Ultimate has a lot to answer for. By being so good, its programs spawned a whole new genre... Imitate - Plagiarise the Game. Firelord isn't a 3D clone, thank Knight Lore, but goes back further to the savage days of Sabre Wulf.
For those without long memories, that means that it's a multi-screen maze game. Very 'multi', with 500 plus screens, a host of meanies and lots to pick up in your perambulations. And the one thing that makes this deja-play tolerable is that it's written by Steve Crow, who seems to have a knack when it comes to imitating the Ashby crew.
Plot-wise, Firelord sets Sir Galaheart on a mission to seek out the sacred Firestone (though why he should want a holy car tyre I have no idea) and return it to the dragon. This means he'd better get a move on and though he's already got his drag on, he needs a weapon, which he'll find lying around the medieval highways and by-ways.
Life in the Middle Ages was nasty, brutish and short (rather like the Ed) but at least it was pretty too, and as you wander the country lanes, or stroll into town, you'll benefit from some attractive scenery.
But the hottest thing about Firelord is its trading element. You can walk into some houses and sit down for a bit of bartering with the occupant. Of course they may not want to sell their magic supplies or information for the hall eaten ham sarnie that you're offering, but you can always try a tittle light fingered theft ...
Life in medieval Britain obviously progressed at a more gentle pace, and though I quite enjoyed this, my feelings are that it's pleasant rather than powerhouse. It has an olde worlde charm that could soon wear off, unless you're really into the game type. In that case, it's got some novel twists, but personally I'd have preferred something rather more original from Hewson.
When a programmer who has recently had the honour of being named Programmer of the Year moves almost instantly to a new software house, the accusations tend to fly. Although Bubble Bus must surely miss Steve Crow, his move to Hewson must be considered reasonable. What Crow had to do was to make sure that his first game was as good as his last, Starquake, and that would be no mean feat.
With Firelord, he has produced an arcade adventure of such depth and quality that he must now stand alongside any of the top programmers in England. The game is set in the medieval lands of Torot, where it is your task to seek the sacred Firestone and return it to the dragon's safekeeping. That may sound an easy task for a super-hero like Sir Galaheart but unfortunately the evil Queen will not take kindly to his actions.
To obtain the Firestone it is necessary to collect the elements of the spell of eternal youth and then trade them. At the beginning it is necessary first to obtain the enchanted crystal, as that will allow you to shoot everything in sight.
As the game unfolds it becomes apparent that its important aspect is bartering. As you enter each house, owned by peasants, witches and wizards, you can see items which they are willing to swap. If you have other items, trading can take place. The more dodgy players will also find that stealing is not too difficult, so long as you are quick.
As you gain spells, the game unfolds even more and you soon learn how to travel round the land and what is where, but with more than 500 screens, even the most dedicated fans will take a time to complete it.
Overall, Firelord is a tremendous success and it goes even further to establish both Crow and Hewson. The only question left to ask is how can the games continue to improve so dramatically?
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