In which David Plotkin develops ennui, John Manor discovers the efficacy of prayer, and Frank Nagy embraces a clone.
Reviewed by David Plotkin
Hillsfar is an adventure role-playing game from the master of such creations, Strategic Simulations. It sports pretty good graphics, but is somewhat short on plot and long on frustrating "arcade" sequences.
Choosing a Character
The game begins by you selecting a character. Hillsfar is part of SSI's Dungeons & Dragons series of RPGs and lets you either import a character from other games in that line, such as Pool of Radiance, or create a new character altogether.
To create a new character; the game gives you a number of different races to choose from. These include dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings and humans. Your character's race affects his (or her - you can have a female character) abilities, and also what type of character they can be. Each character type has certain special traits - fighters, for example, can use any form of armor or weapon, but magic is beyond them.
Once you've decided on a race and character type, the game gives you ratings in areas that define your character: strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, etc. Each of these characteristics determine how your alter-ego will fare in Hillsfar. Dexterity, for example, is a thief's most important attribute, while strength and constitution are very important for a fighter. The game will tell you what the ratings are for the various areas, from 3 (low) to 19 (high). You can accept the character or try again. Additionally, each character has Hit points and Experience points. The hit points decrease as your character takes damage. When they reach zero, your character is dead and the game is over. Experience points go up as your character wanders around doing battle and finding treasure.
HilIsfar is an episode in Strategic Simulations' popular
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series. It's a role-playing
game peppered with arcade action.
Goal and Gameplay
The actual reason for you being in Hillsfar is never made clear. There's a vague reference to a despot and a merchant named Maalthiir, but nothing definite: no princess to rescue, no dragon to slay. The biggest challenge is trying to figure out what buildings are safe to enter and which ones put you into a mad race to escape the guards.
Hillsfar is a walled city, which your character must enter without weapons or magic. Anything you use must be acquired in the city itself. While in the city, there are two views on your screen. The left window contains a view down the Street where you are, including buildings, doors and other characters. The right window is a map of the city, with a tiny arrow that indicates where you are and what direction you're facing. As you wander the city, time passes, and if you don't find places to eat and rest, your character's constitution will suffer. There are many buildings in Hillsfar, and many can be entered. If you do enter a building, the view switches to an overhead view of the inside of the building and the fun begins.
Most of the buildings in Hillsfar seem to have been laid out by a maniac and resemble labrynths. The moment you enter, the door is sealed behind you, and you must wander the building looking for the way out. You have a limited amount of time to find the way out, which is indicated by a time bar at the top of the screen. In the meanwhile, guards are hunting for you and if they catch you in the building after your time runs out, it's off to the arena for you (more on this in a bit). There are other surprises in the buildings as well, but I'll let you find them for yourself.
Within Hillsfar, you can recruit assistants (with whom you must split any gold you find), try to coax or buy information from inhabitants (including the eternally gabby bartenders), practice your archery (and other weapons) at the range (and possibly even win some money) and generally try to figure out why you are spending so much time playing this game.
If you fail to find the exit in time. you'll be captured by one of the dreaded Red Plume Mercenaries. At this point, you go to the arena to fight an opponent. Some of these matches can be to the death, effectively ending the game if you lose.
Unfortunately, as with many other games of this type, the "arcade" sequence of your arena battle leaves a lot to be desired. You have only four basic moves - block left and right, and hit left and right. Your character cannot move. Since my preferred method of combat is run and jab (float like a butterfly, sting like a bee...) I don't do well in the arena. Further, all the moves look pretty much the same, and the characters are not very responsive. The combat is interlaced with witty comments about the fight, which generally go by too fast to read.
Another arcade sequence which was little better is the ride into Hillsfar. You must guide your trusty steed as he runs along an obstacle-strewn road, gauging his speed and jumping the worst of the obstacles. If you miss a jump, you get dumped, with a resultant decrease in hit points. Get dumped too many times and your horse deserts you, leaving you to walk to Hillsfar, a rather tedious alternative. To get to the Trading Post, you must ride back and forth, so you must go through the riding sequence quite often. Fortunately, it doesn't take very long before you get good at it. It would be nice if this sequence could he skipped altogether.
All in all, Hillsfar left me unfulfilled. The arcade sequences were short and very limited, and the game would probably be better if they were left out. The wild chase through all the buildings got old rather quickly, reminding me too much of my everyday life. I would have much preferred a reasoned exploration of the buildings. The game, however, is not copy protected, and can be installed on a hard drive. You might like the aspects of the game better than I did, but check it out before you buy.
REVIEWED BY JOHN S. MANOR
As a boy in the village of Edengarfin, you often heard the old wizard Athna-An tell frightening tales of the Evil One who lives in a distant castle. You are Targhan, and you have grown to be a fearless warrior-chief. It is time now for you to face the Evil One and defeat him. With sword in hand you venture off into the perilous wilderness to the east of Edengarfin.
So goes the scenario of Targhan, the latest role-playing adventure from Star Games. It's a game that deftly combines slick arcade-style gameplay with a challenging story line. Targhan runs on color and monochrome systems.
The graphics and sound in Targhan are outstanding. The Targhan-character is big and animated in a very lifelike fashion. The backgrounds are often stunningly beautiful with little animated extras such as a browsing deer or a squirrel climbing up a tree. You walk left or right, climb ropes into trees and climb or jump down into wells or caverns. The sound is full of digitized grunts and battle cries. The digitized music is good too.
