Balances

by Graham Nelson

Zorkian
1994

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Bite-sized entry in the Enchanter universe, July 10, 2011

Balances is a relatively short, old-fashioned puzzle game set in the world of the Enchanter series and riffing on Spellbreaker in particular: the player must find scrolls, learn their spells, and cast them in order to collect white cubes. It shares a number of design characteristics with those games: rooms represent fairly large open spaces, there are more animal NPCs than humans to interact with, and a loose, playful approach to world-building means that the various areas don't have a great deal to do with one another.

The puzzles are not all fair by modern standards, and it's easy to lock yourself out of winning by doing things in the wrong order. (Spoiler - click to show)In particular, avoid taking any lottery tickets from the barker until you're sure you've found out everything from him that you need to know. One or two discoveries also require the player to act in somewhat counter-intuitive ways. (Spoiler - click to show)The fourth cube can only be found if the player casts a spell he has reason to think will be dangerous.

Fairness was arguably not the game's paramount concern when it was written, however. Balances was released as a source example, showing how to do tasks that were technically virtuosic at the time, such as allowing the player to name objects and subsequently refer to them by name and usefully parsing numbers from a wide range. (Modern systems make most of these very much easier, but at the time these effects were not easy to accomplish.)

For players who have fond feelings towards the Enchanter series, however, Balances offers good value as a game. Several of the puzzles are quite clever, the effects of the various spells are entertainingly applied, and there's a very satisfying twist on the spellcasting mechanic from the original games. (Spoiler - click to show)The lleps spell reverses the effect of any existing spell, so your spell book is essentially twice as effective as it seems. Moreover, the unfairness is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the game is so small and there are only so many things the player can reasonably try to do.