Ratings and Reviews by Canalboy

View this member's profile

Show reviews only | ratings only
View this member's reviews by tag: Alchemist Apocalypse BBC Bill Lindsay Surreal Parser Based Birmingam IV - Large Old School Fantasy Puzzlefest Castle Comedy Competition Game Curses! Difficult Difficult. DOS Endgame Enormous Epic Fyleet Gothic Grail Quest. Hezarin Horror Infocom Jim Aikin Kingdom of Hamil Large Large Story Based IF Lydia's Heart Magnetic Scrolls Mainframe Massive Mazes MS-DOS Mulldoon Legacy Mystery old school Parser Peter Killworth Phoenix Puzzle Based puzzle fest Puzzlefest Puzzlefest ParserComp Mazes Puzzlefest Old School Large Puzzles Quest. Randomised Combat Relationship Romance Science Fiction Sequel Shakespearean Shakesperean Time Travel Topologika Treasure Hunt Two Word Parser Two Word Parser. vampire Warp
1-10 of 43 | Next | Show All

Quondam, by Rod Underwood and Peter Killworth

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The Toughest Game Of All?, June 9, 2023

Robb Sherwin once observed quite sagely about Zork that the game actively hates its player. That may well be so; in which case Quondam wishes to eviscerate the player, gouge his / her eyes out and wrap one's entrails around one's neck while forcing said player to watch the Father Dowling Mysteries box set plus extras. What we have here is unequivocally the hardest text adventure that I have ever played in my forty years of puzzling. Compared to most of the Phoenix oeuvre it is compact in size but almost every location provides ample scope to die or misuse an item in one's inventory.

This was the third of the seventeen games written on the Phoenix mainframe in 1980 by the author Rod Underwood. It appears to have been his only foray into the world of text adventure creation but he indelibly left his mark with this one. The original mainframe version is sadly lost (like Andrew Lipson's Xerb and Alex Shipp and Steve Tinney's Hezarin) and it only survives thanks to a Peter Killworth port to the BBC. We have no way of knowing how much the original version differed from the BBC Acornsoft version but you can be sure it was ball-breakingly hard as well.

I played this game after finally nailing Acheton, Hezarin and Castle of Riddles from the same Cambridge stable and was fairly convinced that no game could be tougher than that holy trinity of mind exploders. I was wrong.

The game itself is the traditional treasure hunt (up to a maximum of 250 points) with an interesting time travel theme, hence the title which is Latin for former. You need to collect all of the treasures available and deposit them somewhere, but finding out where is like attempting to untie the Gordian Knot. Suffice to say that some puzzles should be attended to in the present day and some in the past. And at least one in the past and also in the present. Exactly.

All the tropes of early games are here, including soft locks, instant deaths, massive turn critical mazes and outrageous puns. It's just that in this game, like the giant spiders on the web maze, they come at you in swarms filling just about every location. As if these obstacles didn't make your task difficult enough, the game uses some objects in totally unexpected ways. I found myself desperately trying all kinds of obscure commands to boldly go where no parser has gone before and some of them actually worked. Having played around five hundred text adventures in my time I have successfully used three verbs in this game that I have never used before and I guarantee that you have never utilised a mirror or a harp in the ways necessary in this game. When stuck try anything and it may just work. The knight, the fanged customs official, the Spanish Inquisition (I wasn't expecting that) a man-eating vegetable being and the dragon are all puzzles that require endless experimentation to overcome and the solutions to each are unique in the text adventure canon as far as I know.

Aside from the incredible toughness of the game and the necessity to perform actions in an exact order you can even die typing save or examining an object. In fact I have so far discovered seventeen different ways to join the Choir Invisible and at least as many ways to lock myself out of victory. The desert affords you all of two moves before you die of thirst. There is also an unmappable area of trackless forest in which you must thrash about until finally emerging into familiar territory.

Playing via the BeebEm emulator at least allows you to save without it costing you a move as it did in the original. As I have spent a lot of time racing around a spider's web with the residents only one move behind me this at least has made things slightly easier than it was for those masochistic souls playing on their BBC micros back in the day.

It has the standard T/SAL two word parser and no examine command plus an inventory limit of eight objects. I have come across two items that have multiple uses thus far so discard nothing that you find.

I am currently contemplating a barber's shop pole and a boarded-up cave. I have a nasty feeling that I may be here for some time.

The Isle of the Cult, by Rune Berg
Canalboy's Rating:

Winter Wonderland, by Laura Knauth
Canalboy's Rating:

Castle of Riddles, by Peter D. Killworth

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Competition Game Finally Bites The Dust, May 24, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Treasure Hunt, Difficult., Castle, BBC, Competition Game

A mere forty years after it was released and the prize was claimed (a wonderfully anal Ring of Power and a rather more materialistic sum of money to buy BBC computer products) I too have claimed the Ring of Power and returned it to the wizard.

