A dizzyingly good time
I’ll be honest: I kind of freaked out a little when I saw that Spud’s Quest was a straight-up homage to Codemasters’ iconic adventure game The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy. There was probably no other video game I played more when I was a kid, and it took my parents and I a solid three years to finally complete the fearless egg’s adventure (back when there were no such things as save points or online walkthroughs). I saw the resemblance in Spud’s Quest the second I booted up the game, but after actually playing it, I found that our little potato’s big quest to help a prince-turned-frog is so much more than a simple homage to an adventure gaming great: it’s a fantastically retro adventure that rightfully stands on its own as an essential crash course in inventory-based adventure gaming.
Players familiar with the wildly fantastic worlds of Dizzy the egg (and in particular, The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy) will find that the majority of Spud’s Quest plays out like a giant fine-tuned homage to one of gaming’s greatest and oft-forgotten adventure heroes of old. Blatant echoes of Dizzy can be found at nearly every turn in the game: from the starting environments like the treehouse village and the rocky mines; to the familiar items you’ll find and their overall uses; and even right down to the layout of the land itself, with the lake leading into the town to the left of the starting village. For compulsive Dizzy enthusiasts like myself, it provides a trip down nostalgia lane like very few other games I’ve ever played.
But what’s great about Spud’s Quest is that for every reference the game gives to its Dizzy inspiration, it does three other things that are refreshingly new and unique to the adventure itself, and some of which I even wish we had seen way back in our prime Dizzy days. On a more basic level, you’ve got your much-needed save points, Zelda-like health upgrades, and a flurry of achievements and optional collectables to find. On the deeper end of the spectrum, you have engaging new environments like broken windmills and parked stagecoaches, and a slew of more complex features that accent the overall adventuring gameplay in a really wonderful way. Spud’s Quest represents what The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy could have been like had the creators kept the series going well into the 2010s, and added in some timely new features.
One of the most important new additions here in Spud’s Quest is the advent of elemental dungeons or underground temples, which take a page right out of The Legend of Zelda‘s book. Each dungeon is entirely self-contained (everything you’ll need to complete it can be found within the same dungeon itself) and presents a serious challenge in adventure gaming. They function both as a breath of fresh air from the more intricate overworld of item-based puzzles, and a honed-in challenge room of sorts where all the bells and whistles are stripped away, and it’s just you and your base adventure game instincts. It’s an absolutely perfect inclusion here, and Dizzy fan or not, any lover of adventure games will surely marvel at their construct.
In order to complete most of these temples, you’ll constantly need to switch control between Spud and his frog prince companion, who can jump higher and hop through narrower openings in the walls to step on door release pads on the other side so that Spud can walk on through: another cool feature that would have been great to see in an actual Dizzy game. You’ll even gain new physical abilities that will help you reach previously inaccessible areas, a la a Metroidvania game, such as pushing or pulling large stone blocks to clear pathways or create bridges. It’s certainly another nice touch, and one that adds a further layer of complexity beyond just simply needing to find items in order to continue.
One of the biggest challenges of the old Dizzy games was that Dizzy could only ever carry up to three different inventory items on him at once, and given the sheer amount of things you could pick up along your adventure, this resulted in a lot of strategic placement of items around the game world and hoping you remembered where exactly you left them when the time comes to finally use them. The same goes for Spud’s Quest, but luckily, you’ll have a generous four inventory slots to make use of, even though the basic concept of a limited inventory might seem a bit too archaic for the game’s wider audience. There is also a much larger sense of combat here in Spud’s Quest than any of the Dizzy games, with your blue potato character being able to chuck tiny red balls (maybe they’re potatoes?) at smaller enemies like snakes and bats.
Now one thing you need to remember here about this review is that I know The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy like the back of my egg-white hand: but those of you who aren’t that well-versed in the prospects of Dizzy adventure games might find the initial learning curve in Spud’s Quest to be a bit staggering. For one thing, a lot of the puzzles are downright difficult to figure out, and the inherent adventure game logic for some of them is a little questionable at best. And while the game’s presentation and soundtrack both provide the perfect balance between retro and newness, the humorous dialogue of the actual story gets lessened a bit by the way you have to read it in giant pixelated letters that take up the entirety of the screen and turned my eyes into scrambled eggs within a few short minutes.
But one of the biggest sources of confusion in the game rests with its controls, whose corresponding inputs on your keyboard are never once explained. I knew I was in trouble as soon as the game told me to “Press Fire” to begin, and subsequent prompts to press the “action” button still left me at a loss for what said “action button” was in the real world. I actually had to find my way into the options menu and reconfigure all of the controls, just so I knew what buttons I was actually supposed to be pressing.
But minor missteps aside, Spud’s Quest still functions perfectly well as an open love letter to The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy, as well as just a downright fun adventure game for anyone who’s a fan of the genre. There’s honestly nothing like the rewarding feeling of figuring out how to use an item or make it past that seemingly impassable door on your own, and in that regard, Spud’s Quest achieves its intended effect quite stunningly. It not only reintroduces gamers to the retro adventures of old, but it also seamlessly blends in some more familiar gaming tropes of the 2010s, and as Dizzy himself, the result is nothing short of fantastic.