Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Amulets & Armor (MS-DOS) - Guest Post

This week on Super Adventures, guest poster mecha-neko is playing a DOS RPG from 1997! He rarely ever writes about RPGs, so this one must be something... special.

For a change, instead of playing something weird that I've never played before, I'm going to play something I'm very familiar with from my childhood.

Amulets and Armor title screen dos
Developer:United Software Artists|Release Date:January 1997
(re-released 26th April 2013)
|Systems:MS-DOS, Windows

This is Amulets & Armor. It's an RPG! Except it's not. It's an FPS! Except it's not. And it's multiplayer, except it's not. It's a little of everything.

I've been meaning to play and write about this game for years, but I've never felt like I'd be able to do it justice. When I was but a lad and loved playing shareware demos on the family PC (alright, I still do), I would play the one level demo of this a lot. I liked the ambience and the cartoons in Interpose, but Amulets & Armor is the game I actually played.

I only had the demo back then, but it was re-released in 2013 as a free full game for both MS-DOS and Windows, with the source code available for boffins as well. If you'd like to hear a little bit about why you've never heard of the game, click here, but I'll be focusing on just playing the full DOS version today.


Let's begin! The dramatic booming drums and synth choir demand your full attention to this very serious game. There's no opening animation or narration, but your mind kind of fills it in for you anyway. After that, we're straight into the character creation screen!

This illustration always confused me as a kid... it's a yelling guy with his arms above his head about to stab some monster-dude in the face with a sword dripping with green goo. He's got a shield strapped to his right forearm, but back in the days of CRT monitors I always thought the whole drawing was supposed to be of some strange scorpion or crab thing with a huge vicious tail.

We've got five slots for characters! So far, so very old school. Who will join the adventuring party today?

After a hard day frantically slicing up tomatoes with his katana in the ketchup factory, there's nothing that Citizen mecha-neko likes more than to slouch down in his favourite inn in his tomato-splattered tunic and glower at the other patrons.

Hmm, they've already gotten distracted enough to refer to a 'Magik' system on the left, and then a 'Magic' stat on the right. You've got to commit to one or the other!

Let's meet the cast.

There's eleven archetypes available to us: Citizen, Knight, Mage, Warlock, Priest, Rogue, Archer, Sailor, Paladin, Mercenary and Magician:

If you'll forgive me being a total anorak, here's the starting stats for each archetype.

You can't redistribute the points, so what you see in this grid is what you get. These stats are only explained in the manual, but the only place to find that is in the demo version! Or click here!


You can't see what your starting equipment will be, and some of the characters have bonuses described in their bio, but these aren't quantified in any way. Knights receive bonuses to damage done with melee weapons, while characters devoted to becoming priests gain powers of healing and protection; they can also fight reasonably well. You wouldn't think so by looking at the Priest's 15 Strength attribute. Some classes get a whole boxful of text, while the only thing we're told about Archers is that they're the masters of missile weapons.

As much as I'd like to play as one of the more potent spellcasting archetypes, they've all got rubbish equipment restrictions. The Paladin is looking good, since Accuracy and Stealth are the stats I'd chuck if I had any control, but if you'll forgive me for choosing noob mode I'm going to stick with the Citizen since he has the highest total stats and can equip anything.

Also, no custom portraits, boo!

Heavens, there's windows everywhere! My potion gauges are flickering, and the 'funky display' in the spellcasting area (as the readme calls it) is vibrating reassuringly.

I'm not liking the look of that little grid in the corner with INV, EQP, STS, OPT, COM, FIN, AMO, NTS and JNL in it... RPGs with lots of fiddly boxes like that tend to be cell-by-cell affairs, with my eyes melting and running out of their sockets before I can muster up enough willpower to figure out how to venture out of the starting town. We're also a party of one, it seems.

