IN THE BEGINNING was Red Moon, an adventure that required you to restore the kingdom of Baskalosk to its former magical glories by recovering the Red Moon crystal. Your quest began in, around and beneath a castle, and you were aided by the fact that you had the ability to cast spells, just so long as you were carrying the object that focussed the spell's power. Holding a dulcimer, for instance, allowed you to cast the ESCAPE spell, while spices carried the spell of STRENGTH. The various objects and their accompanying powers were listed in the game's instructions. No such easy way out this time, as you have to discover from experimentation and clues within the adventure what the 18 spells of The Price Of Magik are.
Naturally you recovered the Red Moon crystal all those years ago, but its most recent guardian, the noble sorceror Myglar, has been draining its power in an attempt to attain immortality. You've been summoned to defeat Myglar and takes his place as guardian of the precious magical Red Moon crystal. Now play on...
JUSS' LIKE THAT
Knowing nothing of the magical powers to come, you begin in a winding drive outside a mansion, engulfed in creeping vines. To the west is a woodshed, in the woodshed is a woodpile, and in the woodpile is something nasty! Ugh! There's also a candle but that quickly expires - well, you're sure to need that for later on so let's try to save it for the moment, though you do just have time to burn the woodpile as well, should you want to.
Beyond there is a herb garden, and a mandrake that screams as you try to pull it from the ground. Should you be cruel to the plant and continue to tug? Decisions, decisions. Well, I will advise you to enter the house via the roof, up the clinging vines, as that way you'll pick up objects that'll come in handy in and around the front door. That's assuming you've worked out how to see in the dark - you can try travelling around in blackness, but there are monsters lurking and ready to pounce.
As you move you sometimes enter locations where you're told there's a feeling of magik, and in others you're informed that 'Your sanity is shaken.' Typing SCORE will tell you how you're doing... for both sanity and senility - you slowly age in the game, until you can find and touch the Red Moon crystal to rejuvenate you. But is this a good thing, and how long will the powers of the crystal last? And what about the message in the Grimoire, 'You must be mad to use the magik'?
The earliest evils you'll probably meet are the werewolf, the wight and the skeleton. If you're feeling particularly courageous you can enter into a head-on battle with these creatures, but as you investigate the house you may discover that there are other ways of seeing them off. At first though, I tried the bare hands approach just to get me past the monsters and map out the mansion. Once you've encountered a monster you can only escape by going back the way you came. Try to take any other exit and it's fisticuffs time - I found good fighting tactics were to retreat one location then come back in and ATTACK as you usually get in a pretty good first blow. It gets easier as you discover knives, axes, armour and other items to add to your strength. Unfortunately the monsters have a tendency to reappear later as ghosts, their strength restored. Potions and magik produce longer-lasting results.
You also find lots of various coloured chests, most of which explode once you've opened them.
However, one does contain something of use.
Thank goodness, or thank Austin, for the OOPS command. If you examine everything closely enough you'll find the three-letter inscriptions that give you clues to the spells - words like ZEN, MAD and FLY.
Get past the giant slug and you can go down the slime slide (yeuch!) to get to locations beneath the house, such as the dangerous dead end. There's rather a hefty admission price but you're rewarded by a picture of a ghoul feasting on the remains of an earlier adventurer. Tasteful! Level 9's humour obviously hasn't been totally swamped by magik. Once past the dead end you're out in the open again, with a ferryman to take you through a watery tunnel - and dump you face to face with a colossal bloodworm, if indeed colossal bloodworms have faces.
Like Red Moon, this is an adventure of exploration rather than immediate tough problem-solving. Not that some of the tasks aren't tricky, but they're fewer and further between than usual. I rather like this more laid back approach from time to time, and judging by the success of Red Moon (voted Adventure of the Year in several places last year) so do many adventurers. Don't assume that laid back means you'll walk through it, though, as this is another on Level 9's epic scale.
Mind you, The Price Of Magik is not without its faults. Level 9's talk of its parser being an 'Infocom-buster' should be taken with a pinch of salt you'll find somewhere in the adventure. This parser still relies on the first four letters of a word, and so can't distinguish between bird and bird cage. If you type in the command ENTER HOUSE, the first word is processed and then you're told 'You can't use 'house' in that respect.' Well, if you can't use a noun after a verb, in what respect can you use it? And what about this little exchange? 'You are in a limestone cave with torches on the wall.' EXAMINE TORCHES. 'I can't see it.'! infocom-buster? Not yet.
Nor will the graphics bust anyone. They're generally disappointing with colours few and poor. But at least they're quick and can be switched off using the WORDS command.
And as with The Worm in Paradise you don't have to wait for a picture to finish drawing before typing your text. Thanks to the Spectrum 128, both they and 48K owners have further choices. On the smaller machine you can play either the graphics version that i've been reviewing, or a non-graphical version with expanded text, while the larger machine offers graphics with expanded text. Text is pretty descriptive in the normal version, but if you hate pictures and yearn for the wordy Level 9 days of Snowball and Adventure Quest then the expanded version will definitely have you trying to find the price of The Price Of Magik.
The adventure of 1986? One of the best so far, anyway.