Added to the lair: 1/11/19
Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure / 1st person
Developer: Boffo Games
Platform: Windows 95
Wikipedia: The Space Bar
The Space Bar
Just another day on Armpit VI
The Space Bar is a highly creative, very entertaining adventure game from the mind of Steve Meretzky, who brought us classic Infocom titles like Planetfall and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s by no means perfect - I’d go as far as to say that it has some very fundamental design flaws - but, on balance, it’s still certainly worthy of your time.
You play as Alias Node, a human detective on the appropriately named planet Armpit VI. The journey begins when you witness a fellow police officer murdered - it’s up to you to track down and apprehend the killer, but unfortunately he’s slipped into a shady dive bar known as The Thirsty Tentacle. It doesn’t help matters that you don’t even know what he looks like. It does help, however, that you have a special gift called “Empathy Telepathy” that allows you to enter the memories of people you touch… I’m sure you can see where this is going.
The Space Bar has a wide array of interesting, funny, and well written characters for you to interact with; which is fortunate because the majority of the play time involves interacting with them and their memories. They all look great too thanks to some fantastic designs by no less than Ron Cobb - the designer of the diverse denizens of the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars. Sure, age hasn’t been too kind to the game on a technical level, but they look the part just the same. You can really tell that a great deal of passion and creativity was poured into this project; not all of it works, but a lot of it does.
Unfortunately, there are a few things that really don’t work in its favor. The first of which is some really questionable puzzle logic. This sort of thing is somewhat common in adventure games to begin with, but The Space Bar has some serious “...what?” moments in its puzzle design. The second, and much more significant issue, is that the game has a time limit. I can’t overstate how detrimental this is to the game. The puzzles are difficult enough on their own (oh, and you can die by the way… and you will), but to then double down by placing a time limit on top is almost unforgivable. It works in direct opposition to the things that the game does well - giving you an interesting place to explore and characters to interact with. As much as you might want to explore everywhere, see everything, talk to everyone… and it’s to the game’s credit that it makes you want to do this... the ever-present-specter of a time limit works against that completely. I have no idea why they decided to implement it, but I really, really wish they hadn’t. Maybe someday someone will find a way to hack it so that it can be removed. Until then, be sure to save often and be prepared to look up a walkthrough.
Despite this highly unfortunate design flaw, there's still enough charm and creativity on display that it's a worthwhile journey, if a frustrating one.