Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

IFComp 2012: J’dal

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 10, 2012

J’dal by Ryan Kinsman is an entry in the 2012 ifcomp, in which the player is on a quest to retrieve an artifact from a mine.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

J’dal, unlike most modern IF, recalls the appellation ‘text adventure’. The PC, J’dal, is, if I understand correctly, a drow in some fantasy world. She and her adoptive father, Wendal, together with two others, Stolas and Roderick, have been tasked with collecting a magical artifact from a nearby mine. After a meal and a good night’s sleep, the party sets off, led by J’dal, whose ability to see in the dark is very useful in the unlit mine.

The game is pretty much on rails. A couple of situations admit multiple solutions, but the possiblities are very limited, and I can only find two endings–either the PC dies, or she is successful, and either way the game ends quickly. The puzzles are pretty straightforward, although it did take me a few tries to work out exactly how to word my solutions.

The game could really benefit from a little more depth of implementation. There are missing objects, and some of the descriptions are rather lacking. The characters don’t have much to say, either, so we can’t really get a very good picture of their motivations, except in broad strokes. There are also some bugs–the dead beart’s body is inaccessible, for some reason, and the behavior when the PC is wearing her blindfold isn’t good, for two examples that caught my attention.

J’dal is pretty short and pretty sparse, but it’s not bad. If it were cleaned up, and fleshed out a bit, it could be a nice, if short, little fantasy adventure. I can imagine recommending something like this to new players of IF.

I struggled with what score to assign this one. It’s unpolished, short, and easy, but I did enjoy it, which is more important. I’m giving it 5/10, which is actually on the higher end of my ratings this year. I may be rating this year’s games a little harshly. Perhaps a revision of my scores will be in order, before the competition ends, but I’ll wait until I’ve played a few more to make that judgment.

Play time: 38 minutes.

Posted in 2012, Decent, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Crystal Defenders R1

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 25, 2012

Well, it’s been more than a year since I posted here–not because I’ve stopped writing, but because I’ve not yet managed to finish any posts to my satisfaction. I’ve been writing some fairly in-depth, multi-post reviews of several games, but since I didn’t want to publish any of the individual posts until they were all complete, in case revision was necessary. As a result, no posts for a year. Well, let’s change that.

I recently completed Crystal Defenders R1 for the Wii, a Final Fantasy-themed tower defense game by Square Enix, released 20 April 2009 in North America.

Crystal Defenders R1 is grid-based, and the enemies move along a fixed path, while your units are placed elsewhere on the screen. There are a variety of units available–soldiers, archers, black mages, and others–each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, soldiers are very strong, but have limited range and cannot attack air targets. Some enemies may be resistant or immune to physical or magical damage, so black mages or archers, respectively, may be needed to deal with them.

Each area in the game contains two stages, with the same map, but different waves of enemies. Each time a stage is played, though, the waves are the same, so it is possible to learn what enemies will come, then play a stage over, in order to use resources more efficiently, and maximize the score.

As is usual for a tower defense game, the units cost money to place, which money is earned by destroying enemies and surviving waves. Units can also be upgraded to do more damage or have greater range.

Early in the game, resources are quite tight, so it’s necessary to be as efficient as possible with unit placement and upgrades, in order to survive. Here, a criticism: it is more efficient to build a bunch of level 2 units, rather than upgrade the ones you have, so the winning strategy, early on, is to place a dozen or more level 2 soldiers and archers, and just let them take care of everything while the money rolls in. You can always upgrade a few or just place more with all the money you save by not upgrading units.

Worse, though, is that late in the game, the rogue becomes available. These allow you to gain extra money from destroying enemies, if they’re in range. Once rogues show up, the new best strategy becomes to spend as little on units as you can manage, until you’ve upgraded your rogue completely, then just kill everything immediately by upgrading things with the thousands of spare gil you’ll have. Resources become a non-issue, and all you really have to worry about is whether you’re placing the units efficiently in terms of space–not a big worry.

Basically, Crystal Defenders R1 is a very standard, and fairly easy, tower defense game. Getting a perfect on every stage may require more than one try (particularly the final stage, unlocked by getting perfects on each previous stage), but shouldn’t prove very challenging for anyone familiar with tower defense games. It’s fun, and you may get a few hours of play out of it, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the 800 Wii Points, considering how many excellent free tower defense games there are.

I’ve included the Japanese trailer for the game below–there is a trailer in English, too, but it’s not nearly as cool, and anyway the words aren’t terribly important.

