Reviews: Agent USA

Experimental and highly original

I played this game a lot when I was little, like in first grade or so. I was well aware of the overall goal - travel from city to city to stop the Fuzzbomb, and also aware of how to use the map system found in info booths (in state capitals) to help figure out what way to go in. In fact, this game actually expanded my knowledge of state capitals and major cities. I remember being surprised that Albany, not New York City, was the capital of New York!

So if the intent was to give a slight boost to my education, it succeeded. But I didn't play according to the rules. Mainly, I just enjoyed traveling from city to city and checking out the scenery. It was cool how mountainous cities had mountain backgrounds and cities near the sea had ocean backgrounds, while major cities (such as NYC) had familiar backdrops. As well as how larger cities were physically larger when it came to exploration and seeking out the info booth and ticket center.

But what really blew me away was the day-and-night cycle. It was way ahead of its time, and impressive even by today's standards. There are 12 distinct times of day, and as a little kid, I would sometimes sit around and wait for the clock to hit the hour mark just to see the sky change color, along with the buildings (i.e. from light gray to dark gray, or black if it's late at night) or lights go on or off. The different times of day were captured really well considering the hardware limitations of the time.

Another impressive feature for the time was the character AI. Ordinary townspeople would want to steal the crystals that you grow, but they'd also fight back with crystals if fuzzbodies showed up. Although their movements were simple and random, it still felt kind of "alive" for a game of that era.

So how did I play the game back then? I just took random train rides to wherever. Sometimes I made an effort to get away from the Fuzzbomb, so I'd survive longer. It seemed that the closer I got, the closer I was to eventually being turned into a fuzzbody. It wasn't until I became an adult that I was able to actually beat the game, which turned out to be rather easy.

Agent USA is arguably not a particularly great game, gameplay-wise. But it had some pretty cool ideas that were ahead of their time. It's an example of the bold experimentation you tended to see in that era.