GATEWAY TO APSHAI
by The Connelley Group
I'm mad! Very, very mad! I just lost my last man to a Mamba Snake on level six of Gateway To Apshai, the new machine-language adventure cartridge from Epyx. I'm so upset, I think I'm going to play it over and over again!
When I get really angry with a game, it's usually because the game play is rotten, the instructions make absolutely no sense, or I'm constantly getting myself killed off and can't seem to gain any ground. None of these are true in Gateway. Here, the game frustration is genuine because when you lose, you really want to keep on playing. Game play is fast and furious because all inputs are limited to a joystick and three console buttons (START, SELECT and OPTION). The instructions are so simple that you need only read two or three pages to get started. As for the time it takes to get killed, I've been averaging one to two hours of play to advance into the higher dungeon levels.
The basic scenario is that of a brave adventurer who has volunteered to explore the dungeons of Apshai. You are armed with only a dagger, a suit of leather armor and a prayer; as you explore the many rooms that make up each dungeon. Because you can only see rooms that have already been explored, entering unexplored rooms may reveal valuable treasure, magic talismans, stronger armor, deadly weapons or instant death! Gateway lets you choose from 16 different game levels, each of which is made up of eight dungeons, for a grand total of 128 dungeons with over seven thousand rooms. That should be enough to keep anyone busy for quite a while.
Gateway is an improved machine-language version of Epyx's best-selling adventure game Temple of Apshai. The original used keyboard input for everything, was relatively slow, and took forever to load (at least the cassette version did, and that was all I had when Temple first came out). To elaborate on how slow the original was, every time you entered a different part of the dungeon, the computer had to redraw the walls of the room to be displayed. This took from five to fifteen seconds. By contrast, Gateway's wall-drawing is almost instantaneous and once drawn, stays drawn. This is accomplished by treating the screen as a window into a much larger dungeon, and using fine horizontal and vertical scrolling to view different sections. If you try to move your character off-screen (provided he doesn't bump into a wall first), the visible part of the dungeon slides off the screen and is replaced by a new area. Combined with the animation effects of your player and the creatures that you encounter in your travels, the scrolling dungeon effect adds greatly to the playability of the game.
One negative aspect of Gateway is that you can't save your games for later continuation. This is somewhat understandable due to the amount of data making up each dungeon, but it is still something that I wish was incorporated into the cartridge. If you want to play a game to its conclusion, you have to do it all in one sitting. There is also no straightforward way to pause the game, although you can fake it by going into one of the status screens until you're ready to go on.
Another gripe: Because you are constantly using the console buttons to select different options, you must be very careful not to accidentally hit the SYSTEM RESET key. This reboots the game from the beginning; it's happened to me on more than one occasion.
It is a fact that one's desire to play a computer game is inversely proportional to the time it takes to load that game. If Gateway was on cassette or disk, I would probably play with it two or three times and then put it away. However, being a cartridge, I have been playing Gateway during lunch, coffee breaks and even after work. [Let's not forget those work-hour sessions, either. - Ed.] I don't think I've played a game this much since I sat down to Sierra On-Line's Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves for eight straight hours. When the GAME OVER prompt finally appears, you look up and realize the two hours of your life have slipped through your fingers.
If you're looking for just another arcade shoot'em up, then this game may not be for you. But if you're into D&D games or enjoyed the original Temple, then I heartily recommend Gateway To Apshai.