Thursday, September 13, 2007

Blackwyche (C64, 1985)

Ultimate (now Rare) was one of the legendary software companies in the 80's, especially on the ZX Spectrum where they published a good deal of classic arcade-adventures (the 3D isometric kind). Interestingly enough they never achieved the same kind of success on the Commodore 64, where nevertheless they released a series of semi-classic aardvarks in the form of "the Arthur Pendragon saga" (including the Staff of Karnath, Entombed, Blackwyche and Dragonskulle).

The C64 was notoriously difficult in handling 3D isometric graphics, so Ultimate used a slightly different approach. It's still 3D but not quite. It's also more colourful than the Spectrum (thankfully).

Like I mentioned Blackwyche is the third in a series of arcade adventures, and the plot epigrammatically is that you're set on a haunted pirate ship trying to free the captain's damned soul. The ship consists of five decks and there's approximately 5 rooms and 2 great halls in each of them. Basically in order to free the captain's soul you must find 4 pieces of a map. Some can be easily found, while others require some puzzling.

Which brings me to the first fault of the game. No sooner you start the game on the first deck than you're attacked by demons. Luckily there's a sword in one of the nearby rooms, but the attack is relentless. It's also quite terribly made. Think of the skeleton attacks in Forbidden Forest but done in such a way so that you don't have much chance of defending yourself. And for some bizarre reason, when you're going from left to right it works better than when you're going from right to left.

Boo, there goes half of your energy every time you wander around then (which is all the time). There's a bell in a room in the first deck which replenishes your energy, so be prepared for some heavy back and forth and back again wandering. Considering the rooms are stupidly far from each other this ain't good.

Also, for an arcade-adventure the surroundings are uniformly similar which makes exploring a bit tedious. But let's check the puzzles. They aren't too good. Here's an example: there's a black flag in a room on the first deck. Then in one of the other decks you find a skull and crossbones. Woosh, you go back to the black flag, and you get a pirate flag which then subsides to reveal a hidden item. And that's a good puzzle actually.

Every so often hidden items can be found in awkward places which you discover by plain luck. You must crack some wall with your sword for example. Yeah, what are you supposed to do, experiment by cracking the walls in all the rooms? Yes actually. Not to mention the hidden traps that are here and there. Drawing a map is well advised so that you know the wheres and hows.

The controls are plain awful. Changing direction while facing a demon is a laborious task, as is switching from jumping to using the sword by pressing the spacebar. So is moving around in the semi-3D rooms because there's no real diagonal movement. Instead you must go left/right and up/down. But considering enemies usually move in one axis, you're severely handicapped. So to conclude, a lot of people seem to love this game, but I think it's a classic case of seeing it through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. It's a lousy arcade adventure and not very playable at all.



Merman said...

It's my least favourite of the Pendragon games on the C64.

Jim Slip said...

It's rather frustating, isn't it. It would be much better if you didn't lose all your energy when going from one room to another.

Nice to see you changed the font in your blog btw. It's easier to read now. -)