First things first, I should read those twenty-eight pages of notes the game has given me to begin with. Every time I switch to a new tab, more pages get shoved into the journal, as if they're being hastily scribbled down and shoved into my hands while I wander around the Town Hall menu. I'm not being thrown out into the world entirely helpless after all.

Hoooh yeah - a grid inventory! Now we are cooking! I've started with a water gourd, a banana, a carrot [+15 food, night vision +10], a portion of meat, a pineapple, some cherries, a Scroll of Identify All and two Potions of Healing. I'm not entirely certain that I didn't pick the Greengrocer archetype by mistake.

I've got a couple of spells sneaked in the back of my journal: Cast of Sand, Pull, Push, and Knock... none of which I can cast because I don't possess any runes to cast them with. Probably for the best because all I know are their names and not their descriptions. (Again, only found in the absent readme.)

On my paper-doll equipment screen, I've got a full set of Iron Leather armour, but no amulets to speak of just yet. I have an iron short sword, which I'm sure will be more than enough to fend off anyone who comes between me and the obscenely healthy picnic my character has planned.

I have a quick look through the shop, but everything is ridiculously expensive. My starting 4 Gold doesn't even go so far as to buy me any one of the three runes I need to cast my beginner spells.

"I have a job for you," declares the man sitting next to you in the pub.

"Me?" you say.

Oh, hey! I clicked Quest, and I got some dialogue! Very MegaTraveller 2!

"You are an adventurer?"

Eyeing his royal clothing you respond, "Yes ... "

The elderly gentlemen leads you into another room of the pub, "We can have some privacy here. I'm Theodoric, Regional Advisor to his Majesty."

Pulling out a few scraps of paper, he continues, "I have an important job thats requires a bit of secrety. Are you familiar with the state of the elven territories to the north?"

You know that the elves are the sworn enemies of the kingdom of humans, but no bard has brought in any new news. Shaking your head, you respond, "No. I'm afraid not."

Theodoric reads his notes, "The elves of the north pushed their territory limits forward into human lands taking over Tullian Keep. The guards of the keep were massacred. Only a few survivers made it back. They brought news that the pagan druids in the region have sided with the elves and have unearthed magical powers to quickly overthrow the king's guards. the powerful Vitorix lead the revolt along with druid elder Jugurtha."

Putting down his notes, the advisor stares into your eyes, "In addition, it is believed that the powers that made the druids so dangerous were given to Jugurtha in the form of visions."

"Uh, visions? What kind of visions?"

Ignoring your question, "In an attempt to learn more, we captured one of the druids. The zealot explained that Jugurtha keeps a journal of all his visions. This book contains the secret of all their recent powers. The prisoner seemed to imply that the visions represent an alternative future and were what caused Jugurtha to go insane. In any case, King Gregor wants this book out of Jugurtha's hands and into his."

You mull the offer in your head. Sounds like stealing.

"And one more thing, if something would happen to Jugurtha, the King would not be displeased. Their followers need to be taught a lesson"

Before you can say anything he hands you a map, "The keep has a back entrance that few people know about. In order to get to the keep, you will have to run through the small elven village T'vah here.... " He points to a location on the map. "I hear that they have blocked off the way to the Flavian Valley. You will have to figure out how to get into the valley and follow the river down to a large ridge here. Over the ridge is the back entrance to the keep. Once in, you should be able to figure it out from there."

"Well, you have had long enough to think. Are you game?"

Press the Accept button to begin your adventure.

What a wodge of text! According to the quest box, I'm the correct level for this quest, and it's described as being Easy.

Thus begins the adventure of Citizen Level 1 mecha-neko, Serviceman.

With a healthy -shproing-, I manifest on the trail leading to Flavian Valley, ready to single-handedly kill a no doubt well-defended enemy seer (who I'm a little concerned might know I'm coming, what with them being a seer and all).

The engine is very slick and pleasant to move around in. We're miles away from the flick-screen RPGs of old: this is closer to Doom in pretty much every respect. I've got reconfigurable tank controls, but to strafe requires a modifier.

