Tower of Souls logo AGA

Hackneyed RPGs are becoming as commonplace as long-in-the-tooth platformers. Adam Philips reviews a game that's determined not to change the trend.

INTRODUCTION

What have the following got in common? A demon, a fortress, a ques to repel all evil from a once peaceful land, a young slip of a lad with a hidden heritage and a ridiculously large rucksack. That's right, the main ingredients to most RPGs across the world. While the hope to actually play something where some kind of imagination has been used in the plot line would be appreciated, The Tower of Souls is ultimately no different.

Presented in a 3D isometric scrolling view akin to Ultima 8 on the PC this rehash of old ideas tells the story of an evil demon called (insert silly name) who has taken over the land (insert silly name). The ancient prophet (insert silly name) foretells the day when a young lad will make an assault against the evil one and return the country to a peaceful existence.

Funnily enough, this does indeed happen and you, the humble player, take the enviable role of playing the result of this prophecy in the shape of (insert silly name), the hero of the piece.

PLAYABILITY

In a word - simple. For the few hours I played, the main objective is to wander round the fortress turning off fountains which apparently flood the bottom levels if left on, and picking up massive amounts of herbs, spices and money. The puzzles I've experienced so far are of the 'flick the switch to open the door' variety. This area is enlarged upon, unfortunately, by the inclusion of a lock pick section and the disconnect the three bolt lock segment.

The former involves moving four different types of picklock tools over the keyhole (shown in close-up in the main panel) and moving the mouse frantically around until one of them hopefully slips into place, opening the door. The latter is shown in the main panel depicting three bars forming a lock. On the right are a number of switches that can be moved.

Click on these in a random fashion and eventually the three bars will slide all the way open, unlocking the door or turning off a particular fountain. These two ideas must have sounded great on paper but in practice are just a touch on the gimmicky and unnecessary side.

Fighting the various foe guarding the fortress is none too exciting either, whether you be using a sword or a potent spell from your substantial inventory of magic. Their habit of rising from the ground again and again from the same place even after being killed several times adds a certain monotony to the already repetitive proceedings.

There's also an auto map facility available to aid you in your wanderings round the fortress, which you'll only need once in a while.

One of the game's most original features is the alchemy kit where you can mix all nature of magic. Presented as some kind of primeval James Bond-like gadget, the unit is contained inside a metal case where basic ingredients are mixed and heated to create a spell in one of the four categories available - attack, defence, morphing and equipment spells.

Click on the make option and the magic making kit starts to cook your ingredients, then the end result plops into a test tube which is corked and ready to use. The idea is novel and works rather well.

There are a substantial amount of spells to play with, ranging from various lethal projectiles such as acid, fireballs and lightning to the more oddball magi such as creating an illusion to fool your enemies, morphing into a rat to outwit the enemy or maybe slipping into previously unreachable places. It has to be said that out of the whole game, the magic side is by fa the strongest.

80%

 

FLASHBACK

If you want to indulge yourself in a rich story with involving gameplay then look no further than Core Design's Heimdall 2. Featuring cartoon-like graphics packed with character, a variety of differing puzzle types and numerous places to visit such as huts, astral planes and castles on different islands, this is a rather successful attempt at the RPG genre.


 

SOUND

The main bulk of the music is string-based, supposedly epic, but unfortunately the synth sound used is a just touch on the naff side. Imagine the music used to accompany a Conan film, with everybody's hero, Arnie, riding off to face his quest - big, butch, brave and tacky.

The in-game sounds are spot effect-based, with musical accompaniment, but the tune is a little basic although effective.
Again, though, there is a problem - while we hear the rasping of flames, the footfalls of our hero, the sliding of locks as they open, and more, the makers have unfortunately pitched the footsteps at a much lower volume level than all the other sound effects.

So putting the volume up to clearly hear the hero's footfalls as they clank down on the stone floor results in a sudden explosion of loud sound when anything else happens. Annoying.

