SwordQuest EarthWorld

By Raymond Dimetrosky (Electronic Fun November 1982 pg 67)

 

It's clear the reviewer didn't even see FireWorld let alone play it, especially since the game wasn't released until February 1983.

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By Jim Gorzelany (JoyStik April 1983 pg 53)

 

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By Ken Uston (Video Games January 1983 pg 67, 68)

 

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By Scott Stilphen

 

The first time I heard of or read about Atari's SwordQuest contest was from the September/October issue of Atari Age.  The captivating artwork by famed comic artist George Perez was enough to have me jumping right to the article it was referencing, which was a good thing since there was no mention on the cover or even in Editor Steve Morgenstern's "Captain's Log" column - apparently the BIG news that issue was the discount prices on Atari's already overpriced items.  Near the back of the issue, 2 pages were devoted to SwordQuest, and the best hyperbole Atari's Marketing department could create.  The first game in the 4-game series, EarthWorld, promised "a new dimension in video gaming" and boasted of being "the first true action/adventure game - a cartridge which carries players into a captivating saga of fantasy and heroic drama".  Well, how could anyone resist THAT?  Sure, the prizes sounded cool, but I'm pretty sure they weren't the real reason I wanted in on this contest.  What exactly would a pre-teen do with $150k in jeweled prizes, other than sell them .. and buy $150k in games :)  Nevertheless, even though adventure/puzzle games were not my forte, I had to try.

EarthWorld boasted some impressive visual effects.  The title screen was certainly the most impressive one in any VCS game at that time, and your character was a nicely-animated 4-color man - a step up from the blocky Superman characters.  Walking between doorways was another special effects treat, as you saw the next doorway "zoom up" as though you were walking up to it in a first-person POV, as this unique "walking/shuffling" melody plays.  Just walking around would eventually give you your first (and in my case, my only) clue needed for solving the game.  This resulted in another fantastic graphics display, along with a snippet of music.  What EarthWorld didn't boast, however, was a fun and engaging game.

The game is comprised of 12 rooms (each one being one of the signs of the Zodiac) that contain a total of 15 different objects (a 16th object, the Warrior's Sword, is not used and is only available once you find all 11 clues).  4 of the rooms featured a mini-game that had to be beaten in order to gain entry within - 3 of which can be skipped if you're holding the right object.  All 4 are very basic games, and involve nothing more than running from one side of the screen to the other, either dodging objects or jumping on them.  If you've played either Frogger or Freeway, which most people had even at that point, then would have already be bored with them, and I was.  Of the 4, the roaring Leo Waterfall skill+action test is the most impressive (both auditory and visually), and require you to run through gaps in increasingly-widening walls.  The Charging Taurus Horns Sagittarius Spears tests involved dodging dots and dashes and are similar to dodging cars in Frogger or Freeway.  The Rafts in Aquarius are probably the most frustrating and are similar to hopping on logs in Frogger, with the rafts constantly changing speed and shape every other second.  Each time you jump to a raft, a note plays that is lower than the previous.  3 of the tests can be made easier or bypassed altogether, provided you're carrying the right object; the one you can't skip past is of course the most-frustrating one.

In order to solve the game, you need to find the right combination of rooms and objects that unlocks all 11 clues.  As I mentioned, the 1st clue is given to you.  Through trial-and-error, you can find the next one by putting all the objects in one room, and then moving them all to the next room, until you trigger it.  The next clue involves 2 objects and 2 rooms.  The next 2 clues involve 3 objects and 3 rooms.  The final clue involves all 15 objects and 9 of the 12 rooms.  To borrow a former advertising line from Atari, if you 'do the math', the sheer number of combinations to try, combined with the time needed to simply move the objects around make solving the game with brute force a daunting task, and I'm certain I speak for 99.9% of those out there in saying there's no game in the world enjoyable enough to make anyone want to try.  So how was it that 8 people submitted the right answers for the EarthWorld contest, especially when only 5 of the 11 clues were valid?  The key to the whole thing was the comic book that was included with the game.  In fact, most everyone who made it to the contest playoffs had only found one clue - the clue the game gives you!  For you see, each clue refers to a specific panel in the comic which contains a hidden word in the drawings themselves.  If you took the time to sit down and carefully look at every panel in the comic book, you'd eventually find all the hidden words - that is, all but one.  Clue #9 - one of the valid ones - was actually not hidden but simply a word in the text that was in boldface.  Only those who really analyzed the comic would have noticed one word that was in bold out of context.  Even without the game, it was possible to deduce the solution from just the comic, which really undermines the whole reason for buying the games in the first place, not to mention the new dimension in gaming we were promised.  People spent nearly $40 for a game (SwordQuest Earthworld's retail price was $37.95) that not only wasn't fun to play, but ultimately wasn't needed for the purpose it was created for!  Quite frankly, for a company that was a leader in the video game business both in the arcades and in homes, and was known for creating new genres and innovations in games, I would have expected more from Atari besides some graphics demos and glossed-over variations of Space Race (a game Atari released in 1973 that was a forerunner to games like Frogger and Freeway).  Sadly, this only became more clear with the 2nd game.

For more SwordQuest information, check out the SwordQuest Archive of Adventure and SwordQuest Revisted pages.

 


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