Jewels of Darkness follows the usual rules of naming software, ie make it sound like everything else. In fact this unoriginal title covers a trilogy of very famous games, games which go back to the very earliest days of adventuring. Colossal Adventure, the first of the three, is a direct descendant of the Crowther and Woods mainframe jaunt. This was the bane of many an academic computing fraternity in the late seventies and early eighties. Adventure Quest, the second tape, is played out on the same ground as the first, but is a Level 9 original, while Dungeon Adventure completes the trilogy with the most original story and feel of the lot.
All three have been completely overhauled and updated since their first release, with extended text descriptions, enhanced language manipulation, and, most noticeably to a Colossal veteran, pictures. Even if these do only amount to the usual Level 9 minimalistic art school, they still add some colour to these text classics.
The packaging is of the very highest standard with full instructions (which even go so far as telling you how to wrestle with the firm plastic casings), and a novella by Peter McBride indicating a high regard and a great confidence in the product by Rainbird. I tend to go along with this confidence, as this package, even at nigh on £15, is still superb value for money given the effort to breathe new life into these oldies (but extremely goodies).
Presentation is all very well of course, but what of the substance. Well, what can be said from the outset is, if you haven’t played these games before, or if you are thinking of looking into adventuring but don’t know where to start, then this trilogy can provide an insight into what makes adventuring great. The stories behind each part, the strong and evocative descriptions of each location, and the clever weighting and interlinking of puzzles and objects provide the fuel to set burning even the dullest of imaginations. One offshoot of the games’ notoriety is the ease of discussing the adventure with fellow adventurers, many of whom will have at least tried Colossal, so you can end up in animated conversation — much the same as with Tolkien novels.
The features designed to bring these old masterpieces into line with new advances are most impressive. Most immediately apparent is the type-ahead feature; even while pictures are being drawn, the next move can be made. Enhancements in vocabulary include GET ALL or EVERYTHING, AGAIN and RAM SAVE and EXITS.
The sophistication which these commands can achieve together when they are linked by punctuation (or simply by the word AND), is quite remarkable. The GET ALL/DROP ALL command can be used with exceptions as in DROP ALL BUT THE LAMP AND SILVER BALL. The command OOPS, which restores the player to the position before the last move on larger machines, is sadly not available on the Spectrum 48K versions!
In addition to the commands to get you back into the game, the programs also give you an option to be resurrected after an untimely death. To obtain a maximum score, and the title of Supreme Adventurer, the player must complete Colossal, Quest, and Dungeon in that order, carrying the score across from one adventure to the next. Each adventure has its own scoring system and objectives, as we shall now see on our tour of the trilogy.
In the first part, Colossal Adventure, the player scores points by finding fabulous treasures and carrying them back to the small brick building at the start. If things are going well, and you reach the Colossal Cavern, then you will score more points for entering it. Bonus points are had by making as little use as possible of the SAVE/RESTORE options.
Colossal has you cast as the chap who takes pity on a weary traveller who stops by at your local tavern, and then goes on to free the goodly elves imprisoned in the deep dark dungeons at the end of your quest. The traveller is grateful for your helping him avoid the bandits who would have his money, but instead of proffering you some of his new found wealth, he allows you the chance of searching out your own at the cave which locals have put down as a myth. He gives you a map showing the location of the Colossal Cavern, and you decide to chance all and follow it — over mountains, through forests, and past deserts until nearing the cave, you foolishly lose the map in a fast-flowing stream. You must now make your own way to the cavern remembering what the traveller told you — that magic works in the cavern.
In some ways Colossal seems the easiest of the trilogy. This may be due to familiarity, or perhaps it’s due to the ease of wandering round a great many locations with only a few minor problems to solve. Come to think of it the early part of Adventure Quest isn’t so difficult either, but perhaps it isn’t quite so easy to go as far. Playing both graphic and text versions (the text backs the graphics side of the tape), I noticed that not only is the text side wordier, but in some ways it is easier. Both prompts and location descriptions become more tangible as their lengths increase. For example, on the graphics side, trying to pick up an object when you already have four, results in ‘Your hands are full’. On the text-only side however, this becomes ‘Your hands are full, you can’t carry anything else unless you drop something first’. This is a simple example of what may well prove more valuable, as the plot thickens and becomes more intractable.
The story behind Adventure Quest goes like this. You are an apprentice magician (being under 60 years old) and have taken courses in the three M’s (Meditation, Mysticism, and Moneymaking), but you haven’t had the opportunity to put theory into practice — until now. You are told the base of the demon lord’s tower has been discovered: he has taken up residence in the Black Tower, on the far edge of the world. Even now the full council is preparing an assault on its defences. But there is a second way. Perhaps one person, acting alone, can find the four Stones-of-the-Elements and use them to enter the tower. There the Amulet-of-Life might help defeat the Demon. As you leave the room you think you hear the shouted order ‘Next!’. Dressed in travel clothes you are teleported to a familiar scene.
You score points by getting nearer to the Demon Lord’s Black Tower, and more for possessing any of the four Stones-of-the-Elements. There are bonus points for entering the tower itself and winning the adventure. On the debit side, you lose points as time goes by, and more if you manage to get yourself killed. Using SAVE/RESTORE regularly will keep you on your way in what is an epic journey.
The concluding game of the trilogy, Dungeon Adventure, goes like this. You awake on a mudbank under a bridge spanning a wide river. Apparently you were robbed and your body left for dead in the river but a current took you to the shore. However lucky you may feel at being alive, all your weapons and magic powers, are lost.
To score points you must collect treasures left by the late Demon Lord and take them to the store room. There are bonuses for getting rid of undesirable beings (though, to prevent massacre, only the worst enemies give you a bonus score). Getting yourself killed, as usual, loses valuable points. Resurrection is possible, and uses a machine which is initially situated very close to the start of the game. The setting for Dungeon Adventure is a cave network which was originally the headquarters of the Demon Lord. Some parts are now blocked off by rock falls, but it may help you to bear in mind the original functions of the accessible areas.
Jewels of Darkness is a classic trilogy and a collectors item for connoisseurs and laymen alike. Given the untold damage to the market, in terms of unimaginative structures and stories, wreaked by the Quill, these programs are at once a return to traditional adventuring and a breath of fresh air. Only allowing the carriage of four objects in the first two games seems unnecessarily restricting, and makes maze-mapping difficult. The bunched up text can be difficult to separate when reading and perhaps a bit of colour within the text wouldn’t have gone amiss. The long, atmospheric location descriptions, the clever and entertaining plot, and the super way the whole thing is dished up, makes this package one to remember.
Difficulty: easy to quite puzzling
Graphics: nothing special but colourful enough
Presentation: average, but at least the colours are restful
Input facility: beyond verb/noun
General rating: super entertainment