Reviews by Canalboy
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View this member's reviews by tag: Alchemist Bill Lindsay Surreal Parser Based Birmingam IV - Large Old School Fantasy Puzzlefest castle Curses! Gothic Horror Infocom Jim Aikin Kingdom of Hamil Large Large Story Based IF Lydia's Heart Mainframe MS-DOS Mulldoon Legacy Mystery old school parser Phoenix Puzzle Fest Puzzlefest Puzzlefest ParserComp Mazes Puzzlefest Old School Large Quest. Relationship Romance Sequel Topologika Treasure Hunt vampire Warp
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I don't know if all IF players of a certain age who witnessed the evolution and flowering of the inchoate genre from the late seventies / early eighties have a game (or games) which they return to for reasons of nostalgia or masochism, but mine is this one.
Having first cut my adventuring teeth on Scott Adams' Adventureland in 1983 on a friend's Vic-20, I played many of the early games both good and bad in the late eighties; this included Castle Ralf.
Like many authors of the time, Doug Clutter and Steve Vance had completed Zork I and wanted to try and outrun the boys from Infocom by forming their own company, Douglas Associates. While this was a predictably futile task, they undoubtedly did come up with a very well coded and interesting puzzle fest with precious few bugs present. Aside from the odd typo there are no glaring ones that I have ever came across in many hours of playing.
The "explore/escape from a wacky building full of contraptions" genre was of course already somewhat anachronistic by 1987 when this game was first published but it remains one of the best examples of its kind.
The robust parser rather oddly doesn't understand "take all" but does understand "drop all." On the whole however it is more than adequate and unlike many games of its type recognises most synomyms and objects in the many rooms of the eponymous castle. It also (rather atypically for its time) has a list of verbs on screen that you can access via highlighting and pressing the enter key so there is no hunting around for obscure verb / noun combinations. You can also use the COGITATE verb at many places to give you an abstract hint and boy will you need it as this game surpasses all but the Topologika games in terms of toughness but fairness in my opinion. The authors seemed to realise this and produced a hint booklet a la Topologika which is available online on this page. It runs to many many questions and answers and is designed to discourage straight through reading.
The game also features an auto mapper which can be switched on and off if you prefer not to use modern software like Trizbort and you will need it as the castle spans a basement and three floors over many more than a hundred locations. Initially the routes around the more far flung reaches of the building are time consuming to access, but as with games like Mulldoon Legacy and Curses short cuts appear to the various areas of the castle as puzzles are solved.
There are a number of complex machines scattered around the place, designed by the devious owner Dr. Bellefleur Q. Izgotcha III. One multi puzzle in particular involving a customised Skeet Shooter and a French Horn cum Crossbow spans multiple rooms filled with Heath Robinson like contraptions and more than rivals the Babel Fish puzzle from HHG in its complexity.
Many of the imaginative puzzles are more convoluted than "Do X with Y to get Z" but logically solvable with a bit (or a lot) of lateral thinking.
A dryly sparkling humour pervades the whole thing which stays just the right side of irritating. Try and COGITATE in the Long Dark Hallway for example! And apparently the Great Hall was designed by Nancy Reagan.
The game is mercifully free of mazes, hunger, thirst and light daemons and although it is possible to make the thing unwinnable in a couple of places this becomes apparent pretty quickly. Just save often. There is an inventory limit but it rarely becomes much of a problem as a chosen central silo to store all objects in is accessible from most parts of the game as it opens up.
The game runs very smoothly in my version of DosBox (0.74) and the colours are customisable.
I have to admit at this point that I have still not beaten the game after returning to it several times in the last thirty odd years, although I have recently pushed my score up to 190 points out of a possible maximum of 300. There is no walkthrough available anywhere online (something I never resort to anyway).
There are few NPCs in the game aside from an exhibitionistic Hamster, an avariciously psychotic Chihuahua and a useful ghost that I have ever come across.
There is also a strange obsession with hats which will gradually unravel as you play.
Castle Ralf was originally a competition game where the person to solve it in the least number of moves by a given date would pocket 10% of the royalties. I have no idea if this was ever claimed.
Now where is the combination to that safe...
Infocom's Zork Trilogy cast a long shadow over IF for many years, but one of its more obscure spin-offs was another extremely large mainframe game begun soon after the authors (Rob Lucke and Bill Frolic) had completed the original mainframe Zork in 1979. They decided they would write an even larger game, with a more sophisticated parser. They certainly succeeded in the former as Warp is more than double the size of the original mainframe Zork, but the latter (the game was written in Pascal on an HP3000) is miles behind Infocom's ZIL even after its 4 year and 38 version development.
While Warp understands clever commands like BACKTRACK X, where X is a number of moves and also interprets whole sentences it will often fail to understand many synonyms and objects in the location you are in. Many times I found myself banging my head against the wall looking for a verb / noun combination the game would understand. It also allows for the creation of macros, but this feels more like unnecessary frippery than a clever construct to help the player.
Not until the endgame (yes there is one and it's even more difficult then the main game) is the macro function useful as SAVE GAME is disabled here and I found myself nesting ten macros inside another one to get me back to a point deep in the aforementioned endgame. I would probably have given up otherwise as it would have necessitated several hundred turns to get me back to the position I was in.