Posted in 2009, Full Review, Good, Tower Defense, Wii | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

IFComp 2010: Under, In Erebus

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 21, 2010

Under, In Erebus by Brian Rapp is an interactive fiction game entered in the 2010 interactive fiction competition. You’ve accidentally boarded the wrong train, and when it stops, you’re in a dark and unusual place. How will you get home?

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

Erebus is severely under-hinted. I solved very few of the puzzles without using the hints. Actually, I didn’t even figure out that the booths were used for spelling out objects until I read the hints. It wasn’t even entirely clear that you were trying to escape. For all I knew, you were supposed to make friends with the cyclops and learn his secret of eternal life.

Some of the puzzles felt positively obtuse. Spelling out PUB in order to get a drink? Was there some hint that I missed? Making a cup and a tub were pretty obvious, but that’s pretty much all I managed alone. And the ending puzzle is absolutely impossible to guess, as far as I can tell. “You could use some assistance in escaping from Erebus. A student who will follow your instructions would be ideal.” Why would I even consider that?

There were some other problems, too. It was necessary to repeatedly travel around collecting ingredients (or, rather, letters) to try out puzzle solutions. Every time I needed a pea I had to go get one, open the pod, then use it. Eventually I just collected a big stack of bees and peas and dropped them near the booths, but I still had to make trips for the tea, ewes, and eye. I get that, from an in-game perspective, there should only be one eye at a time (though it reappearing sort of ruins that), but there could have been a whole flock of sheep I could herd to the booths, and I could have poured a small amount of tea out of the tub, leaving it little diminished. It was also a pain to have to take things out of the pack repeatedly. I’m of the opinion that if there’s no good reason to restrict the player’s inventory size, you shouldn’t do it–I believe players will forgive at least that failure of realism in service to playability.

Erebus wasn’t all bad, though: there were some nice responses; the various ‘bonus’ words you could make were amusing–though not amusing enough to make me want to make them all, given the painfully large amount of work involved in making just one word; the changes in the response to examining yourself were nice; the fact that the backpack became a wristpack was a nice bit of attention to detail.

I guess there were some things I didn’t explore. I couldn’t work out how to explore the pit, though the ten points I got for making it would seem to indicate there’s more to it. Maybe I should have tried “TILT”? But it’s too late now, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to it.

I regret that Erebus‘s shortcomings so outweighed its successes. The environment seemed like it might be fun, and I do enjoy wordplay–Ad Verbum is one of my favorite games. But everything I did in Erebus just felt like slow work. With better hinting and an easier way to create the words, Erebus could be a pretty solid game. As it stands, though, it’s just more trouble than it’s worth.

Posted in 2010, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Wizard’s Castle

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 23, 2010

The Wizard’s Castle, published for DOS in 1981 by International PC Owners is an early dungeon crawl.

Avoiding the word ‘year’? Check. Awesome apostrophes? Check. Journey from which no adventurer has ever returned? Yep! Let’s make a journey to the cave of cliches! Good luck!

Cliched-and-basically-nonexistent plot aside, The Wizard’s Castle is actually a pretty solid game. You start by choosing some basic stats for your character (race, sex, strength/intelligence/dexterity, equipment), and off you go to explore the castle and hunt for the incredible *ORB OF ZOT*. You’re aided in your endeavour by a map of the dungeon which is meant to fill in as you explore or use items that reveal information about the dungeon, like flares or the lamp.

Unfortunately, in the version I played, the map is already filled in, which I guess is a bug; I’m told later ports give you a properly blank map to start with. One annoying thing about this game is that the map legend is on the help screen, so you have to keep switching between the map and legend until you learn the meaning of the map symbols. Similarly, the player’s stats are only shown upon moving into a room, so you have to move around to check them. There is plenty of room on the right for both of these, I think. Another, more minor problem is that you must press ‘M’ whenever you wish to show the map; since that is likely to be all the time, it means that the game consists of lots of EMSMEEM, manually checking the map every few moves. It would have benefited greatly from just automatically showing the map.

Map issues aside, how is the game? Well, let’s have a look at the map: the player is on the square marked by angle brackets above; to the west is a monster; to the east is a sinkhole, which drops the player down a level; to the south is a flare, which would ordinarily be very useful, as it lights up the area around the player, but is, in this version, useless due to the map being all filled in. Monsters can be fought, fled from, or bribed, though some (trolls, ogres, dragons) don’t seem to be damaged by the sword I had, so it may be impossible to (successfully) fight some of them. Sinkholes cause the player to fall down a level, and stairs can lead either up or down. Items, such as flares, gold, and treasure, will be picked up automatically, and can be used or (in the case of gold and treasure) traded with the vendors the player will encounter in the dungeon.

