At the risk of sounding flighty; if computer graphics are the artistic media of the late 20th Century, MicroProse is Monet. Not because it is French (which it certainly isn't) and starts with the letter 'M', but because, over the last year, it has been painting its broad games canvas with Impressionist flair. It all started with the graphically gorgeous Phantom Of The Opera: a fun but money-wastingly simple game which MicroProse marketed as an 'atmospheric' beginners' adventure, relying more heavily on 'look' and 'feel' than on game-play. At first sight, Dragonsphere for cd-rom has moved beyond even this with its sumptuous packaging, including disc and manual in a hard-backed, children's bedtime book. The graphics surpass even Phantom's high standards - all pastel colours, rich in texture -and the animation is luxuriously smooth.
MicroProse calls its new generation of puzzle-solving romps AGAs (Animated Graphic Adventures), which the company informs us have been compared to interactive movies, tv shows and books, although they like to avoid this type of comparison. Good thing too.
All game producers should currently avoid this, as the real interactive movie (non-linear, full motion video of real actors) is an awfully long way off. MicroProse does, however, call its animation style Cinemagraphics, and I can't complain at that. Dragonsphere portrays some of the smoothest sprite movement I've ever seen on a pc game. All sprites are scaled, which looks impressive when your sprite walks across the great expanse of desert going from 'jolly big fella' to 'indistinguishable blot on the horizon'. All non-interactive sequences are beautifully fluid, feature-length and cartoon-like (try jumping down the well to see what I mean).
Give the Ores a chance
Despite the d&d type title, Dragonsphere is not all about slaying Ores and casting runes. More akin to a child's novella, Dragonsphere places you in a magical kingdom filled with fairy (spelt faerie; in that quaint 'Olde English' way) kings, mystical sprites, giant toads, Prince Of Persia-esque turbaned Shamen and, naturally, dragons. There's a bit of attacking and carving up to be done but this is purely your 12 certificate rating game; no bad language, no unnecessary violence and only a pinch of being patronising to women. Combined with the lush graphics and gorgeous pastel colours, this does make it feel a bit 'girly' - see I can patronise women too. No, that's not really what I mean: it's almost, oh I don't know, too 'nice'. You play the mighty - although newly-elected and not yet proven - Callash, King of Gran Callahach. Callash is a thoughtful soul; unswervingly diplomatic, kind to his citizens, potty about his beautiful wife and deferential to his overbearing mum. An all-round nice guy. Everything is going swimmingly in the kingdom until one day Callash wakes up with a big problem. Sinister Sanwe, a dimension-surfing sorcerer, all-powerful and all evil intent, has been imprisoned in his run-down castle ever since Callash's dad and his best wizard mate put a spell on him 20 years ago. This spell is linked to a 'Dragonsphere' (believe it or not, a sphere with a lil' old dragon in it). If the sphere breaks, Sanwe is free - and it's started to develop a big crack. Sadly, Sanwe hasn't mellowed at all over all these years and has sworn vengeance on Callash. Your task is to get on over to his place and slice him up before he gets a chance to break out. That's the basic plot. Starting off in your own bed you have to get up, have a wash and get going on the quest for Sanwe, which leads you to all sorts of strange and quirky lands gathering stuff you will need to confront him.
On the face of it
As with most interfaces these days, this is made-for-mouse territory - although you can use the keyboard it's not advisable if you want to keep a healthy head of hair. The bottom of the screen supplies all necessary verbs - push, pull, talk, give etc. Choose one and then choose a noun on screen to do it to. It's all very intuitive and simple to get around. For that matter, so is the actual gameplay. There are two modes of play: novice and challenging, but there doesn't seem to be a great deal of difference between the two. The problems aren't too strenuous, ranging from the type of stuff you get in those soft-backed puzzle books you find at train stations ('if there are four brothers and two sisters, and the girls wear green skirts, which boy wears a red dress?' type logic) to guess-work and probability games. The secret to most of the puzzles is in the conversations you have with others, so be sure to pay attention to everything they say.
And say they do. To accompany the state-of-the-art animations, the cd-rom only version of Dragonsphere has extensive digitised speech. Your voice as the King is understandably Brian Blessed-like; other voices range from a child's high pitched squeak for the annoying little prancing fairies to the Darth Vader dulcet tones of the Soptus Ecliptus race. This can become hilarious when the characters wish to speak in a totally different language, but it s essential atmosphere-inducing fare. The digitised speech combines with innovative music to encapsulate the mood of each part of the kingdom along with solid, if uninspired, sound effects.
After all that glowing praise for sound and visuals, you must be thinking 'what's the damage?'. Well, all the speech and super scrolling makes for much fiddling about with your Config and Autoexec files unless you have a terabyte of ram or just don't do anything else but play games. You need 575.ooo bytes of free conventional memory to get up and running with the whole shebang intact (decent graphics, sound and speech). This can be a tall order, especially as the manual also suggests you have a memory cache installed to speed things up while playing, and ems is essential. Still, Dragonsphere is worth the tweaking and there is no point buying the game on cd unless you are going to bring the delights of the programmer's voice-over talents to your home.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP