Agent USA is a 1980s edutainment title designed to teach United States geography to elementary school children. But it's also an action-packed race against the clock to save the nation from a Zombie Apocalypse! A scientist named Elma Sniddle tried to create a high-tech TV by hooking up her television set with some strange crystals she found in her backyard, but instead she created the FUZZBOMB! This sentient, malevolent entity travels the countryside, and anybody who comes in contact with it turns into a Fuzzbody, a mindless walking ball of TV fuzz. Fuzzbodies also travel the nation, turning anyone they touch into fuzz as well. As the eponymous agent, who looks like a white cowboy hat with blue feet, you are the only one that can stop this menace and destroy the FuzzBomb once and for all!
The game takes place inside the train stations of around 100 cities across the United States. Each city has a local train that connects it to around ten of the surrounding cities. In addition, each state capital has an info booth where you can track the fuzz menace as it spreads and also check the current location of the FuzzBomb (as it moves around on occasion). Finally, several major US cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. have high speed bullet trains that only connect with each other, allowing you to quickly traverse the nation without having to pass through places like Scranton or Duluth every time you need to get somewhere.
That's the educational part. The real fun, however, comes from the gameplay. You start with 10 crystals. If you lay one on the ground, they begin to multiply, allowing you to eventually store up to 100 crystals. Normally the citizens of each town, represented by black top hats with feet, wander around each station, getting on trains and stealing your crystals if you're not careful. However, the closer you get to the FuzzBomb, the more Fuzzbodies you encounter, who will chase you down. Laying a crystal in front of a Fuzzbody will turn it back into a normal citizen, but any normal citizen that touches a Fuzzbody will become one as well. Each hit from a Fuzzbody will make you lose half your crystals, and if you have no crystals, well, you get fuzzed as well and no longer can control yourself! When you finally reach the city where the FuzzBomb is found, you must touch it with 100 crystals to blow it up and eradicate the fuzz menace forever! This is made difficult by the numerous Fuzzbodies surrounding it, as each Fuzzbody homes in on you trying to steal your crystals, and if you touch the FuzzBomb with fewer than 100 crystals, you get fuzzed!
For being an edutainment title, Agent USA was a pretty fun action/arcade game that required quick reflexes and timing to navigate through the Fuzzbodies and grow the crystals needed to win. It was released for the Atari 8-Bit Computers and Apple ][, and then ported to the Commodore 64 and IBM Personal Computer as well.
It also had an awesome theme song.
Agent USA provides examples of:
- Alphabet Soup Cans: Mostly averted, as the way travel works makes sense in the game, as well as only big cities having bullet trains. Finding info booths only in state capitals is a bit contrived, though...
- Body Horror: Turning into a walking block of TV static seems like an awful way to go.
- Controllable Helplessness: Averted. When you're helplessly turned into a fuzzbody, you have NO control over your character at all, and wander around aimlessly. This can last until the game is over or until you touch a crystal some kind citizen drops in an attempt to fight off the fuzz on their own.
- Edutainment Game: A surprisingly fun one.
- Eiffel Tower Effect: Most cities have a generic "city" look to the skyline, sometimes with water for coastal cities or mountains for cities in the mountains, like Denver. However, the skyline in New York City clearly shows the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building and, in fact, is a pretty good representation of the famous Manhattan skyline.
- La Résistance: Normally, townspeople just walk around randomly and steal your crystals. However, if any Fuzzbodies enter the city, the normal citizens start dropping whatever crystals they have (each can hold up to 10) to try to fight off the menace. Of course, since citizens tend to walk right into Fuzzbodies while trying to drop crystals on them it doesn't work for long, but it's still nice to know that it's not all up to you, even though, in the end, it is.
- In-Universe Game Clock: The game has a night and day cycle that was quite advanced for its time. Time moved at the speed of real life, but sped up considerably (as in, an hour per second) while riding a train from one location to another. For every two hours in the game, there's a different color for the sky, buildings, and the windows in the buildings may be lit up or not, providing 12 distinct times of day. Also, the trains run on a schedule, with a new train coming every 15, 30, or 45 seconds.
- Mechanical Monster: The FuzzBomb!
- Non-Standard Game Over: If you get fuzzed, then you lose control of your character, who goes wandering randomly. This effectively ends the game; however, if you run into a crystal you get turned back into yourself and regain control. This may happen right after you get fuzzed if you laid enough crystals on the ground nearby, or you may get lucky and run into one dropped by a citizen. You can just leave the game running while your guy is randomly wandering around for a long time, and suddenly have him run into a crystal in a city far across the country from where you got fuzzed, and suddenly be back in the game again. Of course, if you wait too long then the entire country gets fuzzed and you get a standard Game Over screen, but this can take literally hours of real-time.
- Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: This is one of the functions of an info center: a projection of the spread of the Fuzz plague.
- Timed Mission: Technically if you take too long the entire country will eventually be fuzzed. However, this takes so long that most players will never see it happen unless they intentionally hop from city to city as much as possible to speed up the clock.
- Train Escape: A good way to get away from a fuzzed city if you don't have enough crystals or there are too many Fuzzbodies. However, a train will kick you off if you get on without a ticket unless you board during the last second, so time your escape carefully...
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: What starts as a relaxed, easy, "figure out what city to go to" game suddenly becomes a frenzied action/reflex game whenever you enter a town that has been fuzzed.
- Zombie Apocalypse: This game is basically a G-rated version. With trains!