This article was written as part of the Make a Wish Week Amigathon. Donations are now being accepted to help fulfil the dying wishes of terminally ill children.
One way to ensure you win the race to secure a movie to game tie-in license is to pick one that’s so irredeemably tawdry you’re the only contender in the running. That’s precisely what Gremlin Ireland did when they went fishing for Ed Wood’s hammy 1959 ‘epic on a shoestring budget’ sci-fi train wreck, Plan 9 From Outer Space. It would represent their first and only film license game.
Yes, the same movie that 21 years later was a major contributing factor in Ed winning the Golden Turkey anti-accolade of Worst Director. The movie itself topped the poll in the reader’s choice category for Worst Film of All Time, catapulting it back into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. It’s now a venerated cult classic synonymous with the ‘so bad it’s good’ genre; a movie everyone should see at least once in a lifetime, preferably when verwy vewry dwunk. Something which despite its vintage is extremely easy to accomplish thanks to it being made freely and legally available at archive.org. You’ll have to provide your own booze, they can’t help with that.
With the green light illuminated, Gremlin forged ahead to develop an Amiga, DOS and Atari ST game that is only tenuously linked to the original movie presided over by one-eyed cinematographer, William C. Thompson. Development commenced in April 1991 and it was released to an unsuspecting public in May 1992, the Amiga’s 4 disk title requiring a minimum of 1mb of system RAM to run. Primarily, the question that springs to mind is, why? It really is a bizarre foundation upon which to build an interactive pixelated experience.
The homonymous game turned out to be a first-person point and click adventure revolving around a quest to track down six film reels stolen by Bela Lugosi’s disgruntled understudy that comprise Ed’s “little jewel” of a movie. Bought for $200 you assume the role of a private detective working at the behest of a sleazy ‘Noo Yoik’ movie director; a conspicuous Tor Johnson lookalike (the real deal plays the police inspector in the movie… extremely ineptly), thereby introducing a running gag concerning the recycling of in-game characters, much like Ed did with the actors in his celluloid ‘masterpieces’. Alongside ‘man of few words’ (for good reason!), Tor, Maila ‘Vampira’ Nurmi plays all the female roles. Though unlike in the movie she actually speaks, textually at least – she hated the dialogue so vehemently Maila only agreed to play her role on the proviso that she was mute. Ed conceded and still paid her $200 for her contribution.
“…this one is very different: it’s all done with graphics, there’s no parser as such and it’s all done from first-person perspective, rather than controlling the character. We’ve also looked at a lot of the more recent animated adventures, including the King’s Quest series (which I played all the way through) and they’re all great games, but we’ve tried to make ours as different as possible.”
Ian Hadley, Plan 9’s lead designer
In rooting out the reels you explore seventy locations spanning the globe, travelling in yellow New York cabs for local journeys (make sure you’ve packed enough ‘Washington Dollars’), and visiting the EWJ Airport (an acronym for Edward Wood Junior I’d guess) to make international excursions (where you’ll need an ample wad of other ‘funny money’ like pesos). Seeking clues to relevant destination addresses represents a core component of your duties. You can’t visit the key locations until you know where to direct the various sprite-swapping, armless (how are they steering?) cabbies. By telekinesis, much like the pilot in the movie I suppose!
As is customary for adventure games of this ilk you hunt objects, manipulate them and interact with the local inhabitants via a traditional verb menu. In the process you’ll be treated to sight-seeing trips in Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, Washington (where we visit the White House and meet George H. W. Bush who makes a joke about not being fond of new taxes/taxis, alluding to his famous 1988 election pledge), Havana, Sydney, and London, enjoying the most picturesque cinemas, jails, graveyards, malls, diners, building sites, and beaches (starring naked, exposed boobies!!!) each has to offer. There’s even a ‘Lycanthropository’ in which to browse. I thought only my home town had one of those!
We understand the vain motivations of Bela’s double from reading the back of the game box. Still, it’s a mystery as to why retrieving the worst movie in the history of ever is so critical. Seeing as the game is set over three decades after its release, it’s not as though the true horror of the pulp fiction piece de resistance had yet to be fully realised. Perhaps there’ll be a shocking twisty climax that pulls a Clarissa and Explains It All. Nah, that’s just crazy conspiracy talk. This isn’t the X-Files.
