The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain
A number of book publishing houses are now moving into games software publishing none so famous perhaps as Penguin, who have released this new game under their Puffin name.
An interesting aspect of this program is that it has been produced for Penguin by Crystal (Halls of the Things) and adapted from the amazingly successful novel of the same name written by Steve Jackson and fan Livingstone. The novels (there is a series) are really computer program flow diagrams in book form.
Basically D&D format, the book keeps facing you with options where you can, say, pick one of three doors to go through. Whichever you choose, you will be given a page number to turn to, where the story continues, and it's quite different for each door. The idea here is that the computer game supports the book and you may buy either the tape on its own for ?5.50 or the combined pack of tape and novel for ?6.95. Either way round it represents very good value.
Crystal are famous for the notoriously difficult Halls of the Things, and Dungeon Master. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is actually similar to HOTT but somewhat easier to play and in some ways much better.
THIS IS WHAT YOU DO After a two minute load, a set of beautifully written instructions fill you in on the scenario and tell you the control keys. You are about to enter the vast and complex labyrinth beneath the gruesome crags of Firetop Mountain. Created by the evil Warlock to guard his fabulous treasure, the labyrinth is crawling with vicious monsters like Orcs, Spiders, Slime Mould and others which will prevent your return to the surface. All you have is a bow and a trusty sword. The idea is to roam the maze and collect 15 keys, find the Warlock's treasure chest, and escape with the lot.
There are 18 control keys, which may seem like a lot, but fortunately not all of them are needed at once! The screen only shows a small fraction of the actual maze, switching to the next section as you go. Here and there doors are shut in your way. These you can open and close, and in fact you can close many of the door-sized open spaces to keep the monsters at bay. The sword and your arrows can only be used in the direction you are facing, which is important because altering directions does not mean you are facing in that way. In the normal course of events, it's possible and as easy to walk backwards, but if an enemy threatens, you have to use the cursor keys as well as the direction keys to be sure of facing the monster.
GENERAL There are four directional keys, Z/X for left/right and N/M for up/down, plus the cursors which make you face in the four directions. Additionally A fires arrows, S sheathes or draws the sword, 0 and C open and close doors, SPACE centres your man on the screen, 1 displays score and number of keys held, 2 pauses the game, 3 turns the sound on and 4 turns it off and zero makes your man face in the direction of movement.
Keyboard positions: complex but masterable
Use of colour: simple but very effective
Graphics: excellent and clear, but the man isn't fully animated
Sound: average, more could have been made of it, though the on/off facility is useful
Skill levels: one
Lives: one but with a percentage of wounding allowed
This is very like Halls Of The Things, but it's much more playable. I actually found the other one too difficult and confusing to play. In Firetop you ' re left alone long enough to get used to the keys and moving your man about so you feel confident about attacking the monsters, some of whom have swords and arrows like yourself.
The graphics are better than HOTT's, the monsters are more defined and realistic. Everything moves very smoothly and very fast. It needs a quick eye and hand co-ordination to survive monster attacks. Everything seems to happen in a blurt at first until you get the hang of it, and just when you have, more monsters come along.
A quickly learned lesson is to shut doors behind you - it keeps some of the horrors away! My only quibble really is why did they have to put the up/down keys in a straight line and on the bottom row with the left/right? It does make life unnecessarily difficult at first - but it isn't a serious drawback.
I think Penguin have a winner with this one - when's the next one out?