Like a meal ordered in that little out-of-the-way restaurant your friends swear by, The Mirror Of Death has been a long time coming, and it was well worth the wait.
Based on the hit series of roleplaying gamebooks, it puts you in the soft leather and thankfully not-at-all smelly shoes of Lone Wolf - last of the Kai Masters, slayer of Gnaag, seeker of the Lorestones of Nyxator, welder of the Sommerswerd, bane of the Darklords, possessor of the handkerchief of the holder of the dagger of the wizard of the lands of the cavalier of the house of the descendants of the (slap!) ... thank you, I needed that - and bids you to exorcise the evil spirit of a nasty old sorceror by defeating 7 shadowy demons who inhabit the shards of the (sinister chords) Mirror Of Death.
You do this by hotfooting it up the sorceror's fortress, outwitting his guardians and confronting the demon on each level. Apart from your trusty sword you possess 4 Kai skills chosen from a selection of 8. These are (deep breath) the magics of Psi Surge (mental attack), Mindshield, Animal Kinship (terrify your enemies with an image of a wolf), Invisibility, Sixth Sense (avoid getting lost), Divinity (defect evil), Weapon Skills and Healing. It all requires the foresight of Nostradamus to make the appropriate 'mix', because the right skill at the right time may just save your life.
It's certainly not your average plotline, is it? And fortunately it translates into a 'not your average' game. The first thing you notice are the graphics. Just take a look at the screenshots! (No drooling, please.) Lonie is fabulously animated, from his 'bad-dude' stomp to his 'tactical withdrawal' roll, as well as having an amazing gravity-defying hooded cape which stays on no matter what (I thought it was his hair at first!). The supporting characters are equally stunning, from the leering, spitting gargoyles to the pesky, Krows. Background details abound, like the splintered stonework, the flickering torches, and the heavy gears that power deadly traps. The atmosphere of a dank, dangerous castle couldn't be more complete if your television set dripped slime.
The next boggle-trigger (Eh? Ed) is the sound (128K only, I'm afraid.) There's a praiseworthy music track, but the sound effects...! (Shiver.) They're that good! Everything makes a noise - the cawing Krows, the chains, Lonie's echoing footsteps (changing as he climbs a ladder) - I spent one game just seeing how many sounds I could discover. (Quite a lot, actually.) And last but not least, there is of course - the game. A combination of platforms-'n'-ladders and Barbarian-style fighting, there's even a bit of Monty On The Run thrown in with the choice of Kai skills (you only get to find out which the vital ones are after you've just been killed for not carrying them). It's all rather simple at first (dodge the gobbing gargoyles and the dribbly door-knockers), but things soon liven up as the first demon leaps down, and you realise that unlike most fighting games, the Speccy in Lone Wolf is rather a tough opponent. Keep doing the same move and the demon will just block you. Dither and he'll jump behind you and hack at you from there. Fight too well and he'll turn invisible! It's a nighty!
Between demons, the major foes are the Krows, who have a predeliction for swooping at you when you're on a ladder and you can't defend yourself. Oh, and remember, when using the marvellous mechanical lifts, keep an eye out for booby traps - usually involving lots of spikes. By the way, you're probably taking the wrong route. (And so on.)
So far as reservations go I've only got as far as the second demon (ahem) but it looks like each level is just more of the same, and at times it can all get quite frustrating. For example, there's one screen where, right at the beginning, you have to wait on a ladder for a Krow to go by. The trouble is, it flies so fast, that there's only one flying pattern that'll give you enough time to get to the top, and as they appear pretty randomly, you could be in for a short wait. (Short, because most of the flying patterns involve them diving straight at you!)
But I'm just nit-picking. If it's more of the same, there's plenty to do already, and the will-they-be-useful-or-not factor of the Kai skills jollies the game up enormously. With the wonderful presentation matched by the imaginative packaging (there's a free copy of the latest Lonie gamebook - and a darned spanky roleplayer it is too), Mirror has something - no, a heck of a lot for everyone. It's a YS 7 Raves game - Spanky, Spiffy, Skillo, Dandy, Snazzy, Wazzy and Corky!
A treat for the eyes, a joy to the ears and a blinking great (but tough) arcade adventure to boot.
WHAT'S THIS LONE WOLF THINGY ANYWAY?
Lone Wolf was created by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk, and first appeared in 1984 in Flight From The Dark, one of a flood of roleplaying gamebooks that followed The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain. These books, played by reading a page then making a choice which leads to another page (not forgetting to keep hold of the original page in case you'd made a bad choice!) were at first much of a muchness, and many came up with gimmicks to stand out from the crowd. Lonie's gimmick was that he didn't need any dice to be 'played' (as was the case with other ones) because there was a 'random number table' in the back.Apparently this was a rather good idea because it's since become the trademark of the books, whose millions of fans are respectable, almost upright citizens from all walks of life. The simple plots of the pioneer books grew increasingly sophisticated and The Plague Lords Of Ruel (the free book you get with this game and the 13th in the series) is one of the best examples of what's become a megabuck industry. So now you know.
LONE AT HOME
Here's a handy gander at what we've got on show halfway up a tower...1. Lone Wolf, our hero, brave of heart and long of cape.2. Gargoyles - they spit poisonous slimies (but leer before they do - hint!)3. Booby traps drop on you if you pass below (and if you stand still for too long!).4. Your remaining lives - the wolves roar at you and turn into skulls when you die. (Awww!)5. Squint-inducing strength counter.6. Your Kai skills including Animated Weapons, Skill, Sixth Sense, & Mind-shield (a good all-round selection in fact).7. Your score (hmm, not too bad).8. Time your jump into this lift very carefully, or else plummet 600 feet to the ground and die (again).
Lonie stumbles across a fireball-spitting monk. Luckily the monk is looking the other way, but how to get past safely? (Hint - try rolling under the fireballs.)
Lonie pauses between two sets of electric spark globes. A sputtering torch casts wild shadows over the rumbling machinery, and in the distance something howls... (ooo-ee-oooo!)
A hit! One of the Krows explodes in mid-air. (Ugh - The Birds was never like this!)
His demonic enemy paralysed with fear of the wolf's image, Lone Wolf, Kai Grand Defender, puts the boot in.