Back in the day before PCs, my dad used to have an old Atari 800 computer. The games on this particular machine were as good as (if not better) than any of the pre-crash game machines out there. This particular game is one of the few I can remember from back so long ago - I have very fond memories of playing (and losing to) my big brother in long marathon matches of Archon. Years later when I learned of an NES version I was forced to track it down. Too bad the old Atari version is better.
The game is played like a simplified arcade style version of Battlechess. You get two sides (light vs. dark) with each side having an assortment of various monsters instead of chess pieces. Move the various pieces across the board, and when two pieces meet it's time to fight one-on-one. Pieces with flight-type movement can skip over other pieces on the game board while ground based units are blocked.
There are two ways to win the game, either by destroying all of the opponent's pieces of by controlling all five "power points" located throughout the board. Your wizard/Sorceress controls one of the power points by default. The color of each particular square also figures into strategy - a light-side character on a light square will get a health bonus, while a dark character on a light square gets some of it's health taken away, and vice versa. There are also squares that have a day/night cycle and will slowly change color from dark to light and back through the course of the game (of which the three remaining power points just happen to be located on.) Thus capturing a power point while the square is your teams' particular color is easy, but defending it when the cycle moves against you is a challenge. The color of the square also determines how fast a particular character will heal after a battle - a character on a friendly square heals a lot faster than on an opposing one.
Each character has their own unique speed, movement, health, and attack attributes, as follows:
Wizard: Shoots fireballs, casts various spells.
Genie: Very fast movement, fast shot, large overworld movement.
Unicorn: Very fast movement & shot, large amount of health.
Amazon: Large overworld movement, slower shot.
Archer: Comparable to Amazon, ground movement.
Phoenix: Flight, explodes in a fireball that damages all in radius. Phoenix must remain still while attacking.
Golem: Slow movement, good armor, thrown rock is slow but does huge damage.
Knight: Fast movement, short range sword attack, the "pawns" of the game.
Sorceress: Shoots lightening, faster than wizard. Casts various spells.
Dragon: Overworld Flight, fast movement. Shot is slower than Unicorn.
Shapeshifter: Overworld Flight, takes the form of whichever enemy it currently fights.
Basilisk: Comparable to Amazon but with ground movement.
Manticore: Comparable to Archer.
Banshee: Similar to Phoenix, Banshee "scream" damages all in radius but does not stop enemy shots. Banshee can scream while moving.
Troll: Comparable to Golem but with slightly more health.
Goblin: Comparable to knight, short range club attack, the "pawn" of the dark side.
The Wizard/Sorceress also have an assortment of magic spells, each of which can be used once per game:
Teleport - Teleports any character to any square on the board except to the 5 power points
Heal - Heals a particular character in one turn.
Shift Time - This spell will "undo" your opponent's last move. However it does not bring back any units killed during that move (handy for removing your opponent from striking distance.)
EXCHANGE - This exchanges any two pieces on the map, excluding those currently occupying one of the 5 magic squares.
SUMMON ELEMENTAL - This causes an Elemental (Fire, Wind, Water, or Earth) to come forth and attack one enemy of your choosing.
REVIVE - Brings back one of your dead units.
IMPRISON - This prevents one enemy unit from making any actions for 5 rounds.
In addition to the above unit types there are also four "elementals" which can be used via the "Summon elemental" spell. All four of these units are fire-and-forget units, as after the match they disappear whether they win or lose. Unlike the Atari version where each elemental had it's own attributes, here the only difference between them is the way they look.
How does the game play? Not too well I'm afraid. The characters move and control decently enough, problem is there's some major collision issues throughout the game. Each battle area has a certain number of obstacles you're supposed to be able to take cover behind (rocks, trees, pits of fire, etc.) These obstacles slowly change position as the match goes on. Problem is while this is going on it's really easy to get hung up on a piece of scenery, to get stuck in a corner, or to "jump" from one place to another. These obstacles also don't consistently block enemy shots like they're supposed to, sometimes they do, sometimes the shot goes right through them. Thing is the Atari version didn't have these problems, even though it ran on more primitive hardware.
The computer A. I. is brutal. It will kill you. Be prepared to lose a lot at this game before you learn the system.
Besides the wonky collision and A. I. issues it's hard for me not to like this game. It's like high speed chess with monsters. How can you not dig that?
Graphics: Decent, with distinct unit types that all have individual look and animation. The backgrounds could use a little work.
Sound: The usual blips and bangs. Not much special here.
Gameplay: Weird collision and insane A. I. is made up by an excellent 2 player mode. This game was intended to be played with friends.
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