The last article was about a game developed in Spain, and through pure coincidence - and a frankly baffling urge to play a ZX Spectrum game - today's game was also developed in Spain, where it was apparently a very popular release on the home computers of the time. Hey, you'll get no judgment from me: the computer gamers of Britain went crazy for Jet Set Willy, after all. It was a different time. Anyway, here it is: Dinamic Software's 1986 ZX Spectrum adventure Camelot Warriors!
We're only at the title screen and already the game is lying to me, because there is only one Camelot Warrior embarking upon this epic quest. He's not much of a warrior, either.
If the loading screen's anything to go by then I'm not even sure he's from Camelot, ancient land of chivalrie and graels and other fascinating medieval spelling choices. He feels sort of futuristic. I think. It's hard to get much of a handle on what he actually looks like. He's got a sword, that much is clear, and he seems to be fighting a tree with an unpleasant sinus infection. His hat is pointy, and his right leg has fallen off, leaving behind a pool of blood. I'm assuming that he'll have both legs in-game, but because this is on the Spectrum he'll probably control like he's only got one.
Camelot Warriors was originally released in Spanish and later translated into English, and by reading both sets of instructions I think I understand the gist of the story: our hero falls asleep, showing the kind of everyman qualities we can all relate to, but when he wakes up he's in Arthurian England. Four objects from the modern world have also been transported back with him, and he must take each of them to one of the four guardians of the land, who will destroy it. So, it's a Prime Directive, don't-accidentally-kill-your-grandad-in-the-past deal. Just imagine how drastically the course of history could be altered if Camelot was lit be electric lightbulbs instead of flaming torches!
The game begins, and there is the lightbulb, placed out-of-reach on an elevated ledge. That's a good piece of design, that: show the player straight away where their objective is, giving them an idea of what direction to take in order to reach it instead of fumbling around at random. The thing is, I'm not sure disposing of a lightbulb should really be a priority. Unless the Knights of the Round Table have also discovered electricity and built a generator, to them it's just going to be a glass bulb that doesn't do anything - hardly likely to irreparably damage the fabric of space and time. Also, why do I need to take it to a special guardian to have it destroyed? It's a light bulb. I destroyed a lightbulb by accident the other week by dropping it on my patio. Maybe Camelot has very strict policies on recycling.
While I was standing around pondering this, that owl flew straight into my face and killed me. One-hit deaths, is it? Lovely.
When I respawned, I took care of the owl with the trusty steel of my knight's blade. He swings his sword like he's trying to hit a home run rather than with the finesse of a true knight, but it got the job done. I've got that wasp in my sights next. Hang on, is that a wasp? A wasp with it's stinger on its face instead of its arse. Or a mosquito.
Defeating these enemies was much more difficult that I've made it sound, and for once it's not just because I'm bad at computer games. Our hero can jump, and he can swing his sword. Which of these commands do you think is activated by the joystick's fire button? That's right, in a decision so backwards it took me the entire game to wrap my head around it, up on the joystick is attack and the fire button makes you jump. I can only assume this is revenge for all the times I've complained about having to press up on the joystick to jump. It might not sound like much of a problem, but when an enemy is coming right at you and you only have one chance to hit it before it kills you, your brain will make you press fire and you will die repeatedly.
Other than that, things work as you'd expect. Move left and right, jump over obstacles and short enemies (because the Camelot Warrior can't crouch and therefore can't stab them) and make your way first to the item from the future / present and then to the guardian. You can see the first guardian here. He's a wizard. I'm going to call him Merlin. He's a wizard, this game is called Camelot Warriors, I figure it's a pretty safe bet. There's no reason to bother him just yet, because I don't have the lightbulb, but I need to drop off the ledge to his level and this is where it becomes apparent that this is one of those games that requires constant pixel-perfect movements, the slightest deviation from the one safe path ending in your sudden death. Dropping down without touching either the owl or the weird pink-badger thing took me a lot more attempts than I'd like to admit.
I refuse to believe that these things can kill me, though. Just look at them! It's a ping-pong ball with legs, just kick it to one side! Imagine the shame you'd bring on your noble house if one of these things finished you off: "Heere Lyes Camelot Warrior, Vanquish'ed on yon Fielde of Battel bye Pac-Man's Undeveloped Cousin".
