I played a lot of point-and-click adventure games when I was younger. In large part, it’s probably because I was growing up during the days when the genre was quite popular, with prolific publishers like Sierra On-Line and LucasArts releasing title after title. Amidst all this, I borrowed a lesser known title from a friend: Inherit the Earth: Quest for the Orb.
Inherit the Earth featured anthropomorphic animal characters and an interface that bears a resemblance to the SCUMM system. Having watched Disney’s Robin Hood and played Day of the Tentacle, I was well prepared for both elements. Inherit the Earth contains a lot of the flaws that plagued its genre, from having to hunt all over the environment for the interaction point or object you missed, to puzzles that can be solved by clicking all of your inventory on the right thing until something works. It compounded these with an over-fondness for mazes. Some of the mazes were explored in the game’s normal isometric view, which at least allowed you to keep tabs on your surroundings a bit and build a mental picture of the layout. More of the mazes consisted of wandering down featureless corridors one screen at a time. One particularly egregious example comes near the end of the game, in which you have to explore an entire complex of corridors looking for a single room—the only room in the entire maze—to retrieve a single item.
Despite the game’s flaws, I still enjoy it quite a bit, because in an adventure game a good story can cover a multitude of flaws. In particular, the game makes excellent use of the world’s backstory. The opening slides establish that the Morphs, the game’s turn for the animal people which populate it, were created by an advanced human civilization that mysteriously disappeared. In the first portions of the game you encounter legends and speculation about humanity, along with a few artifacts left behind, from Tycho Northpaw’s “lightcatcher” (telescope) to the Ferrets’ Orb of Hands. Later on, you start exploring ruins left behind by the humans, such as an airport and a hydroelectric dam, and the mystery deepens. Why did the humans leave in such a hurry that they didn’t even shut down their equipment? If there was some kind of sudden disaster, why can’t you find any bodies or traces of the people themselves? Why weren’t the Morphs killed too?
The presence of human artifacts that are poorly understood at best by the characters creates an odd bit of metagaming for the player. Any player can probably recognize immediately that Northpaw’s “lightcatcher” is a telescope, and discovering the exact name of the device is necessary to solve a puzzle. You need a replacement lens, and the only way to figure out how to make one is to get instructions from the Orb of Hands, basically a computer that operates on a voice input and contains information on the composition and construction of anything, provided you can supply it with the correct terms. Since there’s no text prompt, the player can’t simply bypass the process of identifying the telescope by overriding Rif’s vocal cords. On the other hand, puzzle solving in the late game is inevitably influenced by the player’s knowledge. Rif doesn’t know what a key card or a battery is, much less how to use them, but the player does and so knows that those items need to be retrieved and exactly how to make use of them. It doesn’t necessarily make the game any easier than other adventure games, but it heightens that weird disconnect in the genre where the main character is randomly picking up objects that they don’t even know they need yet.
Inherit the Earth was originally intended to be the first entry in a trilogy, and the game ends on a note that is clearly supposed to set up the next installment. Due to a variety of factors, more games were never made. The developers later continued the story a bit in a webcomic format, and they are currently trying to conduct a Kickstarter to make a sequel. Hopefully they see some success, because I’d like to see where this story goes.