"The dreams of children are the games of men." So says the Balrog at the start of his new game, and who am I to argue?
This latest from the Zenobi stable (they can't afford a house yet) is another double-sider, with two full-length adventures on one tape - terrific value for money. On the 'B' side is A Legacy For Alaric, which is the first Zenobi game not to be written by John Wilson. Instead it's by a certain Palmer P Eldritch, and for the usual used fiver I'll tell anyone who that really is.
It's a text-only tale done on PAWS, and pretty spanky it is too. You're late for work on your first day at the Adventurers' Guild, but that doesn't stop you getting lumbered with a job to do. The wise wizard Emril is dying and wants to leave his legacy to his only heir, Alaric, who's unfortunately held prisoner in a castle dungeon on an island in the middle of a lake - does something tell you this ain't gonna be easy? It could be worth it, though, for if you succeed you'll cop for one-tenth of the legacy (less the usual 70% for the Guild pension scheme, running costs and stuff).
Dumped at the side of a road in a snow-covered landscape, you're thankfully wearing a thick coat and shoes, and your hessian sack contains those oh-so-familiar objects, a rope and a torch. Mind you, the torch doesn't work. Typical Guild craftsmanship. The game's been written by someone who loves his adventures, with quite a few tongue-in-cheek references to other games, and a few send-ups along the way. The problems often have the ring of familiarity too, like being asked to deliver a letter, and having to hide in a bush to catch someone opening a door. But as well as something borrowed there's also plenty new, and the game easily stands up in its own right, not just as a giveaway 'B' side.
The 'A' side sees us back in more familiar Zenobi territory, with our old chum Bulbo putting in an appearance right at the start - even if it is only in the introduction. He can't explore the world of Retarded Creatures And Caverns himself, as the invite he gets to turn up at Castle Toidi on the 25th sadly clashes with him having to receive some sort of adventure club award on behalf of Zenobi Software. So Bulbo nips next door and persuades his neighbour Algernon to go to the castle in his place. If you think Algernon isn't a very heroic name you're dead right. But it suits him!
Pretty soon he's before the great oak door of Castle Toidi - first problem, how to get through it? Bulbo's given him a map, but that's no use as it's completely blank except for the words "Drawn by Krazy Kez Gray" at the top. At first I thought we were in for another one-location Zenobi game, and it took me an enjoyable half-hour to examine everything I could find and work out how to get the door to open... and stay open. A wider vocabulary would have helped, as I was on the right track but couldn't quite phrase it to suit the program.
Once inside the castle you find a dragon sitting on the biggest pile of gold you've ever seen in your life, and beyond the dragon is a tunnel. No prizes for guessing what the next problem is. In order to get to the tunnel you have to satisfy the dragon (oo-er), and also deal with the problem of the handle on the wall. If you just PULL HANDLE you get fried alive, so you have to devise some way of standing back from it - like maybe a length of rope or something similar? Now try as I might I couldn't find any rope anywhere, so I resorted to the HELP command and after working out the code I read that to get some string you should UNRAVEL VEST. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how you're supposed to know that you're wearing a vest. I went back and played the game from the start, but no mention was made of a vest. I tried to EXAMINE CLOTHES, EXAMINE ME, EXAMINE MYSELF, EXAMINE ALGY, REMOVE COAT and all manner of things, and in the end just typed UNRAVEL VEST to give me that precious piece of string. So come on, Balrog, it's black marks unless you can tell me how you discover the vest. But he may be in the clear - when I'd got the string I tried to drop it only to be told "Not held!" But of course I was holding it, so maybe I'd got my vest in a twist by unravelling it before finding it.
There are the usual amusing responses to ordinary inputs like REMOVE BOOTS - "Algy thought about it, but then decided not to, just in case he trod in something squelchy." And as for DROP ALL, you're told "Algy wasn't carrying any 'ALL'. (Sorry, Ekim... hee! hee!)" I may be wrong but I think someone's taking the YEKCIM here. You later find a wand which bears the great piece of advice, "Wave this wand near a dragon's bum, and he'll become your faithful chum."
The parser could have been better as there's a sheet of instructions, but you can't GET SHEET, you can only GET INSTRUCTIONS. There ought to have been room for both, as the Balrog's dispensed with his usual mass of silly inputs in order to concentrate on the program.
But no matter, as well as being up to Zenobi's high standards for humour (and John Wilson's definitely taken over where Delta 4 left off in that respect), Retarded Creatures And Caverns also gets full marks for its problem-solving - most funny games are often just 'page-turners' when it comes to the adventure element, but not this one. You have to search and examine everything, look in and under things, push, pull, turn and lift everything in sight, and come up with some pretty imaginative solutions to problems. Top-notch stuff.