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Competition Game Finally Bites The Dust, May 24, 2023
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.