RICHARD PRICE SEARCHES FOR A GENUINE HERO...
In the pages of a dusty book.
Judging by some of the mail I get, it seems that many adventurers think that game reviewers possess some form of magical amulet to help them solve any and every adventure without so much as a drop of perspiration. Not so. Like everyone else I've wasted hours, sometimes days, locked in cells, stuck in wells or straddled across some vertiginous chasm waiting for the stroke of genius that will get me home safe with the treasure, or the breathtakingly lovely princess. Verily the sweat has poured forth on those occasions.
There's quite a lot of help around if you investigate. Naturally, you will first write to the Fat One at the Ogre. His Vastness' drinking habits put him in touch with many rumours and tips. Companies are surprisingly helpful and many provide help sheets - but remember, they won't give complete solutions.
Level 9, Artic, Incentive, Adventure International and many others give help, though some may charge for booklets which list problems in more than one of their games.
Modem users can access the accumulated knowledge of many dedicated players on Prestel Clubspot 810. There are pages giving hints on specific games and a large section for those seeking help.
I've also been sent a mailshot from the Adventurers Club - 64c Menelik Road, London NW2 3RH. 01-794-1261. They offer help, newsletters, discounted games and a telephone helpline. The subscription fee is £10.95 for those living in the UK.
So, to business. Movie spin-offs are big business these days and it's often difficult for programmers to produce games of a film or TV series without causing pain to those punters who've already formed a clear view of the fantasy or storyline. Disappointed players of The Tripods game will know what I mean.
Ocean has a justified reputation for doing well in the spin-off field. The latest offering is The Neverending Story, a text version of the fantasy film of the same name. The game comes in three sequential pans totalling more than 100K of code and data - a big, long game which should keep any player going for a long time.
The setting and background story is fairly standard for this type of fantasy. The many peoples of the realm of Fantasia are full of sadness and dread. They face total extinction from the encroachments of the All-consuming Nothing and, because their magical world needs the belief and imagination of others to keep it alive, they desperately seek a saviour to show renewed interest in them.
Back in reality, a young lad with a name calculated to give great joy to those who relish tasteless plays on words - Bastian Balthazar Bux - finds the book with which Fantasia exists. He reads The Neverending Story and raises the of the depressed Fantasians. They appoint small boy, Atreyu, as their hero and despatch him to find their saviour, the young Bux. You guide Atreyu through the landscape of Fantasia and will thus, hopefully, rescue the land from disaster.
The game opens in the forest kingdom where the Empress of Fantasia dwells in her Ivory Tower. She too is suffering from the wasting away caused by Nothing.
Time is short and you must search the forest to find the precious medallion Auryn which holds the strength of Fantasia. That is quite easy and you should also find other items scattered about. There is a horn which can be used to summon Falkor the Luckdragon and a useful piece of information about the rough location of the saviour. That is obtained from Mona, the ancient and gigantic tortoise who lives in a disintegrating and swampy region beyond the trees.
There are a number of other characters in the game. Gmork the Werewolf is the most notable and the most dangerous, and, given a chance, he will trail and destroy you. If you dawdle, time will pass and danger will approach so it's wise to stay one step ahead of the evil one.
The game presentation is very attractive. The top third of the screen contains a background picture of the area you're in. Superimposed on it are graphics showing your possessions and sometimes a picture of a particular character or action. The graphics are fast and don't interfere with the game at all. They're also very slick and good-looking.
The text is displayed in a pseudo-uncial script. That gives a nice feel for the setting but can be occasionally difficult to read. The descriptions are long and evocative. Sometimes character actions occur at the same time as a location description and the whole location text scrolls up before you've had a chance to read it. Just retype 'look' to get it beck.
Input and response are fast and the messages are usually useful. However, there is no examine function, which I found quite a disadvantage. All right, I know we're all meant to find out what objects are for, but examine is a fairly traditional way of getting extra information in adventures and I'm surprised to see it left out. On the other hand it does have the positive effect of making you work hard to solve the multitude of problems.
All told Neverending Story is a big, attractive adventure with plenty of polish and professionalism in its production. The story line is no big deal but that's not the game's fault. The program playability, colour and speed all make up for that and with three parts to play, it's also good value for money.