I know it's dusk right now, but there's not a lot of visual contrast on the textures. Everything in these screenshots looks like different kinds of noise applied to flat, depth-less polygon shapes. It looks a lot nicer in motion.

Everything seems in order here in the barrel room on the left.

I'm surprised there's music, but music there is. It has a tounge-in-cheek-ness about it, more action than fantasy, with drums and slap bass leading the way. You get your choice of OPL-based FM music, or MIDI patches if you have a sampler, a wavetable card, or are using DOSBox. There's a whole lovely bunch of sounds emanating from the world, too - crackling fire, moving water, wind, and "Huh!"

Someone saw me?

Oof! With a mightly -splutch-, I smite the enemy archer with one USE of my very slow, very heavy looking sword. More like a dozen USEs - I can make little explosions appear all over this pre-rendered sprite man, but he won't give up without a fight.

There's no Dungeon Master-ish numbers flying out of him, so all I can do is keep on hitting until one of us dies.

Phew! The fruit is mine!

Though you roll about fluidly, Amulets & Armor is an exploration and combat game of the Dungeon Master school - rolling up to tables of knick-knacks and using my immersion-breaking mouse cursor to slurp up every single thing in sight into my grid inventory is the order of the day. Don't mind if I do!

Here's a young mecha-neko fact: this is in fact the first 'exploration RPG' I ever played properly, even before Behind The Iron Gate. Whenever I play a Bethesda-'em-up, I'm always mentally comparing them to Amulets & Armor, as if it was the progenitor of the genre. In the neko house, Morrowind was the first TES I ever saw (the series might as well have started at number III), and it always seemed like such an over-complicated murky brown horrible loading-riddled mess compared to the cartoonish pixel purity of A&A.

Shift-clicking items puts them directly into your pack without you having to manually assign them a space, and the right mouse lets me inspect stuff. Citizen mecha-neko has an encyclopedic knowledge of fruit and furniture, as you could imagine. Let's inspect my defeated foe to see if I can loot his body, or learn about his weaknesses.

Nope. Just a dead dude.

He hasn't dropped his quiver or clothes, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the bottom of a single copper coin flickering through his 2D sprite body, which I deftly added to my purse.

I've been spotted approaching this anonymous grey cube.

When I rush up the stairs and activate the creaky door to make it magically ascend, what do I see but two enemy elves! Oh no!

There might be some kind of nuance to this combat system, but with no controls other than the simple USE presenting themselves, no easy way to strafe, no stamina gauge and not enough pixels on the enemy bloke to tell what he's trying to do, clobbering him with the Iron Short Sword as fast as the animation allows is all I can do.

They're dead. This is the least stealthy stealth mission I've ever done, but I'm alive. And...!

Blink and you'll miss it!

I am now a 'Color Bearer'! I've got bonuses to all my attributes, mostly Accuracy. Not sure that's so useful since my sword sort of fills the entire screen anyway as you saw.

No other bonuses or spells or runes for me, and it's a long, long road to Level 3.

Hey! They were called 'archetypes' up to now, not 'classes'!

Unlike original Doomguy, the Citizen can jump around freely, perfect for sneaking up onto ledges and pilfering these speckled blue potions.

A&A works on that very old school rule of your character being unaware of a potion's effects until you either test it or use an Identify effect on it. These could be Potions of Greater Healing, or they could be Potions of Instantly Kill Burglar. I have a scroll that I can use to help, but the single-use scroll racket is worse than printer ink so I need to save it until I'm bulging with hundreds of mysterious, colourful jars of mystery.

These houses are fully ransacked. Let's move on!

Argh! How can he shoot me from that distance?!

Alright - here's the plan, I'm going to use some fancy tap-dancing skills on the Ctrl and Alt keys and shimmy my way up to him in a swift zig-zag movement and bash his face in with my trusty sword. I think I'd get a lot more violence done if my character used the sharp part of it rather than the wide flat part.

