Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender

Posted by David Tanguay.
First posted on 15 March 2009. Last updated on 11 August 2009.
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Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
What is a women's night out in a world with no men?
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
An ichyosaurus eyes Rex, literally!
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Rex is safe for now in his spaceship, crashed under water.
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Commands are built using an intuitive interface (and the inventory, too).

Rex Nebular makes a living acquiring and moving sought-after merchandise, regardless of the current legal determination of its ownership—in other words, a thief and a smuggler. For this mission, he has been commissioned to find a vase that resides on a lost planet inhabited only by women.

Rex is your typical space rogue: egocentric, a negotiable morality, but competent at what he does. He is a slightly meaner, nastier version of what Han Solo is supposed to be before being "domesticated" by Leia and Luke in Star Wars. Simply put, Rex does not see much of a distinction between women and inflatable dolls.

Strangely, though, this character trait does not make much difference in the game. For Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender, the designers may just be aiming to make a humorous adult game at about the same porno-meter level of Leisure Suit Larry (about ".4 Hefners"), but they seem unable to maintain interest even in that angle. After the initial setup and the opening locale, the male chauvinist pig aspect of Rex's character is seldom seen and is of no significance to the plot. Instead, the game plays as a regular, lighthearted science fiction adventure, mildly humorous but not zany.

In other words, most of the actual gameplay is quite serious, with believable, regular problems that are solved in realistic ways. The craziness of the puzzles of the earlier segments is quickly left behind. This is good because of the excellent interface. In the typical "think w-a-a-a-y out of the box" humorous adventure, the interface usually does not matter since you cannot think rationally, so a complex interface just means more trial and error. Since the designers have played it straight with the game world in this game, the flexible interface lets you think about and solve problems in a logical way.

The interface is visible entirely on screen during play. There is a box of 10 common verbs, and another box of scrollable inventory, listed as text but with a small animated image of the currently selected item. Inventory items can have their own special verbs. You then construct commands by selecting verbs, inventory items, and scenery objects, much like the classic adventure games from Legend and LucasArts of yesteryears.

Most of the puzzles are the simple "use inventory on object" type. Although they are not always presented as machines, most of the objects, critters, and characters behave in a mechanistic way. There is only a little conversation. The most interesting puzzles are those that require an awareness of the 3D space that connects the various scenes. You have to know the physical layout of the rooms (or areas) in relation to each other. Despite the 2D side view, these spatial relationships are made clear enough that you can solve the puzzles.

Death is possible, but the game automatically backs you up to just before your fatal mistake. There is only a single instance where there is no alternative to dying, where you do not even know there is a lethal puzzle until you innocently walk in the wrong direction. It is a fun death, though, so I will forgive it.

The presentation is polished. Using only 256 color VGA, the scenes are well designed and clearly presented. You will never get stuck wondering where those few smudgy pixels are. The artwork ably conveys the contents and atmosphere of each scene, which is quite a feat given the graphic limitations of its time.

Given the game is released only in Floppy Disk version, there is no speech, and text lines are printed instead. There are environmental sounds, clicks and whirs and such, and a MIDI score (for you young 'uns, that is instrumental music synthesized from a written score).

The game contains brief scenes of nudity, but this can be toggled on or off by selecting either "Naughty" or "Nice" mode during install.

You are limited to 99 saved games, though I am not sure how you ever need to fill them all. You can give each slot a 30 or so character description.

As a classic adventure game title, Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender displays a high level of craftsmanship, in both design and implementation. The graphics, the interface, the story, and the puzzles are all very well done. The creative aspects of the story and the humor, however, are somewhat lacking. It is a fun game to play if you are playing for the puzzles. However, the story that drives it, while sufficient to the purpose, lacks any inspiration and is readily forgettable by the end.

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