Until pretty recently, presenting an ST or an Amiga game as complicated as Bloodwych to a programmer and saying "Here, convert this, matie," would've got you a bit of a laugh but not much else. It certainly wouldn't have got you a game. Things seem to have been changing a bit recently though - take Time Of Lore, The Bard's Tale, all those Freescape games - massive things crushed down into 128K (and even occasionally 48), Bloodwych is as big as any of those, but it's got a genuine two-player options too! Blimey! (Little wonder that we've been waiting a good year to review the pesky thing!)
Hang on a mo though - bigger doesn't always necessarily mean better, does it, Spec-chums? Cramming this sort of involved stuff into a paltry 48K and expecting a decent game (and one that plays at a reasonable speed) might be asking a bit much, don't you think? Might Bloodwych turn out to be a brave try that's actually a little bit crap? Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there? Read on..!
At first glance, this looks exactly the same as all those other gigantic icon-driven arcade adventures I've been talking about. Yep, it's all there - the daft plot, the never-ending manual which seems more like the complete works of Shakespeare than a set of instructions, the squillion keyboard controls, acres of boring rooms and pointless tasks to fulfill. Hmmm. Sounds Promising.
No doubt you won't want to plough your way through the hefty manual - I tried and couldn't actually understand it [Try reading the English version! - Ed] So, like me, you'll probably want to jump straight into the game instead, preferably grabbing a nearby friend on the way so you can do it two-player style. While you're at it, you'd better choose your characters from the selection screen, all of whom've got ridiculous names and various abilities, spells, possessions and wotnot. Each player controls a party of four, which means the lot of you will be eaten alive by some lunatic monster, not just one. A quick(ish) load from the tap (or, indeed, disk) and you're away.
Each player controls his (or her) own half of the screen - so in two-player mode you can play the thing completely separately, or, more usefully, co-operate with each other (more on that later). The main action takes place in a window in the middle of your half, whilst the icon system fills up either side. Maybe it's just me, but usually I find most icon systems completely impossible to use - I never know what's actually going on. There's none of that here though, oh no no - this one's dead simple. Just move your cursor about (with keys of your choice) and click on whichever icon you want to use - some icons revealing new menus. The icons even bear some resemblance to their function as well. Wow! This means that you'll actually be able to get into the game after five or ten minutes, rather than the two or three weeks it usually takes with this sort of thing, and all with practically no help from the manual at all.
Moving your characters about is equally simple - you take control of one, and his (or her) other three buddies straggle closely behind. Before you start, it's a good idea to strategically position your group to make the most of their best points. For example, put the physically strongest ones and the ones with the largest weapons (ahem) at the front, and the ones with guns or bows at the back. Everyone's an individual in this game!
Okay, so I've chosen my characters and I'm set to go. I think I'll explore along here. Yikes! A skeleton's just jumped out in front of me. I wonder who he is? Maybe I should say hello before I hack him to pieces. (You never know, he may even give me something.) Whip your cursor over to the communicate icon and up springs the conversation menu. Now you can chat for a while, flog him some of the junk you've picked up along the way, or even invest in a bargain or two. Wait a mo, he's talking to me - you can fully communicate with all the characters in this game, even if it's only a polite request to go away. Eek! Now he's waving his arms about frantically in the air (with some pretty dodgy animation too)! What is going on?
Actually, folks, he's firing arrows at my head - obviously a little cross because I didn't buy any of his goods. Time to retaliate. Zooming over to the Attack and Defend icon it's a case of can you shoot him faster than he's shooting you? - press Fire as quickly as possible Daley Thompson's Decathlon-style to shoot back. Fortunately, the answer's usually 'yes' and he'll (I'm assuming that this skeleton's a bloke by the way - it's kinda hard to tell) be reduced to no more than a puff of smoke. If you look closely at the floor in front of you, you'll see something he's dropped - usually just some gold, or occasionally a key. But objects on the ground are extremely hard to see - it took me ages to realise that there was anything down there at all!
Of course it's not always that easy. Later in the game it becomes all too easy to get surrounded by baddies who are just too quick off their blocks for you (resulting in almost spontaneous death). Even that's not the end of the world though - providing you've still got at least one player alive you can take a quick visit to the re-incarnation room to get a new set. Try and avoid this though, and remember to look after your party - they need to eat 'n' sleep just like us y'know.
(This isn't generally the sort of game that you stop playing because it's two o' clock in the morning and you just have to go to bed. I think that I'm still on my first-ever game - and I must've played the thing for days! Luckily a Save Game option's not far from hand.)
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, walking about killing innocent skeletons and trolls and things. This can get a tad on the tedious side though, so it looks like it's time to get the manual out of the bin and find out what you're actually meant to be doing. Excuse me for a moment. Phew. Right, 23 pages later and you'll realise that you are in fact working for a group of wizards, known as the Bloodwych who have hired you to go and kill Zendrick (an extremely nasty person). Basically, he's planning to destroy the universe by summoning some monster-type-thing who will basically rip the whole lot to shreds. Yikes! Your task is merely to kill all the monsters which Zendrick has created, find four crystals which are scattered about the castle, kill Zendrick and banish the big earth-ripping monster. Piece of cake or what? (Personally, I think not.)
And why? Well, for a start the playing area in this game is absolutely huge. I mean,, it took me three days just to complete the first level! Map making is essential if you want to get anywhere, but watch it - unless you know what you're doing you're highly likely to get caught out. (In fact, you're highly likely to get caught out even if you do know what you're doing.) I kept getting turned around half-way through a corridor and ending up back where I started. Other complications include things like a room with four identical doors, which faces you in a random direction when you stand on the mat in the middle - nasty! Of course, there's a lot of the more usual stuff like locked doors and secret passages galore to confuse you as well.
One thing that I haven't mentioned yet are the all-important spells, used for everything from opening doors to killing people. You can also get more spells when you sleep. You've heard of the Tooth Fairy - well this one here's the Spell Fairy and she leaves better than 50p I can tell you (or whatever the going rate is these days).
As I've said before, both players can play almost separately from each other as if in two different games, or they can, if they like, work together making the thing twice as easy to complete (in theory, anyway). One player can open a secret passage for the other, or alternatively lock him in instead (hem). Attacking monsters becomes a whole new story 'cos you can fire at them from two directions to kill them twice as quick. You can also attack each other of course (hee hee) - a lot of fun, but it can end in tears when you find yourself clobbering your friend around the head! Playing solo isn't as much fun, but it's still pretty damn good. Why not have two players (ie eight characters in the game in two groups of four) and control both of them yourself? Well, it's a thought.
Pretty positive review so far, isn't it? So okay, what are the quibbles? Well, for a start there's crap sound- but then who needs sound when you could be listening to a spookily atmospheric record or something instead? (Try Wagner. Ed). The graphics are a bit samey as well - it's all too easy to get lost because one place looks identical to another. But putting these complaints aside, we're looking at a real corker here, babes. It's got enough to offer the most experienced player, yet it's still easy for the complete novice or terminally crap person to play. My advice? Pick up a copy today - it's a genuine classic.
What a scorcher! If gigantic (but very accessible) adventures are your cup of cha, then buy buy buy!