Ironically, Gremlin themselves do a sterling job of summarising what made it so wretchedly awful in the first place. Opening with a quote from the movie’s introduction as narrated by Wood’s pal, ‘The Amazing Criswell’, they explain via the game’s manual…
“Greetings my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious and the unexplainable. That is why you are here.
And now for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are giving you all the evidence based solely on the testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places… my friends, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty, let us reward the innocent. My friends, can your hearts stand the shocking facts about… grave robbers from outer space?!! (as it happens the movie’s original title before it was tweaked for religious reasons at the insistence of the movie’s Baptist financial backers).”
A beginner’s guide to the worst movie of all time
Is Plan 9 the worst movie of all time? It’s not a tough question to answer. Yes, it is. It really is the most flea-ridden amateurish waste of celluloid and sticky back plastic ever to be foisted onto an unsuspecting and undeserving public. Nobody should have to sit through this film without some advance warning of the absolute futility of the whole shambolic rambling mess that it is. If you think that this is overstating the case somewhat, then you obviously haven’t sat down and watched the film. But be warned. When you die and go to Heaven, and God is asking you to account for your time, and you say ‘Well, I attempted to use my time as profitably as possible’, don’t be at all surprised when He retorts ‘Get real mate, you wasted at least seventy eight minutes watching Plan 9 from Outer Space.’
The film’s creator was one Edward J. Wood Jr, who had previously directed the likes of ‘Glen or Glenda?’, also known as ‘I changed my Sex’ and ‘Transvestite’ in 1953, and ‘Jail Bait’ in 1954. Plan 9 originally appeared way back in 1959, and was doubtless an attempt to cash in on the popularity of science fiction and all things shiny and saucer-shaped in the fifties. It is an unmitigated disaster. The first thing you will notice when watching the film is wood. Wooden sets, wooden gravestones, wooden acting and a wooden script. The emotionless and tired way in which the lines are thrown after each other possibly owes a lot to the profoundly uninspiring and lifeless script, penned by the man himself.
“Perhaps the two main things which draw people to the film are a macabre fascination with the notion that the film was a genuine attempt to make money, and the fascination with being able to experience over and over one man’s profoundly inept attempts to make a half-decent movie. Edward Wood called it his little jewel, but it’s practically impossible to see why. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a film maker’s nightmare – crumbling gravestones, night to day to night in the same chase, unbelievable dialogue – the list is endless. But that is enough about the film – you can watch it for yourself (a ‘free’ VHS copy was included in its entirety, deciding against merely a collection of highlights as originally proposed, the combined package costing £34.99 at a time when the average price was £24.99). Before you do, however, we will leave the final word to Harry and Michael Medved who have done more than anyone else in bringing Plan 9 from Outer Space to the undeserved attention of the public.
It is easy to understand this movie’s enduring hold on the imagination of the public; once you have seen Plan 9 you can surely never forget it. Though reviewed by few critics at the time of its release, the film has left an indelible impression on the handful of sci-fi writers and Hollywood historians who have encountered it over the years. “By far one of the worst films ever concocted,” observed Vincent Beck in Heroes of the Horrors. “Plan 9 is so very bad that it exerts a strange fascination,” reports John Brosnan, author of The Horror People. “It appears to have been made in somebody’s garage.”‘*
Enjoy the film. More importantly, enjoy the game. Be careful though – my friend, is your heart ready…?
*The Golden Turkey Awards, Harry and Michael Medved”
“Gremlin took on a lot there – I was expecting a duffer, as when I watched the film I couldn’t stand it for more than 20 minutes at a time. The game is far superior to its celluloid counterpart and challenges the top of the adventure game league, usurping even the Sierra classics. The controls are easy to use and simple to get to grips with. This, combined with great graphics, makes a superb game. The only problem I found was the usual bane of modern adventure games: it can run slowly, but this can be rectified if you use a hard disk or a second floppy drive.”
