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Mirrorsoft Ltd
1985
Adventure: Text
£5.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

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104
Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

I suppose I could sink this review on its launch by saying something silly like if you're bright you'll get the Mirrorsoft but, don't worry, I won't say anything of the sort.

Ashkeron is notable for its huge size, its unique walk-through graphic system which gives the feel of wandering through a castle, and also, its conspicuous lack of the kind of puzzles which so engaged the early adventurers weaned on Artic games. However, this game is no walkover and the more you play it the more involved you become as it builds consistently upon the charming little world it creates.

Ashkeron is the name of the principality where a Princess Zeraphina lies weeping on account of her forthcoming marriage being held up by the absence of five treasures bequeathed for the well being of the peoples of Ashkeron. The curse of the wizard in the nearby castle will be complete unless her dowry can be wrested from his grasp. What is needed is a powerful and resourceful man, say a blacksmith, to go and sort out this evil magician and, if he should return in one piece, who knows, he might get to marry the princess and start up his own foundry (sorry folks, someone left that journalese machine on it's off now and the rest will make complete sense, I promise). At the crack of dawn on the day of the Spring Equinox, the people accompany Stephen (that's you, the blacksmith) to the gates of the wizard's castle. Suddenly, the sky darkens, lightning flashes and a clap of thunder bursts overhead. The skies clear and the panic subsides but Stephen is now on his own.

There are two options from which to choose on loading; a standard version or a randomised version. It is some measure of just how interesting this game is to say that the standard game proved quite surprising enough without having to resort to random elements. That said, it's good to be offered a second option where the objects are scattered randomly and the game different every time. An added interest is the competition run by Mirrorsoft to find an adventurer of the month who will be the player to produce the highest score for each month until Feb 86. £25 in cash each month awaits the player with sufficient wit and diligence to achieve the month's best.

The first frame, funnily enough, brings just the sort of puzzle so rare in the remainder of the adventure whereby either it gets solved or you're left wandering excluded from where it's all happening. Here you might guess your quest lies across the drawbridge and through the portcullis rather than in the forests that surround the castle. One little tip at this crucial point for those who end up buying screw-in light bulbs or bags of minted peas, or who can be relied upon to put their feet in it don't fool around switching the sound off with QUIET half way through this delicate problem otherwise you'll be back on the wrong side of the drawbridge before you can say SOGAT82. Best to leave any fine adjustment until safely ensconced within the castle.

Moving east you notice the perfectly adequate and sometimes rather good graphics which only occasionally stretch the imagination too far toward the abstract. A distasteful smell naturally pervades the stables and the stable boy 'arns that the horse here is very frisky. Exploring the castle further you will come to realise cold, damp towers mark the NE, SE, SW. and NW corners of the building and their heights afford access to the upper and lower levels. Exploring the second level above might be better left till later as it is guarded by sentinels who pose little threat while you are on the move but are only effectively, and finally, dealt with once certain knowledge has been gathered elsewhere (you know, not being able to give away clues causes this column to make about as much sense as instructions for self-assembly furniture). Much more of an immediate threat are the small whispering winged creatures which grasp and lift you high into the air. These creatures left me stumped time and time again even when they drop you they grasp again as you struggle in vain to make good your escape. Were this not enough, also wandering about many levels is the green slimy dwarf who slices at you with his magnificent sword while he circles you warily.

A very strong point in favour of this adventure is its making full use of the examine command. EXAM POT in the kitchen gives 'Bubbling inside is a horrible green liquid in which the odd bone can be seen' while EXAM BOOK in the library brings forth 'It is bound in leather and is obviously very old'. (Incidentally, picking up the book makes it difficult to read, and once you get into a position to read it, much haste is recommended). Throughout, examining things will either take you further into the intricacies of the plot or add to your involvement, or enjoyment, as for example, when examining the pictures that line the walls of the art gallery.

It won't be too long into the game before you meet 'Suddenly it grows cold... You see a patch of green fog, which, writhing and swirling, transforms into the wizard.' This passage will mark the beginning of a period of time when everything turns topsy-turvy due to some nasty piece of cunning magic from the wizard. North becomes south, up is down, OPEN is CLOSED and other inversions occur which, if not fully understood, will leave you baffled at your lack of progress. Fortunately, the wizard's spell fades after a time and is abruptly shortened by changing levels.

Ashkeron! is a real-time adventure which not only involves the 'time passes' every 20 seconds (and the occasional graphic of the wizard asking 'Have you gone to sleep?' to which the inevitable reply is YES) but also the real threat of being waylaid by a patrolling sentinel or marauding green dwarf overpowering and eventually killing you should you delay. It is highly professional, sophisticated software with many fine features (you can even use a joystick). Its appeal will be very broad due to its open structure, which can be quickly and easily explored even by the most novice of adventurers, and its endearing storyline set within a most impressive and believable castle ensure that in its walls lies a challenge everyone will find interesting and rewarding.

CRITICISM

COMMENTS
Difficulty: easy to get into, not so easy to complete
Graphics: on every location, quite good though a little chunky
Presentation: not bad, the white background is an unfortunate choice
Input facility: basically verb/ noun though also allows speech input
Response: very fast
Special features: game plays in real time
General Rating: Good.

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