It’s 1998. My uncle has just handed me a wrapped package roughly the size of an encyclopedia. Beneath the shiny red paper is a cardboard box depicting a roadkill koala. Inside the box is Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge, a game that would grab my interest and has refused to let go for the past 20 years. The game’s obscurity is equally matched by its uniqueness as both an adventure game and an intellectual property. It’s a relic, an artifact sandwiched between the cartoon renaissance and the unbridled stupidity of Tom Green.
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You’ve probably never heard of Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge. Upon release, it saw only moderate sales in the United States. 20 years later, it has yet to appear on digital storefronts, like GoG or Steam. The game’s signature purple discs aren’t particularly difficult to find, but it prefers ancient versions of Windows supporting the 256 colors pallet. Despite how difficult it may be to actually play the game, Koala Lumpur is still worth remembering. To this day, some of its puzzles remain wildly innovative and difficult. At its core though, Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge is an artist’s dream to greenlight a TV show.
Artist James Baker has laid out the backstory of Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge on his website, but I’ll summarize for convenience. While working at Colossal Pictures, Baker came up with the idea of a magical koala and an adventurous, gun-toting dingo. After weeks of pitching to Hollywood executives, Baker finally got a green light from computer game company Brøderbund. Hoping the success of a computer game would lead to a television show, Baker began his directorial debut with Koala Lumpur: Mystical Marsupial, later renamed Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge.
In terms of premise and overall tone, Koala Lumpur is strikingly similar to the popular Sam & Max series. A pair of anthropomorphic animals, one level-headed, the other an eccentric with an itchy trigger finger, solve ridiculous capers across time and space. At Koala Lumpur’s inception, Sam & Max already had 10 years of comic success, a critically acclaimed video game, and a children’s television show. As much as I enjoy Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge, it’s always been impossible to escape the comparison to that other pair of crime fighting animals.
So what was Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge all about? After all, the success or failure of an adventure game usually rests on the shoulders of its story and writing. Somewhere in the cartooniverse, Koala has accidently started The Comedy Apocalypse after violating the very fabric of time and space. After a stern talking to from a god-like creature, Koala is tasked with finding fragments of a magic scroll. The scroll will, conveniently, send the clown armies back to their home dimension. Cue the catchy theme song probably meant to be used for the TV show.
To find the lost scroll, Koala must rescue Dingo from his own panic room, make peace with Dingo’s psychotherapist ex-girlfriend, travel to the junkyard that is the Land of Lost Things, and escape from a space station under management of a sadistic little girl. Each of these areas are visually and thematically unique. From the Freudian/Escher inspired psychologist’s office to the tattered remains of junkyard explorers, the colors and imagery of Koala Lumpur are a treat for the eyes.
You may think you play Koala or Dingo in this adventure. That would be wrong. You actually play Koala’s familiar, a mute, yellow-toothed housefly. In terms of gameplay, this allows Koala to reach objects placed on high shelves and gives the player a sense of helpless autonomy. After all, how much is a fly really capable of? The problem with the fly? It buzzes whenever it moves. Every memory of Koala Lumpur has been tainted with that incessant buzzing. There’s no way to turn it off either; it’s always there and just as annoying as an actual housefly.
Aside from story, the puzzles are unique in execution and solution. Dingo’s ex-girlfriend, a muscular Jessica Rabbit type in a white bunny suit, provides a series of word association and multiple-choice puzzles. These puzzles expand upon Dingo’s character and fit nicely with the area’s psychology theme. Meanwhile, the Land of Lost Things requires the player speak dog, a language with its own grammatical and cultural rules. Learning dog speak with the help of a coffee-stained journal remains one of my favorite adventure game experiences.
Then there’s that one puzzle. If you’ve played the game, you already know what I’m talking about. To escape the space station, you must pass through three hallways of moving infrared beams, then solve a pie-chart minigame. If one of those beams hits you, you get sent back to the start. As a hint, you’re allowed to see the beam’s pattern laid out horizontally. Unfortunately, you travel through the tunnel in third person. To reach the actual puzzle, you need perfect timing and a perfect memory of the beam’s pattern. It’s easily one of the hardest timing puzzles I’ve ever seen. It’s so difficult, many uninstalled the game out of sheer rage.
Though it may not be widely available or playable, Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge is a game worth remembering. It’s funny, it has a timeless cartoon style, and its puzzles are some of the most interesting I’ve seen in an adventure game. It’s the product of a perfect storm: the golden age of adventure games, the cartoon renaissance, and the success of similar animal duos. Even 20 years later, a Koala Lumpur TV show or comic book would not be unwelcome. Until then, Koala and Dingo’s debut adventure will live on through memories, screenshots, and a half-finished let’s play.