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Mid Era Magnetic Scrolls Classic, December 19, 2021
This game was apparently voted Adventure Game Of The Year at the Golden Joystick Awards (somewhat ironically for a text adventure) and has long been a lacuna on my adventure CV. The following review contains mild spoilers.
I had previously only played The Pawn and Wonderland by Magnetic Scrolls (this game was released between the two) and had found The Pawn rather intractable and Wonderland, well, wonderful. Magnetic Scrolls' games definitely improved as time passed. This is certainly one of the finest games of its genre.
The parser is superb for a game of its time; certainly I would compare it favourably with the Infocom example which is high praise indeed. There are also some graphical locations which were state of the art in their day but which I prefer to switch off. This isn't so much a question of speeding the game up as using my own imagination to evoke the long and clever descriptions; for me the hybrid trope of graphical adventure and text adventure has always been rather uneasy and I was surprised to discover that approximately two thirds of all IF ever written has been of this type (according to Graham Nelson I believe).
The game is unashamedly a puzzle fest in which you have to amass fifteen treasures and store them (there are in fact four places to leave your plunder which will then all end up in one place automatically) in order to join the emponymous Guild. The GO TO command is implemented enabling you to travel to any previously visited location via one command line instruction. You can also SEARCH for a lost object. Use these options thoughfully as it is all too easy to walk subliminally into a deadly trap.
When you have finished playing Croesus you are ready to enter the very tough endgame. This reminded me strongly of the Topologika games and the shadows of Dr Partington, Peter Killworth et al hang over it in a most satisfactory way.
I played the version from the Magnetic Scrolls site via DosBox-X and found only five or six trivial grammatical errors which is pretty good for such a complex game. It did crash on me four or five times however, and I am not sure whether the game file or DosBox-X itself was the guilty culprit. You also need to type in a word from the What Burglar? feelie if you start a new session but as this is now freeware and available to view online it shouldn't present any problem. You are also given three attempts to type the correct one in.
The puzzles themselves tend to become more difficult as you progress into the game and several objects are red herrings. There is also one garden based scenario which appears to be a set piece puzzle but isn't. This was something I banged my head on for some considerable time before realising it wasn't actually a puzzle at all. So I buzzed off and tried another puzzle elsewhere.
There is a conundrum towards the end which strikes me as unfairly described; if a slot is mentioned I tend to think of something long and thin and not die-shaped. As I was carrying four long and thin objects and there were four slots I made a natural but inaccurate deduction which held me up for a long time.
In the manner of games from this era there is an inventory limit and many chances to make the game unwinnable but there are no lamp timer or hunger / thirst daemons. There are also no mazes. As you progress you will come across a number of human (and non-human) NPCs in the game with some of which, thanks to the parser, it is possible to have fairly sophisticated colloquy and you will need to do this to find out vital information to finish the game. Likewise the game is littered with pamphlets, books, magazines etc. which contain more information necessary to bring the game to a successful denouement. Remember in particular to spend plenty of time in the Library; it contains a very large collection of volumes and the subjects range from the merely humorous to the very helpful.
There is a wonderful humour pervading the game, at times dryly sparkling and at others Pythonesque to remind you that "hey, this is only a game!"
As an old fogey I find it a shame that practically no-one writes long parser-based puzzle fest IF of any pith or moment any more. If modern players tried this they may be inspired to write something in a similar vein rather than short and Twiney.