That blinking exit post has shades of RoboCod about it, huh?

I gathered from the Quest screen that the levels in A&A are split into individual maps that you go through in a linear order, so this must be the exit to this first part of my current quest. I can't tell if it's locked or not, but I'm not going to test it until I've rummaged through all of these grey cube houses.

A grey cube house lies unrummaged! Intolerable! Let's go!

Ugh! You'll pay for that!

These elves don't talk near enough. I want to be threatened by them so it feels better when I kill them.

The music doesn't change when you're discovered, like in Deus Ex, say. It feels like it ought to. I have a Stealth stat, after all, but it doesn't seem to do a whole lot. I don't have any way to tell my character to 'sneak' other than to turn off auto-run, and that's a step too far for me.

Argh, leave me alone would you? All I want to do is destabilise your kingdom, murder your seer and steal all your fruit!

My mouse button isn't going to thank me after this game. BUT! There's auto-fire! That's not how these old first-person RPGs typically go, perhaps to build the tension? Having folks hammer keys to repeat actions should've been a crime in the 'home micro' days where the keyboard was the computer.

As thrilling as this same battle against this same guy was for a fifth time, I was more distracted by the surreal, backwards vertically scrolling texture on the hearth on the right.

I have discovered a very helpful tactic for when there are multiple enemies: corral them so that only one guy can attack you at once. There's friendly fire, and these elves aren't the smartest tools in the house. I feel I might be spending a lot of the game doing this, like you have to in Rise of the Triad to outwit their hit-scan pistols.

There's a darkened passage to one side that leads to a downstairs area... intruiging! Go, go, go, mecha-neko! :D

Yipes! It led to an elevator platform which descended into a strange glowing lava fissure guarded by the toughest damned mage in the entire universe. I nearly died from his ugly sparkling fizzing magic attacks, and had to manically twiddle through my tabs trying to find one of my Potions of Healing, put it into the active item box, click USE to chug it, then put my sword back so I could resume the violence.

Eventually he was defeated, and dropped a mundane iron shod staff which is absolutely no use to me. I was kind of hoping for something magical, like a rune or something. Why does he get magic and I don't?

I know I saw some kind of plinth or switch down in the lava vein, but I'm nearly out of HP and need to find somewhere place to hide so my regeneration can kick in...

...

Alright, it regenerates at a rate of 1 HP per 36 seconds, so I'm not going to do that. The numerous food items I'm packing only recover my Food percentage, which is going down very, very slowly. A Thunder Rabbit I am not.

I'm going to drink my second Potion of Healing and dive back down into the lava cave like a dog-damned hero.

I could really do with a mid-quest save about now... but there are no such things to be had.

There's the switch! It's now or never! Let's see if it does a thing!

Aaargh! It teleported me to a dark altar in the middle of a spooky void!

Watch out for the near-invisible, near-invincible monks of doom.

A Duke Nukem 3D-esque switch puzzle. Alright, you're allowed one of those, game. And it is in a secret area after all.

The challenge here isn't to find the correct combination, surprisingly! These switches do open the doorway in the background, but there's a different knack that needs to be figured out. The controls really don't help here - unlike Behind The Iron Gate, you can't activate things in the world with your cursor: you can only activate things that are directly in front of you, which means a lot of tedious twitching and turning on the spot to face the correct switch.

At least my HP is slowly returning while I'm rushing between these switches and the door like I'm trying to hit Bob's-bloody-Button on that quiz show Wipeout.

Beyond the door was a pillar guarded by a monk. I think I've got him! Time for a sneak assault!

I'm going to keep my inventory open for now, in case I need to plop a potion into my USE box right quick.

Chop chop chop chop chop chop. My sneak attack didn't have any effect.

