Posted by: Ben | October 31, 2010

Man vs Genre: Shadowfire

The Facts

After Lords of Midnight, the next title in my awkward flirtation with the RPG genre is another pseudo-RPG that might be pushing it a bit. Shadowfire was developed by Denton Designs and released by Beyond in 1985, for the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC. It’s not describe as an RPG by contemporary sources, who considered it an adventure (it won Best Adventure in Computer Magazine’s Game of the Year Awards); World of Spectrum classifies it as a Tactical Combat game and Mobygames lists it under Adventure and RPG, but frankly they’ll call anything an RPG.

The Cover

Out front we’ve got our heroes – front and centre is a well-endowed young lady with body paint where most people would keep their clothes, accompanied by a man with wings, a futuristic samurai with a giant green sphere strapped to his back, an unexpectedly organic comedy robot and a boring-looking bald man. Above them there’s a shadowy figure with his arms stretched out in the classic “evil puppet master” pose, and above him there’s a piece of complicated-looking futuristic technology that defies explanation (although my guess is it’s a space ship wearing false teeth.) It turns out that the robot from the cover of Lords of Midnight is most likely part of Beyond’s logo, because he’s here as well. Overall, the cover image seems mysteriously familiar.

The Lore

An ambassador with vital plans is held captive aboard a starship. You have six characters and one hundred minutes of real time to rescue him.

If you’re wondering why the hostage taker, one General Zoff, doesn’t just photocopy the plans and send them out to everyone on his contacts list, it’s because the redoubtable and forward-thinking Ambassador Kryxix has had them embedded in his spine.

My objectives: to locate and rescue (but hopefully not pronounce) Ambassador Kryxix, apprehend and capture General Zoff and capture or destroy the starbase Zoff V (the first three were blown up and the fourth mysteriously disappeared). Piece of cake. Incidentally, General Zoff is the “self-styled dictator of the Cosmos.” Me too, general. And I’m doing this on behalf of some sort of Galactic Empire, so there’s plenty of scope for moral grey areas.

Character Building

My guys are six agents of something called Enigma Force, a mysterious and shadowy organisation of people with dodgy pasts who play by their own rules and are dedicated to preserving the galactic status quo. Their names are Torik, Sevrina, Zark, Syylk, Manto and Maul. Two ex-cons, two ex-soldiers and two robots, one of which shares his name with a Sith Lord and one of which on first glance appears to be missing from the box art, but turns out to be the big egg thing. Little do I know, but soon I’m going to be having to work out which character is which for myself.

The Game

My 100 minutes are ticking away and I don’t have much of an idea what’s going on. Possibly this is some sort of character select screen. There is a (brief) tutorial in the manual, which says I should start by selecting the character Manto. I know Manto is a robot, which means he must be one of the middle two. I’m going to guess the egg-shaped one.

The green monitor accesses the character’s movement screen, the yellow monitor accesses the character’s object screen and the red monitor is for the character’s battle screen. Apparently we want the object screen first.

Egg-boy certainly has a lot of objects. Back to the manual: At the left are objects in the same location, in the middle are objects carried by the character, and along the bottom of the screen is a bar which registers the weight of the objects carried. I hope tooltips will be invented soon.

My first task is to beam Manto (and I’ve changed my mind about which character is, having now decided he’s the cute animal-droid) to the space station, first ensuring he is armed. The sequence of commands to do this is apparently PICK UP / ENTER / TRANSPORTER / ENTER / ACTIVATE / ENTER / TRANSPORTER / ENTER. Logically.

The pick up icon is a hand gripping a briefcase. The transporter must be an object, so it must be on the left of the screen. The objects in the location are represented by two showers, a Sega Master System controller with screw-in thumbstick, a set of dental instruments, an aerosol spray, a post-it note and some scales. Not the kind of tools you’d expect super-hard intergalactic agents to go around with, except for the dental instruments. I didn’t watch the whole of Star Trek: The Next Generation not to know that transporters look like showers, so I’m having one of them.

Dog-boy can’t seem to activate the transporter. It must have been egg-boy’s. Nope, he can’t even take it. I was right first time.

Woah, now there’s a gun lying around. Best make sure all my characters are armed, eh?

Now egg-boy no longer has the transporter. Where has it got to?

This is the point where I stop following the manual and start clicking things at random to see what happens. I learn that clicking on the post-it note cycles through all the objects in the location.

The message “Zoff V Penetrated” appears. Dog-boy has been transported, through me clicking on the Sega controller, which must have been the transporter after all. Once the Zoff V is penetrated I can’t seem to do much else.

Egg-boy has picked up a gun, despite his obvious lack of appendages. Egg-boy, I christen thee Maul. So Dog-boy must be Manto. From the manual I deduce that Skeletor is Syylk, Jumpsuit Lady is Sevrina Maris, Pirate is Zark Montor and the one with the wings is Torik.

Eventually, through experimentation, I work out that the showers are two ends of some sort of science fiction transporter gadget, and Manto’s job is to teleport himself to the space station (through some unexplained robot-teleporting trick) where he can drop one end, and the people on my team can come through it. Which they do. And Sylkk gets attacked, and, while I’m working out the combat system, killed.

Movement, like inventory management is tedious and laborious – it takes three clicks and quite a lot of cursor movement (using the number keys in lieu of a joystick) to move one character one square at a time. Combat is the repeated clicking on icons without any apparent effect until your character dies. The sweet release of which I quickly found myself praying for, so that I wouldn’t have to play the bloody thing any more.

Total play time: 27 minutes 10 seconds.

Verdict

A bit like (ancient first-person survival horror game) Aliens, only rubbish. This has the worst interface of any game I’ve ever played. And as everybody knows, a game is only as good as its interface, so it is also the worst game I have ever played. And that includes Autoduel, Hydlide… anything you like.

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Responses

  1. This game was so great. you need the instructions to know what to do.

    • I’m glad you liked it. But seriously, I had the instructions!

  2. I worked on this…and if you read the instructions it was pretty simple. Not easy to beat, but simple to actually do stuff.


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