Crystals of CarusLemon64 - GB64 - RetroCollector
Interceptor Software was quite early establishing themselves with some clones of popular arcade games, but they also had a series of text adventures which was a popular genre at the time. Crystals of Carus was released in 1985, programmed by Richard Dawson, graphics by Claire Challis and music by Tim Gibson. The game had some very nice graphics for its time with nice detailed pictures in many of the rooms in the game (63 rooms in total and I counted 15 pictures including the load screen). The music is also a nice touch with several small tunes, including the obligatory "Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg.
The game is decent, but sadly many of the challenges are around trying to find the verbs the parser understand, and how to write them right - a problem many text adventures had at the time.
Warning, this review contains spoilers if you want to play it! :) - I am sorry for being a bit ruthless with the review, and I am probably just emphasizing a lot of problems all text adventures had at the time. They would probably have been more entertaining with some play testing and feedback before being released.
The general goal of the game is to locate 5 gems that needs to be placed on the statues of the Royal family in the correct order, which sounds like a rather big quest for a small text adventure. Very early on in the game there is a picture of a palace (where the statues are located) and the flag waving outside (as well as on the ship shown first) in that picture gives you the clue for which colored gem goes onto what statue. This part of the game at the end actually asks you which statue to place it on and you have to enter a number between 1-5. Placing the 4 first gems will spawn Ereth which will die instantly if you have the Staff of Power, and dropping the 5th gem.
Now a problem I encountered in the game was that the gems are of importance, and the game also has a ruby that has a completely different purpose (to make a staff vital for the final battle with Ereth). Interestingly the red gem can be shortened "GEM" while all the others require the use their colours (BLue, GReen, YEllow, WHite). That you could make a staff with the ruby is ofc a challenge to figure out in the game. The verb combo you seek then is "PLACE RUBY ON ROD" (and unfortunately the verb PLACE is not mentioned in the instructions). I sometimes feel many text adventures could have make life simpler for the player by at least supporting the verb "USE" as a general all round verb. "USE RUBY ON ROD". Also I believe most adventures should be more precise in giving a hint that it partially understands a command that needs more info. So writing "USE RUBY" should then ask the player "USE RUBY ON WHAT?" or something to give you a clue to the form. Unfortunately this game has neither and figuring out the grammar becomes the real challenge of the game.
This game does not have bottomless pockets either so you can really only carry a certain amount of objects. This can be a bit problematic as there are in essence 4 different "quests" you need a different set of objects to complete, and it takes a while figuring out what to bring and what to leave. Another problem is that some objects are used more than once (weapons). Fortunately most objects are only used once which means you can generally drop them once used. A particular set of rooms are only available once so dropping vital objects here means you cannot solve the game.
A sign that the adventure had not been tested very well is a mistake with a vital clue you get from the beggar where he tells you: "Use the circle and the ring traveller, but this passage will work only once". Now the problem is that in order for the beggar to give you this advice you have to give him the treasure which you get from the dragon, which you have to defeat using a genie in a lamp (how original) which you can only find by entering the druid circle in the first place. The whole set of puzzles bites itself in the tail as you can see. :) - And here is the main problem of this text adventure really, the game sorely needs these clues and when they are broken it becomes very hard to know what purpose a certain area has. This is of course strengthened by the classic problem of knowing which verbs are recognized by the parser. The bigger challenges where I simply had to check a walkthrough were to find elusive verbs. "ENTER CIRCLE" was one of these. "SWIM SEA" was another. There is really no clue that you need to swim the sea from an open sea location. Normally all navigation is done using the directions and in this case you are in a ship on the sea and there is no "sea" object or other clue to the fact that swimming the sea suddenly brings you to the sea bed after drinking the potion. There is also no clue that the potion you get from the Alchemist is for breathing under water (which could have hinted at the swimming).
