Connections

Review by Enigma

All right, I'll confess it again. I'm an education junkie. After playing Genesys I thought I'd revisit a more conventional edutainment adventure game that follows the same basic theme, one released in 1996 by the Discovery Channel. The game is based on James Burke's original TV series Connections, and it uses abundant video taken directly from the series. It's a fairly traditional puzzle game that focuses on various technological inventions, and as adventure games go, it's on the easy side. While some of the "connections" between inventions seem a bit tenuous, it's full of humor and may even pique your interest in science history.

Although it's a bit dated now, the game holds up pretty well. Yes, the Quicktime video loads slowly and sometimes displays white spaces while it loads. Movement follows a slideshow style grid. It isn't as gorgeous as games with up-to-date graphics such as Timelapse, Myst III: Exile or Beyond Atlantis. Still, Connections presents some interesting, well-done screens and some fun, deliberately mixed-up history.

You begin in James Burke's modern study and move into history from there. In each of the four playing areas you'll find modern characters right alongside folks from the Middle Ages or ancient Egypt. As you're making your way through the Sphinx during the last chapter of the game, for example, you might be surprised to meet a modern mom in a weird kitchen who wants you to help her bake a pie (or is it a "pi?"). British lawn bowlers from Elizabethan times eat lunch in a fifties-style diner. A modern appliance repairman sets up shop next door to a medieval apothecary.

The Story

Connections manages to find a slim storyline that ties everything together, and that is: someone is trying to tear everything apart. It seems that the force of chaos, personified by a jeering mad scientist character whom you'll meet from time to time, is trying to dismantle "the web" of science and inventions that hold history together. James Burke himself explains all of this to you as he pops up in unexpected places throughout the game.

It's up to you, of course, to make the connections that link everything back together again. Each time you and James Burke think you've managed it, another level of chaos appears, until you and James finally face the villain and vanquish him. Pretty simple, but it works to explain why you're playing.

Gameplay

You play Connections as a standard solve-the-puzzle, get-the-inventory-item, straightforward adventure. Some puzzles stand alone, and some are, well, connected to others. A few of its fairly conventional puzzles might even stump you for a while. You'll find a few logic games, such as the card game with a gambler in an Old West saloon that features a modern pay phone and the matchstick game with an archeologist outside the Sphinx. You'll do a math puzzle involving fractions as you measure the flour for "Mom."

Yes, you'll find a maze and a slider puzzle in the Old West chapter. Actually these are on the easy side, but if you hate them you'll also find "magic buttons" that solve them for you in the "hints" section. Remember the infamous "furniture moving" puzzle in The 11th Hour? Connections has something similar, but there's a magic button for that one too, and I confess that I used it. In fact, the game features a complete walkthrough that's always accessible, unless you decide to avoid temptation and turn it off when you begin the game.

Many of the puzzles are of the simple "find the inventory item and put it somewhere" type. You need to fire a cannon at one point in the game, but you can't aim it properly until you've found another item in a bank. A really interesting puzzle involves reading cemetery headstones, and figuring out who's related to whom leads to that discovery. You'll find a few "turn on the power" puzzles. There's a safecracking puzzle with the clue to the combination within arm's reach. In fact, you'll find fairly obvious clues scattered about for most of the puzzles. When you try to place an item on the screen and you haven't yet completed a necessary action, a disembodied voice will taunt you, "Not yet," or "unh uh." Often you'll get a "significant item," such as a pencil, that will materialize in one of the links in a chain at the bottom of your screen. Fill up the chain, finish one more puzzle, and you'll move to the next chapter.

Lights, Camera, Action

Despite the loading problems, the Quicktime videos blend into the game very well. You'll meet lots of folks who'll talk to you, including Galileo. Most of these are fairly well acted, although a few manage to be a bit embarrassing. James Burke himself dominates the game, and he, of course, is a wonderful narrator. You never know when you'll find him. He might be in a desk drawer or hiding in a suit of armor, or a tapestry, or even a tomb.

One of the major features of the game is the tie-in to the Connections TV series. As you find each significant item and place in its link on your chain, you can click on it to see a clip from the TV series. Some of these are fairly extensive, and they're all well produced. In a few you'll find clues for puzzles, but it isn't necessary to watch these videos at all. I enjoyed them and usually waited until I had all the items in each chapter before I watched them. They do tend to make the "connections" clearer.

If you're not as interested in technological advancements as James Burke, you can still enjoy the game's tongue-in-cheek humor. A spoof of a training video for your new "Acme Drawbridge Opener" gives you a vital clue and is fun to watch as well. A bank clerk plays her part deliberately over the top, and a policeman is a bit on the dim side. You'll also find plenty of visual humor scattered about, such as the newspaper pictured in the right column here. James Burke provides plenty of his trademark wry comments as you go along, making the game entertaining even if you don't care about the education it offers.

Bugs

Other than the slow-loading Quicktime videos I had no difficulty at all with the game, despite its age and despite the fact that I was playing it on a newer iMac.

The Verdict

Connections won't go down as a classic adventure game, but it sure is cute and fun to play. I think it's worth a couple of evenings' play. If you're an experienced adventure gamer that's about as long as it will take. If you like James Burke, history, or science, you'll probably enjoy it. If you just like puzzles, you'll find most of these easy, but a few might challenge you a bit.

And don't forget, only you can rescue the web from the forces of chaos! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Discovery Channel Multimedia
Publisher: Discovery Channel Multimedia
Release Date: 1996

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PC:
Windows 3.1 or Windows 95
486/33 or higher processor
8 MB of RAM
2X CD-ROM drive
Hard drive
Windows-compatible sound card
Mouse
VGA display (256 colors)
MSCDEX version 2.2 or later

Macintosh:
Macintosh Performa, Centris, Quadra, or Power Mac series
68040 processor or better
System 7.0 or later
2X CD-ROM drive
8 MB of RAM
640x480 display color monitor with at least 256 colors

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