As the Camelot Warrior makes his way through the monster-infested caverns, I managed to get a screenshot of him in mid-"jump", an action that seems to have nothing to do with the power of his legs. It looks a lot more like he's being pulled into the air by some unseen force that has grabbed his head, dragging him upwards by his bonce. Jumping around in Camelot Warriors has only solidified my theory that this is all taking place on an alien world - a planet with lower gravity than Earth, but a thick, soupy atmosphere that slows our hero's movements as he wades through it.
The actual controls are fine, though. Accurate and responsive, I couldn't pick a fault with them. The Camelot Warrior performs his actions when he's told, and it's a sad indictment of ZX Spectrum games that this can be considered a real (and relatively unexpected) highlight.
I had to go the long way around, but I've finally reached the lightbulb. I'd like to just nudge it off this platform and skip the slightly tedious trip back to the wizard, but I suppose I'd better pick it up.
Of course it doesn't burn, it's not plugged in.
So, I brought the lightbulb to Merlin, and what do I get for my troubles?
He turns me into a bloody frog. That's wizard gratitude for you. I'm risking life and limb to protect the realm from the insidious menace of electrical lighting, while you stand next to your bubbling cauldron - which I'm sure is just hot water and dry ice for effect, you poseur - turning brave knights into frogs? I hope an owl flies into your face, then we'll see how wise and powerful you are.
I decided to make the best of a bad situation and use my new amphibian form to explore this underwater grotto. It was surprisingly difficult to get in the water, but only because I foolishly assumed that touching the bubble on the water's surface wouldn't result in my immediate death. Of course the bubbles are fatal, bubbles in videogames always are. I've died to surface tension more times than I have to gunshot wounds.
There's a television at the bottom of the lake. That'll be the futuristic object I need to collect, then.
This area's like going for dinner at a filthy restaurant with inadequate refrigeration - it's all about avoiding the fish. I quite enjoyed being a frog, you know. Jumping through the extremely tight spaces between enemies and the scenery, or enemies and other enemies - you know, ninety percent of Camelot Warriors' gameplay - was just that little bit smoother when I was a frog, as though I were a shade more aero/aquadynamic.
By the way, that yellow thing in the middle of the screenshot above? That's an enemy. It's all well and good mocking artistically ineffective sprites, but I generally have some idea what they're supposed to be representing. This thing, though? I got nothing. Answers on a postcard, please.
I've just noticed that the frog looks really smug. I suppose you might if you were the only person in the kingdom who can watch Emmerdale. I'm not sure how I'm going to carry this television with my froggy flippers, but let's give it a go.
"The Mirror of Wisdom"? You're being a bit generous there, Camelot Warrior.
Mighty Poseidon, Lord of the Seas and Armchair Relaxer, will help me to destroy this accursed Mirror of Wisdom, hopefully before Jamie Oliver's latest cookery programme starts. Submerging a TV in a lake would have probably done the job anyway, but I don't want Poseidon to feel left out while all the other guardians are flexing their mystical muscles. I'm also hoping he'll turn me back into a human.
Oh good, I'm a man again. I'm also in a cave. The first two areas link together naturally - find a pond, solve part one, get turning into a pond-navigating frog - but once you drop the TV off with Poseidon there's a flash of light and bang, welcome to what might very well be Hell itself. That spider-thing down the bottom certainly looks kind of demonic.
It's a shame that Camelot Warriors didn't keep up the exploratory elements of the gameplay, or rather it would be a shame if our hero moved a bit faster and with a little more grace. Uncovering more and more of the game world as you unlock new abilities or are changed into exciting new animal forms is fun in theory, but not when you character jumps as though an invisible giant is lifting him up by the hair.
It seems that the game's author is beginning to tire of the whole affair, and the third item is in plain sight on the second screen of this area. I did wonder how I was going to get past that wall / column to reach it - maybe by falling through that hole in the ceiling - but it turns out it isn't really a wall and you can walk right past it. It just looks almost identical to all the other extremely solid walls in the area, that's all. If you look closely, you can see that it's a slightly darker shade of red than the other walls, more of a "Satanic Crimson" than the "Lucifer's Fire Engine" that makes up the rest of the scenery.
The item, by the way, is Diet Coke. I don't know if that's supposed to be a vending machine or a really big can of Diet Coke, but it is unmistakably a Coca-Cola product.