People give me funny looks when I tell them I hate playing a melee character in games, especially role playing games. Melee combat is rubbish, I tell you! It's always been rubbish. It's not fun. It's no good.

Phew. What a debacle. The monks are defeated, and I can pull the mysterious lever that's been taunting me throughout the battle.

AAAAaaaaaaaarghh...!

The switch made the central pillar start to descend, presenting a pair of scrolls for me to steal... but the stealing was not to be. The whole room started shaking like mad, and the rumbling made my character stumble directly into the ceremonial flames beside the scrolls and I burned to death.

THE GROUND SHAKES AROUND YOU!! YOU ARE DEAD. PRESS SPACE TO REVIVE YOUR CHARACTER.

Rest in peace, Level 2 Citizen mecha-neko. Apparently he has more hitpoints in death than in life, but who am I to question the ways of the dead.

YOU ARE REVIVED FROM THE DEAD.

Well, thank you! That was more straightforward than it could have been.

Oh, I see. Very funny. I've lost all my inventory items and equipment. I'm reduced to my bare, 3D-rendered fists. Even my fine collection of fruits and vegetables is still lost in that other plane beneath the grey cube fort. There's only one thing for it, I'm going to have to repeat the level, unarmed, and recover my equipment from my predecessor, if it's all still where I died and dying due to fire didn't burn all my items.

Actually, I tell a lie. I still have the runes I managed to snag in the chaos while fighting the monks. Of course, they're completely useless since these two symbols aren't enough to complete any of the spells my character is aware of.

So, hey, funny story.

When you go into the cube house and down the secret passage to the lava vein, there's an elevator that takes you down a few dozen feet to where the teleportation switch is. It's possible to get crushed by that elevator if you're standing in the wrong place when it automatically ascends to ground level.

And that's the end of mecha-neko the Second. Attempted to avenge his predecessor's death due to an earthquake-inferno combination misadventure, and ended up dying in an industrial accident before even reaching the scene.

It's gotten so dark... I didn't even know there was going to be a day/night system.

I miss my carrots. I had so many carrots. I could really use their night vision effect about now.

Hmm, looks like the elves have reappeared in that edifice over there. Let's try my unarmed luck.

CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK

I've got him on the ropes! He was even running away from me, no doubt stunned at the ferocity and idiocy of my assault, and I've got him trapped in a cycle of spinning on the spot trying to flee my mighty, inexplicably mechanical fists.

Still can't steal his clothes or weapon. Damn it!

Do your bit for the war effort, punch an elf in the crotch today.

I've found a replacement suit of chain mail armour! I must've reappeared in a different location when I revived, for some reason. It does explain where all these new elves have come from, but also raises the question of how I'm going to get back to where I dropped all my stuff. These places must all be connected if I found the level exit on my first life.

There's even a new shiny shwort shword for me to begin my revenge on the... various pieces of dangerous machinery which killed me earlier. Starting with this elf.

And CARROTS. YUM! 🐰

I've made my way back to the vibrating altar that killed my first guy, and my stuff is all piled up here waiting for me. Phew! Now I can be... exactly as well equipped as I was before I entered in this room. Spares never hurt, I suppose. And I can at last snatch those scrolls on top of the platform!

The spells live in your journal as pages like this, all mixed up with the tutorial text and any various letters you find on your adventure. It's a really dumb system, and I'm guessing you're supposed to write them down on paper for quicker reference.

Notice how I don't current possess the 'upwards arrow' or 'druidy ghost dude' runes, so this spell is just as useless as the others I own.

Oh, it was YOU. I could have sworn I defeated all the monks surrounding this temple thing earlier. Allow me to gently bat you with my sword several times while you make fizzy noises in return.

Carrying too many items is great, it means that your screen fills up with copies of the message You are slowed by the weight of your pack, and you walk slower. I don't care. I earned these vases. I stole them fair and square.

I'm lost.

