Bones is yet another member of the obscure pseudo-roguelike Wizard's Castle family. It is one of the oldest games of this family, originating in 1981 on DEC mainframes and ported to DOS in 1987, and it is also one of the weirdest.
The story is quite conservative: As in the other Wizard's Castle games, your task is to descend into a dungeon to find the all-powerful Globe of some mighty Warlock on the deepest level.
But with beginning to play, one realizes that this game is different.
The game play is a wild mix of boardgame-like strategy and roguelike dungeon crawl, the whole presented as in "windowed" interactive fiction games, while the setting is an even wilder mix of fantasy, horror and sci-fi elements, playing in a haunted mansion filled with dust, bones, undead skeletons, RAM chips needed for auto-mapping, Uzis and Laser guns and what not. Together with the deliberately cryptic game play and abounding zany nonsensical humour, playing this game is a truly unique and mind-boggling experience.
The only graphics is the "impressive" Borland BGI title screen; the rest of the game plays in text mode and reminds late DOS applications with windows etc.
There is only one kind of monster that you'll encounter: Skeletons. But skeletons of all shapes and sizes: paper skeletons, flying skeletons; paranoid skeletons, closet skeletons, thief skeletons... You can fight them, but you can also try to talk to them, which may save hit points and also provide some information.
Of course, items are strewn in the castle waiting to be found by you. As in an adventure, you need to examine the room to find them, getting a vague description. To actually get the item, you need to guess what it is. For example, instead of saying "gold", you're told that you see "round disks". In extreme cases, items are just described as "something". Happy guessing!
Besides the usual gold and jewels, there are also some more esoteric items. Besides your bare hands, the most common weapons are bones, of course. But bones are easily dropped during a fight; swords and maces are better, but the best weapons are lasers or the legendary Uzi... Of course, lasers require energy and Uzi needs ammo clips to work, which are hard to identify in the general trash lying around. You can also find explosives, or spell books useful for casting spells.
One of the strangest things of this game is the realism of the auto-mapping, aka "Bonebuster Mansion Mapper". Auto-mapping is inherent in Wizard's Castles gameplay, but here, it doesn't automatically: The mapper needs Video RAM to display something, and it needs Main RAM to store information. So in order to enable auto-mapping, you need to find (and identify!) as much RAM chips as you can. Each K of RAM can only display or store one room, and chips aren't abundant either in a haunted mansion full of skeletons, so just like in reality, you'll be constantly running out of RAM.
Finally, there are also nasty traps, like rooms filled with poison gas in which you begin to suffocate. These rooms only have one-way doors, so in order to leave them, you'll have to use your weapons to hammer the wall open, which takes time. What, no weapons? Well then, good bye haunted mansion...
Bones is an excellent freeware text-based RPG that is no different from other RPGs at first glance, but offers plenty of innovative features that will grow on you the more you play. The objective is similar to other Roguelikes, except that you don't see yourself represented by an ASCII character: go as deep in the haunted mansion as you can to discover untold riches.
You interact with the gameworld Bones via an effective menu-based system that lets you ATTACK, OBJECT (pick, use or drop), COMMUNICATE, STATUS, REST, and access game options. It works rather well, except it's a bit annoying to see "stock" commands like TAKE JEWELS listed at all times, even when there is no jewel you can take in the current room (the game informs you accordingly). One of the best things about the game is that the haunted mansion can be randomly generated, making each session a unique gaming experience.
The way enemies (skeletons, in particular) is coded is well worth mentioning. In contrast to most other RPGs, the skeletons in Bones have their own "quirks" that make them different from each other. Some skeletons, for example, can only be hit by weapons but not by spells, while it is the other way around for some others. Some skeletons run away at the sight of you, while some will chase you for as long as it takes. Some skeletons will even steal your things-- these are the most annoying because you must quickly kill them before they exit the room, lest you will never get those possessions back. The lower you go, the tougher skeletons will get, making the game much more challenging.
Overall, Bones doesn't take itself too seriously, and it is by no means a revolutionary game, but it does accomplish what it sets out to do: immerse the player in a fun and challenging fantasy world. If you want an epic RPG, this freeware gem is not for you. But if you are interested in what fun Roguelikes you might be missing, Bones is definitely worth a look.
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