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About the Story
In the cruel kingdoms north of the Viraxian Empire, a barbarian seeks treasure - and vengeance! Having escaped the clutches of the Slaver King, he has vowed to pillage the wealth of the kingdom ... then bring it to its knees. YOU are this barbarian. Weakened by your ordeal as a slave, wandering an unfamiliar realm filled with danger, you must use cunning, savagery, and something approximating English syntax to regain thy might, rally an army of friends to your cause, do repeated business with a Delicate Doxy, and do deadly violence unto the Slaver King!
Nominee, Best Individual NPC - 2007 XYZZY Awards
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It's strange and wonderful. It's also fun, well-polished, and written with considerable skill. If you're an IF aficionado, you'll probably find that it takes you a few turns to get used to the interaction, which is quite unlike even the oldest text adventures. It's entirely its own thing, and that's why it works.
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The writing is frequently hilarious. The game is solidly designed: the environment is fairly small, the inventory is kept to a manageable size at all times, and you can't really get stuck.
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... for all its aggressive surface awfulness, Treasures is a superbly crafted little game that contains none of the usual annoyances of games of its (fictional) age and genre. You are provided with a clear map of the game's logically laid-out terrain; the puzzles are, fair, neither too difficult nor too trival, and surprisingly clever in light of the limited parser; and even the randomized combats are crafted in a logical stairstep pattern that means you will never have to fight an opponent who is too difficult to defeat.
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Number of Reviews: 8
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I can see why this game is polarizing. Itís got loads of randomized combat, which is a turn-off for some players. Itís a pastiche of old-old-school imbalanced pen-and-paper RPGs, which may be confusing if youíve never been a role-player. It restricts available verbs to about a half-dozen, and the plot starts off as barely remixed Conan the Barbarian.
But under the covers, this is a fantastic game. Itís tightly-implemented, bug-free as far as I could see, and takes full advantage of Inform technology to make the playing experience smooth and clean. The writing, although it apes the breathless earnestness of early RPG modules, is chock full of hilarious descriptions. Clever responses to unusual commands are liberally sprinkled throughout ((Spoiler - click to show)try to PARLEY with your DUFFEL BAG, for instance).
This is definitely a game where you benefit from sitting down and reading the documentation first. And thereís plenty of it. The distribution comes with a manual that details the alternate history the game ostensibly comes from, followed by the entire sourcebook for the fictitious Encounter Critical RPG that ToaSK is based upon, followed by encrypted clues. Although you donít have to read the documentation, the Encounter Critical RPG setting is the central structure for everything in the game, and understanding it will make some puzzles far more clear. Also, for me, reading the documentation made the game far funnier as I was able to quickly pick out the references.
From a design perspective ToaSK is very interesting. The decision to greatly limit the verbs obviously limits the potential actions the player can take, but doing that also helps the player get interesting responses more easily. If there are only a few things you can do to a given object, itís far easier to code meaningful text for all of them. The result is a game that feels more fully implemented, even though it doesnít have full physical modeling. But who needs Informís physical modeling when you have ďscientific realismĒ?
The other consequence of the restricted verb set is that it makes the player seem smarter. Itís easier to figure out what items do when there are fewer interactions, and even brute-force repetition can work to reveal hidden puzzle solutions. This type of design approach wouldnít work for every game, but it certainly works here, and works well.
To counteract this, the parser breaks the fourth wall constantly and deliberately, and slings gratuitious insults for the slightest deviation in command input. Fauxld English is used throughout (methinks this be, mayhaps, where Tiberius Thingamus got his inspiration).
There is, of course, no detailed conversation model. And anyway, youíre a barbarian ó sophisticated conversation would be wasted on you. Your interactions with characters are limited to the same verb set as inanimate objects, but this still allows a surprising number of things you can do ((Spoiler - click to show)try ENTERing characters, for exampleÖ). And the choice to limit character interaction allows ToaSK to include many different interesting characters, from Gina the willing virgin sacrifice to the Viraxian Dark Gods, to the runecarved, peg-legged dwarf Gunwar. And, of course, thereís Vessa, the Delicate Doxy, to whom you will be returning many times.
The game is fairly well paced via its combat leveling mechanic. Youíll need to explore and solve puzzles to gain health points. Gaining health points will enable you to fight more powerful enemies, which will get you more gear and items with which to solve more puzzles. Most combats are potentially fatal, but multi-level UNDO works wonders to get you out of fights where youíre in over your head.
Overall impressions? The world of Encounter Critical feels like a tall, cold Kitchen Sink made with bathtub gin. Think of a handwritten mixture of Gamma World (the original edition, of course), Eldritch Wizardry, and Traveller, with some Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dune, Sinbad the Sailor, Conan the Barbarian, and a Godzilla movie or two thrown in for flavor. Add snark and sex, then overheat the writing to taste.
Until Christmas Eve, the full version of this game cost $6.95. Itís well worth it at that price (and I paid it on December 23 after discovering it that day), but itís since been released for free. If youíve only played the intro version, you havenít seen anything. Donít miss the opportunity to play the full game, and experience one of the unsung masterpieces of modern retro IF. Or is that retro modern? Anyway, you should definitely, definitely play it.
A heroic fantasy romp, and probably the best such in IF. Good for many hours of fun. One of those situations where I'd like to be able to give four-and-a-half stars.
