Professor Pointer, originator of the time gate theory. is spurned and ridiculed by his learned colleagues. Undaunted, he constructs the machine on his own and in one last ditch attempt to save his reputation, activates the final switch. There is a blinding flash and the professor finds himself in the middle of a stone circle in the unfamiliar territory of myth and legend. Triumph quickly fives way to terror as he discovers the machine didn't travel through time with him and his reputation is never going to be made unless he finds a way back.
Wandering through the landscape of swamps, desert, caves and citadels he comes across a series of characters - mostly friendly - who gladly give advice when asked for help. Gordo Greatbelly, renowned proprietor of the Dancing Ogre Inn, is the most comprehensive source of free advice although others, for example Boot the giggling elfin alchemist, can give more specialised help. Contact with the friendly but initially powerless wizard of Tudaw who gives the professor a series of tasks to complete, is vital. He explains that the ruling class is troubled; the princess Olga has disappeared and King Gruff has lost his son Prince Grott. The professor's task, quite simply, is to restore order and return enough power to the wizard to send him home.
An unusual and very enjoyable clement is the close interaction of text and graphics. Every location has its own colourful and detailed illustration and shows doors opening, rocks moving and people leaving as you type in the corresponding command. Execution of a magic spell causes the background to flash in a quick succession of rainbow colours.
In locations where no definite exits are given, the image of a distant citadel or temple urges the professor to persevere. On one notable occasion a very important object is depicted graphically but not described in the text. As it was the only such instance. I spent a lot of time trying to use other clearly visible items in vain. Nevertheless it's one example of how graphics can and do enhance the value of the text.
The puzzles vary from the straightforward to the downright devious. None are insoluble; the game is extremely well crafted and full of clues if you take the trouble to look and, more importantly, ask. Interaction with shopkeepers, the ubiquitous Gordo and the aristocracy of the enchanted land is essential. Success depends on a very realistic mix of hoiaesty and deception; excessive greed for treasure meets with its just rewards, although a little trickery in the Dancing Ogre won't go amiss.
Sudden death, indicated by a humorous and colourful end-of-game screen, is a pervasive, if not constant, possibility. In most cases ample warning is given, although on one or two occasions working out the precise wording to get out of a situation needs more turns than the program allows.
Fortunately there is a RAMSAVE option, an excellent remedy for unexpected death and especially useful for finding a trial and error path through treacherous swamps and along precarious ridges. The PA Wed parser accepts complex sentences and commands using IT and EXCEPT. There are a couple of idiosyncracies but the location text generally gives enough clues to the necessary wording of an action. The VOCAB command acts as an extension of the inlay card and calls up a list of some of the possible commands. One of the most useful abbreviations is X, for EXAMINE. It's surprising that hardly anyone else seems to have thought of it.
Monster is living proof that the best games don't necessarily come from the big software houses. It has more depth than the average full price offering and deserves to do extremely well. Along with Star Reporter, a bonus 48K adventure with sound effects, Monster is available for £3.99 (including postage and packaging) from: Haggisoft, 3D Sherwood Road, Hurlford, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire KAI SDW.
Of magic and monoliths: a Monster of a tale...