55%

 

GRAPHICS

There's real professional quality to the graphics on first viewing - the fancy but over-long intro depicts a quilled pen writing out the game story on a parchment, with illustrations of the key events fading up into view at the top. The inventory screen looks equally as impressive, with a rather meaty looking rucksack and the most bizarre and inventive looking magic tool kit I've ever seen.

While lacking the excellent standard of graphics seen in Heimdall 2 or, to a lesser extent, Dragon Stone, the main in-game visuals are wel-defined on the whole, and the scrolling, while a touch slow, works at a decent enough rate as to not prove distracting. The scenery, as far as I've seen it, is relatively dull - lots of fortress walls in various tones and colours become rather repetitive after a while.

Another annoying aspect is the sometimes indistinguishable objects that can be picked up - there's no text saying what something is and you've no idea what they are.

As with the plot, the main problem with the graphics is that I've seen this genre style again and again in other games - it would be refreshing to see visuals that smack of something more pictorially inventive like some of the scenes in Heimdall 2. The dank dungeon walls, the spikes in the floor, the hooded figures throwing fireballs - all look the part but what a dull part to play.

68%

 

OPINION57%

I can't help but feel it's a cop out to say that this kind of game will suit the tastes of the professional role-players among you. Perhaps there are people out there who will glean some excitement from this package and be held in its grip for hours, but for the rest of us with some semblance of a life, this is an average, uninspiring game with the only temporary relief being the magic making.

To have succeeded, Tower of Souls needed more thinking man's puzzles and perhaps some kind of interaction. Indeed, perhaps all this is included later on but after spending a few hours on it, I gave up out of boredom and frustration.

There's obviously some clever programming talent here but the game designer needs to rethink what makes an RPG interesting, gripping, atmospheric and, above all, imaginative. After all, that's what fantasy is all about - escapism. Until this happens, any further releases or sequels along a similar line will end up on the Most-Not-Wanted list. And you need two meg to play Tower of Souls.



Tower of Souls logo AGA

Cue the slushy music and listen to a tale from the murky and questionable past of Steve McGill, Caldonian game reviewer and ex-role playing gamer.

In the beginning there was Dungeons And Dragons. The original rules were packaged in a handy, simple booklet that imparted all the necessary guidelines needed for a few imaginative (pre)adolescents to get together around a table, throw innumerable oddly shaped dice and consult multitudes of seemingly esoteric tables based on the results of the dice throwing.

To help in the imagination stakes, the gamers would invariably buy themselves little metal figures, paint them up, and then project the alter ego of their role playing character on to said metal figure.

The idea was a raging success, albeit coltishly at first, and the game soon expanded into Advanced Dungeons And Dragons which required the minimum of three books - The Dungeon Master's Guide, The Player's Handbook and The Monster Manual.

Despite this expansion in scope imagination, the game stayed intrinsically the same. Players found that when they had become proficient at the rules, the most important element in making the game enjoyable was the plot driving the action.

Many Dungeon Masters just did not catch on to this fundamental premise for making their scenarios fun. Instead, they preferred to labour over the mechanical of the rules and inflict tedious dice rolling on players to accomplish the most mundane actions such as opening locked chests and finding secret doors. As such, only about 10 per cent of campaigns and dungeons were worth playing. The rest were, quite frankly, crap in the extreme and against the grain and spirit of the role playing genre.

So why I am telling you about all of this? Well, put simply, Tower Of Souls captures the essence of everything that was wrong with, and still is wrong with, role playing games in general and role playing computer games specifically.

To make any headway in the game you have to repeatedly and mechanically search and check just about every piece of dungeon or tower furnishing that you see on-screen. It leaves you feeling completely detached from the plot which, in this instance, is probably a good thing because Tower Of Souls is to eb brutally honest, the most tediously clichéd tale of wretchedness I have ever had the misfortune to read.

It is like the progeny of an Edwar Lear pem and a Tolkienesque tale that has had nonsense added to the fantasy and fantasy extracted from the nonsense. As such, you do not so much end up being bored with the game, as end up hating it. And that is a damning indictment of a game that othwerise is technically accomplished. Just like the tedious old Dungeon Masters eh?



