Developer: Graphix Zone
Publisher: Compton's New Media
Completed: 01 May 2016
April 21, 2016 is a date that I'll never forget. It's the day that my musical hero, Prince Rogers Nelson, was found dead in his Paisley Park Studios complex. Those who know me on a personal level know I have what could reasonably be described as an obsession with Prince's music. Since I was five years old, this man provided the soundtrack to my life. I wrote an extensive piece on my personal blog about how much his music meant to me so I won't belabor the point here, but to say it hit me hard is an understatement.
For the past week and a half, my obsession has only gotten stronger as I've been celebrating Prince's legacy with friends and family. I shared over six gigs of unreleased material with my cousin. I've inundated my Facebook friends with Prince posts and interesting stories from former associates as they're interviewed in the media. I've been downloading every new scrap of music that is making the rounds in the wake of his passing. I've watched hours upon hours of footage - bootleg concerts, his officially released films, music videos, tributes from other legendary artists such as David Gilmour, Mavis Staples, and Bruce Springsteen, and attended a 35mm screening of Purple Rain with 1,500 other fans and mourners.
As a result, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit Prince's foray into video gaming - the little-known Interactive CD-ROM game. I still have the copy I bought at a local wrecka stow in 1995, and after some coaxing and tweaking, I managed to get it working in DOSbox with Windows 3.11 installed.
To call Interactive a "game" is something of a stretch. It's little more than a very basic Myst clone with simple point-and-click puzzles, and a lot of fan service. After your ship crash lands, you enter a strange structure - basically a highly fictionalized version of Prince's own Paisley Park - and must seek out six pieces of his symbol. So I guess you're an alien, and somehow these pieces fix your ship? I don't know.
The real meat of the game is all the pictures, sound bytes, and video clips interspersed throughout, including videos for the title track and "Endorphinmachine" as a reward for finding all six pieces. It's all presented in glorious 640x480 256 color VGA graphics and grainy Quicktime videos! Hey, what did you expect for a 1994 CD-ROM game?
It's hard to judge Interactive as a game. There's no real way to lose. If you get stuck on a puzzle, you can just come back later, but none of them are really hard enough to stump you for long. It's really more a diversion for fans than anything, and as a fan who's heard and seen everything Prince has released (and plenty he hasn't), there's nothing new here. That said, it's still a fun little trip. The studio room is especially enjoyable thanks to the multitude of different audio clips that showcase Prince's skills on various instruments. You can flip through books of songs and clicking the appropriate instrument will play a sample, so you can listen to the face-melting guitar solo from "3 Chains O' Gold" or the gorgeous multi-tracked harmonies of "For You". There's even some funny samples used throughout the game, such as "that's not how it works" from the song "Temptation" when you click on certain objects that don't do anything.
The adventure is split up into several areas - a foyer, a main hallway that breaks off into a library, virtual video rooms, a dance club, a boudoir, and a launchpad for your ship. The areas are rather small, and there's surprisingly little to interact with, but I remember them being impressively designed for their time. They capture a lot of the funky Prince vibe, mixed with the surrealism of Myst very well.
The audio quality is actually very decent. There's some crackling, but it doesn't have that tinny compression that a lot of older CD-ROM games suffer from. There are also several short loops of ambient music not written by Prince that fit the tone very well and are pleasant to listen to.
The live action footage, on the other hand, is hilariously terrible. Several times through your adventure you'll encounter a curly-haired woman who says Princely things like "welcome 2 the dawn," but with fewer acting chops than any of Prince's love interests in his actual films. There's also a doorway where two women come alive and beg you to touch them. I've gotta get me one of those.
As a point-and-click game, there's little to say about the controls, although I suppose it is occasionally confusing when you try to turn and you don't end up facing what you expected. Like most games of this nature, sometimes you have to be in a very specific place in order to reach the screen you really want.
Throughout his career, Prince pushed the envelope. He is widely known as the first musician who fought for artist's rights to own their own work. His NPG Music Club was one of, if not THE first digital-era fanclub where fans could buy music direct from the artist. It may borrow a lot from one of the most popular games of all-time, but Interactive is another example of Prince thinking ahead of his time - envisioning a world where fans could tour his studio from the comfort of their computer chairs. These days, there's nothing in the game you couldn't do on a website with Flash and Java, and how involved he was in the project remains unknown, but it's still an interesting piece of Prince history. It won't appeal to everyone, but fans will likely enjoy it in all of its cheesy glory.
Prince Interactive was completed on a PC running Windows 3.11 via DOSbox with no cheats.