Kobyashi Naru
By Mastertronic
Spectrum 48K/128K/+2

Published in Crash #40

Kobyashi Naru

Aye aye, I think I've seen something like this before.

Referring back to Issue 33 (Oct 86) I find the culprit, none other than that sleepy offering from MASTERTRONIC. ZZZZ. And what do you know, that game was penned by the very same chaps we see here, namely Clive Wilson and Les Hogarth. Looking back to that review last Autumn I see that although I was impressed with the game's sophisticated looks and features the whole thing came crashing down due to an inept input system. Even so, judging from my mail bag, many still sought out ZZZZ for further investigation, and they seemed impressed by a smart icon-driven adventure for only £1.99. Well the game reviewed this month should go down even better for it has no annoying input failings, and the presentation is finer than was the case with ZZZZ.

ZZZZ was innovative enough, but by golly these chaps are offering even more for the piffling budget asking price. Here we have a new slant on adventure-style input. You still end up with verb/noun couplings but the way in which you get there is totally fresh and engagingly original. Around the borders of the picture there are well-drawn icons, much as were seen in ZZZZ. In Naru, however, there's the added bonus of being able to scan through the text for the noun to team up with the verb chosen via the icons. If you've played a few adventures in the past you'll quickly realise just how clever this system is; it keeps players' imagination tightly on the problem in question as they're necessarily restricted to the vocabulary in the location description. Hence, if the game has been designed well (and it has), there will be less misunderstanding between player and program. Again, you can only marvel at a budget game making this kind of real advance in adventuring.

Kobyashi Naru

Kobyashi Naru is the final trial for those who would be one with the mortals. You stand in a closed chamber on the world of Ygor, a candidate to the Order. Sent here by Overlord of All, you must complete the Naru in all its phases. Success will bring you the knowledge and power of those who have transcended the need for life itself. Failure results in extinction.

Ahead are three doors and behind you a closed portal. It will not open again until you have completed the three tasks of Kobyashi Naru, and obtained the required objects from each. To help there are your wits and little else. The standard wrist terminal you are wearing may be able to analyse certain items and provide useful information, but its use is limited. A chime sounds and the Naru has begun...

The three portals you face at the start are marked Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding. There's a special option, SELECT, just for this move. No matter which portal you select to begin with, the immediate result is somewhat the same: a restricted movement between three or four locations followed by death when you try to get any further. For example, in the case of Knowledge, it's a giant, ugly, flesh-eatingKrakod which engulfs you with its tentacles. Chopping one of the tentacles with the double-edged scimitax only sees more tentacles holding you firm.

While scratching your head trying to progress in each of the three subadventures you may find it profitable to analyse as much of your environs as possible by way of the ANALYSE icon. This command is similar to EXAMINE in mainstream adventuring but here EXAMINE is reserved for those items actually in your possession. Keeping with the first portal, Knowledge, it might be useful to run through this part of the game to illustrate just how well the adventure runs.

'You stand on a vast plain, a myriad of tiny creatures scurry about. The place is teaming with life. A sweet smell in the air. The scimitax lies on a mossy plinth'. Leaving aside the ungrammatical feel of that passage let's ANALYSE SCIMITAX. The ANALYSE part is brought into the verb window via icons bordering the picture, and the noun placed up into its respective window next to the verb by wav of moving through the text description until the noun SCIMITAX is highlighted.

(The system here likes to return to the left hand margin of the text, leaving the left and right cursor keys to do the fine tuning. Given the way this adventure plays there's a lot to be said for using a joystick - Kempston is cited on the cover). ANALYSE SCIMITAX results in 'The divine scimitax of Baal, Etheric Warlord of Gath. The jewel-encrusted shaft ends in twin blades honed to perfection. A runic inscription translates into, I will always return'.

Pressing zero (or FIRE) releases the icon mode again so you can choose another noun. Now if you decide ANALYSE PLINTH is a good move the program scrolls a message across the top of the screen: STUDIED ANALYSIS REVEALS NOTHING OF RELEVANCE, which might seem a little boring, but what is more interesting is the scrolling itself which is superbly smooth and a further touch of class for what is supposedly a cheap game.

I could go on for some time giving good examples of how flexible the game is but suffice to say that the icons allow much leeway and the ANALYSE command in particular gives many a long and detailed synopsis way beyond the one-liners of mainstream adventure.

Kobyashi Naru is a superb piece of microcomputer programming for the paltry sum required. I wonder just how much of a game is left in memory once that allocated for all the snazzy programming is totted up, but this is a small query set against the attractive looks and style of a progressive cheapie like Kobyashi Naru.


Difficulty: a head scratcher
Graphics: good icons, adequate pictures.
Presentation: attractive
Input facility: icons for verbs and word extraction for nouns.
Response: fast

Derek Brewster

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