You control Targhan through your joystick and you can jump, turn, walk, crouch and pickup or drop objects. You can move him left or right or make him climb ropes. You have a number of fighting moves such as the fore thrust, reverse thrust, fore or reverse kick, the turn and thrust and the crouching thrust. Ninja-type stars are scattered in some of the locations in the game. Pick them up and you can use them against your various adversaries. When you pick something up it appears in one of five icon windows below the play screen. Press the corresponding function keys to access the item you wish to use.
Your journey to the castle of the Evil One won't be easy. Bloodthirsty bats fly at you, wild dogs lunge at you and turn into leaping gouts of flame, tree-dwelling dwarves try to cut you down to size and an ogre-monster will try to make a lasting impression on you with his massive club.
A bar at the bottom of the screen shows how much life you have left. Every time you're hit it goes down. When it's gone, the game is over. Bottles of potion can be found in some locations. They'll restore all your life when you use them. Not every creature you meet is Targhan's enemy. It's safe to kill lizard men, but some of the other beings are needed to finish the game. Figuring out which ones is part of the challenge. I started out killing everything in sight (or trying to) and soon found I was stuck in the game and could get no further.
As in any adventure you must explore the different locations in Targhan and collect certain necessary objects.
When I first played Targhan I usually got killed pretty quickly. With some practice I found I could defeat the lizard men and other sword-fighting enemies by keeping my distance and slashing at them when they walked toward me. In caverns and forests, I backed enemies up until they were at the edge of the screen (they back away when hit), then just kept slashing at them until they died.
The Targhan manual is insufficient- basically all it tells you is the scenario and joystick movement. It is possible to save a game in progess, an important point the manual fails to mention. To save a game, kneel and pray at any one of the many statues you come across. (It would have been nice to have had the option to restart a game at any point, rather than just letting Targhan get killed and then starting over.)
Conclusions and Recommendations
I found Targhan to be a pleasing balance of adventurous exploring and arcade action, something that is not all that easy to find in computer games. And because of this balance, Targhan can be enjoyed on two levels: either as hack-and-slash arcade slaughter or as a role-playing quest. And the fact that it runs in monochrome as well as color will only heighten its appeal. I enjoyed Targhan and I think most ST owners will like it too.
REVIEWED BY FRANK WM. NAGY
StarRay (distributed by Spinnaker) is an arcade shoot-em-up in the fighting tradition of Defender. It offers seven missions for galactic pilots waiting to get behind their computer controls. Intense game-play has you take on L anders, Silicon Worms and other interstellar headaches that only the battle-ready warrior will want to challenge. Be on special alert for Krellian ships that release several heat seeking UFO's bent on destroying you.
Hard and Fast Gameplay
Some of alien Landers in StarRay leave a legacy. Be quick to collect these ephemeral, floating "bonus balls" with your fighter. They'll evaporate worthlessly if fired upon. Bonuses can either improve acceleration, increase maximum speed, give your laser greater penetration or more rapid or continuous firing, grant invulnerability for 10 seconds or confer points. Gameplay is controlled through a joystick.
In the latest release from Star Games, you are Targhan and
you must save the world by defeating the Evil One. Don't be
fooled: Targhan isn't just another Barbarian clone, it's a
full-blown adventure that's sure to keep you on your toes.
At first, Spinnaker's StarRay may remind you of the arcade
classic Defender, but you'll soon find that it offers a unique
brand of shoot-em-up action.
It's not as easy to scoop up shield power from exploded Air Buses, but that's one skill you'll want to develop fast. Should your shield energy run out, your mission will fail.
Installations are all tactically important. Some are valuable repositories of priceless and dangerous energy cells. Others are forest exterminator robots, pruning otherwise rampant jungle growth. Anti-gravity generators pump out the required BTU's to keep their satellites airborne. If all the installations on a level are destroyed, the world you were supposed to be protecting grows dark and stays dark to end the game. Beware of those installations subverted by the enemy.
On the ST, StarRay fighters are equipped with lasers that destroy anything in sight. (It appears Amiga owners have the added option of less lethal vaporizers for use in those tight dogfights near friendly installations.) Your shield power is reduced every time you ram an enemy ship or get hit by their fire.
Game CoNtrol and Some
There are seven levels to get through in StarRay and you can restart the game within any of the first four levels. Turn the sound off to make StarRay faster and more difficult.
Though both the mouse and arrow keys are available for game control, I'd stick with the joystick. The more seasoned player may want to try using the joystick for movement and laser fire and the left mouse button or [CapsLock] key to shower an area with your vaporizers.
Spinnaker's press release on Star-Ray admits its game is a personal computer version of the coin-op Defender. Yet, StarRay adds all the ST-powered frills of smooth two-way horizontal scrolling, fantastic graphics and sound to the shoot-em-up classic.
David Plotkin is a Contributing Editor for START. John Manor has written extensively for Antic magazine. He wrote the review of Gold of the Realm in the July 1989 issue of START. John Nagy is a freelance writer who lives in Lansing, Michigan.
Hillsfar, $39.95. Strategic Simulations, Inc. 675 Almanor Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086, 408) 737-6800.
Targhan $39.95. Star Games, 708 W. Bufalo Ave., Suite 200, Tampa, FL 33603, (813) 222-0006.
StarRay, $29.95. Spinnaker Software, One Kendall Square. Cambridge, MA 02139, (800) 826-0706.