Reviews by Canalboy


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Spheres of Chaos, by Chris Grant

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Large Puzzle Fest Across A Sprawling Rural Landscape, January 3, 2024
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Large, Odyssey, RISC OS, Puzzle Fest, Parser, NPCs

Spheres of Chaos is a rara avis indeed - that is a large text only RISC OS adventure consisting of over 250 locations written by Chris Grant in 1994 (his only adventure as far as I can see) and I played it via the RPCEmu Emulator.

It is a linear odyssey with the goal to collect seven spheres of chaos scattered throughout an impoverished rural kingdom in an indefinite (seventeenth century?) bygone age and then to harness their power to prevent an evil king using them to his nefarious ends.

The white text on black background display is easy on the eye and the excellent location descriptions show that the author has a real eye for creating a believable milieu. The game also features sixteen NPCS which is more than most adventures of its kind; these range from friendly ones (the Giant and the Hermit) to those of a less philanthropic bent (the somewhat incongruous Lager Lout who vacillates between trying to kill you and calling you his best mate). Most of them can be addressed and often they proffer up useful information or objects; some need bribing. Generally "say x to y" covers all conversational bases although I struggled with the jungle king and his guard. Some of the NPCs appear to possess an adventurous spirit as they wander quite widely across the game's canvas; I once stumbled across the farmer tidying up in the network of caves - I have a strong suspicion his ambit should not exceed the farmhouse. Another NPC (the shambling mummy) seems to be directly lifted from the mainframe giant Acheton although I doubt if it has had the pleasure of meeting Mike Oakley.

The landscape itself is split up into several regions, namely a windmill surrounded by corn fields, a large forest, a lake with a water mill and central island, an interesting "city in the sky" constructed of bridges and tree houses high in the trees of a forest, an overgrown crater, a large castle replete with cesspit (don't try swimming!) and a village. Some of the regions cannot be revisited so it is important to work out which objects you need when leaving one particular region as the inventory limit is set at six and is predicated on number, not weight. There are three objects for which there appear to be no use and a few small mazes but they can be entered and exited fairly quickly via random movements with the exception of the small maze in the mine which can be mapped in the old fashioned way by dropping objects.

Given the size of the game the actual puzzles themselves are not great in number and I can't help but feel that the acquisition of the spheres could have been made more interesting and difficult as none require strong powers of reasoning to acquire, with the exception of the Sphere of Despair. Maybe my exposure to much tougher mainframe adventures recently has improved my forensic abilities but few people should be stumped by the puzzles contained herein.

There are a few bugs scattered throughout the game, i.e. you can carry all seven spheres if you drop all and take all but only six of them if you pick them up one by one. Another annoying feature is that the HELP command admonishes you for your stupidity and exits the game play session. There is also only scope for one saved position so I ended up moving saved game states and renaming them as back ups.

The parser is run of the mill and recognises EXAMINE and TAKE ALL. The game has no score or progress indicator but does exhibit an occasional dry wit, i.e. attempting to kill someone who is not present elicits, "There is no-one here to kill. What a shame."

Overall an interesting and none too easy diversion but most of the problems come from the sheer size of the game, working out which items to carry on to the next region and the phrasing of commands when addressing the NPCs. I recommend drawing a map as some regions are difficult to reconnoitre from memory. Interestingly there are no dark regions at all and no hunger or thirst timers. I can't think of a similar sized game with no light source whatsoever.

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Gateway to Karos, by Derek Haslam

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Derek Haslam's Excellent Expanded RISC OS Version Of An Old Acornsoft Game, November 10, 2023

I have just finished play testing Derek Haslam's new version of this game for RISC OS emulators. Thirty-nine years after the original Acornsoft version was released the author has extensively rewritten and expanded the game into a highly entertaining 296 room odyssey to claim the magical Talisman of Khoronz and return with it to Carraway Court (together with various assorted plunder you have accumulated along your quixotic way). Freeing himself from the memory shackles of the old 32K BBC the programmer has been able to produce a much more interesting and absorbing experience.
I have seldom played a text adventure which has the almost perfect melding of back story and puzzle fest. Derek is a natural writer and the world of the island of Karos (together with sundry small islands scattered around its coast) is woven skilfully around the story of the wizard Khoronz and his battle against the evil Vork.

The game encompasses many regions, from snowy mountain passes to treacherous swamps (watch what you are wearing) and thick forest. A castle sitting on a remote island, a deep and hazardous coal mine traversing a large underground region and stone barrows containing hidden clues are all to be explored and the game also features many NPCs, both friendly and informative ones who will impart essential information, sell you essential items (the barter system is de rigueur in some cases) and sometimes kill you. There are volcanic eruptions, sea monsters, wolves and kobolds to deal with, together with the most original use for an anvil that I have ever come across. It is possible to circumnavigate the island of Karos on a craft and there are several landing spots but be careful as it is very easy to drown on needle rocks or be sucked into a whirlpool amongst other entry points to Davy Jones's Locker. You will need a certain amount of nautical know-how to manoeuvre the boat correctly.

One unusual facet of the game is movement. In the main part of the island the normal eight compass directions plus up and down and occasionally in and out are used but indoors and occasionally at the more far flung regions left, right, forwards and backwards are used. This took me a while to perfect but it actually works very well once you get your head around the logistical concept.

The game does feature a very generous lamp timer, a continually descending number of energy points (you start with 1000 and lose one for each move or occasionally more at sea) but these can be replenished in several ways. There are no thirst or hunger timers. I particularly like the lamp icon which appears in the top left hand corner of the screen to remind you if it is on or off.

The inventory limit is set at a very high number and realistically heavier objects are more difficult to carry; indeed one can only be dragged. Almost every item has at least one use so discard nothing. Occasionally you will receive a helpful message stating that an item is no longer needed after you have used it for a particular task.

I finally finished after approximately fifteen upgraded versions and amassed over a thousand points although there was one treasure I did not collect along the way.

The fully released final version will include an incremented hint system at certain locations where continually typing "hint" or "help" will give you clues of gradually increasing helpfulness. This function is likely to get a fair amount of use as the puzzles in the game are sometimes far from easy but always fair. I don't think that it is possible to put the game into an unwinnable state without the player being aware of the fact.
I would definitely advise creating a map as the island is so large you will get lost on more than one occasion and the layout may even suggest a problem solution or two.

I thoroughly recommend giving this Tolkienesque work a go. Details of where to download the game are available on CASA. It can also be downloaded from Derek's web site

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