92% – Amiga Action (May 1992)
As delightfully shoddy as the movie is, it’s not such terrible game-fodder at all. Video games aren’t generally known for their awe-inspiring plots so that of Plan 9 wouldn’t seem out of place in the least, and the actual subject matter – B movie alien invasion/zombie shenanigans – is perfect. Veritably the movie’s plot was never the issue, only the infant school play quality execution.
Which is why it’s a shame the license wasn’t exploited to full effect rather than simply attempting to piggyback on its namesake’s notoriety. It’s debatable how much cache that carried in any case – would the target audience really have been familiar with a ropey black and white movie made in 1959 with a paltry $60,000 budget? Even in today’s internet enlightened times, I’d wager that many people have never heard of it.
And on that note, what is the movie all about anyway? What is it the game forgot to clue us in on?, I suppose expecting the enclosed VHS tape to take care of that task for them. Quite a novel copyright protection mechanism as it happens, although text entry using the manual as a reference was also obliged.
Opening with a funeral, we witness the burial of a lady (played by Maila Nurmi) known only as ‘Vampire Girl’ in the credits, whose husband (the otherwise nameless ‘Ghoul Man’ played by Bela Lugosi) follows in her ill-fated footsteps shortly after, having been so distraught by her passing that he blithely walks into the path of an oncoming car. We might have been able to suspend our disbelief too if we couldn’t still see his shadow in the shot post-impact!
“Criswell: (narrating)… The grief from his wife’s death became greater and greater agony. The home they had so long shared became a tomb, a sweet memory of her joyous living. The sky to which he had once looked was now only a covering for her dead body. The ever-beautiful flowers she had planted with her own hands became nothing more than the lost roses of her cheeks. Confused by his great loss, the old man left that home… never to return again!
(brakes screech and the old man screams)”
Bela and Nurmi are both resurrected to walk the earth from beyond the grave, we learn as a result of the intervention of humanoid aliens who are visiting earth in flying saucers from the ‘outer space’ of the title. For Plan 9 entails reanimating corpses of the recently deceased via stimulation of the pituitary or pineal gland, turning them into pliable slaves with a view to scaring us humans into abandoning production of a Doomsday weapon, thereby ending our short-sighted arms race.
Remember what a monster the first iPhone was? You couldn’t even install Snapchat on it!
“Colonel Tom Edwards: Why is it so important that you want to contact the governments of our earth?
Eros: Because of death. Because all you of Earth are idiots.
Jeff Trent: Now you just hold on, Buster.
Eros: No, you hold on. First was your firecracker, a harmless explosive. Then your hand grenade: you began to kill your own people, a few at a time. Then the bomb. Then a larger bomb: many people are killed at one time. Then your scientists stumbled upon the atom bomb, split the atom. Then the hydrogen bomb, where you actually explode the air itself. Now you can arrange the total destruction of the entire universe served by our sun: The only explosion left is the Solaranite.”
If we don’t kowtow to their demands, Commander Eros and fellow alien Tanna intend to whip up into a frenzy an army of these zombies (known as ‘ghouls’ in the movie) in order to subjugate the populace, thereby saving the universe. Given what a mess we’ve made of nurturing our bedraggled planet, perhaps it wasn’t such a crazy scheme after all.
“The Ruler: Eros. The Earth people are getting closer to that which we fear. Since they will not listen or respect our existence, they cannot help but believe our powers when they see their own dead walking around again, brought about by our advancement in such things. As soon as you have enough of the dead recruits, march them on the capitals of the Earth; let nothing stand in your way. Their own dead will be used to make them accept our existence and believe in that fact.”
The remainder of the movie depicts our response to the invaders, the sightings, government conspiracies and cover-ups, and efforts to combat the attack. Hilariously stilted dialogue, sub-amateur dramatics, two-bob Blue Peter calibre special effects and flimsy sets ensue. Would you believe, for instance, that the string-dangled – and at one point cremated – flying saucers were actually constructed from a model kit produced in 1956 by toy manufacturer, Paul Lindberg? Despite looking like spray-painted paper plates or hubcaps that is. Note that the in-game pub is called ‘The Hub Cap’. What a crazy coincidence!
