Contraption Zack

Contraption Zack is an isometric puzzle game published by Mindscape in 1992. I can’t say it’s a game I know much about but I saw it for sale fairly cheap and remembered playing a demo version many years back which was enough to reason to pick it up and several months later I thought it was time to play it.

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The version I have was published by Slash who typically repackaged games more cheaply after they were slightly past their prime. I gather they are often avoided by collectors for this reason. The box exterior is nice enough at any rate although the materials are a little cheap.


The contents are where the real money has been saved with the manual looking like a cheap handmade photocopy. The entire game fits onto a single floppy with an equally cheap label.



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As for the game itself, there is a nice cartoon intro on starting up. It’s Zack’s first day on the job working as an engineer in a plant of some description for Gadget Corp. His new colleagues take an instant dislike to him and decide to “borrow” all his tools only to not return them when duty calls. The graphic style is goofy but colourful. I particularly liked the panicked boss with the waving arms for some reason. Probably because he reminded me of a particular ex boss of my own. At any rate, he sends Zack off to fix a piece of machinery in the plant.That’s where the player comes in. You have to guide Zack around 6 levels retrieving his tools and fixing the parts of the factory at the end of each level.

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The mechanics of gameplay are straightforward and introduced gradually starting with this room where each coloured switch will open or close the same colour of spikes. The trick is simply to head right instead of left here. If you go the wrong way, you will get stuck and have to start the level again. The designers had no qualms about dead ends so expect to do plenty of restarts when playing this. They do show an element of sympathy with a couple of save points per level.


The next room is a more complex timing puzzle. The grey gates open slowly one at a time trapping Zack behind them for a time if he goes in. All the coloured buttons only stay down for a short while when pressed meaning the key is not to step on the back buttons until the gate is about to reopen so there is time to get over the spikes before they spring back up again. Once more, it is easy to get trapped between spikes and have to restart.


Soon after this I get the chance to reclaim all my lost tools. Each tool can be used at specific points throughout the level to affect gates or machines. In this case, I need a screwdriver to turn the screw on the screen in the top right and reverse the direction of the conveyor belt and allow me to pass.

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That clears my route through to the feeder. I step on the floor switch to get it working and that’s the first level.done. I’ve missed a good few rooms out here but the 6 levels in this game really aren’t very big. They do involve a lot of back and forth to make up for it.


Level 2 is much the same except with a couple of rooms more, lots more dead ends and a whole heap of extra switches to complicate matters.


And each level after that progresses in much the same way. The difficulty ramps up but the gameplay elements are all introduced early on. I’ll give particular mention to the room above on level 5 which was especially evil. The basic goal is to get to the wire on the red wall and back out to the bottom left. Each button at the edge of the grid will lower most of the spikes on that row one at a time with just enough of a gap to walk across before they raise again. It will also start the same sequence off on another row so it is possible to swap between the two if you are quick. Miss the gap and you are stuck and have to restart the room.

Completing the room involves going through everything in the right order, setting two buttons off at once at a couple of points, along with having all the coloured switches in the right position at the right times. It took numerous efforts to complete but the save point at the start of the room stops it becoming too frustrating.


Level 6 proves to be a bit simpler than the previous one if anything. There are plenty of switches but once I realise that most of them do the same thing, I’ve soon fixed the last machine and the plant springs into life.

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After all these efforts, the plant erupts out of the ground creating a giant metallic skyscraper. Despite the size of this thing all it does is print and stamp letters.

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Those letters turn out to be the end credits before a final epilogue in which Zack gets his revenge.

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Contraption Zack proved to be a short, simple game that I finished in one sitting. It certainly wasn’t anything brilliant but I enjoyed it enough. The bright graphics offer plenty of character and the puzzle gameplay hasn’t dated at all. What has dated is the amount of replaying required which you wouldn’t normally see in a game these days. I wouldn’t say it was a game breaker though given the size of the levels. Provided you like logic puzzles, Contraption Zack offers a pleasant if unspectacular way to spend an afternoon. The MT32 soundtrack wasn’t the best so I’d be tempted to try the Amiga version if I was to play it again in hopes that it was an improvement.

The Legacy – Part 3

At the end of part 2, I’d managed to explore all the upper levels of the house and was starting to have a proper look around the basement levels. This was slightly hindered by a dark god called Alberoth who used his satanic powers to block all three entryways to basement #2 simultaneously.

I decided that my main goal to start out today would be more searching around the basements for anything useful. This soon landed me a Japanese sword which proved a whole lot more effective than a baseball bat.

I also returned to the crypt level. There was a puzzle where I had to kill every skeleton (bearing in mind that they spring back to life if I walk on a dead one) before I could open a particular door and get to the second half of the map. From here on out I opted for the cowards option of dodging my way round further skeletons. My efforts were rewarded with a golden torc which appeared to protect me from the attacks of the master of the void later in the game.


After this, progress ground to a halt again as I didn’t appear to have anywhere I could go. Eventually I figured out that a load of the locked doors around the map can be opened with a particular unlocking spell. I had tried this earlier but what I hadn’t realised was that even when casting the spell successfully the door still wouldn’t open 9 times out of ten which seems a little unfair. This means loads of saving and loading for a magically challenged character like the guy I’m playing here but huge swathes of the map were now open to me.

First stop is the games best weapon, an even bigger Japanese sword up on level 4. This can be powered up by returning the ashes of the samurai along with the shorter sword and placing them all together.


While I’m here I decide to go for the full samurai look and get hold of the best armour in the game. With this and the sword, I don’t have to run and hide from the monsters from here on out.


I head to the Egyptian level next and am able to explore much of the level by unlocking more doors with my key of the shadow lord spell. There are lots of illusory items down here that vanish when I try to pick them up and not so many real ones. I do find a flute that only plays F# which might not be the best instrument to get a tune out of but will come in useful later.


Once I’ve stepped on four pressure plates spread around the tomb, the middle of the level opens up and I can insert coins into slots to access a central area. There is a snag here in that I’m supposed to have 5 coins and I only have four and I never did manage to find that last one. Luckily for me this part of the game appears to be unnecessary.


In the corner of the tomb is a small observatory. Using the astrolabe I found somewhere in the basement, I’m able to calculate that the stars have moved out of alignment so Alberoth won’t be able to skulk around the stairways any more. This doesn’t work without the astrolabe so in this case knowledge really is power it would seem.


This opens up the lowest levels of the house where the inhabitants get ever stranger. All those inmates of the asylum have been turned into tentacle faced servitors who prowl these levels chucking fireballs at any intruders. In the middle is one of the dark triumvirate themselves who much to my surprise I managed to see off with my samurai blade. It won’t stop them popping up again later elsewhere though.


The southern exit of this room leads to a slimy cave section populated with the sea daemons I read about earlier. I think they are actually aliens although it’s never made entirely clear. Either way they prod tridents at me and generally get in the way while I’m trying to have a look around. Discretion is the better part of valour at this stage as even wearing all my Sunday best adventuring outfit they hurt.


I discover an exit from the caves seemingly leading to death on the rocks below but stepping through actually takes me to what will turn out to be the final level in the game. This area is full of moving teleportation cubes which I have to avoid if I don’t want to get bounced all the way out of the level. There are also a load of firespawn floating about that block my path when trying to avoid said cubes. I don’t have the fire extinguisher at this point so it’s just as well that the samurai blade can make short work of them. While exploring this level I run into a forcefield which I’m told outright I can’t walk through without the eye of Agla. I know from the clue earlier that I need a meteorite fragment for that which I’m still looking for.


There is nowhere else to look except the caves level and right in the furthest and most difficult to reach corner is a room with a strange container made of crystal. Playing the flute smashes this and provided I time it right so that I don’t get shocked by the pillars on either side I can then pick up the meteorite within.


A clue from back in part 2 comes in handy here. I head for the room of the skulls in a higher basement level where I eventually work out that I need to use a hand mirror to bounce the beam of light onto a mark on the wall. This raises a pillar out of the ground. I pop the meteorite in, get the eye of Agla out and it’s time to head for the final boss battle.

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The final battle is a strange affair. Belthagor is hanging out behind a fake wall in a green void of some description. The moment I step in there he starts hurling spells at me and my swipes with a sword prove entirely ineffective. He is immune to anything except magical damage. Not ideal when I’ve been playing a warrior character. Luckily I have a load of experience left and the final encounter then becomes a trial and error affair of deciding exactly where to spend it.

What I learn at this latest possible stage of the game is that if I’d upped my willpower ever so slightly, all the spells would cost vastly less mana to cost, not to mention being more effective and the game would have been considerably easier. With my experience spent on this and my flames of desolation spell, Belthagor is something of a pushover and succumbs within seconds.



The final cutscene kicks in, my character dives out of a window and the house is sucked into a vortex in the sky and wiped off the face of the Earth. I then sell the land for redevelopment, presumably not mentioning the sea daemons in the caves below as I make enough money out of it to take off on a world cruise.


The Legacy is a game that I’d always remembered fondly but I was half expecting to be disappointed returning to it again all these years later. If anything it turned out to be better than I remembered, if a little different. For one thing, it isn’t a conventional RPG in the sense that I understand one. Stats are definitely important but combat is largely avoidable, and the player usually at a disadvantage whatever they do. The Legacy is far more about the puzzles. I wouldn’t say any of these are particularly outstanding but they are all solid enough and most importantly fair. Every part of each level needs searching thoroughly to beat this game but there are enough clues for the careful player to win without outside help.

Where The Legacy really succeeds is the atmosphere which is extremely dark, dreary and generally creepy. There is a distinct lack of plot which if anything serves to leave the player further off balance. I never was entirely sure just what exactly was going on in the twisted world of Winthrop House. Imagination is ultimately always more scary than anything visualised and this was especially true with the graphics available in 1993.

The downside of that meagre plot is that I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished all that much now I’ve beaten the game. It’s a happy ending as such but somehow anticlimactic and downbeat. When you exit back to DOS, you are asked to hold onto the winner.inf file which must have been hinting at a sequel. Sadly that never happened and Magnetic Scrolls were no more after this. It wasn’t a bad way to bow out of the business but they should have been around for years more.

The Legacy deserves to be remembered for more than killing off Magnetic Scrolls. I can’t think of any other game I’ve played that was quite like it which might have been the problem as it doesn’t fit any particular niche. It’s a cocktail of adventure game, dungeon crawler and survival horror with a splash of Lovecraft. This may not be to everyone’s taste but personally I’d regard it as something of a hidden gem. I wish more first person RPG’s in this era would have been willing to try something different outside of the usual fantasy clichés.

The Legacy gets a wholehearted vote of approval from me then. For the next post, I’ll attempt to dig out any articles I can find from the time and see what the UK press thought about it.

The Legacy – Part 1

The Legacy (aka The Legacy – Realm of Terror) is a highly unusual RPG developed by Magnetic Scrolls and published by Mindscape in 1993. Magnetic Scrolls were known for text adventure games and were regarded by many as the British Infocom throughout the 80’s. The Legacy was therefore something of a departure for them and despite a largely positive reaction from the press, it didn’t get the success it possibly deserved and would be their last creation.

This is a game I bought and played on first release but returning to it 20 years down the line, I can’t say I remember a whole lot of the detail. I do recall it being quite tricky and it was quite possible to get into unwinnable states but I’ll do my best to get through to the end once again.

The copy I have now isn’t my original as I sold/traded that one a long time back. I rectified that mistake eventually and bought another one. This is a game that comes in a particularly large and good looking box even if mine could do with gluing back together on one side.

