Thursday, February 24, 2011

At Random: Time Lord (NES, 1990)

Milton Bradley never fully committed to the videogame market -- that is, they never developed a console of their own -- but they flirted with it on a couple of occasions, starting with a brief alliance with Texas Instruments in the early 1980s.  Later, the venerable game company launched a line of cartridges for Nintendo's 8-bit NES, and my latest blind selection has drawn one of them from the stack:  Time Lord.

Dig the metallic horizon effects.

The game was developed by the prolific UK developer Rare Ltd./Rare Coin-It, and opens with a futuristic sci-fi tune that sounds a lot like the Commodore 64 SID tracks in vogue at the time, with rapid alternation of tones and frequency sweeps to produce interesting sounds.  And while the concept is credited to Milton Bradley, the game feels very much like a British 8-bit home computer game -- there's a fair amount of action, but the gameplay is puzzle-oriented at heart.

As the Time Lord (no relation to Dr. Who, at least officially), we are sent into a number of different eras to fight an alien threat changing our planet's history.  We must collect 5 orbs on each level, but it's not just a matter of fighting our way through the levels against the constant onslaught of respawning enemies -- we have to figure out how to make the orbs in each world appear so they can be collected.  The first level is introductory, with the orbs just lying around for the taking.  But as we move on to Castle Harman in medieval times, we have to figure out just what the game wants us to do.  For example, here we have to pick a sufficient number of mushrooms to get an orb to surface:

I had a dream like this once.

Each orb must be found by completing a specific, unstated objective -- hopping on pillars, killing a particular enemy, or sometimes just waiting for a floating orb to drift within reach.  After we've collected four of them, we will face a boss to win the fifth orb and warp to the next level:

"Hey, buddy!  Wake up and kill me already!"

Fortunately, when our hero dies, we're able to continue immediately as long as we have another life available.  The serious pressure comes from the clock -- we have to finish the game before 3000 A.D. arrives, and as it's already January 1st of 2999 when we begin, and the days tick by relatively quickly, there's much to be done, and quickly.

We begin each new era with fists as our only weapon -- for some reason, the advanced technology that transports us from era to era in seconds is incapable of sending along, say, a laser pistol.  Maybe it's a paradox concern, maybe an eco-friendly ethical restriction, but in any case we must hunt up some local weaponry appropriate to the era if we hope to succeed.  The second level takes us to Dead Man's Gulch in the Wild West, circa 1860 A.D., where a couple of guns are available if we can find them -- but it's rough going early on, as only the bad guys are properly armed for ranged combat:

The Time Lord likes to can-can.

For some reason, the cowboys are colored either gray or blue, calling the American Civil War to mind.  But we've no time to dilly-dally over anachronistic detail; the levels are not large, but triggering each of the orbs takes quite a bit of trial and error, and running out of lives eventually becomes less of a concern than the passing days.  According to the manual, we will also visit the pirate-infested Caribbean to swash some buckles, World War II circa 1943 to fight the Nazis, and finally return to the present to take on the alien Drakkon King.  But I didn't get that far.

Time Lord is an interesting challenge, and I imagine it wouldn't take long to play through once all the orbs have been  discovered.  But that's no mean feat -- it's no wonder Milton Bradley advertised their own Game Counselor hotline on the back of the manual, and it's not even a 900 number.  Unfortunately, it's no longer in service two decades later, and even the mighty Game Genie's magic can offer little assistance for this style of gameplay.  So I finally had to drop out, mission unfulfilled.

Just didn't have the time.  Lord!

If you don't mind paying the shipping, you can probably pick up a copy of Time Lord real cheap-like:

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