You may not have not noticed, but Robin Hood is pretty hot property these days. A few years ago he was just a bloke who wore green leg warmers and a stupid hat in some distant age, remembered only in songs sung by beared men in real ale pubs with Aran sweaters and fishermen s' smocks, then suddenly he was transformed overnight into an international film star and all around celeb.
All I can say is that it's a good thing that Robin Hood looked like Kevin Costner, or they'd have had to get someone else for the film, and then where would he be?
Needless to say, this game has nothing to do with "Prince of Thieves", although there is a competition to win the video included with the game, but is instead based on the Olde English legends that spawned the original Robyn o' the Hoode. So don't expect to find Hollywood style stunts and chases, like the film. That's not to say that the game is without action, but it's action of a more sedate kind.
The game places you in the slightly sweaty tunic of Monsieur Hood, and asks that you merely elevate him to level of International Folk Hero. Ho ho ho. That should be easy, thought I, I'll just clobber some Normans, snog Marian and be home in time for a slap-up meal of dead stag. Oh boy, was I wrong. Let's take my first game as an example.
I started off happily enough, sat in my castle having a good old knees up with the Sherwood Posse. Then the Sheriff of Nottingham booted me out and made me an outlaw. I hung around for a bit thinking it might be some massive medieval Jeremy Beadle type prank but 'twas not.
So there I was. An outlaw. So I shot a few arrows around, got into a fight with a soldier and died. Not really an auspicious start for the Champion of the Oppressed, eh? What had gone wrong?
My first impressions of Robin Hood were "Looks like loads of fun, but what the hell am I supposed to do?". The instructions don't give anything away, merely telling you that there are many ways to end the game, some are failures, others are minor successes, or you could go the whole hog and kill the Sheriff, get the girl and save the world.
My first few endings were of the "complete and utter failure" type, with the peasants sniggering at me and calling me names. After a bit of experimentation though, I started to get the hang of it. I met Maid Marian (and even managed to snog her), I joined forces with Will Scarlet and even killed the Sheriff with a lucky arrow. Then I got beaten up by loads of soldiers and died. But it was too late, I was hooked.
Control of Robin is carried out via mouse and icons, in a manner similar to PowerMonger. You select the action you want and then click on the person or object you wish to act upon. It's a tried and tested formula, and it works quite well. There are time, however, when it can cause trouble. For instance, you have to click on two icons to run away from a soldier when he takes you a prisoner, and by the time you've done that you could well be dead. There's also a rather odd feature that means that sometimes Robin ignores what you ask him to do and does what he wants instead. This means that you can't afford to leave him alone in case he strolls off to get himself killed while yo make a cuppa.
The icons available are your basic "fight", "talk", "walk" variety, although other magical icons can be collected. Magic? Yup, magic. In this Robin Hood tale, the forces of Herne the Forest God are in play to give you magic rings and crystals to help you on your way. Another decidedly un-Robin icon is the "fireball" which can be obtained from a dragon(?) to allow you to strike your enemy down with. Very handy for getting rid of the Normans, that one.
The graphics are a bit on the tiny side, and Robin often blends in with the green backgrounds, but the lack of detail means that there's plenty of memory left for those cute little touches that make these sort of games special. The people in this game are independent. Each lives that of his own life, and you can watch them do it.
Some of the little scenes you can stumble across are absolutely brilliant, such as the funeral (complete with solemn music), the peasants poaching stag, and the rather sauce maiden taking a revealing dip in the river.
The sound back up the graphic touches perfectly. The tunes are wonderfully medieval with flutes and trumpets all over the shop, and there are plenty of them. Try having a chat with the Minstrel and seeing if he'll do requests! The sound effects are great too, if a little thin on the ground. The church bells and castle trumpets are especially worth a mention as they give you hints as to what's going on in other parts of the land.
Don't think that this is a one man job though. To survive in Sherwood you'll need to make plenty of friends, and keep the peasants on your side. Giving them money is a good way to boost your popularity, but you'll have to pinch it off the rich first. Somewhere along the line, you will have to try and gather the Merry Men together as well. As a bit of clue, I'll tell you that Will Scarlet can be found about to be hung at the castle gates. All you have to do is rescue the fella and he'll join up with you. As to where the others are, I haven't got the foggiest. I think I've spotted Friar Tuck trundling around, but I can't get him to join me. That's one of the strengths of this game. There's no lack of things to do. There will always be someone to talk to or fight with, the question is which do you do, and to which people?
The game is not without its problems. As I said before, controlling Robin is sometimes a chore, especially when he decides to do his own thing and tries to sneak back into his castle. Another sticky patch comes when you try and use your fabled longbow. As we all know, Robin was the Jockey Wilson of his time, but the forced perspective makes it hard to see what lies in your path and what doesn't.
Twice I managed to cold-
The first time I tried to save Will from the gallows by shooting the hangman (just like the film) I ended up killing Will. The second time, I tried to shoot a bothersome rich bloke who wouldn't cough up his cash before he legged it into his castle, by my arrow missed by miles and killed Maid Marian as she stepped out for a morning stroll. I was gutted I can tell you.
While I'm in a niggly mood, just a quick moan about the stupid way that icons become unusable for a short time once selected. I can't understand why Robin has to hang around waiting to be able to speak again when he's chatting up Marian.
It's at its worst when you get taken prisoner and find you can't escape because the fight icon can't be selected. Quite why this happens is beyond me, as it simply serves to spoil the flow of the game.
So, summing up time. Robin Hood is a novel and reasonably effective way of converting a tricky subject to computer. It's a good fun game with plenty of scope and tons of lastability, but it's slightly marred by some silly little bugs. Not quite the stuff Gamer Golds are made of, but well worth a look all the same.