Treasures is conspicuously non-literary: it does not try to do anything except amuse, but it has high standards for this. It is written in an overblown cod-medieval heroic jargon. Like a Fighting Fantasy book, a Gygax dungeon or Zork, its worldbuilding is a melange of convenience, with SF and fantasy tropes thrown together in a big nonsensical pile. Its dominant tone, though, is one of old-school swords-and-sorcery, all villainous port-cities, cunning young courtesans and ripped barbarians. The protagonist is a straightforward rip-off of Conan.
None of this is taken remotely seriously. Fond, over-the-top lampoons of a schlocky genre, attempts to replicate the so-awful-it's-accidentally-brilliant, can very easily become lazy and tiresome; but ToaSK is saved by quality of writing, by balanced economy of design, and by meticulous implementation -- none of which you'd expect from a heroic-fantasy thing that presents itself as a retrogame.
The game avoids guess-the-verb by limiting the verb set very tightly: USE, for instance, covers essentially all fiddling with objects. Most of the action, then, is about guess-the-object (difficulty: easy to moderate), or fighting monsters of a low enough level for you to defeat. At the lowest difficulty setting, I encountered only one or two monsters who couldn't be defeated when first encountered; at the highest, a bit more care is required but progress is by no means grueling. The pace and difficulty is very well-measured indeed; I played this in a group on a car journey, and while things were never a cakewalk, we never got stuck for long enough for our enthusiasm to flag. It is (I think) possible to make the game unwinnable in a place or two (edit: I'm given to understand that this has been fixed in the most recent version), or to shut off certain important optional content, though mostly it's pretty generous.
Also, although the game sets itself up as a treasure hunt, this is really not the central interest; almost everything that you gank will end up being used for something else, the non-functional treasures will mostly be used to buy time with Vessa the Delicate Doxy, and having an overfull inventory makes you less effective in combat. Most objects are single-use and disappear when used; so your inventory is a to-do list, rather than an inert pile of points scored.
While the prose is very much a lampoon, it displays a strong sense for (not just a snickering love of) the godawful language of pulp fantasy RPGs and their relatives. There's a freakin' reference to Tarkus, for fuck's sake, a strong contender in the Top 10 Most Embarrassing LPs My Dad Owns. And with its profusion of all-caps phrases, there's a definite aroma of DWJ's sardonic Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Ross has a very fine ear for just how far to push this; the thees and thys, for instance, are used only when they genuinely make a sentence funnier, rather than being slathered all over everything in the hope that comedy will result. This is not always infallible: the pirates and the end boss are kind of cringeworthy. But there's a lot more substance here than mere nostalgia disguised with a thin coat of irony.
Much fun is had at the expense of the barbarian's machismo and stupidity, but this is, crucially, of a good-natured sort that includes the player, rather than blaming them for things that aren't within their control; the player's job is to steer the PC through things he doesn't really understand. (The approach of Lost Pig is very similar.) And, indeed, the whole world feels pretty good-natured, which makes the general tone feel somewhat lighter than the material it's drawing on. While in theory the game-world is ruled over by an oppressive tyrant, in practice you can mostly wander about as freely as you please. All the villainous low-lifes of the port-city turn out to be good-hearted and on your side. Your enemies are mostly independent monsters, rather than agents of the Slaver King. So while there are theoretically tortures and slavery going on, the general feel is never very bleak.
The good-natured non-seriousness is also the thing that lets the game get away with lots of women who have plainly walked off the cover of a 70s pulp novel, by way of an adolescent fantasy. There are lots of heaving oiled chests and sex-for-fetch-quests, but these are not really twinned with the animus towards women or blithe sketchiness that makes so much classic fantasy creepy as hell. Like many heroic protagonists, the barbarian isn't all that interested in women, sex aside; but this is portrayed as part of his risible stupidity, rather than a sensible manly attitude that the reader is assumed to share.
There's something about the whole thing of very early Discworld, back when Pratchett wasn't doing much except sniggering at fantasy tropes. Of course, Pratchett fairly quickly moved on to using the setting to reflect real-world things and explore more complex characters; ToaSK never pretends to be remotely interested in that. But there's a moment at the very end, after the kingdom is saved (in an apocalyptic orgy of violence that leaves most of your allies dead), where the writing steps aside a little from the lampoon and the mood finally takes the barbarian seriously. The ending itself is precisely what the genre demands, but the tone is handled to perfection.
Treasures will not change your life, deeply stir your emotions, or grant you insights into the human condition. Its design does not purport to light a way forward to anything. It will probably be befuddling to anyone who didn't, at some stage of their life, enjoy crap heroic fantasy. Accept all that, and it's a highly entertaining game and an impressive piece of craft, which is precisely what it sets out to be.
This game is one of the most brilliantly implemented things ever.
It comes to us from an alternate 1979, one much like our own, except that Gygax and Arneson had been cowed by the madness that is Encounter Critical, and Infocom never existed--but CogniKING did.
Beautifully paced, tough-but-fair, and, well, it makes me want to go wallow in Blue Box Basic D&D again. Read the docs, and then read the Encounter Critical rulebook. If you're not giggling, then walk away and play something else. If you are, this game is worth every penny of its price.
If you think the combats are too hard, walk away from them until you're stronger. If you get stuck on the verbs, you are in trouble. This game is like huffing paint and watching Heavy Metal only without the brain damage. It's like rocking out to Black Sabbath in a mildew-smelling basement while eating Cheetos and fantasizing about Farrah Fawcett.
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"Note: requires a Z6-capable interpreter, preferably with Blorb sound support." [--blurb from Competition Aught-One]
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