It was not very long ago that software houses discovered" a new form of computer entertainment: "interactive games". Otherwise known as roleplaying games (RPGs), this new type of software featured full interaction between the central character and his/her surroundings and other characters who would appear in the game. The games usually included some form of quest or task and always feature a method of fighting with opponents.
Over the months there have been numerous games of this type, some good, some not so good and some absolutely awful. As with all games software though, every so often a program is released that stands head and shoulders above the rest. The latest from Origin, through Mindscape, is just such a game.
"Windwalker", written by Greg Malone, is set in the ancient Oriental land of Khantun and, although there are various tasks you can choose to undertake, asks nothing more of you than to survive.
The scene is set during the opening sequence which, although fairly long, is worth watching to the end. A press of the spacebar will put you in the presence of Moebius, the Windwalker. (Those of you with good memories might well remember an earlier release from Origin entitled Moebius, which was also set in Khantun.) Having roused him from his meditation, Moebius will greet you, ask your name and offer you the chance to practice the martial art skills that you will need, before starting your adventure. On selecting to practice, a screen opens and presents you with a side view of the combat area, on which you may move backwards and forwards. A series of icons along the bottom of the screen depict the various moves you can make. Depending on whether you are fighting with bare hands or a monks staff, the moves include a variety of kicks, punches, hand-springs and strikes with the staff. All the moves can be selected with either keyboard or mouse, I preferred using the mouse as I didn't have to look away from the screen to see what I was doing.
The sheer quality of this game is very evident here. Your opponents are a selection of characters ranging from a simple thief, to a swordsman armed with two swords, to the dreaded Ninja. To ensure authenticity of the fighting sequences, Greg Malone used a variety of books and texts such as "Ninja: Warrior Ways of Enlightenment" and "Zen in the Martial Arts", as primary sources of information about the weapons and fighting tactics used by these ancient fighting men. However, to provide the detailed images needed for the game, depicting the intricate movements of the various forms and disciplines of fighting, martial arts experts were videoed and photographed hundreds of times and these images were then digitised and incorporated into the game.
An Abacus shows your state of health and each time you are hit one of the beads will slide across the wire, once they've all moved you are rendered unconscious and the fight is over. If you manage to strike your opponent enough times, you will knock him out instead. When each bout has ended you are given the option to re-play the sequence, enabling you to see what mistakes you made, before going on to the next opponent. At the end of the practice sessions, you are returned to Moebius and, once again, given the option to start your adventure.
Supplied with Windwalker is "I Ching - the Book of Changes", an oriental work that contains 64 Hexagrams that, when used correctly, will answer any question you might have. Each of the Hexagrams has a single descriptive word attached to it and, at the start of each game, you will be asked to enter one of these words. The game proper then starts.
The screen is split into three main areas. The largest of these shows the land of Khantun, with its buildings, temples, seas, forests and mountains. Your character is displayed as a head-and-shoulders portrait, as are all the other characters you will meet on your journey. As I mentioned earlier, if you wish, you don't have to do anything other than survive but, should you choose to do so, there is an underlying quest that you can take up.
The Emperor, Chao Ti, and his wife, Cheng Sing, have been imprisoned by the Warlord Zhurong and the mad Imperial Alchemist, Shen Jang. Zhurong also invaded the land of Nubia and kidnapped the Ivory Princess, daughter of the King of Nubia and made her his slave. Shen Jang is intent on releasing hordes of evil spirits into the land and, on the nights of a new moon, evil spreads across the land. Your task is to rise from being a humble fisherman in the village of Xiang Loh, to become a master of both martial and mystical arts and a leader of men. Only then will you be able to enter the Celestial Palace, where the Emperor and his wife are imprisoned, and challenge the might of Zhurong and Shen Jang.
The top two-thirds of the right hand portion of the screen contains four Abacus-type indicators, which show the condition of your main attributes: Body, Spirit, Hon- our and Karma. Under this are three icons: Inventory, Talk and System. Inventory is self-explanatory and also contains the options for eating, sleeping etc. Talk icon is used when a character appears on the main window with whom you wish to converse. Talking to other characters is the only way that you will gain any more information about what is going on and what you are supposed to be doing.
From time to time you will meet some of the less savory characters, robbers, thieves, pirates and assassins and, if you are really unlucky, Ninja armed with deadly shuriken throwing stars. This is when all the practice you did earlier will start to pay off, defeating one of these opponents is usually followed by some form of reward. Khantun is surrounded by seas, as a fisherman you have your own boat but care must be taken if you choose to sail, pirates may attack your vessel although, if they attack and you defeat them, their ship might contain much treasure.
There are many, many other things contained in Windwalker that makes this program not only immensely playable, but almost a voyage of discovery through one of the richest and most detailed computer landscapes that I have ever seen. The characters are totally believable, the fighting sequences are truly excellent and the overall flavour of the mystical, ancient Orient is superb. There are also lots of little touches that, for me, really finish the program off, for example; when you start, your character icon wears a wry smile, if you get tired or are injured the smiling face changes to a frown and then despair!
At the time of writing this review, I have not yet completely finished playing Windwalker and I think I've still got a long way to go before I finish. A good test of this type of game is whether it has any staying power - whether it is interesting enough to make the player want to finish it. For my part, it has been a long time since any game has grabbed my attention quite so solidly and maintained my interest so well. In my opinion, Windwalker is a truly excellent piece of work that should keep any fan of this genre totally occupied for many hours.
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