Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Adventure of the Week: Arrow of Death (Pt. 2) (1981)

This week, we return to Brian Howarth's two-part saga, tackling his Mysterious Adventure #4: Arrow of Death (Pt. 2) from 1981.  Howarth's games utilize the classic Scott Adams engine, but his design philosophy is a bit different.  We played Part 1 earlier, gathering the components of the magical Arrow of Death; now we get to assemble them and use it to defeat XERDON the EVIL.

An aside:  I generally enjoy the early text adventures, and had fun with Howarth's Time Machine, but after playing three of his fantasy games, I'm beginning to think that his designs aren't always well matched to the constraints of the technology.  This one has a large map with a lot of puzzles, but the game's size comes at the expense of description and subtletly.  There are very few in-game clues, and the goals and results of player actions aren't always clear; too many connections and rules become apparent only after the player has stumbled upon a puzzle's solution.  There just isn't enough in-game detail provided, and there's no unifying structure to the story -- the plot lurches arbitrarily from one set of puzzles to the next, and while there's some good, interesting stuff at the end, it's not a lot of fun getting there. 

But Howarth's fantasy adventures have their fans, and yes, I still played through the story.  As usual, I used the modern ScottFree interpreter to work through the game, for the sake of faster saves and restores, then went back and played the illustrated Commodore 64 version to capture graphics for this post.

The game opens in a marsh, presumably near the willow grove where the first game ended:

I'm sure Mr. Howarth meant it in a positive way, but There is no joy in reality seems a bit harsh for an opening dedication.  I get a great deal of joy out of reality, myself.  (Especially when it includes time for gaming...)

As always, if you have any intention of playing this game yourself, I'd advise you to do so before reading much further.  I'm going to be giving quite a bit away, for the sake of history and documentation.

**** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

Getting ready to embark upon Part 2, I was all set to destroy XERDON, imagining I had the fabled Arrow of Death in hand after finishing the first game.  As it turns out, we don't yet have the arrow made, and it's not quite as simple as MAKE ARROW.  That will have to wait for a bit.

There are a couple of places in the game where the player needs to DIG; sometimes a shovel is required, sometimes not, which is a nice touch.  The game's all-purpose "no digging here" response doesn't always fit, though; I tried to dig in the marsh, and in the mud, and was consistently told Ground too hard!
When all else failed and I seemed stuck, I decided to end it all and JUMP CHASM.  Which led to a ledge with a rope bridge, so that was a good thing, if completely unforeshadowed.  On the bridge, I was informed that Something flew by, dropped something -- which turned out to be an iron helmet, but it landed at the bottom of the ledge, not in the "room" I was in, so I had to go hunting for it.

The crevice at the bottom of the ledge can be entered easily; there are no magic crack-widening puzzles involved, for a pleasant change.

I CUT ROPES on the rope bridge and died in the fall.  I was then stuck for a while, until a walkthrough informed me that I could HOLD ROPES first and land safely on the other side of the chasm after cutting them.

I don't know what Mr. Howarth's personal pharmaceutical habits may have been, but some straggly weed proves remarkably useful in the game:

The guard's only purpose is to prevent us from turning the wheel.  KILL GUARD did not work at all, as He stabbed me! I am dead.   If we are wearing a uniform, we can TURN WHEEL and hear rumbling, which shifts the landscape a bit, if we can get back topside to see what's happened.

Said uniform is lifted from another of the corpses frequently found lying about in Arrow of Death-land -- this one looks a bit like an assassinated Prince Valiant:

There's a kite in the game, found in a windy room, but FLY KITE does not work the way I thought it might.  The parser thinks we want to FLY and suggests we JUMP.  If we JUMP on the platform with the kite in hand, it takes us back to the chasm near the start of the game; if we don't have the kite, and the helmet, it's fatal.  We can only do this once, as the Giant Kite becomes a Broken kite in the process, so it's important to establish an alternate route before using the kite.

