My History with SwordQuest EarthWorld
By Burt Wardall
Back in the fall of 1982, I was in 6th grade. I was excited about my Milwaukee Brewers playing in the World Series. I was also excited about an
upcoming brand new Atari game which promised to be an ultimate adventure. To top it off, there was some sort of contest in which you could win cash or prizes valued at $150,000! WOW!!!
That game was SwordQuest EarthWorld. And three sequels were going to follow it in the coming months - SwordQuest FireWorld, SwordQuest WaterWorld, and SwordQuest AirWorld.
Being the best Atari player in my circle of friends, I was determined to not only beat this new game, but to win that contest as well. Having logged hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing the game Adventure, I was looking forward to what I thought was going to be somewhat of a sequel to that game. I loved Adventure, and still do. It's the best game ever. I had visions of SwordQuest having an identical gameplay to Adventure, but with different mazes and obstacles. I had seen a couple of screen shots somewhere - most likely an Atari catalog. And my vision of the game seemed justified. If memory serves, there was a picture of your character in a maze, with four doors leading elsewhere. There was also a picture of what turned out to be Leo's waterfall.
Did this game look great or what?
I called my local J.C. Penney store and was able to find out when they would have the game in stock. As the day approached, my excitement grew. I was telling all my fellow Atari friends about this game. I was so excited! The night before the game was released, I actually dreamed about the game. Again, I pictured an Adventure clone. Oh what wonders awaited me the next day!
When I woke up, I pulled my $30.00 from my Tootsie Roll bank and begged my dad to get his car keys. Of course he knew I'd been waiting for this day for weeks, so it was all planned.
We got down to J.C. Penney and I rushed in ahead of my dad, telling him to meet me in the electronics section. I weaved my way through the aisles of clothes and jewelry until I emerged in front of the giant kiosk in the middle of the store which held all the Atari games.
And there it was. Behind the wall of glass was a line of silver boxes from one end to the other. It looked like no one had yet taken one from the stash. I would be the first! I would get a jump on the contest before anyone else did. Woohoo! I slammed my money down on the counter and like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" blurted out to the salesperson my desire for SwordQuest EarthWorld. She opened up the case, reached in, and set down that glorious silver box on the counter. Within moments my money was gone, and this wonderful new game was in the bag. I dragged my dad back out to the car and we headed home.
What was a 15-minute drive seemed like an eternity. But I was occupied. I carefully ripped off the cellophane wrapping and opened up the top panel of the box, revealing that familiar red lettering - SwordQuest EarthWorld. Oh the cartridge was pristine, and carried that "new cartridge smell". I pulled out the instructions. And hey... what's this? A comic book too! How cool!
I perused the instructions. It seemed like there was some sort of goal of placing various objects in different rooms. That didn't make much sense. But hey, I'd figure it out once I played it a bit.
Once we finally arrived back home, I flew into the house, ran into my bedroom, turned on my old black and white TV, stuck in the game, and powered on. And there it was. In huge letters above a giant glistening sword was the word "SwordQuest". I thought to myself, "I bet that would look sweet in color!" I pressed the button and I was off.
Ok, I'm in a room. I press the button again. There's a woman there. Ah, that must be one of the zodiac signs I read about. What could I do with her? I moved my cursor over her, pressed the button a few times, and nothing happened. But hey, she had a necklace in her room. Could I take that? Why yes I can! I took it and left.
I then tried to go in the side doors. But it wouldn't work. What's up with that? Can I go up? Sure can. Press the button again and cool - it's that waterfall room that I saw a picture of. I quickly figured out that I needed to move through the openings in the waterfalls. I made it through four of them, but kept hitting the fifth one. I tried and tried and tried, and eventually had to give up. This game was hard!
I spent the next hour or so wandering aimlessly through the game. I eventually figured out about what certain objects did. The lamp would light up the rooms with Sagittarius' spears and Taurus' horns. The key would allow me to move through the side doors - which disappointedly led me to the same rooms I'd already visited. My hopes of finding a new world there were dashed. The shoes of stealth made things quiet when I walked, but appeared to do nothing else. Sometimes the action sequences disappeared - with the exception of that wretched Aquarian rapids. That board was like Frogger from hell.
At some point I found a clue - "16-4." What was that? Per the instruction manual, I looked on page 16 of the comic book, looked in panel four and lo and behold, I found a hidden word - "spire". Ok, now we're talking! Now my enthusiasm was returning a little.
Just a little...
I soon figured out that you didn't have to do anything to find that clue, other than to start the game and move to the Aires room. Eventually I found another clue - "8-4". What I had done to trigger that, I had no idea. But in the comic book, I found the word "search". Two clues down, nine to go.
I never found the other nine.
