Tanglewood is one of those rarities, an adventure game that successfully doubles as an arcade game. This may not mean much to you, but to the Editor it means a dilemma every lime a letter comes in asking for help on it. Does she send it to the Expert, or Mr. Gerrard, or does she just auction it off to the highest bidder?
That it is an adventure is irrefutable. The aim is to get Beanbag to say the spell that will turn him from his now froggy state back to the majesty of fils lion dorr and defeat the evil Schark, the property designer who has plans for the peaceful glade of Tanglewood.
This is the game that was going to be based on the kids' TV show Willo The Wisp, but for several reasons too complex and/or boring to mention, has materialised in this form. Before I go any further, let me say that it's a great game, destined to become a Dragon classic; I haven't finished it yet, and I've had help from the author.
In the game you have control of five characters, although when the game starts only four of them are around, the first problem being to get the dog back! The characters are controlled via the cursor keys and moved around on the scrolling map at the bottom of the screen, which gives rise to control a bit like the arcade game Tutankhamen. The map however is only visible during the day, and at night you have to rely on your memory (or your own map!). Which brings me to a point that I forgot to mention, which is that the game is in real time, and you have a time limit. After ten days, Schark's bulldozers arrive and Tanglewood becomes an office block/car park/bingo hall (delete as appropriate).
The screen is set out with the aforementioned (and very graphic) map at the bottom, a picture of the character that the player is controlling (yes, yes I'll get to them in a minute), a picture of the location the character currently being used is currently occupying (literally a bit of the map), a cursor to input conventional adventure commands and room for the responses to those commands, an inventory for the current character, an indicator to show that character's energy and an indicator to its status (i.e. safe, invulnerable to Schark's spells, or left blank). Phew! Right, before we go any further I want you all to go back and read that paragraph again children. Hush now, fingers on lips.
The characters you can control are as follows:
- Bruce, a wallaby, (Yep, a wallaby. Well, you've got to give the author marks for originality!) Although Bruce is my favourite of the characters, he does have a lot of difficulty climbing.
- Goliath, a mouse who lost his whiskers in a previous encounter with Schark. This means that he needs a new set, and even when you know where they are and how to get them, and know both, you still can't get the damn things.
- Beanbag, once a lion, now a frog. And what's worse is that there are no princesses around to kiss him!! Beanbag moves on the rivers, marshes and swamps, while the others move on the paths. However, at night he can get onto the paths which is useful as his touch can free any of the creatures turned to stone by Schark (a fate from which he is apparently immune, although I wasn't going to stick around and find out). However, there's a catch. The longer he stays as a frog, the weaker his touch becomes until you have to do other things to get your characters back. Ah now, that would be telling!
- Foghorn, described by the author as a 'cat of considerable abilities', but he hasn't made them apparent to me! And, without his specs, he can't see in the dark. (I don't know if he's any better without them, they're at the bottom of a pond and I can't get them out.)
- Peabody, a dog who, as already mentioned, needs some edible encouragement to come home.
There are two other characters in the game, moving independently on the main map, the first being Schark himself. He moves around Tanglewood during the day (no doubt with a team of architects and building consultants) and, as also mentioned, turns anyone he touches to stone.
However, he rests at night (yep, that's when he can't see the map). The last character is on your side.
There's no Help option in the game, but Owl, if you can get to him, will give a lot of useful advice from his wisdom.
Well, that's the main play area described. Now on to all the other bits. There are several little text-only mazes, all with an essential location within them (as with all the best mazes).
Then there's the Dwarf Dive. Now only some of the characters can get in here, but when they do we are treated to a nice little ladders and walkways game which needs no less than three characters to go in and out for it to be solved! It's patrolled by rather nasty robots which make it even more infuriatingly hard than it is already.
Finally, there's Castle Schark. This is the pretentious 3D, five level castle that Schark inhabits, and it can only be entered when a character is impervious to Schark's spells. The key is in there somewhere (I think).
Right, that's the game. Now onto the features that make it not just a great adventure but a really great one.
There are several special commands which I must skip over before summing up: TIME changes day into night or vice versa, TRANSFER allows characters to pass objects to each other, LOOK or ? gives a description of the current location. SEARCH allows you to turn on an automatic LOOK at every location, and HOLD is an excellent feature which allows you to save game to memory. Then, when you quit, the game starts again from where you last typed HOLD. The game does, of course, support tape SAVE and LOAD, and this feature has never let me down with perfect loading every time.
Finally, there is an option to hold the bulldozers off for an extra two weeks.
This option also keeps Schark tied up 'in board meetings' for the first 24 hours of the game, allowing the characters relative freedom.
A few playing hints. Get the characters to work in teams, passing objects to each other, so that their energy never gets too low to make a run to home when things get dicey with Schark.
Get to every location you can - necessary objects are often just lying around in the open. Every object has a use. Try not to use search - there is a tendency, when it's on, not to bother to read it!
To sum up then, this is an excellent game, very hard, but progressive, i.e. the problems flow nicely, the plot works, and the added elements like Dwarf Dive and Castle Schark complement the game.
Tanglewood deserves to be as popular as Juxta Position, and that must be the highest recommendation an adventure can get.