Requirements: Apple Macintosh; Apple II-family computer with at least 32K RAM and a disk drive; Commodore 64 with a disk drive; or an Atari with at least 48K RAM and a disk drive. The version reviewed was for the Macintosh; other versions are identical.
The adventure game wizards at Infocom have just unleashed a new challenge—Enchanter, which the package blurb claims "is in the Zork tradition." That's quite a tradition to live up to, because as practically all adventure-game addicts know, Infocom's best-selling Zork trilogy set new standards for adventure game sophistication. Yet Enchanter upholds those high standards. And it even includes some of the characters from Zork.
Enchanter is strictly a text adventure—no pictures. Again, this is an Infocom tradition. Infocom maintains that personal computer graphics are not yet advanced enough to match the picture in your mind's eye. If you enjoy reading novels as much as watching TV, you'll probably agree.
Enchanter should be especially welcomed by Macintosh users. Until now, they haven't had many games to choose from, except for Transylvania, Millionaire, and the simple puzzle game that comes with the Mac.
A Well-Woven Tale
This is a remarkably well-planned game which encourages you to make logical or instinctive decisions. There's nothing strikingly original about it, but you'll appreciate its high level of challenge and meticulously maintained continuity.
The premise is that Krill, an evil sorcerer, has control of the land. The Circle of Enchanters sends you, a novice enchanter, to stop him. You might ask, "Why don't they go themselves?" Well, they claim Krill might recognize one of them—a likely story. Anyhow, along the way, you must find scrolls which reveal the magic you will need to seek out and vanquish Krill. Some of the scrolls are hidden along the roads around Krill's castle and some are in the rambling castle itself. Other spells are revealed by friendly animals, and at least one spell requires another spell to unlock it.
Keeping a map as you find your way through this complex game is absolutely essential. The bigger the paper, the better. Your starting point is at the western extreme, so you might want to start your map at the left edge of the paper.
You begin at a fork in a road. Explore both forks before you approach the castle. There are supplies you will need along each trail. Be practical. One of the strengths of this game is its tether to reality. The sun comes up and goes down at regular intervals. You get hungry, thirsty, and sleepy in cycles. And characters you meet respond in predictable ways. For example, an adventurer you meet in Krill's castle is suspicious of you, even if you offer him lunch. With so much evil lurking, it makes sense to be suspicious.
Likewise, a dog may show interest in you only when you have something it wants. On the other hand, you may learn something valuable with an off-the-wall command. For instance, by commanding, "Take all," you will find out what is portable in a room. But be careful—don't do something you wouldn't do in real life, such as extinguishing your lantern to learn the spell you need to light it again.
Mastering Magic Spells
Using the spells can be a chore. You must initially write the spells in your spell book. Then, each time you need to use one, you must memorize it. You may find that by the time you're finished memorizing, the creature you wanted to cast the spell on has wandered away.
But the spells are the key to Enchanter. At the outset you're given four: Gnusto, Frontz, Blorb, and Nitfol. Gnusto writes magic in your spell book. Frontz illuminates. Blorb protects your belongings. And Nitfol lets you talk to the animals. These four spells won't get you very far. Some of the first spells you'll find when you explore are a spell to open locked objects, a spell to repair damaged items, and a one-time-only spell that dispels evil magic.
Among the things that go bump in the night are a turtle, a dog, an adventurer, and some mean hairy guys who want to plunge a knife into you. There are other friendly and threatening creatures, but these are some that can move from room to room. You can summon certain creatures, like Belboz, your mentor, but he won't always be pleased to see you. Fortunately, there aren't so many moving creatures that you can't always find safe havens to sleep or otherwise regroup.
You can become stalemated, but entering "Wait" may change the situation. You can also return to rooms you already visited and find them altered. Or you can go to sleep—are those dreams you're having, or are they clues? Even an inexperienced player can discover or create new possibilities, though they may lead to his demise.
No expense was spared on the documentation, which is complete and flashy. For instance, the map-making advice is prepared by The Guild of Cartographers and the advice on entering commands comes from The Guild of Scriveners. You'll have to review the instructions carefully at least once before you'll get the hang of playing. It takes a while to remember all the idiosyncrasies of Enchanter, such as rules for talking to animals. Animals answer only "Who" and "Where" questions. For instance, you might say, "Frog, where is a scroll?" But don't ask "Frog, where are scrolls?" because Enchanter doesn't know the word are.
Most adventure gamers enjoy a good joke now and then, or at least a worthy attempt. Some of the old Adventure International games and other Infocom games are pretty witty. Enchanter has intelligent gameplay, but some of the humor lacks, well, subtlety. One character's name is Lord Dimwit Flathead. If you enter too many off-the-wall commands, the game will comment that you must be under a silliness spell.
The narrative won't win any literary awards, either. The package copy was obviously very carefully written, but the text in the program is sometimes vague. For instance: "A more incongruous place than this would be difficult to believe"; or "a door surpassing anything you could have imagined." I don't want to nitpick, but considering the overall excellence of this game, the writing ought to be better.
At least you don't have to worry about the kids getting funny ideas from Enchanter. There's very little violence in this game, for all its drama. As an enchanter, you have no use for knives or other weapons. Outwitting your opponents is more effective than killing them.
An Advanced Adventure
Enchanter is a huge program. The Macintosh version of the game takes up 122K on the disk. By comparison, the MacWrite word processor takes up only 55K. The system folder on the Macintosh Enchanter disk accounts for another 139K, leaving roughly 140K for storage. Saving a game in progress requires 13K, so some quick division tells you there is disk space for ten games.
Crashing the system is possible with the Macintosh, I discovered, when I accidentally hit the option key. The message SYSTEM ERROR appeared and the only recourse was to restart the disk, losing the game.
Enchanter is an excellent game for adventure freaks. However, you wouldn't want to use it to introduce your Aunt Fanny to computers—it's pretty advanced, even for seasoned adventurers.
With its large vocabulary, you won't tire too quickly of Enchanter. Even when you stop playing, you'll find yourself thinking about possible solutions for hours afterward. The challenge will preoccupy you for a long time.
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