Companions of Xanth. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Bernard Yee
Games based on popular novels have only recently come into their own. Early attempts managed to offend the novel's loyalists by taking too much artistic license, while also putting off gamers by being too bound up with the original book's story line and not having enough innovative gameplay. Eventually, Interplay's Lord of the Rings RPG came along, satisfying Tolkien fans and role-playing gamers alike. Then Dynamix's first attempt at a role-playing game, Betrayal at Krondor, used Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar novels and was a runaway success. Now the folks at Legend Entertainment, who brought you Spellcasting 101 and Eric the Unready, try their hands at adapting one of Piers Anthony's Xanth books with Companions of Xanth.
Anthony's Xanth novels are not as heavy as those of some of his fantasy-author counterparts; in fact, much of his writing is filled with puns and gleeful wordplay. You'll be able to judge the success of Legend's conversion for yourself, as Companions of Xanth comes with the Anthony novel Demons Don't Dream. With Companions of Xanth, Legend has unveiled a new engine for its graphic adventures, making this game slightly less complex and more playable than the company's older games.
The story revolves around your entry into the world of Xanth through a magical computer game. Two contestants are brought to Xanth in search of a prize, and to help, you need to choose a companion. As in the novel, your alter ego must choose Nada Naga, the serpent woman--the only companion who can guide you safely through the perils of Xanth. Having a companion with you almost gives you the sense of an online hint capability; talking to Nada will give you hints and tips, though some of those hints are frustratingly vague. The story, however, unfolds with a spritely grace--even if your puzzle-solving efforts are unwieldy. The graphics have been spruced up and now appear more Sierra-like than the older, small SVGA images used in earlier Legend games. There's more animation, more color, and more playfulness all around. The verb list on the left side of the display remains from the old Legend interface; click on a verb and an object on the screen, and your action will be translated into reality. The interface is also smart in that it will relate two objects in an appropriate way. Click on the pat of butter, then click on a container, and Companions of Xanth will put the butter in the container.
Just because the interface is easier to use, don't think the game is easy. True to Legend's heritage, some of the puzzles--like the pail puzzle in the beginning-- are very difficult. I had to log on to CompuServe twice just to get the answer to this one. Paying attention to the puns that abound throughout the game will usually net you a quick, if not necessarily obvious, solution.
Legend ranks with Infocom as one of the few companies to master making funny games really funny. Companions of Xanth is a happy excursion into Piers Anthony's world of Xanth that will delight gamers with its lighthearted tone and its serious adventure value.