Melbourne House serve up their latest game with a liberal helping of Gallic. Was it to our taste?
Back in 50BC when France was called Gaul, the nasty Roman legionnaires were in charge, but a small pocket of resistance still defied their might. The indomitable occupants of a small village held a secret elixir which turned wimps into warriors and under the influence of this drink they could move mountains, let alone Roman invaders.
The greatest warrior in the village was a small Gaul called Asterix who added his own brand of shrewdness and cunning to the elixir's magic. His friend, Obelix, had no need for the potion. He was dropped in a vat of the stuff as a child and now the effects are permanent. Although a menhir deliveryman by trade, he will drop everything to follow Asterix into battle. This can be very painful for anyone nearby because a menhir is a large, heavy stone block!
Whether it was a side-effect of the potion or a twist of fate no-one knows by Obelix is as bereft of brains as he is blessed with strength. It was this dullard's impatience which set Asterix on the quest for the shards of the Magic Cauldron.
One day, as the village lined up for their portion of potion, Obelix joined the queue, forgetting that he was the only one who didn't need the drink. When Getafix, the local druid and potion brewer, saw Obelix he grew annoyed.
"I'm sorry but you should know by now I'm not giving you any. Now move on!"
Obelix, a man of great sensitivity, turned and swung a dejected kick at the cauldron containing the potion. Such was the strength of this casual action that the cauldron shattered into eight pieces which were scattered far and near, even to Roma itself!
The tribal chief, Vitalstatistix, was horrified, without the potion the Romans would overrun the village. Asterix was charged with the quest to find the pieces of the magic cauldron so that Fullyautomatix could reforge it in his blacksmith's workshop.
As luck would have it, one piece of the cauldron was left behind and it held enough elixir for a single dose for Asterix. Getafix tipped this into a gourd and gave it to him to help him on his journey to find the other seven pieces.
Wheresoever Asterix goes, so follows Obelix and this is where Melbourne House takes up the story. The game of Asterix and the Magic Cauldron begins.
The adventure starts in the Gaulish village and you must lead Asterix throughout Caesar's Roman Empire. On the way foes will be encountered and must be defeated or avoided. With only one dose of potion, great judgement must be exercised as to when this will be most beneficial.
The graphics screens are magnificently colourful and true to the original cartoons by Underzo. The only problem is that they take a little while to draw and cannot be aborted if you accidentally move to a new screen. This can get a little irritating and slows down progress unnecessarily. I'd like to say that it's worth it for the indisputable quality of the superb graphics but I can't. I much prefer continuous action and I can see no reason why a new screen cannot check for a cancellation signal and redraw the previous screen instead.
Each screen has an iconised status display at the top. These indicate the details of items carried by Asterix, the number of lives remaining and the score.
At the beginning, Asterix has the gourd of potion and three hams. The hams are an essential item because without them Asterix will lose a life or the morale-boosting company of Obelix who loves food, especially ham. When supplies run low, there are plenty of wild boars in the forests but first they must be caught.
"May Toutatis go with you!"
Combat follows similar lines to the Way Of The Exploding Fist. When Asterix encounters a boar, or an enemy, at close quarters, a window opens up and an exploded view of the battle is depicted. Using the keyboard or joystick to select your moves, battle is joined and the strength meters at each edge of the window start to fall as each blow is landed. The first one to reach zero is the loser and, if this is Asterix, a life is lost.
When the defeated opponent is a boar, it will turn into a ham. It may be picked up by steering Asterix towards it and an extra ham is added to the corresponding icon value. The maximum number of hams which Asterix can carry is five. As Melbourne House say in their instructions "You try carrying six hams around!"
During their wandering, the heroic duo will visit three major Roman encampments: Aquarium, Totorum and Compendium. Here, and in the nearby countryside, centurions and legionnaires are on patrol and this means more fighting action for Asterix.
The legionnaires are fairly easy to overcome and this is reflected in the speed at which they meander about the screen. In battle, Asterix must emulate a Gallic Mohammed Ali by floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. If the assault is pressed too strongly, he will be defeated quickly, but if he fights and runs then returns he can recover some of the energy that the battle has taken from him.
Even if the legionnaire starts to get the better of him Asterix can run away by moving out of the window away from his foe and try to find a place to hide. For their own preservation, Spectrum owners should note that this applies to the Commodore version only. Spectrum Asterixes don't have a yellow streak and will see it through to the death!
Centurions have big sticks and they are very strong. This is the biggest threat to our hero and he must choose when to flee and when to stand his ground.
In the encampments the grappling Gaul may find a key which will help him when he arrives in Roma. The key allows access to places which may be of use to him.
Somewhere there is the prison and exploration may lead to an appearance in the Colosseum arena against the biggest, meanest gladiators in all the Empire. If Asterix can survive this galling opposition, he can survive anything! Pass the magic potion, will you?
To find all seven of the cauldron pieces Asterix will have to visit every location but the first piece is very near to the village. There are other goodies such as gold, and food, to be picked up too.
The end of the game is very disappointing. Instead of fanfares and rose-strewn victory celebrations, you are greeted with a simple message across the top of the screen. "By Touatis, you have done it!" At least they could have invoked the correct go. Toutatis, Melbourne House, Toutatis! Goscinny will not be amused.
This is the sort of game which will appeal to the Martial Art maniacs who are tired of just bashing an opponent's lights out. The exploration of the countryside takes time because it does not follow a simple mapping technique. Areas within the map wrap around so that you appear to be walking round in circles at times. The game will challenge battle-hardened veterans as they beat up the Romans to the accompaniment of a galloping French ditty.