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SummaryWorthy of a place amongst the adventure game greats
The GoodWestwood Studios are most known for the Command & Conquer games but RTS is far from the only genre they tried out. In 1992 they released a point and click adventure game called The Legend of Kyrandia. Though it wasn't a terrible game it was clearly their first effort in designing an adventure game and leaned more toward Sierra in terms of gameplay holdovers, and this often included the more dubious game design choices of that era: react quickly or die situations, items that are required for later puzzles can be lost or destroyed, others can be left behind after traveling beyond a "Point of No Return" while some items have no use at all, plus random trial-and-error puzzles with no hints to it in-game and one particularly tedious maze. One noteworthy novelty when Kyrandia was released in 1992 was its single cursor. Back then LucasArts was still verb building, while Sierra had introduced the rotating cursor only the year before.
Hand of Fate is an improvement in just about every way. You can't get stuck because you missed a necessary item and can no longer go back to obtain it, as here the main hero Zanthia loses almost all of her equipment at the beginning of each new part of the game. Anything that can be carelessly discarded will usually respawn near where you picked it up the first time. The amulet from the first game is replaced with a magic cauldron and Zanthia’s spellbook lays out all of the necessary ingredients for everything you need (occasionally with some word play). Inventory space is also much larger than in the first game.
Puzzles have improved as well. There's numerous puzzles with more than one possible solution. For example, early on, you need to get reptile tears. You can tickle the crocodile with a feather until he cries from laughter or make him cry with onions. Forgot the color memorization sequence in order to unlock a door? You can break the lock with a pair of scissors. There's even a couple optional things you can do like save Marco or open some letters. And here's something you won't typically see in adventure games from this time period - a hint system... sort off. You see, the one item that stays with Zanthia is the Alchemist's Magnet which draws gold from lead, but when used on most living beings it will make them tell Zanthia their innermost secrets. There are still several ways to die in this game but no cheap stuff here. The game doesn't kill you without warning and at any rate you should know better by now than to neglect to save frequently.
This game is absolutely gorgeous, featuring lush hand-painted background vistas showing a lot of imagination, rich colors and solid animation. And while the first one wasn't a bad looker at all, the forest areas re-used its backgrounds several times over, but in this game each screen is unique. The game's music, courtesy of Frank Klepacki, doesn't disappoint either, providing suitable and pleasant atmosphere for the many locations.
The first game was odd in that the tone slipped between deadly serious and slightly silly. For Hand of Fate they dialed back the seriousness of the story a bit while also making the world feel a lot more distinct and less like generic fantasy. No doubt there is a quirkier sense of humor here. The voice acting really brings a lot of personality to the characters so definitely get the talkie version. My personal favorite moment is the two nincompoop guards who won't let you in the city and start making up ridiculous reasons why: "No pedestrians on Tuesdays", "No women without goats", "No strangers in groups of one or three" and "No magicians without a note from a donkey". There's a pub full of reformed pirates who just sit around drinking root beer and hosting Pirate Poetry Nights, Petrified forest, a Yeti and his love pad. Center of the Earth is a sleazy tourist trap, filled with sham guides where the inhabitants are clearly wasting your time, playing with the frustration of the player.
Also what is evident straight away is that Zanthia is a far more interesting and likeable character than Brandon from the first game. Almost nothing she encounters escapes a witty word, a poignant pun, or an astute assertion. She's still feminine, illustrated by her desire to wear the perfect outfit in every situation, but this is dealt with in the same tongue-in-cheek manner that really sets the tone for the entire game.
The BadIf there's one thing that drags Hand of Fate down for me it is the end game. The last puzzle is an inverted Tower of Hanoi (called Anoi in-game) and believe me annoy it will. That is followed by an ill-advised action sequence - react quickly or die.
The Bottom LineYou'd think that after getting so many things right with this game that the third and final one would be the same or even better. Unfortunately that is not the case, Malcolm's Revenge is a very inconsistent game, on one hand the game's first chapter is fantastic freeform design, that gives you six different ways to accomplish the goal, while the mid-game is a mess (maze, needless randomness, trial and error) then the game picks up again towards the end.
One Westwood game that you should definitely check out is Blade Runner - a superb reinterpretation of a classic film franchise that not only manages to maintain the feel of its source material yet still stand on its own. When you start a new game, it randomly decides which of the principal cast are humans or replicants, including the main hero. The choices you make, and the timed events it’s possible to miss, will result in one of thirteen different endings. Very ambitious stuff for a game from 1997.