Amstrad Computer User1st March 1988
Published in Amstrad Computer User #40
They say that old soldiers never die but just fade away. For a while it seemed that one of our favourite adventure software houses, Level 9, was doing just that. After the agreement with Rainbird to act as their distribution agents, the number of new games appearing in the last couple of years dwindled to an all-time low.
Now, following in the footsteps of the release of Knight Orc via Rainbird, Level 9 has launched a brand new adventure under its own name. Gnome Ranger is the story of Ingrid Bottomlow, a somewhat forceful young gnome who has just completed her education at the Institute of Gnome Economics.
As a leaving present the principal, Mistress Gneehigh, has given her a diary. Reading this, one learns all the ghastly details leading up to her present predicament. Ingrid is one of those well-meaning mortals that strive to better not only themselves but those around them as well.
At college she completed her course in an all-time record of thirteen years, studying through all her spare "private idleness periods" and continually asking her teachers for extra work. Unaccustomed to such a zealous attitude to life, it is not surprising that the college staff were actually quite pleased to see the back of her.
When she got home, she started to look around for ways in which to improve both her home and her family. Her ideas were all sound, but nearly all her efforts ended in disaster. Her progressive attitude also jarred with a gnomic family that had become set in its ways.
Sadly Ingrid could not understand this side of her family and, as her diary reveals, she was blind to the sometimes forcible hints that they gave her.The burden of having Ingrid at home finally becomes too much and the family gives her a gift-wrapped scroll. Ingrid is delighted and cannot wait to open this surprise present. In the quiet of her room she undoes the pretty paper...
She is transported far, far away. Surely the scroll must have been faulty and, when she gets back, she will have some strong words to say to whoever sold it to her family. Completely undaunted by the experience, Ingrid sets out to walk home, and this is where the adventure begins.
Gnome Ranger is available for both the PCW and the CPC machines (tape and disc); disc versions also have some excellent graphics to complement the story line. Level 9 has yet again improved its Operating System (now called KAOS). Not only are there RAM SAVE/LOAD, GET/EXAMINE ALL and OOPS commands but also extensive interaction with other characters.
There is a great deal of very amusing and readable text. If you have been everywhere, read everything and are in a hurry, use BRIEF to reduce the amount of descriptive text.
Pressing the up arrow key will recall your last input for editing (or to repeat that command). Pressing this key repeatedly will recall other previous commands. After checking that it would recall at least 30, I lost interest. The down arrow enables you to cycle forwards through previous commands.
Another feature of Gnome Ranger is the facility to simply enter GO TO FOREST or GO TO COTTAGE rather than giving a string of compass directions. Once you have mapped out the terrain you can enter EXITS OFF and simply GO TO or RUN TO wherever it is you wish to go.
Complex commands of the sort DROP ALL BUT THE SHOVEL are no problem at all, and what a relief it is to find that only the first four letters of a word are needed to identify an object or person.
Having made friends with one of the independent characters, you may also instruct that character to follow you. You can even tell them to GO TO or FIND something and then follow them. To win through to the bitter end you will also need to give them more complex instructions. An early example is where a pretty gnymph is given a shovel, told to go east and dig - while Ingrid keeps her eye on a rainbow so that it does not move.
I do not usually give such explicit clues, but with Gnome Ranger, although all of the puzzles are perfectly logical, you must be aware of the need to elicit help from those friends you meet along the way. Humour abounds throughout, and the substitution of GN for many an N is quite brilliant. Needless to say, the command interpreter understands both the gnomic and human versions, and you can even GO GNW (go gnorthwest!).
Ingrid's diary is a 48 page mini booklet that makes very entertaining reading. Reading between the lines highlights the real sadness of a bright but naive young child in the company of a rather orthodox family. The diary is also used as an anti-pirating device. When you restore a saved game position, you will be asked to enter a word found on one of its pages.
The adventure is in three parts and each has a general theme relating to animal, vegetable and mineral. Each part has to be completed before you can enter the next.
Ingrid has to help put things right as she travels along and for once things seem to go right - with your help of course. The first part (animal) has plenty of character interaction to help you get rid of the wicked witch. For part two, I just hope that the institute give Ingrid a good grounding in plant welfare and alchemy (read ALL THE BOOKS in the alchemist's library). As for part three, Torville and Dean had the right idea in their ballet - fire and ice!
I think that this is probably Level 9's best game yet. There are volumes of good text, a believable story line, an excellent Operating System and puzzles that vary from easy to outright devious. There are not that many locations, but even if you cannot solve Ingrid's problems in a hurry, there is plenty to see and do in Gnome Ranger. An absolute must for any adventurer.