Forming the first part of The Hellspawn Trilogy, Challenge Of Iythus is this month's only non-comic adventure and very serious it is too. A text-only adventure split into two loads the game is set some time in the distant future. Much as in the film The Omen, the Devil has neglected proper birth control with the result that two evil children, Iythus and Sregor, have been born. Following the logic of like father like son, Iythus grows up to be an evil lord who plans to conquer the world with a master race of super-beings.
Naturally you set out to defeat the greatest and most powerful evil the world has ever known. You are helped in this quest by an old friend Arakrin The Wizard, who tells you that only one object can destroy the evil Iythus. This is the Dwarf Star, a magical type of jewel. Needless to say it's not the sort of object you're going to stumble over on a carefree amble in the countryside. In fact only two of these Dwarf Stars exist in the entire world, both allegedly buried deep underground, many centuries ago. Of course Iythus realises that if these jewels are destroyed he will become invincible. To this end he has ordered his worker ores (I didn't realise this was Middle Earth!) to search the mine beneath his castle for them. One of the jewels, however, is rumoured to be in the castle itself, guarded by a terrible monster. You must retrieve this precious stone to save the world (and I bet it won't be grateful).
After an attractive loading screen (which includes a CRASH binder among a pile of books!) and an atmospheric title screen, the appearance of a mass of text on a black background is rather disappointing. But the verbose, atmospheric descriptions are good and presented in a stylish (but easily legible) character set with a shield symbol at the start of each input line, and a sword for the cursor.
The adventure begins in the courtyard of Fortress Iythus, a rather gothic abode appropriately, and eerily, lit by a full moon. Going north reveals a leaflet left near a fountain. On reading it, you find it's an advertisement for other Creative Juices products. Another touch of humour is the message given after playing the flute, making an awful sound: 'Have you ever considered working for Stork, Atkin and Waterfall?'! This certainly isn't a spoof, but the odd bit of humour helps to brighten up an otherwise gloomy atmosphere.
Progress is initially difficult to make - even getting into the main building is a work of art with the key hidden in the most obscure place imaginable. Once inside things get very dangerous with flying arrows, vicious dogs and wailing ghosts to contend with. It's just as well there's a useful RAMSAVE option to make life a little easier.
Another feature common to a great many adventures, but rather less welcome, is the maze. Challenge Of Iythus has a very contorted labyrinth, named the Skull Maze. It was here that I discovered what I assume is a bug; a message appears, telling you that flowing lava from the mine is getting much closer, but this message is then repeated for every location thereafter, no matter how far away from the mine. Bug or not, it's very irritating.
If the first section seems difficult, the second is even more puzzling. To begin this part, a password must be given once it has loaded and, peculiarly, this is also required when you die. At the section's start the hero (or heroine, as we aren't told his/her name), is transported by an enormous eagle to an icy wasteland of steep cliffs and narrow crevasses. All the objects from pan one, except your trusty sword, are inconveniently lost when you fall off your unusual steed. To make things even worse this inhospitable land is also populated by some most vile creatures - getting anywhere takes a lot of patience.
Despite the many difficulties throughout the game, The Challenge Of Iythus is a fairly deep adventure for a small price. But if you do manage to complete the awesome task, the second game in the Hellspawn Trilogy should also be available soon, titled The Curse Of Sregor. Meanwhile, you can get hold of The Challenge Of Iythus direct from Creative Juices at 28 Horseshoe Road, Longford, Coventry CV6 6JY.