Secret of Arendarvon Castle, The
by Hal Renko, Sam Edwards, Arend Rensink
Addison-Wesley Productions
Crash Issue 18, July 1985   (1985-06-27)   page(s) 102

Playing adventure games can become quite monotonous at times when each has the same ingredients and, in some cases, the same problems. So it was with a certain especial relish I loaded up this game which promises something a little different from the rest. The point is this game is so different that for £5.95 you don't load it up you type it in! It is a book (or just a book if you want to be derogatory about it). However, should the thought of typing machine code listings into your Spectrum fill you with horror, you can additionally buy a cassette with the programming already done for you. Hence we have a Micro-world Adventure for the ZX Spectrum from the book publishers Addison-Wesley with an International Standard Book Number.

This game is a noble attempt to totally immerse the player in the world of Arendarvon Castle supposedly situated in the far NW of Scotland. You play the role of a journalist who has disappeared while investigating the strange past of the castle. At your disposal are the numerous newspaper cuttings and magazine articles detailing its mysterious past along with a guide which includes detailed pictures of both the inside and outside of the fortress. Set against the desolate, barren but wildly beautiful highlands the castle is at once imposing, impregnable and invincible.

The rather substantial and crisply produced book contains a great deal to keep the player occupied for some time. A brief introduction leads you on into the journalist's article itself which tells of how the journalist, speaking aloud a timeless riddle, finds himself transported to the castle within a world of magic and wondrous happenings. A tall man dressed in a fantastic cloak and tall hat speaks to the journalist with a rich musical voice. It is Zazar the Great, most powerful of the ancient Order of Magicians. He relates how by uttering the riddle aloud the journalist has committed himself to a quest beyond his imagining. 'Your task is this,' he goes on, 'to retrieve the all-powerful cube of magic and the subtle spells associated with it'. The balance in equilibrium between the simple laws of Earth Science and the higher laws of alchemy can only be restored by regaining the cube of magic.

A Guide to Arendarvon Castle follows detailing its history along with the pertinent facts concerning The Library, The Armoury. The Bedroom, The Great Hall, The Chapel and The Sitting-Room. Reading these sections is vital for your understanding of this game as within is much that will help you distinguish those areas most helpful to your quest. A whole section is devoted to James Douglas, a most celebrated sorcerer and instrumental alchemist, who once inhabited the castle and created the magic sign and alphabet where the letters themselves are a reservoir of The Force.

The second part of the book concerns itself with playing the adventure and begins with a super summary of the difficulties crafting an adventure game can present, the chief one being communication. This project has chosen a sensible solution to the user-friendliness problem: it lists very precisely which words can be used and how and when they are most useful. A definitive list of 8 spells leg Reveal, Charm, Disclose) is followed by the commands listed under subheadings such as Door-Handling Commands (Open, Close, Lock, Unlock, Strike) and Object-Handling Commands (Take, Drop, Give, Put, Strike, Use). Each of these words is given the full treatment in order to dispel! any remaining ambiguity. How about this description for TAKE. Syntax: Object-class, Effect: The object comes into your possession, on condition it is not too heavy for you to carry, if it is a fluid, you drink it; if the object can be worn you put it on, Examples: take sword, take the coat. This detail is shown for each and every word which can be used in this adventure and although it may seem at first long-winded proves in practice to add considerably to its playability.

If you know anything of my views of adventuring you might guess that I most welcome this kind of detail. It releases the players from hours of tedious word-matching and gets them straight into the more enjoyable aspects of exploring the fantasy world before them. It is some indication of the thought put into this game when the authors have tackled the absurdity of being able to pick up objects of varying weights with the same ease. Here this problem is tackled by insisting on a considerable forfeit of strength whenever a heavy object is picked tip. On buying this book a far more pressing problem may surpass all others. The task of typing in the program is an onerous one but is made more bearable by splitting the workload up into 7 sections, one for each day of the week, and an error-check which is better then that for BASIC.

But of course, if you feel flush enough to pay Addison-Wesley the additional £5.70 for the tape, you can enter the world of Arendarvon Castle immediately and in the normal way. Incidentally, although the book is sold on its own, the cassette is not; this is, after all, an attempt to involve the adventurer in the process as well as the game. But the radical approach of this game and its unrivalled documentation may just make the program inputting labours worthwhile as the game has a special flavour and atmosphere all of its own. Arendarvon Castle is only available direct from Addison-Wesley Publishers Limited, Finchampstead Road, Wokingham, Berkshire RG11 2NZ, telephone: 0734 794000

Difficulty: moderate
Graphics: none
Input facility: verb/noun Response: instant
Special features: program typed in from hook (optional)

Addictive Quality9/10
Overall Value7.5/10
Summary: General Rating: Quite good.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

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