An owl calls in the night. The mistletoe twines around an old oak in the clearing. Suddenly a prolonged shriek cuts the Celtic mist! Rachael is loading her Spectrum again!
While we're all currently gaunt-less, everyone is throwing down the gauntlet and producing multi-player games. Everyone, it seems, except Firebird who doesn't appear to think that we Spectral types have friends. But more of that in a minute. Meanwhile, back in the clearing.
Dressed in her white robes, bewitching Rachael takes charge of Dafyd the daffy Druid and guides him through the labyrinthine woods in search of mystic caskets. A-maze-d at the fact that the trees form such sharply defined passages, there's little time to think as ghosts, ghouls and crawlies of the creepiest kind bamboozle our bearded bard.
Luckily our holy man is armed with an arsenal of elemental spells. This is a real pain in the arsenal for the supernaturals who can only hover around sapping strength and getting zapped.
But it takes a little science to survive as a druid. Some spells are better suited to certain foes than others, so if you don't want to waste time and energy, find out what swots what.
Our be-robed Rambo doesn't pack an endless supply of magic either, but by searching out a well-slacked chest he can replenish his three missile spells or stock up on specialities, such as Key or Chaos.
This is where the second player comes in. One spell is for Golem, a big dumb wandering brute who acts as reminder to our hero. Big and dumb... oi, Gwyn, cm'ere! But hang on... the two player option isn't available on the Spectrum. You can only control Golem in the auto mode, with Wait, Follow and Send commands. Better Send boyo away and struggle on.
Nope, it just doesn't work! I've seen this on the Amstrad and it's a lot of fun with a friend bopping the beasties, but playing with yourself just isn't as satisfying. For one thing, you've not got time to order Golem into a suitably offensive position. It's all rather Gauntlet... but without the - let.
Quite why Firebird failed to include the two player option I have no idea. Perhaps now it's seen that the Plus Two includes two joystick ports it'll think about updating it. Because until it does, I don't wish to be ruid, but Druid lacks any sort of magic.
If the thought of waiting almost two months to buy the official version of Gauntlet is too much for you, the latest release from Firebird might be just the medicine you need. Although not so close as to attract the wrath of Atari, it still maintains the immense playability, as well as some more obvious features, of the original arcade machine.
Using a multi-directional scrolling screen, Druid combines a true arcade feel with an atmosphere not dissimilar from the early Dungeons and Dragons board games. The object is to travel through various levels, reaching the exit, and using the keys you have collected to complete the game.
Although unlike the original Gauntlet, no more than one player can play a whole game. At certain points the player can pick up an object called a Golem. He acts as a defensive helper who, although he is unable to fire, can kill any baddies by walking through them. If you have a friend, he can control the Golem but, even on your own the Golem can prove extremely useful.
Other objects which can be collected include Chaos, which acts in the same way as a smart bomb would. Invisibility - an extra firepower for each of the three weapons you use - water, fire, and electricity. The length of your game depends on making the most of the energy with which you are supplied, or getting to the five-pointed star which re-vitalises your energy.
Perhaps surprisingly the Amstrad version is as good, if not a little better than the Commodore version, with the graphics being exquisite. All the levels I have managed to see - getting past level three proved to be almost impossible - are of equal quality, with excellent definition of all the backgrounds.
One thing to look for on both Commodore and Amstrad versions are the amazing loading screens. Originally done by ace 64 artist Bob Stevenson, the Amstrad version has a very creditable look-alike done by the game's programmer.
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