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1986
Adventure: RPG
£2.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

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72,73
Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

The first time I saw this game was on the Commodore 64 where it had the most brilliant Ron Hubbard soundtrack accompanying it. Alas, the Spectrum version has no such treats, but is still a fair old game for the price.

While exploring some underground caverns you chance upon a deep black pool. A ripple on the mirror-smooth surface draws you closer to the edge and a powerful hand slides out and swiftly drags you under. It is the hand of Thelric, the master of magic, who plunges you into a strange mystical world of magic and evil.

It is written in the Book of Magic that only Thelric has the knowledge to blend time and space into a powerful enough spell to return you to your own world. He promises to cast the spell if you retrieve for him the lost amulet of immortality, for without it he will grow old and die. He teaches you some useful spells and you embark on your dangerous quest. As you leave, Thelric says 'If you do not bring me the amulet of immortality and place it on the pedestal by this pool you will never return home'. Shucks.

After the game has loaded it automatically goes into demonstration mode where, we are told, there are less objects and monsters than in the game proper. I must admit I was a bit confused as to just where the demonstration mode ended and where the game started easy to do when you're constantly tapping the FIRE button. On starting, a menu is displayed across the middle of the screen. The options shown always Include RUN, and often EXAMINE, PICK UP, DROP and so on. The cursor can be moved by joystick or via the keyboard, much as in Spellbound, with FIRE selecting the option. As with Spellbound, some selections can lead onto further menus and options.

The screen is split into many different areas. In the top right is the major window which scrolls the text telling you what's going on. The window at top left is a kind of Out of the Shadows depiction of the terrain you are going through with the various caves, corridors, steps and rooms shown in a very simple, thumbnail sketch manner. The instructions tell that only your actual line of sight is shown which may be a way of getting round the fact that the programming here isn't awfully good. To make matters worse the whole thing scrolls in character blocks which just looks amazingly primitive.

The display across the bottom of the screen reveals pictures of the creatures and objects you come across, and very fine representations they are too. The 'm' and the 'b' along the top represent your mind and body strength. Another curious admission in the instructions is the acceptance of the drawback of the time clock at top right stopping when the player accesses the menu which, as the instructions say, does provide time to choose carefully, but also allows a chance to stop attacking monsters in their tracks.

Magic falls into the categories of casting spells, wearing rings and drinking potions. A MAGIC MISSILE produces a fiery arrow which can be directed at any live target in sight. It has a high chance of missing, but causes serious damage should it hit home. FIREBALL causes a 15 feet radius fireball to surround you and bum any creature in this area; your player remains unharmed. ENERGY DRAIN may be directed at any creature in sight and causes the instant loss of some of its body strength. MAGICAL SHIELD produces a shielding over your skin protecting you from attack. Like all the spells, it continually reduces your mind power and you should note that this spell lasts until Uncast.

The outcome of physical combat is, naturally enough, determined by how skilled the attacker is and how well the defender is protected, but also by magical factors and luck. Once a blow meets its target the damage inflicted depends on the weapon used and the strength of the attacker much as you'd expect in this type of game. Should a monster be slain, any of its possessions can be collected and used to further your goals.

The monsters have some pretty nasty habits. Although they vary in intelligence, they are invariably hostile. Most alarmingly, they crave your meat to eat as well as taking a shine to your possessions while guarding their own treasure troves jealously. Some monsters are easily scared, others will search the last place they saw you and keep searching there for a while, while others hound you into an early grave.

Given the asking price, Master of Magic is not such a bad game at all, and not so long ago would have commanded a much loftier price tag. Leaving aside the rather poor display of your terrain in the top left with its jerky scrolling, the look of the game is very appealing. The pictures of the objects and creatures you meet along the bottom are neat and effective with graphics of bats, vampires, skeletons and hellhounds brightening up the whole game. The menu system, similar in principle to the one used in Spellbound and other such games. works very well. The options given on the menu at any one point are a very good indicator of how you might proceed.

After killing a skeleton or an orc (the result being the word DEAD boldly emblazoned across their picture at the bottom) you may be given the option to PICK UP, which might see you getting the dagger. Since you tend to only have enough mind power to cast two spells in the first instance you may think it wise to save killing spells for creatures who are carrying something you would like to retrieve from their dead bodies (bats use their teeth and spiders their sting so you are unlikely to get any weapons from these two). When by a door a check of the menu options reveals OPEN and, very useful when being pursued, CLOSE once you've passed through the portal. All in all, a game which grows on you the more you get into it and well worth the meagre three pounds.

CRITICISM

COMMENTS
Difficulty: easy to play but takes a while to play well
Graphics: overall good but map poor
Presentation: attractive
Input facility: best played with joystick
General Rating: Good value.

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