ST Games Gallery
Blockbuster, Ultima IV, Club Backgammon, Jinxter
Club Backgammon's screen display is great. The monitor fills up with an simulated backgammon board, as chips slide rapidly into their starting positions. Touch the cursor to the piece you want to move, tap the button to pick it up, then move it where you want. The software won't allow illegal moves, but the numerous options in the pull-down menus let you do almost anything you wish- analyze moves, set pieces anywhere on the board, print a log of all moves, save games.
Unfortunately, when it comes to playing backgammon, the program just doesn't make the best moves.
Generally backgammon players try to avoid "blots" - a single piece on a point-which can be sent back to the beginning. Club Backgammon violates this strategy whenever it rolls a 4 and a 1 on the opening turn. The program chooses to separate its pieces, placing them six and eight points from its opponent's outer two pieces. Invariably, one of the computer's pieces is sent to home, putting the ST at an immediate disadvantage. And I played only in expert mode.
The manual is complete and concise, explaining both the operation of the program and the rules of the game. One particularly paranoid option allows you to roll the dice and input the results, if you think the computer might cheat you. Club Backgammon is fun to play, even if it's less than challenging. But with a little more fine tuning of its play algorithm, Club Backgammon couldn't be beat.-STEVE PANAK
$34.95, color or monochrome.. California Dreams, Logical Design Works, Inc., 780 Montague Expressway, #403, San Jose, CA 95131. (408) 435-1445.
Jinxter, when reduced to its commonest denominator, is a work of interactive fiction enhanced by images. However, unlike many similar products, Jinxter gives each of these two components its full attention, with the result being closer to a novel than to a comic book, and more engaging than your standard video game.
Jinxter's storyline centers around the city of Aquitana-once a paradise, now deteriorating. A magical charm bracelet which protected the town has mysteriously lost its power. Consequently, the once happy inhabitants are now falling under the influence of evil Green Witches. In fact, things are so desperate that the only hope is for you to retrieve the seven charms of the bracelet. To do so, you'll have to travel the land, meet other characters and generally have a great adventure.
Jinxter is first-class all the way. The user interface is elegant, with four highly detailed pull-down scrolls attached to a windowshade-like bar that can be pulled down to reveal as much of the current image as you want, or pushed up to read previous commands and text.
You communicate with the program by using complete sentences which, easing the pain of chronic typos, can be recalled and edited at will. A nice feature lets you assign any command string to each of the 10 function keys, speeding entry of repetitive commands. The lively prose is a rapidly paced narrative that pulls you in. Colorful characters bring the entire world of Jinxter to life.
While the stunning (though static) graphics spice up the game, the text is so descriptive, so engaging, that these images quickly take a back seat to the story. Overall I can recommend Jinxter as a fine work of interactive fiction, one with a sense of humor that will make it a joy to read.-STEVE PANAK
$39.95, color or monochrome. Magnetic Scrolls (Rainbird). Distributed by Activision, 3885 Bohannon Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025. (415) 329-0800.
Breakout was always one of my favorite games. I spent many happy hours knocking out onscreen bricks with a rebounding cursor. Blockbuster takes this concept to new heights of color, animation and sound, while maintaining the same simple play mechanics.
In Blockbuster, you use a mouse or joystick to maneuver a paddle across the bottom of the screen. Each screen contains a different pattern of colorful bricks, which must be removed by bouncing the ball off them. Some bricks require multiple hits, others cannot be removed at all, and still others are invisible. Removing all the removable bricks sends you to the next screen, while missing the ball with your paddle costs you one ball.
Complicating this further is the presence of some cleverly animated aliens, which can deflect the path of the ball, although hitting an alien is good for a lot of points. Some aliens release bombs which can freeze your paddle briefly.
Some bricks release bonus devices. Catch these with your paddle as they move off the screen, and your bonus points go up. Alternatively, you can buy extra weapons with your bonus points to help you make it through the screen. These weapons include a magnet for holding onto the ball, larger paddle, force field for the ball, missiles and ball slow-down device.
Blockbuster comes with 80 different screens, although I have yet to see very many of them. You start with five balls, and new balls are very hard to get, so there is little danger of running out of screens.
Blockbuster has a utility that lets you design your own screens. The type and layout of bricks, number of aliens and bonus devices, speed of the ball and overall screen difficulty can all be set. While not especially hard to use, the utility makes no use of the mouse, forcing you instead to memorize keystrokes.
Aside from the inconvenience of using the screen designer, however, I like Blockbuster a lot and I especially recommend it for all oldtime Breakout fans.-DAVID PLOTKIN
S39.95. Mindscape, Inc., 3444 Dundee Road, Northbrook, IL 60062. (800) 221-9884.
Arguably the finest example of computer role-playing adventure games to date, Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar has arrived at last for the ST The sheer scale of the game is enough to gladden any armchair adventurer-16 times larger than Ultima III, with an estimated playing time of 150 to 200 hours.
Those familiar with the Ultima series will feel right at home. Many
elements from the earlier games have been retained-creature types, weaponry
and armor, teleportation gates and spell casting. But all have been refined
enough combat to
satisfy even a
Newcomers should familiarize themselves with the rich command vocabulary and game play before going too far. There are 26 action commands and 26 different magical spells that can be cast, assuming you have the necessary ingredients. It is not necessary to have played the previous games in the Ultima cycle.
The game comes on two disks and is copy protected. Two handbooks are included, one describing the geography and local customs and the other covering the practice of magic. The mouse can be used for several different actions including movement control, attack, transactions and entering locations. Player statistics and inventories also can be reviewed using the mouse.
In a novel twist, your initial status is decided through your answers to a series of morality questions during the opening sequence, creating a highly personal sense of involvement which quickly draws you into the game world.
Your quest in Ultima IV is to prove yourself as a champion and, if found worthy, become a symbol of good for the people to follow-an Avatar. It will not be easy. You must seek out all who can teach you the ways of an Avatar and find various mystical objects needed on the quest. Eventually you might discover the Codex, a hidden book of wisdom lost in the depths of a perilous dungeon.
Of course there are still evil creatures who must be dispatched. While the game plot has strong philosophical roots, you will get enough combat to satisfy even a berserker.
You will not be alone. To complete the game, you'll need to gather a band of eight adventurers. Finding them is part of the game, as they may choose not to join you until your character has reached a certain attribute level. A seer is available in the castle of Lord British to give counsel on your moral growth as you progress in the quest.
Talking with other characters (well over 150 in the game) is vital to your quest. Many characters take a perverse glee in supplying only partial information, then directing you to another character-typically far away-for the next tidbit. Keeping a logbook is essential to organize all the clues and in-formation.
I loved the terrain features during combat, both on land and in the dungeons. When fighting in the mountains, you can hide behind a rock formation and snipe away at enemy forces. Other scenarios include waging wars across bridges, slugging it out in poisonous swamps, guerilla warfare in the forests and literally hundreds of different dungeon rooms.
Ultima IV is an excellent adventure game and great value for your money. Some similar programs boast better graphics or an improved mouse interface, but none can match Ultima IV for the total package of story, layout and play.-JIM PIERSON-PERRY
$59.95, color. Origin Systems, Inc., 136 Harvey Road, Building A, Londonderry, NH 03053. (603) 644-3360.