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by Andy Eddy
Andy Eddy works as a cable TV technician in Connecticut, but has been interested in computers since high school. While his family's Atari 800 is four years old, he has been avidly playing arcade games since Space Invaders and is a former record holder on Battlezone.
I don't know where the fanaticism comes from, but there have been a truck-load of games with an oriental flavor—Shanghai (Activision), ST Karate (Eider-soft), Karate Kid II (MichTron), Kareteka (Broderbund), et al. Now we can add another to the pile: Firebird's Golden Path a graphic, mouse-controlled adventure.
Your on-screen counterpart is Y'in Hsi, the infant son of the Golden Emperor, T'ang Yin. Ch'un Kuei, who is a ruthless warrior and the mortal enemy of T'ang Yin, has successfully slain T'ang Yin in battle, leaving Y'in Hsi—too young to be aware of the ties to his father—to be raised by monks.
When he reaches his sixteenth birthday, the monks explain to Y'in Hsi his history, as well as the fate of his father. To make a long story short—Firebird went to the trouble to include this whole tale as a novella (similar to the one with their previous paramount game, Starglider), so why should I spoil it? T'ang Yin has left a ring and a scroll (called the Book of Knowledge) for his son, as well as a legacy. Upon placing the ring on his own finger, Y'in Hsi is converted by the ring's magic into a frail, old man. He becomes, in essence, what his father would be at that moment. He must travel the "Golden Path of Enlightenment" and avenge the death of his father. By doing this, he will reclaim his lost youth.
Golden Path is a clean programming effort—something we've come to expect from Firebird and their parent British company, Rainbird. The cursor (a small, oriental calligraphy character) is smoothly manipulated by the mouse, and the character on-screen maneuvers in the direction of the cursor. Certain movements, like picking up or throwing objects that are on the screen, storing items in your pockets, and offensive/defensive actions (like kicking, punching and blocking) are all mouse controlled, as well.
Each screen is a different location, where you're likely to find various characters and objects to help you toward the game's conclusion. Your task is to discover which items cause the characters whose paths you cross to give you what you need, or to assist you with the proper action. A spokesman at Firebird's New Jersey office told me that the game can be completed from start to finish in 20 minutes, provided you do everything just right. Of course, that's the challenge: finding just the right moves in order to succeed.
The most difficulty comes from the fact that you only have four pockets—each one able to hold only one object—so things have to be accomplished in some sort of order. And, most importantly, the game cannot be saved to disk on the fly, as is normal with adventures, so what you do is critical. It can be incredibly frustrating to be cruising along at a good clip and run into a snag that depletes your character's energy level.
Energy is displayed on-screen by a vine. The larger the vine, the stronger Y'in Hsi is; when the vine withers to nothing, he drops to the ground, a dead man. All is not lost, though: you can reincarnate Y'in Hsi with a tap on the left or right button, the latter bringing a more difficult scenario.
You do have a number of aids on your side, to help you in your mission of discovery. For starters, at the bottom left corner of the display is an icon resembling a gold-trimmed tome (the previously mentioned Book of Knowledge), which will open when you come across something new. This can include a character you haven't seen before, an object for you to pick up, or the description of a new location. You can also click the pointer on the book at any time for a status report on where you stand.
On the bottom right, there's a scaled-down picture of your location. If you click on this, you'll get a rundown of how fruitful your mission is thus far. You will be told how many screens you've seen (out of a possible thirty-seven), how many of the myriad of characters you've met, and how many "steps" you are along your journey. The number of steps can be considered your score, because, when you have completed all of the steps necessary, you've won.
Unfortunately, you can't dawdle over the puzzles at hand. If you do, you'll be greeted with harrassment, in the form of an annoying little gnome called Hoppy. You can dispatch him with a well-timed strike, but it's better to just exit the screen you're in and return. In time, you'll discover what each room has to offer and what each item is used for. At that point, Hoppy won't interrupt you too often.
I found Golden Path (which comes on two disks) a difficult foray, frustrating and deeply challenging. It requires deft movements, intuitive thinking and, most of all, a strong sense of patience. It's not as addictive as Starglider, nor as witty as The Pawn, but—in what's becoming a Firebird trait—it has an air of freshness about it, breaking some new ground. I've been waiting for Firebird to trip up and release a real loser of a game, but a recent press release states that Golden Path for the ST was awarded the title of Best Adventure Game at this year's Summer CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Chicago. It's not surprising.