Successfully navigating the dungeon involves carefully planning your route, lest you find yourself very dead:

Not all fights should be avoided, though. With the lamp, it’s possible to tell precisely what monster is in an adjacent square, and the weaker ones can be fought for large sums of gold, which is very handy. However, it’s not only the fights that can be hazardous: magic pools can be drunk from, and may either help or harm the player, and books, too,  can be either very helpful or very dangerous–even the chests might explode or release toxic gas upon being opened. After picking up some treasures, the player can choose to leave the dungeon, or continue on, seeking the ultimate treasure in the form of the Orb of Zot.

Seeking the Orb of Zot is harder than it sounds. Scattered about are orbs the player can gaze into in order to gain information about what lies in the dungeon–these will occasionally tell the player that the Orb of Zot is in some particular location, but this isn’t as helpful as it seems–the orbs may claim that the Orb is in several different locations, and I have yet to find it by going to these locations. I suspect there is a trick to it, but I’ve not spent enough time to puzzle it out. For now, I’m satisfied with picking up the lesser treasures.

The dungeon is randomized each time you play, so if you care to, you can play as many times as you like without running out of new dungeons to explore.

The bottom line: The Wizard’s Castle is pretty fun. I’m sure it would have been much more challenging to collect the treasures if the map had functioned correctly in the version I played, so I suspect this game would be good for a few hours distraction here and there. There’s something satisfying about a nice dungeon crawl, and for all its simplicity and lack of polish, The Wizard’s Castle isn’t bad at all. It’s no Nethack, but it’s worth a look.

Posted in 1981, Decent, DOS, Dungeon Crawl, Full Review, RPG | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: DragonStrike

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 13, 2008

DragonStrike is a fantasy shoot-em-up set in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Universe, developed by Westwood Associates and published in July 1992 by Pony Canyon.

When the game opens, you select the type of dragon to play (Bronze, Silver, or Gold), each of which has different attributes (speed and armor) and attacks (each dragon has two). Having selected the type of dragon to play, you are presented with a map, with icons for each mission you undertake.

As far as I can tell, the missions must be completed in order, so the map only serves as a progress indicator. Despite there being only twelve icons, the description on MobyGames indicates that there are more than twelve missions, though I didn’t advance far enough to see if this was true.

On to the main event, then. For the first mission, we are instructed:

You first mission is to engage three white dragon scouts.

May your ambition propel you to victory.

The first thing to note about this game is that the controls are rather different from shooters like Abadox or 1943; it rather reminds me of Zone 66, a later freeform shooter for DOS. Rather than the d-pad moving your dragon, left and right turn you, and you always fly forward and a constant rate. Up and down cause you to rise or lower in the air, which is necessary for attacking some enemies. Note, though, that when you are low in the air, obstacles on the ground (like the trees in the above screencap) will harm you, while you can fly right over them when you’re higher up.

The white dragon scouts shown above are not the only enemies, although in the first level the other enemies (catapults and archers) are land-based. Once you defeat the enemy dragons, the mission is complete, and you are free to fly off the top of the map to continue to the next mission.

The next mission is to destroy a fleet of ships and a kraken. The first part proceeds basically the same way the first mission did: destroy the boats and either destroy the other enemies or avoid their attacks. After this first part is complete, though, we see the first boss, the kraken.

It is only vulnerable from below, but a few well-placed attacks will take care of it. I found that it was possible to get into the right position, then just hold left to fly in circles, which was enough to avoid its attacks, and fire off a shot every time I came around.

The next level is a swamp, and we’re instructed to slay the black dragon which lies therein. I didn’t bother to go beyond this point, since the game seems to be pretty much the same thing with different graphics for each mission.

I have only one major issue with this game. My dragon initially fires two attacks, side by side, which will miss smaller enemies if you’re attacking straight on. Since the dragon moves constantly and you must avoid enemy fire, that can make it a little difficult to aim–it can be necessary to come around several times before you get the aiming right, though that might be mitigated by a bit of practice.

Despite the issue with aiming, I think the game is fairly well done. It might get boring after a while, but for the few minutes I played, it seemed pretty enjoyable. The fantasy setting was a nice change from the usual sci-fi settings of shooters. The graphics weren’t too bad for an NES game, though the music leaves much to be desired.

Overall, I’d say the game is worth a shot. There are some better shooters, but if you’re looking for a change, DragonStrike won’t disappoint you.

Posted in Decent, First Impressions, Freeform Shooter, NES | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »