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Mandarin Software
Adventure: Text
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K

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The Pilgrim
Chris Bourne

Level 9/Mandarin's Holy Grail?

This game has been expected for some months now. Following Level 9's lift with Mandarin, it seems likely that Lancelot will be the last Austin adventure produced under that label. What sort of epitaph does it offer?

A pretty dodgy one, I'm afraid. Last month we saw Ingrid's Back, developed after Lancelot, and although I wouldn't normally put gnomes before knights, I would in this case. This is a disastrous disappointment because the Arthurian scenario is surely one of the great opportunities in adventuring. Even that awful old game Quest for the Holy Grail, with its exploding rabbits and Nic-ing knights, managed to borrow a little lustre from the days of Lancelot and the Round Table.

Level 9 have made some pretty tough claims for this game. They are on record as saying it is their "best yet", and furthermore we have been informed that Pete Austin is an expert on Arthuriana. To a certain extent these claims do have some substantiation in the game. To start with, the locations have an undeniable air of authenticity about them, as do the characters of the various knights and the occasional flourishes of early Englishe prose.

So what's the problem? Simply that the game, while superlative for certain brief moments, keeps getting spoilt by apparent carelessness and poor design. For example, the characters are great and - as in Ingrid's Back - lead interesting lives that greatly enhance the atmosphere of the game. However, they also have sloppy speech tendencies that do not do much credit to anyone, least of all themselves.

For example, it's quite amusing when the Damosel Maledisant says to Lancelot, who is carrying a hot cauldron, "Bet you drop it!". It is not amusing, however, when she says it again after he's put it down. At other times, the characters' responses and outbursts appear even more illogical. Even an innocent suggestion to Arthur can get you the reply "Don't bother me with that! I am the king!" (or words to that effect), which may amuse once, but never again. Once suspects that the character is simply saying "I don't understand", in which case why not be more direct?

However, all this can be forgiven when you find characters engaged in interesting activity or, for once, replying with convincing relevance. You can also forgive the poor graphics on some versions (see screenshots for some idea of the variety here) because the locations do convey authority and atmosphere. But you can't forgive some of the atrocious puzzles, which is unusual in a Level 9 game where the challenges are as a rule inventive and satisfying.

The real problem on the puzzle front seems to be the scale of the action that Level 9 have undertaken to include in the game. For example, at one point Lancelot has to save Tintagel from an invading army. That's a tall order for a sub-plot, but solving it with a puzzle of astonishing, one-minute simplicity both disappoints the player and devalues the scenario.

That's not to say that there are several excellent puzzles in Lancelot. It's just to lament the fact that there are also several appalling ones as well.

The selling points of this game are the scenario, the high level commands (which include GO TO, FIND, FOLLOW, OOPS etc), and the interaction. The first sales point is sadly undermined by sloppiness, the second pulls its weight and makes the game very easy to play, and the third again succumbs to occasional glitches. That's a record of one success out of three - not enough for a decent epitaph and certainly not enough for a game that must be one of the great "might have beens" of 1988.

Reviewer: The Pilgrim

C64/128, £9.99cs, £1x.99dk, Imminent
Spec, £8.99cs, Out Now
Amstrad, £9.99cs, £14.99dk, Imminent


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Lancelot, in common with most Level 9 games these days, is a three pad story. In Part 1, you meet Arthur, Merlin, Sir Kay, and your love-to-be Guenever. You also explore the castle town of Camelot and get used to the game system.

In Part 2, you rush off and prove your worth as a knight by rescuing damsels in distress, defeating armies, and above all rescuing various captive knights. These then become commandable characters who can (mostly) help you in solving some of the games other puzzles.

Part 3, which you can jump straight to from the main menu, involves the Quest for the Holy Grail and features Lancelot's son Galahad as well as the old knight himself.

Throughout the adventure, gameplay is largely shaped by some of the high-level commands. In particular GO TO which enables you to instantly locate almost any person or place. This means that you have to make a constant effort to map the game, since it is rather easy to rely on GO TO and FOLLOW to move you about the place. Although convenient, it does somehow spoil the joy of exploration.

There are several opportunities for combat, but this is limited to simple cut-and-slash with no chance to dictate tactics other than deciding whether or not to accept your opponent's surrender. If you die, Merlin immediately resurrects you somewhere else.

Screenshot Text

Lancelot on the Amiga.

Same game different versions - Lancelot on a CGA PC and (inset) an EGA PC.