Imagine, if you will, a game that encapsulates almost all of Greek mythology in one colourful, fast-moving, joy-stick controlled graphic adventure. Said game also has multi voice music, text, hi-res graphics effects, animation, and the ability to save the game to disk at will. Such a paragon exists, and is currently my favourite computer game despite some flaws that I will point out later. RETURN OF HERACLES (ROH) is a game with much strength and a few weaknesses.
The setting is mythological Greece in the time of the Heroes and the Trojan War. The country and all the lands about are overrun with supernatural menaces and monsters. Zeus, King of the Olympian Gods, has decreed that these menaces-such as the Nemean Lion, the Caledonian Boar, and the immortal Hydra-be destroyed. You enter, controlling one or more heroes (as many as you want up to the total number possible) to get the job done. Your characters, whether they are Achilles, Jason, Odysseus, or one of a host of others, move about the countryside fighting, collecting treasures, buying supplies and getting advanced training.
If all goes well, you and your friends will accomplish the 12 labours of Zeus and get a fabulous reward. If not, you will all die. I think you’ll agree that’s a fair set of alter- natives for a computer game. The game is transparent. The rules explain themselves. Although documentation comes with it, you’ll never have to read it. You can play poorly, but there is no way to do anything wrong. And, unlike certain text adventures where you have to find the right words or you get nowhere, you will always be accomplishing something as long as you just move the characters. The multiple screens with animated sprite graphics (in the Atari version) and accompanying music are strong aspects in ROH. I counted over 30 different sprites (player missiles) involved in the game, and most of them are animated.
Incidentally, your foes are controlled by the computer, and they are also animated, both in terms of moving on screen and in seeming to act with purpose. Having numerical attributes such as strength, vigour, speed, wealth, armour, weapons, the characters also have histories and personalities, allowing the player the true joy of role-playing with them. Although the same sprite is used to represent both Achilles and Odysseus, the two heroes behave in entirely different manners. I tend to get emotionally attached to the wily Ithakan, and try to save him, but I use Achilles as a superhero and just throw him into combat anywhere at any time. Finally, the game teaches Greek mythology. Before you are finished you participate in the Founding of Thebes, the Sack of Roy, and explore the Labyrinth of Crete. You visit the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and climb the slopes of Olympus. You earn either the favour or disfavour of various gods. You have to solve the riddle of the Sphinx. I’d like to say this was a perfect game, but the best I can say is that it’s very good. There are some weaknesses in it that slightly spoil it for me. For the most part they seem to be failures of imagination or minor errors in the research of the game designer.
1. When you’re dealing with gods, monsters, dragons, lions, boars, hydras, and the like, you don’t need to use mice, rats, blobs, and boulders as part of your monster menagerie.
Theseus didn’t have to kill rats to make his way through the Labyrinth of the Minotaur, nor did he have to dispose of any blobs. For the same amount of programming effort, Smith could have included wolves and chimerae as additional monsters; both of which would be true to Greek mythology and to the game’s theme of heroism.
2. There are a few errors in the text that are totally unnecessary. Achilles gained his invulnerability from being dipped in the Styx, not by being burned and then being restored with ambrosia. If you’re going to tell the myth tells it right. Aeneas escaped from Troy so that his descendants could found the city of Rome, not Troy as is said in the text.
3. While Greek mythology is used as the basis of the game, it is often portrayed inaccurately, and with scant attention to the importance of women in it. Helen of Troy and Penelope of Ithaka are no better than puppets waiting to be rescued. Major figures like Medea and Ariadne don’t appear at all. (Actually, Medea is in the game. You can talk to her in Colchis, but she has no active role.) There are plenty of other misconceptions and inaccuracies. Play it as a game, but don’t think that it substitutes for actually reading the myths themselves.
A few other things should be mentioned. Error-handling is superb. I couldn’t make an error with this game, except in judgment. Documentation is excellent. Thirty-one pages that thoroughly explain the game and the unusual names that you will see throughout.
ROH will give many hours of playing pleasure, as you can play the game again and All in all, I highly recommend ROH to everyone who would like a graphic role-playing adventure with an unusual flavour to it.