Commodore User


Arcana

Author: Bill Scolding
Publisher: New Generation
Machine: Commodore 64

 
Published in Commodore User #37

Arcana

Listen to this:

"Arcana is a delightful arcade adventure with finely detailed 3D graphics and smooth horizontal scrolling..."

That's from the cassette inlay. Delightful? Finely detailed? God, what an understatement! Nothing in this prepares you for the real and terrifying world which you're about to enter - a world which programmer Geoff Sumner has made all the more believable by the magical graphics which depict it.

Arcana

The opening finds you, Prince Baludar, alone on a high battlement with the heart-stopping vista of Arcana, Castle of Mysteries, spread before you. Infernal chimneys belch smoke into a sinister, unnaturally pink, night sky, where impassive stars twinkle. The forest of turrets and walkways stretches as far as the distant mountain peaks, and flags flutter in the slight evening breeze. It's a most impressive opening.

You haven't got time to admire the view, though; there's a witch swooping towards you, and you've only got two and a half hours of twilight to find and destroy the Dark Clavicle, before this most potent tome of Black Magic reveals its secrets to the evil king Valarequil, on the eve of the Shredding Moon.

And so you start to run, tugging frantically at the closed tower doors which you pass, as the witch draws ever nearer, and life-sapping arrows are loosed at you from the far turrets.

Arcana

You'll soon discover that only one door readily opens for you, and that takes you down into the maze of stone-flagged corridors below. There's a particularly neat touch as the screen goes black and you hear your footsteps clatter down the steps, before you emerge into the blue light of the passageway and straight into an entombed clone. Aaargh, come back Arthur Pendragon! Don't be too perturbed though, it's a good effort.

The passage stretches to right and left, and then starts to fork at an alarming rate. Map-making is essential, and not at all easy, as the corridors look, superficially at any rate, very similar, and the constant shifting in perspective as you turn corners can throw you at first.

Exploration is hampered by the waspish diabolic creatures which roam the castle, and which home-in on you immediately, preceded by an ominous flapping sound. The toothed bats usually attack in pairs, and slower-moving, but more deadly, is the black-winged demon, which will settle on your back and is almost impossible to throw off.

You're not unarmed against such devils; you can fire magic bolts in any direction or deter most predators - though seemingly of little use in combat with some of the more grisly inhabitants encountered in the castle chambers.

These rooms are behind closed doors, and there is always the feeling of doom as you enter one; other battlement doors, apparently, locked, will open if given a few blasts of magic. That, too, leads to another part of the castle.

All the time you're exploring, your life force is diminishing from the continual harrassment from bats and devils. Having collected the key from the first network of corridors I usually expired on entering the first room in the next level. This became frustrating until I chanced upon the healing charm, which restored my life force to its initial strength, and not long after that, when about to breathe my last once more, I stumbled over a vial of magic ointment, which did the same.

After three or four hours of play I'd only explored a third of the thirty rooms, and had located only a single talisman, never mind the magic ring. What really galls, though, is my lack of success in deciphering the enigma of the ancient transport mechanism.

This is hinted at in the instructions, and would appear to centre around the small bare rooms which are to be found on all levels. I've tried firing at the walls, walking into them, and the closest I've got is seeing a tell-tale glimpse of another room edging its way into the screen from the right. But no way could I cross the void which separated them.

By now you've probably gathered that I like Arcana. A lot. It's one of the few so-called arcade adventures which lives up to that description, in that it's steeped in the mood and mystery of good text adventures, with constant recourse to fast joystick reactions. There are puzzles to solve and objects to collect and use, and the whole thing is dressed up in fabulous graphics. Oh, and there's an evocative theme tune as well.

Bill Scolding

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