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  Review by
Steve Cooke
(The White Wizard)

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
Price of Magik
1986 Level 9 Computing
By Mike Austin, Nick Austin & Pete Austin
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the fifteenth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: June 12th, 1986).
 
 

THE PRICE OF MAGIK
Level 9, 9.95 cassette
 

et's face it, Level 9 are getting ambitious in their old age. This is the second game featuring their new adventure system, which now offers 1000 word-plus vocabularies, better parsing, and even (on this latest version) RAM SAVE, RAM RESTORE, and an 'OOPS' command for taking back silly moves. Seems like a bit of Infocom-bashing is in progress up at the Weston-Super-Mare fantasy factory.


The first thing to point out about the Price of Magik is its use of Lenslok. Apparently, the dreaded Lenslok system flashes up at intervals throughout the game, preventing you from making further progress unless you can enter the correct input. I say apparently, because it didn't do it once during the whole time I was playing, which only goes to show that either my copy was faulty (unlikely) or else that you may just get away with it from time to time if you're lucky.

The Price of Magik is the follow up to Red Moon. Predictable, really, since Red Moon got the best reviews of any Level 9 game since the old days of Dungeon Adventure. The reason, most likely, is that in fact it represented nothing so much as a return to the old days, with magik, dragons and a good deal of spell casting. Adventurers seem to go in for this sort of thing, so a follow-up in the same mould seems like a cast-iron bet.

For a cassette-based game, this title really is pretty impressive. I played it for several hours and found myself still weighting in at the '100 locations explored' level, which leaves at least another 100 still to go, and every one with a matchless Level 9 graphic. I say 'matchless' because no-one else seems to be able to beat their combination of excellent drawing routines (which you can interrupt to pass on to the next location without waiting for them to finish) with really rather abominable pictures.

That said, I reckon that the Price of Magik pics are slightly better than any of Level 9's previous efforts. However, they still contrive to leave me, at best, puzzled. The contents of the pictures often seem to bear no relation to the contents of the rooms except in a few obvious cases. So, for example, in one misty corridor we see mist alright, but in another corridor we see what appears to be an enormous table (not mentioned in the text) or, in another room, a set of stairs definitely leading downward (similarly out of context).

These are, however, niggles. There are possibly some slightly more serious criticisms of this game, but let's leave them for the moment and get on with the plot. The basic idea is not really terribly original (serious criticism number one). The Red Moon crystal is being exploited by an unscrupulous magician from whose control you must wrest the valuable artefact for the benefit of humanity. To do this you must enter a vast mansion, with nothing but your wit and repartee, and acquire magical expertise to overthrow the baddy.

There are 18 spells to learn in the game, but at the start there are no instructions about what form they might take or how to use them. However, as a word of advice, the Wiz reckons that you should take careful note of all inscriptions, most of which provide either a spell word or a hint of one. All spells require a focus or talisman to operate, but you can find this out easily by attempting to cast a spell with an empty inventory. The program will tell you which talisman is required.

Finding out exactly what the spells do isn't quite so easy. For the most part, this involves simply wandering around and casting in all directions, then waiting to see what happens. Unfortunately, this is a lengthy progress and developing your magikal skills is one of the main challenges of the game.

Hints are given throughout by the program whenever you are in the presence of a magikal artefact. The message 'Your sanity is shaken' appears whenever such forces are present. This message refers to the title of the game and the main idea behind the scoring system. Mr Austin apparently thinks that a belief in magik and a mastery of it can only be developed as one's sanity declines. The White Wizard is thoroughly insulted by this attitude and as soon as the men in white coats let me out I shall be round to Weston to make PA see reason.

In the meantime, while you play the game, your sanity rating steadily diminishes as your magikal status increases. More seriously, your stamina decreases as well since this is the first Level 9 game to feature wandering independent monsters who you can not only talk to, but also fight. There is armour and weaponry to be found in the house (though only obtainable after cracking a couple of easily solved puzzles), but much of the time you will be tempted to use magik in combat, if you can.

This question of independent characters leads me to the second criticism of POM, the role of the 'characters'. Characters have been absent from Level 9 games until now because the Austins did not believe that they should be introduced until either disc-based programs were the norm (therefore giving more space) or until their programming had reached such a state-of-the-art that the characters really seemed to come alive.

It has to be said that the character actions in POM are quite varied and yer average werewolf indulges in a good deal of grunting, swaying, standing on hind-legs, and even attempting to speak, but there is a slight feeling of deja-vu, since other games have been including similar features for a couple of years now. True, I think that they haven't been implemented quite so well, but Level 9, by entering this field so late, have given themselves an initial disadvantage in that their achievement comes across as being slightly lacking in originality.

This game is going to keep you very busy for a long time. Unlike previous Level 9 games, you will find yourself spending quite a bit of time attempting either to interact or avoid interacting with the characters in the game. You will also find that the most objects are easily found (perhaps too easily) and their mystery lies in their use and not in their location. Some Level 9 fans may find these differences irksome, but the Wiz believes that POM is an important step for the Austins. The new adventure system is quite simply excellent, the vocabulary is enormous, the features (such as OOPS) comprehensive, and the program as a whole a firm base on which to build future, more startlingly original, character-based games.

 
Atmosphere 78%
Interaction 88%
Lasting Interest 88%

Value for Money

85%

Overall

85%
 


If you want a walkthrough, visit
Jacob Gunness
' Classic Adventures Solution Archive or
Martin Brunner's C64 Adventure Game Solutions Site

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (8 Sep 2004)

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