In one scene filmed in the aircraft’s cockpit, the first officer can be seen reading from a script perched on his lap. Elsewhere the shadow of a boom mic can be identified, the cast knock over cardboard gravestones, cars switch models between takes, night becomes day and vice versa within the same scene, and various common or garden furniture and plumbing equipment is used (and re-used) in highly specialised, professional or supposedly space-age environments standing out like a sore thumb.
To be fair, the first two bloopers were cut from the theatrical release by Ed’s prior choice of 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, though nevertheless still found their way into the video distribution on account of it engaging a more vertically revealing ‘open matte’ 4:3 frame.
Nonetheless, for me, the most embarrassing of the ‘special’ effects has to be the moment where Ghoul Man absorbs a police officer instantly and in his entirety simply by tweaking the collar of his cape while he has his back to the audience to obfuscate any camera trickery. Luckily there’s a surefire way to stop a reanimated zombie in its tracks so the tricky sleight of hand only had to mastered once; destroy the mothership pulling its strings and it instantly decomposes to skeletal remains.
Whilst acknowledging that Plan 9 was made in the ’50s and they were ‘different times’, its sexist leanings don’t go unnoticed. Towards the finale when Tanna is ranting at the “Stupid! Stupid!” humans with their “stupid minds!” (actually, Eros’ words – classic line so what the heck) regarding their propensity for decimating the planet, Eros decides she’s getting too lippy for her own station, shunting her aside with the conceited dismissal, “On our planet women are for advancing the race, not for fighting men’s battles”. You’d surely be lynched today if you tried to sneak that one by the censors! If it was passed at all they’d insist the deliverer of the message be depicted as a reprehensible creature with no redeeming qualities, and sooner rather than later, succumb to an entirely warranted, unpalatable comeuppance.
Somehow the production still managed to attract a cast that included some respectable Hollywood glamour. Bela Lugosi, Maila Nurmi and Lyle Talbot, for example. Miraculously Bela put in a posthumous appearance in spite of having not filmed a single scene for the production in question.
Lugosi – ‘The King of Horror’ – suffered from sciatic neuritis, a condition for which he had been taking regular painkilling medication. Eventually, he became addicted to morphine and methadone and the deleterious effects this had on his health drastically reduced the merits of the work he was offered.
Shortly before his fatal heart attack in 1956, only two days into the filming of Plan 9, Bela had been shooting silent footage for ‘Tomb of the Vampire’, one of Ed’s unfinished projects (and wittingly referenced in-game by way of an examinable object: “a promotional photo for a vampire movie”). Determined to commemorate his legacy as well as preserve his star billing, Ed spliced the irrelevant scenes into Plan 9 and employed a surrogate double to fill in the gaps, even though the two actors bore no resemblance to one another, and were even a foot apart in terms of stature. This explains why there’s a vampire in Plan 9 (well two in fact), and Tom Mason (Bela’s stand-in and the chiropractor of Ed’s wife) is forever unconvincingly furling a cape around his chin, though the movie’s premise calls for nothing of the sort.
As ridiculous as this is, it did provide Gremlin with a nugget of inspiration when assembling the accompanying game. Upon acquiring one of the six film reels, you return to the ‘Cheapfliks’ cutting room to splice it together with the other found footage, although you’re explicitly forbidden from doing so by your shady case assigner who may just have something to hide. As you go about your off-duty editing experiments, certain brief key scenes digitised from the movie can be watched on the monitor, somewhat ameliorating the lack of synergy between the two mediums. Alternatively, it’s an option to view the same sequences by handing the recovered reels to the projectionists situated in the various cinemas or viewing booths found en route. Lasso all the film cans in order and the labels spell out, ‘Property of Wun Lo H.K. Song’, the significance being, being, well… here, take this rubber rain check.