The whole thing with the druid's circle is very confusing as it actually teleports you into Ereth's chambers(!) of all places and where you find a number of things that you need to pick up. Ereths chambers are inside the palace so you come out of the palace - and this teleport thing can only be done once so you need to be sure you get all things out, including the lamp which of course is used to defeat the dragon to get the treasure to give to the beggar so he can tell you how to use the teleport in the first place. :) - Actually that part of the adventure is a part you dont need to do, but you need to get the key and (optionally the wand) inside Ereths chambers in order to solve another puzzle. Interestingly the wand is not used to kill Ereth but to kill the witch - another useless puzzle as you only kill the witch to get hold of the crystal ball which you give to the prophet in order for him to tell you about a battle between the dragon and a genie (which ofc gives you the clue of rubbing the lamp at the dragons room). Now the problem with this is that the treasure you get from the dragon is ofc only used to give to the beggar so he can give you another clue (which you already had to do in order to get the lamp in the first place). So there is essentially a whole string of puzzles you can simply skip altogether as they do not lead to any gems. This also goes for giving food to the prisoner which will only give you a clue at the throne room holding the key (that is where the statues are where you place the gems). So the only thing you need to get from Ereths chambers after entering the druids circle is the bronze key.
The game also has some inconsistent shortening of commands, as the instructions say that you can use only two letters. Now the problem is that this isnt true for all words, some are even equals (like COin and COffin). They could have solved this by either selecting object names more carefully or used three letters which most text adventures used at the time. It also has a lot of unecessary typing where its obvious what you want to do. For example at the Alchemists shop you have to write "GIVE COIN TO ALCHEMIST" - while it really should have been enough to write "GIVE COIN" - who else are you trying to give the coin to?
The game consist of a number of encounters, and fortunately the instructions mention the verb "ATTACK" - as a seasoned adventurer would no doubt try e.g. "KILL ASSASIN" - but where you actually have to write "ATTACK ASSASIN WITH DAGGER". Again a case where you need to tell which weapon to use - possibly because later in the game you have two weapons and actually have to use the weapons several times on different foes. Perhaps it would be too easy if it automatically used the correct weapon? Well in some cases you don't even actively use an object, its enough that you hold it in your inventory and it assumes its that object being used. A bit confusing perhaps although testing different weapons on each foe should be easy (remember to save often).
Now, one place there is a clear riddle written on a wall hinting at the idea you should say something, your deepest fears. While it would take some time to figure out what to say at this place, finding the word might not be the hardest challenge - but knowing that you have to put the word in quotes!!! Yes, indeed - as this text contains spoilers - writing SAY DEATH will not do anything. But SAY "DEATH" works! This is rather terrible as the game writes the same message "NOTHING HAPPENS!" and really does not give you a clue that you need to put the word in quotes.
The game also has some rather obscure puzzles like you fill up a bottle of water from a waterfall which you then give to a sailor (after unlocking a door in an inn with a key you find in the palace of all places). Well the water is poisonus and the sailor dies and drops a gem. Whoa! :) Now what kind of puzzle is that? First why on earth is the key to the door in the inn found in the palace? And why is the water from a nice waterfall poisonus? And one can really marvel at the idea of killing a sailor to get hold of a gem which you did not have any idea was holding it either. It is however possible to drink the water yourself to figure out that its poisonus. You can also drink the wine yourself which has the same outcome and you need to restart/reload.
Some puzzles are easy though where you have to give the right object to the right person and all these fortunately have the same form of "GIVE X TO Y". Many combinations are understandable, while others can be confusing. Still the game can still be enjoyable since the area for all the puzzles is rather small at a total of 63 rooms which means there isn't a lot of trekking around even though the game contains several rooms with no purpose besides walking through. A problem with these rooms is ofc that the player wonders if he can use some special verb like the "SWIM SEA" since in that room "SEA" wasnt an object but just part of the room description. I can imagine many frustrated players though, since the sea room is in fact the only place where you have this interaction with parts of the room description.
I almost forgot to mention an interesting quirk of the carrying capacity. If you bring the bottle to the waterfall and write "TAKE WATER" and you are up to your carrying limit, it tells you that you are carrying too much. You can then drop an object, write "TAKE WATER" which then converts the BOTTLE into a "BOTTLE OF WATER", and you can then pick up the object you just dropped. - One can almost see the code and where the carrying capacity test was done before the actual action in this case. :)
And to round off this review there is the facinating bag you find which if you open it a wind blows out of it, and is an effective way to kill the Tritons which live underwater and hence will suffocate from filling their palace with air. "Now why didn't I think of that?" says the adventurer, and reads the walkthrough one more time... :)
I also made a map of the game with the solution to each puzzle.