PC games back in the day were leaps and bounds ahead of console games in terms of complexity and storytelling. Our family purchased our first PC back in 1992 as my mom was going to night school; an IBM PS1. Since I was a big fan of the NES and it’s library my mom went out and picked up a few PC games for me to enjoy. I didn’t know anyone who owned a PC at the time so the new world of computer gaming was completely unknown to me and I had no idea what to expect. I’ll never forget what it was like the first time we inserted a floppy disk to boot up a computer game and I can sum up the experience for you in a single word: shit.
I was acclimated to console games and the instant nature of the cartridge format. You slammed an NES cart into the slot, shut the lid, pressed power and the game fired right up. Well, theoretically it did. Of course after owning the console for awhile you had to blow into the cartridges and wiggle it around a few times to stop blinking a grey screen or glitching out on you, but the point is that once the game started there was no interruption in the game play. The first time we loaded up a game on a floppy disk I couldn’t believe the process. It took what felt like an eternity as the computer made loud humming noises and the light indicating the floppy drive was at work kept blinking and flashing. Time continued ticking as the computer struggled to load the title screen. Yes! Finally! Push the enter key to begin. Ok. Oh fuck. Now it’s fucking loading again! There goes another 40 seconds of my life. As for the games themselves, they were nothing like the reflex tests I was used to on the NES. All of the games I had were more of a cerebral experience expecting the player to be inventive and cunning rather than fast and responsive. I thought the entire format sucked and I shrugged off PC games for a few years.
One of the games my mom picked up for me at the beginning of our PC age was a classic Sierra point and click adventure; The Legend of Robin Hood: Conquests of the Longbow. When my mom brought it home a friend of mine was over and he read the box as “Robin The Legend of Hood”. I laughed at him even then. Dumbass. In those days they say you could tell how good a PC game was going to be by the weight of the box. A heavy box meant it was full of books, maps, manuals, and tutorials which indicated that the game would be a masterpiece of the electronic age. This box was quite heavy as it did have several game manuals, histories, and even an included physical board game to play Nine Men’s Morris which is featured in the video game as well. It was so large that it required SIX floppies! I couldn’t wait to see it in action. After installing the game we booted it up and I had no clue what the hell was going on. As stated earlier, I was used to the fast paced action of NES side scrolling games so this point and click dialogue based adventure didn’t have a prayer. I put it aside for several years.
Later when I was in middle school and started exploring the options and intricacies of the computer world I gave this game another chance. I was hooked. I wasn’t used to playing something that didn’t have any real boundaries and revolved so heavily on a progressing tale. Sure there are some arcade elements in the game but on the whole the objective is to take the necessary steps to watch the story unfold without falling into one of the patented Sierra death traps. This game is much more forgiving than the earlier Sierra titles but there are still instances where you can screw up the means of progressing further in the storyline by giving away the wrong item early in the quest. At that point the player has no option other than to begin the game anew.
Robin Hood is a famous tale so I’m sure everyone is familiar with the basic premise of the story. This version does have a few interesting twists and the dialogue is clever and well written like most of the Sierra action adventures. Since the game is so story driven I don’t want to divulge any spoilers for those who may be interested in trying it out. I will state that progression in the game is impossible without a few resources. Software piracy was a real hot button issue in the industry back then and a lot of “puzzles” had asinine solutions. For instance, a common theme was “what is the 43rd word on page 17 of the game manual?” Such questions were meant to make the game unplayable to anyone who did not have copies of the included manuals and books that came packaged with a retail copy of the game. Although Conquests does not have any puzzles that blatantly absurd, several of the solutions do require the use of the included lore books. Puzzles involving the trees in the game fall back on the druid studies and beliefs in an included manual as well as gem stone lore and a diagram detailing how to communicate by pointing to areas on the hand and fingers. Without access to these materials it is impossible to progress further in the game.
Sierra games were notorious for their instant deaths that required a degree of trial and error. This game is no different although it isn’t as blatant as earlier games. There are 4 possible endings in the game ranging from Robin getting hanged for his crimes to being granted nobility and the Maid Marrian’s hand in marriage. Finishing with a perfect score to get the best ending on the first play through is quite unlikely due to the subtlety of accruing some of the points. Personally I always enjoyed picking the worst option at all crossroads in the game and reading the dialogue of the angered subjects you’ve abused. Every character you interact with becomes a witness at your trial at the end, and some of the testimonies can be quite hilarious. Since there are four possible endings this game has tremendous replay value.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Sierra games, the control is quite simple. A series of icons can be selected through a menu or scrolled through by clicking the right mouse button. Icons include an eye, a hand, a walking icon, a speaking icon etc. By selecting the proper icon and clicking on an on screen graphic, Robin will act according to your wishes. For instance, selecting the eyeball and clicking on an object will result in a pop up window describing the physical appearance of the object you’ve clicked. Clicking something with the hand will result in Robin attempting to take it or interact with it by pushing or pulling it. Quite self explanatory really but very effective. It was a much better system than the earlier Sierra games where the user had to type in the game commands.
Fortunately PC games never really die and this one is no exception. The game’s creator Christy Marx has made the game freely available for download on her website along with the required visual materials. Abandonia, a website dedicated to older PC software that is no longer being supported also has resources and coverage of this title available. If you’re a fan of the Sierra style games and haven’t tried this one I highly recommend it. If you played it back in the day like I did I would urge you to dust it off and give it another go for old time’s sake.