Last month I reviewed Topologika's Countdown To Doom, an extended (text-only) version of an adventure previously released by Acornsoft. Acheton, another re-release didn't need any extending - it already had one of the most complex and convoluted adventure environments ever devised. Very much in the style of the archetypal Colossal Adventure, it combines a progressive science fiction scenario with the more traditional treasure-hunt theme.
The Ruling Council of Acheton issues a monumental challenge to sentient life-forms everywhere: explore the planet, discover the secrets of its magic locations and risk death to find as much treasure as possible to boost your reputation as interplanetary challenger supreme.
The journey begins modestly enough outside a farmhouse. You enter it and find a set of standard adventuring equipment: an empty bottle, a bunch of keys and an oil lamp. A little more exploration reveals a massive network of bizarre underground caverns. Acheton is a planet of many secrets: magical laboratories, secret harbours, complex mazes, dangerous dungeons, gardens and cliffs are all concealed in a complex subterranean environment.
There are numerous treasures, ranging from jewel encrusted orbs to antique paintings and violins. Unfortunately just picking them up isn't good enough - you have to take them back to a safe near the entrance of the labyrinth. This is easier said than done - some routes are extremely difficult to negotiate while carrying certain objects. Should you try to close the safe door before you've collected enough, the Ruling Council gives sneering voice to its contempt.
One of the more justifiable criticisms levelled at this type of game is that long stretches of time are spent wandering around sets of forbidding but mostly empty caverns. Not so Acheton - budding magicians need to have their wits about them all the time. Innocuous looking torture chambers are more than likely to spring into life, the plants in the wizard's greenhouse are more dangerous than they look and gaping chasms are just waiting to swallow innocent adventurers up. Should you fall prey to a sudden and untimely death, you are given the option of reincarnation. If you choose to reject it your journey reaches a fitting end in the gloomy jaws of hell.
Experienced adventurers will find one or two of the problems rather familiar. Inevitably you need to fill your bottle with water and recharge your lamp after a given number of turns. Going on to automatic pilot doesn't always work though, as some seemingly obvious problems have deviously hidden depths. The Ruling Council has a nasty sense of humour and delights in leaving misleading clues. The one or two puzzles that you may have enough experience to solve come as a welcome respite from the high difficulty level that characterises the others. If you really do get hopelessly stuck, Topologika's inbuilt hint system is always ready to help...
For an older than average game Acheton has an efficient parser which responds to complex commands, including ALL and EXCEPT. There's no EXAMINE command (you see everything you need to in one go) and no RAMSAVE option so it's advisable to keep saving to disk.
All those who fell in love with the Jewels of Darkness trilogy and adventures of that ilk probably won't be able to resist it. It's definitely one of the best versions of that veteran genre on offer. Acheron is available for £9.95 direct from Topologika at FREEPOST, PO Box 39, Stilton, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, PE7 3BR.