• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatSinclair Spectrum
DeveloperRed Triangle
Price£2.99 (excl. P&P;)
ReviewAndy and Paul

Main review

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.


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.

Second opinion

First impressions from Stronghold were that it was very well presented, with the loading screen and count down; at least you’d know if it was loading. Whilst I was viewing the Plot, I would have preferred single pages of text with a keystroke to move between them rather than the scrolling message; having the enter key start and stop the movement would have been preferable to holding the key down to pause would have been preferable. I also kept trying to press cursor down to choose next menu instead of space, again I was working without instructions, maybe the option in the game to detect and act on both keys?

I did like the language options and was surprised to see English being the first choice – the native language of the developers is Russian and I would have expected to see that as the first choice – very thoughtful for us English-speaking peeps. The graphics are pretty nice, very clean and a good use of colours, but I would have liked maybe a bit of colour within the objects, such as red and green for the items that reduce or increase the timer or maybe different colours to differentiate between the potions. Also the floor graphics were painful on the eyes occasionally, especially with the area where the walls are little rotating squares.

Well, when I first ran this (in an emulator) I was running it on a 48k spectrum. So all I was hearing was the ‘click, click’ as you are walking around… I thought there must be more, so I switched to 128K and sure enough there was – for the full experience stick with an AY-equipped machine because the ‘click, click’ does get a bit annoying after time and there appears to be no option to turn the sound off apart from muting the emulator where appropriate.

The game itself plays well enough, but I have to admit I was playing it without any instructions, so a lot of things were discovered through trial and error such as when it was possible to use a potion to destroy an enemy through a wall; initially I was stuck at the first bit where there are two enemies, I couldn’t collect the keys without being killed even when trying to collect the key and blow them up, but then I discovered how to up enemies through the walls and the nice little effect when it happens.

I also like the way that Stronghold makes you think before you actually do anything but pressured you because of the time limit and for the puzzle-minded person out there this game is ideal; fans of more action-oriented games however probably won’t find it as appealing and with only having one life and initially getting into the game being difficult I’d expect a lot of gamers could get bored with it fairly quickly. I have to admit, as a freebie I’d have it in my collection but I’d like to see a playable demo before considering a purchase.