Der Seelenturm logo AGA

Freunde isometrischer Actionadventures vom Schlage eines "Heimdall 2" oder "Darkmere" dürfen wieder ein Faß aufmachen: Black Legends AGA-Turm ist ein Seel von einem Abenteuer - voller Kampf und Knobelei!

Verantwortlich für die deutsche Lokalisierung war kein Geringener als Stefan Piasecki, der einst am Meilenstein "Battle Isle" mitmeißelte. Diesmal geht's in das Fantasyreich Chaybore, das bereits im netten Intro vom Dämon Baalhatrok tyrannisiert wird.

Ihm soll der Spieler in die Parade fahren, und zwar in Gestalt des Helden Treeac, der sich auf die Such nach sieben Kraftkristallen macht - die natürlich dummerweise just in den sieben Levels der Dämonenfestung versteckt sind.

Ehe nun all 125 Iso-Locations abgegrast werden, ist Treeac in einem kleinen Charaktermenü mit wahlweise mehr magischen oder kämpferischen Fähigkeiten auszustatten.

Durch das Spiel wird er dann mittels Automapping und einer kombinierten Maus/Tastatu- oder Stick/Tastatur-Steuerung gelenkt, wobei das Interieur des Turms teils soft Scrollend an ihm vorbeizieht, teilweise aber auch bildweise umgeschaltet wird.

Die abwechslungsreich gezeichneten und mit vielen phantasievollen Animationen versehenen Gemächer beherbergen Monster in reicher Artenvielfalt; doch ob Skelett, Gnom oder Echsenmensch, dank fleißicher Bearbeitung des Feuerknopfes fallen die Gegner alsbald in Echtzeit dem Schwert zum Opfer.

Für den erforderlichen Hokuspokus müssen die passenden Spells erst etwas kompliziert mittels Kräutern und Blut in speziellen Glasröhren gemixt werden, doch die Mühe lohnt: Magische Attacken sind in vier Geschmacksrichtungen für Angriff, Verteidigung, Morphing und Ausrüstung vorrätig, wobei die jeweils 32 Zaubersprüche auch in vier Stärken zu haben sind.

Zwar kostet jede Hexeei ein paar Prozentpunkte vom magischen Potential, aber das regeneriert sich ja nach einiger Zeit wieder ganz von selbst.

Zudem hinterlassen gemeuchelte Feinde meist allerlei Nützlichkeiten wie Schlüssel, Heilmittel oder stärkende Nahrung, die man zwecks späterer Verwendung in seinen Rucksack schaufelt.

Was sich in bzw. hinter den zahlreichen Truhen und Türen verbirgt, ist jedoch in der Regel erst zu erfahren, wenn eine kleine Knobelei gelöst wurde - indem etwa Knöpfe in der richtigen Reihenfolge zu betätigen sind.

Dem optisch schön präsentierten Gameplay mangelt es also nicht an Action, dazu sorgt eine gelungene Soundkulisse für Atmosphäre. Auch die Kombisteuerung erweist sich nach der Einarbeitung als logisch und zweckdientlich, selbst wenn sie anfangs abschreckend kompliziert wirken mag.

Ein innovativer Neubau ist der Seelenturm zwar trotzdem nicht, doch wer sich bei "Darkmere", "Heimdall" oder "Cadaver" gut unterhalten hat, wird in der Dämonenfestung ebenfalls ein paar spannende Stunden verbringen - demnächst übrigens auch am CD32. (md)



Tower of Souls logo AGA

It was a time of darkness, natch.

From the shimmering heights of their awesomely fearsome tower, the Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse heeded the call of AMIGA POWER. Flew down in fury upon the earth did they, shattering the illusions of software developers hoping to make a quick buck. Cringe in terror at the truth and power of the words unleashed against Black Legend's role-playing game Tower of Souls, did lesser beings. Cringe in terror, yea, and hide themselves.