The sun has fully set, and I'm left wandering around in near-complete darkness until the carrots run out. I've got no map. I teleported here using the secret passage inside the house, but there's nothing inside the temple that's letting me teleport back.

"Beyond the Elven Village lie the monuments of the Druids"

If those grey cubes I've been ransacking are the Elven Village, then I think this note refers to that temple place I got teleported to, which leads to the switch puzzle and the earthquake room. Not a very helpful message.

I've pressed space on all the faces of every column in the temple, now I'm just grinding along all the 'walls' of the surrounding forest in case any of these trees are secretly a vertically sliding door.

I made it back to the glowing posts and the door was opened already. I guess that secret route wasn't so secret after all, and the earthquake I triggered opened the exit. Text!

Let's Return to Town and sell my stuff.

Alright! That's Quest 1... In progress. I've got four more of these maps to go, and then I can claim my ZERO BONUS EXPERIENCE POINTS?!? HUH???

I've been sent on a top secret mission to infiltrate an enemy nation's fort and steal a book containing visions of the future and assassinate a seer, and I'm not even going to get any experience points for it?!

You know, readers, if this happens to you:

"I have a job for you," declares the man sitting next to you in the pub.

find a policeman.

I can finally offload all those random pots and pans I swiped along the way, and WHERE THE HELL DID MY MONEY GO? I must've missed it when I was trying to pick up the jumbled pile of pixels representing my lost items. Ugh! AND the shopkeeper doesn't even want to accept the duplicate useless runes I found. They're sold for 5g, but he doesn't buy them! What a bloody disaster!

Between my iron rods, second set of armour, and these random blue vases, it makes in total almost exactly the same amount of money I took into the level in the first place.

I'm going to buy a few stacks of carrots if the next map is going to be just as dark. Worst case, I'm out a few silver, and I have some extra food. The health regeneration runs off the food gauge... if only I could pack some coffee along with it to get my metabolism perked up so I can heal wounds within a human lifespan.

There's no way to mass buy items or auto-sort the inventory pages, yikes. There's also no way way to open multiple pages at once to trade items between them.

Visions of Jugurtha - Map 2

I think I can be forgiven for turning up the in-game gamma few notches at this point. Good call on the carrots, to be sure.

THAT TASTED GREAT!

With the gamma raised and a healthy dose of Vitamin A sloshing around my system, I can take in my surroundings. This level is marshland with a large river running through the middle of it. I'm not sure where I have to go, but my instinct says 'forwards'. It also says these wolves aren't going to let me get through without a fight.

These wolves are nobody's friend.

I got surrounded and killified by the wolves, which I thought was mighty unfair.

There's only one thing for it: rush right back out there and punch the damn beasts to death with my bare hands! And if they kill me, I'll just come right back again, and again!

I could quit and return to town, but I'm not sure what the rules are there - does it just rewind everything up to when I left the town, as if I'd never left at all?

I've found a luckless soul who died to the wolves.

Those orange objects in front of me are some rusty armour pieces. They weigh a ton, so probably aren't worth much, so I'd best leave them here. I'll take the bronze axe, though. The only requirement for wielding a weapon type is that it matches your archetype's weapon list (remember that?). If you picked the wrong archetype, there's no way to learn the ability later on - Mages, Priests and Magicians will never be able to use this axe.

And Mages, Warlocks, Priests and Magicians will never harness the ultimate power of the crossbow!

Too bad I sold all the bolts I found in the previous level, so I've only got twelve shots.

Grrrr, I'm so close to the exit... I've been trudging through this featureless, treasureless unwonderland for ages now, and all I'm finding are wolves. Wolves that take my precious bolts and give nothing in return: no perfect condition longbows that are inexplicably bigger than they are, or convenient pre-washed pelts. I'm almost out of potions, and carrots.

I know I can hit them from this lower edge if they get close enough, but they're all just milling around randomly right now. Let's try the crossbow.

