Ring of Power (Commodore 64) review
"To the modern day gamer, the concept of the "text adventure" game genre may be difficult to understand. Without any graphics to go with, and with typed commands being the only way to communicate with the game, the genre will probably appear bland and boring to those who didn't experience it firsthand. Nonetheless, text adventures have been huge throughout the late seventies and early eighties, and Ring of Power is but one of many. Admittedly, it's not nearly the best one - certainly no competito..."
To the modern day gamer, the concept of the "text adventure" game genre may be difficult to understand. Without any graphics to go with, and with typed commands being the only way to communicate with the game, the genre will probably appear bland and boring to those who didn't experience it firsthand. Nonetheless, text adventures have been huge throughout the late seventies and early eighties, and Ring of Power is but one of many. Admittedly, it's not nearly the best one - certainly no competitor to Zork - but it's enjoyable and worth investing some time in.
The story of Ring of Power isn't very complicated; your objective is to become king by claiming the ring waiting in the currently vacant palace. But to do that you'll have to get there first, as well as collect a number of treasures scattered throughout the realm. Standard "bring X items to location Y" text adventure fare, nothing noteworthy, but functional. Gameplay is like what you'd see in any other text adventure: the program tells the player where he is, what he sees, and where the exits are, and then it's the player's turn to tell the game what he wants to do next: move in a certain direction, pick up or drop items, that kind of thing. Ring of Power actually has a fairly limited choice of words; its room descriptions are terse and player commands are limited to specifying an action and, optionally, an item. Think "Take lamp", "Fill bottle", "West".
As is typical in an adventure, using the proper items in the proper place is necessary to proceed, so the player spends his time finding keys to open doors with, lamps to light his way, weapons to chase off enemies, and so forth. Ring of Power isn't very complicated in terms of what the player can do, which can be a bit of a letdown in puzzle difficulty but is an advantage in the sense that you never have to worry about the exact grammar needed to get the game to do what you want. Using an item to pass an obstacle is usually just a matter of dropping the item in the room where you need it.
Speaking of obstacles, Ring of Power provides a healthy mix of "classic" ones like the aforementioned locked doors and dark areas, and a bunch of interesting, original and occasionally quite amusing ones. To give a few examples without spoiling too much, at one point the way is blocked by a bunch of confused French tourists who desperately need a guidebook, and at another point you suddenly come across a customs officer who won't allow you to pass with certain necessary items (like a bottle of booze) in your inventory. The world of Ring of Power is not very logical and you come across some rather strange places, but at least there's no complaints about variety.
There are, however, complaints about the game's speed. Ring of Power typically requires quite a bit of time to interpret player commands, sometimes up to 20 seconds, enough to make you wonder if the Commodore just crashed on you or if it's still thinking about the finer points of "drop oil can". Only to find out, after those 20 seconds are up, that it interpreted 'oil' as a verb and was therefore confused if you wanted to drop something or oil something. If you can decipher that problem from the cryptic return message "Oil - what?", that is. In other problems, Ring of Power does have a few bugs, including giving you certain location-specific messages when you're nowhere near that location ("The dwarf keeper says? What dwarf keeper?"), money that runs out without the item actually disappearing ("I have a stack of coins right here, why can't I pay?"), and a pawn shop that is horribly broken and can make the game impossible to complete if you try to use it. The idea of said shop is to trade one item for another - presumably to trade off some of the game's useless items for some that you need but weren't able to find - but all it does is give you lots of waiting time as the game thinks and thinks and thinks about every transaction, and after that it produces duplicates of items that take up space in your inventory but give a "you don't have it" message when you try to do anything with them.
But the problems are fortunately few and far between and mostly you'll be able to concentrate on the game. It takes a fair bit of imagination to enjoy Ring of Power, as it comes without sound and graphics are very sparse. All items have a small sprite associated with them, but those aren't very detailed; just good enough not to detract from the game, but certainly not drawing you in. You can also have the game draw crude pictures of every room you come in, but these all look alike and take so long to draw that you'll turn this feature off very soon and rely only on the textual description. And those, unfortunately, are very terse. No long inspired storytelling like you see in many of Infocom's adventure titles here, unfortunately.
All in all, Ring of Power has trouble rising beyond the status of "just another text adventure". It gets some points for some of its original obstacles, but loses those again for a lackluster atmosphere and overall slow gameplay. For those who have never played a text adventure before, this would not be the best place to start; better to go for one of the true classics, such as Zork. Those who simply do not enjoy the genre need not apply in any case, and will probably be bored with Ring of Power within 10 minutes of play. But those who are already into text adventures can probably look past the game's flaws and focus on its good points, and get a couple of enjoyable afternoons out of it. And, of course, another title to add to the list of completed games.
Community review by sashanan (June 19, 2009)
Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.
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