|Robin Hood doing what he does best: ambushing travellers on Watling Street
Conquests of the Pile of Shame
At Choona's recommendation, I've been slowly working my way through my backlog of Sierra adventures and thanks to his suggestion have reviewed several of them over the past couple of years. Some of these games I've played back in my youth while others I've experienced for the first time: one such game is Christy Marx's Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail. It turns out Christy Marx has a thing for English myths and legends and despite Conquests of Camelot's age, it scored reasonably well thanks to its setting and more straight-forward puzzles (well, at least some of the time).
This game, Conquests of the Longbow, was apparently released in the same year as Conquests of Camelot but uses a newer version of Sierra's Creative Interpreter (SCI) engine, SCI1 instead of SCI0. This means despite being released in the same year, Conquests of the Longbow has superior 256 colour graphics and a true point 'n' click interface.
Sir Robin of Horny
Christy Marx, designer of Conquests of Camelot and Conquests of the Longbow, conducted extensive research into the setting and characters of the myths and legends these games are based off (she includes a bibliography of her source material in the game's manual). She also managed to incorporate medieval knowledge and lore into the game's puzzles such as knowing what properties gemstones have or learning to identify and name druid trees. It makes the game feel like a more authentic Robin Hood experience although I was a bit shocked to discover how horny Robin Hood is in this particular game as it seems his only motivation to do anything is to find a way to sleep with Maid Marian. Shouldn't he be more concerned about restoring King Richard to the throne? Is this the sort of man the Merry Men should be trusting with their lives?
|Robin Hood would do just about anything for Maid Marian
Well researched but suffers from oldschool adventure game flaws
The ultimate goal of the game is to collect enough money to pay off a ransom: this will result in King Richard being released from captivity and allow him to return to England as rightful heir to the throne. At some points in the game, it's not exactly clear how you'll achieve this objective or where you need to go to trigger an event that progresses the storyline and despite the game having a map of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest which you can use to fast-travel to important locations, not every location is listed on the map as you can travel through several screens of forest in between these important locations, similar to how you travel in Quest for Glory. This led me to believe that in order to not miss anything, I had to draw a map of Sherwood Forest by visiting each and every "room" in the game (for example, the archery range is a place you can visit in the game a couple of rooms north of Robin Hood's camp, but it's not shown on the map). In the end, this proved to be a futile task and I was a bit disappointed I wasted my time trying. It's not exactly easy to do either since for some rooms, exiting the left side of the screen will take you to different locations depending on whether you select the top-left of the screen of the bottom-left. You'll soon discover that one of the main ways of progressing the storyline is to watch Watling Street (the main road to Nottingham) from a lookout and ambush anyone that comes along.
Point 'n' click adventure fans will be familiar with how most of this game works which involves using the right inventory items at the right time and talking to characters. There are also mini-games such as the archery mini-game (it wouldn't be a proper Robin Hood game without one, right?) and the board game Nine Men's Morris.
What I've found quite unique to Christy Marx adventures are the puzzles and riddles which often require you to read the manual and swot up on the game's lore. I believe this sets the game apart from many of its competitors and I like games that reward those who read up about the world they're in and can use that newfound knowledge in-game. And yet, one of the game's puzzles which involved knowledge of gemstone properties, I probably never would've figured out without a hint: in order to hold your drink in a drinking contest you're required to acquire a gemstone that allows you to do just that and you need to win a mini-game in order to even come into possession of said gemstone. This puzzle involves borderline moon logic to me, and unfortunately a lot of old adventure games are like this, although admittedly Conquests of the Longbow isn't one of the worst offenders.
Modern games tend to have in-game help sections or journals which catalogue any important information relevant to your quest. When playing older computer games such as this one though, this isn't the case and it's important to write instructions down when they are provided. Despite growing up with computer games in the 80s and 90s, I foolishly forgot about this which created issues on a later puzzle. I knew what I had to do with help from the manual but I forgot a critical piece of information that would enable the commands to be executed, resulting in me unknowingly entering a dead-end scenario. If this were a modern PC game there'd be a reminder of how to use the interface for the puzzle or a notification to remind you where to click in order to execute the command. This is not the case in Conquests of the Longbow.
The game also has multiple solutions to certain encounters: this usually occurs when dealing with travellers across Watling Street and some are more ideal than others. Multiple ways to deal with encounters means you can achieve different scores just like previous Sierra adventures and different scores means the potential for multiple endings depending on your performance. While I'm usually a fan of multiple endings, I'm not so much a fan of games that have a "good" or "bad" ending especially when the solutions during encounters are sometimes not so obvious. For example, at one point in the game you have to get a disguise from a merchant. You can either use force, trade something valuable for it or use a milder form of intimidation by prodding and harassing him (which apparently is the best option). It could take quite a bit of trial and error to find the best choice since it's not just a matter of picking options that are plainly spelt out to you but you have to instead find the right combination of interactions using the correct "verbs" (i.e. talk, use, etc.) in the correct sequence.
|Conquests of the Longbow includes mini-games such as this archery mini-game and Nine Men's Morris
A prettier Sierra adventure with a true point 'n' click interface
As mentioned earlier, Conquests of the Longbow was a bit of a leap forward in terms of Sierra adventures as it runs on the SCI1 engine which allows for 320x200 resolution 256 colour VGA graphics. The game also has a "true" point ‘n' click interface that gets rid of the text parser altogether which is a double-edged sword in terms of puzzles. On one hand, having the text parser can sometimes make puzzles easier as you'd be able to convey exactly what you want to attempt whereas using a hand on something or someone is ambiguous, are you going to punch them? Shove them? Pickpocket them? Hug them? There's uncertainty. On the other hand, limiting your "verbs" to talking, using, and looking means it can sometimes be quicker and easier to progress the story instead of trying in vain to type the write sentence in a text parser.
I also enjoyed the medieval soundtrack to this game, a job well done by Mark Seibert along with other Sierra composers such as Ken Allen, Christopher Braymen, Orpheus Hanley and Aubrey Hodges (they've worked on other Sierra soundtracks such as Space Quest, Quest for Glory II and Quest for Glory IV).
While Conquests of the Longbow is definitely prettier than previous Sierra adventures with a "true" point 'n' click interface that does away with the text parser it still suffers from some of the pitfalls that plagued earlier Sierra adventures. If you're a fan of Robin Hood though or you just appreciate games where designers do their research, then this is definitely a game to check out.
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