To be more exact, Castle of Riddles was written by Peter Killworth of Cambridge University Oceanography and Philosopher's Quest fame as the first text adventure competition game; this started something of a trend. Released in February 1983 via Acornsoft although written in 1982 this is regarded as a real toughie of the old skool and so it is.

The plot, such as it is, involves you, a down-on-your-luck adventurer, returning the above mentioned ring to a wizard after it was stolen by an evil warlock. Any treasures you find on your wanderings can be kept for your own avaricious ends up to a maximum of 250 points.

Although compact in size to fit into the 32K memory constraints of the BBC microcomputer the game requires much careful pencil and paper planning and the ability to cope with frustration levels racheted up to 11 on the "bugger it I've screwed up" amplifier.

There are three main areas to the game which are all reached via shimmering curtains of light (Bank of Zork anyone?) and can all only be entered once so the choreography of play is extremely strict. One area contains a well and the three bears minus Goldilocks although there is a hilarious picture of her, another contains a nasty jet-black maze and a shooting gallery and the third a tricky corridor of doom. Choose the wrong entrance and you have softlocked the game potentially very early on. Only much repeated play will reveal the correct order to tackle the regions in. There is also a very nasty trick around the metal rod which has two essential uses. Unfortunately to solve the first one of them involves using it in a way that loses it permanently which makes the second use of the rod impossible. The only way to get around this is to solve the first rod-related puzzle, make a note of your findings and restart. All should then become clear. Obstacles like this would never of course be encountered in modern adventures but back then they were as accepted as norms; patience was as valuable a commodity as deduction.

In Killworth's traditional manner the majority of the puzzles are difficult but logical; one of them involves looking at two ostensibly similar objects but being able to glean a subtle difference between them; there are several beautiful chaining puzzles which require exact timing and unsurprisingly two innovative mazes neither of which can be solved by merely dropping objects. The solutions to the mangled cushion and antique clock problems are two of my all-time favourites.

There is naturally a lamp timer although this can be recharged once and isn't as tight as in some games of this vintage and an inventory limit which is generous enough not to be too much of an issue. Moving in the dark is nearly always fatal. The only NPCs encountered are of the potentially fatal variety so shoot first metaphorically speaking and ask questions afterwards.

The parser is of the old two word variety but in all honesty is quite sufficient for game play and naturally no examine command, something that I know Killworth felt strongly passionate about. Descriptions are of medium length generally and all in upper case white on black. I played via the excellent Beebem emulator which enables you to double the original speed of the game.

All in all a nice wallow in cerebral nostalgia.

Castle Elsinore, by Charles A. Crayne

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Large Puzzlefest With Pseudonymous Author, March 31, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Randomised Combat, Treasure Hunt, Mazes, Shakesperean, Large, DOS

Despite the author's name at the top of this particular game it seems to have been written by Dian Crayne, a prolific science fiction and text adventure author who released several games in the early eighties under the Temple and Norell Data Systems software labels.

Most of the games use a structure akin to the old Colossal Cave game, with a thief (masquerading as a swordsman here) a pirate (a seaman in this particular game) several mazes and randomised combat, in this case noblemen instead of dwarves. Keep on the move and you should be able to avoid any bloodletting on your part.

Castle Elsinore was the last of Dian's games and probably the best. Some others like Granny's Place are unfinishable because of bugs.

The version I played came from 1983 although there is an archived version from 1992.

The quest takes you back to Shakespearean England in 1602 and your task is to collect sixteen treasures while placating various members of the Royal Family and solving a tightly timed endgame.

Mapping is essential as the forest in particular zig zags all over the place and the gardens and cellars are similarly disorientating. It weighs in at over a hundred locations and the descriptions are quite compelling in places. As you solve puzzles, different areas of the castle become linked by hidden passages and moving walls. My particular favourite here is the secret passageway from the King's Chamber to the Maid's Quarters.

You will meet the guilt-ridden King Claudius, a depressed Hamlet, a quidnunc Polonius, what is left of Yorick (alas!) and the Queen amongst other characters. They are however pretty one-dimensional and really only serve as human locked doors to standard puzzles. You also have to commit an act of manslaughter against an individual.

The game has a fairly large inventory limit and a lamp timer, although it can be refilled and should not present a problem.

The hardest puzzles come right at the end, one involving a time delay and another solving an obscure riddle.

