Review: Archipelagos


ST Amiga Format Review

My Review

My expectation is that this one will have something in common with Sentinel, which I played and enjoyed earlier. Reading the manual and seeing talk of draining energy from stones does little to dispell that expectation. Specifically I need to destroy an obelisk, which requires that I destroy each of the stones which supply its power. Destroying a stone requires joining it in a continuous land path to the obelisk.

Squares are coloured green for land, yellow for sand, red for infected land, brown for infected sand and blue for sea. So far so simple. The manual then goes on to explain that some trees don’t move and are thus safe, while arboreal trees spin while moving up and down and move towards you, infecting land as it goes. It seems I die if I rest on a sea or sand square, or an infected square, so rest only on green. Got it. Had a first crack at it and.. yeah this makes no fucking sense. The manual is not wholly helpful if I’m honest. Time to watch someone who knows what the fuck they’re doing on YouTube. Ok.. so clicking on the rocks gets rid of them. Got it. So I start again, wander around, click some rocks and they disappear, but some rocks I can’t click. I can click somewhere to go to that location but it seems to heavily overshoot. The music (standard crappy chip tune) speeds up and becomes more dramatic as time runs down. I run out of time due to faffing about trying to click on the unclickable.

Here’s someone else’s video so you can see the rough idea.

Eventually I figure out that not all of the things I’m getting rid of need getting rid of. Here’s a shot of me finishing the first level. Only 9999 to go!

Ok so now I know that the rocks at the bottom right indicate how many I have to destroy to complete the level. That’s good information. Above that the bar indicated energy. That energy allows me to use F1 to create sand squares between islands. A second press will make a land square surrounded by sand.

The same basic process gets me through level 2..

Island 3 is similarly a single island so no land joining required. It takes me a little longer. That chip music is getting steadily creepier (or maybe it’s staying the same and it’s just getting to me more). It’s actually surprisingly good use of sound, and very very unconventional compared to what was being done in those days. I went with headphones for this as the wife is watching Masterchef and that’s ended up being quite a good decision!

Rattling through the levels I’ve not had much in the way of challenge (the main tricky bit is finding where the rocks and the obelisk are) and I’m wondering when that’s going to show up. I’m enjoying the atmosphere though, and the sheer strangeness of the game. It is definitely a game to put in the same weird category as Sentinel. 9 levels down, still not much in the way of challenge – it’s like the developers made an engine and had a great idea but didn’t know how to build a puzzle with the tools they created (and to be fair I’m not sure there’s enough limitations to your actions to make that possible).

On the potential for puzzles – I think they made a bit of a rod for their own backs having 10000 levels. There’s no way to make 10000 good levels. The second problem is that the mechanics don’t offer much scope for challenge outside the difficulty of finding the stones. You need to get rid of stones to get energy to build bridges between islands, so the most difficult it can ever be is finding an order, maybe incorporating the trickiness of building a green spot in the middle of a large gap to allow you to traverse it. That doesn’t really offer enough to create a real challenge.

On a technical level – the movement isn’t especially smooth, but like the Sentinel it doesn’t matter. The graphics are ugly and yet they evoke a strangely alien and hostile environment, and similarly the sound is technically awful but brilliantly designed. I feel like it’s a brilliant wrapping on a game that isn’t quite there.

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