Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 126 / FEBRUARY 1991 / PAGE 44

Challenge of the Ancient Empires. (computer game) (Discovery) (evaluation)
by Leslie Eiser

Dear Diary, I just don't believe this. I thought I had Morty Maxwell under control. After chasing him around the school in Midnight Rescue and through the TV station in Outnumbered, I thought I'd gotten rid of him for good. But no, he's back in the Challenge of the Ancient Empires, and he's into more mischief than ever.

It seems that several underground caverns have been found near the sites of four ancient civilizations. The cavern near present-day Iraq, Turkey, and the Middle East contains valuable artifacts from the ancient Babylonian, Phoenician, Sumerian, and Hebrew civilizations. In Egypt there's a cavern filled with glorious art treasures, jewelry, a burial mask, and even mummy coffins. Mosaic, temples, and magnificient statues are in the cavern near present-day Greece and Rome. In the cavern under India and China are everyday objects and priceless artwork created many thousands of years ago.

Unfortunately for the explorers of these caverns, there's evidence that Morty Maxwell has been snooping around. Because of our ability to thwart his attempts at mischief in previous adventures, the Super Solvers have been called in. This time our goal is to explore the caverns, get past all the traps and mazes left by the ancient builders, and figure out how to save the priceless artifacts from the clutches of that mad fiend.

To help us out, we've got some notes left by previous adventurers. Each cavern has four chambers, and each chamber is a maze of rooms, hallways, and passages. Our goal is to roam the maze looking for the six pieces of an artifact.

You're simply not going to believe what these caverns look like. On a color VGA monitor, they spring to life. The walls glow with an eerie blue light, three-dimensional knotted rope ladders hang from the ceilings, and curious inscriptions decorate the walls. Scattered all around the chambers and halls of the caverns are priceless works of art, ancient sculptures, and other remnants of civilizations. long dead.

In the long years since the caverns were built, awesome cave creatures gradually have been taking over. Mutations of relatively harmless creatures creep, crawl, slither, and fly around the chambers. Huge spiders hang from the ceilings, suddenly droping down toward you, frantically wiggling their legs. Scorpions curl up their tails and then toss fireballs across the rooms. Barrel Blaster Bugs hide under staircases and around overhanging pieces of wall, while the Bowling Ball Beetles seem to prefer the more open spaces.

Fortunately we Super Solvers never go anywhere without some special tools. My personal favorites are the turbo tennies. I've been using them to bounce over obstacles and to make the most impossible jumps. They even make it easier to land lightly when I fall. Think how much fun they'd be in the gym at school. They aren't exactly easy to control, though. Every time you want to jump, you have to press at least two keys in exactly the right order, at exactly the right time. After a little bit of practice, I managed to get good enough to explore most of the caverns, but my mom never did figure out how to get the turbo tennies to work. Maybe the next version will offer support for a mouse or a trackball to help her out.

A portable force-yield generator provides even more protection. It's good for only four fields per chamber, so you have to learn to budget your use of it. The first few times through the chambers, I'd use up the force field in the first room and then have to duck everything else. One thing you should know - after you've turned on the force field, you can switch to your turbo tennies and really blast around the room.

The miner's hat serves two purposes. By getting it to shine a short but powerful beam of light at the right moment, you can stun cave creatures for a few seconds. The light beams also turn on the light switches found in the caverns near Egypt.

But the way, don't worry about the creatures actually killing you. They can only drain some of your energy away. After four hits, you run out of energy and have to start the chamber all over again - a bit depressing if you're in the last room, ready to grab the last artifact. But it's better than dying. It's kind of nice to explore some place that really isn't all that violent.

Each cavern has its own atmosphere and challenges. Conveyor belts add to the challenge in the cavern under India and China. Naturally, they're never going in the right direction where you first enter a room. To make them change direction, I had to jump up and hit a switch with my head. Ouch! Sometimes I had to hit several in combination to get all the conveyor belts in a chamber heading the right way.

