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Piranha
1986
Adventure: Text
£9.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

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108,109
Richard Price
Chris Bourne

Rincewind isn't much of a magician or, for that matter, much of anything else.

Totally broke, down at heel and shabbily dressed in some faded robes, he broods on the injustices of life as he slowly sips at his mug of cheap ale in the filthy taproom of The Broken Drum.

As wizards go Rincewind is an abject failure. Right at the beginning of his training he managed to get one of the eight major spells stuck in his head and thereafter found himself completely incapable of learning any others. What's worse is that he can't even use the spell that's blocking the rest. His only real skill is with foreign languages and he turns a few coppers now and again by interpreting and translating for the tiny numbers of tourists who come to see the unlovely city of Ankh-Morpork.

Ankh-Morpork, a warren of squalid slums, guild-houses of questionable professions and a few temples to odd gods, is one of the great cities of the Discworld. As the name suggests the Discworld is flat and. more like a celestial LP than anything else - presumably without the hole in the middle. As it spins majestically through space it's supported by four immense elephants who, in turn, are carried along on the back of Great A'Tuin. a cosmic turtle.

There are lots of theories about this weird set-up. Some folk believe A'Tuin just crawls along forever whilst others believe he's heading for the great mating-place in the sky. Here he'll meet the other turtles who carry all the other stars and planets through infinity. This is known as the Big Bang theory.

Rincewind's bizarre world is the setting for Delta 4's new game The Colour of Magic - produced by Piranha, fishy offshoot of the vast Macmillan publishing empire.

"Pretty silly name for a software company" said I to Fergus McNeil, doyen of Delta 4, as we chatted about the history of the game. "Silly?" he raised an eyebrow "It's a damn sight better than Codsoft or Halibut wouldn't you think?" There's no answer to that.

Unlike Delta 4's other productions its new adventure isn't a spoof or a knockabout farce - though it has plenty of wry humour. This time they've done a fairly faithful computerised rendering of Terry Pratchett's fantasy novel Colour of Magic. Fergus worked closely with the author over the months of development. He'd phone Terry when they got stuck, let him have a bath to think about it and then call him back afterwards, letting the words of wisdom drop from him like the bathwater.

The adventure follows the original storyline closely so it could be an advantage to have read the book before you play - this isn't essential though and the novel won't be included in the package. I suspect that plenty of fantasy addicts will be persuaded to go out and buy the book after playing. The setting has lots of similarities to the world of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, a place where dumb heroes and ironic wizards battle against magic and evil.

So far Delta 4's hits have been three-parters. This time there are four sections, giving you a big game for your money and giving Delta 4 the chance to use a lot of memory for atmospheric description, making it seem much more like a computerised novel than some previous bookware efforts.

As usual the adventure is written on the Quill and illustrator , though there won't be vast swathes of location graphics. Enough to set the scenes, yes, but not so many that they'll reduce the memory space for the descriptions and responses. That way you'll get the feeling of playing the real, book not some truncated, amputated version that sacrifices flavour for pictures.

So what about the story then? Well, whilst our hero Rincewind is busy downing his thin beer, in comes some character from out of town. Clearly very, very loaded as he can afford to own a travelling chest of sapient pearwood - so sapient, in fact that it can travel on its own on its hundreds of tiny sapient feet. Rincewind, being well aware that the chest is worth more than anything that might be put into it, star opals, gold, what have you. Is happy to help the tourist out by a spot of translating.

After allowing Rincewind to sort out his room for the might, Twoflower the tourist decides to hire him as a guide and slips him a handful of gold rhinus as a retainer. If you, in the role of raggedy Rincewind, decide to do a quick flit with the cash, you'll pretty soon find out that Twoflower is very important to the nervy officials of Morpork and that they will expect you to take very good care of him. After all he's a representative of the powerful Agatean Empire whose fleet can squash Morpork like a bug under a boot.

So Rincewind, motivated by greed and by fear of the tortures he'll suffer if he loses the tourist, heads back to the inn to show Twoflower the sweaty sights of the town. Whilst Rincewind tries to fathom the workings of Twoflower's iconograph, a picture-taking machine run by a demon that lives inside the box, dumb Twoflower is kidnapped.