"It transgresses against all the values our representatives on earth, the mighty beings of AMIGA POWER, deem worthwhile," boomed the First Cyclist, who really should have known better, but didn't, due to an enduring megalomania complex for which there was no known cure other than death by lethal injection.

"RPGs are for pretentious sentimental control freaks with more spare time and imagination than sense," hissed the Third Cyclist of the Apocalypse reinforcingly, promptly tucking into yet another bowl of Weeta Flakes as if to prove his judgemental credentials.

"Perhaps it is so," countered the Second Cyclist, divine mighty being of justice and humanity to all - even Big Issue vendors - "but do not forget that many of our favourite games are RPGs and that several of them now reside in the reverent annals of the AMIGA POWER All-Time Top 100."

"Be more thoughtful in future," commanded the Fourth Cyclist, "for if you do not pull your sinister cloak up, we will be forced to resort to four disks on the cover to attract readers rather than relying upon superior editorial content."

The Third Cyclist dipped his hood in shame. His condemnation of RPGs had indeed been ill-considered and out-of-hand. He resolved to play Tower of Souls in depth, looking specifically for some kind of saving grace which would earn the game clemency from a damningly poor final score. He put aside his bowl of cereal and, after a time, was ready to pass judgment.

TUNNELS
The copy of Tower of Souls sat quivering upon the Cyclists' infernal device of judgment. To each side was a balance on which the evidence for and against its damnation would be weighted. The others waited in silence as the Third Cyclist turned to the Balance of Doom.

"You have only to read the snazzily-animated introductory tale behind Tower of Souls to realise that it is a pile of crappily-clichéd, stinkingly-stereotypical fantasy roleplay excreta," he commenced. The scale creaked ominously.

"The story is so unoriginal, it feels as if the writer has taken a degree course in unoriginal RPG plots and picked up a first in mediocrity. Demons, crystals, milking the essence from a fair land that used to be free and nigh-impenetrable tower fortresses - all have a place in a plot that has toto many credibility gaps, even for a fantasy romp."


The trap will smother

"For is it not written that, with an RPG such as this, the plot should drive the game so that the player always feels as if they're involved with something at least half-relevant to the on-screen action? It is. And yet this is not so with Tower of Souls. Te plot exists solely to justify plainly ridiculous anomalies such as the orphaned lone champion hero finding himself gifted with not only a sword but also a well-equipped backpack. A backpack, I add, that doesn't even appear on your animated figure, becoming fat with collected objects without even slowing your hero down."

"The plot speaks of two major obstacles to your success. The first is a legion of undead creatures conjured from the bodies of the victims of the blighted land. The other is a series of locked doors," The Third Cyclist gestured in the manner of a nativity play shepherd. "Oh no! The locked door's coming to get me!" The Four Cyclist chuckled appreciatively, but was silenced with heavy looks from his companions.

"This, I fear, is what the game comes down to," continue the Third Cyclist. "Your first task is to switch off all of the pump systems throughout the tower. This translates into exploring the whole construction, opening every chest, checking every well adomment so as not to miss any secret doors, and picking up every object in case it is vital to the creation of a magic potion."

"The game feels as if you are engaged in tedious housework, or worse, playing Valhalla without the saving grace of the annoying speech or puzzle element. For example, some chests can only be opened using lockpicks. You have four such tools, and open the chests by jiggling the mouse around and trying each lockpick in turn, it is time-wasting and tedious in the extreme, and adds absolutely nothing to the atmosphere."

"And that apart, from some crap fighting and avoiding mechanical tricks and traps (a wearisome process involving seeing which part of the path the trap will smother, and then carefully walking around that part), is all there ever is to do in Tower of Souls. It plays like the introductory level in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and is tedious, dull, pedantic, systematic, clichéd and unoriginal. Even the most stupid, die-hard RPG fan will turn up their nose at this offering. It is an insult to their intelligence."

