Rex Nebular And The Cosmic Gender Bender
Whenever you say “adventure” and “science fiction” in the same sentence the Space Quest series understandably come to mind. They are without question the most successful and popular Sci-Fi games in the genre. However, there’s an adventure that is nearly as good as any Space Quest called Rex Nebular And The Cosmic Gender Bender, which is easily one of my most favorite titles in any game. With such a mouthful you would expect one hell of a wild ride and that’s exactly the case — this game is equally fun, naughty and exciting. Imagine Rex as a cross between Larry Laffer and Roger Wilco, and you’ll get a pretty accurate idea of what to expect.
Released in 1992 by Microprose, Rex Nebular has achieved cult status in the years that followed. It is the brainchild of Matt Gruson, a designer and producer that briefly but successfully worked with adventures in the early 90’s. His other creations remain very revered to this day in what I like to call the “Microprose Adventure Trilogy”. They are Dragonsphere and Return Of The Phantom. In truth, the latter was criticized for being short and featuring a nasty labyrinth in a sewer system, but I still loved it. At the time I thought that it had one of the best endings ever. Anyway, the story of Rex Nebular revolves around the interstellar adventurer and bungling bachelor of the same name in search of a priceless vase, as requested by the very powerful colonel Stone, which is allegedly lost in a distant planet — that supposedly doesn’t even exist. But Rex is daring enough (and foolish enough) to crash land into this forsaken spot of the universe only to find that a fierce battle of sexes has been fought there for ages. Indeed, Rex’s journeys will take him from a settlement of amazons, through an underground base where he will have to endure a change of sex (hint: that’s the Gender Bender) to the abandoned city of Machopolis. I have a very soft spot for this last sequence in fact since not only it’s a very large section of the game with exciting backdrops, but the design of its puzzles is truly outstanding as well. During the many times I relived Rex Nebular, I found myself playing slowly on purpose through this section because I didn’t want it to end. Hands down, one of the best moments in any adventure. By the way, an interesting trivia fact is that the printed Rex’s journal that came in the box was written by none other than Steve Meretzky of Leather Goddesses Of Phobos fame — this lesser known tidbit of info alone could raise the price of the game in eBay.
Rex Nebular kickstarted the Microprose adventure series to great success and it shows why: the presentation is very elegant with clean menus, lush graphics and surprisingly smooth animations. I remember the whole experience was quite engaging at the time – particularly, the character animations were breathtaking and unlike anything seen at the moment. I can’t tell for sure but I believe they were rotoscoped actors. Another nice touch also was a change in the interface, both in colors and style, depending on your current surroundings. In addition to all the bells and whistles, one game option was especially notable: you had the choice to play in Novice, Advance and Expert modes, and each one of them actually made a difference. We’re not talking about mere puzzles made easier here but entire sequences removed or added. For a change, Novice was really a piece of cake whereas Expert was quite maddening. As if that wasn’t a feature to add enough variety, Rex Nebular is also notable for including alternate solutions to many puzzles and optional paths. Truly a tour de force in adventure game design. My only gripe with the game, at least in the technical department, was the lackluster music and sound effects. It’s not that the tunes themselves were bad – they’re actually quite memorable – but the quality of the sound was poor, even on a Roland MT-32. As you can imagine, this is only a very minor qualm, if not I wouldn’t have typed 666 words about the game (at the very moment I typed the number, I kid you not). This is a marvelous adventure and, if you didn’t have the opportunity to play it almost two decades ago (boy, that makes me feel ancient), I urge you to hunt for a copy and enjoy one of the most entertaining Sci-Fi games ever made.