Up until very recent years, technical limitations have always had a profound influence on game design. Some of the greatest innovations in gaming have resulted from attempts to push a platform to its limits and squeeze out every last drop of functionality the hardware has to offer. Many early milestones such as Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Tetris, have wound up with a permanent place in the gaming industry's hall of fame not in spite of, but because of the technical limitations that designers and programmers had to work around. During the early years of the IBM PC compatibles, when proper development tools for graphics modes were essentially non-existent and most PCs didn't have the RAM to run graphical programs anyway, some of the first pioneers in PC gaming had to make do with the standard 80x25-character, 16-color text modes available for DOS. While PC text-mode game programs such as Snipes, the Kroz series and the ZZT game creation system showed massive amounts of innovation by proving you can make a decent game with nothing but a grid of text with a handful of special characters for shading and drawing boxes, even the best of the best are now largely forgotten.
While your typical hardcore gamer can likely at least recognize the names ZZT and Megazeux, most text-mode games have sunken into the depths of gaming history. Forged in the deepest, darkest corners of the early-'90s Internet by the twisted minds of long-since-defunct programming group Vectorscope Software, The Amazing Adventures of ANSiDude just barely manages to survive on abandonware sites. It's a shame that Vectorscope never contributed more games like this to the ANSI scene before disappearing off the face of the earth. Based on the catalog stored with the game files, highlights of their works besides ANSi Dude included DOS clones of Minesweeper and the TRON light cycles game, a collection of MOD music, and an audio clip ripped from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Most of VectorScope's work may be lost along with the vast majority of files that were floating around the web in the mid-'90s, but their magnum opus survives, although only the shareware version can be found on the internet. The full version is apparently lost forever, although fortunately, the only difference seems to be the standard nag messages along with annoying timers between levels.
The Amazing Adventures of ANSi Dude is not quite like anything else out there. For one, the game is trippy as hell. Invisible walls, nonsensical levels that look like mazes, giant eyes or weird alien towers; strange sound effects, enemies that pop up out of nowhere, landmines, and super-landmines, all tied together with a plotline that's not even pretending to try. Supposedly, the storyline is advanced through short text screens between levels, but the closest it ever actually comes to a coherent plot is, well...
The goal of the game, as stated in the text screen above, is ultimately to defeat TEBSOD, but in the meantime, you're just trying to make it to the next level alive. The gameplay is straightforward and action-based for the most part. You have five items that stay with you through the course of the game. The first is a suction cup you can use to drag around movable blocks. The second is a "sonic pickaxe" for destroying said blocks when moving them out of the way is not an option, or for busting destructible walls that can't be moved. The catch is that the sonic pickaxe uses up valuable ammo (it runs off the same ammo as your gun). The next item is a plasma rifle which fires a shot straight in the direction you last moved, followed by a "barrier synthesizer" which creates a wall in front of you that blocks enemies but disappears when you step through it. The item at the end of your inventory is the self-destruct bomb. Kids, don't try this at home!
While the basic gameplay is very simple once you get the hang of it, most levels feature some sort of twist to keep it fresh. For example, in one level, the playing field might be covered with invisible walls, while in another, you might have to look for hidden switches, or the walls might be done in a checker pattern that flickers in the most disorienting way possible. The game gets weirder and weirder as the levels progress, to the point where the formula established in the first few levels is almost completely chucked out the window. However, despite its subtly elegant gameplay and eclectic level design, there are certain levels in this game that will make you want to track down and murder whoever's idea this was. For example, ANSi Dude features a level in which you have to drag and push around blocks one-by-one halfway across the screen and then all the way back. This is not only long, boring and tedious, it offers no real challenge whatsoever! There's nothing even remotely fun about this; it's as if the developers threw this in for no other purpose than to torment the player.
Even some of the basic gameplay elements are enough to do your head in. For starters, if you want to get very far in this game at all, you'll have to religiously conserve ammo. In fact, if ammo conservation is not your religion, then you'd better be prepared to confess or die! On top of that, some of the later levels make use of walls that are invisible until you bump into them, or if that doesn't make it hard enough to find your way, walls are invisible even after you bump into them! But that's not even the frustrating part. Oh, no. To top it all off, as if this game needed to be any harder, it features no save feature whatsoever! The developers didn't even have the common courtesy of implementing a save-before-levels system, or even level passwords. And what's more, you can't even go to the main menu without forfeiting the game, so if you want to turn off the sound mid-game, tough luck. In their defense, however, the shareware nag screens advertised that registered users would be given secret cheat codes. If one of these cheat codes was a level skip, then that might have redeemed them, but now we'll probably never know whether this was the case or not.
If you can beat this game in one sitting, you deserve a cold beer, an Olympic gold metal, and knighthood. If you're interested in exploring what can be done with MS-DOS 80x25 text mode, you're into that weird side of gaming, or you're feeling up to the challenge (or just feeling masochistic), The Amazing Adventures of ANSiDude is worth your while. ANSiDude's offbeat sense of humor and (at times) clever gameplay make it a game worth noting, but that's not to say that it doesn't have serious issues. It's worth at least a shot if you have a little patience and a soft spot for games that are unapologetically bizarre. But if you're not the patient sort of gamer, this one's a waste of your time.