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SummaryBecause the name “Dungeons and Dragons” was already taken.
The GoodGive Interplay and Acclaim credit for acting on an opportunity when they saw it. Consoles have always been dominated by the Japanese style of RPG, so a little variety is in order. Swords and Serpents (S&S) fills that order nicely, as it is based on the more American, PC-style of electronic role-playing game. So don’t think Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy; think more along the lines of Wizardry, Dungeon Master, or even Interplay’s own Bard’s Tale series. In other words, it’s D&D on your NES.
The game’s color palette is limited, but that doesn’t really detract from gameplay. The automap view is blood red with bright yellow lines representing the walls. The first-person dungeon view is appropriately drab, and this provides a suitably muted backdrop for what is the graphical highlight: colorful and well-animated enemies. There are no real surprises in the S&S bestiary, but the traditional assortment of fantastic foes (guards, bats, spiders, goblins, etc.) is here and gets the job done. The musical theme and sound effects are good, if overused.
There’s nothing new here in terms of your choice of character classes, either. It’s really just your standard warrior-thief-mage mix, but it’s implemented well enough.
There is plentiful gold and experience to be had early on in the game. The hardcore player might complain this makes things too easy, but I think it’s a wise design choice. It prevents you from getting frustrated in the early going, and it keeps the plot (such as it is) progressing along at a decent clip.
This kind of “old school” CRPG isn’t based on plot so much as inventive level design. Fortunately, S&S has that quality. I generally don’t like mazes, but I still enjoyed working my way through the S&S dungeons. Why? Probably because the mazes *are* the game, so I never felt like I was being distracted from the story by a sadistic programmer throwing in random obstacles to my progress.
The cryptic hints and puzzles are quite clever, overall—though I admit I resorted to a walkthrough a few times, rather than spend hours trying to get into the heads of the S&S designers. You certainly could solve everything on your own, but some thought and patience would definitely be required.
The BadThe straightforward nature of the game can be its downfall. The weapons, items, and spells are lacking in variety. You don’t get to make too many interesting choices in S&S. You really just look at the stats of your swords, shields, and armor and equip the most powerful one of each.
The experience level cap is a bit low, which makes the last few levels pretty daunting, even if you take them on with the maximum XP. In fact, the pacing is pretty uneven. Combat becomes frequent and tough, but also pretty pointless, in the late game. So one of the game’s strengths—quick progress in the early going—is at least partly cancelled out by the slowness of the late game. I don’t know about you, but once I’ve broken the double-digit mark in terms of hours played, a game had better work pretty hard to keep me interested. Sometimes near the end I kept playing S&S because I had already sunk so much time into it, and not because I was still having fun.
The clever puzzles and sphinx-like clues also become tiresome near the end. This is partly because the tricks that were interesting early on start to get downright boring. I mean, come on! How many walls am I going to have to pass through to finish this thing?
As for the finish, S&S has a bit of an anticlimax. The Dragon Lord doesn’t put up that tough of a fight in the final battle, and there really isn’t much to your victory once you defeat him.
Replay value is rather limited, as S&S will be more or less the same every time you play it. Low replay value is fairly typical for the game’s period and genre, though, so I don’t really hold that against it.