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Enjoyable Large Old School Sprawler Of Intermediate Difficulty, January 16, 2022
This rather large and well crafted text adventure was originally written for the Apple II in 1982 and then re-programmed for the Commodore 64 two years later.
It is a nice throwback to the days of Mainframe games, with more than a nod to Zork, Colossal Cave and Acheton although I wouldn't consider it as tough as any of those.
The rather diaphanous premise is that you need to collect sixteen treasures and ferret them away somewhere to become Crystal Caverns Estate Landlord (a rather upmarket Rigsby I suppose) by exploring the areas deep below an old Victorian Mansion. Unlike Rising Damp there is no view of the gas works but there are various views through the mansion windows of a rotting shed and various other decaying landmarks in the game. In fact an atmosphere of decay and decrepitude hangs over the whole scenario - there are rotten tree stumps, rusted hinges, broken shutters and skeletons sprinkled liberally throughout the game geography.
There are the usual tropes associated with games of this era; a maximum inventory of seven objects (the same number as the Cambridge Phoenix games); a lamp timer which can be ameliorated by finding an object that recharges it (thanks 8bitAg for the nudge there); a rather nasty maze for which there is some help although I didn't find it until after I'd spent many an hour solving it the old fashioned way of dropping objects); and a number of twisting exits that make map drawing excruciating. One of the more colourful descriptions in the game seems to have been lifted almost exactly from the Volcano View in Dave Platt's Colossal Cave extension.
The two word parser is pretty good for its age, that is not as good as Infocom, Level 9 or Magnetic Scrolls but better than contemporaneous games like Warp, Castlequest and Excalibur. The first six letters of any noun are recognised and it is a standard two word affair. The only exception I found to this was turning off the lamp when three words were needed as none of DOUSE, EXTINGUISH or LAMP OFF seemed to work. It understands TAKE ALL and EXAMINE although the latter seems redundant as it nearly always replies "It is nothing special" and only differs from this reply when READ produces the same result. OOPS, BACK and VERBOSE are missing. The latter omission of course means the location descriptions cannot be truncated or lengthened. Two of the puzzle solutions revolve around the use of rather obscure verbs and as far as I can tell there are no suitable alternatives to implement the actions I tried.
Response times via my C64 Vice emulator v 3.5 were good although the game locked up on me once.
The standard of puzzle I would put as intermediate. This would be a good introduction to a novice IF player as the majority of solutions are logical. The best (and most intricate) involves a Mainframe computer (gosh really?) a disk drive and a printer plus an amusing pun on the American Byte Magazine.
I found the American spellings somewhat jarring after a while (traveling, parlor etc.) Do you remember when we spoke of goose pimples not goose bumps in Blighty? Where is the guy to give a penny to at the beginning of November? And when something lasted 24 hours a day not 24/7? We want our language back! Sorry, I've taken a Valium and I'm back to the review...
There are very few typos in the game; offhand I can think of "hewed" instead of "hewn" or is that an Americanism too? And "eminating" instead of "emanating" but in a game of this size it is one of the better games in that regard.
There are no NPCs at all so don't expect any modern style conversations or pearls of wisdom to be dispensed by subterranean creatures; you are very much a solitary traveller here.
Points are awarded for finding treasures, more for stowing them away and the rest for solving particular problems. As far as I can see there are no red herrings although one object is not necessary to complete the game.
Unusually for a game of this vintage there are no sudden death endings and I didn't find a single way to make the game unwinnable. In fact I only managed to die once and that was tantamount to suicide.
Towards the climax I found myself wandering around with 440 points and with no idea as to what to do next. In the end I tried to address what I thought was a problem and to my surprise the game suddenly ended with me having 500 points. It is a strange and rather unsatisfactory ending, almost as if the author couldn't think of a way of wrapping it up. Anyway it doesn't really make sense. The fact that the maximum score is not given meant that I had no idea how near I was to completing the game.
If you remember Watney's Party Sevens and the days when crisps had flavour this will be right up your street. No, I don't think they'll understand that last sentence in America either.