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Review by
Philippa Irving
   

 

 
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!
Gemstone Healer
1986 Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI)
Programmed by Kevin P. Pickell
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the thirty nineth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: June 9th, 1988).
 


This month, ZZAP!'s strategy specialist, Philippa Irving, casts a beady eye over two old SSI titles -- Gemstone Healer and Panzer Grenadiers.
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GEMSTONE HEALER
SSI, 19.99 disk


Despite its outward similarity to other games in SSI's range that are definitely what I call 'pseudo-roleplaying' games, Gemstone Healer is almost an arcade adventure. It borders on the edge of strategy, but considering that the manipulative skills required are not very demanding, the ability to solve puzzles and make decisions between courses of action determine success. This puts it into the strategic camp, although it's certainly not a game that will find favour with those who like characters with lots of statistics.

Untold aeons ago, evil demons attacked the peace-loving world of men, a society that was supported by the mystical power of the Gemstone. The propensity for fantasy societies to rely upon single magic items for their economic stability continues to amaze me, particularly as these gems, shards, rings and other gadgets are so clearly vulnerable to being captured and destroyed by antisocial demon hordes. In what I understand to be the previous game, the Gemstone was stolen and shattered into five fragments by the demons. You, in your usual role of suicidally brave adventurer, have already fought your way through the underworld to collect the five pieces and reassemble them into the complete gemstone. But to your considerable chagrin, the gemstone doesn't work! The guarantee ran out long ago, and the shop refuses to exchange it . . . so you go on a long and uncomfortable trek across a few Unknown Mountains to find the castle of the immensely knowledgeable Wizard Un-named. He pronounces the Gemstone to be in a bad way; it has lost the balance of the fundamental forces, and must be split up again and reassembled according to the instructions, which are, unfortunately, lost. You sigh with resignation as you realise that this means yet another highly dangerous trip to the demon plane . . .

The essential points to be distilled out of this predictable waffle (and I must admit that I'm getting impatient with the fatuous unoriginality of fantasy scenarios) are that you have to search through a complex maze of cavern-like rooms for a pair of 'splitting tools', six alters and twenty-five healing tools. You already have the gemstone, so once you find the splitting tools you can reduce the gemstone into five fragments on one of the altars, place each fragment on one of each of the other five, and attempt to find the correct combination of healing tools to mend them and eventually bring them all back together.

Before you start, the game requires you to prepare a 'map disk'. This is something which infuriates me, but two factors mitigate the inconvenience in the case of Gemstone Healer's: the map disk doesn't take half an hour to format, and you are very thoughtfully permitted to use the back of the game disk itself. I gritted my teeth only very slightly. If you haven't played before, the programmer generates an entirely new map for you, and ingeniously takes the name you choose for the disk as the random seed from which to begin. The same first 12 characters will always generate the same dungeon.

The program amuses itself for several minutes constructing the dungeon, then -- when you've come back from making a cup of coffee -- it is ready to begin without further dice-rolling or ado. This is not a roleplaying game and does not require you to roll up a character. Your brave adventurer is ready to go from the start, equipped with a sword, a crossbow, and a random selection of magic items. After choosing from one of three levels, you are presented with some introductory animation (which you can skip) showing your adventurer running up to the castle of Wizard Un-named, being told to go on the quest, and being transported in a spinning vortex to the alternative dimension where the adventure takes place.

The main screen is strongly visual in its presentation of the game information. The largest panel is taken up with the area of action, displaying what at first I assumed to be an island landscape but quickly realised was on underground room with irregular walls. The adventurer is a smallish figure suitably equipped with the weapon selected at the time. Exits from the room, which is usually several times larger than the screen, are clearly displayed in the form of doors, archways or gratings. Apart from the occasional redundant pillar and very important altar, the rooms are otherwise devoid of feature.

Below the 'viewscreen' is a row of items carried in the adventurer's inventory. These are the magic items, splitting and healing tools, and bits of Gemstone. At the beginning of each new game the adventurer has a different selection. They are clearly illustrated in the rulebook, along with a description of their effects: there are 14 magic items altogether, including an 'Ancient Black Thing' which creates illusion and looks suspiciously like a computer disk! At the side of the screen are panels displaying other information, like the number of crossbow bolts you have left in your quiver, the 'treasure count' -- which serves, rather crudely, as a highscore indicator -- and the location of secret doors, if you're using the magic dagger.

When he first arrives in the land, the adventurer is alone in the first room. Wait around for any length of time and company soon arrives.

Since the main business of the game is to find objects, and objects can only be found on the dead bodies of various nasties, it follows that the extermination of the unpleasant creatures who inhabit the land is the way to get on in the world. There are six 'normal' monsters, three demons -- demons are the monsters most likely to carry out the sort of thing that you're looking for -- and a nasty thing called a 'summoning eye', which spews forth endless antagonists. Each type of creature has its own distinctive noise, so you can hear it coming and identify it even before it makes its appearance on the screen.

The best way to kill these monsters is to stand well back and shoot crossbow bolts at them. This is where arcade skills, such as they are, come into the game. The game becomes slightly reminiscent, at this point, of Gauntlet, but the monsters do not move very fast, are not very copious (on the beginner's level, anyway) and cannot do you any damage unless they come directly into contact with you. Also, unless there's a 'summoning eye' around, there are only ever a limited number of monsters in each room. Once all are eliminated, you can ransack their bodies at leisure. Most monsters carry some sort of magic items, or gold; items are added to your inventory, if you have sufficient space, and gold goes into the 'treasure count'.

It is not difficult to find the splitting tools necessary to shatter the Gemstone into five fragments, but healing tools are thinly spread and entirely obscure as yet in their application. I came nowhere near solving the puzzle, but the simple pleasure of roaming through the seemingly endless number of rooms, shooting monsters and gathering items and treasure was enough to keep me entertained. Gemstone Healer shares this characteristic with an arcade game: it can end with appalling abruptness. If you have a particular magic item in your possession at the time of your death, you are eligible for resurrection. Otherwise, it's back to the castle screen for another attempt.

The magic items have a variety of interesting effects. The 'ancient black thing' changes your adventurer into a skeleton, the ring makes him invisible, and there's a useful dagger which helps you find secret doors. The caverns are also mappable, and the designer in the 'tips' section of the rulebook suggests a diagrammatic way of doing so.

 

This is not a particularly demanding game, and one of the things it doesn't demand is to be taken too seriously. The plot is silly and cliched, the graphics are too simplistic to generate much 'game space' atmosphere, and there is none of the game structure complexity that would put it into the pseudo roleplaying bracket. On the other hand, there is a lot to do in the game. The puzzle is a long-term objective, and the immediate gameplay is satisfying and entertaining. There is certainly a lot more than an afternoon's play in it, and for the player who enjoys mapping, huge complexes and solving obscure puzzles, it's ideal. I was sorry that I had to stop playing to write the review.

   


Presentation 87%

SSI can be rarely faulted on packaging, and the game is convenient to handle.

Graphics 70%
Lack of excitement is made up for by clarity.

Rules 81%
Well written and produced, with clear illustrations.

Playability 82%
Smooth and addictive.

Overall 80%
An excellent example of its type.
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Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (19 Aug 2006)
There were no screenshots in the original review.

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