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Mystic Software
Adventure: Text
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

The Red Lion sounds like a pub, and in many ways it provides just as much entertainment. What this intrepid team of adventurers have come up with is a Quilled game - but with a fresh approach. A sincere attempt to do away with the You Can'ts ' seems to have paid off, as the program skips along merrily with comments to keep you amused all the while (even if you are barking up the wrong tree and a little askew progress-wise). Quilled games are notorious for their avoidance of more complex notions (such as character communication), but this adventure tackles the issue most laudably with an easily-worked set of speech structures. Finally, it will be no secret to readers of this column that it has always been my wish to see the verbs SEARCH and EXAMINE defined more strictly in adventuring, and that very task has been admirably executed in this game.

Scrolling in neat readable chunks, the story owes much to Lord of the Rings, with demonic happenings in the east spreading westwards. Here's how it goes...

Centuries ago, while mining in the Black Mountains, the dwarves discovered a large ruby. They called it 'The Red Lion ' and held it as their greatest treasure. They were blissfully unaware of the ruby's mystical properties, but there were some abroad who were not so gullible. The Orclord, Auron, knew the full significance of their find and launched an attack on the peoples of the Black Mountains, hoping to claim the jewel for himself. After the bloody battle which ensued, both the Red Lion and the Orclord disappeared. Many years later there emerged from the east a cruel and powerful sorcerer who became known to all as the Mire Lord. He was in fact none other than the Orclord himself, who had spent the intervening years feeding off the ruby's power and becoming an ever more powerful tyrant. The Mire Lord now poses a great threat to all the people of the land - he must be defeated and the source of his power wrenched from his evil grasp!

You can probably guess from the introduction that this game tries its best to please and to deal with the rather less engaging idiosyncrasies of adventure, sprucing them up and adding features for a more enjoyable trip. I've already touched upon the differentiation of SEARCH and EXAMINE. This is something which really adds atmosphere, as the word EXAMINE is now associated with looking closely at an object (and no more), while SEARCH is reserved for those things which only a detailed prodding and moving can unearth. Take the warrior's dead body, where EXAMINE points to the ' two deep fangmarks in the dead man's neck', while SEARCH WARRIOR reveals a cloak (admittedly, this example -isn't the best, as you might say that examining a body should reveal a cloak - but I think you'll get the gist of the argument). Examining the cloak furthers your investigation with 'The cloak bears the symbol of a sword over flowing water.' Searching the cloak finds you nothing, which isn't helpful considering your plight in the first fifteen or so locations, where a store trader requires money you just don't have and a Snyzer just won't let you at his key . . . even after consuming a flagon of wine (he could have at least dozed off)!

Leaving aside the top marks that this game gets for technical competence, its plot and storyboard really shine. Take the area of the river, imaginatively named the Dragon's Tail. Here a sign says 'Ring for the terry: no charge' rounding off a location description which mentions the river's dangerous undercurrents. The bell emits a clear resonant tone, and presently beckons an old man who hobbles to the river bank carrying a large boat which he drops on the water. The warning of the rivers tempestuous nature and the forbidding "After you, sir" speak for themselves, but what I liked here is the ability to examine everything from the river (another warning: 'The river thunders rapidly southwards') to irrelevant asides such as the description given the bell ('It is made of iron and is fixed into a stone').

Red Lion is a well-researched piece of software, and shows many features of which I most heartily approve. The main text is a soft yellow on a black background with white input, while a tasteful blue highlights points of interest from within the descriptions. The EXAMINE command is most helpful and informative, and as it this were not enough, it's supported by an equally useful and more specifically designed SEARCH option. The full vocabulary is listed at the start, and can be called up at any time during play. But I have left the best till last - the game can offer the chance of talking to characters in a Quilled game, with the constructions TALK TO or ADDRESS character. This can lead to useful information being extracted by way of the TELL ME ABOUT command (which can be shortened to ABOUT). Red Lion is a text-only game, available mail-order from MYSTIC, 67 Fergleen Park, Galliagh, Derry, N. Ireland BT48 8LF.


Difficulty: not difficult
Graphics: none
Presentation: good use of colour in text
Input facility: verb/noun
Response: fast
General Rating: A cut above usual mail-order.