According to the developers themselves, it’s possible the choice of movie on which to base the game all stems back to the desire to crowbar video footage into the production at a time when such technology was still in its infancy. The rationale was that if the source material was so appallingly low rent to begin with, the quality of the resulting translation to a more technically limited medium wouldn’t be so critical. Shrunken, grainy and stuttering, it would all enhance the B movie aesthetic Gremlin were striving for. I say Gremlin, but it was actually a tiny, fledgeling, Dublin-based studio led by MD Ian Hadley – formerly of Cinemaware – known as ‘Pixel Productions’ who were commissioned to do the heavy lifting on Gremlin’s behalf right after they became a subsidiary of the Sheffield based developer/publisher in March 1991. Ian designed and scripted Plan 9, while John McLaughlin and Thomas Rolfs took charge of the coding, Nicola Sedgwick was responsible for its animation and Phil Plunkett the artwork. Thomas, Phil and Ian simultaneously collaborated in developing another intriguing Gremlin title I’ve covered in great depth elsewhere; Litil Divil. Cutting short the development cycle, the two titles cunningly share the same animation system.
But digress I do, hmm. Plan 9. Unfortunately, the entire game is played out via a tiny window within a window rather than just the editing room section. It’s HUD-creep at its worst! Some of the screen real-estate is occupied by the verb menu (appropriately mounted on a gravestone, though originally an open book as seen in previews), and some by the designated dialogue and (limited capacity) inventory area where the notepad used to record clues would have been during the early design phases, with the remainder of the space given over to a largely vacant backdrop featuring silhouettes of gravediggers and flying saucers, nicely done as it is. It’s not as though it’s a particularly demanding game in terms of system resources either; the majority of the scenes are 99% static, flecked with minor flourishes of animation, so why the concessions were deemed necessary is a mystery. Another one is when and where does the ‘hit’ option come into play? I’ve never found a use for it.
It’s not all bad, however. If the movie is familiar territory for you there’s plenty of obscure insider jokes and allusions to unravel, and breaking the fourth wall in such a silly-by-design game is a very welcome touch of absurdity, practically mandatory really. To that effect, examining some items elicits the responses…
“We don’t know what this is either but it was in the movie.”
“We wondered what this was too. Maybe it will turn up later someplace else.”
“We had to include at least one hub-cap. It may also be a paper plate.”
“You can’t help but like Plan 9. It’s good harmless fun with a large dash of the ridiculous and enough intrigue to keep your average gamer going.”
80% – Atari ST User (November 1992)
Many adventure games include red herrings to throw you off the scent and hike the challenge. Plan 9 takes this a step further by steering you into the path of an actual slippery fish of the Clupea type genus as you approach a Crocodile Dundee wannabe. Treading perilously close to the edge of a bridge over the sea, you topple in, coming face to face with a fish wearing the face of Tor Johnson, naturally, before drowning to death unless you can don the scuba gear in record time.
As previously explained, Finnish-American actress and TV personality, Maila Nurmi aka Vampira (think Elvira before she existed), and Swedish professional wrestler and actor, Tor Johnson, are everywhere you turn. Clicking on arrows surrounding an icon featuring Tor’s head was even intended to form part of the navigation system in early builds. Recycling the Hollywood luvies acceded graphicians Nicola Sedgwick and Phil Plunkett the opportunity to take shortcuts when drawing character sprites, though the gimmick also serves as a running, esoteric inside joke. One that is alluded to in-game in yet another wink to the audience…
“This guy must have an awful lot of relations, and boy is that a dodgy looking mustache.”
“The licence has been dealt with in a fresh and exciting way, and the humour embraces both the unintentional guffaws of the film and plenty of mickey-taking at the film’s expense. It’s just a pity that the game doesn’t stand up very well as an actual adventure game. A sound idea, but fundamentally flawed I’m afraid.”
75% – Amiga Computing (October 1992)
Other one-liners hint at actors’ prior roles, again presupposing the audience has a sound awareness of movie pop culture. For one case, in particular, it certainly helps if you are cognisant of the fact that our favourite Hungarian-American actor played Count Dracula in the 1931 movie based on the Bram Stoker novel. Quite a tall order for a child or teenager growing up in the ’90s!