I came across a few bugs but nothing that made the game unfinishable. The shopkeeper appears to change sex (although that seems acceptable nowadays!) the SWEEP and CLEAN commands elicit a blank parser response and items dropped in the castle mysteriously reappear in the crotch of a tree in the forest but can't be taken from there. I only came across one object which doesn't seem to play a role in the game.

I played via DOSBox-X which has scope for ten saved game slots and these are necessary as you are likely to die at the tip of a nobleman's sword more than once.

It took me about seven hours playing time to complete and I enjoyed it although as an inveterate map maker that's not surprising. I have only played one other of Dian's games, namely Hermit's Secret and I found Castle Elsinore to be rather easier.

Ferret, by FerretAuthors@jugglingsoot.com

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Ferret - A Forty Year Journey Through The History Of Text Adventures, March 29, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Science Fiction, Apocalypse, Enormous, DOS

Ferret is in some ways a unique game in the fifty-odd year history of the text adventure; in others it is decidedly old fashioned.

The background story is that you, Brian O. Darkins, have awakened from a cryogenic coma in which you were placed at your relatives' request in the hope that the fatal virus from which you were suffering could be cured in some future age. You awake you know not where, nor why.

Created by a group of anonymous authors on an obscure 16-bit minicomputer back in the days just before the micro revolution it seems to have started out as an attempt (as so many games of its time were) to trump the early markers in the genre, namely Advent and Zork. Indeed, the first eight phases of this enormous game follow a familiar path to the games of the time. The science fiction narrative is definitely playing second fiddle to the puzzles. The puzzles themselves tend to be very hard, and must have been nigh on impossible in the days before Google. Chess end games, degree level mathematical posers and sundry mazes meld with clever logistical problems.

Another unique feature of the game is the number of red herrings scattered about. Only much trial and error will reveal which items are needed and which superfluous. On the other hand there are several bottlenecks in the game where one can carry almost nothing onwards and these do act as a useful filter. At least you know you have left nothing vital behind at these locations.

The different writing styles and types of puzzle are clear as you travel through these early parts of the game.

One can hear the evolutionary tick of the modern IF era clock from Phase Nine onwards as the post acocalyptic Cold War story really kicks in and the narrative swells.

One way travel from here to Phase Sixteen is via an old train locomotive which chugs through the once affluent parts of SE England; English players will no doubt recognise the pleasant, leafy names of Sunningdale, Virginia Water, Epsom etc. These examples are cleverly juxtaposed with the contemporary apocalyptic wasteland that has transformed expensive Surrey, Kent and Berkshire postal addresses from all to die for des res locales into a monochrome desolation. In a similar vein all the NPCs you meet (and there are very few) are not alive. A silent automaton provides your only temporary companion and the only voices you will hear are mechanised ones from long dead sources and emanating from damaged machines.

Like Shelley's Ozymandius: "Nothing beside remains."

Every piece of equipment encountered, every window view is of a broken, anti-holistic world. We are indeed a far cry now from the early IF landscape. For caves, trolls and scrolls we have blasted buildings with their curtain walls jaggedly exposed, piles of mangled dead bodies and torn and slimy papers and documents.

To somewhat counterbalance the rather desolate mood of the game there is an homage to English comedic culture viz. The Goon Show and another phase is based around a cult science fiction TV series from the late seventies, namely Blake's Seven.

An odd feature of the game is that certain information to solve a problem in, say, Phase Ten will be discovered in Phase Fourteen, and sometimes these revelations entail visiting no exit locations. As a consequence of this need for backtracking it is a prerequisite to keep manifold saved games handy. You can also make use of command files where you can build a rerun of a section of the game by loading a file of preconfigured text. Other useful commands include "Notify" which informs you of each increase in your score and also "Test" which will run a cycle of various verbs on selected objects.

I found the multi word parser to be a very good one and recent updates to the current version at the time of writing to 10.3 have included the ability to chain multiple commands by using commas. There is also a lot of ASCII art contained in the game which fleshes out the various pieces of equipment and modes of transport that one encounters. In this respect it is very similar to another large mainframe game, Warp.

I had a constant dialogue with the authors which enabled me to send them details of any bugs (not many) and also to receive hints which were more than necessary in certain places. Indeed the story goes on as they are currently beavering (ferreting?) away at Phase Seventeen at the moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my six months or so playing the game and look forward to future updates.

Monsters of Murdac, by Jonathan Partington
Canalboy's Rating:

The Lost Kingdom of Zkul, by Jon Malone and Allan Black
Canalboy's Rating:

Village of Lost Souls, by Martin Moore and Glenn McAuley
Canalboy's Rating:

Crobe, by Jonathan Partington
Canalboy's Rating:

1-10 of 43 | Next | Show All