Scrolls/Rainbird, £19.95 disk only
Magnetic Scrolls are the blue-eyed boys and girls of the adventure scene in Britain these days. They came on to the market with a strong adventure programming system and a non-Middle Earth approach to fantasy, at the same time as Level 9 were struggling to improve their own system and, with two compilations of older games as their more recent product, appearing to be in something of a dead-end. Both companies have moved ahead since then and Jinxter is Mag Scrolls' third game, following on from the Pawn and Guild of Thieves. It's a tricky game to evaluate - technically competent, but with a game scenario that seems slightly in conflict with the way it's presented.Guild of Thieves was successful largely because of its simple plot - get as much treasure as you can - whereas the Pawn lost support with some players (and gained it with others) because of its rather enigmatic storyline and quirky sense of humour. Jinxter appears to be a mixture of the two - the task is very straightforward, but throughout the game there are intrusions of typical Magnetic Scrolls quirkiness. The company obviously think this gives everyone the best of both worlds, but of course it depends on your taste...
On the bottom level, there's a simple storyline - the Bracelet of Turani has gone missing, together with the five magic charms that were originally attached to it. Because of this, the power of the Green Witches of Aquitania, previously held in check by the bracelet, has been allowed to grow to the detriment of life, the universe, and everything. Your task is to find the charms, reassemble the Bracelet, and kill the arch-baddie, Jannedor the Witch.
Sounds simple enough, but around this Magnetic Scrolls have built a very complex, quirky scenario. First, the Green Witches are draining the luck from Aquitania, so everyone is suffering from severe and repeated doses of ill-fortune. Second, there are a bunch of Guardians - members of ARSE, the Association of Registered Stochastic Executives - whose job is to protect adventurers like yourself from sudden death. These Guardians form the core of the humour throughout the game. Although Immortals, they eat cheese sandwiches, have pot-bellies, drink Old Moose Bolter beer, and constantly use the words "narmean", "wossname", and "werl". They are all called Len, and you can read about their moans and groans in the copy of the Independent Guardian that comes with the game. The real function of the Guardians (as mentioned in the Pilg Preview a couple of issues back) is to extricate the novice player from difficult situations where he/she would otherwise lose a life and have to start again. This is an excellent idea because it enables a player to explore the game thoroughly, effectively by-passing some of the more difficult puzzles. Of course, to get maximum score you have to solve them properly, but the Guardian is always there to rescue you from a tight spot.
Unfortunately I didn't find myself laughing much at the Guardian style of humour. The fact that ARSE was incorporated during the reign of King Willy the Bit Childish didn't have me reeling with hysterical laughter, nor did the rest of the Independent Guardian newspaper. This shouldn't matter at all, but I felt that the tone of the humour overshadowed the game itself.
There's no doubt, however, that it's a stunning adventure from the programming point of view. Practically every object has a witty and enlightening description, whether it's needed in the game or not. There are several different ways to solve some of the puzzles (one or two of which are very difficult indeed) and there is a wide range of locations, from a train station, to a fairground, to an under-water stronghold. Moving about the game is a constant pleasure of discovery as you find different uses for the many objects you discover.
What's more, there's an element of magic (for the first time in a Magnetic Scrolls game). Each charm has a corresponding spell which, if you have the charm, you can cast on objects to aid you in your progress. The five spells available enable you to freeze and animate objects; make them come back to you if lost or dropped; summon rain, and make the sun come out. You'll need to use each charm at least once to complete the game. Magnetic Scrolls' games score, in my opinion, when compared to Level 9 first in the amount of attention they pay to the description of objects and people and secondly in their use of relative positions. This means that you can not only examine the table, but you can also look under it, on it, or even behind it. All this helps to build up atmosphere, making progress enjoyable as well as challenging.
Jinxter is an excellent game, but somewhat overclouded by a forced sense of humour that weakens the overall impact of the package. It's not too difficult to complete if you take the simplest solution each time and rely on the Guardian to get you out of trouble, but for the experienced player there's a lot to do and one or two very tricky puzzles indeed.
Magnetic Scrolls Parser
Both Level 9 and Magnetic Scrolls have been busy updating their parsers over the past couple of years. Here's what the authors of Jinxter offer you:
Complex containers - you can put bottles containing milk in cases, or even the beer in the blue bottle into the green bottle.
GO THROUGH, ENTER, LEAVE, SIT DOWN, SIT ON, GET OFF
Relative positions - in, on, under, behind...
Ultra-complex commands - GO SOUTHEAST AND GET THE HARMONICA AND THE BOTTLE THEN GET THE KNIFE THAT IS ON THE TABLE AND USE THE KNIFE TO CUT THE SANDWICH
Use of pronouns - IT, THEM etc. You can check what a particular pronoun is currently referring to by typing PN or PRONOUNS.
AGAIN repeats the last command.
Z waits - other abbreviations include L, I, and DR...
SCORE tells you how lucky you are, and what your score is out of 205.
Communication with other characters, as in ASK LEN ABOUT THE SANDWICH.
8 directions plus UP, DOWN, and IN
Effectively this puts Mag Scrolls on a par with Infocom. Level 9 have stronger character handling facilities in their parser but lose out to Mag Scrolls on the relative position front and the use of ultra-complex commands including pronouns. Don't forget, however, that what really determines the success of a game is the design of the story-line, not the power of the parser. Unless you can really weld the strengths of your parser to the ingenuity of your scenario, you're going to expend a lot of programming effort for nothing. A good example of this is Level 9's game Knight Orc, which has dozens of independent characters, who can do almost anything the player can, but who can often simply be a pain in the neck!