Throwback Thursday Review: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Thirty years ago, Infocom released their text adventure game based loosely on the Douglas Adams radio drama and book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
(nerdbrag: my iPhone just suggested the word Hitchhiker’s from the first six letters, including the possessive and capitalization). The game is one of my earliest gaming memories. Not my very earliest. That would be this:


Total oldbie nerd points to anyone who knows what game this is without clicking.

Total oldbie nerd points to anyone who knows what game this is without clicking.


Yeah. I’m old.

But not old enough to have actually purchased Hitchhiker’s Guide 30 years ago. I would guess it was closer to 25 years ago and that my father did the purchasing. Thanks, Dad. That game certainly has much responsibility for me being who I am today as a gamer and game designer.

I seem to recall we had the game on a 3.25″ disk, or as I believed them to be called at the time, a “hard disk” (because they weren’t floppy, and the other kind were). I definitely remember that the game came with some “feelies” included, which consisted of pocket fluff, a microscopic space fleet (which also appeared repeatedly in the game), and some peril-resistant sunglasses. And no tea, which is also (not?) in your character inventory throughout the game.

The game itself is legendary for its difficulty. Internet stories abound of people who died their first time through failing to exit the first room you wake up in. I’m not sure I failed that hard the first time, if only because I didn’t pay attention to the number of things I ought to have been doing and instead went exploring. Plus, I knew the book fairly well.

I certainly died a significant number of times before successfully leaving the planet, which is a relatively early accomplishment in the game. Once that had been accomplished, it was a simple matter of trying to solve one of the most notoriously difficult puzzles in the history of computer games, which elementary school me struggled with for the better part of a year, along with notes on various attempts to whittle down the possible outcomes. What made the puzzle especially maddening was that failing it didn’t end the game, only made it unwinnable. As did failing to pick up a few arbitrary objects throughout the process of the game.

This is a text adventure where you’ll struggle to make tea for hours on end, and ultimately fail. I honestly can’t recall much past the Babel Fish puzzle, because I’m not sure I ever defeated it. Which means I should check out the reboot the BBC has posted online for free.

Instinctively, one might compare this very British experience to tea rather than beer, but the game is very clear that there is no tea. Instead, I will remain in the British Isles for our meaninglessly esoteric comparison, and offer that with the game’s extremely challenging first impression, but ultimate reward, (as well as the fact that it’s old) it is the Lagavulin Single-Malt Whisky of computer games. You’ll likely have been introduced to it by your father figure, and one simply must taste it, but many will not enjoy it. At least at first.

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