The crossbow is slow, but it works. I can see how an Archer would have a smoother time with this as an option, but the thought that I'm losing money with every shot is enough to make me never want to use it. It's 6 Silver for 12 shots of ordinary ammo. Considering how many shots it takes to kill a wolf, that's about two wolves for 1 Gold. Yeah - no.

I've killed enough wolves to earn admittance into the 'King's Militia'! A few more points into all the attributes are mine, yet for some reason they're still being biased towards Accuracy and Stealth. Would've been really nice if levelling up healed me, but that is a little cheaty, so I can't complain.

It's back to holding down the USE button to whirl my sword around my head in circles like I'm a ceiling fan run amok.

"I didn't realize that traveling in this area was so dangerous." is a bit of understatement, don't you think? You died!

I lost count of how many times I died and had to pick up everything I was carrying one item at a time.

I'm not taking any chances on the carrots this time. I'll take all I can carry!

Take a look at the price of a Potion of Healing, by the way. I recovered a grand total of 4 Gold on the first map, and basically nothing at all on the last one since all the wolves left their wallets at home. The money system works in multiples of ten, so 1g5s is about 20% of my money at this point. That [+10] in the description means that this potion heals 10 hit points - yep, finishing a level almost gives me enough money to refill my health!

Visions of Jugurtha - Map 3

I materialise inches away from a hostile wolf, before I've even figured out what I'm looking at...

Splat. I died.

That's... kind of funny? It'd be funnier if I hadn't spent the entire previous level being killed in the same way by the same thing.

What happened there is that going to the Town screen between levels doesn't refresh your health. To recover your health (and go back to the character select) you have to go to the inn and rent a room. The more you spend, the more health you'll have recovered when you return to your character.

That is, if you want to return to your character. Which I don't. I've had enough.

So, what's going on here?

The game has a crappy economy that leaves you feeling weak no matter how hard you try or how many vases you steal, crappy combat with no moves and nothing you can do to affect the largely random-seeming outcome, and is presented in near complete darkness preventing you from seeing where you're supposed to go.

The engine itself is fine. I like the interface, the graphics and all the rest. The music, definitely.

I said I liked playing the demo of Amulets & Armor, so why didn't I like the full game? It should be like the demo version, except with New maps! New monsters! New spells! New quests!

The only way to know for sure is to play it!

Amulets & Armor Demo
The demo begins with a text screen describing the single Quest you can undertake:

"Exiguus the Necromancer has turned his dark arts to the task of raising an army of the Undead. You have been chosen, as the King's Hero, to stop this evil menace before the Land falls to his dark arts."

The shop is absolutely crammed with new armour, wands, potions and scrolls that weren't in the full game, at the same dizzying prices.

Come to Amulets & Armor demo land...

Assault and explore an actual castle-shaped castle! Dodge bloody wizards on the ramparts firing heaven-knows-what at you! Realise you can dial the Push spell you begin the game with on the number pad and give the bastards something to think about!

Fight for your life! Defeat a multitude of knights and wizards in the throne room! Retrieve an enchanted ring with the power of a mini-map!

Explore strange new dungeons stretching out in every direction, full of bizarre loot! Get lost unless you have the map up constantly! Sit around for thirty minutes at a time because there's no way to heal yourself after the inevitable combat!

Get killed in ambushes and death traps triggered by invisible floor plates and lose all your items irretrievably down pits!

Wait, that's not good. That's not good at all.


CONCLUSION

I think I've had enough time to understand my childhood memories of the game and put them and my new experiences into context. Here goes:

Amulets & Armor is an annoying game that isn't very good. It deliberately makes a lot of things more complicated than they have to be, but doesn't offer enough cool things for you or your character to do in return. Behind The Iron Gate had lots of different weapons to choose between, and you were constantly picking up new ones and new ammo packs and making decisions about what to use and where. BTIG's levels were agonisingly bland, but at least they were small so you were never stuck.

