Companions of Xanth (1993)

Companions of Xanth (1993), designed by Michael Lindner, based on the book "Demons don't Dream" by Piers Anthony, developed and published by Legend Entertainment

Hate is a strong word, but I think I'll use it on this case, softening it by saying like as well. I don't want to use the word love, mind you, as that would be overselling my feelings toward the Companions of Xanth. Hate and like, that's the ticket I think.

If you are like me, you don't know a thing about the fantasy world of Xanth created by Piers Anthony. It is a series of books that has stemmed to about 40 novels, but despite that, I've never read any of them. Quick googling did tell me though, that his novels are humorous and pun-filled, just like this game is as well.

The introduction lays out the setting: two demons, E(A/R)TH and X(A/N)TH make a bet about the future of magic in Xanth. Two mundanes, as in regular people, are needed to take part in a competition, which will determine if there's a place for magic on Xanth anymore.

Two demons conspiring about their wager. This would be a nice time to add, that the game is also fully voice acted, and even reasonably well. 

Dug Mundane is at home, sitting in the front of his computer when his phone rings. His friend makes a bet with him, staking Dug's former girlfriend as a bet. The bet is, that Edsel has a game he thinks Dug will end up liking despite he isn't really into games. If Dug likes the game, Edsel is free to pursue Pia's heart himself. If Dug doesn't like it, he gets Ed's motorbike I know, it sounds terrible, and it is that, but in the end, I do recall seeing some TV-series and movies back in the 90's and 80's with similar bets going on, so I guess it wasn't that shocking idea back then.

A short moment later a package arrives at Dug's doorstep. He rips open a package in order to find a game, which he promptly inserts into his computer. Companions of Xanth begins.  The first thing you see is Grundy Golem, who tells you about the game and what's your goal. But as the demon's wager is a secret, not a word about that is ushered to Dug. Your next step is the biggest red herring of the game: you can pick a companion character: Che Centaur, Jenny Elf, Nada Naga or Merci Demoness.

Now, this is a red herring because only one of the characters can actually get you out from the first game room, all the others will just get you killed. So instead of 4 possibilities, you actually have only one, Nada Naga. If you did, for a while, think that Companions of Xanth would be a game with multiple different paths and solutions, you'd be wrong, as the path to the end is the same for everyone, accompanied first by Naga and in the end Jenny Elf. As far puzzles go, this is either pretty cunning or annoying, as you can either by an accident breeze through this without ever realising there was no real choice or just fail three times before you choose a right companion. Then again, the game box with a voluptuous naga on it might be a big hint on whom you should pick.

You can choose, but in the end, there's only one right choice.

Almost every name and thing in Xanth is a pun or a joke. Like if you need butter, pick up buttercups, as they have butter in them. Censorship is an actual ship bellowing out censoring smoke. If you see a sign On Sail placed upon a cart, you can be sure the cart is on a top of an actual sailcloth. In one puzzle I had to make an explosive, which happened by putting flour and fire water in a bowl. The flour was an actual flower, because of a pun. Baking up that concoction gave me a firecracker, which I used to crack a firewall. Once I needed a jar, which I got by picking up a door that was ajar.

There's a fiery dog, called hotdog, which I got rid off by asking my companion to put her hair on a bun, which she then gave to me. Mustard loaded buns have an effect on hot dogs, apparently. I tell you, it still amazes me, that a logjam was just a logjam.

So this is why I hate Companions of Xanth. While I do think some of the puns it does are pretty clever, not all of them puzzle material. Some are very easy, some are harder, depending on how well you understand English or what your cultural background is. Think of the notorious "monkey wrench" puzzle from Monkey Island 2, but multiply it by a hundred. That is what playing Xanth is like.

The headman of the village. He has a big head, because, you know, a head man.

And then there are things that are just way too drawn out. At one point you meet a guardian, who asks you 10 riddles. They are easy, but it still felt like too drawn out the scene. The same with Com-pewter, an evil machine, that asks you questions about the flora and fauna of Xanth. The task is simple, as there's an in-game compendium you can use to solve the task, 10 to be exact. Again, a nice idea, but feels like something going on for too long.

Like I said, I like and hate Companions of Xanth. There's a lot of I don't like about how the puzzles worked or how they were framed. I have issues with the gameplay itself, but still, there's a lot to like about it as well. While not quite the same calibre like Discworld, this pun-filled world of Xanth does feel very interesting and something I'd like to visit again at some point in a book form. And as far adventure games go, Companions of Xanth is a game that might feel much better the next time around, as by then you already know it's eccentricities.

  I don't know when I'll do it, but hopefully, at some point in the future, I'll be talking more about the world of Xanth.

Here's a dilemma: Nada Naga has been chained on a wall. There's corrosive moss on the wall. How do you free her?

Like many other Legend Entertainment games, Companions of Xanth has fallen out from the stores of this mundane existence. As it's not in any digital store, your best bet is eBay or Amazon, if you're looking to score a legit copy.

Yes, it even has a little of FMV