Excuse me a moment while I pick myself up off the floor and dust myself down, surprised at the fact that I'm reviewing a Spectrum game that isn't a bog standard shooter, flick screen platformer or single screen puzzle game. Extra points to Russian developers Red Triangle right at the start then for trying something different! So, what is this Cronosoft release, Stronghold, about then?
Stronghold is a medieval type role playing game cum arcade adventure and as such has the usual back story involving wizards and warlocks who dabble with magic, unleash evil on the world, thus requiring a 'hero' to clean up the mess. This translates into an overhead viewed game in the style of arcade classic which is a favourite of mine Gauntlet with walls, locked doors, keys, enemies, transporters, potions and so on. Unlike Gauntlet, however, Stronghold isn't a frantic chase and blast affair. In fact it has overtones of another favourite game of mine from bygone years, Chip's Challenge on the Atari Lynx (highly recommended by this reviewer) which, for those who haven't played it, is a thoughtful, addictive, overhead puzzle game with walls, locked doors, keys, enemies, transporters... are you spotting a pattern here?
Generally, Stronghold is relatively well presented. When the game first loads, there is a nice animated tutorial sequence where the game shows you the features you will encounter and there are quite a few options in the menu system for changing control modes and key layouts. The grey, monochrome in-game graphics, while portraying the action sufficiently, are no match for loading, title and intermission screens which are stunningly colourful! The play area is rather small for my liking; yet another case of the status panel being given equal status to the gaming area for some reason and the size of the clock! Huge! Like why? I'd gladly exchange a larger play area for a smaller clock, but then I'm funny like that I guess... sound wise, the 128K version of the game benefits from a passable if forgetful tune, otherwise both 128K and 48K versions are silent apart from a really annoying click clack beep type sound which is supposed to double for the footsteps of your on screen character. I think not; down goes the volume.
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The actual game play is quite simple and consists of making your way through the various rooms, collecting keys to unlock further rooms, while avoiding or killing the various enemies using potions, while collecting keys to unlock further rooms, while avoiding the various enemies, while collecting keys to unlock further rooms, while avoiding the various enemies, ad infinitum. The puzzle element kicks in when you have to determine the order in which to either collect or destroy - it's sometimes fine to collect keys outright, but on occasion you must destroy nearby enemies first. This can even be achieved through walls, so try that when all else fails! All in all, proceedings can be a bit trial and error. Don't forget that previously mentioned huge clock counting down - you play against the clock, so get a move on! One aspect that is unforgivable in my opinion is the way you can become trapped in a room after making a wrong move or choice, with your only option being to quit and start over - a little soul destroying after it has happened a few times.
So, overall, what's on offer here is a fairly slow Gauntlet or Chip's Challenge wannabe that ends up being rather linear in nature. Don't get me wrong, Stronghold isn't a bad game at all; it's well programmed and provides a decent enough challenge, but it's just boring or at best, average. Moving from screen to screen, collecting things and killing things at a pedestrian pace just doesn't get me excited I'm afraid. Add to the fact that this game isn't a free download; yes, it's only a few measly pounds from Cronosoft, but to get my money you have to ensure I'm going to be playing for a good while and not be falling asleep after a few hours.