Posted by: Ben | March 18, 2010

Man vs Genre: Gateway To Apshai

The Facts

I’ve not updated for a while because I’ve been involved in an epic 50-hour struggle with one of the all-time genre classics. But first: Gateway To Apshai. You might choose to see this 1983 release from Epyx as a dumbed-down prequel to Temple Of Apshai. But that word – gateway – is not insignificant. The expectation is that an exciting arcade-styled romp might just attract players to the slower-paced and more “hardcore” Apshai series and its same-engine sequels Curse of Ra and Upper Reaches Of Apshai. And this, this is the C64 version.

The Cover

A lovely image in the same distinctive neon etching style as Temple of Apshai, with another adventurer-meets-giant-ant motif. At some point the Epyx slogan has changed from “Computer Games Thinkers Play” to “Strategy Games For The Action Game Player.” I did say it was dumbed down.

The Lore

“You have a destiny to fulfill!”, the unseen voice whispered from out of the darkness. My teeth chattered, my body shook. In the flickering firelight I could barely see the outstretched claw and bony finger, pointing directly at me. By Geb’s beard, was I scared!”

Dan Brown probably didn’t spend the early eighties writing game blurbs for Epyx, but if he had, he could probably have run to this. Although he would probably have spellchecked “fulfil”. You play the Chosen One, which is sufficient justification for you to be plucked from a pauper’s hovel and ordered to go down t’pit and reopen… (deep booming voice) The Gateway To Apshai.

Character Building

Call me Keema XI. All points are awared automatically, so I’ve got

Strength 3
Agility 3
Luck 3
Health 9
Lives 5

Let’s do this thing.

The Game

Okay, the first life didn’t go too well. I had a short wander around the dungeon and soon bumped into a sort of giant rat thing. Despite waving my sword around in a ludicrously untrained way in its general direction, I was properly killed.

Living up to its reputation as a more advanced and less cerebral Temple of Apshai, it’s sort of like a minimalist Golden Axe, or maybe Doom. The graphics scroll instead of flick this time.

On the second attempt I was very rapidly double-teamed by a pair of rats, and killed once again.

The third time, I managed to stay alive for long enough to get to grips with the controls. Encountering snakes and moving fungi, I discovered the reasonable and largely successful combat technique of waving a sword and running away before the attacking animal bites me. Giant rats seem to move faster than other sorts of foes, and are therefore the least easily killed by this method. Still, by surviving for six whole minutes I was permitted access to the next level.

On the second level, feeling more confident, I tried casting a confuse spell on a bat. Never use magic on a creature that navigates by echolocation. It only makes it angry.

On level three I found a scroll that kindly transported me to a room with an ogre who killed me straight away. Thanks, scroll.

Disappointingly I had yet to find any antmen.

Then something really really weird happened. I stumbled into a trap and turned invisible. After walking around without being able to see my character for a while it became clear as I noticed him wandering in from the bottom of the screen. I appeared to have teleported outside the bounds of the dungeon, and there didn’t seem to be any way back in. Then I got stuck on a wall, which to be fair happened to me a few times in Half-Life as well. Fortunately there was a button I could press which let me skip to the next level. I arrived on Level 4 and got killed by an asp. Then another ogre got me.

Total play time:20 minutes
Verdict: It’s no Sabre Wulf, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining game on its own terms, and it’s hard not to appreciate its arcadey charms. So yeah, I like it.

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