TROLLS
The Third Cyclist turned to face the Balance of Mercy, already pressed against the floor, its hinges squeaking. "But in its favour," he added, "its graphics are fairly luscious, and its execution competent." The scale shifted a fraction of a micron. With a heavy heart but a clear conscience, the Third Cyclist pulled on the lever that opened the portal direct to Game Hell. The Cyclists watched Tower of Souls plunge in without remorse of fear of reprisal.

"Justice is done," concluded the First Cyclist as the Third once more took his place beside his brethren. "Let our representatives on earth have no further need to call upon us, for next time we shall not be so generous." (Welcome back, Steve. - Ed)


HELL'S BELLS - IT SMELLS OF SPELLS

Tower of Souls
Seasoned role players will love creating new spells using this alcheny chest. You have to mix ingredients and blood. Yum.

Tower of Souls
Of the four different kinds of spell, this is an attack one.

Tower of Souls
Enchant weapons for better hits with equipment spells.

Tower of Souls
Protect yourself better with the defence spell option.

Tower of Souls
The medikit spell is the most abused of them all.



Tower of Souls logo AGA

Price: £29.99 Publisher: Black Legend 01438 840004

Shiny swords, a dash of sorcery and a thoroughly nasty dragon. Hmm, wonder what type of game this is eh?

In the land of Chaybore things have been sweeter than the smell of fresh flowers dancing happily in the spring breeze. I say had, because the crystals which protected the people of Chaybore have been taken by Baalhathrok - an evil demon. Using the crystals as a focus for his power, Baalhathrok opened a portal to his own dimension and built a fortress.

The citizens of Chaybore began to struggle for survival as the fortress' pumps sucked the goodness from the land. Things were not looking good then and the people of Chaybore could see no hope for the future. They had not counted on Treeac hower. Found by a hill farmer one night, the baby Treeac was the future saviour of Chaybore, as foreseen by Maylor, the prophet.

Enough, enough! The plot is the standard RPG fare then and you can probably guess the rest of the story, even if you do not torture yourself by reading through page after page of the seemingly never ending intro. So, as Treeac it is down to you to both destroy the life sucking pumps in Baalhathrok's fortress (with the magic sword given to Treeac by the hill farmer), as well as finding and returning the missing crystals of Chaybore. Treeac can be played as either a out and out wizard or warrior, or more commonly a mixture of the two.

Mixing the skills is a simple matter of moving sliding bars one way or t' other, as in Gremlin Interactive's Legacy of Sorasil for instance. Seven levels and a total of 125 map areas must be traversed, but the viewpoint is isometric rather than first person as in the majority of RPGs. This gives the game a similar look and feel to the Heimdall series, but although good the graphics are not in the same league as Core Design's classics.

The seven crystals must be collected in order and once this is done Treeac can enter Baalhathrok's lair and finish off the demon once and for all. As well as the magic sword there are 32 different spells available, each of which has five strengths and these can be cast at one of three levels.

At the lowest level a spell can only be cast within an area in reach while at the highest level everything that covers even a distant area will be hit. An alchemy screen allows herbs, fungi and the like collected during Treeac's travels to be mixed together to help create the full range of spells available.

Choose your weapons
Combat weapons can be found, some of which are much stronger than others, and with all the usual cronies which inhabit these mystical lands, thankfully armour can be found lying around too. Find and search some of the many hidden rooms if you want to discover the best equipment on offer in the game.

Other than the numerous enemies, puzzles and locked doors do their best to slow you down. Some puzzles are very brain draining, but a rather nifty lock picking feature makes battling your way past any lock gratifying.

At the end of the day
As RPGs go, Tower of Souls is easy to get to grips with. The control system deserves special praise. No longer do you have to click on a grid or direction icon to move. Strolling around the play rea is simply a case of moving the mouse to wherever you want Treeac to move to.

Place the cursor over Treeac and he will stop. Combat is initiated by moving the cursor over the character you wish to fight and clicking on the left mouse button. Other controls are handled by clicking on the right mouse button and moving the hand cursor to the icons displayed across the bottom of the screen.