Upon inspecting Bela Lugosi’s (bald?) corpse resting in a coffin in the graveyard crypt we’re informed, “He looks remarkably fresh. A little piqued and pale but fresh. He even looks a little hungry, but definitely not for stake!”. As he’s been entombed with his house key you’ll need to add ‘grave robber’ to your CV to gain access to his not so humble abode.
Incidentally, the opportunity to also dig up James Dean’s grave was there to be embraced in early preview copies, should we have been that way inclined. For the final cut, however, his grave was replaced with a cross marked ‘J. Harris’, the J standing for Jonathan, a theatre, TV and B movie actor who wasn’t even dead at the time… he was with us until 2002 when he passed away due to a blood clot to the heart three days before his 88th birthday. A bit of trivia there for the obituary fans.
“The only thing which (the license holder) requested we change was a reference to James Dean. We introduced Mr. Dean because of his alleged liaison with Vampira, but as a licence to use his name is one of the most jealously guarded that there is, we decided that it would be better not to push the point”. – Ian Hadley
Another of many references to vampirism is found in the option to visit ‘Vlad the Impaler Street’, one of Dracula’s many pseudonyms, and in-game not in the least randomly also the location of Bela’s house.
“The graphics are detailed and have the odd spot of interest-adding animation making it a good-looking jaunt. The disappointing part is the adventure element – with obscure puzzles and fairly linear progression, it soon turns into a battle with the programmer’s imagination in one puzzle after another. If you miss something, it’s likely to turn into frustration city. It’s a game that either grips you as you battle determinedly on to the next scene, or that makes you feel like wrenching the disks from the drive and stamping on them – be warned.”
62% – ST Format (November 1992)
Walking into a bar where – surprise, surprise – Tor Johnson is working as a barman we meet “a strange female type” who is revealed to in reality be a man in a dress. Peculiar you might ponder to include such a specific detail unless it’s directly relevant to the plot. Yet it makes perfect sense if you are aware that Ed Wood’s mother dressed him in girl’s clothing as a child and he went on to become a transvestite. Nailing his colours to the mast, so to speak, in 1953 Ed directed ‘Glen or Glenda’, a semi-autobiographical fictional documentary that focuses on the first successful sex-change operation. It stars the director and screenwriter himself as well as Bela Lugosi.
“There’s a debate about whether to leave in the scene which includes a conversation with a transvestite, but we’ll see how it plays, my preference is to leave it in, because this is not a product for children. It might offend some loony right-wing fringe groups, but they’re there to be offended, so it makes little difference.”
Plan 9 producer and designer, Ian Hadley
Blending old with new (well, new back then) a number of not so subtle adverts for other Gremlin titles were shoehorned into Play 9. Gamers would more likely have picked up on those references, and cracked a grin at the cheek…
“It’s a promotional item from some computer game called Lotus Turbo Challenge II.”
“This is a picture of some game called Harlequin. It is very esoteric.”
“If you’re walking down the road one day, and you happen to see Plan 9 lying fatally wounded in the street, do yourself a favour – cross to the other side.”
36% – Amiga Power (October 1992)
Unexpected, jarring scene shifts – they always work well in the movies, let’s give that a whirl. So, cue the winding down music and call me an Acme hack cab. I’ll be out in a jiffy.
We offer a netsuke (a miniature Japanese sculpture) to a Samurai-like ‘movie mogul’ in Hong Kong, who, to show his gratitude for returning the stolen artifact gifts us a “sacred ancient Buddhist talisman”. The next thing we know our hero is being taken hostage by a flipout of ninjim atop the Great Wall of China and bundled off to be presented to a brethren of Buddhist Llama monks. We hand them the prize and it’s revealed to be no less than “the sacred talisman of the fifteen toed Bhudda of the upper Yangtze”. Apparently this is a good thing – we’ve passed some test or other and thus can proceed to the “seventh state of nirvana”.
This appears to be where the aliens are hiding out; our next stop then. There we meet the saucer monkeys themselves who seem to be under the illusion that we’ve discovered and returned their secret battle plans, stolen by a rival extraterrestrial camouflaged as a scurrilous movie producer and hidden in the Plan 9 movie reels. I wonder who that could possibly be? Anyway, it emerges that we’ve surreptitiously foiled his plans to elbow the universe into everlasting oblivion and should feel jolly chuffed with ourselves. The end.
