Although I couldn't make last year's Adventure Probe Convention, I'm delighted that author Tom Frost has obviously captured the spirit of the day with this excellent little adventure. Of course it'll be a lot more fun to the people who were actually there, but Tom hasn't just turned out a quick game for the amusement of a few, he's come up with a puzzling and funny adventure that everyone can enjoy.
The Lost Dragon takes place on the day of the 1990 Convention, in and around the Strathallan Hotel in Birmingham. The story was inspired by the fact that the hotel lift didn't have a button for the third floor. Tom started wondering what secrets this 'invisible' floor might conceal... secrets you will share as you play the game, provided you can work out how to get there.
As it starts, the dragon of the title is due to be presented at the afternoon awards ceremony, but it's just been nicked by a wizard in the hotel lift. He gives you a sporting chance to recover it in time by visiting his magical world (open Saturdays) on... yes, the third floor. And he's even nicer than that because he also gives you three magic spells (including a rather natty 'lengthening' device) which you have to use one at a time, and a pair of magic pills which allow two people to keep in telepathic contact with each other.
By George, I thought, that's a stroke of luck - it allows Frost to use his split-screen technique yet again! And so it does. On the right-hand side of the screen the events in the Convention Hall take place, while you play the game on the left. The events in the Hall are fixed, so it's best to keep an eye on them to check how much time you've got before the awards begin.
One novel touch is that there are two different ways of playing The Lost Dragon. Blimey - it's double vision all around! EXPLORE mode effectively stops the clock, and the events on the right-hand side of the screen are not displayed. This means you can map out the hotel, find various objects, how to use the lift and so on, all completely at your own leisure. It doesn't mean you can just play the adventure and solve it that way of course (you can only use movement and EXAMINE commands, you can't GET anything) but if you type QUIT then you'll be able to start playing normally and, er, take things from there.
And it's all a bit of a laff. Getting to the third floor (where the fun really starts) isn't all that difficult, but there are a few red herrings thrown in to decieve you - in fact, there's one in the hotel kitchen!
On the grumbles side, the game doesn't understand too many inputs, which is a bit off-putting at first. When I was mapping the ground floor, I went into the lift and couldn't get out. Eventually I managed it by going to another floor, pressing the Ground Floor button, and then getting sent back down again.
And while we're on the subject of 'words', why can't Tartan be a little more elaborate with their 'conversations'? Instead of the doorman simply not letting you past, why not give him a bit of character, have him say "Look, it's more than my job's worth, mate," or "I'm afraid for security reasons I shall have to ask you to leave that box outside"? That'd spice things up a bit.
Finally, it seems a bit odd that on the ground floor you go south to exit the lift, but everywhere else you go north. But, anyway...
On the whole, Tom Frost ought to be congratulated. The puzzles are devious, and his air of mischief hasn't deserted him here. Don't be put off if you weren't at the Convention because neither was I. And if you play this game you'll find out why - just before the end!
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