On other formats, The Bard's Tale has been going strong for some time. In fact, it's been so popular that some are into their third instalment; The Bard's Tale III. Admittedly, what is essentially a role-playing game transferred to your home computer isn't exactly an adventure but, taking into account elements of exploration, strategy and analysis, it seems to fit in more with the adventure than the arcade scene.
The scenario certainly sounds very like an adventure. The city of Skara Brae has been transformed into a dark and dangerous place by Mangar, a nefarious, megalomaniac mage. Vicious man-eating dogs patrol the streets, thieves lurk around every corner and giant spiders spin their massive webs in anticipation of attack.
Thrust into the midst of all this activity you have been chosen to gather together a party of six warriors to find Mangar and force him to release the city. The quest begins in the safety of the Adventurers' Guild. You can create your own six characters or step straight into battle with a ready-made party known ironically as the A team.
Characters are selected from seven races including human, hobbit and half-elf. Each is allocated different attributes (strength, IQ, dexterity, magic power, gold etc) in the form of points and is given a character classification. Warrior class adventurers, for example, can use nearly every available weapon, bards have the power to sing magical songs and four varieties of magic specialise in different branches of magic. Viewing mode, accessed via the keyboard, gives information on the status of each character and the number of objects he is carrying.
As the party moves through Skara Brae, the landscape ahead is shown in the form of a functional, monochrome viewing window. The journey winds through mazes, taverns, shops and buildings and it's not long before the group comes under attack. Combat takes place as a series of rounds. A list of actions available to each member of the party is given and once these have been selected (there's a chance to change your mind), your strategies are enacted.
As one player you can plan the simultaneous actions of up to six characters. Spells make the process all the more exciting. Depending on their magic ability, magicians and conjurers can (among other things) heal wounds, hurl supernatural weapons, enhance the fighting ability of a companion or conjure up burly monsters as allies. Combined with the magical properties of a bard's song, these can make for some enthralling battle scenes. Role-playing computer games can sometimes be criticised for their lack of variety. With so many possible courses of action available, combat, which forms the mainstay of the game, is unlikely to become repetitive.
Weapons, torches and magical objects arc scattered through the environment and can be sold, bought or exchanged al Garth's Equipment Shoppe. Roscoe's Energy Emporium sells spell points and temples provide healing and resurrection, but only at a price. Gain sufficient experience and your character class rating can rise from green and innocent novice (Level 1) to vastly experienced master (Level 13) though to get to this stage you'll have to put in weeks and weeks of play.
The Skara Brae environment is so complex and involves so many different factors that it's hard not to get completely enthralled in your quest. The combination of hack and slay, exploration and magic ensure plenty of variety and demand more than a modicum of strategic thought. If you do get stuck The Bard's Tale cluebook is available from Electronic Arts' Customer Service (0753 46465) for £5.00. Obviously you don't get the same sophistication that you might in a text input adventure but what The Bard's Tale lacks in terms of depth it certainly makes up for in role-playing action and complexity. Adventure enthusiasts should definitely give it a try.
Stalwart fighters or cowardy custards - only the bard can tell.