Things have changed drastically since the good old days of the Castle Valhalla. Once the land was ruled by a fair king, with his son the Prince by his side. However, not everyone was happy. The King's brother, otherwise known as the Lord Of Infinity wanted the throne, and as time went on, he became more and more obsessed about it, until one day he killed the King and took his place. The young Prince escaped and went into hiding, while the Lord Of Infinity slowly took over the land.
That was then, and this is now as the song goes, and the young Prince has come of age. He has returned to the castle to reclaim his rightful place on the throne. However, he's still only a little fellow, and not the brightest of lads. As a result he needs you to guide him through the rooms of his previous home to stake his claim. A simple plot, and some might even say it's a little twee, but it sets the scene for a ground breaking piece of software because Valhalla is the world's first floppy disk-based talking adventure.
Yes, it might sound a little far fetched, but Valhalla is one hell of a game. Viewed from above rather than via the now traditional Lucasarts side on view, you have to walk the young Prince around the castle, solving logical puzzles in order to open the gate at the end to the next level. On paper that sounds considerably easier than it actually is in practice, but then you'll know that if you've played this month's coverdisk.
Most of the adventure is based upon picking up objects and using them in certain locations, essentially pairing up items to create new ones, which are then used to open doors, reveal traps or just solve other puzzles. The trick to the game is making the connection between objects. Everyone knows that you use a key in a door, but what do you do with the Eye Of The Beholder? Earlier on in the level you will have passed the Water Of Beauty, so it shouldn't be too difficult to work out what to do with the Eye Of The Beholder. (Hint: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...")
There are only four levels to the castle, but even so this has to be one of the largest adventures ever released. To give you some idea of the sheer size of the levels, the area you can see on screen at any one time is five tiles wide by five tiles deep. The actual map size is around 100 tiles across by a 100 tiles deep! Even if you were only visiting each location once there's still 400 screens per level to visit, and that's even before you've started to do any puzzle solving.
One of the nice things about this game is the fact that, although its huge, you can get straight into it without even glancing at a manual. The controls have been designed so that you spend as little time as possible figuring out how to do something and more time thinking of what to do with an object.
Moving the joystick in one of the four main joystick directions makes the character walk in that direction, and pressing the fire button brings up the very simple menu, containing only five icons. With these you can look at an object, pick up/drop it, use it on the object directly in front of the character and load/save the game. The icons are intelligent enough to work out what you mean when you 'operate' an item, for example if you operate a key and you're in front of a door, it will open the door for you, provided it's the correct key.
If you've already played the coverdisk demo this issue, then you're probably already sold on the idea of an adventure that talks to you. It's such a simple idea, but it works so well. Basically, all Vulcan have done is take out the little text messages you usually get in a game, like "It's a key" and "I can't do that", and replaced them with samples of the main character saying it. Although this shouldn't make really make very much difference to the actual adventure itself, it adds a whole new level of character to the game.
After a while, and I know this sound soppy, but you really get to like the little guy. He really does have his own sense of humour, although he does start to get cocky as the game develops. On the first level, for example, he'll tell you that he's scared whenever he open s a door. On the second level, he'll tell you that he's not really scared. On the third level he'll tell you that he's raring to go, and as for the last level, well I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.
That said, the end sequence is of the most tear-jerkingly, heart-rending pieces of animation ever seen in a game. But you'll have to get there yourself if you want to know what happens.
The game comes on six disks. which you might think would create all sorts of problems when running from floppy disk. Not at all, I say. The first two disks contain the entire game, which is loaded and held in memory from the start. The last four disks contain the speech for each level, and are only accessed when some thing is said. All the phrases are quite short, so the lag between selecting an icon and the Prince speaking to you is just under a second. When running from hard drive, the lag is unnoticeable. As the saved game files are saved on the speech disks you don't even swop disks when saving your position!
Although the premise is quite simple, the actual adventure is extremely taxing. After playing it for a week and a half I managed to get through the first level, and the second looks like it will take twice as long. And as for the later levels? Most of the puzzles are logical enough, provided you have all the information to make a logical guess. Very nicely presented, and extremely well written, Valhalla And The Lord Of Infinity is a game that will make Vulcan Software a household name and very rich to boot.