Sinclair User21st September 1987
Published in Sinclair User #69
A TV show? I choked as visions of Blockbusters, Countdown and - gasp EastEnders invaded my usually vacant mind.
Worse. It's a TV show about wandering around a blue studio with paintings of dungeons matted on afterwards, with some poor clutz rendered blind by a big helmet being directed by three tragic morons and a middle-aged man with a beard whose interest is dangerously suspicious does not sound like the soundest of bases on which to construct a computer game.
But Knightmare, I am surprised and pleased to say, is quite, quite brilliant.
You're at no disadvantage if you haven't seen the TV show of the same name, as the game successfully stands on its own. Nevertheless, if you're an addict of the Anglia TV twenty-minute-er, you'll be impressed by the similarity of feel that programmer Mev Dinc has managed to achieve.
Knightmare is an adventure in the truest sense of the word. You control the knight, guiding him around various levels of a ghastly world, solving problems as you go. It's difficult to give an idea of the play and feel of the game by comparing with previous titles, because the way it works is so original. But there are elements from games like Fairlight here, and even Valhalla.
As you move through the game, you will often come across situations which won't be easily soluble. Here, like in the TV show, you can call for assistance. Two Oracles will appear, like gods, at the top of the play area, looking down on the game. Both will offer advice as to what your next course of action should be. One Oracle is good, the other evil.
Unfortunately, the good oracle is quite happy to advise you to take a strong course of inaction and get absolutely nowhere, while the evil character will try to get you killed. What to do?
You've got to walk a very fine line. And try to use some advice from each.
On screen, Knightmare is a wonder.
The screen is laid out like a book, with the action taking place on the pages. Move from one location to another and the current page will scroll in a most realistic manner to reveal the new scene. The rooms are drawn in a single colour, in semi-3D form. As you can see, Electric Dreams has steered well clear of the isometric (Ultimate) approach.
The graphics for the characters are well defined, if a little on the thin side, and they move around the screen quickly and without fuss.
As well as moving around and fighting, you can use two word input for object handling and similar actions. No need to worry about the need for typing finesse, though, as you use a very friendly system that ED is called Word Gears. Actually, it isn't particularly impressive to look at, but the way it works is quite clever. By hitting a key, one word (usually an action) will pop up at the top of the screen. If this is the word you want, you can select it which will cause another to appear next to it. You can cycle through the words by tapping a key.
The clever thing about Gear Words is that once you've selected an action word, Open, for example, the next series of possible words will only comprise items that you could try to open. This saves a great deal of timewasting which could easily result in your untimely demise.
Your completely vital Stamina quotient is represented by a candle on the right hand side of the screen. The lower the candle burns, the more exhausted you are.
Puzzles encountered are of a varied nature. There are nasty old creatures which emerge from nowhere and ask you riddles under threat of death at the merest whiff of an incorrect answer and there are visual problems in the spot-the-difference mould. Each must be answered before the timer runs out. Should you fail, all hell will break loose, and a harpie of some description will; come at you from every conceivable angle. All hell, it has to be said, breaks loose quite a lot.
Among the more useful objects that you'll find are scrolls. They equip you with spells. Some are merely useful - Torch will light up a dark area. Others are positively malevolent - Toad will turn everything in the room into a harmless frog. You can also take the occasional risk with spells by casting the Metamorph spell, which will cause your nearest assailant to change into another beast. This comes in handy if you are unprepared to deal with a monster as you may find it changes into a stronger foe for which you do have the appropriate weapon.
The game is in two parts. The first consists primarily of dungeonesque locations. Should you manage to battle through to the next section, you'll emerge into the woodland scene.
Although Knightmare has no obvious aim to begin with, other than gaining as many points as possible, you will soon find yourself involved in the sub-plots which run throughout the game. Without giving too much away, you can expect to find the classic challenge involving a female, a large reptile and a rich old man.
Electric Dreams has taken a top-notch licence and produced a classic game. Smart-alecs.
Original and exciting game with something for everyone to get hooked on. Fast moving game for part-time thinkers. Superb.