Commodore User

Orpheus In The Underworld

Author: Bill Scolding
Publisher: Alpha-Omega
Machine: Commodore 64/128

Published in Commodore User #39

Orpheus In The Underworld

From the same Elisian stable responsible for the diabolical Hercules, now comes Orpheus In The Underworld, another merciless pillaging of Greek mythology.

Surprisingly, Orpheus is actually better than the earlier game. For starters, the programmers have kicked into touch the notorious Random Access Principle, which made Hercules so frustrating, and instead have opted for the traditional return-to-base ploy whenever you lose your meagre three lives.

The graphics are an improvement too: there are more of them and this time they bear some marginal resemblance to the objects they represent (no more fireballs deceptively masquerading as ice-cream cones). The corridors of the Underworld are decked out with ornamental scarabs, jackals, mummies and other creatures from Egyptian mythology, while the tunnels below are decorated with hieroglyphics. What in Hades all this is doing in a Greek legend is something which doesn't even bear thinking about.

Orpheus In The Underworld

The screen is split horizontally, with holes and ladders connecting the corridors above to the tunnel passage below. Across the top of the screen is displayed score information, time taken, lives remaining, and current room number. This last starts reassuringly enough at '1', but moving Orph left reveals the distressing news that there are 120 chambers to be explored. The playing area is therefore continuous, wrapping around to end where it started.

But though you travel through consecutive rooms on the upper level, if you brave the tunnels you notice that you'll miss out every other room, travelling instead through chambers 2, 4, 6 and so on; or alternatively, through chambers 1, 3, 5, etc, all depending on the number of the room in which you descend a ladder. This can be both advantageous and annoying - you can cover more ground this way, but also accidentally skip the one room which takes you back to the upper level.

All the screens appear to consist of the same type of hazards in different combinations. Snakes, pointed stakes, flying things and yawning chasms all bring about your untimely death, while an encounter with the rolling stones will deplete your hard-won score. Once you lose a life, you always rematerialise on the right-hand side of the screen, so the occasional sacrifice while travelling right will get you over some tricky obstacles. There are bonus points and extra lives to be found.

As I said, Orpheus is better than Hercules but only just. Dedicated nutters who spend their entire lives playing games like this are the only people who are going to derive any pleasure from it, and if you regard chasms and holes as the pits then leave well alone.

Don't expect any help from the cassette inlay either. Save for some vacuous blurb and the loading instructions it's useless, so joystickless C64 owners have to play Hunt the Keys before they can get started (try keys A, W, 4 and Return, boys!). I don't know about you, but I find that kind of lazy approach to game instructions off-putting and pointless, even in a budget game. Maybe when Alpha-Omega bring out Jason And The Argonauts, complete with Chinese mythology and music from Mary Poppins, they could drop the irrelevant plot synopsis, and tell us how to play the game instead.

Bill Scolding

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