Your mother always knew you'd come to a bad end. That habit you have of poking your nose into other people's business has really got you into trouble. In retrospect, it was a very bad idea to try waving that wand you found in the local Junk shop while the proprietor's back was turned - in fact it was one of your worst ideas ever. The atmosphere turned inside out and transported you into a dark and hostile cave system. While you're deciding whether to panic or make the best of it, a sinister voice charges you with the task of seeking enough treasure to pay for the misuse of the mysterious wand. Bemused and confused you begin the Philosopher's Quest.
Surrounded by objects, you are faced with the difficult task of taking only two on your difficult search. Try to return to collect the rest and you find that they've all disappeared. Whether you've chosen correctly is not immediately apparent. A bewildering cave system, complete with tortuous mazes (cartography is an essential skill), disorientating passages, chutes and slides, stretches before you. Weird and initially incomprehensible symbols mark the walls. A little further exploration and you find yourself on a sandy beach with paths leading to a huge pivot and a small shack named, inaptly enough, Shangri-La.
Far easier to find than treasure is a series of deadly traps and obstacles. The hazards are not always immediately apparent (who would suspect the potential danger lurking in a piece of cheese...?) and you can plummet, gasp and hurtle to your doom in a variety of extraordinary and unexpected ways. Part of the pleasure comes from spotting an innocuous looking pitfall before it leads to death. Look hard enough and the expansive text (usually) gives you warning. All the same, saving to disk (there is no Ramsave) is well-advised.
The land at the other side of the junk shop is inhabited by its fair share of weird and wonderful creatures. Elephants, snakes, dogs, solicitors and cranky old ladies set you a series of formidable tasks. Hell-bent on performing their own particular chores, they won't cooperate unless you help or divert them first.
The challenging puzzles bear the characteristic Topologika stamp. Mostly object-orientated they are supremely logical and ask you to make sense of the unexpected with some strong, systematic lateral thought. Paint pours over you without warning, different coloured stars mark the floors, the albatross hanging from your neck just won't come off. Occasionally, a little external knowledge proves useful, though by no means essential. Knowing that the design of a set of passages is based on the paintings of Maurits Escher may enhance the atmosphere; it certainly doesn't map the maze. in any case, if you're slightly unsure about something you can always consult the carefully graded hint system without fear that it will reveal too much.
Philosopher's Quest was originally released some time ago by Acornsoft. What amounts to a complex parser isn't quite as complex as it could be. It accepts most compound inputs using AND, EXCEPT and ALL though not pronouns, EXAMINE and THEM. Perversely, the more sophisticated aspects of the parser occasionally let it down. If, for example, you are carrying a piece of clothing, a backpack or a mask, the program automatically assumes that you are wearing them. Unfortunately there's nothing in the inventory to indicate this so you can spend ages typing in WEAR aqualung, mask, suit, coat and so on, to no avail. The same goes for the lamp; it took me a few goes to discover that all you have to do to conserve batteries is type OFF and ON.
As another in the list of successful BBC games currently being re-released on other formats, Philosopher's Quest is definitely worthy of attention. Its convoluted puzzles, tantalising locations and unexpectedly awkward twists are bound to keep you playing feverishly for quite some time. At a retail price of f9.95 it's available direct from Topologika at FREEPOST, PO Box 39, Stilton, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, PE7 3BR