If we’d belonged to the dutiful, by-the-book breed of private eyes, we might have been more inclined to return the reconstructed movie to the slimy, crooked director who hired us to claim the balancing remainder of our fee. We’d have got to the see the alternative ending… and also been shafted, callously kicked into the gutter to forage for sustenance with the low-life bums, before spending the rest of eternity under a headstone and a RIP platitude. Just goes to show where honesty gets you!
So from bearing almost no relation to the original movie, the game concludes bearing absolutely no relation to the original movie. Even the aliens look nothing like Joanna Lee or Dudley Manlove (yes, that was his real name, and he plays Greek God of Love, Eros). The reason for this may be because Gremlin didn’t have a watertight license to produce a game based on the movie, as artist Phil Plunkett reveals in an interview with the Built to Play podcast… or did they? I don’t know, it’s not really clear.
“It’s a shame in a way, but all games like this are bound to be compared to the likes of Monkey Island, which set an extremely high standard that is difficult to match. Unfortunately, Plan 9 doesn’t even come close. The authors have obviously noted the film’s reputation, and attempted to produce a game which makes up for all of its shortcomings. Unfortunately, the game manages to retain all the dull, cardboard atmosphere and tarnished qualities of the original. Maybe it should just go and join its friends down in Matthew’s Norfolk farms…”
45% – Amiga Format (October 1992)
Gremlin could have slipped down the route of deliberately creating the worst game of all time, so as to perfectly compliment the worst movie of all time. It would have been almost poetic if they had. Luckily for us, they didn’t. Plan 9 is (selectively) well illustrated, has a wry sense of humour, the music is an accurate and atmospheric rendition of the movie’s score, and it all hangs together fairly well. That is aside from the instant deaths (try entering the bat cave without carrying Bela’s protective photo), and the odd badly planned dead-end that forces us to reset and try again, hopefully restoring from a recent save point (running out of money if you don’t find the credit card for instance, or alienating a character to such an extent that they become totally unresponsive thereby posing an impasse). Oh, and having to drop inventory items to juggle its limited capacity, only to discover that an “ugly little creature” has sloped off into the gloom with them. Good luck remembering where it’s stashed them should they be required later. Wasn’t this the upbeat counterbalance bit? What happened, Ian?
“You could just play this game to spot the continuity errors if you liked. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to get things as wrong as possible.”
Well, we may as well run with it now we’re on a roll. Where Plan 9 truly flounders is the plot development – it’s just so dull, lifeless and irrelevant, hence the puzzles are vapidly ‘by the numbers’. Anyone unfamiliar with the source material backstory would be forgiven for thinking they were playing a travel simulator (and the inclusion of a travel agent’s office certainly doesn’t do anything to dispel that notion!), when something camp, cheesy and far-fetched would have garnered a far more enthusiastic reception from aficionados of the adventure – as well as the sci-fi B movie – genre.
Nevertheless, let’s be grateful for small mercies – Gremlin spent far longer working on their interpretation of Plan 9 than the sorrowful two weeks Ed dedicated to writing the screenplay for his. On a similar note, as far as I’m aware no-one at Gremlin fell victim to depression, turned to alcoholism to drown out their miserable, poverty-stricken existence, directed hardcore porn movies under the anagram pseudonym ‘Akdov Telmig’ (gimlet vodka), or shuffled off their mortal coil by virtue of a terminal heart attack while drinking in bed. Sadly the same can’t be said for Ed who departed this cruel, critical world in 1978, never having attained the recognition he so clearly craved until he was no longer around to ‘appreciate’ it.
I’ll leave you with the parting words of everyone’s best pal, pseudo-psychic Criswell. Sleep tight!
“My friend, you have seen this incident based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn’t happen? Perhaps on your way home someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, for they will be from outer space. Many scientists believe that another world is watching us at this moment. We once laughed at the horseless carriage, the aeroplane, the telephone, the electric light, vitamins, radio, and even television. And now some of us laugh at outer space. God help us in the future.”