C64 Retro-Gaming: Avenger

Game: Way of the Tiger II: Avenger
Made by: Gremlin Graphics (1986)
Genre: Maze/Action-Adventure
Did I have this? No

What Is It?
A Gauntlet clone where you play a ninja looking for keys, so you can open doors to get at scrolls and other treasure, as various easily defeatable, but numerous, enemies (assassins, spiders, snakes, things that look like Gizmo from Gremlins) and traps (mostly spikes coming out of the ground) drain your energy.

Gameplay
Well, the big problem with Avenger is that unless you know in what sequence any given door should be opened, you're going to hit a dead when you run out of keys. There are, in fact, too many accessible doors, some of which lead to nothing important, that you might open for nothing and waste precious keys. Then, you're just wandering around the screen trying to see if there's a set of keys you haven't noticed, to no avail. It is not Avenger's only problem, but it's the one that makes the game unplayable. Not impossible - you might have a puzzle solver's mind and make multiple attempts - but incredibly frustrating.
Until you realize the problem, the game seems to play fine. It's not particularly hard because you have many lives, each tracked through two circles (each green dot represents a full circle of purple dots), and there's an easy cheat to refill your energy (press 1 on the keyboard) which you can do a few times before the Gods get angry and kill you. Your ninja starts with shuriken (and find more along the way), but with just one button available, this is a very wonky mechanic. Basically, you can't help but throw them if you have them, leading to a lot of waste. Even if you're right on top of an enemy, and should be kicking, it'll still waste a ninja star. More bizarrely still, they go right through walls, so you can shoot any enemy so long as they're on screen. They respawn so readily when you get out of range and return that it's almost no strategic advantage.

Graphics and Sounds
Not unpleasant to look at with its near-top view and colorful palette, Avenger features a clear ninja avatar, and a lot of variety as far as enemies go (visually at least, in the game, their behavior isn't all that different). I do want to address that pretty big menu bar though. It almost takes up half the screen and there's a lot of wasted space. Those faces and fighting ninja under the hit point circles serve no purpose and except to fill space, and eech, the ninja star icon might as well be out of Mario Bros. Unless it's a compromise to make the game engine go faster, I think that menu could have been simplified and made more efficient, and then we might have been able to see more of the world on screen, giving us more of a chance to see where we're going and if we're about to waste a key on a crap door.

As far as the sound goes, there's some fun music on the opening menu, but none in the game (pretty usual for the C64), your main sound cue the high-pitched dit-dit-dit of your hit points draining, which is almost a constant, frankly. Nothing spectacular here.
The World
Interestingly, Avenger and Way of the Tiger I, a fighting game, are based on a series of Your-Own-Adventure books, so fans of those would more readily recognize the enemies from the fantasy world of Orb. "Avenger!" was the title of the first book. The reader took the part of a young monk or ninja called Avenger, initially on a quest to avenge his foster father and recover stolen scrolls. Later books presented other challenges, most notably taking over and ruling a city. The world of Orb was originally created by Mark Smith for a Dungeons and Dragons game he ran while a pupil at Brighton College in the mid-1970s. If I had to guess, the three faces in the menu probably belong to the trio of chaos worshipers who act as the antagonists in the six books.

The video game obviously takes its cues from the first book, with the quest for scrolls, etc. There's not much storytelling otherwise - or if there is, the difficulty in advancing to other levels made it impossible for me to grasp - but I do like that overuse of cheats comes with divine retribution.

Bottom Line
While it's kind of fun when you start, and someone could happily (I guess) do a lot of trial and error to figure out the proper sequence of doors to open to maximize the available keys, the game doesn't even have the kindness to tell you it's game over when you've failed, and leaves you running around pointlessly. And that's just a negative play experience. A way to respawn some keys would seem to be the least it could do. Had potential, but pretty unplayable unless you want to obsess over it.

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