Sadly the gameplay is not so praiseworthy, but this is more of a reflection on a tired genre than the game itself. Even so fighting is a rather hack and slash affair, with not enough of the strategy or turn based action found in the majority of RPGs, while the puzzles are the bland 'the route is blocked so find the hidden doorway' variety.

The isometric display can also prove confuding at times. Despite some novel ideas like the control system and the alchemy screens Tower of Souls feels lacklustre.

If you are a D&D fiend then you will probably get a few week's fun out of this but its not take Celine Dion's advice and 'think twice' before purchasing. Ho ho.



Der Seelenturm CD32 logo CD32 Amiga Joker Hit

In der letzten Ausgabe wußte Black Legends Mixtur aus "Heimdall 2" und "Darkmere" bereits auf Diskette sehr gut zu gefallen, doch auf Silber ist dieses Iso-Abenteuer wahrlich Gold wert!

Im Fantasyreich Chaybore ist der Teufel im Gestalt des Dämons Baalhatrok los: Das Biest hat sich in einem Turm verschanzt und produziert dort mit seinen sieben Monstermaschinen unentwegt Unholde, die es auf die Bevölkerung hetzt.

Um den Seelenfrieden der Einheimischen wieder herzustellen, muß der Spieler nun in Gestalt des Helden Treeae alle 125 Locations des sieben Stockwerke hohe Gemäuers nach sieben versteckten Zauberkristallen abgrasen, denn sie allein können die furchtbaren "Totokopierer" zerstören.

Der heldenhafte Seelsorger wird zunächst in einem kleinen Charaktermenü wahlweise mit mehr magischen oder kämpferischen Fähigkeiten ausgestattet, sein Weg wird dann per Automapping kartographiert. Bis der Wurm im Turm eliminiert ist, bekommt man abwechslungsreich gestaltete 3D-Räumlichkeiten zu sehen, die teils bildweise umschalten, teils aber auch supersoft in alle Richtungen scrollen.

Allerorten sind hier teilanimierte Feuerspeier, rotierende Stachelräder, Nagelböden und ähnliche Fallen postiert, aber als Ausgleich lassen sich in zahlreichen Vasen und Truhen hilfreiche Utensilien (Nahrung, Heiltränke, Kräuter, Rüstungen etc.) finden.

Um die Kisten sowie die vielen Tore und Geheimtüren zu öffnen, benötigt man allerdings stets entweder den passenden Schlüssel, den mitgeführten Dietrichsatz oder Gehirnschmalz zum Knacken der Zahlenschlösser.

Hinzu kommt, daß den Fußböden der meisten Räume unentwegt kampflustige Skelette, Vögel oder Insekten entsteigen, solange die Monstermangel der jeweiligen Etage noch arbeitet. Daher bedarf es schon etwas Übung, um Treeac blitzschnell in die beste Angriffsposition zu drehen und den Unholden in Echtzeit mit dem mitgeführten Schwert einen neuen Scheitel zu ziehen.

Noch aufwendiger gestaltet sich der Einsatz von Magie, denn zwar gibt es da vier Kategorien mit jeweils 32 Zaubersprüchen, diese müssen aber einzeln mittels einer komplizierten Maschinerie (für die ein eigenes Bild eingeblendet wird) aus etlichen Kräutern und Tränken recht mühevoll zusammengemixt werden. Der Lohn sind schlagkräftige Argumente wie Feuerbälle, Blitze oder Tiefkühl-Spells, die dann einfach per Button aktiviert werden.

Die Unterschiede zur AGA-Diskversion beschränken sich zwar auf den Sound, doch sorgt gerade die komplett neue und in Molltönen Akustik für eine dramatische Atmosphäre. Da sich auch die Pad-Steuerung bald als handlich-präzise erweist und die vor liebevoll gezeichneten Details und guten Animationen geradezu überbordende Grafik von jeher zu gefallen wußte, kann man abenteuerlustigen Aktionisten diese Scheibe wirklich nur empfehlen - egal, ob sie ein CD32 oder einen AGA-Rechner mit CD-ROM besitzen! (md)