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I’m sure the contents here aren’t complete but I do have 7 floppies, a technical leaflet and the manual itself which goes into all sorts of detail considering how intuitive the game is to play. The manual contains a brief section allegedly written by Edgar Allen Poe about a particularly scary house he was unfortunate enough to visit. It’s hinted to be the same house as in the game but the influences once you start playing are much more Lovecraftian the way I remember it.


The game has an impressive intro for the time in which some hapless idiot draws up to the extremely sinister looking house, and only manages to make it up the steps before something emerges out of the floor dragging him to his doom.

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It’s at this point that the game hung on me and I had to spend a while figuring out that it will always crash after the intro with SoundBlaster/Roland combo selected for audio. Either on their own worked fine but didn’t sound anything like as good. The readme file came to my rescue – basically select Soundblaster for sound and then start the game with “legacy -roland” and it works fine during the game. The snag here is that the intro and presumably outro if I make it that far still only have SoundBlaster music. I’ll worry about the ending if I make it that far.

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The story of The Legacy is a nice simple one allowing anyone to jump straight in without reading the manual. You the player have inherited a house and at the start of the game arrive to take a look around. Before starting the game, you have a choice of 8 characters to play all with their own stats which will affect how you play the game. If you don’t like those stats, you can redesign the character as you please. Something I recall from playing this years ago is that all of these characters are stored in text files so if you want to make the game much easier you can simply edit the text file to beef them up. Tempting as that is, I stuck to playing it properly and chose the ex-military Robert Kowalski.

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And with that it’s straight into the mansion. The setting is very different but the game is effectively a dungeon crawler in the style of Dungeon Master and Eye Of The Beholder. The interface is interesting in that it’s all point and click with context sensitive menus. All of the windows are resizable meaning that if you want to play full screen you can. You won’t be able to see your automap without clicking on it to bring it to the front but it’s entirely possible. This may seem unremarkable now but this was cutting edge stuff for a DOS game back in 93. The system was previously used in Magnetic Scrolls earlier game Wonderland back in 1990.

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Using this sort of interface is second nature these days at any rate. The first task at hand is to get my bearings and the game wastes no time in setting the scene as the note immediately in front of me says that the house is possessed by an evil entity. Apparently there are strange goings on every 20 years and I happen to have arrived at just the wrong time. It’s too late to get out now as the door is being held shut by a magical force that laughs at me every time I step on that square.

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I’ve no choice but to explore and it doesn’t take long before I come across my first zombie. All the creatures in the game are pre-rendered in 3D studio but move around quite smoothly despite this. The animation puts the likes of Doom to shame but there were only four possible camera angles here. There are loads of these zombies on this level and they tend to chase me around as soon as they spot me but won’t come through doors provided I don’t hold them open. It’s something of a theme throughout this game that whenever you run into a new monster, you aren’t equipped to deal with it so there is a lot of running away even with the character I’ve chosen to play. I do find a poker fairly quickly which becomes my weapon of choice for these early sections.

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Further exploration reveals a spiky green floating thingy that doesn’t actually attack me but does terrify the player enough that they are rooted to the spot until it’s gone out of sight. This sort of fear reaction is used throughout the game and the willpower stat can be raised to overcome it.

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Near enough the whole house is open to explore right from the start of The Legacy. This is not a game that holds your hand through each section one by one and it’s entirely up to the player to decide what to do next which does make starting out tricky. I venture down into the cellar when I come across a set of steps but don’t last more than a couple of seconds so decide to carry on exploring upstairs instead. legship_036

Most of the locations in the game are rendered as corridors. They aren’t entirely bare with sofas, chairs and the like but are largely generic on each floor. There are however, some specific locations such as the room above which have a pre-rendered screen and the player can search within that for things to do in the same manner as a point and click adventure game. I.e. here I can open the curtain to discover a hanging corpse, or more usefully open up the dumb waiter to find a severed head which I can carry around with me. I assume it will be useful at any rate.

