Last Call BBS

released on Jul 04, 2022

Boot up your Z5 Powerlance and dial into Last Call BBS, the last game from Zachtronics! The Barkeep's loaded up his retro computer with a full set of puzzle games for you to download and play. No need to worry about copy protection, they’re all fully cracked and ready to enjoy!

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All of the quintessential Zachtronics games have their shelf life for me. This is generally either through a bit too much repetition, or through the expanding scope growing too much to keep track of everything. But they are all so well-designed that they are fun while they last. This one certainly lasted the longest, and it did so while exuding a ton of heart. The variety of games and the trickle of notes made it a joy to bounce around when one set of mechanics started to bring out that perfectionist itch a bit too much.
It was a genius decision to have the downloads work in the background, as it definitely led me to tinker with games for longer than I normally would have (if at all). Those sections ended up being as well-crafted and enjoyable as any vignettes throughout gaming.
This game also balances humor and emotion as well as any text in games. We see the Mr Chilly detail that 20th century soft-serve was clearly enjoyed at a temperature of absolute zero. We see the computer's original owner vulnerably offering up this hardware as a piece self, recounting the wistful what-ifs that we all experience throughout life, and celebrating the people who shape your life even as the decades pass since you've been in their presence.
This may be a game to play over the years, dipping in and out to complete more puzzles and find more notes. It may even eventually become its own wistful memory as we try to recount to the next generation who we were back before Zachmatics disappeared from the golden ages...

Beautiful and vibrant set of puzzle games, with a theming to die for, and a solution to the problem that plagues the genre: what do you do when you get stuck? Just play one of the other eight games in the BBS, of course!
Unfortunately eventually you finish the games you can finish and you're still stuck, and the two games in this collection that are "classic zachtronics" – meaning, effectively coding puzzles in disguise – are each incredibly tricky. The one action game in the collection also failed to click for me, though it wasn't helped by being played on Steam Deck without an appropriate control scheme.

What an immensely sad game.
Zachtronics have done an outstanding job of capturing the melancholy of witnessing an age turning bygone, doubtlessly mirroring the shuttering of the studio with this final release. Last Call BBS is a world of dial-up, of warez, of cracks and hacks, of archaic hardware, and the inherent mystery that comes with exploring obscure corners of the internet. A descriptive blurb and a title are the only things you'll get to inform you about the games you'll be playing, all curated on a local server by the in-game barkeep. It's the kind of "search, experiment, and figure it out yourself" gameplay that's defined virtually every Zachtronics title up to this point, now extending into the meta act of finding and downloading the games to be played.
Of course, the extra layer of navigating a virtual desktop with limited hard drive space doesn't come at the cost of compromising the quality of these games; to the contrary, these are some incredibly impressive titles. Dungeons & Diagrams is a fun Picross-like, the included Solitaire variants are as entertaining as they always are, HACKMATCH is back and expanded, and you've got your completely incomprehensible puzzle games like X'BPGH: The Forbidden Path and "ChipWizard Professional" to help round things out. The last game I mentioned is jokingly referred to in-universe as being indistinguishable as one of either "a game or a CAD program", and they mean it.
You'll probably have noticed from the big, glowing red dot at the top of this review that I've got this marked as abandoned. I didn't finish Last Call, so I couldn't mark it as completed. I don't think I'll ever finish Last Call, so I can't mark it as shelved. This is a dense game. There's a lot here, and I'm not smart enough to see it all through. Okay, it's not that I'm dumb, it's that I don't have a natural acumen for solving the sorts of puzzles that Last Call presents, and I can't seem to learn the skills required to even begin the process. If there's some means of discovering a definitive end to this, I'm not going to see it.
So, I'm a little reticent to publish a review on this. I'm abandoning a game that I liked, a lot. Games which I've enjoyed have managed to sour massively for me as they went on — see Immortality and Asura's Wrath if you need examples — so who's to say that the same couldn't happen for Last Call? There might be later games or puzzles or twists that completely, utterly, retroactively spoil the whole thing. Now, I doubt that's going to happen, but it could.
Even in that theoretical worst outcome, though, I think I've enjoyed too much of Last Call to imagine my opinion lowering far from where it already is. The real joy is in picking and choosing what parts you want to work through, rather than forcing yourself to tackle every single piece of every last bit of content, squeezing out whatever juice you can get before discarding it and moving to the next thing. I'd dare to call Last Call "anti-completionist", provided I felt like justifying that opinion with another eight paragraphs of argumentation.
In a package that's this brimming with games, it's inevitable that you'll find at least something you enjoy. If you want some beginner-level puzzles, you play Dungeons & Diagrams. If you want to ramp up the difficulty and seriously challenge yourself, you play ChipWizard. If you're sick of all of the puzzles and you don't want to think anymore, you play STEED FORCE Hobby Studio and quietly assemble virtual gunpla kits. If you're one of those twisted bastards that actually thought TIS-100 was fun, you can read up on the included Axiom QuickServe dev guides and create your own JavaScript-based "servers" that other players can dial into and play custom games from.
Zach Barth seems to be leaving games behind in favor of teaching, per what I've seen strewn about the Internet. Apparently he got a taste for instructing high school programming classes, and it's became a passion that he wanted to pursue. There have been some pretty negative reactions to this, which surprised me; even as an outsider to the Zachtronics collection, it isn't hard to see that the act of education and the reciprocal act of learning is the through-line connecting their entire catalog.
Of course, Barth later said that he has "a hard time imagining anything other than games in [his] future", even though the team that made up Zachtronics will be disbanding. After being a part of the field for two decades, I suppose it's hard for anyone to imagine him being anywhere else.
Last Call BBS is a wonderful capstone to mourn and celebrate the way that the Internet used to be. I couldn't think of a better way for Zachtronics to close their doors than with this.

какой-то вообще сюровый экспириенс, типа ты на своем компе как будто запускаешь эмулятор какого-то ретро несуществующего компа с операционкой и несколькими программами и играми. Ты буквально качаешь там эти проги с сайта и тп (внутри игры). Среди игр есть например японские карты ханафуда - интересная интерпритация пасьянса и симулятор сборки пластиковых моделей роботов из гандама, в сборке роботов я хз сколько часов провёл, меня буквально затянуло, там настолько проработано всё, это буквально симулятор. С прохождением уровней в играх тебе открываются записки чела который эту всю операционку создал, в которых он рассказыает о жизни своей и это как-то ностальгично и приятно читать. Очень понравилось, очень странно, класс ваще.

A puzzle collection with a great frame that makes it better than the sum of its parts.
Goofing around on an old, second hand computer gave me permission to play differently than I'd approach a mini game collection presented to me in a flat menu. Bouncing between games felt more like exploring than losing interest.
I really like how the rules of each game aren't immediately presented, and often times are intentionally incomplete. Figuring out how to play is the first puzzle of every game.