia, old_mac
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