C64 Retro-Gaming: Archon

Game: Archon: The Light and the Dark
Made by: Electronic Arts (1983)
Genre: Board game/action
Did I have this? You bet! One of my earliest. It is not on the C64 Mini.

What Is It?
Chess with fantasy creatures of varying abilities. Unlike chess, entering another piece's space does not allow you to take it automatically; instead, the two pieces face off in combat in a special arena. The game is two-player, or you can play against a computer opponent. You "checkmate" your opponent if you take control of the 5 force fields set on the board's cardinal points (or barring that, eliminate all of your opponent's pieces).

Seeing as each piece has different movement on the board, speed in the arena, bullet size, bullet power, firing speed, hit points, and in some cases, special attacks, choosing which piece to send against which, and practicing with each kind of match-up will be key to winning any given arena battle. But it's more complicated than that. This is a war between Light and Dark, and so while some squares remain white or black, the rest shift between states (white to aqua to green to purple to blue to black), altering how much strength a light or dark piece will have there, and how quickly it will heal between bouts. And in the arena itself, there are obstacles that shift gradually from intangible to solid during the battle, again a shift from light to dark and back, meaning obstacles might stop acting as shields, slow you down as they appear over you, etc. So there's plenty of strategy, both in how you attack the board, and in a hand-eye sense in the arena.

Light side may be a little easier to play because the powers are more focused on straight up shooting. Archers, Unicorns, Valkyries, the Djinni and the slow Golem are all shooters of some kind. The Phoenix has a close range attack that turns him into a fireball, but he's also invulnerable in that state so it's a good defense too. Knights can only attack in melee, and I personally don't control them very well, nor their Dark side equivalent, the Goblins. Dark has some good shooters too, Manticores, slow but tough Trolls, a Dragon, and Basilisks, but while the Shapeshifter can be a shooter - it becomes whatever your opponent is - you have to be careful not to be ambushed by a crappy Knight. Dark also has Banshees, which have an aural aura that drains powers; they can move with it, but it's no shield like the Phoenix's, so more difficult to master. A tell-tale sound (deeper for Dark) sounds when each piece's power has recharged, which is very useful. Each side also has a spellcaster - a Light Wizard and a Dark Sorceress, basically interchangeable - who can move or fight, sure, but are most useful because they can cast spells on your turn (in lieu of a move). They can teleport another piece, exchange two pieces, heal a piece (hardly useful), revive a piece (most useful), shift time (the light/dark shifts, best used after the enemy magician does it or is dead, the computer always undoes it if you start), imprison a piece, or summon an Elemental (randomly, one of the four elements sends its champion for a single battle). Each can only be used once. My own strategy often calls for nerfing the other side by disposing of the spellcaster early so I don't have to deal with enemy spells.
Now, truth be told, the C64 Mini mod doesn't allow me to play the Light side for some reason, so I always play Dark. Not a huge problem, but you can sort of discern my frustrations above. Also among them is that whether because of the game or the joystick, the pieces aren't always easy to control. They might bug a bit and refuse to turn, and that's likely to get them killed. The computer may be a bit more predictable than a human player, but it's certainly merciless.

Graphics and Sounds
Pretty simple, but despite the coarse blocks that make up each character, you can tell they are what they are. Each moves and fights in its own particular way, and there may be a spot of color on them during the battle, like the Basilisk's eyes flashing or the Goblin's tongue-like club. Sounds are simple too, a lot of galloping or swooshing for movement, and differentiated sounds for weapons. It does what it should even if the environments are nothing to look at. The chessboard is expected, of course, but the arena's obstacles are more or less blobby dots that turn into mist and back. One thing I find a little tedious is that when you load the game, it will make each piece walk to its place on the board as animation. You sort of have to wait for this to end, and there's no music to help it along.

The World
I like the idea of making a world from chess, a magical dual between the forces of Light and Dark in which that cycle is represented again and again. The pieces have powers that really do mimic their D&D equivalent, and have some flavor besides. I mean, spells?! That's cool. With the Elementals, we get a peek at a wider world that is eventually explored in Archon II (which I may have ended up playing more of after getting it, back in the day). A simple idea, but well executed. Feels really natural as an extension of chess.

Bottom Line
While it's be great to have a fully functioning version of the game, I still find myself playing Archon's Dark Side frequently. Not gonna lie, the computer opponent is a bit boring and rarely takes chances or makes strategic mistakes you can capitalize on, so the games often play out the same way, but the strategy often takes a back seat to straight action anyway. Archon has both, so if one fails you, the other one provides some fun.


De said...

Joy to you. Peace and serenity.

When's the Red Hour?

Siskoid said...

Are you of the Body?

Anonymous said...

I read a long time ago that Archon found its origins in a live chess game held at a ren-fair type event, when, in acting out one of the captures, the captured piece was the much better fighter. "Wouldn't it be cool if ALL the chess pieces actually fought?" was the central idea behind Archon.

Which, I guess I can see. But as I have grown into an old fart, I find myself saying, "no, chess is NOT made better by making the pieces fight". It's a lot like saying, "wouldn't soccer be better if everyone could use their hands?" or "wouldn't Battlestar Galactica be better if there was no Cylon threat?" The rules are kind of the point. Not everyone gets into chess and that's fine, but if you're into it, there is definitely beauty to chess without having to make pawns get into fist fights with bishops.

... not sure if this is a thing of beauty:



Blog Archive


5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Class Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers FW Team-Up Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Shut Up Star Boy Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Streaky Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Orville The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zero Hour Strikes Zine