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Archon (NES) artwork

Archon (NES) review

"Conquest! That supreme notion that you have overcome your opponents, that the ground you walk on is now yours, and that all your opponents can do is cry and bleed. Ha-ha, you might laugh. My knights have cut your goblins to ribbons. My unicorns now frolic in the fields littered with the body parts of your manitcores. This is war, this is Archon. It's a strategy game that wins for being simple and addictive, despite being too easy. "

Conquest! That supreme notion that you have overcome your opponents, that the ground you walk on is now yours, and that all your opponents can do is cry and bleed. Ha-ha, you might laugh. My knights have cut your goblins to ribbons. My unicorns now frolic in the fields littered with the body parts of your manitcores. This is war, this is Archon. It's a strategy game that wins for being simple and addictive, despite being too easy.

Archon is a game originally developed by Free Fall Associates on Atari 8-bit and later adapted for the NES by Bullet Proof Software and Activision. Think of what chess would be like if the pieces fought to the death. That's Archon in a nutshell. You have two teams, light and dark, controlled by a wizard and sorceress, respectively. Both teams await your command on a chess board with a lively menagerie of mythological beasties like unicorns, trolls, golems, and manticores. Each creature can move a certain number of squares and do not have to abide movement patterns like chess. When two opposing creatures meet on a square, they are sent to an arena filled with obstructions like flames, gravestones, or disembodied goblin heads to battle it out until one is left laying in a pool of blood and humiliation. Each square has a different attribute that can give a health bonus to one side and a deficit to another. For instance, battling it out on a white square will give a bonus to the light side, but a deficit to the dark. There are also neutral squares that grant no advantages.

Each creature has different stats and abilities. Most of them fire long range attacks, though there are a few that have weak melee attacks. We call those guys “expendable”.

A winner is declared one of two ways. One is by completely eradicating the other team. The other is by strategically capturing all five of the Points of Power, which are squares that have bubbles on them. This means having to bump your opponent's leader off, as both leaders sit on Points of Power themselves. Finally, a strategy game that appeals to both psychopaths and schemers.

Both team leaders have useful magic at their disposal such summoning an elemental or reviving a fallen comrade. This helps add an extra bit of strategy and depth to the game, especially summoning and tinkering with the different elementals.

Just taking a look at the impressive line up of beasts is enough to give one a nerd boner. This is chess the way it should be, with badass creatures... and a wizard who looks like he just got back from a Klan meeting. How apt for a klansman to lead the whiter of the two teams. His piece even appears to be holding up his arm in a racist salute, perhaps calling for light power.

What makes this game work is simplicity combined with strategy.

You need to think before moving. If you just run in and start attacking anything that moves, you're going to get blasted. Expect to shed some tears as you watch some of your favorite creatures get picked off one by one. You need a plan. You have to figure out how the hell you're going to get your opponent off the squares that give him/her an advantage and pick off his/her pieces meticulously. Either that or go for the throat and take that Point of Power their leader is sitting on.

Where simplicity comes in is in the battles. All battles consist of is shooting and dodging oncoming shots. That's really all the game needs. There are no deeper complications, no traps or power ups or stipulations. It's just you and your skills, learning how each creature controls and how your opponent acts. Some of these battles can be pretty intense, filled with loads of near misses and devastating hits. It's all about the bolts and fireballs and energy waves flying past you, the startled gasps as you uncertainty grips you and makes you think you might lose, and the triumph as one of your blows lands. I've had some battles where I was down to the last hit and mounted a huge comeback and won. Others have I dominated most of the time and then lost because of a careless mistake. Then there are times where you set your golem against a goblin and laugh as the poor gob is destroyed with one hit. Or try pitting a dragon against a unicorn. Both have fast attack speed, and dodging either of their speedy attacks can lead to a lot of held breaths and relieved sighs. Of course it'll also end in someone dropping the f-bomb and another body to clean up.

Half the fun is experimenting with the different creatures. It's learning who's effective and who's worthless. You might come to find that you like the basilisk and its lightning quick attack speed and decent strength despite having such low defense, or the dragon and its devastating attack. You might also come to the same conclusion I did and find both the phoenix and the banshee utterly worthless except against the weak knights and goblins. Both phoenix and banshee have close range attacks. The phoenix bursts into flames and engulfs anything she touches, while the banshee “screams” (which is basically an aura that surrounds the banshee that does damage). Both need to be right up against the enemy in order to be effective. While the phoenix can block attacks while bursting into flames, the banshee cannot, leaving her wide open and easy to defeat. The last place you want to be is right in the enemy's face where you cannot dodge their attack.

You devise a rock solid strategy and implement it. The game still owns you now and then in the arena, and when that happens you have to rethink your strategy. Maybe you wanted a troll positioned right near the wizard to take him out. Sad thing is your troll just got bumped off by his golem. Time to rethink your strategy. One needs to be flexible to be conquerer. Conquering isn't always so easy. Not at first, anyway.

There will come a point that you will learn the computer's AI. Its motions become predictable, its tactics questionable. Despite having the computer beaten down to the point of having one last Point of Power to capture, it decides to send a goblin to pointlessly kill one of my knights. Never mind that valkyrie who's poised to impale your sorceress with her spear and snatch her Point of Power, thereby winning the game. Even in battle the computer blunders. It's aggressive enough to kill you sometimes, but its problem isn't aggression, it's the computer's motions in battle. It runs about the screen like it's on fire, making it an easy and predictable target. It'll still belt out the occasional shot, and even score a hit often enough.

All of these factor still create one big problem. Once you master playing the computer, there's nothing else. No more surprises, no tricks or extra modes. The game becomes too easy. If you don't have any friends to play this game with, then it's just going to collect dust. This is where adjustable difficulties help a lot. If this game had some harder modes, it would be more worth playing.

Archon is a solid strategy game that combines chess with murder. The two make an action-packed board game with plenty there for the strategic mind or the person who just wants to kill stuff. The latter will still have to learn to use his/her brain a little bit. Oh, but only a little. The computer is easy to figure out and defeat. Play it for the nostalgia or because you've actually found another nerd who will play with you. Don't play it for the laughable AI.

And for god's sake, skip the remake Archon Ultra. If you're going to play any update of this game, jump onto Steam and pick up Archon Classic. Oh, but that's another review for another time.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (January 05, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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