I spent most of A&A cowering in corners waiting for my HP to regenerate because I couldn't figure out any way to avoid taking damage. I tried playing as a Mage, and my spells were about as effective as blowing bubbles at the enemy.

I remembered how and why I managed to have fun with the demo of Amulets & Armor, and it's something that's disappeared in the full game:

When you quit to town with the Escape key in the full game, you abort the current map attempt and everything resets to the state it was in when you last transitioned between maps. This didn't happen in the demo. In the demo, as long as you were alive, you could extract yourself to the Town Hall at any time, with your inventory and equipment intact.

You could sell all the copies of the knight's armour you collected, rearrange things, buy replacement potions with the spoils, and assault the castle gates once more, even more powerful than you were before. Or, if you were feeling cheesier than month-old milk, you could rush into the throne room, grab the Ring of Mapping, and zap back to the shops for two and a half Platinum coins over and over.

The demo's castle level is so much more interesting than the first few dreary mazes you're given in the full game, but the enemies are no less lethal. In return, you start at level 6 or 7 depending on archetype, so you can take more than a couple of hits yourself, and you can find almost every class and tier of weapon if you look around the castle. The lack of healing tools makes everything very unfair and difficult, and the instant death traps are game-ruiningly stupid. But that's okay, because it's just a weird demo.

Amulets & Armor is a very poor, slow, tedious game that wants to be serious, but the demo is a strange, interesting, fast-paced explore-'em-up that seems as if it doesn't even want to be coherent. It's just brightly coloured stuff, daring you to find one of the many ways to break or subvert it.

It also helps that the demo doesn't cost $44.95!?!

Sure, it's not an outrageous price for a full game. But when you pick a price like that and you're on the shareware model, you really have to be sure that your game is 12% better than Doom.


Hi, those weren't my words up there but I'm going to thank you for reading them anyway. I'll also thank you in advance for leaving a comment below and for visiting the Super Adventures Discord. Join now for exclusive discussions with other funny, interesting people who read the site!

Like, we were just talking about four-legged chocobos and which Riddick movie is best. I'm not going to tell you what we decided though, that's exclusive content mate.

6 comments:

  1. It looks like Citizen, Rogue, and Archer are all the same ketchup man at different stages in his difficult life.

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  2. next game is breath of fire 1 I guess

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  3. That info link on why the game is so unknown is hilariously salty, what with its snide remarks about evil corporations ruling the gaming industry and having ended the era of 'garage gaming hits' (which, let's be honest, this game wouldn't have been, even with halfway decent marketing).

    The game was ambitious, but nothing groundbreakingly new... Reading mecha-neko's summary I kept thinking of games like Ultima Underworld, Shadow aster or even System Shock to some degree, and those games had already been out for several years before this game hit the scene.

    My best guess is that the developers were so convinced their game would be a hit, like Doom had been, that they insisted to get a share in every single copy sold. That's why they ended up selling the game with a Shareware model, which had already been way outdated by 1997. I know many developers don't get the laurels they deserve, and I also agree that most publishers in the gaming industry have become monstrously greedy... But sometimes indie developers and their fans shod take a step back and at least consider that maybe, just maybe, the idea that they had for their game just didn't work out and didn't appeal to others the same way as they figured out it would in their heads.

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  4. When writing posts like this, I'm constantly hounded by the thought that I'm missing something obvious, and if I played the game in a different way I'd have as much fun as the developers expect me to have. But it's not as if I was playing the game on Extremely Hard No Arrows Lots Of Wolves difficulty, or I was lowballing the game like a fool and deliberately missing enemies and running into danger... maybe it's in multiplayer where A&A comes into its own? Considering less than a hundred copies were sold worldwide, finding an adventuring party back in the day probably wasn't easy...

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    1. If I ever make a game, "Extremely Hard No Arrows Lots of Wolves" will be a difficulty option. Also it'll be set on a spaceship.

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