The game is set on a contemporary island resort and involves the collection of 46 treasures and 1216 points which are to be stored somewhere, although where is for you to find out. It encompasses many areas, including desert, a massive ocean that needs thorough mapping as it is studded with reefs and atolls as well as a less than friendly galleon, rainforest, mountain, city centre, shopping mall, underground areas and even a nudist beach and French café. That's not including neighbouring islands which you can swim or sail to, although the former option may well see you added to a Great White's dinner menu.
The player will soon recognise the many Zorkian influences as the game has its own versions of Zork's troll and thief as well as several other NPCs who seem rather static compared to many modern games. One in particular would not pass muster at a Labour Party Momentum meeting, but I suppose you have to allow for the rather less politically correct times in which the game was written. A rather racy magazine would get the thumbs down on campus nowadays too.
The game includes the DIAGNOSE command so you can check your health during a fight or the effects of certain toxic substances, both animal and mineral.
A skein of Lewis Carroll style surrealism pervades the whole thing, both grammatically and physically; the title lends itself to a large wonk in the game.
As in much IF of this vintage there is a large and rather difficult maze complete with Beatle's song reference, a lamp timer (although there is a way around this) and an inventory limit. The endgame even includes an homage to Zork III's Royal Puzzle.
It is very easy to put the game in an unwinnable position and unfortunately one of these comes very near the start of the game. Just make sure you map very carefully and keep lots of saved games in reserve. Spoiler below.
(Spoiler - click to show)You need to visit the bank early on the first day to procure a treasure - a clue lies in the President's Office .
The game also includes a large amount of ASCII art, far more than mainframe Zork does and this adds to the immersive feel of the game; circa six thousand lines of ASCII art if you please.
The whole experience took me two months to fully complete, playing along with Jason Dyer and Russell Karlberg via Jason's excellent Renga In Blue blog. We all experienced a few bugs and crashes but nothing a reload didn't seem to cure. There are numerous typos sprinkled amongst the fairly lengthy location descriptions too.
One innovative and enjoyable feature is God mode, which you only achieve upon completion of the end game. This provides you with the ability to take items from anywhere, GOTO any location in the game, check your map using SHOW LINKS, LIST all the puzzles and even walk on water!
Many thanks to Dan Hallock, guru of the HP3000 who has made the game easy to play for a whole new generation of players via the links above.
All we have to do now is find FisK somewhere.
There is an old saying by George Santayana which goes something like "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There can be little condemnation when new authors produce old style work as entertaining and skilful as this, regardless of whether you consider puzzlefests part of the past or still worthy of current consideration as I certainly do.
The game runs via a Glulx interpreter and can also be played online; just check out this year's Spring Thing page.
It is a sequel to the author's Bullhockey game which was released last year but needs no prior knowledge of that game to enjoy, although it shares some locations and protagonists. I would recommend that game as well.
As in the previous game, the hero(?) of our story wakes to discover that his beloved girlfriend Natalie has been abducted from the apartment which they share in the run down town of Bunco Springs and sets out to find her, convinced she has been kidnapped by the evil sorceress of the first game who, he discovers, has just busted out of prison.
I felt a strong empathy with Tom, who is in every way a believably decent, flawed everyman. Try and steal something and you will see what I mean.
The picaresque story moves along at an enjoyable lick in three distinct acts, never rushing the plot and allowing for a real sense of "world immersion." Seldom these days do you have any kind of large canvas to paint detail on and to enhance the realism, the modern trend being to produce pretty cameos. Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip achieves the Old Master effect very well, buildings being realistically depicted in their scope. There are large areas of the game that need careful exploring and mapping, and therein lies much of the game's old school charm. Corridors are just that; long and often prosaic, but all part of the elaborate weave of the plot.
Those of an impatient, I want my dinner now! mindset may learn a thing or two. The rest of us will enjoy a throwback to the days of wrestling with the likes of Mulldoon Legacy, Curses! and Trinity. I have no hesitation in praising this game as highly as that holy trinity (no pun intended). It is also of a similar size to those games, being over 120 locations in all and the descriptions informative and entertaining without being unnecessarily prolix. It even features some "stepping out of the present" dream sequences which reminded me of Curses! in particular.
There are a number of interesting and well delineated NPCs, both friends and foes, my favourite being the pulchritudinous Judith; I wish I had a neighbour like that.
Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip is not an easy game, although the puzzles are generally logical and feel like part of the story rather than stand alone scenarios. There is a point near the start of the game however, (Spoiler - click to show) involving purchasing a newspaper that had me stuck for a while and that I know stumped some other people too.
The coding of the game is excellent, with the odd typo and left over bug now corrected by the author (I helped here a bit I must admit!) and no problems with inventory limits or hunger / sleep / thirst / lamp light daemons the likes of which so often plagued games of this type in days gone by. And no mazes!
One interesting option the author has included is the THINK ABOUT command. This enables our modern day Quixote to momentarily pause his windmill tilting and consider objects, locations and characters he has met. Some of the responses are important to the progression of the story.
The denouement really surprised me as it goes against all that I had been expecting. Suffice to say that the fourth wall is breached and I feel confident in saying you will never guess the outcome.
Load it up and if you're like me, get out the A3 sketch pad and pen and prepare to immerse yourself in Bunco Springs. Just never stay the night in the local hotel.
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