Archon Ultra, an upgrade to the original 1984 title, is essentially chess for action gamers. Action takes place on a chessboard-like playing field with players controlling either light or dark pieces against a human or computer-controlled opponent. Players take turns and claim victory by capturing all five "power point" squares on the board or exterminating the opponent's entire army.
The game is different from chess due to a unique piece-capture model. When a piece moves onto a square that's already occupied by an opponent's piece, a one-on-one combat mode ensues. Each piece has a health bar, one direct method of attack, and one indirect attack or defensive maneuver. Battle is joined until one piece is destroyed by losing its entire health bar, with the victorious piece controlling the square.
Another distinguishing characteristic is the use of a wizard or sorceress piece to cast spells in lieu of moving a unit. Spells offer effects like teleportation, healing or reviving damaged or dead pieces, or summoning "elementals" to do combat with enemy pieces. The same spell can't be cast twice in any one game, so the timing of spell usage becomes an important part of game strategy.
Archon Ultra, with its spells and combat model, offers an interesting and enjoyable variation to chess. Action gamers who find standard chess too slow will enjoy the combat sequences, while chess-players will enjoy the strategic elements. Unfortunately, the game is really just Archon with updated graphics and modem support. The improved graphics are fairly good, and are a significant improvement over the original's blocky four-color graphics, but beneath the facelift, Archon Ultra offers nothing new.
OVERALL RATING: 5
Archon Ultra is a complete remake of classic cross-platform action/strategy smash Archon.
The game features completely rewritten code with better game engine, much-improved graphics and sound as well as digital music (a la MOD files), along with a new style of game board and an additional "special weapon" for each figure. It also adds multiplayer game (modem as well as hot seat).
Archon Ultra lays claim to an impressive pedigree. The original Archon team; Jon Freeman, Anne Westfall and Paul Reiche III reunited and brought with them Fred Ford who Paul Reiche III had made the Star Control series with to remake the game they invented ten years earlier. You'd think this would ensure everyone was happy, but fans of the original game will still claim that Archon Ultra is inferior to its predecessor. Well, you can't please everyone, I guess.
Naysayers aside, Archon Ultra is a beautiful game on many levels. Archon Ultra builds on the original Archon with updated graphics, music, sound effects, mouse input, modem play, and updated game play, all of which represented the best 1994 had to offer.
For those who didn't play the original Archon, the game is played on a 9x9 chess-like board with squares that are black, white, or constantly changing from black to white through shades of gray. Lighter squares are better for light-side pieces, and visa-versa. Each side has 8 units with an additional 4 elemental units that can be summoned for a total of 20 unique units. Like in chess, a turn consists of each side moving one piece at a time. In addition, each side has a Wizard or Sorceress who can cast one of 7 spells for their turns. These spells have varying effects such as imprisoning an enemy unit or raising the dead.
If a unit is moved to the same square as an opposing unit then the two units combat in an isometric battlefield for control of the square. Archon Ultra adds one additional attack more than the original Archon had, so each unit has a total of two. Learning the unique attack options for each unit in Archon Ultra can be the key in mastering the game. Once an attack is used you must wait before it is available to use again. For smaller units that time can be much less (2-3 per second) but more powerful attacks may have a few seconds cool down time, leaving the unit defenseless in the interim.
The battlefields have destructible and indestructible obstacles. If the square being fought over is one of the power squares, it will have a spot in the middle that will allow you to recover from damage if you can stand on it long enough. Thus ownership of the power squares, both on the main board and the battle board, often becomes a focal point of the game.
The graphics of Archon Ultra are no let down. On the main battle board units will occasionally fidget as they wait for their chance for action. But where the graphics really shine is in the pre-battle screen where a portrait of each unit fighting is shown for a second. It was difficult not making every screen shot for this review a gallery of these pictures.
To say that the original Archon is a monumental game is no overstatement. But with its antiquated graphics and game play, most modern gamers find it hard to stand. Archon Ultra provides the same unique game play reproduced in a package that more people may find they prefer. It's surprisingly easy to get started in, easy to tolerate through its learning curve, and immensely satisfying to master. I give it 5 stars.
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