Games time forgot: Monty Python’s Meaning of Life

Once again, my Googling skills have failed me — I couldn’t find any screenshots for this week’s forgotten game outside of a few screens I borrowed from ACG. You’ll have to make do with the Mr. Creosote sketch for now.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, the third and final Monty Python game by 7th Level, spends about a third of its running time replicating the events of the film, another third as a challenging but surreal afterlife-themed adventure title, and the final third as a completely nonsensical, borderline-impossible exercise in nonsense.

In other words, it’s pretty interesting.

Story:

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life follows the film of the same name, when it isn’t busy throwing its own quirky and unusual puzzles into the mix. The game follows the three stages of existence — life, death, and the cottage — and promises to reward the player with the true meaning of life at the end of the game (which, in an odd sort of way, it does; more on that later).

As was the case with Complete Waste of Time and Holy Grail, Meaning of Life includes some (but not much) new material from Gilliam, Jones, Palin, and Idle, with Cleese reading the opening disclaimer and Graham Chapman being otherwise occupied due to death.

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Gameplay:

Meaning of Life is a first person, inventory-based adventure game with a 360-degree field of view, a la Zork Grand Inquisitor. The majority of your time will be spent looking around surreal environments searching for clues and items, and using them in hilarious and/or unexpected ways. Nothing really new here.

As I said, Meaning of Life is divided into three acts: Life, the Afterlife, and the Cottage.

Life basically works as an interactive retelling of the film, with next to no actual challenge (nearly every scene can be completed by clicking everything a few times), a few minigames, FMV scenes from the film, and hidden jokes galore. You’ll play your way through Every Sperm is Sacred, the Mister Creosote Sketch, How to Have a Conversation, Fighting Each Other, and so on. While it’s at times fun to see how the guys at 7th Level added some interactivity to scenes from the flick — you actually have to perform a Live Organ Transplant — the first bit of the game just feels like Holy Grail or Complete Waste of Time, except much easier and not quite as funny.

The Afterlife itself is divided into three subsections: Material, Spiritual, and Dental. This part of the game is filled with entirely new content and, while it does include some references to and clips from the film, the Afterlife could just as easily have been released as an entirely separate game. Where the main goals of Life consist mainly of working your way through the stages of human existence, the Afterlife is mainly about achieving enlightenment (so you can use it to light a darkened room — not joking).

The Cottage is literally Terry Gilliam’s summer home, photographed and scanned into the game. You wander around solving completely nonsensical, illogical, weird-as-hell puzzles. I have no idea why the Cottage exists.

The best part of the game, by far, is the Afterlife, which pokes fun at nearly every religion on the planet, forces the player to converse with famous dead philosophers and scientists, and jump through satirical and philosophical hoops to solve puzzles. One puzzle in particular, the Zen garden, requires the player to leave his mouse alone for a full five minutes, at which point he will be granted a prize. After this, the player has to leave his mouse alone for another five minutes, in order to get another inventory item.

If that sounds like the sort of puzzle which would be too illogical, difficult, and irritating to figure out on their own, then congratulations: you’re human. I honestly cannot imagine anyone completing Meaning of Life without the help of a walkthrough — its puzzles do have a weird sort of hindsight logic to them (as in, “Oh…I guess that sort of makes sense”), but by and large the game finds a lot more fun in the absurd than the logical. And quite right, too, considering the subject matter.

As the player progresses through the game, he’s accosted with personality questions during each loading screen. Each of the player’s answers to these multiple-choice questions are recorded and, at the end of the game, are inserted into a Mad Lib-esque paragraph which determines your own personal meaning of life. From an existential point of view, this aspect of the game is actually kind of logical and meaningful: the individual answers may sound patently absurd, and their application may not make sense, but that’s what the meaning of life is — absurd, irrational, and completely different for each person.

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Why you’re probably not playing it:

Just as Meaning of Life is widely considered the Pythons’ worst film, the game upon which it was based didn’t fare much better with critics. Where the other two Python games (Complete Waste of Time and Holy Grail) were really just glorified joke collections, Meaning of Life aspired to more. It tried to be a legitimate, if absurd, adventure game; in this respect, it most certainly failed. When considering the mind-meltingly hard puzzles, the game’s odd logic, and the ubiquitous, game-breaking bugs, it’s no surprise Meaning of Life was something of a failure during its release.

Oh, I didn’t mention the bugs, did I? There are two enormous bugs which make it absolutely impossible to finish the game unless you know how to work around them. Right before the game’s final scene, the screen goes completely black and the game seems to freeze. In actuality, a “Please insert CD 4” prompt has invisibly appeared, and the “freeze” is really just the game waiting for the player to replace the disc and hit enter. To get around this, you have to either (really, really quickly) take out CD 3 and put in CD4 right before getting to the last room in the game, or you’ve got to wait for the dark screen, replace the CD’s, and mindlessly click around the screen hoping to hit the “continue” button.

This glitch is present in every single copy of the game. It is not hard to understand most reviewers’ irritation toward this game.

Still, even if it has multiple failings as a mainstream adventure game, and even if you’ll be constantly running to a walkthrough for puzzle solutions and bug workarounds, Meaning of Life is one of the most philosophical, satirical, surreal, hilarious adventure games ever made — definitely worth checking out, if only as a curiosity (it goes for about 300 Goozex points).

I mean, honestly; how many adventure games include a puzzle where the player is forced to successfully make it past Buddha, Mohammed, Ganesha, and Shiva on the literal path to enlightenment? And would then follow up such a puzzle with a two-minute cut scene of naked women chasing a guy off a cliff?

Anthony Burch