Right. Let's get this straight from the start. None of the twenty games in this collection has any graphics or any sound. Yup, we're talking text adventures here. But put aside any preconceptions for a moment, if you take a gander at the bottom of this review you'll see I've actually given The Lost Treasures a pretty healthy score, and that isn't just because 20 games working out at £2 each is one hell of a bargain (although that has something to do with it).
Basically this compilation collects together what are undoubtedly the best examples of the genre, and they all come from tha vaults of a company whose name is whispered in reverential tones by adventure fans: Infocom.
Infocom pioneered the text adventure, and in the early '80s they were a force to be reckoned with in the games software market. And not without reason. While these days the text adventure has been hijacked by the PD fraternity, and has earned a reputation for being for commited anoraks who will brave even the most inscrutable of controls systems. Infocom games were generally intelligent and, more importantly, fun to play.
Infocom was bought by Activision in 1988, and vanished soon after, but Activision has plundered the vaults to bring us this wonderful compilation.
Highlights include all five volumes of the classic Zork adventures - which started in 1982 and concern a vast underground civilisation which has gone to ruin - plus the totally hoopy Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. This was actually written with Douglas Adams' help, and while the story soon departs from the plot of the books, the humour is consistent. Your first task is to stop the room spinning when you wake up with an almighty hangover.
The range of subject matter is also refreshingly wide - it's not all goblins with crystal balls. SF is featured in the Crystal Maze-like Suspended, Starcross, Planetfall and Stationfall (which is dead difficult). Moonmist is a ghost story set in a Cornish castle, Infidel is set in ancient Egypt, while Ballyhoo, an absolute corker of a game, concerns a kidnapping at a circus. Deadline and White are both in a whodunnit? vein (and are two of the weakest games because they lack atmosphere) while in Suspect you are framed for a murder you didn't commit. Lurking Horror is a comic book-style affair with you snowbound in a school with... something else!
But never fear fantasy traditionalists, because to make up the numbers, you have Enchanter (Which is a bit yawnsome and predictable), Sorceror (same again) and the really rather good Spellbreaker.
The packaging is stylish and doesn't reek of quick cash-in. All the relevant maps have been reprinted and the instructions and background info for each game have been collected together into one meaty but well-presented manual. There is also a book of hints that, besides being dead useful, also displays a great sense of humour sometimes missing from the games. Under the question "How do I get off the roof?" for Zork the answer is "Write to Infocom and tell us how you got up there?" The lesson is, don't place too much importance on the questions to help you solve the games - a lot of them are red herrings.
And so what if there aren't any graphics? Use your imagination for a change, like you would with a good book. Besides, think of the advantages over graphic adventures (like the interminable Space Quest series) - you don't have to wait an eternity for pretty screens to load, and there's more room left on a disk to write a really good rattling yarn (not that the text is ever exactly up to Pullitzer-prize winning standard - more your average Doctor Who novelisation).
This collection contains some slices of game playing history, but it is more than just a curio. Many of the games are still very engrossing after all these years, and prove that good gameplay still wins over flashy effects. If you have any tolerance for text adventures at all, then these are the best you'll find anywhere.