Then the fun begins.

Part 1 of the game is basically a scene-setter where the magician and tourist set up some sort of relationship and Rincewind desperately tries to free his client, ably aided by the ambulant luggage which has the Jaws-like quality of being able to snap people with its formidable lid. Since Rincewind isn't licensed to fight - he's not a member of the Assassins' Guild - the chest's fighting skill is pretty useful.

Basically, Twoflower will keep on being captured, endangered or simply disappearing throughout the adventure and, once the pair leave the city in Part 2, the hazards become tougher and stranger and the magic more and more powerful.

By Part 3 the fabric of the universe is so shot through with it that simply believing in something will allow it to be created!

The travellers will learn that the gods are actually playing some strange chess-game with them, meet a new friend - Hrun the barbarian - and encounter dragons, lethal temples and a mountain: 'huge, grey and upside down, like a stone trumpet stuck in a bucket of moss.'

Movement in the game is slightly different from your average adventure. Because Discworld is flat there's no set of compass directions. You can either head to the centre of the disc - Hubward - or out to its edge - Rimward. Naturally you can also walk around the disc either in the direction of its spin - Turnwise - or against the spin - Widdershins. This takes a bit of getting used to but soon becomes second-nature.

The story is as important as the gameplay and there are some very full descriptions to make you feel at home in Discworld. So, at the inn: "Rincewind absently raised his mug and gulped down the last of his beer. Having lived in Ankh-Morpork all his life the drink's effect on his mouth came as no surprise. He was in no doubt though - it wasn't worth the money. Blind Hugh came down the steps from the courtyard outside. Looking very deliberately ahead of him he walked across to the bar where the landlord Broadman greeted him, then gaped at the stairs..."

This is only part of one chunk of detail and, though you won't get this much in every location, is typical of the general quality of the text. The storytelling gives the adventure a good feeling of reality and lets the action flow naturally from one step to the next.

The game plays as a standard text adventure not, like Level 9's Adrian Mole for instance, as a series of multiple choice questions. This means you'll actually have to solve problems as they arise. If you do it wrong you'll probably end up meeting the bumbling figure of Death, he whose empty eye-sockets are "a dead giveaway" and whose schedules have all been thrown awry by some divine accident.

"Why are you here?", he says to Rincewind at one point. "I'm supposed to get you in Psephopolis."

"But that's 500 miles away," whimpers Rincewind.

"I know, I know. The whole system's got screwed up," answers Death irritably.

This dry and gentle humour occurs throughout the game and, whilst it's not as rumbustuous or rude as in McNeil and Co's previous offerings, gives the proceedings a nice comic lift.

As you progress through Discworld you'll find that almost every other step has to be sideways to escape Death's boney clutches.

He constantly offers the scraggy wizard tempting chances to snuff it - "Go on", he urges as Rincewind hangs by his fingernails above a starving pack of wolves. "Let go, it won't hurt."

Through playing the game and scurrying out to buy the book I've become a firm, if occasionally dazed and bewildered, fan of Rincewind.

When you add Twoflower's crazed enthusiasm for the picturesquely lethal together with the problems - across four game Loads - you'd be hard-pressed to find a current piece of bookware to compare with The Colour of Magic.

Label: Piranha
Author: Delta 4
Price: £9.95
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: Richard Price

*****

A recipe for entertainment that easily matches the delights of Bored or The Boggit. Pratchett and Fergus was inspired.

5/5

Screenshot Text

The bedrooms at the inn are notoriously vile. But Twoflower just finds them quaint. A new day dawns as Rincewind prepares to show his client the sights.

A brief digression on movement around the disc. Mind how you go. You never know, you might fall off.

The nastier end of Short Street which, of course, is the longest in town. Beggars lurk here. If you're generous your luck may be helped along a bit.

Twoflower's travelling trunk.

Inside the 'Broken Drum'. A quiet haven from the bustle of the Morpork streets and the cheapest place Rincewind can find to get a drink.

Rincewind's escape attempt has failed. He winces as one of the city bosses 'persuades' him to co- operate with their plans.