Over the puddle and past the skinless badger, that's the way to the end of the stage. Negotiating this harrowing gauntlet is harder than it looks, partly because you can't walk past that tiny blue pebble on the left of the screen. No, you can't step onto it like any normal person would, you have to jump onto it. It makes you wonder how the hell the Camelot Warrior got this far in the first place. In life, I mean How does he fare in the grand halls of Camelot Castle? King Arthur would love to make him a Knight of the Round Table, but sadly the Camelot Warrior cannot make it up the steps into the throne room and thus cannot be knighted.
I found the dragon guardian, but while I was trying to safely navigate past this owl the dragon grew impatient and incinerated me with a blast of fire. Thanks. Now who's going to bring you the Diet Coke, hmm? This owl? I think not. Bit of a cruel one, that, and to any game developers reading this, please don't have previously harmless elements of your game suddenly kill the player without warning because that's really annoying.
Once I managed to get the Coke to the dragon without being burned to death, I was transported to a castle. The castle is home to a radical ghost, who floats back and forth in a pose that makes him look like he's riding an invisible skateboard, invisible skateboards being the very pinnacle of ghost technology.
At first I thought I was trapped between the table and the pillar, but I eventually figured out that you can stand on the purple bits of the pillar and also on that suspicious yellow spike sticking out of the wall. By jumping back and forth you can make your way to the top of the screen, and avoiding the enemies while doing so was surprisingly straightforward. It wasn't easy, not when the slightest mistake means you lose a life and all your jumps have to be pixel-perfect, but Camelot Warriors is definitely getting less difficult as it chugs along. The first few screens are the most difficult by a long shot, with enemies that are (literally) right in your face and some extremely unforgiving drops to negotiate, but by the time you reach this castle the enemies are more spaced out and easier to get into a position where you can hit them with your sword.
Even the platforming sections are easier at this point, because they don't always kills you if you mess them up. Brushing against bubbles is fatal, but falling five storeys onto a granite floor? The Camelot Warrior can shake that one off. Again, this is clearly taking place on a planet with lower gravity than Earth.
Out of my way, owl - I need that telephone, I can use it to call Batman.
Quickly, Warrior! Destroy that telephone before the good citizens of Camelot are besieged... by cold-calls about mis-sold payment protection insurance!
The positioning of that chandelier really tells a tale: the tale of someone who got really fed up with changing the candles on their traditional, ceiling-mounted chandelier
Camelot Warriors is drawing to a close, and once again I'd have to pass judgement on it with the familiar phrase "it's pretty good, for a Spectrum game". Damning with faint praise? Sure, but it's more of a problem with the limitations of the system than with the game itself. It controls well enough, there's an element of exploration, there are bits of decent animation in there. It must be doing something right because I didn't immediately hate it like I usually do with games that require perfectly precise movements with no margin for error. I'd say this is one to play using a code for infinite lives, which I'm sure is out there: having to start the whole game again after making five mistakes isn't much fun, but each mistake only sending you back to the start of the screen is more enjoyable, and it's not like you're missing out on much by playing it this way.
At long last - except not that long, because this game only takes fifteen minutes to beat if you know what you're doing - I have reached the final guardian. He is the shadiest-looking king ever to rule a kingdom, holding court over his castle full of ghosts and spiders while wearing a yellow anorak, his eyes two pinpricks of light beneath his crown. He's definitely someone I want to entrust the safety of the realm to. I feel safe just being in the same room as this creepy, phantasmic royal. Just give him the telephone and slowly back away, Camelot Warrior.
That's it, with the telephone destroyed the adventure is concluded and the player is treated to the "it was all a dream" ending. It took me a while to find Johnny in this picture, but in my defence I was not expecting Johnny to be a severed head wearing a pith helmet. And look, all the objects I collected during the game are scattered around Johnny's bedroom, or the room at the care home where they look after the decapitated safari heads. That's gotta be a Coke vending machine. Actually, I think the staff have just pushed Johnny out into the hallway, the heartless swine, with the TV placed sideways so he can't see it and only a dragon's head for company. No wonder her retread into a mental fantasy.
It's difficult to fully recommend Camelot Warriors, because the hack-and-slash platform genre isn't exactly thin on competition, but I fancied playing a Spectrum game and I could have done much worse than this one. If nothing else, it has reinforced my belief that wizards are an ungrateful, spiteful bunch.