Archon Ultra. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Zach Meston
This is the most enjoyable review I've done in a long time--not only because Archon Ultra is great but also because it gave me an excuse to drag my dust-covered Commodore 64 out of the closet and boot up my ten-year-old copy of the original Archon. (This brought back a flood of happy memories, and it made me wonder how I ever managed to wait for games to load from floppy disks.)
In case you don't remember Archon, it's an action/strategy game that plays like a combination of chess and gladiatorial combat. The pieces of the Light Side and the Dark Side face off on the Archon board, which looks somewhat like a chessboard, but with a few big differences: It's 9 x 9 squares instead of 8 x 8, there are five special Power Point squares, and some of the squares cycle from dark to light and back again. Square colors are extremely important, because a light piece fighting on a light square is much stronger than a light piece fighting on a dark square, and vice versa. To win the game, you must destroy all of the other side's pieces or conquer the five Power Points.
Whenever opposing pieces move onto the same square, they engage in realtime combat on one of three different battlefields (the darker the square, the gloomier the field). Each of the 16 different pieces in the game has two powers to use during combat, as opposed to only one in the original Archon. The Light Side's Phoenix, for example, can explode into a fireball and shoot feathers that act as homing missiles, while the Dark Side's Dragon breathes fire as well as poisonous gas clouds. Learning how to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the different pieces is what makes Archon Ultra so darned entertaining.
While Archon Ultra naturally has a one-player mode, the computer opponent isn't too bright, and it's not much fun playing such a predictable opponent. Archon Ultra truly shines in the two-player mode. And unlike the original, Archon Ultra allows you to play human opponents by modem.
Archon Ultra's graphics and animation are topnotch, but the sound support is annoyingly lacking. Only three cards are supported: Sound Blaster, Sound Blaster Pro, and Gravis Ultrasound. If your board doesn't have Sound Blaster emulation, you're out of luck, and even if it does, there's no guarantee it will work properly. Pray with me that SSI will take steps to support more boards in future revisions of the game.
Put simply, Archon Ultra is one of the best action/strategy games you'll ever play. It manages to capture all of the playability of the original Archon, while adding enough new gameplay features to hold the attention of 1990s gamers.