The inventory space is extremely limited in this game. I have found a suitcase at this point which I can use to store about a dozen items but I’ve ended up using the entrance hall as a stash room to store all those things that I expect will come in handy much later in the game.

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I decide to venture up to the second floor and have much the same experience I did in the basement only with a ghost this time around. All the fuses have now blown because of the storm so the house is quite dark and makes life trickier still. I do find a fusebox on the ground floor but it needs repairing and I haven’t found the appropriate equipment yet.

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I eventually locate my first spell which is used for avoiding getting hit by enemies. The game’s magic system works by equipping a spell book in one hand and then selecting the spell and power level from a window of icons which pops up. Each spell has its own skill level which you can spend experience points on if you wish to improve your chances of casting successfully. The stat system in this game is quite complex with a lot of options on where to spend your experience. I’m tending to concentrate on combat skills and hope this won’t come back to hurt me late in the game.

The experience system is unusual in that it appears to be about exploring rather than combat and I’m unconvinced I gain any experience at all from combat. The Legacy definitely doesn’t have the usual RPG mechanics in this sense. There are no levels either and experience is just gained gradually and can be spent at any time.

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I’ve run out of places to explore on the ground floor so decide to do my best a floor up and run away from anything dangerous. There are some imp-like creatures who throw spells at me but I do find out I can destroy these with holy water which I have a small supply of. I spot another human but she just walks back and forth across some trapped areas and ignores me if I try to talk to her so I leave her well alone.

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I do come across my first NPC shortly after in the form of a friendly ghost who tells me how he is chained to the house by a particular painting which I must find and destroy.

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That painting is practically around the corner. I drag my matches onto it and can now explore the level without being hassled by ghosts any more.


This leads me to a fusebox which I switch to get the lights back on for this floor. This doesn’t really appear to help in any way except the screenshots look much clearer.

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Level 2 looks to be the guest quarters with loads of bedrooms and bathrooms all of which are more or less identical. Opening the toilets is not recommended as a blue worm will attack on suspicion.

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I learned early on in this game that triangular symbols meant safety and I’ve been desperately looking for one so that I can rest up and regain health ever since. When I do finally find one, I’m not tired enough to rest so it was wasted effort. The only way I’ve got to regain health is the first aid kits I’ve run across which don’t last long and are in short supply. I’m definitely going to have to be more careful about not getting hurt from here on out. Presumably if I run out of first aid kits it will be game over as this game doesn’t strike me as being exactly forgiving in that sense.


I figure a baseball bat ought to help me out in fending off monsters than a poker so I grab this for my weapon of choice at this point. There are firearms in the game also but I can’t honestly say that I found them all that effective and ammo is in extremely short supply so I’m tending to stick to melee weapons. There isn’t anything to say it’s a +2 weapon or the like so I simply have to try it out and see how it goes.

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Before I call it a day, I get to meet some of the family using a VHS I found earlier in the TV room. Not surprisingly since they owned this place this isn’t your run of the mill family video. The man is just saying how Ellen has escaped and how he doesn’t know what to do when she turns up and gives him the axe.

I can’t say I’m a whole lot wiser as to exactly what is going on in this house at the end of this first session but it definitely isn’t good. The Legacy is everything I remembered it to be though and is holding up extremely well. The graphics have barely aged as far as I’m concerned. I’ll admit the monsters are a little clunky when moving around and they do tend to face the wrong way at times (not that it dampens their ability to hit you any). It doesn’t do anything to reduce the air of dread that is hanging over me while playing these early sections. The constant threat of a quick death certainly adds to the tension as does the atmospheric music and sound throughout.

We’ll see if I can’t shift the balance a little more in my favour next time anyway and speed up progress a little. Either way, the floors on this house are unrealistically enormous so I expect there will be a good number of posts before I make it to the end.