It's just over a year since Kobyashi Naru was first released. Derek Brewster was pretty impressed by its smart iconselection system which was a definite improvement over that used in Clive Wilson and Les Hogarth's earlier game Zzzz. Shard Of Inovar and Venom were released soon after but the heartbreak and confusion that surrounded Derek's departure meant that they were never reviewed. For anyone who missed out the first time, they're now available in a single package compiled specially for +3 adventurers.
Although the exact icons differ in each, the process of selection is practically identical. Various symbols (or words) representing basic actions (EXAMINE, GET, LOOK, VIEW etc) are arranged around the screen. Pressing FIRE selects a particular verb, and moving a second cursor over the location text chooses the appropriate noun. No typing of any kind is required; all actions are initiated via the keyboard or the joystick.
SHARD OF INOVAR
In a long-forgotten time, when the earth was populated by elves and wizards, the land was plagued by an ancient disease every winter which only a ritual connected with the powerful elfstone Inovar could lift. The Ritual of Decairn was uttered annually by Arthemin till, drunk with the thought of the stone's power, he became corrupt. In the resultant battle, the jewel was broken. As Arthemin's apprentice, you have no choice but to attempt to perform the ritual by yourself, releasing the agents of good that have become trapped as a result of the turmoil.
An incredibly complex scenario confuses what amounts to a fairly standard game of straightforward puzzles. An INVOKE icon which allows you to perform one of three rituals adds a little variety to the basic element of search, find and examine but on the whole the puzzles aren't compelling enough to keep you struggling with the longwinded and tedious input system.
Immortality isn't granted to just anyone. To join the coveted Order you must complete the three phases of the Naru and bring back the necessary object from each. The three parts can be tackled in any order, though you can't begin a second task till you've completed the first.
Inevitably, with three separate and specific objectives, the puzzles are mainly sequential. Every now and then you're pulled up short in front of a seemingly impenetrable barrier, a massive masticating monster or an insurmountably dangerous obstacle - exactly the sort of problems to which the icon selection system is most suited. The emphasis is on short, succinct actions which it's easy to perform and which don't require complex input. There are enough options to keep you trying for quite some time, but with a list of specific available commands, you won't spend hours dawdling along completely the wrong track. Plenty of sudden death situations and an array of compelling puzzles make Kobyashi Nara by far the most compelling adventure of the three.
As Rikka, you have agreed to meet Beris and Arrel, the ruler of Armosin, a world beset by evil, in the Dancing Drayman Inn. When they fail to turn up, the bonds of friendship leave you no choice to try and find them.
As you wander through this turbulent land, the viewing screen gives a potted history, guide book style, of Armosin's past. A TALK icon allows you to communicate with the country's generally unhelpful inhabitants. As speaking involves at least five moves which take far longer to execute than simply typing a line of text, progress is slow and turgid. Unless you're extraordinarily motivated, you may not want to persevere.
Despite their labour-saving appearance, icon-driven adventures on 8-bit machines tend towards the slow and inflexible. Unless you have the scope of 16- bit and a host of adventurers almost guaranteed to be in possession of a mouse, moving the cursor is bound to be an awkward and unwieldy process. Despite the obvious sophistication of the systems used in all three of Mastertronic's adventures, I was left wishing that I'd had a chance to type in at least some of the more basic commands. Somehow just typing n seems far simpler than chasing a cursor all the way around the screen.
Still, if your typing fingers are particularly sore, you're desperate for a change and happy to put up with the limitations of an icon-driven system, this may just be the compilation for you. Its three games certainly represent an unusual departure from the traditional adventure mould.
Cameron carries nothing at all as he tries to tackle the Shard Of Inovar.