I literally got stuck in the mud -- EXAMINE MUD before going into the mud did nothing, and once I was there neither EXAMINE SLAB nor GO SLAB did anything.  A walkthrough informed me I needed to EXAMINE MUD *while in the mud*, to discover a lever.

The game's map is really quite large -- once we're past the mud, we find an explorable area containing a mule, a tapestry, a dungeon, and a grotesque animal (of unspecified nature -- the creature is in a guard room, and even the illustrated version only shows us the guard, not the animal.)

There's a whole sequence of stuff to do with the tapestry -- most of the steps are obvious except for the final one.  LOOK TAPESTRY reveals a button, PUSH BUTTON causes an altar to appear.  We LOOK ALTAR to find a candle; LIGHT CANDLE and a column of fire appears.  But it proves fatal to enter it (once we figure out that despite the terminology used, neither GO COLUMN nor GO FIRE works, and we actually have to GO FLAME).  To avoid carbonized death, we have to PRAY ALTAR, and are told that Something happened!  Further trial and error establishes that we can now pass through the flame, but it's a one-way street and there's no coming back if we've forgotten anything.

Another nonsensical puzzle appears in this area, compounded with parser difficulties - we have to kill the grotesque animal (it actually just stuns him) to get a key.  But KILL ANIMAL doesn't work -- only KILL THE ANIMAL does.  Thank you, walkthrough!

As we might have guessed, FEED MULE makes the hungry animal a happy mule.  He follows us around, and we can tie a rope the prisoner's grating and to the mule.  Then we have to get the stubborn critter to pull the grating loose.  YELL MULE, SCARE MULE, LEAD MULE, TAKE MULE, MOVE MULE -- none of these work, but PULL MULE does.

Once we have released the ropes from the rope bridge, we can't CUT ROPE anymore -- the game tells us I can't do that yet, probably because ROPES are different from ROPE in the game's vocabulary.

The prisoner held beneath the grating is ARNID the fletcher.  We can only see him down there before we tie the rope to the grating, for some reason; perhaps it's very thick rope.  Once the grating is out of the way, we can climb down and find him unconscious.  Fortunately he's herb-friendly:

With the Magic Arrow of song and legend finally in hand, we enter the last section of the game.  We ROW BOAT, and get swallowed by a fish, where we have to smoke ourselves out.  (Tobacco this time, mind you; though neither USE TOBACCO or PUT TOBACCO works, we have to FILL PIPE and smoke it -- twice!)  The graphics in this game are fairly schematic and primitive, but the fish's innards are organically interesting:

We eventually find a smooth stone with a picture of a beggar on it -- as far as I can tell, he isn't the same beggar from the first game.  When we RUB STONE he shows up in person, and for some reason wants the stone we just used to summon him; we GIVE STONE and get the Magic Bow.  Why?  Alas, it's just a puzzle, with no convincing motivation provided.

Dynamite being a tempting inventory item, I tried to blow up several things with it -- the cairn and the mound yielded a noisy BOOOOOOm!  but no change.  It's to be used on the large boulder, provoking a slightly more detailed response:

Something happened!It explodes!

Entering the castle where XERDON resides, we are blocked by an inpenetrable veil.  I thought at first it might be U.K. usage, but it appears it's just a misspelling.  There's a large pipe organ nearby - PLAY ORGAN doesn't work, but if we LOOK ORGAN we find some sheet music and can PLAY MUSIC to dispel the troublesome inpenetrability.

We can't just walk up and KILL XERDON directly, of course:
Hears me
Kills me with an Evil glance!
I am dead.
But we can find a secret room nearby with conveniently-placed slits in the wall, which XERDON's magical foresight has somehow failed to notice:

I hope he stays dead, though there is a fourth game in the Brian Howarth series set in this annoying, arbitrary fantasy universe.  We will tackle it in due course, I fear.

1 comment:

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