It slowly dawned on me that this game was not only monotonous and incredibly difficult, but it was also boring. The gameplay sucked! Still though, I was very stubborn, and was not willing to simply give up. I poured over the instructions again and read the comic book from cover to cover. I was determined to find something - anything - to help me in this quest. Surely there must be some sort of clues to help you decide which objects belong in which rooms. Surely there must. Then again... maybe not.
Through repeated play, I could generally find the 8-4 clue if I played long enough. Was it triggered by the amount of time I played? Then again, sometimes I would receive both the 16-4 and 8-4 clues back-to-back. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it. In time I made a serious effort to try various objects in various rooms. I tried to think logically - perhaps Virgo got the necklace, maybe Taurus the bull gets a ring in his nose, Aquarias gets the water... yet nothing ever worked. I still remember the first day I finally made it through that fifth and final waterfall. It was the only thing I hadn't done yet. Imagine my disappointment when I found myself in the Leo room. Here I thought something special awaited me. But no, it was just Leo - a room I'd been to before. Unbeknownst to me, carrying the talisman of passage eliminates the Leo waterfall scene. So again, there was nothing new.
After a month or so of devoted playing (much more than most probably gave it) I finally realized it was not meant to be. I put the game back in the shoebox with my other games, where it began to collect dust. Every once in awhile I would feel inspired and would try to find more clues. But an hour here and hour there was all I managed before frustration took over again.
In spite of it all, I was still looking forward to SwordQuest FireWorld. When the game was released, a friend of mine got it first. And we played it. It had a pretty similar gameplay - only with different action sequences. And yet it was still deadly dull.
A part of my childhood whimsy died with SwordQuest.
Within a few years, my Atari collection grew to 153 games. I had mastered nearly all of them. But the two SwordQuest games alluded me. I never was able to find WaterWorld or AirWorld. With my sense of completion, I would have bought them if I found them. But I never did. By 1987 I had virtually stopped playing Atari and had graduated to Nintendo. And while my Atari stayed plugged in, it was rarely played.
Fast forward to 2008. In October, 26 years after my initial introduction to the world of SwordQuest, I began an Atari nostalgia trip. I pulled my Atari 2600 out of the attic and fired it up. It played great. And I had a new game to add to the collection: SwordQuest WaterWorld. I had actually purchased it off of Ebay a few years earlier, on a whim. I had researched it and knew why I was never able to find it when I was a kid. I also knew I was going to pay a lot for it. But I had extra money at the time, and paid about $130.00 for the game, the instructions, the poster and the manual - no box though. I'd thrown the game in a bag near my Atari 2600 system. And there it had sat for about three or four years - never even tested to see if it worked. Well I tried it now. And it worked. Whew!
Two months later I found myself home on New Year's Eve. Having spent the previous two months in an Atari frenzy (my collection now stands at 365 games) I decided to try something I'd been thinking about for a few weeks - beating SwordQuest EarthWorld. I knew the solution was available online. So I printed one off and sat down about 10:15 PM. I literally hadn't heard those six-toned "songs" that played when you got the 16-4 or 8-4 clues in 20 years. But I remembered exactly how they sounded. And how cool it was to here those familiar tones again. A few minutes later it got even better as I'd accomplished something I'd never heard before - a new clue! Yes indeed, the numbers "25-6" flashed on the screen.
I was well on my way!
And then came the Aquarian rapids. Is there any object that will allow me to bypass this sequence? Unfortunately the answer is no. You've got to accomplish this task on your own. 15 frustrating minutes later, I had made it. A minute or two later the numbers "13-3" flashed on the screen. Four clues down, seven to go!
Then six, then five, then four (with another trip across the Aquarian rapids) then three, then two, then one. The last clue required the most work. All 15 items needed to be placed somewhere. I decided to tackle the Aquarian rapids first. By this time my skills had increased. And I was able to make it across on my second or third attempt. Imagine my panic when I reached the top row then had to wait on an incredibly slow raft for it to reach the doorway. But it didn't disappear. I made it, dropped off the shoes of stealth, picked up the cloak of invisibility, then left with the knowledge that my 26-year quest was only moments away from being completed.
My last room was Libra - fitting since that's my sign. I dropped off the three objects, exited, then sat in amazement as the title screen appeared once again, along with the final clue - "47-5". I stared at it for a few minutes before finally pressing the button to get back to the maze. I pressed the button again and found myself in Virgo - right where my game had started 26 years earlier. But this time Virgo didn't have the necklace. She had the Warrior's sword. I quickly grabbed it and added it to my inventory. I felt so proud!
The game played on with nothing else to do. The ending was quite underwhelming. But hey, I didn't care. I had beaten it! I then decided to go around and collect all 16 items and place them in one room. I had done this many times years earlier, but had always lacked that one final object - the warrior's sword. But now they were all there. It was 11:35. My journey had taken roughly 80 minutes. And on December 31st, 2008, this 37-year-old had recaptured some of that whimsy that he'd lost from his childhood.
SwordQuest FireWorld... you're next!
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