Pixies ahoy! At last, the most sophisticated roleplaying fantasy adventure for home computers has made it onto the Spectrum. The Bard's Tale has been a tremendous success on other formats, stimulating fairy folk everywhere into frenzies of late-night sword-and-sorcery sessions.
The Bard's Tale (Vol 1 - there are more adventures to come) takes place in a Tolkienesque world of humans, elves, ores, dwarves and hobbits. The first adventure's set in Skara Brae, a rough-and-tumble township where staying alive is your first challenge. Your ultimate aim is to explore the town, gaining experience points and treasure, and earning promotions from the Adventurer's Guild until you reach the highest possible rank. Because the game is so large, and the combinations of characters and events so flexible, it never really ends.
On loading you are presented with a default party of adventurers, including warriors, magic users, thieves and half-humans. You can delete any or all of these, and replace them with your own characters.
I created a nasty piece of work called Mr Hatred, a thief, coward and cattle molestor. You can assign points for various characteristics such as strength, intelligence, dexterity and luck, and equip the character with items of weaponry, armour, gold and useful objects such as lamps.
Movement around the city, which is planned on a 22 by 22 grid, is controlled using keys I, J and L. Once you reach an interesting looking building, you unceremoniously kick in the door using the K key. It's a good idea to make a map, because all the buildings look the same. There are also sewer and dungeon levels which are accessed through hidden doorways.
In your search for treasure, experience and, ultimately, the chance to destroy the tyrant Mangar, you will meet many hostile creatures. You can opt to fight or run away, and if you choose to fight, you can define your attacking style. After choosing which characters will lead your party, you are offered options to attack, defend, cast spells, hide and so on. The battle then takes place until you defeat your enemies, or decide that cowardice is the better part of valour. As you fight, "hit points" are deducted from your strength and armour points, shown at the bottom of the screen.
Another complex aspect of the game is the use of magic. As you progress, magic using characters can accumulate more and more powerful spells. In combat, or as you explore the city, you can activate these spells by typing in a four-letter abbreviation, such as ARFI for "arc fire", a fan of blue flame which inflicts a small amount of damage on a large number of opponents (of which you can find yourself fighting up to 99 at a time).
If you are using a Bard character, he can sing songs which stimulate the warriors to a fighting frenzy, ward off evil spells, tranquilise your opponents and so on. Annoyingly, he does this in total silence.
Characters, whole parties, and situations can be saved and reloaded using tape or disk, so you don't have to save the entire universe in one sitting. An extra scenario tape is included in the package.
OK, so this sort of thing appeals to a certain sort of person, who always argues that you should use your imagination and get really involved, and it doesn't matter if the graphics aren't up to much. So I won't knock it too much, because I'm sure thousands of people will love it. But lots of the most exciting features, such as full-colour animated monsters, sophisticated sound and pretty background graphics, haven't survived the transition to the Spectrum, and the finished result looks a bit crummy. The Bard's Tale will enthrall diehard pixie fans who will probably queue up to spend £5 on the clue book. But there's too much text, and not enough graphics and animation, to convert the uncommitted.
Complex but graphically disappointing role-playing adventure.