There's a pretty decent group of monsters to avoid as well. A flying I-don't-know-what kept sticking its tongue out at me, and there were bats all over the place. But it was the spiders that definitely gave me the most trouble until I finally figured out there was a patter to their movement. If I planned ahead carefully, I could just sneak past without touching them.

In the caverns in the Near East, there are sliding panels to open. Head and foot switches scattered around the room control the panels. Sometimes getting them all open requires hitting four or five switches in the right order, at the right times - a tough problem to figure out in the best of times but even trickier when you have to dodge a collection of ugly cave returns.

In my opinion, the toughest cavern to solve is the one near Egypt. Revolving mirrors and light switches add a decided physics challenge to these rooms. Each time you bump into a head switch or step on a foot switch, one of the mirrors rotates slightly. The trick is to use the light beam from the miner's hat to trigger the light switch. It took some pretty sophisticated planning to get four separate mirrors all lined up in the right way so that a single beam of light could bounce off all four before hitting the light switch in the far corner. Not the easiest way to open doors, I'll warn you right now.

And there's never an end to the challenges. Just when you think you've got a cavern figured out, something new pops up. The number of conveyor belts increases, ropes that lead to nowhere appear, and multiple switches in different locations in the room have to be hit in exactly the right order, or the gaps between the floorboards suddenly get larger. Every room leads to one that's more baffling than the last, every chamber has tougher puzzles to solve, and every cavern offers a fresh challenge.

After you've finally struggled your way through a chamber gathering the required artifacts, your reward is a jigsaw puzzle and a logic problem. The jigsaw puzzles are particularly beautiful images of famous artifacts, rendered in stunning golds and brilliant blues and purples. After you've completed the puzzle, the computer displays information about the piece of artwork. Pressing any key will scroll this information on the screen.

Your next ancient empire challenge is to solve a logic puzzle. Study eight shapes placed in a square, and figure out what the missing piece must look like. Miss twice, and you'll have to repeat the chamber from the beginning. Get it right, and it's on to the next chamber in the cavern.

When you're solved all the puzzles in all the caverns, you get to add your name and score to the roll of honor. To play again, just pick a new name and start over. Figure out a safer path through the mazes to get a better score. If you think you're too good for the regular game, there's an expert level. Rumor has it that the expert level has different art objects, more creatures to avoid, tougher mazes to decipher, and harder logic problems. For right now, though, just finishing one chamber at the explorer level is challenge enough for me.

Do you know what I really like about Challenge of the Ancient Empires? It's the combination of arcade game and educational content. You can't possibly meet the challenge by simply blowing up everything you see. Instead, the race goes to the careful thinker and planner. With three different types of switches, reflector triangles, conveyor belts, energy apples, and coded, panels, there always seems to be a new twist to figure out.

I really like the music and sound effects, too. When the Sphinx opens its foot to let you into the first cavern, the groan is almost enough to make you decide not to go in.

But there are some things that really bother me. For one thing, I sure wish the keyboard made using those turbo tennies easier. You really have to work to make them do the right thing at the right time. And if you aren't in exactly the correct position, you can't grab a rope or climb a ladder. There were times when I just quit out of frustration with the keyboard, not because I was bored with the game.

And somehow I'd have liked it to be a bit more educational. It's a good arcade game, but it doesn't quite look educational enough to convince anyone that I'm really learning anything. Certainly when I kept failing to master a chamber at the very end of the maze and had to repeat all the ealier steps over and over again, it seemed like an arcade game to me, too. On the other hand, I did have all those neat puzzles to solve, and if I took the time to read about the artifacts in the jigsaw puzzles, I always learned something new.

Anyway, I've got to go now. I still have to finish exploring Greece and Rome. I'll tell you something, though; the gongs in those chambers are pretty cool. You play them by jumping up and touching them or letting a cave creature do the work for you. The challenge is getting the order of the notes right. Believe it or not, the hints are in Greek. Maybe I'll pick up some of the Greek alphabet this way.

Talk to you again, diary.